Lame Adventure 461: Four Fateful Dollars

In 1982, when I moved to New York City from San Francisco, the subway token cost seventy-five cents. Last week, subway fare rose again. The single fare is now $2.75, an increase of 266.6667% in the course of 33 years.

Quality of life advice from the service noted for leaking life of any quality.

Quality of life advice from the service noted for leaking quality out of any life.

Almost every two years the Metropolitan Transit Authority increases subway fare. It was not always this way. From 1904 through 1948, a single fare was a nickel. It doubled to a dime in 1948 and increased to fifteen cents in 1953, the year the subway token was introduced because turnstiles could not accept two different coins. It stayed at that price point until 1966 when it was raised to twenty cents. On New Years Day 1970, that decade rang in with a Bronx cheer when subway fare increased 50% to thirty cents. Over the course of the next forty-five years, the increases steadily piled on. In 2003, the token was rendered obsolete in favor of the Metrocard, which offers free transfers.

The Metrocard.

The Metrocard.

The monthly Metrocard has the best volume discount. It has been my go-to means of transportation tool since 2004. That was the year that I quit a job that was walking distance from my hovel in favor of my current Grind in lower Manhattan. Eleven years ago, a 30-day Metrocard cost $70. This year, on March 22nd, that fare card increased from $112 to $116, a 3.5714% increase, if I were the type obsessed with industrial strength nitpicking percentages. This monthly pass is a good deal for someone who rides the subway as frequently as me. I average around sixty rides a month, so each fare costs about $1.93, less than what a single fare cost in 2003 when it held steady at $2 until June 2009.

At The Grind, I participate in a program called TransitChek. $28 is deducted from my pay every week to cover the cost of my Metrocard. In return, I get a tax break, and every four weeks, a new Metrocard. Easy peasy. When it was announced that the monthly Metrocard was increasing four dollars, I was expecting that my weekly deduction would increase to $29. That didn’t happen. I was suspicious.

TransitChek Metrocard.

TransitChek Metrocard with misleading expiration date.

Last week, when I received my new Metrocard, I noticed that the card was still at the old $112 rate. The head bean counter at The Grind, Agnes Pennywise-Dollardumb, oversees the Metrocards. She finagled a way to get employees old Metrocards so we would not have to pay the new $116 rate. She didn’t factor that there was a short grace period between old rate cards and new rate ones. All old rate cards had to be activated by March 29th. After that, when inserted into the turnstile, you don’t pass go. Instead, you go straight to a fare booth wielding your defunct card and tell your sob story to a transit worker. Good luck with that.

The Metrocard that I had activated on March 4th, that was good through April 2nd, I had to stop using on March 29th. That’s the date I needed to start using my new card. Therefore, that savings of $4 for my new monthly pass cost me five days of fares that calculates to a loss of $19.30. My friend, Milton, was outraged. He wants me to demand reimbursement from Agnes. That would not go over well. When I politely pointed out the problem with getting us soon-to-expire Metrocards, instead of saying, “Sorry, I screwed up,” she’s stopped speaking to me and now refers to me with a word that rhymes with shunt. She’s prickly about owning her mistakes.

Meanwhile, around four thirty in the afternoon on Sunday, March 29th, I found myself with two monthly Metrocards, one that I had been using since March 4th and the new one I just activated to avoid losing $112. I also had a dilemma: what to do with my old card? Trashing it seemed wrong, but giving it to a stranger might not be easy. New Yorkers are savvy and skeptical. Would someone think that I was punking them? Fortunately, I am fairly articulate, I don’t drool and I look about as terrifying as puppies. I was determined to find someone deserving with standards. It occurred to me that a good place to center my search was the West 72nd Street subway station, particularly at the Metrocard vending machine.

 

This must be the place!

This must be the place!

Or, better yet, over here!

Or, better yet, over here!

