Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Mikey Rosco Plant

The late-summer shadows speak volumes. It’s back-to-school time and time, too, for the "Mikey Rosco" perennials to flower. When I was of school age all those years ago, a neighbor family had these plants in their front-stoop boxes that came back every year. They always flowered in late summer and bloomed through the better part of the fall. I called them “Mikey Rosco plants” back then and remember how they attracted a never-ending parade of honeybees and some butterflies as well. Their star-shaped flowers would be covered with bees sometimes as they transitioned in color from pink to a coppery hue befitting the changing season. The leaves on the plant were thick and moist. We youths would sometimes break off a leaf and use it like a magic marker on the concrete.

Of course, nobody ever thought to inform me that the plant in question had a name other than “Mikey Rosco”: “Autumn Joy Sedum.” But then again, I doubt too many folks in the old neighborhood knew that. The elderly Italian lady who originally planted them was gone and her son—who didn’t have her green thumb—probably didn’t know that they were Autumn Joy Sedums that sprung to life every spring in his front flower boxes. Still, he got a plant named after him, which is not something that happens to everyone.

Anyway, I thought of the Mikey Rosco plants today when I spotted some not too far from the storied ones of my boyhood. There were no honeybees on the pink flowers, which is sad but not surprising nowadays. In fact, the plants looked rather forlorn without any busy bees and butterflies on them. I know as a fact that these plants have been there for decades—spreading all the while—in front of a home that once upon a time was owned by the McHugh family, two generations of certifiable oddballs. Father, mother, and son lived on the old block without ever meeting the eyes of a single neighbor. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but only a tiny bit.

Mr. McHugh, the family patriarch, would walk down the block—passing a stoop full of people alongside the Mikey Rosco plants—woodenly staring into the distance. I don’t recall him ever uttering a word. By chance, my father served on a jury panel with him at the Bronx County Courthouse. He learned then that his mysterious and reticent neighbor, Mr. McHugh, could actually speak—in a brogue—and worked as an elevator operator. I’d have been very leery getting in an elevator with that dead-ringer for John List—"and that's the truth" to borrow from Lily Tomlin.

Mrs. McHugh, on the other hand, was equally furtive, creepy, and silent most of the time. When my younger brother and I purloined an empty cardboard produce box, which was resting near her garbage cans by the front sidewalk, she at long last spoke and in a rather loud and excitable brogue at that. In fairness to us, we assumed the box was part of the garbage and wanted it for some youthful project that now escapes me. But when we grabbed it, Mrs. McHugh pounced, throwing open her front storm door and shrieking: “Put that back! Put that back! Put that back!” In retrospect, my brother and I should have stopped dead in our tracks and returned the empty box, but our initial reaction was to run—and run away with it is what we did.

Honestly, I don't think this little escapade rises to the level of the Antwerp diamond heist. In fact, I didn’t even think it rose to level of a sin worth confessing to a priest in a pitch-black, claustrophobic closet forty-five years ago. Without working up a sweat, Mrs. McHugh very likely located another empty produce box to replace the one we made off with.

All of these memories are courtesy of my spying flowering Mikey Rosco plants on the McHugh’s old homestead, which is now a residence for the developmentally disabled. The McHugh’s sold the house to the state some three decades ago. There was some controversy back then about the deal and what it would mean to a quiet residential neighborhood. But life and the Mikey Rosco plants went on without missing a beat.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Two Bios, One Obituary

It being Labor Day, the unofficial end of yet another summer, I cannot help but hark back to those habitually awful first days of school. My earliest remembrance is—fittingly—the onset of my formal education: kindergarten at P.S. 7, which was a couple of blocks from where I called home. I hadn’t yet turned five in September of 1967, which made me ineligible to attend nearby St. John’s parochial grammar school. So, I didn’t get to experience the legendary Mrs. Fagan, who taught generations of kids and seemed both forever old and forever large. After this one brief shining moment of public schooling—in Mrs. Rothman’s kindergarten class—it was on to St. John’s and the first grade. 

