Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Second Avenue Subway - It's a Man Thing

Life wasn't meant to be easy. - Malcolm Fraser, 22nd Prime Minister of Australia

House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, 'alf the floor was missing, and we were all 'uddled together in one corner for fear of falling. - Second Yorkshireman - Monty Python's Flying Circus

Halloween Bus Rider 2010
North of 60th Street on Second Avenue a mean breed of people are emerging. And it's nothing to do with it being Halloween, although living on Second Avenue is starting to feel like living in Halloween-land.

It all started back in 1929 when a plan was formed; a plan to build the Second Avenue Subway Line (aka "The Line That Time Forgot") to service the east side of Manhattan. About forty million New York minutes later, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) remembered. "Oh yeah, about that subway," I can imagine the board members saying.

And just who are these sleepy board members? On a whim I decided to look them up. You can see them HERE. And it was just as I had suspected. They are mostly men. I just KNEW it.

I knew this, not because most governing bodies are composed of men, not because I believe in the existence of glass ceilings and male dominated workplaces. I knew it because of the way the construction of the Second Avenue Subway is proceeding.


Waiting For .... Ever
The first Second Avenue Subway construction plan involves the construction of new tunnels between 105th and 63rd Streets.

Now any reasonable person would think, gee there's going to be a lot of disruption, digging up the roads and boring down to the bowels of the earth; let's do one bit at a time to minimize the resulting above-ground mess. After all, it isn't as if all this can be done quickly. Originally scheduled to take four years, it's now looking more like eleven. Eleven years of living in a construction site! And we are only 3.5 years along. It isn't pretty.

Because instead of doing a few blocks at a time, the planners, in their wisdom, decided to dig up the whole stretch - from 105th to 63rd Street.

Happier Days 
t's like those people (predominantly men) who when they remodel houses, instead of doing one room at a time, decide to rip up the floor and walls of every single room to re-wire, plumb, whatever - thus rendering every room uninhabitable all at once. And this in the name of efficiency. Bizarre.

Me, I prefer to be miserable one room, one block at a time.

That's reason #1 as to why the people who live along the northern stretch Second Avenue are unhappy.

And then, as if it wasn't bad enough having sidewalks narrowed, roads full of machines and houses shaking themselves to bits so that the inhabitants have to be evacuated, permanently - in June 1010 the MTA decided to cut the number of buses running down Second.

Yes it's all too much even for a New Yorker to handle. What with the elevators not working in my building and the buses not turning up on time, I'll soon be getting to work several hours after it's time to leave.

I'm morphing into Monty Python's Flying Circus's Fourth Yorkshireman:

"Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah."

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this meassage

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Few of my Least Favorite Things

Prim Julie Andrews and cute singing kiddies
Old-fashioned movies with nursery rhyme ditties
God-awful plot-lines about nuns that sing
These are a few of my least favorite things - The Chasers - These are a Few of my Least Favourite Things

Sometimes I have to worry about my fellow New Yorkers.

Are they spaced-out, burnt-out, or simply freaked out?

Or all of the above?

Take this morning, for example. I live in an apartment building, medium high-rise.There's about 370 apartments and let's say, there's an average of two people per apartment. Plus dogs. That's a heap of people, to use the American vernacular!

Samantha Margulies Singing "A Few Of my Favorite Things"
at Grand Central
Lately, out of the three elevators in the building, it's common that only one is in service. The reason for this is that the building management committee is working to make our lives better.

Whatever. There's a "service elevator" which is used for trash removal and for people moving in and out, and for dogs. But when normal elevator service is restricted, we are all meant to be able to use the service elevator.

Still, the porters, the infrastructure men who look after the garbage and other matters, sorta forget that some of us have to get to work. So around 8:30 m about 700 people might be waiting for an elevator car.

This was the case this morning. Eventually I was able to get into the service elevator. There was me, a great dane, three dobermans and seven dalmatians. The other 94 were waiting on the 19th floor.

Oh, ... and several humans.

We were all annoyed - the humans amongst us that is. And in our New York way we all had our piece to say, on how disgusting it all was and what's the world coming to and what about those silly Tea Party people.

The elevator car descended slowly. Stopping at each floor. So we had plenty of time to talk. And New Yorkers LOVE to talk.

The woman next to me was particularly voluble. And after a hundred floors I said to her "Yes the elevator service is dreadful, but we all have to complain. If we don't complain, then nothing will happen."

