Lame Adventure 464: The Power of Suggestion Written in Chalk

I was walking east along West 75th Street en route to my neighborhood market for organic kale and a carrot when I encountered a message on the sidewalk:

Good idea!

Good idea!

At that moment, my destiny seemed perfectly in line with cliché-addled sidewalk sentiment: get the kale and the carrot. Which is exactly what I did. As I was about to take my place in the supermarket check out line, a woman around fifty smiled at me in a friendly way. Then she cut in front of me. Possibly the friendly smile was a ruse to offset her stealing my place in line. Possibly she was thinking:

Place stealer: I can take this pushover.

Because I was only holding a bunch of leafy greens and a single root vegetable, as opposed to a mallet and a spear, I knew on the scale of intimidation factor with one being Caspar Milquetoast and ten, Charles Manson, I likely measured in the negative numbers. So, I didn’t bother arguing. Instead, I was thinking about fulfilling my destiny. Since I’ve held off doing this for the better part of fifty-six years, I’m going to take off about a month to work on fulfilling mine, or to catch up on power sleeping, whichever comes to me first. Meet me back here in June.

Lame Adventure 463: Way Back Machine Encounter with a Rock Legend

Like many hardcore New Yorkers, I was born someplace else. In my case, it was San Francisco, a lovely city where I did my earliest lame adventuring. Bruce Thiesen, a Bay Area native who writes the blog, Ram On, recently published a post featuring verse by Patti Smith that triggered memories of an up close and personal encounter I had with her in May 1978.

Patti was on tour promoting her latest album, Easter. It featured her biggest mainstream hit, a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen called Because the Night. It reached number 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. She had also just published a book of poetry called Babel. I saw her on that tour when she played a fantastic concert at Winterland Arena. The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic, Joel Selvin, published a rave review of her performance. He compared her “to a young Mick Jagger”. Mick was 34. Patti was 31.

Patti was appearing at B. Dalton Booksellers on Sutter and Kearny Streets in San Francisco’s financial district where she was signing Babel. I had a copy that I wanted autographed. I also packed my camera, a 35 mm Minolta SRT201. That was my parents’ reward to me for both graduating high school and getting accepted into San Francisco State University. It was their way of encouraging their slacker to graduate college, a feat that took me seven years to achieve, just like Sarah Palin. I attended my class in some subject that made absolutely no lasting impression, and then jetted over to Dalton’s. I was such a sloth it never occurred to me to cut class. That was very Bozo, for there was a line of people streaming out of the store and down Kearny Street; what appeared to me to be far more people than those that attended the concert. The cynic in me, who coincidentally comprises most of me, sensed that these were people that were there only because they read Selvin’s review and very few were actual fans.

It was apparent that I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting in to have my book signed, much less to take her picture. But I knew that my camera looked professional enough. A young guy in front of me, who had attended the show, held my place in line so I could slip into the store to take a shot.

So near and yet so far.

So near and yet so far.

When a store worker came outside to confirm my fear that we would not gain entry, I spewed a bald faced lie. I claimed that I was supposed to photograph her for the Phoenix, State’s campus newspaper. Swallowing the bait whole, he instructed me to go to the freight entrance where she’d be exiting.

Freight elevator door opened. black speck between hoodie man's shoulder and guy inside is Patti's bowler hat.

Freight elevator door opened. Black speck between hoodie man’s shoulder and guy inside is Patti’s bowler hat.

So, there I was, 19-years-old but I could still easily pass for 12, with the real deal all-male press. When she exited that elevator, in a bowler hat and a ratty fake fur jacket, I jumped in front of all those guys, and started snapping shots.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

What I didn’t anticipate was Patti wrapping her arm around me and holding me close. I kept taking pictures. My adrenaline was pumping.

Patti Smith's profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Patti Smith’s profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Me (thinking): Patti Smith is holding me! This is so cool! I can see up her nose!

Looking up Patti Smith's nose.

Looking up Patti Smith’s nose.

When she saw the beat-up VW van her record label had waiting for her, she said in an incredulous tone:

Patti Smith: I came early and I stayed late and this is my limousine? This is the best that Arista* can do for me?

She turned to me:

Patti Smith: Wanna go to San Diego?

She held me closer and insisted:

Patti Smith: C’mon!

A security guard the size of a redwood approached.

Mr. Big: Let the kid go.

Just as he was going to grab me, she let me out of her grasp and entered the van.

Patti's hand as she entered the van.

Patti’s hand as she entered the van.

I can still see her gesturing at me to get in. But I didn’t pursue my groupie moment further. I had to head over to Petrini’s, a supermarket near my house, to pick up the fish for the family dinner that night. If we were the type of family where the parents were inclined to ask:

Parents: How was your day?

I would have answered:

Me: I almost went to San Diego with a rock star leaving you guys to eat canned tuna!