I vaguely recall the first day of first grade and walking with my mother and my best friend, Johnny, and his mother, to the schoolyard on Godwin Terrace, which sat atop a rocky bluff overlooking the El and the perpetually passing Number 1 trains. A foreboding feeling was in the ether. While Catholic schools were changing for the better at that time—with the more sadistic nuns, brothers, and lay teachers slowly but surely falling out of favor—the fledgling days of school still amounted to the spin of a roulette wheel. One could get lucky, as I did, by getting Mrs. Victory for a teacher. She was a nice lady who drove a big car and lived on the next block from me. But in an adjoining classroom was another woman—with a Miss in front of her name and a reputation that wasn’t nearly as warm and fuzzy as Mrs. Victory’s—for the unlucky.

A year later in the second grade, Lady Luck shined on me once more when I got the especially kind Mrs. Kehayas as my teacher. But, sadly, some of my less fortunate peers were saddled with Sr. Lorraine, a paleo-throwback to the no-holds-barred bashing-and-trashing-of-kids era, which—peculiarly—is celebrated by a fair share of folks on social media. Sister Lorraine was Roseanne Barr with a bad habit and a pencil-thin but nevertheless visible mustache. My best friend, Johnny, once incurred her wrath and got body-slammed during First Holy Communion practice in the church. His transgression: keeping a chewed-up straw from “hot lunch” in his shirt pocket.

Fast forward now to the first days of high school—orientation—when Sister Elizabeth, a.k.a “Old Stone Face,” informed all assembled freshman: “Your days are numbered.” Our schedules were not Monday-through-Friday based, we learned, but One-through-Six instead. The intimidating Dean of Students refused to welcome us because, he said, we had done nothing as of yet to earn a welcome. At sophomore orientation a year later, he bellowed, rather theatrically as I recall, “Welcome to Cardinal Spellman!” (By the way, the photos included in this essay are a sampling of my high school ties, which were borrowed from my father's rather eclectic closet collection. In the hip 1970s, boys could sartorially express their individuality at CSHS. Now they wear a uniform.)

In my first day of freshman-year homeroom, a boy sat across from me who was right out of Central Casting. He was the stereotypical high school movie genius and nerd in appearance. Nicknamed “Poindexter” by galoots, he spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky tone. When he first perused his schedule, which had been passed out to all of us, Poindexter said aloud to no one in particular, “I have two bios.” I eventually deduced that he was referring to Biology class, which came attached—on one occasion in the six-day week—to an additional “lab” class.

This fourteen-year-old “genius” in my midst was genuinely smart. I remember him pensively sketching a complex, multi-dimensional cube at his desk as we awaited the sounding of the bell that alerted us that we had three minutes to get to our first class of the day. Detention, the dreaded “jug,” awaited the tardy. In the end, the kid with the two bios turned out to be a truly nice fellow. He parried his more oafish peers’ verbal thrusts with elan and grudgingly earned their respect.

And so today—in this vastly different day and age from when I attended P.S. 7, St. John’s, and Cardinal Spellman, too—I wondered whatever became of my former classmate? His name was very commonplace, but with a little Paul Drake and Jim Rockford ingenuity, I believed I could locate him. And I believe I did and that he's no longer among the living. I accept now that I am at an age with fewer and fewer guarantees of tomorrows.

So, now, permit me to resurrect one final first day—at Manhattan College—when I encountered for the very last time my high school classmate. We met outside of the school's Bursar’s Office and he said to me, “It was so much easier for us at Spellman, when everything was taken care of for us.” In other words, when our parents paid the tuition through the mail and that was that. And so there we were—suddenly and without fair warning or fanfare—young adults. Two bios and one obituary later, that’s life in a Petri dish. And Old Stone Face was right: Our days really are numbered.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Cicadas and Crickets

As I was wandering around this morning—a refreshingly pleasant one for a change—I heard their harmonious buzz. Cicadas by day, crickets by night—that can only mean one thing. It’s the waning days of summer—official summer at least. I've only heard the faintest sounds of crickets so far, but I well remember those melancholy insects chirping away on the still-warm evenings leading up to that dreaded first day of school.

With no school starting in a week or so for me—thankfully—I thought I’d tie up some loose summer ends. Recently, my nephew e-mailed me a link to an article, which quoted former ballplayers Rich “Goose” Gossage, a Hall of Famer, and Lou Piniella. They spoke of the contemporary game of baseball in very unflattering terms. To them and countless others—including yours truly—professional baseball has become unwatchable. And there are a host of reasons why. It’s just not the same game that we once knew and loved—not by a long shot.

