RAINING ON MY HEAD

aluminum bar

I awoke this morning to the sound of raindrops pattering on the bedroom air conditioner. The patter was punctuated by distant rumbles of thunder. The bedroom was still pretty dark at almost 8, which is why I hadn’t woken up yet.
I’m usually up at dawn, as soon as the first light hits the bedroom windows. So I was given an extra hour or two by the rain. Since I had nothing to do this morning, it was OK.
I love the sound of the rain on the AC; it’s really soothing. But some people hate it. It drives them nuts.
Sometimes I get calls about it, and I go and glue a thick piece of foam rubber on top of the AC to dampen the noise.
One client called about that- but it wasn’t the rain, it was a recalcitrant AC two floors above her that let a constant drop-drop-drop fall on her AC, and I have to say it was pretty annoying. It was so loud a drip I needed to double up on the foam pad.
When I worked as a handyman on the Upper West Side my cheap boss used to use cut up pieces of discarded carpeting for the same thing, we’d cut out holes for the ventilation vanes and then use silicone to secure the carpet remnant to the top of the AC. Of course the carpet in time unraveled and worse smelled like wet carpeting, so if you want to dampen the sound I recommend the foam rubber pads.
I don’t use the pads; both my wife Danusia and I like the sound of the rain. And we live on the top floor so we don’t have any other ACs dripping on ours.
I do however use an aluminum L bar to hold the AC in the window, I take off the bracket that’s screwed on top of the AC and replace it with the L bracket cut to the width of the window. Guaranteed to keep your AC from falling out the window.
Then I use Plexi glass cut to size to fill in the open areas and silicone them in. Watertight, and more importantly airtight, and cuts down on outside noise considerably.

plexi
I’ve seen people use cardboard, even shoeboxes. There’s someone across the courtyard from us with an old K-Swiss shoebox keeping out the world. The of course there’s the shitty plastic accordions that come with your new AC, neither water nor sound proof. You get quite a draft through them in the winter if you are the type of person that leaves the AC in the window year round.

accordion

This thing is like a sieve.

I do that with my living room AC, it’s too big to store during the winter. But with my double thick Plexi we’re as warm as toast.

steel pot
To the people who can’t stand the sound of rain patter on your AC, you’re lucky you never heard rain patter on the top of a steel army helmet. I have, when I was in the army, and it almost drove me nuts. But having wet hair is even worse so I put up with it.
I have no idea how it sounds on the new Kevlar helmets; those were just being tested when I got out in 1981. Probably a little softer, but I’m sure it’s still annoying.
Anyway, if you can’t stand the sound, go to the local hardware store and get the padding. Or you can call me; I can always use the work.
I hear it’s going to be hot next week.

 

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BREAD LOAF SAGA

 

bread2

I rarely buy bread nowadays, not that I’m gluten-free by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just that at my age I’ve only to look at a piece of bread for it to add an inch or two to my waistline.
My wife Danusia loves bread too, and we favor dark bread, preferably whole wheat or something rustic. White bread, aside from having almost no taste at all has the texture of cotton balls.
Last week Danusia went to Fairway to do a little grocery shopping, and she lamented that at Fairway you can only buy whole loaves of bread, instead of a half or even a quarter loaf as you can at Whole Foods, which sells their bread by the pound.
So that was the thought that popped into my head today as I wandered the aisles of the Columbus Circle Whole Foods at 59th Street.
I was thinking about lunch, and lunch was going to involve my famous refried beans on tortillas and my own version of a harvest bowl when Danusia’s words intruded, and suddenly a chant popped into my head.
“Gotta get some wheat bread, gotta get some wheat bread.”
I felt like Ickey Woods in the Gieco commercial chanting about his cold cuts, but mercifully the chant did not reach my lips. I headed over to the bread aisle.
I found the bread I liked, a whole-wheat batard. I have no idea what a batard is, but it sounds French so it was pretentious enough for me. Besides, it’s only $4 a pound and I got half of a half loaf, enough to enjoy a few slices of bread without gaining five pounds. The nice woman behind the counter sliced it for me.
I went to pay, and when my number came up I went to register 23 where a young woman in her Whole Foods apron didn’t bother to look at me when I gave her a cheery hello. She just started ringing up my groceries.
As I transferred my items from my cart to the counter, all the while wondering why she hadn’t acknowledged my cheery hello without even the slightest of smiles I realized to my dismay that the price sticker the bread lady had put on my bread had stuck partway onto the plastic bag containing my lettuce.
I frantically tried peeling it off and succeeded only in ripping a bit of it off, the bit that said $3.30 on it. I started to panic, ready to show the offending piece to the scowling young woman, so she could note the proper price.