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I accepted her invitation and entered that van. Then I reason that that no-nonsense guard probably would have pulled me out with such force I might have ended up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But there is an epilogue to this lame adventure. Consider it another lame adventure that happened thirty years later here in New York. Patti and I met again. I was at a screening of a documentary about her that played the Film Forum.

Proof of my sister, Dovima's claim that we're a family of hoarders: Film Forum ticket stub circa 2008.

Proof of my sister, Dovima’s claim that we’re a family of hoarders: retained Film Forum ticket stub.

My friend, Albee, urged me to have her sign those photos I shot in 1978. He joked:

Albee: Maybe she’ll try to pick you up again?

That lightning didn’t strike twice, probably to the relief of both 61-year-old Patti and 49-year-old me, but she was still as cool as ever in person. Maybe even cooler. I finally got her autograph.

I got my satisfaction.

I got my satisfaction.

*Arista was her record label.

Lame Adventure 462: Puppy Love

I was sitting at my desk at The Grind masochistically eating my organic kale lunch, when I received a call from my building’s management announcing:

Building Management: Your lock is locked but your lock’s not locked.

Me: Huh?

They repeat that same statement.

Me: What are you saying? Have I been burglarized?

They pause.

Me: Was my door opened?

Building Management: No, it’s locked.

Me: So how was my door not locked if it was locked?

Building Management: We locked it.

Me: So you locked my door because it was unlocked?

Building Management: Yes. You didn’t lock it when you left.

They then give me a convoluted explanation about how to lock the door that I’ve been locking almost every day of my life since September 1983.

Me: I know how to lock my door. I know I locked it when I left this morning. How do you know my apartment wasn’t broken into?

They have no response to that idea. Elspeth, my boss, has heard my side of this frustrating conversation.

Elspeth: You better go home and see what’s going on. You might need to file a police report.

I doubt that anyone took my eight-year-old MacBook, spin bike or platform bed. At least I hope that. But I heed The Boss’s advice, catch a 1 local and head home to the Upper West Side. I’m calm. I don’t have a sick feeling. A light rain is falling when I exit the train at West 72nd Street and hot foot the rest of the way to my hovel. I enter my building and encounter a member of Building Management.

Building Management: Did you get the phone call? Your door was locked but it wasn’t locked. We locked it for you.

I still don’t know what that means. I walk up three flights to my sanctum sanctorum. It is locked. I enter. If anyone broke in, they were not compelled to take anything. Possibly they thought:

Would-be robber: What a dump!

I once knew someone whose place was broken into. Their stuff was so shabby the robber left two tens on the kitchen counter. Apparently, my would-be robber left with his or her disgust. As I exit my building I encounter my first bright spot of the day: an adorable Bernese Mountain Dog puppy on a red leash. She and her young guy owner are running short sprints back and forth on the sidewalk. But I’m a new distraction. She wants to check me out. She sniffs my hand and licks a knuckle. Her fluffy coat is dotted with mist from the light rain. In the idiot voice I use for delightful small animals and cute small fry I ask:

Me: And what’s your name?

Young guy (speaking in puppy voice): Bleecker!

Me: You’re in the wrong neighborhood for that name!

For non-New Yorkers, Bleecker is the name of a popular street downtown in Greenwich Village.

Young guy (speaking in puppy voice): I like it up here!

I ask her age and he tells me that she’s ten weeks old.

Me: Welcome to the Upper West Side, Bleecker.

I’m impressed that this fellow has not named his dog, Linda, and his daughter, Bleecker. Maybe the trend to call dogs people names and people dog names is reversing? My encounter with Bleecker makes me think about my beloved childhood dog, Mean Streak. When we bought him at a pet store in San Francisco the day after Christmas in 1969, the shopkeeper told us that he was part poodle, part spaniel and his coloring was similar to a Berner. Meanie shared much of the temperament of a Berner. He was loyal, faithful, intelligent, but where he diverged was that he was more inclined to snarl than be very affectionate. Wound tight by nature he was a constantly aggravated barking machine who viewed every visitor as an unwelcome intruder. Gluttons for punishment, we loved him. Meanie weighed about thirty-five pounds.

Mean Streak circa 1971: he loved having his picture taken.

Stupid Pet Trick photo. Mean Streak circa 1971: he loved having his picture taken.

I am seeing Bleecker more and more. Proving that I’m fast approaching 392 in dog years, I’ve been suffering brain freezes and I’ve almost twice called her Berkeley. She is very playful and sweet. Her fur is incredibly soft. Right now, she weighs about fifteen pounds. When I was talking to Randi, her woman co-owner, she told me that Bleecker would gain two pounds every week until she reaches her adult weight of ninety pounds. The pooch that is a little bundle of energy that eagerly stands on her hind legs with her paws pressing on my thighs might soon be placing those same paws on my shoulders. That might be more disturbing than charming, but for now, Bleecker’s stealing hearts, thieving I condone.

Bleecker sitting still for a nanosecond.

Bleecker sitting still for a nanosecond.

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.