After completing four books this summer—timely published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the 1969 “Miracle Mets”—I feel grateful that I got to experience baseball when it was the American pastime, a game steeped in tradition and rich in history. I got to be a fan before analytics, home run-derby strategy (for lack of a better word), replay umpiring, five-inning starting pitchers, and four-hour games as the norm. And how do the powers-that-be address the way-too-long games: Make intentional walks—four pitched balls where anything can happen—an automatic free pass. Two minutes saved on that one.

My nephew, who came around to baseball and the Mets decades after my sworn allegiance, admitted that even he is finding today's games almost unwatchable. But as the 2019 Mets have suddenly sprang to life—and are in contention—he’s swallowing hard and hoping for another miracle. I’ve seen some clips of today's Mets’ game-ending antics—the ripping off of uniform shirts—and couldn’t help but wonder: “What would Gil Hodges say?” Once upon a time, third baseman Ron Santo of the 1969 Chicago Cubs, managed by none other than Leo Durocher, performed a bit of theater after every Cubs win. As he exited the field, he leaped high in the air and clicked both his heels. It was considered poor sportsmanship by most everybody in opposition back then—certainly by Gil Hodges and the Mets—and it eventually stopped as the Cubs imploded.

This summer also resurrected my interest in 1970s New York City politics. What an interesting time to be alive, here, and a kid. With the Tappan Zee bridge renaming in the news—as the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge with son Andrew the governor and wind beneath its wings—as the inspiration, I purchased a couple of old books from that bygone era, one chronicling the fiscal crisis when my fair city very nearly declared bankruptcy. New York City was seriously on the ropes back then, but I didn't notice. After all, I was a boy and living through what turned out to be the last of the old urban childhoods, the ones where all kinds of street games were played in the great outdoors and young and old hung out on stoops. Hanging out on the latter, by the way, is when I listened—ever so vigilantly and plaintively—to the crickets and their melodious swan songs to yet another summer.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Bridge Too Far

The late Mario Cuomo has been in the local news lately—or should I say Mario M. Cuomo, the “M” standing for Matthew. It seems that the New York State Department of Transportation has been patching over some bridge-access signs that were erected last year upon the opening and renaming of a new Tappan Zee Bridge, which connects Westchester and Rockland Counties. Only it’s no longer the Tappan Zee Bridge. It’s been officially renamed the "Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge" and some of the signs neglected to include that ever-vital “M.” How much will all this patchwork cost? Your guess is as good as mine, but it would probably be better spent filling potholes.

This is the same bridge, by the way, that had been originally named to recognize the Tappan tribe, who once inhabited the region. The bridge also incorporated the Dutch word for sea: zee. And it had such a nice ring when combined: Tappan Zee. But it is now—if one is to believe the signs—the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge—not so nice a ring. One footnote here: In 1994, former Republican Governor Malcolm Wilson’s name was added to the Tappan Zee’s familiar moniker, but nobody that I knew ever referred to it as the “Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.”

Further background: After the Tappan Zee’s original structure—completed in 1955—was deemed hopelessly unsound, the powers-that-be opted to raise an entirely new structure. The replacement bridge was built alongside the original, while the latter remained open to traffic. But politicians being politicians can never leave well enough alone. They love nothing more than rewarding their own: the political class. Governor Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario, and cronies in the state legislature voted to change the new bridge’s name. Of course, their constituents weren't consulted. And let history be damned, too. As for the cost of changing countless access road signs approaching the bridge, few in government sweat such things.

Now, trust me, I have no political ax to grind here. I am a fan of Mario Cuomo from way back. I first encountered him in the old neighborhood when he was running for New York City mayor in 1977. I was fourteen when I first laid eyes on this up-and-coming pol. He seemed especially genuine back then, a first-generation Italian-American family man, like my father, from one of the city’s outer boroughs. In the “Cuomo for Mayor” pamphlets being passed out that day—along with pin-back buttons championing his candidacy—were pictures of the man’s brood, including oldest son Andrew and youngest son Chris, who was only seven at the time.

