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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BULLY FOR YOU

roughrider classic comics

You don’t hear that much expression anymore. Now if you say you did something exciting you might get a dry “good for you.” Or more modern, “awesome.”
Of course, only girls get a “you go, girl.” Or some women, I’d guess. But I’ve always liked “bully for you,” probably because I’m old and I like familiar things.
A few weeks ago Danusia and I were watching the six o’clock news when the commentator mentioned that Trump was going to use the “Bully Pulpit.” Danusia looked at me and asked, “What does bully pulpit mean?”
“It means using your platform to push a particular agenda,” I said.

Then I got all professorial and explained to her how it had originated with Theodore Roosevelt, who was fond of describing anything he liked as “bully.” Actually it wasn’t just him, bully was a common expression in the 19th century, meaning cool or awesome. Or boss, if you want to get 1960s about it.
When I was 11 or 12 I discovered a Classic Comics issue all about Theodore Roosevelt, and devoured it. Liked it so much I read it over and over again, and it gave me a lot of inspiration.
pantywaist
It depicted him as a weak child who went out west to get tough. He had to work at it, and he had the gumption to overcome physical weakness. It made me want to go out west and hunt rustlers and go big game hunting. Made me want to have weak eyes so I could wear a pince-nez. I did eventually get to grow a mustache.
Bandits TR
As I got older I kind of lost track of all of the idealistic stuff, especially after I started reading some real history and realizing that despite his heart of gold T.R. could be a real bully at times. He ostracized his younger brother for being a drunk, and the brother eventually committed suicide.
He was really gung ho about the Spanish American war; a newspaper manufactured war if there ever was one, and formed his own private army when he couldn’t get into the U.S. Army. He certainly didn’t lack for bloodlust. Here I could talk about all the animals he killed because he loved killing, but he was also a conservationist, and under his administration established the National Parks Service, as well as setting aside federal land for National Parks. That was all very “bully.”
SpeechMaker bully pulpit
But let’s not forget his “Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,” and his help to Japan in their annexation of Korea in the early part of the last century, definite big bully stuff.
Which brings us to President Trump’s bully pulpit. The last couple of days I’d say it’s more of a brow-beating pulpit, where he’s tried to harangue his own party into passing his half-assed health care bill, which should be called Trumpdon’tcare. Now that’s more of a mouthful than Obamacare, but we can make it work. The Trumpdon’tcare act. You heard it here first. Remember, he doesn’t even like Trumpcare.
So they decided not to have the vote yesterday, and who knows what will happen later today, except either gloating or finger pointing (It was Paul Ryan’s fault!) but it will most certainly be more of the same.
I wonder if there is any way we could dig up old T.R. and have him cloned? At least he believed in saving the land. He’d kill that pipeline right quick.
And besides, he famously said of the Russians in 1905:
“No human beings, black, yellow, or white could be quite as untruthful, as insincere, as arrogant- in short as untrustworthy in every way as the Russians.”
He said that while he was helping the Japanese annex Korea in secret. Hey, he won the Nobel Peace prize for that one. Go, Teddy.

All images from the Classic Comics issue were downloaded from the internet.

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NICE SHOES, J.B.