That’s where I encountered Verneda, a seventh grade science teacher, feeding her hard-earned cash into a ravenous MTA Metrocard dispenser. I tested her standards and asked three questions:

Me: Do you love your family? Do you love New York? Are you kind to animals?

She said, enthusiastically:

Verneda: Yeah!

I handed her her award and urged her to read this blog post. She seemed genuinely grateful to be included in this lame adventure and I’m genuinely grateful to have encountered her.

Lame Adventure 460: Jerk Season

Last week was not one of my better weeks, not to imply that anything monumentally terrible happened, but if a week could be an object, last week would have been a constant pebble in my sneaker. Every subway ride into The Grind, and most rides out, were densely crowded. I had backpacks in my face.

If only I could have wet sneezed on cue.

If only I could heavily sneeze on cue.

An arrogant woman simply sit her name brand hand bag on me.

This bag was so completely on top of me the woman standing at my left and the one sitting at my right were annoyed.

So close I could have bitten into it.

At work, in a moment of sky-high frustration, I asked The Boss, Elspeth:

Me: Where’s The Departmental Knife?

I wanted to slice a pear. She looked befuddled as if I had asked:

Me: Where’s The Departmental Lawnmower?

We have a single communal serrated knife in the entire Design department. It’s about 65-years-old and once belonged to Elspeth’s mother. We’re minimalists when it comes to flatware. I found it sitting on a desk. My palpitations subsided.

Found: one departmental serrated dinner knife.

Found: one departmental serrated dinner knife perfect for slicing pears.

But the most exasperating aspect of last week was that my colleague, Godsend, was completely flattened by the flu. With Godsend missing in action, I had to fill in and run errands that included visiting the Third Circle of Hell, a.k.a. the Canal Street Post Office. This is a dreary, puke pink colored building staffed by some of the most miserable malcontents in New York City.

Puke pink entrance to Third Circle of Hell.

Puke pink entrance to Third Circle of Hell.

Last month, The Boss had us purchase six coils of 34-cent stamps for a postcard mailing. I warned Godsend that these misanthropes might give her a hard time.

What greets you inside the Third Circle of Hell.

Low tech greeting inside the Third Circle of Hell.

Me: They’re so incompetent they might not even know what you’re asking for. Or they might only have three coils and they’ll load you up with 300 more stamps in sheets, or to be asswipes, 600 loose stamps. Prepare for anything. They’re jerks.

Godsend went out, armed with $205 in cash. Twenty minutes later she returned with six coils of 34-cent stamps, one paper dollar in change (as opposed to 55 pennies, seven nickels and a dime) and proclaimed:

Godsend: They were nice!

In the weeks that followed we had to do a massive catalogue mailing. After we sent the catalogues in bulk, we started mailing them piecemeal. In those cases, a member of our accounting staff applied postage from the company meter to the package and Godsend hightailed over to the Canal Street Post Office where she made the drop off and got a tracking number. Every time when she returned she announced:

Godsend: They were nice!

With Godsend out sick, I had to run this errand. That’s when I meet Clerk 03, a sour woman about my own age. I have three pre-posted catalogues. She barks:

Clerk 03: What do you want?

Me: I want to send these packages Priority and I need tracking numbers. They’re all pre-posted.

She looks at the first package, shoves it back at me and sneers:

Clerk 03: You gotta take this back to wherever you came from.

Me: What’s the matter?

Clerk 03: Look at the date. It’s not today. You gotta re-post it with a zero, zero, zero, zero, zero meter strip from where you came from. I can’t help you with that.

The meter strip is indeed dated the day before. I also know that we sent out over 200 of these packages with meter strips dated the day before. They were all accepted without question and apparently whenever Godsend dropped them off, she was always greeted with a big wet kiss. I instinctively hate Clerk 03’s guts, but I know that this petty bureaucrat is setting me up. She is itching for a fight.

Me (calmly): Is it really necessary that I walk all the way back to my office?

Another Clerk interjects:

Another Clerk: You can mail it. Drop it in the box over there. We’ll give you a Priority sticker.

