22 June 2006

Playing hooky

My trial was over early, but did I virtuously go back to the office? No, I did not. Here are some pics from Riverside Park yesterday, the first official day of Summer.

Me in a funny mirror.

We have everything in New York, including English gardens...

Clay tennis courts...

Floating orange alien life forms...

21 June 2006

More of home

I thought my camera was dead. Turns out, after extensive scrutiny from several engineers I work with, it was just broken in a way that could be temporarily fixed with duct tape. Thank god for engineers.

I am making use of every square inch of my apartment. Here you see my bed in the upright and locked position (there will be a cabinet encasing it shortly) and my office nook.

This is what the bed looks like down. I don't think the wall color renders very well in this picture, but it's a very bright dark pink. I had wanted something with a little more blue in it, and maybe a little darker, but by the time I finished painting I wanted nothing so much as to get all the drop cloths, roller pans and ladders out out out, so I am living with it. I like it well enough, and with everything else that's imperfect in my life, what's one more wall?

20 June 2006

Jury Duty

I'm on jury duty this week. Unlike everyone else in the world -- to judge by my fellow servers -- I love it. It's a few days away from work, in a part of town I rarely go to, there's plenty of time to read, and being on a jury is actually very interesting.

"If one person votes not-guilty, then they're not guilty."

"I thought it was by majority."

Where do people get these ideas? Forget Civics class, do they not watch Law & Order?

The jury room is a great cross section of New Yorkers. Old, young, black, white, Hispanic, Chinese. Lawyers, construction workers, retirees, stay-at-home mothers. There are no automatic exemptions in New York.

"Only a few states have the death penalty."

Well, 36 out of 50, but you're close.

During my only voir dire -- I got put on the jury, of course I did; there is very little that's objectionable about me -- when the lawyers left the room, there was frantic chatter. "Please don't pick me," "I didn't sleep at all last night, I was so worried about getting picked," "I can't believe I have to do this." Other people sat stoically reading the paper, giving off the kind of resignation that patients in a waiting room have when the receptionist comes out to say that the dentist is running behind.

Here's the thing: if you consider yourself intelligent and thoughtful -- and who doesn't? -- you should want to serve on a jury. If you were ever accused of a crime, or sued in civil court, wouldn't you want to think that there were people in the jury pool who didn't see it as state-sanctioned torture?

I can understand not wanting to be put on a criminal trial jury. No matter which way the verdict is rendered, it will have a major impact on both victim and accused. I was on a criminal case five years ago, and while I thought the defendant was actually guilty of the crime he was accused of -- molesting his teenaged stepdaughter -- the DA didn't prove her case. The judge was really specific in her instructions, and given those parameters, there was no way I could have contributed to a guilty verdict. About half the panel felt the same way. The other half, minus one, just didn't believe the girl. The minus one was the only one willing to find the man guilty, but she admitted it was only because she believed the girl. She didn't think the DA had done a good job, either.

I still occasionally wonder, though, what subsequently happened to the girl. At the time of the trial, her mother was still with the stepfather, though the girl was living with other relatives. Did the DA follow up with social services? Was there something I could have done?

But while my civil jury yesterday waited, and waited, to be brought into the courtroom, it struck me that people hate having this kind of time on their hands. Most people had a book to read, but every chance they were given, they ran out into the hallway to get on their cell phones. Some were clearly calling their offices. They are very, very important, see. Others were just trying desperately to pass the time, anything not to be alone with their thoughts, so close to the scary events transpiring in the courtrooms around them.

Me, I started and finished "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and a crossword puzzle and except for the air conditioning being turned up too high, I could not have been happier.

16 June 2006


14 June 2006

What to do?

I left home early this morning to get down to the Union Square Greenmarket before work. I'm having friends over for dinner, and the Greenmarket is the only place I've been able to find the shelled peas I need for the green-pea-and-mint pasta dish I'm planning.