Recently, while out with his family, Chris—the host of a daily CNN program— was called “Fredo” by some insignificant moron. Chris, though, went berserk and said that “Fredo” was a slur for Italians on par with the “N-word.” While Fredo was at once the youngest and least intelligent son of the Corleone family in The Godfather, the comparison was invidious. Papa Mario was a gifted wordsmith and orator who used just that phrase—invidious comparison—at some point. I remember it for some reason. Nevertheless, Chris had a point. The contemporary thought police overlook Italian slurs. Movies with ridiculous Italian stereotypes are still cheered on at the Sundance Film Festival. But, then, my father loved The Godfather and The Sopranos.” A second-generation Italian American fellow I knew quite well referred more than once to an Italian male as a “stupid gindaloon.” It’s the only time I ever heard that one, but I accepted the fact that there are, in fact, living and breathing stereotypes in our midst. And, get this, no safe spaces were required. Sadly, we live in an age of pathetic crybabies who, evidently, need to be offended to validate their existence. Why not laugh instead of crying. But it’s also a dim-witted, vulgar age with a loutish, ignorant man-child in the White House serving as a role model for far too many. It’s the worst of both worlds right now, born of one another.

So, back to the more innocent and gritty but oh so real 1977, when the fourteen-year-old me rooted for Mario Cuomo in a crowded Democratic primary field of candidates looking to unseat the hapless but well-intentioned incumbent, Abe Beame. He came in second to Ed Koch, who didn’t get the necessary 40% to avoid a mandated run-off election against Cuomo two weeks later. Koch won the run-off and prevailed in November. They were both close contests against Mario M. Cuomo, who had secured the Liberal Party nomination in the general election. Ed Koch, who frequently campaigned with his beard, former Miss America Bess Myerson, complained at one point that the Cuomo campaign had plastered signs along a heavily trafficked thoroughfare in a blue-collar section of Queens that read “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.” The unforgiving Koch carried this grudge to his grave. Cuomo denied then and later in his life, too, that he had anything to do with the posters, which would have backfired on him were he actually behind the smear. Well, now they both have bridges named after them. Ed Koch has his name affixed to the Queensboro Bridge.

At the end of the day, politicians should just leave well enough alone when it comes to renaming things. Changing the name of the Idlewild Airport in Queens to the John F. Kennedy International Airport worked out, but that was more of an exception to the rule. We’ve got enough discord in society without compounding it with controversial, largely unpopular name changes. And it’s not a Democrat or Republican thing, or liberal or conservative one. It’s just that in this instance, the new Tappan Zee Bridge should be called what the old one was called for over six decades. It’s what virtually everybody will call it anyway.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Monday, August 12, 2019

September Mourning

This morning as I plodded along with my malfunctioning C-Leg hopelessly locked in “safety mode,” a stranger blurted out: “Give it up, Man! Go to Jesus.” I wondered what exactly he was suggesting that I give up? This unplanned meeting of the minds resurrected a memory from a year ago. It’s when I spotted Him riding a bicycle, which I guess is more appropriate for this day, age, and place than a donkey. I haven’t seen Him since, but then He probably is pretty busy.

In my less ethereal travels today, I encountered a bus driver enjoying a cigarette break. A woman passed by and said to him: “Those things will kill you, you know that!” He politely smiled between puffs of his poisonous pleasure, but uttered nothing in response. I then witnessed an impatient automobile driver—pretty commonplace around here—who was all bent out of shape because he had to wait a couple of minutes for a school bus to pick up a little girl. Even with its protruding “stop” sign blinking away, the guy blew his horn over and over and—when I caught of glimpse of him—angrily foamed at the mouth. It was a very annoying spectacle, but somehow a representative snapshot of my contemporary summers.

Summers come and summers go. And they aren’t what they used to be. Of course, it’s that perspective thing again, which I’ve written about time and again. Forty years ago, I was playing stickball games in ninety-degree humid weather on steamy asphalt—doubleheaders sometimes. Some of us played in heat-absorbing jeans. There was no such thing as a stickball-specific wardrobe. And we never brought along any liquid pick-me-ups, like water, to our games. Granted, there was no such thing as the bottled stuff back then, but we could have at least carried a small cooler or cooler bag. Well, there’s no use crying over spilled Hi-C.

After our games, it was not unusual to arrive home lost-in-the-desert parched—craving something cold to drink. Iced tea was very popular at my house in those days, while my neighbor pined for, in his words, ordinary but nonetheless very special New York City “H2O.” After quenching our respective thirsts, the player boys typically returned to the great outdoors for some stoop sitting and—what has become a lost art—conversation. Stop...get out...look around.