jb

In the winter of 1981-82 I dated a girl named Tegan, who had a sister named Sian. They talked to each other every day, and sometimes I was present. Somewhere in those daily conversations one would inevitably ask the other, “did you read J.B.’s column today?”
One day I asked Tegan, “Who the hell is J.B.?”
“Why J.B. is Jimmy Breslin, the newspaper columnist, of course.”
“And you read his column every day?” I wondered why these two girls fresh out of college and from Washington, D.C. would be so keen on a New York newspaperman. Especially one who was so quintessentially New York. So I asked.
“Why him? Why not Hamill? Or MacAlary?” I was about to mention Liz Smith when Tegan sweetly informed me that Rosemary Breslin; Jimmy’s daughter was a friend of hers. Oh.
I met Rosemary sometime after that, and she told me a funny story about a piece she’d sold to a national magazine.
To me at J.B. was a legend, a man whose column I read with some regularity, when I felt like springing for a quarter or whatever the Daily News cost in the ‘80s or if I found one on the subway.
I loved his book, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, even though I didn’t realize till years after that it was a thinly veiled account of the gangster Crazy Joe Gallo.
I read with great interest his accounting of the Son of Sam case, being a young man dating a young girl in 1977 and knowing the killer’s target was young couples dating. Of course we didn’t have a car, and Berkowitz’s M.O. was shooting young couples making out in parked cars but that didn’t make my girlfriend feel any safer. But for me it was fascinating journalism and I read every last article. Jimmy was a hero, a role model of the kind of writer I would be if I were ever to be a writer. At the time of the Berkowitz case I saw myself as a filmmaker.
So it felt good having this connection to a celebrity no matter how tenuous it may have been.
I finally met him in person a few years later, in the early ‘90s.
At that time I was working in a shoe store on East 55th Street in Manhattan, Yorke Dynamold Shoes. We sold “Fashionable shoes for problem feet” according to our weekly tiny little ad in the New York Times, buried deep in the back pages of I don’t remember which section. We also made orthotics that went into the shoes; you can’t go wrong selling orthotics.

shoemaker

Me in my shoemaker outfit back then.

At that point we’d developed quite a nice upscale clientele, not quite the “carriage trade” my boss aspired to, but close. Jerry Orbach came in with his wife. So did Alan Alda. Our most famous client was Barbara Walters, who bought 20 pairs of shoes and returned half of them the next day, much to the boss’s disappointment.
And we had Ronnie Eldridge, from the city council. She was my customer, and I don’t remember how that happened but whenever she came into the store she’d always ask for me. I knew she was married to Breslin, since I read the papers and keep up with current events. One day I let it drop that I’d met Rosemary and had once dated Tegan.

“Oh, really, Tegan? I just saw her last week.” I hadn’t seen her in a few years, not since she dumped me for Billy the pool shark from D.C. But I had married one of Tegan’s classmates (and friend, I’d guess) from Pratt. So there was still some tenuous connection there.
So a relationship was established, and one day Ronnie brought Jimmy in.
“Fit him in a nice pair of shoes. He’s kind of ornery, but he doesn’t bite. And an orthotic, too. My gift.”
So I was left alone with the great man, who glowered at me from under his big bushy eyebrows.
“Xavier, that’s your name, right?”
“Yessir.”
“Xavier, how much do these shoes cost?” He asked as I was slipping a pair of $150 Allan Edmonds bluchers on his feet.

shoes

“Ah, these are $150. And the orthotic I will be making for you will be an additional $350.”
“Xavier, do you know how much I pay for a pair of shoes? $25. That’s what a decent pair of shoes should cost.”
I wanted to say it wasn’t 1969 anymore, and he wasn’t going to find a decent pair of leather shoes for under $75 anywhere in Manhattan. But I kept my mouth shut.
I found it interesting that he thought that about shoes, because there is a scene in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight where he describes the very expensive footwear on the feet of the gangsters, and all of those shoes were a lot more than $25 in 1969.
Instead I told him about how I was measuring his feet properly and how the Allan Edmonds shoes would last him for the rest of his life if he took good care of them and had them re-soled every few years. He grunted to indicate he’d heard, but didn’t believe a word I’d said.
After fitting him I took an impression of his feet in some foam so I could make a plaster cast and make the orthotic for him. He put his shoes back on and left.
I made the orthotic in record time and called him a few days later to let him know the shoes and orthotic were ready. To my surprise he answered the phone himself and we had a nice conversation about the shoes.
The next day my co-worker Jerry came storming into the store waving a copy of New York Newsday, the long Island paper. Coincidentally that was the paper Breslin was writing for at the time.
“Look at this, you made the papers,” Jerry said as he folded open the paper to Breslin’s column. Everyone else in the store gathered around to read over my shoulder.
In it he recounted verbatim our first encounter in the store, and then the phone conversation we’d had just the day before. He went on to complain about the cost of shoes, and the shoe industry in general. He pretty much accused my boss of being a crook. But I was just a guy trying to make a living, I wasn’t the crook.
I kept that paper for a long time, but it got lost in one of the may times my then wife and I moved.
When I first started writing about ten years ago, having an idea for a book I often toyed with writing a letter to him in hopes of getting some help to getting my book published. I always wondered if I could write, “Dear Jimmy, I’m the guy who sold you the most expensive shoes you ever bought, you must remember me…” Or something to that effect.
In 2004, Rosemary passed away and I went to the funeral. It was at the St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street. I wondered if Tegan or Sian would be there, and maybe I’d run into them, talk about old times. But there were hundreds of people there, and I wasn’t getting anywhere near Ronnie or Jimmy to express my condolences.
And now Jimmy is gone too. If you read this, Ronnie, you have my sincerest condolences. Jimmy was a man that on occasion brought both tears of joy and tears of grief to my eyes. He was a true writer and will always be in my heart.