But there's another reason I went out of my way. Yes, the produce at the Greenmarket (as the Union Square one is generically referred to, though there are several others throughout the city) is fresher and cheaper than anything you can get in a store, even a great store like Fairway. All the farmers come in from upstate New York or rural New Jersey, and chances are that the bunch of carrots I bought, and the quart strawberries, and the head of lettuce were all picked this morning, or yesterday at the earliest.

But it's the fact that it's coming from such a relatively short distance that has made me recommit to buying my fruit and veg locally. I've been thinking about this for years, but seeing Al Gore a couple of weeks ago at Town Hall (I haven't yet seen his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, but I saw the live presenation it's based on a few years ago), and reading Michael Pollan's blog about food politics have reinforced the point: everything we do, move, buy, eat and read uses oil. A bag of pre-washed lettuce from California may be organic and groovy (as well as easy), but once it's been trucked the country to my dinner plate, it's drenched in so much oil there's no need for salad dressing.

But it's hard, living life so conscientiously. I can go to the Greenmarket, sure. I can only eat meat I know the provenance of (I belong to a loose co-op that buys free-range beef from a farmer upstate). But where's the coffee I bought at the deli from? Or the pulp that makes the cardboard box that my strawberries are in? And don't even get me started about the economic situation of the people who are at the other end of the supply chain.

04 June 2006

Another setback for Franco-American relations

I just witnessed some awesome, high-quality rage, the likes of which you don't see very often.

I walked down to Whole Foods through Central Park, but it was just a regular day there. Bikers, bladers, joggers; babies, dogs and flowers everywhere. Happy, joy, normal. All the action is on the buses and subways these days.

After grocery shopping, I ran across Broadway trying to catch one of the three M104 buses that were travelling in a pack. A woman in a white dress approached the last bus, about 20 feet from the bus stop, in the middle lane. The driver clearly gestured that she should go to the bus stop and wait, so I had time to get there, too.

But when the bus pulled up, the driver didn't pull over to the bus stop. He just opened the doors, still in the middle lane.

"You are so lazy you can't come over to the bus stop? You told me to go to the bus stop and now you don't even come over? I have to walk to the middle of the street? No, I am not paying for this!"

The woman in white turned out to be French, though her screaming English was fluent. She stormed to the back of the bus, yogurt container in hand, and sat down.

The bus driver yelled at her to come to the front of the bus to pay her fare. He would not move until she did.

"No, I do not pay for this. You do not treat me like this. Just go. I do not pay," she shouted, not moving either.

By this time, the other passengers were starting to get agitated. A man yelled at the woman to go pay her fare, she yelled back that she would not. Then he yelled at the driver to close the door and drive; the driver yelled back that he would not.

After yelling some more at the French woman, the man demanded a transfer and got off the bus. An older woman, after talking to the driver, got off the bus to look for a cop -- there were several traffic cops nearby, but it took a while to get one of them to come over; maybe there's a jurisdictional issue with the transit police. The older woman got back on the bus, marched to the back.

"Get off the bus! You're holding us up! Pay your fare or get off the bus!"

"No, I do not get off the bus! Get away from me! Move back! You do not assault me!"

The older woman stood six inches from the French woman's face. The French woman held her hands up, as if to make certain everyone could see she wasn't the one who would start the fist fight.

I opened the window and called to one of the policemen who were gathered near the bus that there was about to be an altercation and maybe one of them should come on board.

A policeman got on the bus and walked to the back. He told the woman to pay or get off the bus.

"You come get my Metrocard and bring it up there. I do not go near him."

"You have to pay your own fare. We are not going to pay your fare for you."

"You will have to come get me then. I do not move from here. I take your name down. I do not move."

"You have to move. You don't want me to move you."

"You will have to move me."

This went on for a couple of minutes, then the cop reached for his handcuffs.

Normally, I'm extremely uncomfortable around shouting standoffs. Should I intervene? Is someone going to get hurt? Is it somehow my fault?

