Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's A Wonderful Life

Dear Baby,
 This is how we spent your last day in utero (in case you were wondering).

In typical fashion, your brother woke up and came into our room and climbed on my side of the bed asking me to read a book about dinosaurs to him.  However, as it was a coloring book, there wasn't much of a story line, so we talked about what we thought the dinos were doing in the pictures.  Actually, it was more of an activity book, than just a straight up coloring book, so there were dinos in mazes, dinos doing word puzzles, match-the-dino games, etc.  Your brother was treating it as a dino-business-as-usual day, but I was sitting across from him freaking out on the inside, knowing that after tonight, I wouldn't see him for a few days, and we haven't yet spent that much time apart, and when we come home, we'd no longer be a family of 3, and he'd kind of be losing his most-favorite-baby-status.  This little blond kid has been the center of my world for two years and five months.  He's my sunshine.  He's driven me crazy all week by not wanting to eat dinner, in fact I think yesterday his dinner consisted of a fortune cookie and 5 bites of pizza.  Yes, we had Italian and Chinese on the same day - this is the kind of 'I give up' kitchen I'm running here, but today was worse when we went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and I think he ate 5 chips, then didn't touch his dinner, only to later find a chip off the floor and eat that, with a look on his face that said, 'aren't you glad I ate something (even if it was on the floor)'.  OMG the two year old is killing me and you, my little one, what ever it is that you are doing just below my left lung, PLEASE STOP.

Enough about your brother.  Most-Favorite-Baby has got to share the limelight.  I feel like I have been waiting for you to come into the world.  Since, like forever.  Well, it's really been 38 weeks and six days.  But those 38 weeks spanned over the 2013 holidays, the snow-pocolypse of the 2014 polar vortex and bitter cold winter, and a spring that really wasn't ready to start in full force either.  I was still wearing my winter wool coat in April, though I could barely button it closed, and praying it would warm up before you helped me pop out of it.  The timing just about worked out, and I made it into a much more forgiving spring fleece.  By May, I was just in sheer count-down mode until the weeks left fit on two hands, then one hand, then days remaining on two hands, then one hand.  Now I could count down the hours on two hands, though I hope by the time the hours left fit on one hand, I may actually get some sleep.  Not sleep like lying in bed rolling around, I mean one last, deep, drool on the pillow, REM mode sleep.  You see, due to your brother being a breech baby and being delivered via C-section, I'm a repeat scheduled C-section patient myself.  And you were breech for a good number of weeks yourself, so your fate has been sealed and we're scheduled for an 8AM eviction tomorrow morning, and the taxi is picking us up at Oh-Five-Hundred sharp.  You ready?

I'm ready and I'm not ready.  I'm done being pregnant.  It's a great feeling and at times, it's the worst feeling.  It was cool last week when I poked you and you poked me back, and this game went on for a few minutes, it was not cool when you made me want to yak for 3 months.  (And trust me, there was yak).  Pregnancy is like one big trade-off, the longer you progress into the pregnancy, the more viable the baby, the more physically challenging it becomes for the mom (and the more publicly noticeable it becomes for the mom - which can bring in all types of uninvited commentary).  So at 38  weeks, you are considered full term and can come out (whenever you like, or whenever you get evicted), but I'm done.  I'm even ready for all the nakedness among strangers (Drs, nurses) and medical professionals up in your business-end that's going to accompany tomorrow.  I took a shower and got extra clean.  People are going to be up in your naked business tomorrow, too.  But like your brother, you won't even know what's going on.  And this, my friend, is just the beginning.

There are many modern conveniences in this day and age that are not a pregnant woman's friend:  Speed bumps, subway turnstiles, revolving doors, potholes, skittish elevators, getting squished on elevators, express trains, bathrooms on express trains (well the bathroom is good to have, but the sloshing around is a bit rough), lack of bathrooms, long lines for bathrooms, excessive amounts of stairs (a few weeks ago at work, it was announced that due to some small 'electrical issue' - which was later blamed on ConEd - our bank of elevators were out of service, so I could sit in the office and piece together a lunch of 5-6 vending machine items or walk down seven flights of stairs, and in a 40-story building, that's not too bad.  But how would I make it up stairs?  Popcorn and Chex Mix it was for me, that day)  I've started favoring ramps and basically following wheelchair-favorable routes.  One can only waddle so much in public without feeling too ridiculous.
Last Friday was my last day at work.  I had finally come to a point where I felt like things were in good hands and at good stages and even cleaned out my desk, mostly because we will be moving offices soon, or possibly even during this leave, and left my nesting mark on my  little cube space.  On my last train ride into Manhattan I wanted to run up and down the cars high-fiveing everyone, like 'yay, I made it to the end of the week, no early delivery, no unfinished business', but I knew better than to make eye contact on mass transit, let alone invade people's personal space that early in the morning.  The prior day, Thursday, my work mates took me out for Indian food, which I was happy to report only required one Tums to counter-act.  But I couldn't get too close to the table, with my bump in the way, and all that sauce-savoring on naan, well, I left alot of that sauce (masala, paneer, chutneys) all over my shirt.  I mean all-over my shirt.  It required massive stain treatment that night.  But of course on the way back to the office we had another 'electrical issue' and the building's turnstiles didn't work so we all had to go past a security guard one at a time.  Like of all days to not need to be looked over while covered in my aromatic stained shirt, my wallet zipper snagged and it took me a small eternity to get my ID badge out, during which time, I'm sure people saw, smelled, and pieced together my lunch just off my shirt stains. (Hey, was that Darbar on East 55th?  You bet it was!)

Over the weekend, was my birthday.  It was nice and pretty much low key.  My little one, our birthdays will be only 5 days apart, and don't worry, I've already checked out all the celebrities and dodgy-infamous types born on your birthday.  You're safe.  We can have joint parties going forward.  When you get older you will understand this is a great time of year for a birthday.  Today was a bit humid for my liking, but otherwise, it's good beach weather.

Monday rolled around and I didn't have to go to work, which was good because I had more Dr. appointments and Sonograms and such.  They think you are 7.5 lbs.  I'd guess that's your absolute maximum weight.  You seem to have alot more room to roll around and kick and punch than your brother did at this point, so I'd bet you're coming in smaller than he was at birth (8 lbs 3 oz), even if you're my second uterine tenant and quarters have already been stretched out for you.That's my wager.  The sonogram put you in heads-down position, out of breech, so if you want to come on your own, you've got 72 hours.

Tuesday would make you 38 weeks and 5 days, that is when your brother was born.  So I thought maybe you'd come on Tuesday.  Wednesday is Wednesday, the Twenty-Fifth, and your brother was born on a Wednesday the Twenty-Fifth, so I thought maybe you'd come today.  But you've been pretty calm, even though I still feel kicks and punches and stretches and this weird feeling just under my left lung, and a sinking feeling in my pelvis, but I'm not in any pain, so I guess I'm not in any labor.  I feel kind of silly that I have two kids but have never been in labor.  But I know all about dinosaurs doing word puzzles and mazes, and trying to get a toddler to eat off his plate and not off the floor, so I've earned my Mommy stripes.