She looked at me as if I'd just landed from Ohio.

"But I complain every day!" she explained. "I complain and nothing happens."

We had arrived at the lobby.

"Who do you complain to?" I asked, as I was about to leave to see the building manager.

"Oh I complain to you all," she said. "To the people in the elevator. Didn't you hear me?"

And in case any one is wondering about today's posting title and video - I was inspired by a woman at Grand Central today. I hope she does well. She was singing, "A Few of my Favorite Things" Her name is Samantha Margulies. " My Least Favorite Things" is performed buy the "Chasers" from my home town in Australia. Their Beatles parody above, is well worth watching.

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hugo and Jack, Room and Slap

The Slap introduces us to middle-class suburbanites in Melbourne, Australia, struggling with too little money and too much alcohol. - Brigitte Weeks writing in the Washington Post

Hugo and Jack are two little boys around the age of four when we meet them, in two very different novels. Both novels have almost monosyllabic titles - The Slap and Room. Both boys are still breastfeeding.

But there the similarity ends. I've grouped the two novels together,  because in both cases, though  in "Room" more than "The Slap", the story centers upon a young child. And because both are books I've very recently read. And ... it seems to go on and on ... both novels were long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker.

"The Slap" is set in inner-suburban Melbourne, an area I know well. For the first few chapters the book fascinated me - the central characters could have been people I knew. Note the past tense ... The "slap" refers to an incident that triggers a chain of events - a chain that is the core of the novel's plot.

Hugo, the pivotal child in "The Slap",   is over-indulged by his parents who are a cross-class couple - a type of couple all too familiar in inner-city Melbourne where the novel is set. A middle class Rosie is married to working class verging-on-alcoholic Gary. The couple despises the values that Rosie's middle-class background represents. Rosie and Gary are self-righteous boors.  They spoil, in both senses of the word, their child, Hugo.

Women outside wine bar, inner-city, Melbourne
At the BBQ of his parents friends, Hugo has a tantrum and bullies another child. He "spits the dummy", as we say in OZ. Meaning of course,  he has a hissy fit - "spits his pacifier" -  though somehow this phrase does not have the same imagery as its Australian counterpart. When Hugo kicks the father of one of the other children at the BBQ, the man retaliates by slapping him. The rest of the novel is about Rosie and Gary suing the slapper, and mutual friends taking opposing sides. Sub-plots include affairs, bored housewives, a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality, parental-approved teenage drug taking, and what it's like to be old and Greek in Australia.

And there's sex scenes - too many of them. Obviously written by a man, with a blush of soft-porn.

You're right. I was not impressed by the novel, and am surprised that it was long-listed for the Booker. Still, reading a novel set in my home town, home suburbs was sort of fun.

It is hard not to like a child. Especially a fictional one. But I could not like Hugo, no matter what his mitigating circumstance were.

Jack of "Room" is  likable. Endearing. Intelligent and unspoiled, despite being locked up day and night in a 21 square-foot room. Jack was born in the room and knows no other existence. To him, the small space is the entire world, and he and his mother are its only inhabitants. In an attempt to give her child a normal life, Jack’s mother fills their days with invented games and activities using their limited possessions. At the end of each day, Jack must go to sleep in a wardrobe by 9 pm in order to avoid encountering his mother’s captor (and his father), who drops by most nights to rape his female victim.

It's "Room", not "The Room", as in Jack's room the objects are personal. There's "rug" and "plant". They are like friends to Jack who only has no human contact with anyone apart from his mother.

Jack is adorable. He has a good sense of humour and a naive but logical take on the world. He knows that he was born in the room, when his mother pushed him our of the birth canal. He fell onto "Rug" where there's remains a blood stain. His mother cuts the umbilical cord and Jack says, he was then "free" and "turned into a human".

There's no real explanation as to why his mother continues to breast feed Jack, though it isn't hard for the reader to work out several reasons. There's no proper cooking facilities and the mother and son rely on whatever food their captor brings them, mostly canned.

I recommend "Room". It is one of the best books I've read for some time.

And after reading "The Slap" it was a delight to meet Jack. It was good to get back to normal, as I'm not used to disliking children, even pretend ones.

Stay tuned

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Have You Ever Wondered What the Voice Robot Hears?