The serious downside of those youthful summers was that they came to an end. If it were 1979 rather than 2019, I would be captive to the calendar by now. And as the days grew noticeably shorter, I’d take note of the sun’s shadows, which increasingly painted a more autumn portrait than a summer one. And while it might still be brutally hazy, hot, and humid, the 3H’s charms were decidedly less so in the last weeks of August. Really, there was nothing more depressing than going to school on a blistering hot morning that turned into a blazing hot afternoon. It was an unnatural pairing—like skiing in July.

I notice that a lot of schools start earlier nowadays. When I was a kid, going to school in August was sacrilege. I don’t exactly know the reasons for these accelerated schedules. They seem especially popular in colleges. Once upon a time, the new school year began after Labor Day and not a day sooner. September mornings became September mourning—the sorriest of feelings as I recall.

Well, the 1979 summer is in the books and so are dozens more. But at least now there is no more September mourning for me. I have given that up, Man. Stop...get out...look around.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fifty-Six Years of Summer

Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of Thurman Munson’s death. I wasn’t a Yankee fan—quite the opposite as a matter of fact—but it was nevertheless a real shocker and very sad day. I remember where I was—in Lavallette, New Jersey on a family vacation—when I first heard the news. My father—a Yankee fan extraordinaire from way back—was listening to a game on the radio. Sipping from a can of Schaefer Beer, he was stunned and said not a word. Munson was a hard-nosed baseball player from the old school—you don’t see his likes anymore. From my youthful perspective, baseball in the 1970s was the game’s heyday. It seemed that the summers were defined by baseball—not just the professional game, but the amateur kind as well that so many of us played in various incarnations and in various places.

Presently, I’m in the midst of a 1969 “Miracle Mets” fiftieth anniversary read-a-thon. Perfectly timed for a memoir onslaught, I’ve finished retrospectives by Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda. Right now, I’m plowing through one by utility player Rod Gaspar, whose baseball career didn’t amount to much, but whose name will be forever linked with the Amazing Mets and history itself. I’ve got one more book in the bullpen, too: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done by sportswriter Wayne Coffey. Its subtitle: “The ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History.”

Now, I was several weeks shy of my seventh birthday when the Mets realized that miracle in full on October 16, 1969. Soon after, I officially broke from family tradition—and most of my Bronx neighbor baseball fans—by declaring allegiance to the Mets. I don't actually remember choosing sides like I did, but I do know that in the spring of 1970 I was watching Mets' games on the family's black-and-white television set and listening to games on a radio, a gift from my godmother for my "First Holy Communion." I wanted it solely to listen to Mets' games, which totally Metsmerized me. And most of the players from the 1969 team were on that team!

Oddly enough, I do recall being in Bangor, Pennsylvania—the home of my maternal grandparents—at some point during the 1969 World Series. (That's First Street in Bangor, circa 1985, in the picture above.) We were visiting friends of my mother and a game was on television. I subsequently learned that my father lost a forty-dollar bet on the series. And that was a lot of money back then and a big deal for a family scrimping by! Of course, he bet against the Mets. My father hated the Mets with a passion just because they were the cross-town rival Mets and I would—in due time—come to hate the Yankees with equal disdain because they were the cross-town rival Yankees. And I think for other reasons, but that's another story.

As previously noted, baseball was so ingrained in our lives during those summers. On so many levels, it shaped our days and nights. It forged relationships and repeatedly tested one's fidelity. At the tenth anniversary of the 1969 World Champion Mets, the 1979 team was in last place and—when all was said and done—attendance at Shea Stadium plummeted by two million. That’s a rather precipitous fall in a very short period of time. But I remained loyal to the losers because I believed that being a fan was akin to being in a marriage—in good times and in bad—and that better days were on the horizon.

I’ve now lived through fifty-six summers. So much has changed, which is not unexpected. The game of baseball is a shadow of its former self—albeit an expensive, showy one with five-inning starting pitchers and home run hitters, who strikeout over two hundred times, making tens of millions of dollars. The cork in baseballs has been replaced by a super ball. Like countless players of his time, Rod Gaspar sampled a taste of the big leagues but was out of the game in a few years. In those days, the window of opportunity was a fleeting one for those fighting for the finite jobs. And, as things turned out, most of those guys had to find real jobs in the real world after their baseball careers.

