Sunday, February 19, 2017

Midwinter Musings

Yesterday, my plans were derailed—literally. At the W238th Street elevated subway station, I discovered the hard way that the Number 1 train wasn’t running due to track work. There were a mess of notices with various service changes posted at its entrance, but straphangers, like me, were confused and scaled the El’s considerable flight of severely rusting—and over one hundred years old—metal steps, expecting a Saturday morning train, which typically run every eight minutes on weekends. When we reached what was formerly known as a token booth, however, it was about-face time.

There were alternate routes available, of course, including free subway shuttle buses at street level to the A train a mile-and-a-half to the south. I seriously considered this option and was a split-second away from hopping on one of the buses. But as a wearer of a prosthetic knee, I prefer not riding on them if I don’t have to—too many erratic stops and starts. The subway’s rocking and rolling is much more predictable to me. I can better anticipate the trip’s jolts—severe as they sometimes are—as long as I have a seat. Buses, too, have very high steps—it’s practically a foot drop into the street sometimes. And while I’ve managed to successfully navigate these hurdles so far, who needs the added anxiety of worrying about getting flung head first across a bus's floor after a sudden breaking? There’s always a first time, too!

So, with this unexpected and unwanted change of plans, I wandered into nearby Van Cortlandt Park and spied a gaggle of Canada geese. They were chilling on the park’s snow-covered “flats.” Because the temperature was expected to surpass sixty degrees later in the day, this snow pack from last week’s storm was hours away from extinction. And what a difference a day makes: Today the flats—so picturesque yesterday morning—were an unsightly mess of mud and geese droppings.

The midwinter recess, as it was called in my schooldays, is upon us as well. A week off from the drudgery of primary education in the dead of winter was very welcome as I recall. These weeks of leisure always included the federal holiday: Presidents’ Day. That’s tomorrow, by the way—a day, once upon a time, celebrated as the Father of Our Country’s birthday. I can still picture the black construction paper cutouts of George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln’s heads in profile on the windows and bulletin boards of the area grammar schools. I believe the reason for the creation of the inane Presidents’ Day was to cut back on a holiday. We used get both Lincoln’s—on February 12th—and Washington’s birthdays off.

America has never really been big on holidays and time off from work—especially in the private sector. This work-until-you-drop mind-set was supposed to be what separated—metaphorically speaking—the men from the boys on the world stage. I remember Grandpa Walton on the TV series The Waltons enunciating his mantra for living. “There are only two things in life” that really matter, he said: “Love and hard work.” I can think of a few more, but that’s for another blog.

Speaking of hard work, there’s a lot of political chatter now about saving Social Security. For some the solution is obvious: Raise the retirement age to eighty-seven. We are—after all—living longer and longer nowadays. However, there aren’t exactly jobs to keep all the oldsters and oldsters-to-be duly employed until they’re eighty-seven years old. With more and more people purchasing stuff online, even Wal-Mart greeter positions will be hard to come by.

There was this friend of my father’s—in his golden years—who secured a job as a Con Edison electric and gas meter reader. He was officially retired, wanted to keep working, and, very importantly, knew someone. At the time, flesh-and-blood human beings read every single meter in New York City and parts of nearby Westchester County. But now all the meters are read electronically. I’ve often wondered what happened to all those out-of-a-job Con Edison employees. I would get to know the meter readers who read my meters and once a month loudly screamed “Con Ed!” outside my window at seven-thirty in the morning. Electronically read meters, cashless tolls, and living to be one hundred with a greater chance of suffering from dementia. As always: Something to look forward to.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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