How I felt after calling Blue Cross Blue  Shield's Robot

Every now and again I get fed up with a customer service voice robot telling me it can't understand what I'm saying. Who does it think it is! What chutzpah! It's the one with the limited vocabulary.

Eventually  even when I start my call  with the best of intentions, I  break down and start yelling "Human! human!" into the receiver, while simultaneously hitting the '0' key.

I wonder, do those customer service departments or voice robot service companies, collect the human responses for future analysis? If so I'd like to buy some. I'd stitch them all together and make a song. I'd sell it on iTunes and it could compete with Yoko's mistresspieces. And in case someone does  do  this, remember you read about it first HERE.

Last night, feeling somewhat bored with life, I decided, spur of the moment to see what it would be like to be a voice robot. I was very anti robot-voice at the time, having just had to listen to arguably the worse robot voice on this planet. Try calling Blue Cross Blue Shield. And what's worse, AFTER you have politely listened to the welcome babble and instructions, and punched in your 100 character long ID number, you can expect to heart something like this, but only after 5 rings:

"Our office is now closed. Please try again later".

People could get blood pressure problems from hearing THIS punch line. But then, Blue Cross IS part of the American health care industry....

When later  I got a call from an unknown number, which started off with a request for money from a group claiming to be a fraternity of policemen, I  remembered a poster from my apartment block's lobby -  "If a cop asks for money, it's not a cop".

Aha, a ruse. A scam. I've had that sort of call before. Generally it is made by someone with an inebriated Irish accent backgrounded by sounds of people swilling Guinness.

This guy though sounded relatively normal. Here is a transcript, as best I can remember. The robot is in blue. I put on my BEST robot voice!

Caller: I am calling from the New York State Fraterna [static] order Of Police.
iRobot: For more options, press one.
Caller: [pause] Nope!
iRobot: For more options, press one
Caller: No!
iRobot: Do you wish to continue in Spanish?
Caller: No
iRobot: I am sorry, I did not understand your answer.
Caller: I want to talk in English
iRobot: For more options, press one.
Caller: [giggle]
iRobot: For more options, press one.
Caller: [speaks] One
iRobot: Do you want money?
Caller: YES!
iRobot: Do you enjoy impersonating a policeman?
Caller: [laughter]
iRobot: Do you want another beer?
Caller: [more laughter]
iRobot: Thank you for calling. I hope we have been able to help you. We appreciate your service.[I hang up]

I then check the incoming number on my Vonage page. I dial it.

It isn't a hotel bar. It is "New York State Fraternal Order Of Police"!

I google them.

They are legit!

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Phone Madness

I worry that the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else. - Lily Tomlin

We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company. - Lily Tomlin

We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation. - Lily Tomlin

English Roses - In Situ
For a moment there, I thought I'd landed in Lily Tomlin Land, and that I'd hear that very funny Tomlin line, "One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy-Dingy.

But no, I was just dialing England.

Upon dialing the number, the normal, the expected thing happens. "Ring,  Ring-ring. Ring-ring."

And then,

"Your party knows that you are calling."


"Your party is aware that you are calling."

What am I meant to do? Hold? Have a cup of of tea?

I hold.

And then, "Welcome to BT Answer 123, The person you have called is on the phone" !!!! As if I didn't know that? But at least, a couple of verbose sentences later,  I get the "Leave a Message" beep.  By which time of course, I have forgotten who I am calling.

Oh,  that's right. It was my friend, "The Wife of Bath" aka  Madge. We are trying to plan a trip to Ireland together.  What are its chances?

I say this as I did eventually get on to Madge. "Hey, just call someone else after I hang up," I say. "I want to write down exactly what your crazy phone company messages are saying. - I want to put it in my blog."

"You don't want to talk to me?" she asks wistfully. "Yes, yes," I say in my impatient New York voice. "But after I want to write down what happens when I call you, while you are on the line to another person."


"You want me to call someone else?" she wonders out loud. "That's correct!" I snap.

I can hear her looking through her contact list. Picking and choosing. "No, not my sister -in-law ..." she is mumbling. And then, "I can't really call Australia." ...

"You could try the phone company I suggest." But too late. She'd found a suitable candidate. "Quick," she tells me, "I found a number. Hang up!!!"

I do. And then I call her back. Pen and paper in hand.

"Thank you for calling UK Answer 123," I hear. What happened to the bit about my party being aware and so on?