Bread 2
Then I remembered the bar code! That marvel of modern commerce, the UPC code. She would scan the code and it would be added to my bill. No worries.
I checked the bar code and it was flat and intact.
But when she tried to scan it, nothing happened. She swiped again with the same result. She put the bread aside, a look of further annoyance clouding her face.
She scanned everything else and then tried the bread again. Nothing. I was about to tell her about the piece that said $3.30 stuck to the lettuce bag when she angrily threw the bread into the shopping bag and pressed done on her register.
I handed her a fifty and waited for my change, and wondered if the bread had registered or not. My eyesight is bad enough I couldn’t read her screen.
She handed me my receipt, and I gave her a big smile and said, “thank you!”
The angry young woman did not return my smile or say you’re welcome; her eyes didn’t even meet mine. I hoped she could at least see my smile somewhere in her field of vision.
As I went up the escalator to street level I looked at my receipt. The bread wasn’t on there.
Who knows what happened to her this morning, maybe her boss yelled at her, her boyfriend ran away, her best friend wasn’t talking to her. It could have been the customer before me.
But it wasn’t me.
In the past I might have wondered if it was something I did or said, but I know I did my part and I didn’t get all bent out of shape about the way she behaved.
I hope she’s OK and has a better day tomorrow, and thanks for the free loaf of bread, by the way.

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SOME OF MY FAVORITE THINGS

popcorn

I like shopping at Whole Foods. It’s clean; they have a good variety of stuff that’s unheard of at the local Key Food or C-Town. I’ve been shopping there since the first store opened in Union Square in 2001.
I know people like to call it whole paycheck- it is expensive. But then again so is Key Food and C-Town, especially in the poorer neighborhoods like Hamilton Heights, where I live now. I compared the price of Bob’s Red Mill gluten free oatmeal and it was actually a dollar more at the C-Town down the block than at Whole foods. The produce is just as expensive and it’s in pretty bad shape in my local store, so I’d rather go to Whole Foods, Fairway, or Trader Joe’s and carry my groceries on the bus or subway.
A note about Trader Joe’s prepackaged produce- it wilts fast so you’d better eat it right away. But at least Trader Joe’s packages their pre-packed mushrooms in cardboard rather than plastic like Whole Foods or Fairway. The mushrooms turn to mush if you leave them in the plastic for a day or two. I put them in paper bags when I get home and they’ll last a week.

Since Amazon bought Whole Foods it’s been a question of streamlining. All stores have been eliminating space, consolidating product, and eliminating products. I don’t know the rationale behind it, but last week they were installing new bins in the bulk products. They eliminated about 25% of the available bin space.
So one of my favorite things, a breakfast staple for me for many years is gone.
It was something called Chia Ginger Superfood crunch, a cereal.

ginger crunch

I mix it with steel cut oat groats and almonds and that’s my breakfast. Gives the cereal a little sweetness and makes it less bland. And now all I have left is an ounce or two in an old-fashioned cookie tin that I kept it in.
I did manage to find it online from a place called Nuts.com, for $16 a pound plus shipping. I thought the Whole Foods price of $11.99 a pound was outrageous but I liked it so I paid it. But I think I’m just going to give it up- not worth the price and bother to order it from Nuts.com.
When Whole Foods first opened their Bowery store they had in-house made hummus. It was awesome. Further, they had the in-house Harissa hummus, even more awesome. They stopped making that about ten years ago and came out with smoother, slicker prepackaged Whole Foods hummus. And it don’t come in Harissa.

