30 December 2005

Lost & Found

I live in a pretty conservative neighborhood -- lifestyle-wise, that is; politically we are the Midnight Blue of the Crayola 64-pack. Something like 95% of people on the upper west side where I live voted for John Kerry, for example -- so it was a little surprising to see a pair of twisted-up black-lace panties on the sidewalk on my walk to work this morning. What happened last night?

(By the way, don't you just hate the word panties? We need to come up with a better term for women's underwear. I guess we could just call it women's underwear, but women's underwear doesn't convey the tawdriness of seeing it on the street at 8:30am on a Friday morning, does it?)

29 December 2005

Old cat, old trick

I've been on a cleaning and organizing spree lately. Actually, spree implies something frantic, and it hasn't been like that at all. Maybe it's the new medication, but a switch got flipped last week that makes me say, hey, here is a pile of papers; I will file them now.

I'm taking full advantage of this new attitude, since I don't know how long it will last. Last night I left work early so that I could go downtown to The Container Store before heading uptown to a party. Have you ever been to The Container Store? They sell so many different ways of organizing your crap, I don't know how anyone ever makes a decision. I wasn't the only one with neatness on the brain: the store was packed.

It took a while to find what I was looking for, since I only had the broadest parameters: something to put recyclables into. My theory is that if I have the proper receptacle, I'll be more likely to recycle. Currently, I only recycle newspapers and magazines -- and I use the word recycle loosely, since what I actually do is just stack them up until my apartment starts to resemble the Collyer Brothers' and I bring them to the curb only when I'm afraid social services is going to step in -- because I don't have the proper receptacle for the plastics and metals.

I found this lovely green plastic jobby, which I will line with a clear plastic bag, and virtuously empty once a week. Except that I haven't put the bag in yet because as soon as I brought it home, Luca jumped into it. What is it with cats and boxes?

26 December 2005

The perfect gift, update

Matthew's wolf costume didn't arrive in time for Christmas, but I got him some new dollhouse figures -- including a black cocker spaniel that looked like the live one he and Kendall have; he opened it and said, "it's a Sadie dog!" -- which he seemed very happy with. He spent most the rest of the day shuttling them between the dollhouse and the sink, where he came periously close to flooding the kitchen more than once while giving them baths.

He is, as David promised, obsessed with Where the Wild Things Are. One of his presents was a DVD game of the book; it reads the story to you or allows you to read the story yourself, it asks you to locate various objects from the book, and answer questions based on the action. David spent no less than an hour synching up the game to my parents' DVD player, and while we were all more or less driven crazy by his efforts (the game speaks to you while you are trying, and his case failing, to set it up), when he succeeded, Matthew immediately plopped himself down in front of the television to read the story over and over, making a tent out of the under side of my father's desk (in the book Max has a tent). That present was clearly a big hit.

But so was a much more low-tech gift: a slinky. When he got ready for bed, Matthew stuck the end of it in the back of his pajamas, where it looked like a tail. Clearly, he was imitating Max, whose wolf costume consists mostly of his gray footie pajamas. A little later, though, I saw Matthew crawling on the floor with the end of the slinky in his mouth. "No, no, Matthew," I said, "don't put that in your mouth. It's yucky."

"I want to be an elephant," he said in his quiet, but precise way. And indeed, with the gray metal slinky bending this way and that, that's exactly what he did look like.

23 December 2005


When I got on the bus this morning, I said to the bus driver, "glad to have you back," just like Mayor Bloomberg told us to. While it wasn't the heartwarming scene it would have been in the movie version -- I'd be played by Sandra Bullock; the driver by Jamie Foxx -- other passengers said similar things and I have to think that it made the driver feel at least a little better about having lost three days' pay for no discernable advantage.


Having recently made a mistake and acted rashly -- damaging a friendship in the process -- I wonder this morning whether the transit workers feel a similar hangover. They still don't have a contract. They don't know what the contract will be when they do get it. They've been fined tremendously; it could take years to get out from under this financially, to say nothing of the uncertainty of how commuters will treat them from now on. With suspicion and anger? With sympathy and kindness? A little of each?

I wish I knew, in my own case. I don't even have the consolation of having done something for the greater good -- having put the labor movement back in the public consciousness, in the transit workers' case. I was just thoughtless, and hurtful. Which is not to say that I didn't have a legitimate -- grievance is probably too strong a word, but I'll use it in keeping with the transit-worker theme. But I expressed it in completely the wrong way. It'll be weeks, or even months, before I know whether it's suspicion or sympathy, and the outcome is not in my hands. Ladies and gentleman, stand clear of the closing doors.

