Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bottom of the Ninth

Last Wednesday I did something I never typically do, and watched the World Series even though it had zero Mets representation.  I was even rooting for one side, Chicago, on the sole basis of their 108-year drought of Championship titles.  I couldn’t tell you one Cubs player, one Cubs coach and I kept second guessing myself as to which team was on the National League (Cubs) and which was on the American League (Indians).  But I felt in this match-up of World Series-starved teams, Chicago was in greater need of the win.  And in a series down 3-1, they were the underdogs of all underdogs. 

Game 7 was good baseball.  Chicago was first to score, but then it was tied, and Chicago pulled ahead, and Cleveland tied it up again.  The momentum moved from the Cubs to the Indians to the Cubs to the Indians and then back to the Cubs.  It pulled me in.  It put this die-hard second-generation Mets fan’s love of all things Blue and Orange allegiance to the side, and let me be enraptured by my love for the sport, my love of the game.

Honestly, for America ex-Chicago and ex-Cleveland, I don’t think it mattered who won this battle.  Only 37 seasons in the 112 years of modern World Series Championships have come down to such a close call with a game 7 winner-take-all scenarios.  Neither team was the incumbent champion.  The last time Cleveland won the World Series, Truman was president.  The last time the Cubs won the Fall Classic, Teddy Roosevelt was president, women didn’t have the right to vote and the Ford Model T was all the rage.  Both teams were due, but it would take seven games, and extra innings to name the winner.  It was a tight, close race. 

While watching game 7 on live television, I was abruptly shaken from my love-of-baseball euphoria by ads for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the commercial breaks.  And not because of the content of the ads, this campaign has been going on long enough, but I was surprised there actually were ads at all.  Excuse my lack of media-buying knowledge, I’m not sure if those commercials were aired here in New York specifically or if everyone across the country were seeing the same ads at the same time.  Because here in (down-state) New York, and in the Seventh Borough, we have made it to November without any real mass political solicitation by the presidential candidates.  The local races are advertising like crazy, but Hillary and The Donald have sent me zero mail.  Typical for national elections, I’m paid no mind. I’m not a political donor, I sway no constituencies, I’m from an undeniably ‘Blue’ state, I’m ignored from Day 1. 

As this blog began in 2013, this is the Seventh Borough News’ first presidential election cycle, so here is where we get to be un-ignored.  The election of 2016 has proved to be a tight, close race, especially as we wind up the last 48 hours of this mudslinger. 

  Like many of you, I cannot wait for this race to be over, but unlike the World Series (+/- Cleveland and Chicago), it does matter who wins this battle.   And unlike the World Series, which brought fans and fans of other teams, like myself, together, hopeful for an elusive champion, this election has been divisive and full of anger.  And the anger has turned into rage.  And the rage has brought all our demons to the fore.  And all the world is watching us become a worse version of ourselves.  We’re basically a 240-year-old having a temper tantrum.

I may not be a political hack, but I am a mother of two young children, so I’m well versed in temper tantrums.  Notably, they can sometimes be avoidable.  If the child (or the country) has their needs met, sufficient food, rest, comfort and stimulation, you can typically avoid the meltdown.  This is not always in your control, sometimes you get behind schedule, or you forget the diaper bag in the car, or you leave a favorite stuffed animal behind in a hotel room in Pennsylvania, and the world comes to an end on the Jersey turnpike.  Nobody’s perfect, but we can anticipate the needs of our charges and act.

The United States of America is basically having a meltdown because the republic is angry.  Our basic needs are not being met.  Our wages are stagnant, yet healthcare costs and higher education costs are growing exponentially.  Last week was open enrollment for our 2017 benefits at work, and as I clicked the link to the medical insurance premium data, I read the computer screen through squinted eyes and held my breath to see how much the increases would be for a family of four.  I braced myself for bad news. I got through it.  People are working harder and longer for less benefit, if they can even get the work they are seeking.  Certain segments of the country have been left behind.  On the Homefront, our security is at risk, and our protectors are also under threat.  Our infrastructure is rusting.  Our systems are dated.  Our Veterans go without.  Our population is changing.  Certain segments of the population are growing more marginalized.  Certain segments of the citizenry are getting wealthier and healthier and have all the right connections, while many others see no progress.  We’re not “Young, scrappy and hungry”, but rather bloated, disengaged and litigious (and that doesn’t make for good lyrics).  For the first time in maybe forever, there is a sentiment across the country that our children will NOT be better off than we are.  The American Dream is dying.