Clerk 03 shoots laser beams out of her eyes at Another Clerk and throws a Priority sticker at me. I hand her my next package. This infuriates her.

Clerk 03: Don’t you get it that I can’t be bothered with that if it’s dated yesterday?

Me: These other two are dated today.

Clerk 03: You better be right about that.

I was, but what if I was mistaken? Was she going to have me taken in the back and executed?  She gave me the tracking numbers I needed without more guff. Before leaving her window, she urged me to take a survey about my visit. It took all of my power of self-control to mute what I was thinking:

Me: I will enthusiastically award your service five middle fingers.

On Friday, spring arrived. Of course, it snowed. Even Mother Nature’s a jerk.

In like a lion.

First night of spring: in like a lion.

Lame Adventure 459: Finally Thawing Out

Some people stalk other people, predators stalk prey, pigeons stalk pizza and I have been stalking a Ford Windstar minivan. My obsession with a suburban family vehicle that I would normally dismiss as a dull lump of basic transportation since I find its design about as stimulating as labor camp architecture, began one night eleven days ago. It was a cold Monday that was sandwiched between two days of snowstorms. I exited my laundromat on West 74th Street when this particular snow blanketed vehicle caught my eye.

Mystery canoe-like contraption on roof.

Mystery canoe-like contraption on roof.

Someone had turned that entire blandmobile into whimsical rolling art. I snapped a shot of it with my iPhone wondering who painted it? I noticed that the plates were from California. That made me think of the lyrics to an old Mamas and Papas song, California Dreamin’:

“All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
I’ve been for a walk on a winters’ day
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winters’ day”

Me (thinking): If a minivan could talk, I bet it’s singing that song right now.

I returned home to my safe and warm sanctum sanctorum with minivan dreamin’ on my mind. The next morning, while walking to the subway to go to The Grind, I headed up West 74th Street specifically to see what it looked like in daylight.

Ta da! (And still clueless about that rooftop contraption.)

Ta da! (And still clueless about that rooftop contraption.)

The following Sunday I did another load of laundry and was delighted to see that it was still parked in the same space. And it had company!

Is it dating a mattress?

Is it dating a mattress?

This week, temperatures finally started to rise, it hasn’t snowed and thanks to recent rain, the acres of snow are rapidly melting. The New York Times ran a story about what’s started surfacing underneath the melting snow: a lot of dog crap, cigarette butts and tons of trash such as this soggy Mickey D’s bag befouling my street.

There goes the neighborhood.

There goes the neighborhood.

I wondered what the Windstar looked like with the snow washed away? As I walked down West End Avenue en route to the subway Wednesday morning, I looked up West 74th Street and could see the distinctive wooden apparatus on the minivan’s hood. Finally I was able to see it free of Mother Nature’s dandruff.

Perfect day to reveal that sunshine on the hood!

Perfect day to reveal that sunshine on the hood!

The temperature when I returned home from The Grind on Wednesday.

The temperature when I returned home from The Grind on Wednesday.

Works for me.

Works for me.

 

Lame Adventure 458: Holding Pattern

At 25 degrees on Saturday, the weather was cold, but I appreciated that it didn’t feel as bone chilling bitter as usual.

And the sun was shining.

And the sun was shining.

I welcomed having feeling in my fingers and being able to comfortably run errands wearing less insulation than my typical frigid weather-wear that is vastly more suited to visiting the Barneo Ice Camp. When I walked out my hovel’s door, I was dismayed to see that the fire hydrant on my block was buried in snow and ice, unlike the other hydrants in my neighborhood.

West 73rd Street hydrant: graffiti covered but otherwise immaculate.

West 73rd Street hydrant: graffiti covered but otherwise immaculate.

West 70th Street fire hydrant: hipster red.

West 70th Street hydrant: hipster red.

West End Avenue fire hydrant: stylish red head.