22 December 2005

STRIKE! Day Three

The New York Times is reporting that a deal is close, and the strike should be over by the evening rush hour. But what about the morning rush hour? I'm still at home, dragging my feet, not wanting to put on my running shoes and start the trek just yet. You'd think news of an imminent solution would feel good, but mostly it feels anti-climactic. There's no triumphant party here; the damage to the city and its residents has been done. The organized labor movement is more reviled than ever. I'm tired, and my experience has been easier than most people's.

Merry Christmas.

21 December 2005


It continues, without the promise of a swift resolution. This morning's commute was subdued compared to yesterday's. Both pedestrian and car traffic were considerably lighter, and there were fewer car horn blasts and incidents of road rage than I witnessed on the walk home last night. People are probably working from home if they can, or starting their Christmas holiday early.

Feelings are mixed. I've participated in and overheard many conversations in favor of the strike, or at least in partial sympathy with the workers. Despite the fact that their demands may seem out of line with what non-unionized workers can expect from their employers, it's disturbing to me that the way a lot of people have reacted to their demands is, "who the hell thinks they can get a guaranteed pension and health benefits for life these days?"

But the thing is, just because 21st-century capitalism has turned the United States into a place where no one has job security, retirement is becoming a quaint notion and health care is increasingly out of reach for average people, does that mean we should turn against people who have a means, through collective bargaining and the threat of job action, of demanding those things? Shouldn't we all be demanding them for ourselves?

It's not a level playing field. We don't live in a meritocracy where hard work and smarts are always rewarded. Corporations get massive subsidies from the government, in the form of tax incentives and write-offs, and are bailed out when their corrupt CEOs plunder company assets for their own purposes. The credit card industry strong-armed Congress into gutting the last resort of the desperate, bankruptcy, after years of enticing consumers with more and more easy credit. Not to mention the lopsided tax cuts the Bush administration has forced on us, that benefit mainly wealthy people and pawn off deficit on future generations.

The transit strike could be pitting workers against citizens, which is what the rhetoric of our political officials suggests it should. I'm not unconflicted, myself. It's a lousy time of year for this to be happening, and it's hurting ordinary commuters and merchants hard. But I do think it's worth thinking about whether the people we should be angry at are the ones who are only asking for a decent standard of living. Not extravagant, just decent.

20 December 2005


It's not a unusual for me to walk the 40 blocks to work, as I did this morning, but normally I wouldn't have done it in 25-degree weather. But the Transit Worker's Union went on strike this morning at 3am, so there are no buses or trains running. At least it's not snowing.

Some observations:

New Yorkers are very good at evincing a "we're all in this together" attitude. Everyone I saw on the way to work this morning looked relatively sanguine about the inconvenience. We'll see how long that lasts.

There is a lot of vomit in the gutters; frozen vomit. 'Tis the season.

Why are there so many limousines with only one rider in them? Surely they could stop and pick up a few more people.

No one I've heard is sympathetic to the transit workers, who seem to be making unreasonable demands. Maybe their PR just isn't as good as the MTA's, but it does seem strange to think in this day and age that a person should be able to retire with a full pension at age 50.

Really, though, it's almost nice how empty the streets are. Because of the High Occupancy Vehicle restriction zone, there are fewer cars on the streets -- at least in the zone; apparently there is a lot of congestion getting into the zone -- and traffic is moving quickly.

19 December 2005

The perfect gift

Despite knowing better, I am a big believe in the silver-bullet theory -- the one thing in all the world that will: explain, help, fix. In my head, I know this is wrong; very few situations come about simply, overnight. How could I possibly think that there will be one solution?

My heart, however, persists. My nephew and godson Matthew is autistic. He's six going on seven; he was diagnosed before his second birthday, which is early as these things go. As heartbroken as we all were that there was clearly something wrong, getting an early diagnosis -- and early intervention -- meant he had a shot at overcoming it. We all traded stories we'd heard about kids with early intervention who'd "lost their diagnosis" by their sixth birthday.

Matthew has had no such luck. While he remains a mostly very sweet little boy, and there are signs that he's "smart" in some traditional (reading, matching games, etc.), as well as non-traditional ways (he has no problem remembering how to get to my apartment building no matter where his parents have parked), he has some classic autistic symptoms that seem only to be getting worse. He does not make eye contact. He will only speak in appropriate ways when prompted. He will not sit still for more than a couple of minutes, unless someone is forcing him to. Sometimes he hits his parents. He's started to hit himself.