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CALL THE WATER DEPARTMENT

water department

Actually I called 311, to report a leak. That was Saturday, after spotting a leak in the street on my way to do the laundry very early in the morning. I like to get there early so I don’t have to fight for a machine, or worse yet, for the single folding table my local laundry has.
I’ve seen this leak before, and it’s really only obvious when the temperature is below freezing and the water on it’s way down 152nd Street to the sewer grate on the corner starts to freeze and expand.
The first time I remember seeing it was a month ago, the last time it was below freezing on a Saturday morning, and I wondered if there had been a fire or something overnight, as there was a hell of a lot of frozen water in the gutter.

leak4

I followed the frozen stream up the block where it petered out, but there was no fire hydrant there or evidence of a fire and I lost interest.
But seeing it again this Saturday I was determined to get to the source of the mysterious ice stream.
I walked up the block from the southeast corner of Broadway and 152nd with my eye glued to the gutter, observing the ice that had formed around all the candy wrappers, cans, cigarette buts and whatever else ends up in our gutters. The ice petered out just short of the front entrance to 584 West 152nd.
And that’s when I noticed that here the ice had water around it, and I followed the wetness to a spot in the street a car’s width from the curb. There it was, a wet puddle, and I could actually see water actively flowing from a crack in the asphalt.

leak 1

On closer observation I noticed that there was a trough of different colored asphalt a couple of feet wide that went up and down the street.
It looked like the street had been torn up at some point in the past few months, and either a pipe or cable had been laid or repaired, and then repaved.
It was my ah-ha moment, I felt like a real detective, and I took a picture.
Then I went back down the block to the corner, snapping more photos on the way. One way or the other I was going to let the world know about the leak I’d discovered. Maybe I could get it named after me.
While folding my clothes at the laundry I decided on a course of action. I would call 311; I was pretty sure reporting a leak is a civic duty. I envisioned Mayor Bill shaking my hand and handing me a plaque declaring me a civic hero for saving the city hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.

leak3
When I got home I found the 311 website and looked until I found the report a leak category. I filled out all the info, name, address, etc., and then I filled out all of the details, the location (a car’s width north of the curb 7 feet west of the front entrance of 584 West 152nd Street.) and whatever else I could think of, like my estimated rate of flow (at least hundreds of gallons per hour!)
Feeling very satisfied with myself I set off to our first meeting of the local community garden, The Garden Of Hope on 152nd between Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenues.