West End Avenue hydrant: stylish red head.

My block's hydrant: buried in its own blizzard with a furniture blanket as accent.

My block’s hydrant: buried in its own personal blizzard with a casually thrown furniture blanket serving as accent piece.

Why wasn’t anyone compelled to dig it out?

I imagined it was for the same reason that when the heat and hot water are both out in my building that no one places that call: the chilly, unwashed masses assume that someone else will notify Building Management about making the repair. Building Management has often told me that I’m the first and only tenant to report when something is awry. I suppose this makes me my building’s self-appointed bloviator. Or maybe I just happen to hate taking ice cold showers in the dead of winter more than my fellow residents? Obviously I did not get the memo to dig out my block’s fire hydrant.

On Sunday, the weather once again flipped New York City a stiff middle finger. It snowed another 2.6 inches. I ran errands in the early afternoon just when the initial flakes started to fall. When I returned home, I spent the remainder of the day inside my toasty warm sanctum sanctorum that was five degrees shy of doubling as the bowels of hell. Even though I stayed put in my inferno, I was not a total slug. In fact, I was quite productive. I rode my spin bike. I cooked several lunches for the week ahead. I wrote this beef about the weather. Because I had placed myself under voluntary house arrest, I didn’t need to get properly dressed. So I traded in the ascot for loungewear, exactly what I’d wear if I were home sick, but I am indeed very sick of this winter. It has completely worn out its welcome with me. I’m eager to end this toxic relationship. I want a divorce.

I think there are psychological ploys people do to get through wicked winters, but most simply endure it realizing that we’re all in this suffering together. Some people seem inclined to cross the line, such as those that under dress. Last week I noticed a woman walking through slush in ballet flats sans socks. I wondered:

Me: Is she trying to will spring warmth via footwear? Would she wear fleece-lined Uggs in July?

About a week ago, I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep when I noticed a bright light shining through my window shades. It was around one in the morning. I got up, thinking:

Me: Now what?

I looked out my window and saw that someone had planted a Christmas tree in the back yard. They lit it and must have forgotten to shut the lights. It looked pretty, this return of holiday festivity.

The 1am February 22nd Christmas tree comeback tour.

The 1am February 22nd Christmas tree comeback tour.

Naturally, I thought:

Me: Who the hell lights a Christmas tree in February? What is wrong with these people? Are they born under the thirteenth astrological sign: Imbecile? Now I’m never going to get to sleep!

I returned to bed groaning. Then, I proceeded to enter a coma until my alarm, which could double as an air raid siren, further deafened me. I will say this about winter: one thing it has in its favor is that it is the season for great sleeping.

Lame Adventure 457: Single Digit Days

Here it is: the dead of winter.

Save the wipers!

Save the wipers!

The city is looking bleak.

Wintertime specialty: snow covered uncollected trash.

Wintertime specialty: snow covered uncollected trash.

I’ve read in the New York Times that New York is on track for the coldest February since 1934. I wasn’t around 81 years ago to recall that winter, but this February is certainly in the record books inside my head. It’s been cold in winter, but I never remember it being this cold. I wish that I could hibernate until mid-March. Yesterday I woke before the alarm, a melodic tune reminiscent of an air raid siren. After checking the time, I checked the weather.

Great: a degree for each of my fingers and thumb.

An entire degree for each of my fingers and one for my thumb.

I rolled out of bed reasoning that in six months, it will probably feel a hundred degrees warmer and I’ll be pining for this blast of inhumane skin-searing freeze. Then, I rode my spin bike at warp speed for forty minutes. Afterward, I checked the temperature again anticipating that it might have doubled.

Shouldn't there be more degrees by now? Are the rest in hiding?

Shouldn’t there be more degrees by now? Are the rest in hiding?

I was not amused. I had the impression that Mother Nature was being a different two-word expression starting with mother. If it had been the weekend, I would have treated myself to a bowl of hearty comfort mush dotted with cranberries and drizzled with maple syrup.