And so goes another summer. Some of my earliest memories of this season are of fun and games —from wiffle ball to stickball to box baseball—on the concrete and asphalt of our home turf. When I was very young, a “victory garden” across the street supplied me with a portal into a past that—I didn’t realize then—would soon only be a memory. When the Mets won the World Series in 1969, the garden endured, but its days were numbered. There were a whole lot of insects around my part of the Bronx back then—lots of bees, butterflies, and ladybugs. Fifty summers later and their numbers—for a whole host of reasons—are drastically diminished.

During my first couple of summers on both Planet Earth and in the Bronx, John F. Kennedy was president. He promised that America would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In the summer of 1969—during that miraculous baseball season—Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon. My mother hung a homemade paper banner outside that read “Congratulations to Neil, Buzz, and Mike,” the astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. This woman who always put up such things on special occasions so fascinated the local rabbi’s wife. I’m not certain what else Mrs. Turk was referring to, but she was definitely a fan. Many summers have passed and miraculous things don't happen anymore. Not that anyone would notice anyway as they blankly stare into their devices, thumbing and thumbing and thumbing while the summers pass them by.

(Photographs from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Uncle Kevin Channel

I had hoped not to channel Uncle Kevin ever again. But I suppose it’s inevitable that I do every now and then. In case you don’t know, Uncle Kevin’s not actually my uncle. And he’s been dead a very long time. Uncle Kevin was a veteran of World War I. The aforementioned is a personage from the old neighborhood—someone whom I remember well from my youth. You see, Uncle Kevin stood out from the pack—in what were very interesting times with an intriguing local ensemble—because he wore a wooden leg. Then as now, it was a pretty rare thing. Uncle Kevin was a very private fellow but a real gentleman, I've been told. In my presence, I don’t recall him uttering a syllable, but I’m certain—away from my prying eyes and ears—that he did.

It’s Uncle Kevin’s noticeably stiff and laborious gait—courtesy of that darn wooden leg—that I channeled again a couple of days ago. Without fair warning, my ordinarily reliable C-Leg decided to go south on me when I was a long way from home. In other words, my prosthetic knee didn’t bend when it was supposed to bend. And when this unexpectedly occurs in the act of walking, the tendency is for one’s upper-body to rush forward, leaving one’s flesh-and-blood leg in the dust. The lagging leg then valiantly endeavors to catch up—to where it was meant to be in the best of times—with an awkward and perilous thrust of its own.

