The Drunken Juggler

juggler

(google)

Late night bus rides are never dull. After 10:01 p.m., the buses arrive at different gates, in more distant, less-trafficked chambers of Port Authority Bus Terminal (“PABT”). More tourists, more drunk people, a generic strain of weirdos and lost souls (aren’t we all?).

I arrived at PABT at 10:40 p.m. last night after seeing an opera with my friend. The next bus was scheduled for 11:05 p.m. A jocular becspectacled woman with a thick mane of dirty blonde hair bounced toward the front of the gate. Some of us were leaning against the wall and a few others, lined up.

“Where do we line up?” she said, smiling widely. “Do we stand ‘in line’ or ‘on line’? Do we have any grammar Nazis here?”

I said, “I think it’s ‘on line.’ ”

“In school it was a really big deal. We stood on line, that’s what we did. Always a line.”

“Yes, we did,” I said.

She fished into her canvas tote bag, pulled out five soft black and white balls and started juggling.

A guy leaning against the wall next to me said, “Wow, I could never do that.”

The lady said, “Oh, we can teach you. Come to Bryant Park any Wednesday between 5 and 7. We’re always there. I find it makes people smile. It’s all about getting people to smile.”

If her smile was any wider, I thought it would tear the sides of her mouth until they bled.

She dropped a ball and returned all five balls to their tote bag.

“Oh, alcohol makes everything better!” she said.

The leaning guy and I smiled at her.

Definitely a New York moment.

It was one of those times where you enjoyed the moment, but felt a bit on edge, like you had to participate in this person’s exuberance no matter how tired you were. Not necessarily a bad thing, but there was a tinge of danger and volatility to her. I thought if we looked at her the wrong way or didn’t smile, she might fly off the handle.

We were a captive audience.

I was happy when the bus arrived and I could burrow into a seat towards the back of the bus and close my eyes. I had had enough excitement for one day.

 

 

 

Things I Don’t Understand

1.   Family stencils / decals on the back of cars, or what my husband Lorin calls “the serial killer’s menu.”

il_340x270.663100742_1bbw

(google)

2.  People who ride Citi Bikes (New York thing) on the sidewalk. It’s both rude and dangerous. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ones who go through red lights and ride on the wrong side of the road.

20130910_123054

3.  People who race through Shoprite as if their carts are on fire. It’s kind of weird and also dangerous: you could hit a little kid or old lady that way!

shopping carts

(photo by me)

4.  Why cashiers at Duane Reade say, “the following guest” or simply “the following”? I never feel like I’m a guest at Duane Reade. Are we at a party or a pharmacy?

5.  Why we can’t pump our own gas in New Jersey. NJ folks text, apply makeup, give themselves bikini waxes, eat entire meals, read newspapers and talk on the phone in their cars, but we’re not allowed to pump our own gas. Some of us don’t mind a bit: bumper stickers and T-shirts abound proclaiming:

sku003924-2

6.  Why Governor Christie is still in office. The New York Times aired the latest dirty laundry: giving his pal Donald Trump a major break on taxes for the Taj Mahal Casino. No wonder the Garden State can’t afford decent lighting on the roadways and pothole repair.

7.  Why people don’t like Sphynx cats. Come on, look at this puss.

sphynx-cat-kittens-wallpaper-3

8. Short people on the NJ Transit bus who lean their seats all the way back so the person behind them gets their legs crushed. Is it a Napoleon complex? By the way, it’s generally smaller women who do this.  Same goes for people on airplanes. It’s rude!

9.  People with “glass head syndrome.” Those are the co-workers who are friendly to you one day and the next look through you as if your head was made of glass and you don’t exist.

10.  Cookie dough ice cream. Both cookie dough and the ice cream of the same name make me sick to my stomach, and I love baking.

 

A Waiting Room with a View

HSS waiting room

This is the view from the Hospital for Special Surgery’s (“HSS”) Radiology Department waiting room. A waiting room with a view.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, HSS is ranked the best hospital for orthopedics in the U.S. Luckily one of the doctors there takes my insurance too.

The radiologist who x-rayed my knee had matinee-idol good looks, like Ricardo Montalbán. My first thought was, Why isn’t he in the movies?

ricardo-montalbans-quotes-1

(google image – Ricardo Montalbán) 

He was a tall, clean-shaven Latino with salt and pepper hair and a winning smile and sense of humor. What more could a girl ask for at 8:30 in the morning in a striped hospital gown?

He asked what was wrong with my knee.

“Seems I have no cartilage,” I said.

“Ah ha. My mother’s coming here for a knee replacement soon,” he said.

“That’s probably what I’ll need. I’ve never been to this hospital before, but my friend told me it’s the best for orthopedics,” I said.

“She’s right. I bring all my family here.”

“Luckily I found a doctor who takes my insurance.”

He laughed. “Some of the doctors don’t take our insurance either, but we’re supposed to get a discount.”

For one of the final x-rays, when the machine wasn’t cooperating, he said, “This machine is very sentimental.” I think he meant “sensitive.” Or maybe he meant “sentimental.”