Tasty mush!

Tasty mush!

I would have brewed a cup of my favorite green tea that looks like urine but tastes infinitely less disgusting.

Product placement.

Product placement.

Instead, it was the workweek: the time to grab a banana, a yogurt and a fruit bar to inhale at one’s desk at The Grind while pounding high octane English Breakfast tea to delay the coma that accompanies working in Excel. After locking my hovel, I indulged my obsession with the temperature one last time. Finally, the hallelujah moment had arrived and the mercury was crawling upward albeit with the gusto of an arthritic snail.

The weather playing hard to get (warm).

The weather playing hard to get (warm).

One day last week when I woke it was even colder than yesterday’s three; it was one-third the amount of degrees. Yes, it was an isolated miserable degree.

One entire degree.

One entire degree.

That feels like -11.

That feels like -11.

In the almost 32 years that I have lived in New York City, I never recall the temperature dropping down to one stand alone degree. I asked myself:

Me: Am I living in New York or Anchorage?

Vacation destination.

Vacation destination.

Last Sunday, the temperature soared to 41!

Heat wave!

Heat wave!

What 41 degrees feels like: wow, 41 degrees!

What 41 degrees feels like: wow, 41 degrees!

I layered less, wore my lighter down parka, didn’t wear a hat and hightailed up West End Avenue on a walk that predominantly entailed dodging melting snow dripping off awnings, sidestepping mounds of slush and jumping across ankle deep curbside puddles that could have doubled as ponds. Not so simple sidewalk strolling that doubled as an aerobic workout.

Hurdle this.

Hurdle this.

As much as I loathed this obstacle course, I relished being outdoors and not dressed for an expedition in the arctic. The Times has reported that under this long, bitterly cold winter:

“ … spring is stirring.

The snow, in fact, is a great insulator — the more the better, said Kristin Schleiter, senior curator at the New York Botanical Garden.”

Apparently, when spring arrives, flowers will bloom magnificently and New York is going to be awash in an explosion of color and hopefully not serenaded with a symphony of sneezing. Naturally, I welcome the warmth of spring. It’s a nice antidote to the ice, snow, slush and maybe even this guitar pick some joker left in the tip jar at my laundromat.

Eric Clapton was not here.

Eric Clapton was not here.

Lame Adventure 456: Milton’s Academy Award Predictions

As Lame Adventures’ dedicated following knows, all of you in the ones of tens, my dear friend, Milton, is the consummate cinemaniac. I don’t know anyone else who spends as many hours as he sitting in the dark, watching movies while chowing popcorn and quaffing gallons of diet Coke. Because Milton saw 168 films in 2014, including every picture in every category that received an Oscar nomination, I know that he is highly qualified to predict how tonight will unfold. Therefore, I asked him to compile a list for Lame Adventures of the films that he thinks will win the Academy Award as well as a second list of the films that he thinks deserve to take home the shiny naked gold guy. The middle column is comprised of the films/actors that Milton would reward. The column on the right is how he thinks the Academy will vote.

Predictions based on 14 days of solid filmgoing in 2014.

Predictions based on 14 days (336 hours) of film-going fueled by 3.5 days (84 hours) of refreshment imbibing in calendar year 2014.

For all of you rooting for Eddie Redmayne who stars in The Theory of Everything, Milton has a message:

Milton: Redmayne’s schmaltzy turn as Stephen Hawking will be hard for the Academy to resist. But Keaton deserves this one!

I enthusiastically agree.

Milton has an impressive track record of determining how the Academy voters will cast their ballot. For fans of Boyhood, he thinks you will be disappointed. For fans of Birdman (Milton, My Boss and me), he thinks we’ll be pleased.

One last bit of Milton Academy Award-time madness that is now tradition: at his workplace he treats his colleagues to a chocolate layer cake inscribed with a message to an actor or actress he’s cheering.

Go Birdman!