Nope, almost straight to the "beep".

That was seven hours ago. I've been trying to call her ever since.

Hmmmmm ....

What are the chances of that Ireland trip?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Open Big

Shaw set three main criteria for the new alphabet: it should be (1) at least 40 letters; (2) to be as phonetic as possible (that is, letters should have a 1:1 correspondence to sounds); and (3) be distinct from the Latin alphabet to avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply "misspellings". George Bernard Shaw and the Shavian Alphabet.

There's a bear in there
And a chair as well
There are people with games
And stories to tell
Open wide
Come inside
It's Playschool - "Playschool Song", Australia last century

From the Dallas Morning News - Anymore
Americans are so cute.

They can massacre the English language without looking back.

When I first came to America, I lived in Oklahoma. Now THAT place was bizarre. Neighbours would leave religious tracts in our mail box. About what would we think when in heaven if we hadn't paid the butcher's bill, and what if the other people in heaven from our town KNEW, and what would we FEEL like when they noticed us in the line waiting for our lamb chops. Not that they HAD butcher shops in Oklahoma. Or in heaven, I'd imagine. But whatever.

As I said, it was a bizarre place. Could Oklahomans spell? I never found out. After all I was only there for three months. Not long enough to be able to expect hearing people talk in complete sentences.

Now I'm in New York City. A place as normal as can be. A place without verbs or nouns. Or adjectives.

New York English - a subset of American English - is simple. One could almost say, democratic. But then the Tea Party has bastardized THAT word...

George Bernard Shaw, a million year's ago, had wanted to rationalize, to reform English. Actually, George may have been ahead of his time. The alphabet he proposed was to be limited to 40 letters. Shades of Twitter.


Windsor Jewelers Ad
I am sure Mr Shaw would have approved of 21st century American English.

When I go to my dentist he says, "Open big!" The first few times I ignored him, thinking he was talking to his iPhone. Eventually I realized he was talking to me.

"Open big"! In OZ dentists say, "Open wide".

But I like "open big". It is so Anglo Saxon. No messing around. No Latin derivatives. "Open" and "big" - both simple monosyllabic words. Pre-Roman invasion of Britain. Pre Norman the Conqueror. Pre civilization as we know it. Straight and to the point.

Other Americanisms I like -

- "The cat wants in." In OZ we'd say, "Listen to the cat meowing. I think he wants to come inside."

- "Do you want on?" when asking someone if they want to use the computer.

- "That's a big heap of water," Terry Gilliam to John Cleese on seeing the Atlantic ocean from an airplane window on his way to England.

I was watching "The IT Crowd" on the telly today. the manager of the IT department was asked what "IT" stands for,/,

Her answer? "Internet Things".

American English. It's spreading.

Is this a good thing?

Should we press the "Like" button?

Or should we want out?

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message

Friday, October 15, 2010

What's A Kosher Pastrami Sandwich Got To Do With It?

"I want to know why you sent your goons after my daughter, Fred. You send another goon to my daughter's house and I'll take you out, buddy!" - Paladino to New York Post editor, Fred Dicker

Q: How many Republican politicians can you fit in the closet?
A: Evidently, all of them. - Top Five Republican Gay Sex Scandals

Fruit Barrow on 41st and Park -
Where I met the man who wants to be a woman
For a moment there I thought I'd accidentally opened "The Onion" and not the "New York Times". But the New York Times it was.

I had come across the following so-New-York paragraph,

"I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich," Rabbi Levin said. "While I was eating it, they come running and they say, 'Paladino became gay!' I said, 'What?' And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami."

This from Elisabeth Harris's article, Rabbi Breaks With Paladino Over Apology, about the alliance between Republican nominee for the 2010 New York gubernatorial election Carl P. Paladino, and Yehuda Levin, an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn - an alliance which has now fallen apart. The rabbi has denounced Mr. Paladino for his apology over remarks he had made about homosexuality last Sunday.

Usually it is Paladino making headlines. He's one of those wannabe politicians that prides himself on straight talking, pun intended. I want to know why you sent your goons after my daughter, Fred," Paladino demanded. "You send another goon to my daughter's house and I'll take you out, buddy!" - The Daily Politics

Jeez, and we Aussies thought our pollies were rough as guts!