Last night and again today, realizing you are probably coming on your scheduled eviction date and not on your own, I felt compelled that I should be doing 'something'.  Though I have no idea what this 'something' is.  I did a practice run with your Grandma today to the hospital, I barked at Daddy to do laundry, I gave your brother a bath, I rearranged the kitchen counter-top appliances, because, at some point in the universe, that matters the day before your child is born, we assembled bottles, I've been OCD on the house and the laundry and the toy room (even though you are too young for 99.9% of those toys) and re-organizing your room, I made like 100 ounces of decaffeinated sun-tea (which I am now drinking), I'm contemplating having  a snack because I can't eat after midnight, I watched too much day-time television today while OCD-ing the house, which you know consists of too many advertisements for disability and malpractice lawsuits. I'm like, hey, I'm on disability!  But nobody should be listening to advertisements for pharmaceuticals or malpractice lawyers the day before going into the hospital.  I'm kind of avoiding my phone, getting messages from people who 'will pray for me' tomorrow.  Like, Lord Jesus, it is a surgery, and I did sign a statement of understanding or something like that, because death is a possible outcome of surgery.  Maybe I should be more afraid.  Or more prayerful myself.  Maybe I should have written out a will.  Maybe I should remind Rob about the life insurance.

No, I should be doing 'something', and not preparing for my own demise, which hopefully, comes much later (like 50 years later).  I didn't want to spend my last night infant-free watching another episode of Orange is the New Black.  I like this show, but a prison show doesn't seem so baby-friendly.  And I'm not ready to lose all track of time and space to another Baby Einstein marathon, not just yet (spinning top, spinning top, rolling marbles, rolling marbles, scary puppets, scary puppets....).  I put Nick to bed, like any other day, but I won't be there when he wakes up.  I made 100 ounces of caffeinated tea for my mom.  My suitcase is packed.  I've made 100 lists for everyone.  But what am I supposed to be doing?

Yes, to keep busy I decided to write a blog post as both real-time life documentation and catharsis.

What I have been doing, little one, is thinking about what I want for you, besides an exit from the uterus, in a safe and reasonable manner, is to be healthy and happy.  I want you to have everything, and I don't mean in a material sense, and I'm too cheap a person to give you that, but I want for you is to know you are loved, and that you have been loved since before your were born.  And you have been anticipated, and waited for and prepared for.  And I want to see what you look like, even if you're going to look like every other wrinkly baby in the hospital nursery, at least for starters.  And I want to touch your skin and smell your head, and I want to look you in the face and meet you, even if we kind of already know each other, and now it's your chance to meet everyone else.  And I want you to know, that you are loved.  And I've said it before and I'll say it again.  You are loved.  You are beautiful.  You are a gift.  And I want you to have a wonderful life.

And here we go.                        

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Paradise Lost

In her 2010 Smith College Commencement speech, Rachael Maddow begins her talk with a story about Carrie Nation and the early Temperance movement in America over 100 years ago.  Ms. Nation helped to launch a popular movement, which, in a few years time would materialize into Prohibition, outlawing alcohol across the country.  Ms. Maddow continues, that so much more bad than good came out of Prohibition, including bootlegging, increased corruption at all levels of government, increased crime and an increase in alcoholism.  Though Carrie Nation’s Temperance movement had achieved the goals of a segment of the population, the country as a whole was worse for its wear.   Rachael Maddow summarizes that “Personal triumphs are overrated.”

This morning I was reading my Wall Street Journal on the train, this time from back to front, and just as we were pulling into Grand Central, I got to the first page, bottom left hand side, reading an article entitled ‘List Grows of Canceled Graduation Speakers’.  The article highlighted three recent cancellations of speakers due to protests from the respective student bodies: Ayaan Hirsi Ali was to speak at Brandies, Condoleezza Rice was to speak at Rutgers, and  Christine Lagarde was to speak at Smith.  Smith College makes the front page of the WSJ and it’s all for the wrong reasons.  I was besides myself.  This was nonsense. 

The crux of this article as well as another in the NY Times was not just that a few speakers would not go on as scheduled, but that campus protests were  creating a “Heckler’s veto” and that “…universities are becoming havens of the closed minded,”.  A few weeks ago, I was on the Smith website for something or another and noticed the College had announced Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as commencement speaker.  I thought that was a fantastic selection.  I was familiar with her name from news articles here and there as a major female player in the Eurozone.   I was walking through the train station fuming.  What short-sightedness had taken over my college?  The WSJ article quotes a Smith student as saying, “ we are supporting the International Monetary Fund and thus going directly against Smith’s values to stand in unity with equality for all women, regardless of race, ethnicity or class.”  I disagree that a selection of a speaker is a blank endorsement for all they’ve done.  A college (should) select a speaker due to their achievements in life, and the perspective that their journey has to offer, whether or not you agree with their perspective is entirely your decision, but one that should be made after thoughtful deliberation.

It’s totally OK to dislike the IMF.  It’s totally OK to think the IMF has imperialistic tendencies and promotes Western agendas at the cost of developing nations.  That kind of sums up the world economy over the last 500 years (if not longer).  I really don’t like Condoleezza Rice or really anyone affiliated with the George W Bush administration, even if his mother went to Smith, but I am sure Ms. Rice would have much insight to offer.  I was working reunions during 1998 for the Elizabeth Dole commencement speech and you know most of us were not fans, but we listened.  My own speaker in 2000, Judy Chicago, well that was just a trainwreck of a speech.  She was a last minute replacement for Jodie Foster, but having Jodie Foster speak would not imply a blanket endorsement for the sexism in Hollywood, nor human trafficking because she played a child prostitute in Taxi Driver.  When Gloria Steinem comes to campus, we don’t riot because she once worked for Playboy. 

So feel free to hate on the IMF, but please don’t hate on Christine Lagarde, and please have the intelligence to know the difference. 

Here is the difference:  The IMF, like the World Bank and a bit like the UN, are international organizations, comprised of delegates from many nations around the world.  Both the IMF and the World Bank were founded in the mid 1940s after World War II as a kind of Marshall Plan of reconstruction and development programs around the world, but were not entirely funded nor led by the US.  In fact, the IMF has had 11 Managing Directors, and they are all Europeans.  The World Bank has had 12 Presidents, and they have all been men, and up until their current President, they have all been from Western nations.  Between the two organizations and their similar 70 years of service, Ms. Lagarde is the only woman to have headed either organization.  Her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was arrested in 2011 in New York City for allegedly sexually harassing a maid at a hotel.  He has also been reputed for soliciting prostitutes in Washington, DC, Paris and Lille (France).  So in 2011, Christine Lagarde comes in to head the IMF during a global financial crisis and to lead after DSK resigns in ill repute.  If she didn’t have her work cut out for her, I don’t know who does. 

If you think the IMF is perpetuating misogynistic policies in finance and economics, maybe you should consider their past leadership.

If you think finance and economics are fields which, on a global scale, are awash in diverse leadership and inclusive mindsets, please go back and read my blog post entitled ‘One is The Loneliest Number’, regarding the US and the world’s lack of female economists and central bankers.  