Go Birdman!

Milton is a one very popular guy.

Lame Adventure 455: Fifty Shades of Estrogen

Last Friday, the thirteenth, I celebrated Valentine’s Day early, when my dear friend, the cinemaniac, Milton, treated me to the movie adaptation of E.L. James’ blockbuster novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades of lip biting.

Fifty Shades of lip biting.

Neither of us had read these books, which have sold over 100 million copies and have been translated into 52 languages. Friends have declared that these three novels were terribly written; they’re rife with repetition and dripping with dull dialogue, the epitome of hackwork. Considering James’ wild success, Milton and I respect her achievement. She cranked out a trilogy at warp speed while I agonize over writing a single 790 word blog post for two days that’s destined to be read by 37 people, a beagle and two cats.

My boss, Elspeth, read all three volumes on her Kindle, but she mis-downloaded the third installment, Fifty Shades Freed. She was halfway through reading about a battleship, or possibly it was a paint catalogue, when she noticed that the writing had improved significantly. Eventually, she wondered what happened to the protagonists, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, and why was it taking so long for another sex scene?

Milton and I kept our expectations for the film low, at bottom of the ocean level. He was hoping that it would be a campy movie pleasure like his favorite, Valley of the Dolls. My preferred trashy film is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! When I told him that Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele, is the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, and her grandmother is Tippi Hedren, he began fearing the worst, including that I might reconsider joining him. I remained committed, so off we went to the AMC multiplex on the Upper West Side.

Milton holding our tickets.

Milton holding our tickets.

When we arrived at the theater about an hour before show time, the line was so long, we had to wait in a second line in the lobby outside the entrance. The vast majority were women in their twenties through forties who had come in packs. There were literally herds of women. Standing directly in front of us was a married couple in their seventies prompting Milton to suggest sotto voce:

Milton: There are some nipple clamps in her future.

When we were admitted entry into the theater, a cavernous space that filled quickly, we were able to score excellent seats in the center section. Late arrivals appeared stunned that the theater was jam packed. Apparently, these lunkheads missed the memo that the film of an insanely popular sadomasochistic love story on opening weekend is a crowd-magnet. The energy in the room was pure electricity and female hormones. Milton was the only male, not only in our row, but in the row behind us as well as in front of us. He observed the ladies:

Milton: They’re just so excited about being beaten up!

The ads prior to the start of the film were for Revlon and other products that were geared directly for this audience. The marketing was brilliantly calculated. Most of the trailers were dreadful, but we enjoyed the one for a Judd Apatow comedy due out in summer called Trainwreck.

As for the film, which has garnered predominantly negative reviews, we thought that both leads, an Irish actor named Jamie Dornan, who plays the billionaire boy wonder with a helicopter, hang glider and flogger, Christian Grey, and the aforementioned Dakota Johnson, shared chemistry. Both had genuine charm, but Milton had the impression that Dornan was struggling to suppress his Irish accent throughout. The pacing was long. It could have easily been cut by half an hour. The screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, did a decent job eliminating much of the horrendous dialogue in the book. There was genuine tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. But our loudest laugh was at a line uttered in sheer torment that is a play on the series title. That bit of dialogue was unintentionally hilarious.

Our biggest criticism, other than the slow pacing, was the big build up sex scene that takes forever to arrive where Christian unleashes his dominant side. He’s been yammering about his kink for two hours of film time or maybe it was two days in real time. When it finally happens, it’s so bland. I thought:

Me: He’s got a red room packed with tools of torture, why’s he practicing T’ai Chi on her with a feather duster? Huh?

Milton surmised:

Milton: It’s the Madonna of movies: it promises a lot but delivers nothing.

We left in silence until Milton declared:

Milton: I can’t think of anything more boring than straight white woman fantasy.

There are many pretty grey silk ties like this one.

There are many grey silk ties.

It’s on track to take in $500 million at the box office worldwide. That’s a lot of green.