That work-hard-make-progress contract between the governed and the governors, which has steadily fueled this country for more than two centuries, is at risk of being voided.  Yet somewhere along this journey, we misinterpreted the signals.  We’ve accepted that a deterioration of the social contract has granted us permission to be a republic behaving badly.  Perhaps it’s due to the painfully slow ‘jobless recovery’ and the increasing threat of terrorism, greased by the ease and anonymity of social media account and internet posts, we’ve unleashed our latent racist, misogynistic and xenophobic tendencies for all the world to see.  Let’s be honest, America, many of us have never worked through our demons, we just manage to keep them under wraps in front of the company.   

This is disheartening, but what’s worse, is that this is mostly avoidable, so let’s avoid it.  We can do better.  We need to be good citizens and not raging haters.  We need our leaders to get out of their cozy camps and anticipate the needs of their charges, and act.  We need our leaders to work for the greater good, and not just themselves.  We need the public sector to be about public service.  We need the private sector to be accountable and involved.  We need a balance, not a collusion, between the two sectors.  The social contract needs to be repaired, re-written.  Our tool for redrafting this contract is our vote.                                                                                            

This is the paragraph where I tell you it’s all going to be okay.  I can’t write this paragraph convincingly, because I can’t even convince myself that it’s true.   

But I can tell you this – despite the 108 years between Cubs’ championships, they had no shortage of support.  The faith of the fans was always there.  They showed up.  If you believe we can do better, if you believe we deserve better, if you believe our children deserve better, then show up. 


"Do Not Throw Away Your Shot!"  (A.Ham)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On Your Own

“Why should a tiny island across the sea regulate the price of tea?”  Sings Alexander Hamilton in the musical, Hamilton.  And I think to myself, hmm the tables have turned.

So it’s the Fourth of July, and while everyone is grillin’ & chillin’ I’m at work with the rest of my department getting stuff done.  Working a holiday grants, us lunch on the firm’s tab, so some of the office guys are running a campaign to find a place on Seamless that is open and will deliver some good barbeque that we should all partake, otherwise it may be the Nathan’s food truck for hotdogs and a Coke.  Happy Independence Day. 

Full disclosure: the head office of my employer is based in London.  I work for a British company, so I guess I should take working on the Fourth of July as a given, no?  Fifteen years ago I basically had an internship visa to work in the United Kingdom from 2000-2001 and spent July 4th, 2001 at work, getting teased by my British colleagues for hailing from a country founded by religious zealots.  This meme floating around the internet kind of summed up how that day had gone down:

Their jokes didn’t bother me much, this was a nation who fancied prawn-flavored potato chips and considers tuna and corn pizza toppings.  Their judgement was clearly unsound.

This 4th of July, I wasn’t getting taunted by the Brits in the office.  Firstly, they were grossly outnumbered here in our Midtown location.  Also, our vending machines’ choice of potato chips was much more palatable, but mostly, the United Kingdom was still reeling from their own declaration of independence with their June 23rd Brexit vote to leave the European Union just less than a fortnight ago.  The sentiment of that decision metastasized into a black cloud which had swiftly jetted across the Atlantic, and was clearly palpable in the office on June 24th.  Arriving at the office in the few days after the vote felt like walking into a funeral home.  Honestly, I was hoping the ‘Remain’ campaign would eke out a victory, but to no avail, Great Britain basically told the EU and Brussels to piss off

Though I (an outsider with no vote) was in favor of the UK staying and stabilizing the EU, 52% of voters chose to leave the EU.  But I get it.  I do, I get it.