Back to the Rabbi and the Republican. Strange how some people still don't get it about gays. They feel threatened by anyone whose sexuality is not hetero. It is becoming increasingly obvious that those people who believe that homosexuality and trans-genderism are contagious, feel so because they, deep down are one of those types of people they say they despise. Just look at Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Bob Allen, Mark Foley and Glenn Murphy for example.

It's not just politicians though. I was walking down Park Avenue this morning on the way to a dental appointment. I was about to pass a fruit barrow when I decided to stop to buy a banana for breakfast, as it would be several hours before I would be able to eat again. There was another customer there, a young Hispanic guy, chatting to the vendor. "A man who wants to be a woman is a disgrace," he was saying. I looked him in the eye and he said it again. "A man who wants to be a woman is a disgrace," adding "Don't you think so lady?"

From "Are We Not Men?" (The IT Crowd)
"Hah," I answered him. "I think YOU want to be a woman. In fact I'm sure of it." There was a fleeting look of alarm in his eyes and then he puffed himself up to a full five feet six and said, "I am 100 percent man!" By this time I had paid for my banana and was walking away.

Desperate to ensure that a complete stranger could be in no doubt as to his masculinity, he followed me for a while, repeating, "I am 100 percent man!"

I was laughing to myself. It put me for a good mood for my dental marathon. Marathon? Marathon Man? Yikes!

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grumpy Old Men

I think ALL men have Asperger's   - My friend D, Summer 2010

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A
They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys - The Village People

Wine Bar, Second and 89th, October 2010
Walking home after work. An unseasonably warm fall day. I pass one of the many bars on Second Avenue.

This one's a wine bar. An elderly man is leaving, walking backwards through the entrance. He's dressed like a Texan with one of those weird hats and he's wearing R.M. Williams cowboy shoes.

He's screaming. "That's my effing flower and if you mother-effers move it I'll be back and I will take you out. Mother-effers."

Charming! I waited till he'd moved on before taking out my camera. How bizarre. Somehow a pretty flower and a screaming Texan strike a note of discord in my otherwise perfect peaceful New York day.

Not that I hadn't been acclimated to grumpy old men already. Yet. On my way home from work, on the Q32, I'd moved over to make room  when a different elderly man was looking around for a seat. I immediately regretted my kindness, my belief in civic duty, in democracy, in 'do unto others' - in my belief in the Christian-Judaic ethical system, in civilization even - when  I realised that that my neighbor  had no teeth and was dressed in moth-eaten polyester.

My mind leapt back 100 years - to the days of black-and-white telly when humans spoke in sentences and watches had hands. "Steptoe and Son". OMG, I was sitting next to Steptoe Senior!!!

Them were the days!

But who can remember them? Old people?

Not me! My generation will never get old.

Just ask the "92 Street Y" in Manhattan.

I LOVE the 92 Street Y. I love it that it has nothing to do with the YMCA,  although saying "I'm off to the Y," sounds as if that's where your going.

But more importantly I like  how they have divided people into age groups. "Birth to 5, 6 to 12, Teens to 25, 25 to 35, Adults, Baby Boomers and Seniors".

How sweet. How kind. There's a stage between "Adult" and "Senior".

Plus it is a Jewish Y.

Just another of the many things that makes me glad that I am a New Yorker.

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What WERE They Thinking? Or WERE They?

Last Licks is one of the most unique ice cream parlors in New York City. As the only sports themed birthday party location in New York and Westchester, we offer an exciting experience for both kids and adult sports fans. With stores throughout the tri-state, this ice cream parlor offers space for bat mitzvah parties, retirement parties, birthday bashes, and even events such as athlete signings. Come in to any of our ice cream parlors to try a variety of homemade goodies, from ice cream sundaes to tasty cookies and cakes. - Advertising blurb for Last Licks, New York

"We wanted the best for our child."

Nothing wrong with that sentiment regarding one's child. Except that it was expressed as the reason that Queensland couple (Tegan Leach and Sergie Brennan) gave for aborting it.

According to the Melbourne Age, in police interviews on March 30, Leach said she had decided to have an abortion in late 2008 after learning she was pregnant because she did not feel ready to have a baby.

Brennan, in a separate interview, said the couple "wanted the best" for their child and did not feel they were in a position then to provide the necessary support.

I'm staying well clear of that couple when next I visit Queensland. And if I do happen to bump into either of them, I sure as hope they don't want the best for me!