I was reading an article about the IMF the other day, and how it’s ‘bailed out’ the Ukraine with a $17Billion package.  But any person or organization that lends money is going to enforce restrictions on either the funds or the borrower, if not both, and set some guidelines.  For example, if I stop paying my mortgage, the bank can take my house.  When I had my public matching funds audit job, if a candidate spent money on an impermissible expenditure, our agency could levy a financial penalty.  When the IMF lends money out to countries in distress, it wants them to comply with certain public policies and/or fiscal restrictions.  This compliance with public expenditures, per the WSJ article, seems to be what the Smithies were taking offense with, in that these requirements are disadvantageous to women.   I don’t know but if I were in the Ukraine right now, with a troubled economy and Russia chipping away at me piece by piece, and the EU not really wanting me to be their friend, I’d feel pretty disenfranchised regardless of my gender.  I think women get the short end of the policy stick ten times out of nine, and yes, my math is correct.  And it’s not limited to the IMF, it’s a systemic, pervasive gender equality issue that seems more so exacerbated in the world of finance and economics because it’s a realm in which we are seriously underrepresented.  (Please go back and read my blog post entitled ‘One is The Loneliest Number’, I’m not joking).  And that is why we should be welcoming Ms. Legarde with open arms and listening to her every word.  We don’t have to agree with her.  We have to listen. 

And Ms. Legarde’s career is one worthy of note, however this pans out for Ukraine and the IMF (I’d bet the Ukraine will get shafted, if not by Putin, then by someone else).  The 58 year old Christine Legarde became the first female chairmen of the international law firm Baker & McKenzie, she specialized in antitrust and labor law, she has been profiled by the Financial Times and Forbes, and prior to her IMF post, she was France’s Minister of Finance, and Minister of Agriculture, and Minister of Commerce and Industry.   She may not work for the perfect agency (but who does?  I don’t) but she’s led a unique path for a woman in her field, and I believe she is deserving of the commencement speaker podium.

At 2:52 PM this afternoon I received an email from the Chair of the Smith College Board of Trustees informing me that Ms. Legarde had stepped down as commencement speaker on her own accord and was not asked to step down by the college’s administration.  I’m sure many others received this announcement too, but I wasn’t really infuriated with the administration either.  Kathleen McCartney, Smith’s President issued a statement as well, stating “An invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads.  Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence.  Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion.”  Later, online I found an article on that linked to the Smith College Economics Department’s statement, which was signed by almost the whole department, half of whom I had taken classes under.  They state, “We acknowledge the controversy that surrounds IMF policies and, as individual economists, hold a range of views on these policies and the complex, difficult problems they seek to address.  We also recognize the evolving nature of the IMF as an institution and in that context, looked forward to hearing Madame Lagarde’s remarks.  The withdrawal of Madame Lagarde as our commencement speaker represents a lost opportunity to hear directly from the leader of this influential global institution and to use that address as a valuable input to a well-informed, multi-faceted, and nuanced discourse on our campus about crucial issues facing the world.”  I totally agree.

There was one Econ professor whose name did not appear on that letter, Prof. Reinhardt, I think she is on sabbatical, but I had taken her economic development class, which focuses on lesser-developed countries and policies that can help or hinder their growth.  I left that class knowing there is no quick, direct and guaranteed method to bring countries out of poverty for good, and if there was, wouldn’t the IMF/World Bank/UN have found it by now?  Economic development is all still a work in progress.  And last spring, I attended Prof. Mahdavi’s lecture in NYC on the EU and the financial crisis, and was surrounded by both Econ majors and non-Econ major alums.  A small chunk of the Econ alums were now employed by the (wait for it…) IMF.   Even if Ms. Legarde seems like just some well-dressed well-connected French lady, your sister Smithies are IMF’ers just the same!

The WSJ states that a petition was signed by students and faculty to prevent Ms. Legarde from coming to campus.  The petition had 477 signatures.  Out of a student body of 2100.  That’s hardly a majority.   A segment of the Smith community had achieved its goals, but the college as a whole is worse for its wear.  It’s a personal triumph for the protesters.  And it’s overrated.


As compensation for this event, next year’s speaker better be a woman who has made progress in the fields of finance and/or economics.  The Economics department is owed one, big time.  I nominate Janet Yellen or Elizabeth Warren.  Or I’m not making any more donations (but I may not be the only one)  And that sucks when next year’s tuition and fees come in at $61K, and the US median household income is only $53K.  Why doesn’t anyone ever protest that?

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Bronx is Burning

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

-          Paul Simon


Paul Simon is many things – musician, lyricist, poet, New Yorker, but I’d bet he has yet to become a very pregnant lady lying awake at night trying to get comfortable and fall asleep.  I doubt Art Garfunkel could make that claim as well. 

Up until recently, these days, or rather these nights, lying down for the end of the day was a lovely reprieve.  Day is done, gone the sun, catch some zzzzz.  Now I just roll around with some arraignment of pillows hoping to succumb to sleep rather quickly, but to no avail.  And then after I do fall asleep, I wake up only 2-3 hours later to pee or to realize my pillow fort has fallen off the bed or my hands are numb or I was having some very bizarre dream or drooled all over my face or my hip aches and it’s time to change positions.  Or any combination of the above.   And so I fix the problem and have to get back to sleep again, though I usually lie there for another silent, dark eternity hoping to succumb to sleep but my mind fills up with all types of ideas, mostly involving how to function with two small children in the house, and here I am again listening to the sounds of silence.  The sounds of night.  The sounds of a bedroom community, who are, at these hours, mostly in their bedrooms, also asleep (I assume). 

For the most part, the Seventh Borough is pretty quiet at night.  The polar vortex has kept everyone inside for a very long time, but we’re turning the corner, and it’s that time of year to sleep with the windows open again, and the delineation of inside sounds and outside noise starts to get fuzzy.   We’ve traded in the sound of the lone, brave, early morning snow shoveler with that of the hum of lawn-care equipment, obnoxiously running at first light.  Open windows bring in the sounds of tweets and chips and bird conversations, and it seems they always have much to say.  Two blocks away sit the train tracks to the commuter rail.  I’m pretty sure I can tell the difference between the electric and the diesel engines by now.  The diesels are so much deeper and like to make their presence known.  The express trains zip on by with a very matter-of-fact rhythm to the pattern of wheels on tracks.  The locals, just pulling out of the Seventh Borough station a mile away give off a more labored sound, as if they are uninterested in speeding up, to just stop again three miles down the track. 

Living on a steep hill of a street, I sometimes hear the acceleration of a car engine, just to get up the hill.  But we really don’t get much street traffic at night.  Just after six AM each week day, a car slows down in front of my house to hurl my newspaper at my driveway, then it hits the gas to make it back up the hill.  Breaks, thump, acceleration, every morning.  But I’m usually awake by six, with the sun rising earlier, waking up the critters and my hips looking to evict the excess baby load soon, I’m well awake by six.   And on weekends, if I get some divine luxury to sleep to well, 6:30, I get to wake up to “Mommy(.)  Mommy(?)  Mommy(!)  Mommy (!!!)” and the toddler comes to my side of the bed and puts his wall decal stickers on my face.  

One noise I welcome at night is the static coming through on the baby monitor.  Static means it’s working but as long as there are no child noises, then he’s sleeping.  We now have the baby monitor rotating from picking up sounds in Nick’s room as well as the nursery, which no one sleeps in right now.  But after watching way too many Ghost Adventure type of shows, I’m just waiting for some other ‘resident entity’ to make their presence known through the baby monitor. 