And while there are some unlooked-for advantages to having an autistic child, particularly in this season -- Matthew is completely unaware of what the hot new toy is, and if he got one present or ten, he would only care about one, and it's as likely to be something he pulled out of the back of the closet as a new toy -- my brother and sister in law were thrilled when he responded to the question, "what do you want for Christmas" with something definite.

A wolf costume.

This is good for several reasons. Matthew loves the Maurice Sendak book "Where the Wild Things Are," and we think that his request for a wolf costume is so that he can look like its main character, Max. He's identifying with someone. He's role playing. He wants something that is not crass or commercial. And, of course, he asked for it.

But where to find a wolf costume? David and Betsy were only able to find a $1300 adult wolf costume, suitable perhaps for a production of "Into the Woods". Auntie Ellen to the rescue. I tracked this down in the UK. Isn't it perfect? It's not only a wolf costume, it really does look like the costume Max wears in WTWTA. I am a genius. Matthew will love me forever; he will play dress up and come out of his shell.

Perfect, right? No, because the company emailed me and said they wouldn't have the costume in until January. The two other companies that sold the same costume, both in the UK (why do British children apparently like to dress up like wolves, but not American ones?), were also sold out of Matthew's size.

I have some other things to give Matt for Christmas, but they are not perfect. They will not cure him. Fortunately, his birthday is in January. I hope the costume will arrive by then.

18 December 2005

Getting an early start

I know it's traditional to think about New Year's resolutions after Christmas, in the post-holiday haze of over-indulgence, but after having had a really rough Friday night and all-day Saturday, I woke up this morning thinking virtuously of leafy green salads and of devoting my life to worthy causes.

(As an aside, I know that I have a problem with delegation. If something is my responsibility, I want it to be done well, and unless you trust the person you are delegating to, how can you be sure that the result is what you want? I practiced this week on the office holiday party, normally mine to plan. But I resent the fact that I am supposedly 'management' at my job and yet also have to field questions about why the Coke machine is broken again, so I was happy to give most of the arrangements over to Sarah. I love Sarah. She's Paul's younger sister, going into the Peace Corps in Guinea next month, in need of a few months' work. We had an opening. She's been perfect. Except for this. Do not put the WASPs in charge of a party unless you want there to be ten times more booze than food.)

It's Sunday morning, I've recovered, and so far, this is what I'm planning, apart from the leafy green salads: finish at least some part of my book (I won't kid myself that I will finish it entirely); read something I've written aloud, to an audience that includes strangers; take better care of myself, generally; specifically, get back on an 'every six months' dentist schedule, continue swimming every Saturday, go back to yoga, cut back on chocolate chip cookie consumption; consider training to walk in a marathon; find some way to be involved in the anti-war movement that isn't just going to a march and holding a clever sign.

How about you?

11 December 2005

Why must you torture me so?

I was having a pretty good day. I'd been to church, where the sermon had been given by a lesbian priest who is married to a black woman with whom she's adopted two children. She talked about her "downward mobility" and how it was a good thing for her. She'd grown up in an affluent white Protestant suburb, where who wore what and where you went on vacation were the paramount concerns. Now she rented a third-floor walk-up and worried about paying for her children's orthodontia, but she was relieved to be out of the endless cycle of materialism that so many of us are in. It gave her the room for more important concerns: relationships, a good work life, a sense of community.

I couldn't relate directly. I didn't grow up in an affluent white Protestant suburb, and I still struggle to maintain all my current relationships, let alone form a strong romantic one, but I like any opportunity that comes my way to feel that not being married with children, a dog and a mini-van out in Montclair doesn't mean my life is wasted. I have room for more in my life, and I still have time to figure out how to make it work for me.

Plus, the music was good and I'm starting to know the people who sit in the pews around me, so I left with a positive outlook on the rest of the day. I decided to detour down Bleecker Street before going home. I have Christmas presents to buy.

"You should smile," he said, "It might make you feel better."

It was the man whom I'd spent the last five minutes next to looking at the used books on the sidewalk table outside of Hudson Books.

Do not. Tell me. To smile.

"It might make you feel better," was my response.

That was obviously too subtle a putdown, because he continued.

"Whatever it is, it can't be that bad. It'll get better soon."

Now, forget the fact that I wasn't, in fact, feeling bad. I was looking at used books; I already had four in my hand. If that's not happiness, I don't know what is. But if my face, you know, the one I was born with, the one I can't do anything about, doesn't look happy, why would you tell me to smile? What if I were just diagnosed with cancer of the puppy? Would that be bad enough to justify looking the way I do?