You can read about the case HERE.

Enter If You Dare
Closer to home ... downstairs in fact.

"ENTER IF YOU DARE" says the yellow police-like warning stickers on the windows of  "Last Licks", an ice cream parlor for kids of all sizes. The parlor is directly under the east wing of our apartment building. It sells Yankee (baseball) memorabilia, ice creams, milkshakes, sundaes, candies and who knows what else.

Or to be more precise, who knows what.

Last Licks, Last Laugh, Last Rites?
Look at the menu. You can't see it in the photos? Well that's because it isn't there. It isn't anywhere. Like the place on the stairs in A.A. Milne's poem.

"Halfway up the stairs isn't up and isn't down. It isn't in the nursery, it isn't in the town. And all sorts of funny thoughts run round my head. It isn't really anywhere, it's somewhere else instead."

The white writing on the blue background doesn't list food items and prices. Here it is,  enlarged.

There's no menu anywhere in Last Licks. I double-checked when I went there today. The place was empty of customers except for me. I was clearly outnumbered by the three employees. One was at the cash-register, another was behind the counter. And another was wandering aimlessly around pretending to be a customer.

I ordered a vanilla milkshake. Then I asked Mr. Behind-The-Counter-Guy, "How can I tell what other food and drinks you sell?"

"What do you want?" he asked me.

"What do you have?" I countered.

He looked confused.

"Well do you have a menu anywhere?" I asked. "No".

Victorious, I questioned him again. "Are we meant to GUESS?" "How can we buy food if we don't know what is available?" "Can't you see there's no one here?"  "Maybe that's why no one comes here."

I noticed that  Mr Cashier-Man had started listening, "She's got a point," said Mr. Behind-The-Counter-Guy.

"Yeah," said Mr Cashier-Man.

By this time I was getting bored. Time to lift my act if I was to keep amusing myself.

"I think I'll write about this place on my blog," I said. "About it having no menu."

Both Mister-Men looked pleased.

"About how no one comes here. About there being no customers," I said, hammering the point home in my "nasty-mode". (Do I have any other?)

At this point the door opened and a women entered.

Now it was the Mister-Men's turn to look victorious.

A customer, so there!

"Can we help you?" said Mr Pretending-To-Be-A-Customer.

"Yeah do you have a bathroom I can use?" she answered.

I smirked.

Nasty-mode back in full swing.

"What size milkshake?" asked Mr. Behind-The-Counter-Guy.

I was shocked and asked him hadn't he even started making it. He was standing there holding one of those old-fashioned looking silver milkshake containers.

"No I've made it," he explained. "I just wanted to know what size glass to pour it into."

Not that it was a glass. It was a disposable paper cup.

But then, what do you expect from a place that  describes itself as "most unique".

Breads at Eataly, Flatiron District, New York
I decided to have lunch across the road at the Italian place. It was full of school kids. They were really polite. One who was about ten asked me if he could use the Parmesan cheese shaker that was on my table. Waiting at the counter was a little girl wearing shiny black boxer shorts and clog shoes; one foot had no sock and the other leg had one luminous green thigh-high sock. A four year old was discussing "the importance of friendship" with his buddy. "It is essential in this post modern era," he was explaining in his cute baby lisp.

Another kid was wearing a long black tee-shirt with the words, Green is the New Black, in green.

Normalcy as they say here in the US. I breathed a sigh of relief.

All was well with the world after all.

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Babs Not On A Bus

"I didn't get a toy train like the other kids. I got a toy subway instead. You couldn't see anything, but every now and then you'd hear this rumbling noise go by." - Stephen Wright  (American actor and writer, b.1955)

New Yorkers can be divided into two groups. The bus travelers and the subway riders.

For the first few years of my life in New York I was a subway person. No particular reason. Well, now that I think back on those early days, I perhaps I was influence by my friend Babs.

Babs is from Australia but has lived in New York for yonks. She is one of the kindest, caring empathetic people that I know. She's one of those people who would bend over backwards to be accommodating. Except in one area.

The area of New York buses. If I say to Babs, "Let's get the bus," she'll look at me as if I've lost my marbles. "No way," she'll say, my ever-accommodating friend. And there'll be no changing of her mind. A different, a less flexible Babs is revealed.

