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:


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.


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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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:


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.
“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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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:
“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?”
“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.”


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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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.


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.


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.”


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.


“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?”
“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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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.


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.


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

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.


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…”


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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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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