But it was clear that the woman had completely overreacted and was in the wrong. Another bus driver might have driven on, but ours wasn't wrong for insisting she pay. There was nothing I could have done that wouldn't have made the situation worse, so I didn't have to feel responsible. Plus, I was pretty sure the woman didn't have a gun in her yogurt container, so I wasn't scared. I was enjoying the show.

Unfortunately, the woman got up and stomped to the front of the bus to pay before the cop got out his cuffs. The cop left, the driver closed the doors, we drove up Broadway. The woman swore in French a few times, then helpfully translated.

"It's always the same. The same lazy shit."

Who are these gods again, and what kind of sacrifice do they want?

If you take public transportation in New York you know that weekends are a gamble. A train may or may not be running, may be running on a different track, may be going express and not local, or vice versa. Friday night, the rain storm took out the E train I was going to take to the upper east side, as well as the 86th street bus transverse through Central Park that was my back-up. I got where I was going 45 minutes late, but then, so did everyone else.

Last night, I took the 2 train -- normally express, but lately local for maintenance reasons unexplained -- out to Prospect Heights. As long as I have a seat and a book, I can convince myself that it doesn't matter that the trip will take twice as long as it should, and the drunk homeless man, swearing and pouring out his beer on the subway car floor, didn't show up until we were half way there.

At 72nd street, two women got on. They were a mismatched pair, one small, neatly dressed and coifed, quiet. The other, large, blousy boho skirt and shirt, long scraggly hair flying all over the place, and loud. So loud.

"Where did you meet him," the quiet woman asked as they boarded, in Polish-inflected English.

"He just fell from the sky! He just fell from the sky! I asked the gods to send me a big blond curly-haired man, and he just fell from the sky!"

No matter how the quiet woman asked her friend to explain -- was he a friend of her roommmate's, what was his name, where had they met -- the loud woman kept repeating, "he just fell from the sky! I asked the gods..." etc.

She had asked the gods, it turned out, because she had recently broken up with someone else, and she really needed someone, you know? So she asked the gods, and he just fell from the sky!

They got off at 42nd street, to transfer to the N/R, but not before the loud woman told her friend that she'd gotten a hotel room for her tryst with her godsend in Times Square.

02 June 2006

It's not her fault, I guess

Two friends from work were going to an art opening in Tribeca last night and invited me along. When I got there, though, it turned out that both of them were meeting their sort-of girlfriends, and while yes, being the fifth wheel is usually tremendous amounts of fun, the Gigantic Art Space turned out to be a narrow and ridiculously overcrowded room, and shouting at two couples who really wanted to be talking to each other wasn't what I thought I was going to be doing with my evening. Some of the art was pretty, but mostly of the sort that makes you say "I could do that," and even if you couldn't, that sort of show doesn't transcend an otherwise unwelcoming experience. I had to flee, rudely not even saying goodbye to my two friends. Sometimes you just need to get out, you know?

It was light enough to walk part of the way home, through Chinatown and Soho on Broadway. It was at Spring Street that a group of girls, with their white jeans and tank tops and early tans came towards me. I recognized one of them. Was she an actress? Maybe the ex-girlfriend of someone from work? Just as we passed each other, it came to me: it was the smarter of the two Bush twins, the one who went to Yale. I think that's Jenna.

I am not the kind of person who approaches famous people on the street, but it did briefly occur to me that another person might have been tempted to yell at the backs of retreating gang. Something about how can you walk down Broadway laughing with your friends while your father's war in Iraq is killing and maiming people your own age every day? While oil companies are being given tax deductions with my money, at the same time that they are making record profits, because of your father's energy policy? While people in the Gulf Coast are still living in trailers and we've got maybe ten years before scientists reckon we will have reached the point of no return on global warming? How can you girl???

But then, I'm not that kind of person, and she's got a pretty substantial secret service team protecting her.