Well over 50 nations have separated from the United Kingdom, either by force or by negotiation or a bit of both, and the U.K. just wanted to have a slice of that feeling, to know what it’s like to be the one doing the breaking up, and not being the one left at the altar.  After the Colonial 13 were the first subjects of the Crown to break the seal and head for the door, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Belize, Barbados, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Cyprus and (the Republic of) Ireland among others followed suit.  Many of which only obtained their independence in the last 100 years or so.  After a century of bleeding out territories, colonies and ‘subsidiaries’, the United Kingdom wanted its turn to say “Thanks, but no thanks”.  Feeling used and abused by the European Union, among other fears, rationales and factors, Britain decided to say “Adieu” and got their shot at being the dumper instead of the dumpee.  The geographical mapping of the votes to stay and leave looked something like this:

With the blue area wanting to leave the EU and the yellow area wanting to remain.

But I get it, I do.  I live in the United States of America.  Do you think all 50 states like each other?  Do we always get along?  No.  Doesn’t Texas think it’s its own entity from time to time?  Even Staten Island propositioned a secession vote from New York City.  Just two years ago Scotland held a vote to stay or leave the United Kingdom.  Scotland got itself off the brink and decided to stick it out with QE2 only to get sideswiped by the ‘blue states’ in the above picture. 

Within the next few days after the Brexit vote, the head office issued emails and memos to staff to the effect of “Dear Employees, Don’t Panic, um, that’s all we have for now”.  The Brexiters didn’t really have much of a plan put together in the event that they would actually win.  What is known, is that the UK may be in need of a new Prime Minister shortly and that there is roughly a two-year time period to actually withdraw from the EU.  And that the value of the UK’s currency, the Pound, has effectively taken a nose dive, and that affects me directly working in financial reporting for a US Dollar-denominated branch whose parent will be converting all our figures in to Pounds at a now-volatile exchange rate.  And so goes the question:
What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own
Awesome.  Wow.
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone, across the sea

-          “What Comes Next” from Hamilton

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Battle of Brooklyn

The truth is in ya face when ya hear the British cannons go
Any hope of success is fleeting
How can I keep leading when the people I’m
Leading keep retreating?
We put a stop to the bleeding as the British take Brooklyn
Knight takes rook, but look
We are outgunned
We gotta make an all out stand
Ayo, I’m gonna need a right-hand man

   -- "Right Hand Man", Hamilton, the Musical

In the summer of 1776, 32,000 British troops arrived in New York Harbor, making land fall on both banks of The Narrows, the narrow base of the Hudson River where Brooklyn and Staten Island are geographically closest to each other.  New York City, at the time, the second most populous city in the Colonial 13, only had about 25,000 residents.  The Red Coat presence would soon saturate the city.

The British and their soldier-for-hire Hessians generally broke into two groups, the first headed north, directly towards lower Manhattan (think: any modern-day express bus route into the city).   The second group swung out east then back west (think: like Kings Highway to Flatbush to Atlantic Avenue, or probably the worst possible route into the city, every day of the week) though it proved to be a highly effective flanking strategy on behalf of the Red Coats.  The Continentals suffered mass casualties in the present-day neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, and in Green-Wood Cemetery, among other locales.  Retreating and running out of Brooklyn terra firma, General Washington and company found themselves pinned against the East River and fled to lower Manhattan by boat under the timely cover of late summer fog. 

The Battle of Brooklyn, or more commonly known as the Battle of Long Island, by less Brooklyn-centric folks, was a major loss for the fledgling Republic, but it was also a major military boo-boo by the Crown.  Ever the gentlemen officers, the Red Coats made the erroneous assumption that GW would be formally surrendering in the near-term.  Meanwhile, One-Dollar George, Virginia plantation owner, and his rag-tag armada got across the river in a New York Minute, and lived to fight another day. 


“I was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in a hospital that overlooked the spot in 1776 where the British crossed from Staten Island before facing Washington in the Battle of Brooklyn.  On the other side of the hospital was Fort Hamilton…  My family lived on Brooklyn’s Marine Avenue until I was 3.  Then we moved in 1952 to Kew Gardens Hills in Queens…”
Except for the part about moving to Queens in 1952, Ron Chernow’s early life (as told to Marc Myers in the weekly “House Call” column of the Wall Street Journal) reads just like my own.  Mr. Chernow continues that he “…had a Washington and Hamilton connection from birth.”  He’s the author of six historical biographies, including “Alexander Hamilton,” adapted for the Broadway musical Hamilton.