Here's a better idea, if you're so concerned about my well being. Say something, anything, else.

"Looks like you got some great books there."

"I love this store. Don't you just love this store."

"Hey, you like Graham Greene? I like Graham Greene, too."

Not that I wanted this man to say any of those things to me. His hair was dyed in that orangey-purplely way that people with bad eyesight and without barbers who care can sometimes have. And the way he was waiting next to me to look at the books I was looking at was pushy. I'll move on when I move on, okay?

There's a reason, of course, that this line bothers me so much. I get it a fair amount, and there's part of me, not a small part, that thinks: he's right. I am miserable, and it shows. I shouldn't be miserable. At least, I shouldn't look miserable. No wonder I don't have a boyfriend. Why should anyone want to be with such a miserable (or miserable looking) person?

09 December 2005

25 years

I remember when John Lennon was shot, despite having been 12 years old at the time. My understanding of the geography of Manhattan was shaky, and it was years before I figured out that the Dakota, instead of being in a dodgy part of town full of dark alleys, was in fact one of the nicest buildings in the city, but still, I wore my black-and-yellow John Lennon Lives! button with pride throughout junior high school, hoping to impress the cool kids. (There was also a Jim Morrison Lives! phase I'm less fond of remembering.)

It wasn't until I was older that I had any real sense of what John Lennon had meant to people; still means to people. Maybe he was naive. Maybe he did too many drugs. But:

Imagine there's no countries,
It isnt hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

Last night, after my date with, oh, a very nice, but honestly, never going to rock my world, man, my taxi crawled up Central Park West. It took me a while to remember that there were going to be remembrances of John Lennon all day at Strawberry Fields, across the street from the Dakota, and close to where I now live. I got out of the taxi early, and took a detour in the park.

There were equal numbers of hippies and yuppies in attendance (do we still call people yuppies? It seems so '80s, but then, they were wearing suits). There was one cluster of people around a man with a guitar, singing "All You Need Is Love." At the Imagine mosaic, it was "Give Peace A Chance." I didn't stay long, but left the park singing along to "Help," with a tear in my eye.

07 December 2005

Step 1: Don't eat

I will do anything for my choir.

The Basses have been struggling, particularly lately. Our concert is a week away and they don't know the notes! Our usually patient conductor got angry with them last week, which we all appreciated, and admonished them to spend extra time practicing during the week, though I think a few of us would have liked it if he'd punctuated his request with a music stand thrown at the section. And so, when the affable ex-football player Bass asked last night if I had any more CDs of the music we're singing, because he'd never heard it and thought it might help him with his part, of course I promised to drop it off with his doorman this morning on my way to work.

It's 25 degrees and windy today, and the affable Bass lives completely out of the way of my regular work route, but walking down a different street for a change did give me the opportunity to see something curious and funny. St. Stephen's and Christ Church on 69th Street has, like all churches, a sign outside, posting service times, rectory numbers, and a schedule of notable church events, including this gem: Beginner Anorexia.

Considering that this is a season of excess, they may be onto something...

02 December 2005

Where have you been?

I know, I know, I'm sorry. But you would not believe the week I've been having. First off all, I had to prepare for, and then make, a two-hour presentation to my company on our new management system, which I've been intimately involved with developing. If that sounds at all interesting to you, seek professional help. The presentation, which was yesterday, came off pretty well, with many people complimenting me afterwards on a job well done (one person said that I was very clear and easy to follow, which for this type of material is sort of the highest accolade you can get).

But you know what? I am still exhausted from it. I don't get nervous at the thought of public speaking -- though I have learned that when it comes to the point of actually doing it, I do get classic stress symptoms like dry mouth and need to have a big glass of water close at hand. It completely shatters me, though. I had to have many restorative chocolate chip cookies and a lavendar bubble bath yesterday evening.

The other thing that's been going on is preparations for the Dalton Chorale's concert on the 14th. If you're in NYC, I hope you'll come. As I've mentioned before, the actual job I'm doing (apart from singing in the Alto section), is not difficult, though it is time consuming. Preparing the program, making arrangements with the church for the space, keeping the chorale up to date on rehearsal times, those sorts of thankless tasks.

What has been amazingly, if not difficult, but frustrating, is participating in all the back and forth that goes on among the chorale's Board (most of it initiated by One Especially Verbose Bass) whenever I need to get their approval on something. I don't want to exaggerate, so I've made an exact count: 43 email messages in the last week about the need for, existence of, size, design, and printing of a contribution envelope we will stuff into the program. Is it any wonder I haven't had time to write in my blog?