The Seventh Borough would be a very peaceful place for sleeping, if it were not for the inability of little children to sleep late, and the abundance of trees, which brings about the abundance of early-morning chirping birdies.  I spend a good number of sleepless nights here and there in the Second Borough, and grew accustomed to a whole different set of sounds, many of which you learn to sleep through, like heavy rain beating down on a window air conditioning unit or the advertently/inadvertently triggered car alarm.  Twenty-five plus years in Bay Ridge, one grows accustomed to hearing the fog horn of large container ships entering or leaving the mouth of the Hudson River, it’s a deep moaning sound, often two-toned, with the second tone deeper than the first, and it lingers, and lingers, and reverberates off the water until the tall building density of the Second Borough thickens enough to absorb it.  The more fog horns you hear, the thicker the fog.  And on rarer occasion, the ding-dong-ding of the harbor channel markers makes its way off the water and into the Second Borough neighborhoods.  An excess of fog horns and buoy dings means that you know before even getting out of bed in the morning, that skies won’t be clear and the weather will be unpleasant.   Also, due to our proximity to Fort Hamilton (I assume), our neighborhood seemed home to frequent helicopter traffic, and after time helicopter noises seemed like no big deal, except on the occasion where they sounded really, really, really close, like on your roof close, and then you wonder what’s really going on, or is someone filming a movie, and can I be in it?

Shared walls in apartment buildings can give your ears more entertainment then necessary in the middle of the night.  One of my neighbors kept blaring ‘70’s and ‘80’s rock music late at night when they were going through a divorce.  I had another neighbor leave his gas stove on (on purpose) which would bring the fire department through to wake you up, just in case evacuation was necessary.  A fire truck siren or a police car siren was really no big deal at night, but other times sirens would go on and on as if there were a parade of emergency vehicles headed to your house.  So you’d listen, and hope they’d pass, that the sirens were going down your block but not stopping on your block, and you could roll over and go back to sleep.  Usually nothing was worth getting out bed for.  Usually. 

As we got more acquainted with each other's neighborhoods, Rob would find himself in the coastal Second Borough more often, and I would find myself in the hilly, north Fourth Borough, we got accustomed to each borough’s respective sound patterns.  I remember the first time Rob heard the fog horns, he seemed a bit nervous.  I said don’t worry, as long as you’re not part of the Coast Guard or the Merchant Marines, it just means a cloudy day for you.  In fact, I think I was pretty surprised at how little noise I heard from the Fourth Borough.  His apartment was in the back of the building so he didn’t get much street noise.  The adjacent building had some pretty hostile neighbors, and you’d hear some yelling here and there, but the apartment across the hall was vacant and the next building over was a funeral home, so things were quiet.  
Neighborhood sound test:  1. Win a major championship 2. Listen

In 2007 the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to win the Superbowl.  I was excited because I went into the office pool and was getting some winnings from this game.  But I was home alone in the 2nd Borough and congratulated myself with my inside voice.  But just one avenue away, I could hear people coming out of bars and restaurants yelling and cheering and screaming with delight.  Drivers honked their horns.  Parked cars were getting their horns honked.  My neighbors cheered.  It was January, and I’m sure my windows were closed, and I could still hear the jubilation blocks away and the boom boom pop of (probably illegal) fireworks going off in the distance (aka Dyker Heights).  You’d think it was New Year’s Eve.  Bay Ridge was happy the home team had won.  You could hear the celebration in the streets.

In 2009 the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies (and that nasty green offspring of a Snuffalupagus and a feral chicken – the Philly Phanatic) to win the World Series.  I was not really excited (because it was the Yankees) but I was excited that the home team had won, and I was in the Bronx, in Rob’s apartment eating dinner and watching the game with him.  It was October, and I think the windows were open, a bit.  After about 30 seconds of gloating by my then-fiance, that the Mets didn’t even make it to the post-season (what else is new) I waited for the (illegal) fireworks, the honking horns, the neighbors to come out of their apartments and cheer, the yelling (happy yelling).  I was waiting for the Bronx to cheer their Bombers and all I had was the Sound of Silence. 

Out of all the ruckus I am sure Bay Ridge was making that October evening, probably a few people are really drunk, but no one will get arrested.  It’s a joyful noise.  Some will take a 'sick day' for the ticker tape parade, and life will go on.  But there was no celebration for the Bombers in the Bronx that night.  Nothing. 

In 2012 the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to win the Superbowl (again).  Sitting in my Seventh Borough home, I thought to myself, well listen up and see if this is like Bay Ridge in ’07 or the Bronx in ’09, but I had a ten-day old newborn baby at home and I can’t remember a thing. 

A few weeks later, right around Halloween 2009, I woke up to the sound of helicopters.  At first I thought nothing of it, then I reminded myself I was in the Fourth Borough and we don’t usually hear helicopters in this neck of the woods.  My lease was up, and I moved in with Rob for a few weeks while we waited to close on our house.  This was a lot of noise for the middle of the night, but it was around Halloween so maybe there is some mischievous ruckus going on the main avenue, just around the corner.   Usually no ruckus was worth getting out bed for.  Usually. 

The next day we found out that a bunch of attached stores had burned down (due to arson) on the main drag, from a Dunkin Donuts to a bakery and a few smaller places in between, but half a city block was now a pile of ash and charred metal. 

A few weeks later, right before Christmas, I woke up to what sounded like someone cutting through metal.  I assumed it was someone working on their car, in the middle of the night and right after a snow storm it seemed like a very odd noise, for what had been a very quiet street.  But I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.  Usually no ruckus was worth getting out bed for.  Usually.  Rob’s cat, Cosmo kept mewing at me.  For a while, I thought this cat hated me and wanted to have nothing to do with me, but now he was telling me in cat speak to get up.  (Do you notice the theme here, I keep waking up.  My husband sleeps though everything and anything).  It was just before 5 AM so I could only sleep a little more before getting up for work, I gave Cosmo some attention and then went to the bedroom window to see what this early morning car-repair clown was up to, but all I saw out the window was black smoke and flames.  I freaked out.  Cosmo freaked out.  Rob was still sleeping.  WTF?

I woke him up and paced around the apartment for a little while, then got dressed.  Our building was not on fire but we were very close to it.   Stay in.  Get out.  What do you do?  Would we be evacuated?  It was December and it was freezing cold outside, but we were in the back of a building looking at the back of another building on fire.  So we gathered up a few important items into a backpack, bundled up and got out.  Cosmo went into hiding, we couldn’t find him, and left him in the house. 

I called my mom at like six AM, probably freaking her out.  I said, "Don't freak out!" and not to worry, I’m ok.  If you turn on the news and see Rob’s block on fire, we’re ok but the cat is missing.  Then I called my boss to say I wouldn’t be in.  I needed a personal day because my block is on fire and I don’t know if I’m going to be homeless in few hours. 