harissa.jpg

They have it in Jalapeño; it’s not bad, but it’s not Harissa.
Fairway used to sell the Sonny and Joe’s Supremely spicy hummus, then I think Sabra’s (which is more expensive) had something to say about it and they eliminated it. The Sonny and Joe’s was the closest thing to the Whole Foods Harissa humus so I wasn’t happy. There went another favorite thing.
Sonny and Joe’s do make the occasional appearance at select Fairway stores, and sometimes Gourmet Garage. A place I only go to in cases of extreme emergency.
I think what I miss the most that Whole Foods used to carry is the Little Lad’s herbal popcorn. It was great- not as much salt but still tasty, unlike plain popcorn.
I’m the guy who wishes they had 50% MORE salt than 50%less salt popcorn. But I’m blessed with the blood pressure of a nineteen-year old, according to a nurse friend of mine.

The closest thing to Little Lad’s is the Fairway popcorn, available in both salted and unsalted versions, though the salted popcorn sometimes is unsalted. My wife Danusia thinks they crew that puts the labels on or adds the salt must be smoking a lot of weed it’s so erratic.

fairway popcorn

I also found Little Lad’s online, for $9.99 for a 10 ounce bag plus $12.95 shipping. Of course that’s from eBay, another rip-off website.
Lastly, and toilet paper doesn’t count as a favorite thing, just a necessary thing- but something to expose Amazon about.
I used to trek across the Macomb’s dam bridge to Target to get toilet paper, $16 or so dollars for a 24- pack. But the last time I went it was $24 for a 24 pack. I read somewhere that it was cheaper to order toilet online, so I checked Amazon. A few months ago that was true, but when I decided to do it two weeks ago it seems that like it or not, Scott toilet tissue is a dollar plus per roll anyway you slice it. Unless, of course, and this is the new Amazon gimmick- you buy a subscription. Sign up now! Save money while we automatically send you a case of TP every month for as long as you live and automatically charge your credit card!
So I got the next cheapest thing- the Scott tube-free paper. To be tube free it has to be a little thicker, so I discovered a roll lasts about a day in our home. That’s the last time I buy that.
I think I’m going to look into artisan toilet paper making. I have done my own Harissa hummus, but it’s a pain in the ass.

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BACK TO WORK

 

changing rooms

 

Exactly four years ago this month I was suspended from the job I’d held for seventeen years. It was actually three different jobs, porter, doorman, handyman then doorman again but all at the same place, 144 West 86th Street, in a building managed by the Rudin Management Company. I might have kept the job if I’d fought a little harder, there was a union involved, but I knew the guy I worked for, the guy that recommended to the management that I be fired had a personal grudge and wasn’t going to quit till he got rid of me so I decided to cut my losses and move on.
Not an easy decision- familiarity no matter how uncomfortable is hard to let go, fear of the unknown leads to many an unhappy life. What’s the saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
But how do you know the new devil won’t be a devil at all? Like they say in poker, you have to pay to see the cards.

144 2

So I paid, I took a walk. I wondered what would come next.
The first year wasn’t bad, I’d socked away enough Christmas money and savings I was pretty comfortable, plus I got six months of unemployment. And with what I had learned working in the building I started doing odd jobs for people. The rent was paid and I ate. I had to stop spending money on clothing I didn’t need anyway, and ate out less. We didn’t go on vacation that year.
The following year I did get a job of sorts- at a place I’ll call the doorknob factory. It was a high-end architectural hardware manufacturer, but in the end what they did was make doorknobs. Very expensive doorknobs, but a doorknob is a doorknob.
Just about all the other employees had engineering degrees; they were all young jock hipsters with the de rigueur three-day’s growth of beard and an apartment in Bushwick. I was hired on as a freelancer and paid less than half of what they got and lasted ten months before the bosses decided I didn’t quite fit in and let me go. When they hired me I had to sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement about writing about them, but that only meant as long as I worked for them. Besides, I’m not naming any names.
I imagine it was to protect the hoity-toity clients that can afford a three-hundred dollar doorknob but the only client of any note was a Lower East Side slumlord that went to jail for being a slumlord extraordinaire.

view

The view from the doorknob factory.