Who knows, maybe the machines are sentimental. Who’s to say they don’t recall past patients and absorb some of their discomforts and pain after years of photographing injured parts.

He said from the control room, “It should be working. It’s new.”

And finally, it did.

“Okay, you’re all done,” he said.

On my way out, he said, “You look like that actress. Uh, let me think . . .  . It’ll come to me later.”

“Okay, see you later then.  Thank you.”

I went into the dressing room to get changed.

After I saw the PA and the orthopedist, a guy named Buzz who was in charge of shuttling patients to and from exam rooms, said, “You remind me of a young Ellen Barkin. Has anyone ever told you that?”

220px-Barkin-crop

(google image – Ellen Barkin)

“Yes, they used to tell me all the time,” I said. “She’s from Queens, I think, like me. I grew up mostly in Jackson Heights.”

“Oh, yeah?”

Buzz was a charming and speedy 60-something who sported a red vest and almost lost me on the way to the exam room.

He said, “Dr. W, he’s a good one.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Good to know.”

It may sound odd, but there was a homey vibe to the hospital. Like people worked well together and the pieces fit.

Not a bad way to spend the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of the Oculus Compels Me

Oculus 1 Oculus 2

Twelve years and $4 billion of public funds (Port Authority) later, the Oculus has reared its lovely (?) head and stegosaurus body for the world to see. Why commuters need such a monstrosity as a transportation hub seems to be a moot point, as it will be housing multiple high-end retail shops and is surely benefiting someone. Why the $4 billion wasn’t earmarked to rejuvenate the decrepit Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street which has not been rehauled in 40 years and filter-feeds about 250,000 commuters daily, never ceases to amaze me. Having spent the last nine years commuting in and out of this bus station from New Jersey, I can tell you that it leaves much to be desired both aesthetically and otherwise.

PA 9-3-14Gate 224 (2) 9-3-14

(all photos by E. Herd)

I guess it all comes down to perception. Now that my office has moved to the Financial District, I have been blessed with the opportunity to behold, I mean, worship, the Oculus on a daily basis. I have yet to step within its glistening turkey carcass chambers. I am waiting for the right moment. Not sure when that will be.

As John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Remember in 2001: A Space Odyssey how the monkeys went wild over the monolith? Well, now we have our modern-day monolith. I haven’t seen any monkeys banging at it yet.

Splendor in the Glass

Here are some views of my new work environs in the Financial District.

North End Avenue

Murray Street – food shops and such

Tulips
Tulips on the Glass – Brookfield Place

Fashion window

Models on the Glass – outside Brookfield Place

glass building

Behind building (excuse my thumb, upper left corner)

water view

My favorite view (non-glass)

What though the radiance
 which was once so bright
 Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
 Of splendour in the grass,
 of glory in the flower,
 We will grieve not, rather find
 Strength in what remains behind;
 In the primal sympathy
 Which having been must ever be;
 In the soothing thoughts that spring
 Out of human suffering;
 In the faith that looks through death,
 In years that bring the philosophic mind.

–William Wordsworth

My best wishes to all for a glorious Memorial Day weekend!

Men Who Lunch

I was eating lunch at my favorite urban park yesterday. Four sets of stairs to the top, but it’s worth it for the view. When you’re lucky, you find a place in the sun. Those seats usually go first. I sat in the shade. Two men sat on the same metal mesh bench as me–one in his 40s, I think, and the other in his 20s. Both wore boat shoes, khakis and button down pastel shirts – casual Friday wear on a Wednesday.

I couldn’t help but eavesdrop: it’s a necessity for a writer, I believe. The day before two 20-something girls sat next to me. Here was part of their conversation in Valley Girl uptalk:

Girl #1:  I pet this stray cat in an alley today–like, he came right up to me.

Girl #2:  Yaah.

Girl #1: Then, he like, scratched me. You know, cats are bipolar.

Girl #2: Yaah, they’re mean.

The 20-something guy also had the Valley-speak. Like, whatever.

Older guy: So what kind of music do you do?

Young dude: It’s like soul, but kind of poppy and a bit R&B.

Older dude: (couldn’t make out his response — kind of a low talker).

Older dude: Any plans for the summer?

Young dude: Well, my folks have a house on Block Island, so we’ll be hanging out there.

Older dude: (mumble mumble)

Young dude:  So what’s happening with your boat?

Older dude: (mumble mumble) What about yours?

Young dude: We’re working on the sails right now, should be ready to go soon.

The young dude kind of reminded me of the Owen Wilson character in Meet the Parents. Ah, the good life, summering on Block Island and yachting. Sounds like a blast, dude.

Here’s to bipolar cats, yachting and the ladies and men who lunch!

New Year’s Eve

Statue of Liberty

(photo credit – BEV Norton)

No traffic
bus arrives early at Port Authority
Times Square barricaded
as if we are under siege

At the office
Quiet
tolling the hours
without bells
or fanfare

New Year’s Eve

It’s getting colder
is winter coming
or did we miss it this year?

polar bears on melting ice
Mississippi River flooding
people living on the streets

the young woman huddles, arms over head
on the southeast corner of
Third Avenue and 42nd Street

I see her every day
I want to know who she is
but am afraid to ask

her cardboard sign says she needs
more money for shelter
and “Happy New Year”

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

What would Emma Lazarus say today?