We spent the next 5-6 hours just hanging around on the street.  The fire seemed unable to be tamed, but yet Rob’s old brick apartment building did not seem to be in harm's way.  We saw some neighborhood people and chatted with them, we were in and out of a deli just to keep warm.  It had recently snowed and the gallons upon gallons of water the FDNY kept spraying on the flames was creating more patches of ice all over the sidewalks.  Everything was treacherous  There must have been six or seven fire crews working the fire and another one sanding down all the ice.  The fire had started in a diner, taken out a dentist office, a travel agency and a supermarket .  The supermarket would not stop burning.  It smelled awful.  I guess behind the supermarket was like all its storage and garbage and the way the rears of the buildings came together, they were all attached.  The end of the block was home to a Bank of America, but it was in an old-fashioned bank type of building, with a clock tower on the façade and made of stone and marble.  It was such an old stone building, it was non-flammable, and probably helped contain the fire.  Next to the bank was the funeral home, which was slated that day for a viewing.  A bunch of firemen and the funeral director (who lived upstairs from the parlor) took the corpse out of the building in its coffin.  I figured why bother, when you’re dead, you’re dead, but I guess cremation was not one of the deceased’s last requests.  The funeral home had been recently redone and its façade painted, but its new exterior was getting singed from the still-burning supermarket.   Apparently the funeral director also kept a large stash of (legal??) guns and ammunition in the basement (why- his clients are already dead?) and the FDNY urged him to get them out in case the building were to also catch on fire.  I guess you never really know your neighbors until you all risk homelessness and destruction.  FDNY went to the roof of the funeral home and tried to keep the fire from spreading by spraying it from the roof down into the pit that was probably once the basement of the supermarket.  This seemed to keep the flames at bay.  By midday the fire was under control, but so much was still smoldering.

For the next three days, I’d lay in bed listening to the sounds of firemen still watering down a smoked out mess, which sounded like a very localized heavy rain storm, and smelling all that burnt stuff.  Later we’d find out the owner of the diner paid someone $2,000 to set it on fire so that he could collect the insurance money on the business.  All involved were arrested.  For a stupid insurance plot, two people went to jail, four businesses were ruined, a few others almost ruined and an entire neighborhood lost its supermarket just in time for Christmas.  One week later, we closed on our house, and moved in with whatever we could fit in our car.  We slept on an air mattress in our new home that night, as empty as it was, it was smoke-free and not under constant police surveillance, like a neighborhood suffering from two major arsons in as many months. 

And that would be the beginning, of the sound of silence, the sound of nothingness, the sound of very calm, mostly calamity-free suburban night times.  Peace.  Quiet.  Diesel trains.  Birds.  And the sound of what we could not hear, but would become evident every morning – the sound of a very slow air leak in an inflatable mattress.  I’d wake up on the floor.  And Rob, well he sleeps through everything.     