So since then, they let me go in September of 2016, I’ve been on my own. I applied for and got my meager pension from 32 BJ- less than $500 a month and that went directly for our ever-increasing rent. I did more and more odd jobs, and dug deeper and deeper into my savings the weeks the phone didn’t ring.
Besides painting people’s apartments for cheap I fixed toilets, repaired a vandalized metal sculpture for a friend, built a giant birdcage for another friend and yes, replaced doorknobs. Though what I did at the doorknob factory was more in the way of production than installation.

snow repair

The vandalized sculpture by Sal Romano.

I survived, but there were times when I spent most of my day binge watching TV shows (watched The Sopranos in its entirety again) and scrolling Facebook.
I did spend a lot of time in our community garden this summer, that was something positive, but thanks to my lovely wife Danusia I knew I needed something more permanent, more structure. So I started actively looking for work.

birdcage

The giant birdcage.

A friend told me about Ziprecruiter, a job listing website. There were other websites, but Ziprecruiter was the only one that yielded any interviews. I interviewed for a handyman job at the new Fresh Direct distribution warehouse in the south Bronx. I interviewed for the same at a white glove maintenance company on the upper west side, and I thought I aced both interviews, but neither called back.
Someone who emailed back about a personal assistant job and said they were out of the country but were sending me a check with my “sign on bonus” almost scammed me. Yeah, right, here’s my routing number. Of course I reported it to Ziprecruiter.
I interviewed for a job as a house painter at same fancy hotel in midtown two weeks ago and I thought the interview went terrible. The first thing the guy asked was why I’d left the job at Rudin. Then he asked me to identify what kind of paint was on the door of the room we were in. All I could really tell him was what the finish was.
So I was surprised as hell when I got a phone call the next day from the very nice HR woman at the hotel telling me they wanted to hire me and was I willing to take a drug test.
Well, I’ve been waiting eighteen years for someone to ask me to take a drug test so I jumped at the chance.
She called last Monday to say I’d passed the test and I went on Wednesday to fill out all my paperwork for my new job. I’m starting tomorrow, so today’s my last day of freedom. I decided to write this post because one of the things that had gone by the wayside was the maintaining of this blog. I wrote a lot more when I had less time than when I had all the time in the world. Something about having nothing to do kind of drains me.
But if you are of a certain age and looking for work, don’t despair. If you are willing you will find work. If a guy like me, who just turned sixty-three last summer can get a new job, so can you. All it takes is some willingness.

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THE MYSTERIES OF EVAPORATOR FANS

 

fridge

This October, late in the month I was sitting on the couch in the living room watching TV one evening when I heard a loud buzzing sound coming from somewhere. The sound was familiar in a way, but a little strange at the same time. I chalked it up to someone in the building drilling a hole in the wall or something. But the sound persisted, and I got up to investigate.
I went to the window, it didn’t seem to be coming from outside.
Then I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and as I entered the kitchen the sound got louder. It was coming from the refrigerator.
When we looked at the apartment three years ago it had a filthy aging one-door refrigerator. It was small, owing to limited space in the kitchen for a fridge and stove. The stove didn’t look as old, but it was even filthier
We told the landlord we would take the apartment if she got us brand new appliances and the fridge had to be bigger. And she agreed.
The new fridge didn’t quite fit in the allotted space, as the built in “breakfast nook” was two inches too long. The super just left it standing in the kitchen in front of the sink.
I called the landlord and she said, “You’re a handyman. Figure it out.”
So I got a hammer and my mini-pry bar and pulled the ugly brown molding off of one end of the breakfast nook, and our brand new GE 15.5 Cu. Ft. refrigerator slid right in. We loved it. It was just big enough for two people.
The one we had in out previous apartment was a big 22 Cu. Ft. fridge, and the freezer was mostly empty despite my penchant for buying meat on sale for cheap and freezing it. It was just too big for two adults.
So we’ve been very happy with the fridge, until that night in late October.
The buzzing sound was coming from inside the freezer. I found that if I slammed the freezer door hard enough, the sound would stop. Sometimes it stayed quiet; sometimes it would start buzzing again right away. But it would always, always buzz when the compressor kicked in for a cycle.
I thought it was amazing that it would go on the blink almost three years to the day of purchase, right after the factory warranty expired.
I could have called the landlord, but being a guy who can fix things I went on line to diagnose the problem. I found one on line article pointing out that this was a common problem in this model GE, after a while the grommets holding the evaporator fan get brittle and the whole thing vibrates when the fan starts. There was also talk of ice on the fan blade, a broken fan blade, or ice on the coils that can be the cause of the sound.