So, before I channeled Uncle Kevin on Christopher Street in Manhattan, Monty Python’s Flying Circus sprang to mind. “Yes,” I said to myself upon the knee’s unanticipated and unwelcome locking, “I just affected a ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ step.” Naturally, I hoped my newfound complication would be something minor—a glitch that could be easily remedied on the sidewalk where I stood. But, considering the age of the knee—now over five years and just past its warranty—I made peace with the fact that Uncle Kevin would accompany me home, which he did. 
In the waning hours of my functioning knee, I encountered a transit employee reading a book during a break. One doesn't see that too often nowadays.
When I entered the subway car, the sole passenger inside was perusing a newspaper. That's pretty uncommon, as well, in these uber-technological times. A staggering one-two visual!
This, by the way, is a mysterious cage at the 125th Street subway station. I have long wondered if this is where fare beaters get their comeuppance.
In the backdrop of these venerable water towers, the clouds were impressive. But, little did I know, my fluid steps were numbered.
A pleasant summer's afternoon with low humidity...the perfect day for a stroll. That is...
Until technology does a nosedive. Further evidence as to why I don't ever want to be a passenger in a computer-operated automobile or computer-operated anything else.
Strange, but approximately a year ago, I penned a blog entitled "Sex and the City," where I noted the peculiar advertisements on the front bumpers of New York City's fleet of buses. Drivers complained that the prominently placed "Museum of Sex" promos were making them the subject of ridicule and worse than that. The Metropolitan Transit Authority brass promptly acted and removed them.
But now they are back and in the same place as before. Go figure! And, again, how is it that the Museum of Sex can afford this massive ad buy? If you're interested, the museum's located at 233 Fifth Avenue at the corner of East 27th Street.
No dial kidding.
Place your favorite "Bill" here.
As a nation, I'd say, we're definitely going the wrong way. Skeptical? Pore over the past month's news.
Think of all the things that we once assumed were immortal that have largely disappeared. Like typewriters, camera film, and record players. While pay phones haven't vanished entirely, their numbers are fast dwindling. In many parts of Manhattan they are—quite literally—shells of their former selves. No dial phone.
The optimist in me is still clinging to an infinitesimal thread of hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The trashing of the environment for our every little convenience needs to hit the pause button, I'd say. Uncle Kevin not only valiantly served his country—losing a limb along the way—but left a minimal carbon footprint as well.
On my recent journey, I just knew that the reading of physical books and newspapers would be short-lived.
Oh, I remember when my favorite team, the New York Mets, lost an exhibition game to the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. The year was 1977 and this weird guy named Bob—not surprisingly a Yankee fan—ribbed me about it. That said, I've just finished reading Here's the Catch, Ron Swoboda's engaging and honest memoir of his life and, of course, the 1969 "Miracle Mets." I always liked Swoboda who was—after his baseball career—a sportscaster for WCBS-TV news in New York. Ron Swoboda also made the greatest catch I ever saw. Wow, it's hard to believe that it's been fifty years since the miracle!
Even as a junk food-loving kid, I never liked Little Debbie stuff. That's saying something and nothing at the same time.
Some years ago, an older man who lived in this building told a younger man that "sooner or later" he had to "face reality" and get a "real job." Well, reality bites! The now even older man was recently informed that he could not drive anymore because of his failing eyesight. From what I hear, he's had some difficulty facing reality.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Cold Stove Report

Yes, it’s summertime and hot around here—extremely hot. The pictures accompanying this essay are to not only be seen but felt as well. Feel the heat and humidity. Take a deep breath and the smell the oppressive underground. On Friday, I rode the subway to and from Manhattan—in air-conditioned cars this go-round. I didn’t see the gambling man on this trip—perhaps he hit it big with that dollar of mine—but I did encounter a fellow who claimed to be “God’s prophet.” From the outset, I prayed that his mission was to preach to—and convert—the entire train. That way his time spent in my presence would be relatively short. Unfortunately, he confined himself to one car—the one that he entered with me in it.

For multiple stops, this man didn’t come up for air. He quoted passages from the Bible and enumerated a whole host of sins—ranging from lesbianism to masturbation—for which transgressors would be consigned to eternal damnation. After processing this litany, I could say with some confidence—as I scanned my fellow passengers—that there was not one among us who was heaven-bound. God’s prophet mercifully exited at 50th Street, which put him in the heart of the theater district, near Radio City Musical Hall, and also Rockefeller Center. In the heat of the day, I’m certain he found sinners aplenty—from all over the world, too—to chide and relegate to the nether regions.

Several hours after my subway ride and religious experience—during the rush hour—a “network communications issue” suspended service for seven of the numbered train lines. That's a lot of miles. I can’t say whether it was an act of God or not. The powers-that-be professed that it had nothing to do with the excessive heat or an electrical failure. I don’t suspect stranded riders took much solace from that. In any event, this computer glitch left those at the command center—subway central as it were—unaware where all their trains were for over an hour.

This mechanical hiccup is further evidence that technology—even the most advanced—is quite fallible.  As I loathe driving—especially in the New York City area—I have long wondered whether or not I will live to see the day when I could be chauffeured to my destination by just asking Alexa—or some such thing—to take me there. Wouldn’t it be nice to just punch in some coordinates, I thought, and leave the driving to software in the dashboard? But now I can't help but think about the gremlins lurking in there.

Once upon a time, too, I appreciated the slogan: “Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us.” But I’ve since been on some very long bus rides where I left the driving to them—or a competitor of theirs—and they were pretty uncomfortable. In fact, the long rides seemed even longer than if I was behind the wheel myself, which says a lot. Of course, I had to sit next to a person unknown on a few occasions. You can choose your friends and not your relatives or fellow bus riders. Once I got stuck sitting beside an incredibly uninteresting blowhard eating a stinking sandwich. Perhaps, though, that is preferable to sitting alone in a computer-operated car that malfunctions on a heavily trafficked highway.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)