Friday, April 18, 2014

Uptown Girls

Did you ever look forward to date night with great anticipation, maybe a mani-pedi-blowout-mimosa prep schedule with an awesome play list rocking out in the back ground, as you pick out a new outfit/pair of shoes/new accessories combo for a fun night out?  Yeah, me neither. 
Our last date night went more like this:  Saturday morning Rob gets the 6:30 AM train out of the Seventh Borough to get to the Metrotech/Barclays office (2nd borough) for some 8AM project.  I’m baby wrangling, waiting for my mom to get to my house, after probably also taking a 6:30 AM bus herself so I can get to work for 9AM, even though, yes, it’s Saturday.  Rob picks an outfit he can both climb around server rooms and grab cocktails in.  I pick an outfit that 1. Fits the baby bump 2. Not too fancy for a Saturday in the office and 3. I can sit next to my husband while he grabs cocktails and I get like 8 seltzers.  Then everyone puts in a full day of work.  Rob kills time wandering around the city, while I’m killing in effigy my ‘Singapore Problem’ at work (I’m sure that will warrant its own blog post at some later point in time when my Singapore Problem finally and officially gets laid off).  The benefit of working these occasional Saturdays is that I get an additional vacation day in return, and the company buys lunch.  The drawback of eating lunch (or breakfast or dinner or drinking any non-clear fluids) these days, is that this baby bump has increased the general surface area of the body where it’s very easy to spill food on yourself.  And undoubtedly I do.  So most of my outfit was black, to avoid advertising any food stains (though I did spend a day at work in a black outfit last week with a nice residual dollop of Greek Yogurt on my shirt).  Mmm strawberry banana!
Finally we brake out of work and head uptown on Lexington Ave.  Typically full of office-worker buzz on the weekdays, the pedestrian flow on Lex has become a slow, disorganized parade of tourists, more tourists, and what I’d call local tourists (Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Borough and beyond neighbors in commutable distance who descend upon the city with no real sense of purpose, other than for food, entertainment, sporting events, or worse yet, pub crawls).  So we hang a left on 57th street to cut west and the tourists haven’t really subsided but at least the sidewalk of this very wide and busy thoroughfare are grand and can easily accommodate the masses. 
I realized that I hadn’t been this far uptown (and 57th street is really not uptown at all) in a while.  Actually I’d walk along 57th quite a bit because it was the starting point of the express bus route back to Bay Ridge in the 2nd Borough.  A coworker friend of mine lived on 2nd ave in the 50’s and we’d leave work in Long Island City, cross the Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge / Edward I. Koch Bridge – he never lived in Queens??? I never got that reference) by foot for some exercise and chit chat when the weather was pleasant, then she’d walk to her apt and I’d walk over to the Express bus and go home.  These days I do much more shopping at Babies R Us and Stop and Shop than the luxury brand stores on 57th Street, Louis Vuitton and Dior make Coach and Ralph Lauren look rather down-market, but they all represent.  I have some Ralph Lauren stuff myself but I bought it at Lord and Taylor with mad coupons and on savings-pass weekends.  I’m not a brand-name junkie but I do check other peoples’ stuff out here and there.  Right now my job and commute are so male-dominated I don’t get any good fashion exposure.  I do not work with metrosexuals.  Someone once described my job as non-sexy finance.  I’d say that’s true.  Occasionally the guys in the office would get into a pissing contest over who has more Ferragamo ties, but this was the rare event.  I’d say 99% of accountants are frugal, financially conservative individuals and the other one percent are in jail. 
We all project an image, whether intentional or not.  This is why I could never work in fashion, probably never even hack it in retail.  In non-sexy finance, you just have to look professional.  And as the weather warms up and the baby bump grows, I’m interpreting that definition more and more loosely.  But that’s short term.  In non-sexy finance you do cross paths with those in Sexy Finance and those with good fashion sense, and those who are bling-y and name-brand junkies.  People may say I have no fashion sense and I wouldn’t argue.  I am by no means a luxury brand junkie.  I don’t believe in high-end cars because cars are just depreciable assets.  Besides, a Lexus is just a Toyota engine with nicer interior appointments.  Though one time a (real) Rolex-sporting, Upper East Side co-worker once said to me, “But Liz, you live in Scarsdale”, and I say, bitch please, I live in Eastchester (but not according to my zip code), and she’d say, “But Liz you grew up on Shore Road”, and I say, bitch please, we rented a rent-stabilized apartment 30 years ago (but zip codes don’t lie).  Maybe I’m a bit of an address  snob, but you know what they say, location, location, location.  What it all comes down to is that really I’m just a cheap, clueless, fashion-less preggo who gets all her ideas from two stylish co-workers and two buddies on Pinterest.  I’m just waiting for Target to get its credit card security back in place so I can go back to shopping there.   
We turned up Madison Avenue and passed more and more boutiques and high-end small shops, no Target, no TJ Maxx, just the name brands you see in fashion and beauty magazines, or names that pop up during Fashion week (Armani, Hermes, Helmut Lang, Valentino, Carolina Herrera),  that I recognize only because I read a lot and get into watching the red carpet on Oscar night, and nothing to do with my shopping prowess (which is nil).  Fashion, shoes, accessories and hand bag/luggage shops started to phase out, while shee-shee bakeries, coffee houses and salons became more prominent, as we got deeper into the East 60’s and then low 70’s and the area became more residential over all.  I was jealous of this area not for its zip code or fancy bakery bags chock-filled with a spring rainbow of macaroons, but just for its simple pedestrian nature.  I miss rolling out of one’s apartment and grabbing a coffee along with completing a morning’s worth of errands fully accomplished on two feet.  No cars, no parking lots, no meters, just fresh spring air and the adventures you can find with two feet and endless miles of paved sidewalks.  Of course my early evening daydream was helped by not having the little man in tow, because when you are two everything is a fascinating distraction.
Forget you! You macaroons and blingy peep-toe shoes worth more than one month’s mortgage payment, this was date night, and not just like Liz and Rob get a meal without needing a highchair or a drop cloth for our third wheel, we were off to the Carlyle Hotel to see Alexa Ray Joel!
The Carlyle would totally blend into its UES neighborhood as any other pre-war apartment building, if not for its modest, art-decoish marquee on Madison Avenue.  We entered on Madison and got lost in the corridors for a bit.  Where were the doormen, this is a hotel, no?  So we left and went in the 76th street entrance where we found a proper front desk attendant and asked for Café Carlyle, which of course was past some uniformed elevator operators and some bar-like seating.  It was not a grand hotel with a cavernous lobby, it was a building with proportions of another time, elegant, by no means disability-compliant, and buzzing with early Saturday night diners.  The Café Carlyle was a tiny room, with tables on top of tables, a small stage with mics, a piano, keyboard and cello, and in the back a small bar that fit six, tops.  We had a small square table, three rows in, though basically we were the last row before the bar.  We sat side by side and next to our table was a support beam covered in black fabric.  It was tight seating.  Tight.
But the people came and the café filled up.  Rob had some wine and I ordered a champagne that I nursed all night, long after it lost its fizziness.  I ordered a salad of sliced heirloom tomatoes, followed by sea scallops with asparagus and risotto, chased down by a lemon tart.  Rob had steak and mashed potatoes and cheese cake.  The food was definitely overpriced but then so was the neighborhood, but it was good food.  Sometimes you go to a hotel for the bar, but never for the restaurant.  My compliments were to the chef.
Seats kept filling up, and as it turned out, all of Alexa's shows were sold out for her two-week run. We wondered if Alexa’s very famous dad was going to show up.  Pay for Alexa, get Billy, two Joels for the price of one Joel (well when a tomato salad costs $20, for four slices of tomato, not four tomatoes), say hey, throw the frugal accountant a bone, no?   
We were literally on top of the table in front of us, and I hoped some really short people would sit there, but no, it was reserved for supermodels.  Especially one tall, fashionable, beautiful supermodel named Christie Brinkley. 
We didn’t get dad, we got mom, Alexa’s mom, and her entourage of some very metrosexual guys, and Minnie Driver, and a music critic guy who kept talking about Marisa Tomei's current stint on Broadway, and Alexa’s publicist, in addition to Christie’s son who may as well be a model, and another woman who was apparently a big artist and/or interior designer who recently did Christie’s (new?) UES apartment/townhouse(?) and of course all her Long Island properties. 
The table was set for 10, and Minnie was very tactical in picking her seat so that she would not be hugging the support beam like we were.  Everyone respectfully saved the best seat for Christie.  At first I thought I was so close to these people I could hit them with a dinner role if I tried (which I didn’t) but really, we were so close, I could eat off their plate if I wanted to.  Minnie got the $20 tomato salad and had rose champagne.  Christie was drinking something that looked like a margarita and had the oysters.  Supermodels eat food!  The metrosexuals had hard liquor on the rocks.  The party seemed big on ordering the salmon.  I wanted to tell them the scallops were really good but I wasn’t at their table.  I was on top of their table, but technically not at their table.  The publicist ordered a cheeseburger and slipped the Matri D no less than $20 even though the whole table was comped.  My husband was jealous of the cheeseburger, despite having a steak, this is how he rolls.  It’s date night at the Carlyle and not McDonald’s drive through!!!!! 
I totally eavesdropped on their conversations.  Everyone talks about Billy.  Billy.  Billy.  Billy.  Like he’s the absent friend, and not the vile ex-husband.  That was nice.  We’re seeing Billy in 6 months at the Garden, but I kept that to myself.  There was much talk about the Hamptons, Christie’s son’s experience in college, a prior performance of Alexa’s which involved the Carlyle evicting a very, very drunk patron, and whether Minnie should spend less time in the UK and more time in NY (everyone though so, but Minnie seemed undecided).  Minnie looked very much like herself on TV or in movies, but she was very tall and seemed to look very dramatic with very little makeup.  She had a bright red Channel bag but the rest of her outfit was simple, elegant New York Evening Black.  That’s totally what I was going for, but in my round state and penchant for yogurt stains, I was just happy I slapped on some eye shadow and mascara that night.  Christie looked fabulous for being 60, and had a black dress with a black and white polka dot scarf.  She looked like she was always smiling, her face and eyes were really bright, she was upbeat, friendly and pleasant, she was the proud and beaming momma. 
I was totally ecstatic that I was sitting in such proximity to beautiful, fashionable and famous people. And the show hadn't even begun.  When Alexa graced the stage, in her pale pink sparkly gown and matching boa, she came out belting her own version of Ray Charles' "I've Got a Woman".  Undeniably, she looks more like her dad than her mom, and she's got the musical chops of her dad too.  Maybe she won't gain residency at Madison Square Garden, but the clubby, cabaret venue of Cafe Carlyle was definitely her forte.  In between each song, she'd offer some background, some jokes, loungy chit chat and kept good command of the room.  She sang some original songs, which I though seemed laden with some residual teen angst or unrequited love, they were not melodic nor happy.  When she was belting out songs, she sounded like an old soul, rich and weathered, and when she sang more higher-pitched songs, she had like a squeaky, Carol Channing-type of quality to her voice.  She probably has had the best musical education genetics can provide.  Her exposure and repertoire spanned the gamut.  She covered Ray and Stevie Wonder, she covered Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale", she dedicated "On the Sunny Side of the Street" to her mom, she sang her own music, she played her own keyboard, she was quite versatile.  She even talked about her dad's love of hymns, the influence that has had on her, and that he has an organ in his house (I'm picturing like a massive church organ in the middle of a living room).  When it comes to hymns, I'm thinking of "Ode To Joy" or the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".  She was thinking "Loch Lomond", and then sang it with a bit of a Scottish brogue (you know this one, "You take the high road, and I'll take the low road, and I'll be in Scotland before you").  I never thought of this as a hymn, but rather a drinking song reserved for the inebriated portion of a funeral.  But what do I know, my dad is not Billy Joel.  
Alexa closed out the show without her pianist nor her cellist on stage, just her and her keyboard, and a very natural "Just The Way You Are" by papa Joel.  It was an interesting show, because I could sing the Billy Joel set list blindfolded and backwards, but you never knew what Alexa was going to throw out there, or how she was going to arrange it.  And going to a concert in such a small venue felt unique, and special, like I was invited to a private party, with celebrities and overpriced tomatoes and possibly a (tiny) Greek yogurt stain on my shirt.  Did I enjoy it, definitely.  Did I fit in, hey, I live in Scarsdale, the evening was totally in my price range.
Bitch please, it's Eastchester.        