fan cover

I opened it up, following the instructions on the YouTube video. There was no ice on the fan, and it seemed intact, so the next step was to find and buy the grommets. It looked pretty easy to remove the fan motor and do this, and after all, I’d installed many an icemaker in fridges when I worked in the building.
But Christmas was upon us and fixing the fridge would have to wait.
During our Christmas Eve party one of our Russian guests was in the kitchen when the fan kicked in with its horrible noise.
“There’s a noise coming from your refrigerator,” he said as he unpacked a homemade pear tort.
“Yes I know,” I said.
“I think it’s the fan,” he added. I almost said “no shit” but I mumbled something about fixing it after Christmas.
The day after Christmas after I started my online search for the grommets after getting the model number of my fridge from just inside the door:

ge

After a bunch of Google searches and some phone calls the day after Christmas I found a place called J Appliances up in Washington Heights, a ten-minute bus ride away. They had the grommets.
I took the bus ride up and spent less than seven bucks to get my grommets.
I came home, took everything out of the freezer and took the fan cover and back panel off. I pulled out the fan housing and replaced the grommets. I put it all back together. I filled the freezer with the removed contents and turned the fridge back on. It buzzed.

grommet

The buzzing wasn’t as bad as before, but it wasn’t fixed. I shut it down and took off the fan cover. I pulled out the blade.
The fan motor itself was fine; there was no noise when it ran without the blade.
After a careful examination of the fan blade with a magnifying glass I found that the fan blade was missing some tiny little nubs from the hub. The only thing I could think of was that there was some kind of harmonic resonance because of the missing nubs. I put the blade back with the broken side out.

fan blade

When I turned it on again it still buzzed. I had a job scheduled for that afternoon so I just put it all back together and got my tools and left. I felt really discouraged. I made plans to call J Appliances and find out if they had the fan blade in stock.
When I returned that night I walked into my apartment and heard a sound I hadn’t heard since late October. It was the sound of the evaporator fan running normally. I was happy.
Two weeks later I was standing by the fridge when to fan went on. It started buzzing again. I wanted to open up the kitchen window and throw the 15.5 Cu. Ft GE refrigerator out into the courtyard. But I slammed the door instead. The noise stopped, but as I left the kitchen to go to the living room it started once again.
I gave up worrying about the sound, sometimes it buzzes and sometimes it don’t. Mostly it don’t.
There’s a whole new thing going on which might mean we’ll be moving anyway and won’t ever have to listen to this fridge again. But that’s another story, stay tuned.