Shiny tourists rush past her
with children, well-fed and tan
going to see the ball drop tonight
or the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

how brave of her to write
“Happy New Year”
in black marker
in defiance of her circumstance

I hope she has one
I hope we all do

[Note: Section in italics is from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus]

The Lady in the Robe

mannequin

mannequin - side angle

Is she a prisoner
or a confused supermodel
the Lady in the Robe

Does she wonder how
she landed in a Chemist’s on Park
our Lady in the Robe

Is she a meeter and greeter,
or did she go for a spa day
to wind up in that thing

Is she tired or
or besotted with ennui
watching pedestrians zag and zig

or a time traveler,
a Twilight Zone character–
walking the floors at night

Nothing fazes her,
she’s a real New Yorker
she never gets uptight

I hope she enjoys her weekend
whether in or out of bath wear
she needs a break from
watching the streets
our Lady in the terry

*photos by E. Herd

 

Night Crawlers

marbles at PA 

Wally Gobetz (Port Authority Bus Terminal Subway Station, “Losing My Marbles” by Lisa Dinhofer)

10 p.m. It’s the bewitching hour at Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s when the changeover occurs, from Commuter-land to Weirdo-ville. Even the gate numbers change. Bus 163 now arrives at Gate 409 instead of Gate 224. An endless corridor leads you to the 400 gates, or maybe it feels like that because you’re more tired. There are more tourists, young people, revelers, down-and-outs and oddballs.

It was Friday night after seeing a show. I thought the next bus was at 10:50, but that was the 164. The next 163 came at 11:05. Twenty minutes till then. The line was long.

“Can you take my jacket off? I’m like sweatin’, oh shit!” said a woman sprawled on a couple of those plastic pull-down plastic seats that can barely accommodate a toddler’s ass.

She was a dead ringer for Roseanne Barr, but much younger, in gray leggings and a loose black blouse. She was soused and loud.

Her boyfriend or the guy with her was a lean Latino of average height wearing a baseball cap. She addressed him and seemingly anyone in earshot.

She commented on a woman passing by, “A white girl got ass, what? Damn! I tell everybody to shut the fuck up.”

I could not hear what her boyfriend was saying, but I think he was trying to quiet her down.

“This be gettin’ some tonight,” she said, pointing to her crotch. “I’m gonna fuck him tonight.”

“What, you don’t like it?” She cackled, Roseanne Barr-like.

Finally the 11:05 pulled in.

The boyfriend led the girl to the back of the bus. I sat 3/4 towards the back.

A woman with two small children sat towards the back of the bus.

A white guy and the drunk girl continued shout-talking, every other word punctuated by “fuck” or “fuck you up.”

A 20 to 30-something African American man said, “Please, man, there’s children in here.”

“Fuck you!” the white guy said.

“Hey, I’m trying to reason with you, bro.  Have some respect.”

“You wanna take it outside?” 

The bus driver seemed oblivious to the back room antics. 

“Come on, man, take it easy,” the African American man said.

“You gonna have to bail me out,” the loud guy said.

I fantasized about the bus driver stopping, letting the two guys off to settle their differences, bloody mayhem ensuing.

It felt like an eternity of back and forth, one guy shouting threats and curses and the other trying to stay calm and reasonable. 

Sanity prevailed. By the time the African American guy was exiting the bus, the two had settled their differences.

“I’m just trying to get home,” the African American man said. 

“Me too, bro. It’s all good,” the other guy said. 

Peace, aside from the intermittent cackle from young Roseanne Barr.

Then she, her boyfriend and the white guy disembarked as well. 

Heaven. I closed my eyes and relaxed for the rest of the ride home.

Dirty Pretty Money

cash

photo by E. Herd

In Grand Central Station:

I gave a buck to the accordionist who plays “La Vie en Rose,” “Lara’s Theme” and gypsy tunes.

I gave a buck to the violinist with a sign on his wheelie cart that says “Need money to get my wife a liver.”

I gave a buck to the harpist who looks Eastern European and has a warm smile. He plays “Cielito Lindo” and some tunes I don’t know.

 

I gave several bucks to the Marine Vet on the street who used to be bundled up and stationed on the grates at the northwest corner of 42nd and Lex. We talked for a while. He said he was shot up in Afghanistan, lost his home and his family, got slashed and robbed at a homeless shelter and wouldn’t go back. I saw him for weeks during the winter, then was afraid to make eye contact. He looked worse and worse each time I saw him. He didn’t look up anymore. I felt like a bad person for avoiding him, not being able to help. Since I really can’t help, why talk to him, I reasoned to myself. I felt powerless to help, ashamed even. I don’t see him anymore. I wonder where he’s gone.

Giving away a couple bucks here and there won’t change anything.

I think I can do more.

I have to figure out how in our new Gilded Age.