You, Me and 1973

On Tuesday, March 7th, 1989, I woke up, got ready, and went to school.  I was in the fifth grade and I had a very bad day at school, though little did I know at the time, this day was going to get much worse.  I’m sure I was distracted, preoccupied, distant, and that day was our trial Math Bee competition.  Fifth grade would be the one and only year in my entire school career that I did not make it into the Math Bee.  But that would be the least of my worries in a few hours.  I went home, to find my mother, oddly not at work and some other family members hanging around on a random Tuesday afternoon.

Right before Christmas in 2012, I had a few days to take off before the end of the year, and if I didn’t take them off, I’d lose my vacation time for good.  So while other people would probably utilize this time to go holiday shopping, I also took the train down to Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, avoiding retailers at all costs, and headed over to the main branch of the New York Public Library.  The big one, with the lions out front.  I had a lot of research to do, and fortunately for me, right before Christmas is not a popular time of year to go digging through rolls of microfilm.

On Tuesday, March 7th, 1989, I came home from school and learned that my dad had passed away.  This had happened very early in the morning, at the hospital.  But my brother and I were sent off to school anyway, for one last day of normalcy.

A few weeks before Christmas, 2012, I was in Bay Ridge having dinner with my mom after a dentist appointment.  I still go back to the Second Borough for my twice-annual visits to the dentist.  I should find a dentist closer to the Seventh Borough, but well, I like Dr. H so I make the trip.  My mom told me she found something at home, and pulled out a little card and gave it to me.  Just slightly larger than a credit card, and firmer than paper but not quite made of card stock, it was my dad’s press identification card from the Staten Island Register, a local paper in the Fifth Borough which had since gone out of circulation.  It was yellowing, but it was still in pretty good condition.  I had no idea when he worked for this paper, and I don’t remember him working for this paper when I was a kid so let’s say some time in the 60’s or early 70’s.  My dad’s name was typed on a dotted line, and below that it read “a Representative of the Organization and any Press Courtesies extended to him will be deeply appreciated”, signed by Joseph S-something, it was illegible, and the ID expired December 31st, 1973.  There was no photograph, nor magnetic strip.  Just a card with the newspaper’s name on it, and an address at 2100 Clove Road, no phone number.  It seemed to be a seriously unsophisticated form of identification.  The right side of the card was much more frayed and worn than the left, as if it had been in a wallet with an opening on the right side, getting handled more so on the right hand side than the left.  It was not laminated.  It was a piece of paper approaching 40 years old, if not older, and it was going to lead me on a hunt for information. 

My dad was not a journalist, at least not professionally.  Professionally he was kind of all over the place.  At some point he worked for the Associated Press, but I’m not sure in what capacity.  He worked for the City of New York managing programs for senior citizens, he worked for the City of New York as a substitute teacher, he even had his Taxi driver’s license at one time.  He was not a ‘company man’. 

My dad grew up in Brooklyn, the second of three children, went to Catholic school, including O.L.P.H. in Sunset Park, and later, would meet my mom through mutual friends.  He was in the Army Reserves during Vietnam, but a massive Post Office strike kept him stateside sorting mail for Uncle Sam.  I’m sure he was OK with that.  I don’t think he was keen on wartime violence, but I think he may have liked the structure and camaraderie of the Army.  It’s probably a lot like Catholic school, hierarchical and uniformed, only this one’s funded by the state.  I remember as a kid, we’d go for walks through a then low-securitied Fort Hamilton Army Base, just a few blocks from our apartment, at the base of the Verrazano Bridge.  I remember he seemed to have decent memories of the Army, even if he had nothing nice to say about Nixon.

Like most children of the sunset-era of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was a huge Mets fan and we went to a good number of Mets games, back in the ‘80’s, when they’d actually win.  We’d play catch with our mitts, he also taught me how to play basketball (disaster).  We’d play board games a lot, we’d go to the park often, or ride bikes along Shore Road.  I feel he dragged my brother and I all over Manhattan at times, especially to the Met when my brother was in his ‘I love ancient Egypt’ phase, or to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, or even the Statue of Liberty.  I’ve probably been to the Statue of Liberty more often than any other native New Yorker, or at least I’m willing to admit to that fact, anyway.  We seemed to go everywhere, but we never left the City, mostly because we didn’t have a car for most of those years.  Coney Island, Downtown Brooklyn, the Central Park Zoo, all accessible by subway.  The Staten Island Ferry was a free ride, or at least a really cheap thrill, a soda and a half-hour on the water on a nice day was all you needed.  Sometimes we’d just go for walks along Third Avenue, Bay Ridge’s main thoroughfare.  Get a slice of pizza, maybe an Italian Ice, or stop at the deli and get a small container of marinated mushrooms and eat them before you got home, mostly because they were so good, and also I think my mom was never a fan of mushrooms.  When the weather was bad, or summer days oppressively hot, we’d go to the movies or hit up my dad’s other favorite spot, the library.  Not the big one with the lions out front, but the local one with the children’s section and the free air conditioning. 

My dad was an avid reader.  He was also big into newspapers, news magazines and especially the Sunday New York Times.  I’d ‘read’ along too.  But the Sunday Times weighed a lot and had too much to say.  Sometimes we’d do the crosswords puzzles, and by we, I mean I’d get like <1% of the questions right.  Even if I got a question right, my horrible spelling ability was no match for those black and white grids.  Sometimes he’d buy me a math book, I mean an actual soft-covered work book with pages and pages of arithmetic questions.  I’d do my math puzzles and he’d do the NYT Crossword.  I always wondered if anyone else’s parents bought them math books for ‘fun’ or for ‘babysitting’ on Sunday afternoons.  I think other kids had toys. 

When my mom handed me this 40 year-old press pass, I had always been familiar with my dad’s love of reading, but I had no idea he was trying to get into the writing side of things as well.  We did have a dining room table full of typewriters, but I was never sure of what he was typing, or to whom he was writing, though I did pick up a bit of typewriter ribbon maintenance skills, now totally useless.

So I began my research where anyone in 2012 would begin, I Googled Staten Island Register, and Wikipedia had a small entry about the paper. According to Wiki, the Staten Island Register was owned by the Sclafani Family (that was the illegible S-last name on the press pass!) and founded in 1966.  It started as a weekly shopper, like the Pennysaver, and featured mostly advertisements.  It was a weekly paper, and came into its own about when the daily Staten Island Advance (SI’s local and still in print today) was reaching a saturation point among its readers, and getting overly politicized.  Wiki continues, that the Register would evolve to emphasize four themes: investigative journalism, comprehensive coverage, background and analysis, and political independence.  Unlike the Advance, which to this day endorses political candidates, the Register never endorsed a candidate, though it would report on all candidates, and stuck with an independent slant, reporting the hard news and covering local history as well.  Wiki writes that the paper was sold in 2002, and subsequently sold again in 2004, and ceased publication in December 2005.  There was no Register website to search for old articles, so I was off to the microfilm room of the New York Public Library’s main branch (the big one, with the lions).