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CHRISTMAS TREE SAGA

charlie brown

We decided to go for a Charlie brown Christmas tree this year, the current times and our budget being what it is. The past few years we’ve been pretty lucky about price and size, the first tree we had up here in Harlem I trekked all the way down to East Third Street for a thirty-dollar seven-foot tree.
I carried it on the subway in a shopping cart, like this:

Tree in a cart

The second year I got one on 145th Street about the same size for forty-five dollars, but I just didn’t have the time to trudge down to the Lower East Side. It was worth the fifteen bucks not to devote a couple of hours in search of a tree.
Last year we got this one:

tree

After checking 145th Street again last year and finding out they wanted sixty for the same sized tree we looked elsewhere. My wife Danusia had the idea that there must be trees cheaper further up in Washington Heights, so we took a bus up to 163rd and St. Nicholas to have a look. We asked a woman in the street where trees might be found.
“Not here.” She said.
“Try Broadway,” she added curtly. We set off the tree blocks to Broadway, searching high and low for the sight of rows of pine trees Tied to a fence or something. We struck gold on Broadway and 161st. It was a 24-hour Mexican grocery and they had a bunch of not so fresh trees leaning on a white van. Two young Mexican women in jeans manned the spot and after a bit of negotiating we walked off with a misshapen six-footer. It left a lot of pine needles everywhere so we knew it wasn’t the freshest, but thirty bucks is thirty bucks.
This year my good friend Victoria Booth, professional dog-walker, pigeon rescuer and blogger told me where to find good Charlie Brown Christmas trees.
“Go to the corner of Greenwich and Seventh Avenue,” she said. “They’ve got the cutest Charlie Brown trees.”
Monday night I remarkably found myself on the corner of Greenwich and Seventh, on my way to meet friends, and yes there were trees there. Lots of trees and one young man and one young woman. The young woman was doing something to something green on the sidewalk, I couldn’t see what because she was kneeling over her work and it was pretty dark already. I waited for the young man to finish with his customers, two local men who shelled out $120 for a big Douglas fir. They declined netting because they “lived down the block…”
As they sealed the deal I spotted the smallest of the Charlie brown trees tucked away in a corner like some distant cousins. I saw one I liked; about four feet tall and when the young man came over I pointed to it and asked how much.
“$50.” He said.
“$50 for that?”
“It comes with the stand.”
“I already have a stand,” I said.
“Forty without the stand.” I picked a smaller one, one that by my reckoning was worth $10 being a proper Charlie Brown with twisted branches and very little green.
“That one’s $40.”
“Thirty without the stand?” I prompted.
“Sure.”
“Let me think about it,” I said as I walked away. At least I knew where to find at least one thirty dollar tree.
When I got home I discussed this year’s tree with Danusia and she proclaimed that we needed to get our tree the next day, since we’d both be home.
Tuesday morning we set off early for 161st and Broadway to get our $30 dried out Mexican deli Christmas tree. As the bus approached the corner of 161st Street much to our dismay there were no trees. We got off the bus for a closer examination and discovered that the store was closed, out of business.
“Let’s try further up,” Danusia said, and so we did. We made it up to Columbia-Presbyterian without encountering any trees. I was becoming visibly agitated.
“Look, why don’t you go home,” Danusia said. “I can get the tree myself” she added.
“How are you going to get it home by yourself?” I asked.
“On the bus.” She replied.
“I don’t think a bus driver is going to let you on the bus with a tree,” I said. It sounded lame even as it came out of my mouth. “Look, let’s keep going, but I’m done at 170th Street.
Remarkably there were trees at 170th Street. Another young man and woman, clones of the couple on Greenwich Street. We picked out the smallest tree they had, a four footer, like the $50 one on Greenwich.
“How much for this tree?” I asked.
“That one’s $60.”
“How about without the stand?”
“It comes with the stand,” was the reply. We thanked the man and walked away.
“It seems the further up we go the more expensive they are,” I said to Danusia, who was crestfallen. We got on a downtown bus that would take us down Amsterdam Avenue, closer to home than Broadway.
We sat quietly, and I scanned the sidewalks for any sign of Christmas trees. I wanted Danusia to have her tree and be happy.
“We can get a big wreath and hang it on the wall,” she said. “Of course it would be hard to water,” she added.
Suddenly as the bus passed 160th Street I spotted a bunch of trees in front of a grocery store.
“Trees!” I exclaimed. We jumped off the bus at the next stop and walked back.
They were all small; I think the biggest one was five feet. But this was a Mexican grocery, so they had to be more reasonable than the French-Canadian monopoly trees. I pointed to the five-footer and asked how much.
“Ah, that one is $60, with the stand.” At least these trees were in stands with water in them, unlike the dried out tree of last year.
“How about this one?” I pointed to the next smaller one.
“That one is $50.” I was really getting frustrated now. How about without the stand, I asked. The guy said the stands were $15, so it came to $35 without the stand. Since we have our own stand, I said we’d take it. The guy helped me get it on my portable hand truck and Danusia and I had our better than Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Short but full:

tree today

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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ELECTION DAY

vote table

Last Tuesday morning I reported for work at the school on Amsterdam Avenue I was assigned to for the election. This time I knew what to do and found my table and box and set it up in no time. In order to open up the big metal box on wheels that contains ballots, pens, privacy sleeves, AD/ED signs, and all the other supplies needed to provide voters with service you need to break a red plastic twist-tie seal. I had neither scissors nor knife, so I had to settle for going MacGyver and using one of the provided ballpoint pens (black ink) as a lever to twist the tie around (as if one were twisting a tourniquet) until it snapped.
If you ever get kidnapped and handcuffed with twist-ties you can keep twisting your hands until the plastic stretches and breaks in the same way- I don’t know what the result will be on your wrists, though.
I got my box opened and got my books with the voter’s names in them (A-N, M-Z), opened my first pack of twenty-five ballots, set out all my instructions, and put my ID tag into the provided plastic holder with clip to clip on your shirt.
A pretty African American woman in the late thirties in a grey velour sweat suit (with pink trim) approached my table.
“Is this table six?”
“It is!” I said. We exchanged names and shook hands.
She had her notice to work card in her hand and was trying to figure out how to separate her ID tag from it. It says cut along dotted lines with scissors on it, which is what I did the night before since I knew there would be no scissors here.
“Do you have scissors?” She asked, spying my tag neatly clipped to the pocket of my red flannel shirt.
“No, I did it at home.”
“Dang,” she said.
“Here, let me help you,” I said extending my hand for her card. She handed it over. I carefully folded against each dotted line; sharply scoring each edge with a fingernail until I was satisfied I would get a clean rip, and then carefully tore the excess paper off. I put it in her holder and handed it to her.
“You did that really good,” she said. “You an artist or something?”
“I was good at arts and crafts,” I told her.
“Are you a republican?” She asked. Each table is supposed to have one Republican and one Democrat at it. That’s the rules. I looked down at the D next to my name.
“Democrat,” I said. I glanced at her nametag, and hers had a D on it too.
“Gonna be hard to find any Republicans up here,” I added.
Just then a thirtyish balding white guy in a hipster beard and suit walked up to us.
“Good morning!” He said brightly. I looked at his tag and it said, “monitor.”
“Everything ok with you guys? One Republican and one Democrat?”
I took the initiative and crossing my arms over my nametag so he couldn’t read it I said:
“Yup.”
“Good!” He said jovially as he wandered away into the just before opening bedlam of the polling place. Tables were being shoved here and there, the privacy booths rolled into place, people panicking over scissors…
“Good morning!” I looked up into the face of the supervisor; I’ll call him Mr. Blue.
“One Republican and one Democrat?” Mr. Blue didn’t take shit and he saw both name tags at once.
“Uh-uh. No good. You, Mr. Xavier, you go over there, to table nine.
“And you, young man, I know you got a Republican tag on, you come over here.”
The guy at table nine was a thin tall African-American kid in his thirties. He wore a big flat-billed baseball hat and a bomber jacket that could have held five of him. He got his belongings and slowly walked over. We nodded to each other as we passed.
My new partner was an African American woman who looked to be in her early thirties. She was short and wide and wore a long denim skirt. On her feet were soft black suede moccasins with big fluffy white pom-poms on the insteps. She was not here to impress.
“Hi, I’m Francie,” she said. I introduced myself and we shook hands. I looked at her tag; it had the R for republican on it. She followed my gaze and then looked me directly in the eye.
“I’m not a Republican,” she said solemnly. “Believe, me, I’m not.”
“I believe you, Francie.”
“It’s just so they can have one Democrat and one Republican at the table. I hate Trump.”
“Yeah, I guess I do too, Francie. At least I have a hard time listening to him talk,” I said.
I rather liked the first woman, but I’d already forgotten her name. I’ve even forgotten the name of the woman I worked the primaries with. But I will never forget Francie. She was pleasant, didn’t curse, had two daughters and one granddaughter, and worked at Yankee stadium.
“What do you do at Yankee stadium?” I asked.
“Security.” She stated flatly. Hmmn, I thought. I wondered what she could do to stop some large wild man. You never know, I thought.
She also knew what she was doing, and together we set out to get an accurate ballot count, and have as few voids as possible. Voids are what can really mess with your ballot count, a crucial part of our job.
We lucked out in that out table was the last AD/ED (assembly district, electoral district) and we only had one book, A-Z containing less than 325 names. I didn’t count the names but all we got was 325 ballots so it had to be less than that.