I’d like to tell you that I’m a fan of Hamilton, but the truth is, I’m kind of obsessed, with the musical, not Alexander, per se.  Don’t get me wrong, growing up next to Fort Hamilton, an active U.S. Army Base and garrison on the Narrows was named after our “ten-dollar founding father without a father”, you get used to most things in the neighborhood bearing the Hamilton name.  In and around Bay Ridge, the Hamilton name has been attached to diners, dry cleaners, apartment buildings, restaurants, medical groups, physical therapy practices, the library, Fort Hamilton Parkway (roughly seventh avenue), Fort Hamilton High School (which debuted in this blog two years ago as the now Fed Chair, Janet Yellen’s, alma mater) and probably another dozen local establishments.  But the Fort that bears his name wasn’t actually named after A.Ham until the early 20th Century, as it went through another round of structural reinforcements between World Wars.

So you grow up with this general, albeit distant, affiliation or familiarity with this historical figure and these historical events, maybe you even have your newly-minted husband (who works at the bank A.Ham founded in 1784) and his groomsmen pose for some wedding photos by one of these old garrison cannons,

And then a musical about all this stuff comes to the fore, and how do you not get obsessed?  Not to mention the music and lyrics are smart, fresh, clever, poetic and impactful.  I’m not going to venture to be a theater critic here, I haven’t even seen the play.  I think tickets at non-astronomical prices are sold out until like 2020.  But I broke with my own tradition of not buying musical soundtracks until I have seen the musical in person, kind of giving in that I won’t be seeing this one for a long time.  Given Hamilton’s great renown and ability to pick up Tony Awards like Michael Phelps cleans up at the Olympics, and my own geographical affiliation to all things Hamiltonian, I had to give it a try, sight unseen.  And I was hooked.

I was playing the music on my phone all the time.  The Hamilton soundtrack would become my personal theme music as I get through this rough July workload and my new yuuuuuge reporting deliverables at work.  But what makes this song book so relevant is this:  the story, the setting and the characters of the forging of the American Experiment is our national legend, American mythology part 1.  We all know the story, or at least versions of it, and for all of its growing pains, we like this story because it reminds us that we kind of got this nation started on the right foot.  And nothing could be more reassuring in an election year where we seem so far off course.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Adult Swim

Two days into my July-non-vacation and it’s already the weekend.  Yesterday’s build up of work stress can get relegated elsewhere for the next 48 hours.  But this isn’t just any weekend, it’s July 4th weekend!  That means grilling, chilling, general fun summer stuff and celebrating our great nation – the U.S.A.

So as ‘Merica gets into Independence Day mode, and prepares for its 240th birthday party (what’s the popular gift for 240 year-olds these days??), I will go to work.  And it’s sad and borderline embarrassing to tell people that you have to work on our biggest national holiday, and it’s not because you work in an Emergency Room or at air traffic control, or some other place that needs to be 100% operational 24-7-365, but it’s because you work on spreadsheets.  Yeah. 

I have some very good Fourth of July memories (of not working) and I get worried that my kids won’t have the same if I have to work this holiday each year.  But maybe I get ahead of myself and just overthink it.  I have to remind myself that 1. They are still young, and the little one is asleep before nightfall in July 2. Fireworks would probably scare the shizzles out of the kids for a few more years (maybe), fireworks basically give my cats PTSD so we can probably still hold off on that a bit 3. When I was their age, there was no New York City ban on fireworks and the streets were literally on fire 4. You don’t know how to grill.  So what were these great Fourth memories again?  Time paints a rose-hued lens on what was more or less patriotic tomfoolery. 

So here’s something to build good summertime memories despite having to work on the Fourth: we went swimming.  Our town pool (which technically serves three towns) is great.  At least when we first joined, I was in awe.  Some of the Co-op apartments we had looked at (before we found our house) advertise the pool and the adjoining golf and tennis area as part of the selling point of the Co-ops.  It’s like a country club, without the fees of a country club.   You can join based on residency, not based on who you know and do they like you.