Despite many a weary night spent waiting for the express bus to Bay Ridge in front of the Library’s main branch, and having walked past the library many times, I don’t think I had ever been inside that branch until December 2012.  I had no idea how to find anything, but it turned out to be quite easy.  All not-so recent editions of newspapers were on film in one area.  The librarian gave me a catalog of all newspapers on file, and there were several, local, national, international, English, non-English, wow.  I found the Staten Island Register in the catalog and then she asked me which year I’d like to see.  I had no idea, but since the press pass was valid through 1973, I asked for that year.  I hadn’t used a microfilm machine since maybe my second year of college, and when you are searching on film, there is no ‘control-F’ find function, nor a search window.  This was going to be old-school.    

The film started with the January 11th, 1973 issue, claiming the Register as ‘The Weekly Community Newspaper of Richmond County’ all for 10 cents ($4 for an annual subscription).  As I read through the issues, I got the flavor of the paper, local advertisements, Island-wide events for the community, coverage of some city-wide issues, coverage of some national issues, and at times, coverage of some issues that you may think would never impact an insulated, small-townish Fifth Borough.  All the while I’m being transported back in time, before my time, like I said, old-school. 

One of the first articles I came across was an editorial raising the issue of the double-fare transit system.  If you transferred from bus to subway you’d have to pay another fare, and Staten Islanders always had to transfer to get off the Island.  This made me laugh because the ‘One City One Fare’ situation wasn’t resolved until I was in high school, some 25 years later, with the advent of the Metrocard.  There were many farcical editorial cartoons featuring Richard Nixon.  I guess everyone *loved* him.  The weekly events calendar stated St. George Library would be showing a “Black America on Film” series, including footage of African American soldiers and the racism they faced in Vietnam, at the hands of their fellow soldiers.  I totally paraphrased that last sentence.  It was written with words we don’t really use today. 

There was a column each week called ‘Snoopin Round the Town’ which covered wedding announcements, military promotions and fashion styles.  There were home repair how-to columns.  Staten Island Savings Banks were offering 4 year CD’s paying in excess of 7%.  You could buy a Dodge Polara for $3700 or a Plymouth Duster for $2900 (with power steering!!).  New homes ‘on big lots’ were selling for $50-90K, an apartment would cost you $175-$250 a month in rent.  Classifieds were advertising for factory work paying up to (wait for it..) $4 an hour!  Local libraries were showing ‘The Red Balloon’ and ‘Deliverance’.  Weekly TV listings had their own page.  Walter Cronkite hosted the 7PM news on CBS, Channel 5 aired the ‘Andy Griffith Show’, other shows on air at the time included ‘I Dream of Jeanie’, ‘The Waltons’, ‘Beverly Hillbillies’, ‘Dragnet’, ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Coronation Street’, ‘The Odd Couple’, ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘Gilligan’s Island’.  I’ve seen most of these shows, but probably all in repeats.  Adult Ed classes included auto repair for $25, conversational French for $14 and golf for $19 all at local high schools. 

Now and then I’d come across a meatier story, beyond the ups and downs of the New Dorp HS sports stats, or the police blotter, which actually didn’t have too much crime to report.  There was one investigative article about the manufacturing of the Saturday Night Special, a handgun which was actually manufactured in New York City at the time.  Apparently these guns were often stolen between the point of production and their point of delivery.  In 1971, 93 police officers were killed with (presumably stolen) handguns (nationwide).  This was twice the amount of police officers killed in 1968.  The 70’s and early 80’s were rough times in the city. I was old enough to know that first hand.

Other articles were definitely hallmarks of the era: Platform shoes, opening the NYC police exam to women, discrimination of women in the securities industry, Gloria Steinem speaks to the Ms. Club at Staten Island Community College, Nixon refuses to fund day care centers, the unpopularity of Blue Laws, the future of computers, the Rockefeller Drug Laws, how to clean your shag carpet, Watergate, Brezhnev to visit the US, the gasoline shortage, Open Enrollment at CUNY (the City University of New York system), the drunk-driving corridor created in Staten Island when NY raised its legal drinking age to 21, while NJ remained at 18,  and a ‘new fad’ called yoga.  While other articles seemed to cover issues we still face today:  finding jobs for returning veterans, teenage suicide, methadone clinics, 40 workers killed in a Bloomfield natural gas explosion (East Harlem just lost 8 last month in a gas explosion), land use and over-development of the South Shore, the rising costs of food, bridal shows, new car adverts and shoddy construction jobs.  Some things, they never change.

During all my scrolling and trolling through 1973, I had not yet found one article by my dad.  Maybe I picked the wrong year.  But then I got to June, and the paper was covering the primary for the race for NYC mayor, and also a somewhat controversial race for Borough President.  I thought this maybe my lucky year, as my dad had always been abreast of politics at all levels.  A guy named Robert Connor ran for BP as a Republican and then changed to the Democratic line.  This seemed to stir things up.  But the mayor’s race of 1973 was wide open, with John Lindsay not seeking a third term, there would be no incumbent.  So in typical NY fashion, half the city runs for mayor (as we just experienced last year).  Ok well nine guys were in the primary: Albert Blumenthal, Norman Oliver, Abraham Beame, Herman Badillo, John Marchi, Mario Biaggi, Sanford Garelik, Robert Wagner Jr., and Jesse Gray.  I smiled to myself because I recognized a few of these names as guys who seem to always be running for something locally.  The Register covered each candidate, and endorsed no one.  In November, Abe Beame would win the 1973 citywide race, becoming the 104th Mayor of New York City.  I finished the roll of film and my time travel back 39 years and found not one article written by Peter E. Hogan.  There were several short articles published each week that were uncredited.  Maybe he wrote one or a few of those, I'd never know.
On Friday, March 7th, 2014, the twenty-fifth anniversary of my dad’s passing came and went.  To mark the day I did absolutely nothing.  I called no one.  I made no Facebook post.  I didn’t even get this blog post out in a timely fashion.  I went to work.  I came home.  I didn’t go to church, having been there only two days earlier for Ash Wednesday.  I was fully aware and mindful of the date, as I am every year, but the milestone that was the quarter-century that had now passed was kind of rubbing things raw all over again.  I’m sure my family was aware of the date.  Not talking to each other on such an anniversary, I can only describe as an Irish style of communication.  It’s how we roll – gregarious and garrulous at times, stone-faced and stoic at others.    

If my dad were alive today, he’d probably still be riding the subway all over the city (now on a reduced-fare senior citizen metro card), reading the paper, getting a slice, getting a kick out of how much the city has changed, how much Brooklyn has changed, how much the world has changed, how much the world hasn’t changed, how much the Mets haven’t changed, how much his kids have changed, and I think he’d love being a granddad.  I truly believe he would have become a blogger, it requires no press pass, it’s relatively easy, it’s free and it doesn’t require any typewriter ribbon changing.  He could cover the Second Borough News, I’ve got Borough Number Seven covered.