It was too cold to meet in the Garden, so we all retired to Wimpey’s Hamburger Heaven on Amsterdam Avenue. In the middle of the meeting I got a phone call that I declined, and when I looked at the number it said, “Water Department.”
Wow that was quick, I thought.
When I listened to the message, though, I was a little confused.
“We’re downstairs. Can you let us in?”
After the meeting I called the number back where I got a strange message, where a woman says, Hello? So I said, “Hello.” She said hello again and I started to say the leak is in the street. Then there was a third hello, followed by “I can’t answer right now, leave a message. Strangest voicemail greeting I’ve ever heard. So I repeated my “the leak is in the street” message and hung up.
There was a text as well, the one you can see at the top of this post, and I wrote, “The leak is in the street.”
I forgot all about it till Monday morning, when my phone rang as I was on a C train headed to the Whole Foods at 59th Street. I was somewhere between 103rd Street and 96th. I looked at my phone and it said WATER DEPARTMENT so I answered. It was the three-hello woman.
“Yes, we’re in front of the building, can you let us in?” I had no idea why they wanted to come in my building, but I knew I was going to lose her when the train left the 96th Street station.
“Listen, I’m on the subway and I’m going to lose you. Let me call you back.” Then I heard the beep-beep-beep of a dropped call.
As the train pulled into 86th Street the phone rang again.
“We need to get in and blah, blah, blah.” She was breaking up and I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
“Look, I’m on the subway and I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Let me call you back when I get off.” Beep-beep-beep again.
At 72nd street I answer the phone again.
“Why you keep hanging up on me? I’m gonna hang up on you!” Beep-beep-beep.
Desperate to straighten this thing out and explain I had not hung up on her I willed the train to get to 59th Street as fast as possible. It slowed down for the lumbering entrance to the Columbus Circle station.
From the safety and relative comfort of the Time Warner building’s lobby I called back. The woman answered.
“We need to get into the building, why won’t you let us in?”
I had no idea why they wanted to get in the building.
“The leak is in the street, a car’s width north of…” There was a strangled cry of frustration on the other end of the line, some scratching noise, and then a man’s voice.
“Hello, this is the water department. Can you let us in?”
“Well, I’m not home, for starters. You haven’t found the leak yet? It’s a car’s width…”
“Sir, we found the leak, we just need to inspect your basement.”
“But the leak is down the block, in front of 584. I live on Amsterdam.”
“Oh. You’re not the building super?”
“NO.”
“But you reported the leak.”
“I’m just a concerned citizen.” I said.
“Oh, ok.”
“So you don’t need me anymore, do you?” Then in the background I heard voices, and the man I was speaking to said, “are you the super?” to someone.
Getting back to me he said, “No sir, we don’t need you anymore.” Finally.
Well, I’m impressed that the water department is on top of things. No so impressed with their communication skills. I deserve a plaque just for dealing with the three-hello woman, who raised my blood pressure to no end several times for nothing.

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PLUMBING PROBLEMS

kitchen faucet

A couple of weeks ago my friend Joyce called me about the dripping faucet in her kitchen. I told her that would be no problem, I could take care of it and I’d come over. I’ve fixed dozens of dripping faucets. Well, actually more than a dozen but less than 24, I don’t know for sure.
I’ve done a dozen or so full faucet replacements as well; I guess that’s what adds to the number confusion. A new faucet does stop the drip.
I collected my big Channel Lock pliers, some Teflon tape and a little box of washers and headed down to Joyce’s Soho loft.
The first bad news was that the plumbing had been installed sometime in the ‘70s, meaning the faucet and all its attending valves are forty plus years old. Old valves, especially the screw-type gate valves are never fun. Give me a ball valve any day.
I took all the stuff out from beneath the sink and turned off the water, careful not to over-tighten it. There was still a little water coming from the faucet, so one or both of the valves wasn’t holding. But it was enough to be able to take the stems out of the faucet and not have water shooting everywhere.
I used my trusty Channel Lock to take the cap nuts off of the stems and pull them out. Both had worn-out washers. The washers in the caps were worn out as well, that’s why there was also water seeping from them before I took everything apart.
It would have been best to replace the whole faucet, but we wanted to save money. Washers are the cheapest solution.
I didn’t have the right size washer, that’s the problem with not being a professional plumber- you’re not as well equipped. It was off to the hardware store.
The washers I got were ok, but I wasn’t too successful in scraping out the old washer from the retaining cap, and this hardware store did not carry the caps.
Thankfully I only did it to the hot water, which now dripped even worse when I turned the water back on. I called Joyce and suggested that we replace both stems. She agreed and I took pictures of the stems.