vote rules
I’m fascinated by people’s names, and the people themselves always fascinate me, of course. This is what made the day interesting for me. There was one girl who looked no more than twelve.
“You look like a little girl,” Francie shouted out to her. The girl smiled as she went into a booth.
An African-American guy named Levine, that one threw me a bit.
A cute old man with some kind of Muslim name, he was caramel-complexioned, wore a knit cap rakishly set on his bald head and used a cane to help with his seriously bowed legs.
“Do you know what to do?” Was what I asked each voter before sending them off to the privacy booths. This is how you cut down on voids, explaining everything carefully.
“No,” was the cute old man’s answer.
“OK, look, each row outlined in black is one office. Mayor, City councilman, etc. You only vote for one each.” This was important to point out because most of the voids (not ours) were because DiBlasio was on both the democratic ticket and the Working Family Party ticket. I made sure to point that out to everyone. One man from another table came to me and showed me how he’d marked the ballot twice for DiBlasio.
“You have to go to whoever gave you the ballot,” I told him.
Back to the cute old man. After explaining everything to him I said,
“OK, you got it?”
“No.”
“What don’t you get?”
“Who do I vote for? Tell me please?” Exasperated I said, “I can’t tell you who to vote for!”
I went over the whole thing with him one more time before he hobbled off to the booth.
“Looks like he wants you,” Francie said. I glanced back at the booth the old man was at. He was so small he could barely reach the little table behind the partition. I walked over, careful not to look over the partition.
“What do I do?” He asked.
“Mark it like I told you,” I said.
“Can I only vote for one? For the mayor? I don’t know these other people.”
I thought about that, and I knew the scanner would only reject the ballot if it was totally blank or you voted for more than one candidate per office.
“Sure. Just vote for the mayor.”

voting1

This was a constant theme, especially for the Latino voters who spoke limited English.
“Can I just vote for DiBlasio?” They would ask me in Spanish.
I’m amazed that people who passed the citizenship test need interpreters at the polls. I was pressed into interpreter service a few times when there was a rush of people.
As the night drew to a close, we began the procedures to close up our box. I looked in the bottom of the box for some labels and found a pair of scissors.
“Wow, scissors! The other box didn’t have scissors.” I exclaimed.
“Oh, those are mine,” Francie said. “I knew I was gonna need them.” See, she was a perfect partner.
Seventeen hours after I put my nametag on, Francie and I stood in the check out line with our orange pouch containing our used ballot stubs and unused ballots and all the other paraphernalia particular to NYC elections. Our tally was perfect, eighty-six ballots used and accounted for. I could tell Francie was a little nervous about getting the totals from the scanners, but I’d kept a running tally on a piece of paper and we’d only had one void (the voter’s fault) and I took care of getting the count and doing all the math while she packed and sealed everything. A great day’s work considering the results on the news when I got home.

 

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