The longer I’ve been going to this pool, the more I’m getting familiar with the lay of the land and who is in charge of whom at the Mecca of Seventh Borough Summertime: The Town Pool.  And I say town pool, but I really mean poolS.  There are 5 pools, and 4 of them are somehow kind of built into a hill.  As you come through the gate, you have the Granny pool on your immediate right and the snack bar is to the left.  The Snack bar is mainly staffed by 12 year-olds and managed by 14 year-olds.  If you make it through food service, you can drive a golf cart at 15 and become a lifeguard at 16 and really move up the ranks.  I’m not sure, but I’d guess the three or four adults who are actually in charge are School-year phys ed teachers picking up a summer gig.  They all carry clipboards and wear matching polo shirts.  The kids who seem like they’d rather be anywhere else but the pool all tend to have the job of setting up and breaking down the lounge chairs.  That looks like a crummy job.  None of those kids look happy even though sometimes they get tipped for bringing chairs.   Lastly, there are the shuttle drivers who drive the ‘trolley’ around the parking lot, because while the parking lot may not look so big, when you’re schlepping a bag full of damp towels and two tired children around, it’s a Godsend.  The ‘trolley’ is like a very long golf cart.  It’s the super stretch limo of golf carts.  I swear sometimes we go to the pool just to ride the ‘trolley’.

Opposite the snack bar is the Granny Pool, which is strictly for adults, and by adults I mean you have to be 18 to swim there, so there is no ‘Adult Swim’ time, the Granny Pool is Adult Swim all the time.  And even though a 19 year-old would surely be welcome at the Granny pool, the average age of swimmers at that pool is 75.

Passing the Granny pool, if you sort of go down a hill and then up a hill, you will find yourself at the Diving Pool.  The Diving Pool has two springboards and is 13 feet deep.  The Diving Pool is frequented by the 10-13 year-old set, but sometimes I get on line for the springboard myself and take the plunge.  Down yet another hill or like two flights of stairs, depending how you go, are the baby pools.  One pool starts at six inches and slopes down to about 18 inches.  In the shallow side of the pool you won’t find kids playing splish splash.  You’ll find all the moms and dads lounging as if it were a swim-up bar while the tots are mostly in the adjacent playground or the other baby pool, which has like a million sprinklers attached to it.  I mean, it’s probably 5 sprinklers, but there is not a corner of that pool you can stay sprinkler free in, trust me, I’ve tried.  This pool tends to lose interest with 5 years and up crowd. 

Finally, at the bottom of the last hill, is the large 4 foot-deep ‘Olympic Size’ pool with laps lanes and basketball hoops.  This is really where it’s at.  Each time we go to the pool, I stand on the top of the hill and ask the kids which pool do they want to go to today, and without fail, it’s the big ‘Olympic’ pool at the way bottom of the hill.  And this pool is like an evil mirage because it looks so much closer than it is, and ten minutes later, you finally get there (Fifteen minutes if the kids have to stop and take stock of everyone else’s floaties and water toys) and you wish the trolley could transport you from one pool to the next, but given the sloping of the pool decks, a ski lift would be more appropriate. 

And once we’re in the pool it’s like the most fun in the world, and they love it, and I try to get them to work on swim strokes and they ignore me, because just holding on to your mom is way more fun than swimming on your own.  But they’ll get there, and skills increase and fear subsides (Kate actually has zero fear, despite having basically zero swimming skills).  Nick practises his cannonballs and Kate practises inhaling less water than before.  And hopefully they will gain a love of the water and build good memories of summertime at the pool.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Summer Reading

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

To Whom It May Concern:

Today is the first day of September, but I'd like to take you back to the First of July.  Some sixty-two days ago, the Summer of 2016 held so much promise, so much hope, there was nothing but endless sunshine and carefree days ahead of us.  Some of us would go to camp.  Some would go camping.  Some travel, road-trip, hike, bike or swim.  Others stay-cation in the back yard or practice escapism with the help of books or movies.  My July, however, was going to look more like this:

Just before leaving the office on the evening of June 30th, I flipped over my Grumpy Cat calendar to see this beautiful mug of a cat, reminding me of what I already knew.  July was going to suck big time.  Or was it?  No, it was.  I've spent 12 years of my professional life on this cyclical roller coaster.  I knew by now what months sucked more than others, and which days of which months sucked the most.  I had it down.  If I wasn't such a lover of predictability, I might actually dislike the repetitiveness of the financial reporting cycle, its deadlines, its deliverables, its drivers.  January always sucks the most but July may be a close second.  If January is the final exam, then July is the midterm.  This July, my boss was handing over all the lending and credit reporting and disclosures to me.  I had a small piece of this pie for the January cycle, and a slightly larger piece for April's cycle, but since then, another manager had left the team and my boss absorbed all that other stuff, so I've been absorbing all my boss' stuff, and so goes the food chain.

I'm also the newest person on the team, having only worked here for about 8 months, after having just served a dime at another bank, and prior to that, a year and change at another bank, who had been mortally wounded by the financial implosion of 2008.  I was familiar with lending and credit reporting, but the word on the street is that the full package of lending and credit reporting would amount to a slow and painful death, basically consuming the month of July.  I was kind of hoping that the end of June would go on forever, like a warmer, critter-less Groundhog Day.  But the transition from June to July was palpable in the office, as July 1 rang in a new era for several other staff on our floor (unrelated to my issue) but it warranted a pizza party none-the-less. 

Pizza in hand (the July 1st event was so monumental, we even had Sicilian pies!!), I got to work, because in addition to this massive amount of work, I also had to do my regular job of ‘Other Stuff’, and maybe also get to see my family and take a shower and regular things people do like this.  Part of me was looking forward to the challenge.  If I could pull this off successfully, I’d be a new(ish) hire with a bargaining chip, or two.  If not….well… yeah.

"Take a break and get away / Run away with us for the summer
  (Hamilton, the musical)

So with 12 years of working on this financial reporting cycle, summer classes for grad school, summer jobs and internships, I probably haven’t had an unbooked July since maybe 1991?  It’s OK, I tell myself, as I catch the scowl of the Grumpy Cat as I sit at my desk.  What would you do anyway?  Clean the house, do the laundry, cook meals in advance but then not want to eat them, you know, boring stuff.  As I eat my Sicilian at my desk, I scan social media on my phone and see people going to Lego camp and beach trips, and the rooftop party scene is in full effect.  And I see kids (and adults!!) going to writing camp or writing programs and I’m sad because I miss my blog.  I haven’t been on this page in over a year, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about you, Seventh Borough.  In fact, most evenings, on the train ride home from work, I try to switch gears from number cruncher to story teller.  I pull out my notebook from my bag, turn to a clean sheet of paper and jot some ideas down.  But for whatever reason, I feel like these notes and bullet points just slide off the page into oblivion, like grains of sand through my fingers, unable to materialize into a narrative nor congeal into a plot line. 

And I think what excitement do I have to offer here, besides my totally average suburban working mom life, about to be saddled with an incredibly youuuuge work load?  (It’s going to be yyyyyuge!!!).  If you look back at some past posts here in the Seventh Borough, they kind of revolve around the themes of running for trains, spilling coffee, silly things my kids do and/or the ridiculousness of my cats.  And for the most part, nothing has changed.  Over the past year I’ve written several drafts and published nothing, because reading back my own writing, well, it sucked. 

So how do you un-suck?  You practice.  And I don’t have the luxury of time to go to writing camp, so I figured I’d live my story in July, write it out in August and edit/publish it in September.  31 days of small posts jammed into a thirty-day month (looks like some lucky date is getting a two-fer!).  Even though this post is technically only covering July 1st, I’m going to skip ahead for a minute and cheat when I tell you many, many, many times I thought a month of mini blog posts was silly and a bad idea and something I’d only have time for if I was back in 1991, but we didn’t have blogs in 1991 so that poses a problem.  And then I saw this gem of inspiration online:

And if it's on the Internet, it must be true.   

Welcome back to the Seventh Borough!