stems
When I turned the water back on I discovered that the hot water supply valve was leaking badly in the open position. The loft has no inlet shut off valves; only these old screw valves beneath both the bathroom and kitchen sinks. I was going to have to shut off the water from the basement to re-pack the valve.
I looked up the faucet on line, the Chicago Faucet Company. Luckily they are still in business, and my favorite plumbing supply, New York Replacement Parts on Lexington Ave. had the stems. I made the trip to 94th Street the next morning and got the stems and some graphite packing string to fix the valve.
I made it to the loft, shut off the water in the basement, replace both stems, re-packed both the stem caps and the wonky valve and turned on the water.
The valve under the sink was no longer dripping and both the hot and cold water were working fine, and the repacked hot water supply valve under the sink no linger dripped. I cleaned up; feeling very satisfied with myself and left the loft (I had the keys) after texting Joyce a picture.
The next night Danusia and I went to see a show at the Preforming Garage, just down the block from Joyce’s loft. It was the show I wrote about in my last blog. After the show we were on the C train somewhere north of 72nd Street when my phone rang. It’s still a little disconcerting to hear your phone ring god knows how many feet underground while you are between stations. It was Joyce but when I answered, the call dropped. I waited and when we pulled into the next station I played the message, where Joyce was frantically screaming “IT EXPLODED! THE WATER EXPLODED!”
My heart sank. Did I fuck it up? Always the first thought, I fucked it up.
But I’d done everything right. It’s like riding a bike, you learn how to do it and you know how to do it forever.
We got off the train at 96th Street and I got her on the phone. She was a little calmer but not by much.
“I got the downstairs neighbor to come and turn off the valves, but there’s still water dripping from the spigot.” I looked at the picture she’d sent me and listened to the drip on the phone as Joyce held the phone to the sink.
“Listen, It’s under control, you’ll be fine until the morning,” I assured her. Danusia was urging me to go back down, but there was nothing I could do without the proper tools.
“I’ll leave my phone on in case you need me,” I added.
The next day I saw that the cap to the cold water had loosened, and I had no idea how it had happened. I tightened everything up and turned on the water, but now the cold wouldn’t shut off. Either the stem had gotten damaged or it was faulty.
I took it back to New York Replacement parts, where the big guy with the shaved head that exchanged it for me said, “If it happens again it’s not the stem.”
When I got back I figured the packing string I used might have had something to do with it. I used a washer that seemed to fit the cap instead. But now when I turned the handle it was very tight. I turned off the water and started all over again. I didn’t want any more calls in the middle of a subway ride.
I found an O-ring that fit and didn’t rub against the smaller O-ring on the top of the stem. This time the tap handle moved freely and everything held.
There was still a little dripping from the stop valve underneath, but there was nothing I could do until we get some shut-off valves put in. I tightened the packing nut as much as I dared and emptied out the little cake pan Joyce’s dad had put under the sink for this singular purpose, the valve has been dripping for years, it seems.

red valve

You can see by that light spot on top of the P-trap in the lower left hand part of the photo that the drip has been going on awhile…

The apartment downstairs is being renovated, and they are installing new valves, so when they do theirs I’ll be able to take care of that drip.
Out of all the things a handyman gets to do plumbing is the scariest and hairiest. If you fuck it up there can be a lot of property damage. I keep that foremost in my mind every time I start a plumbing project.
Next blog- hair in the drain.

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PROTEST AND A SHOW

protest

For Valentine’s day Danusia and I were going to a show. The Wooster Group’s production of “The Town Hall Affair,” an irreverent look at Norman Mailer’s raucous 1971 confrontation with leading feminists at New York City’s Town Hall. The event was filmed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker; who released it as Town Bloody Hall in 1979.
The film is the basis for the play, in which Maura Tierney plays Germaine Greer, Kate Valk does Jill Johnston of the Village Voice, and Diana Trilling is played to fun effect by a man, Greg Mehrten.
Norman Mailer’s tremendous ego required two actors, Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd.

11townhall-master768

Maura Tierney, Scott Shepherd, and Ari Fialkos in The Town Hall Affair.

But first, a protest!
It was announced on Facebook Monday that there would be a protest in Foley Square at 6 PM Valentine’s day against Trump’s anti-immigration stance. Danusia said she wanted to go, and as an immigrant myself, I was interested too. But I pointed out that though close by, probably a mile or so, the protest would overlap with our show, which Danusia said was to start at 7.
We got to the Performing Garage at 6:30, and after looking at the poster for the show we realized it wouldn’t start till 7:30. I know from experience that the doors wouldn’t be opened till 15 minutes before the show time. I wasn’t happy.
“Why don’t we go to the protest?” Danusia asked enthusiastically. Less enthusiastically I agreed. It was better than standing on Wooster Street for 45 minutes. We caught a downtown R train on Broadway and rode it one stop to City Hall. We walked the remaining five or so blocks to Foley Square where we found the demonstration.
There were probably three hundred people there, plus a hundred or so law enforcement types. There was no major media, no speakers, and no real organization. Just clumps of people with signs. There were a few people with tubas and assorted brass instruments trying to fire up the crowd. Every once and a while a chant would flare up and die down. Luckily it wasn’t too cold.
A girl in all white makeup and a white outfit portraying the blindfolded statue of justice got most of the media attention.

justice

As close to 7 PM as I dared I suggested we start making our way back to Wooster Street. It was a 20-minute walk.
The best part of the play was when the two Normans wrestle on stage after one bops the other over the head with a hammer. It looked pretty real and it was loud when Scott Shepherd hit Ari Fliakos over the head. They were re-enacting a scene from the Norman Mailer directed (and written by also, I’m afraid) Maidstone, from 1970. In the movie it’s Rip Torn hitting Mailer over the head. I wonder how different history would be if it had been a real hammer and some real elbow grease put into that strike. Why we’d have no Executioner’s Song! And no Town Hall Affair, either. You can’t have everything, I guess.
Anyway, the on-stage scuffle combined with the on screen inadvertent hilarity was the high point of the evening.
Not that the rest of the play was no fun, it was, but for me that was the best part.
We also had the good fortune to spot the actor Bill Camp in the audience, Danusia thought at first that he was one of the actors in Animal Kingdom but I could tell he was no Australian. With a little brainstorming we determined that he was the cop Detective Box in The Night Of on HBO last summer.
Danusia went up to him after the show, and it turned out that the striking woman with him (in an equally striking Carhart one piece canvas coverall) was none other than Elizabeth Marvel, Madame President on Showtime’s Homeland. I knew there was something familiar about her…
Yesterday we went to another protest/demonstration in Washington Square Park. It was billed as a general strike, and we were promised speakers for this one. But by 2 PM the promised first speaker hadn’t shown up.
This one was a little bigger, maybe 400 people. There were bullhorns and chants, and some semblance of organization, albeit a little flaky.

bullhorn

This woman was having a hard time with the bullhorn.

A guy offered us a placard on a stick, and when I took it he asked for a donation.
“For printing costs,” he said. Danusia gave him two bucks. There were a few people selling buttons. Some good homemade posters and people dressed up weird. This was Greenwich Village, after all, the capital of dressing weird.

d and sign

There was a guy in the 70s who looked and dressed just like William Shakespeare and wandered around McDougall Street all day long. There were also really big protests against the Vietnam War that I attended back then. I guess people today aren’t mad enough yet.

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