I think most subway people are like Babs in this respect. They refuse to compromise. Bus New Yorkers on the other hand, are quite prepared if necessary, to go down to the murky underground of Manhattan to catch a subway if necessary. No we don't LIKE it, but very occasionally it just must be done.

Subway walkway, under Times Square.
The man in the center IS dressed as a horse ...
It is hot down there, even in winter. I don't like the way the rats come out to play on the tracks. Subway rats are social rats. With each other that is. They dart here and there bouncing around playing 'hide and seek' or 'catch the rat'.

Subway New Yorkers pretend not to see them. And perhaps they don't. For it is hard to focus in the bowels of the earth with the blasts of hot air, the grime, the crowds and the trash swirling around one's feet.

Up on the surface of the planet, bus people wait in bus shelters, holding their Kindles and cell phones, getting ready for a civilized ride to wherever. Sometimes we speak to each other. Smile, even. It's a different world on the surface.

Another thing I've noticed, is that bus people "look" to see if a bus is coming. Sometimes they'll step off the kerb and peer hopefully into the distance. I think bus people are visual people. Subway people use different senses. "I feel a train coming," said Babs last week when we were waiting on a subway platform. First I was puzzled, and then I felt it too, though I would not have noticed anything had she not pointed it out. Whoosh woosh went the air as the train approached one of the many tunnels converging on the platforms.

Casa Frela Gallery - Harlem Art Walk 2010 Opening Night
Last night we went to the Casa Frela Gallery in Harlem. It was part of the Harlem Art Walk 2010. There were a few of us in our group - long-term New Yorkers, though none of us were born in America. Standing around drinking wine, and people and picture watching, I was thinking how no matter where they are, opening nights at art galleries are the same everywhere in the world.

After a couple of very enjoyable hours we walked back to the 116th Street Subway. I looked longingly as a few buses drove past us, but I know when I'm beat. "Subway!" commanded Babs.

A group of young women, strangers, were walking behind us. One of them must have opened her purse as a $10 note started floating along the sidewalk. I managed to stomp on it and secure it with my foot, and Babs muttered, "that was quick, Kate."

One of the young women - its owner - retrieved it. "Thanks, Kate," she said as quick as a wink. I smiled. So New York. The familiarity of strangers.

The young women walked ahead of us. Cool black women on their way to a night on the town. They were discussing how much money they each had. "I had $39 but lost 10 then Kate found it," I overheard the owner of the $10 saying to her friends.

"Ah New York!" Gotta love it. Subways notwithstanding.

My name is Kathleeenwng and I approve this message.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Please tell me it isn't true

An internet security company called AVG surveyed moms in North America and parts of Europe and found that in the U.S. 92% of children under the age of 2 have an online presence of some sort. What You Need to Learn From Your 2-Year-Old About Social Media

Forget the two-year olds. What about my mate Trev?

This evening I received the shock of my life. I heard that my old friend Trev was "on email".

Trev, who has since birth spent 20 out of every 24 hours in a pub, who hadn't even moved from fountain pen to typewriter, and who didn't know there were cars made with automatic transitions.

We all need some stability in our lives. Some certainty. Bedrock. Something we know will still be there when we wake up in the mornings.

My bedrock was Trev. Not that I realized it till now. I've more or less taken him for granted. Unchanging, consistent, reliable unreliable Trev.

I've known Trev for a hundred years. I first met him when I was about twenty. I so liked Trev. So salt of the earth. Full of practical advice. When I was having trouble with an on-again-off-again relationship with his best friend, Trev wasn't like most Aussie men, fearful of giving advice to his mate's girl. Not Trev. "Leave the country," he advised. "Don't hang around - get as far away as you can." A practical man. Straight forward. Called a spade a shovel. My mate Trev.

So after I heard that Trev had taken a giant leap into cyber space, I had to pour myself a glass of wine to calm down and absorb the shock.

I drank my wine, sitting 12,000 miles away from Trev, in my Manhattan apartment listening to the police and fire engine sirens. I contemplated how I had unknowingly relied on the fact that there WAS a Trev, and what it has meant to me. Just knowing he was there. The solidity of it all.

Then came the IMPLICATIONS.

What SORT of email address would he have, and who would have set it up for him? And why? How had he magically skipped the type-writer and word-processor stages and leap-frogged straight into cyberspace? Will he be spending evenings in front of a computer screen instead of standing at a bar? Instead of reaching for a beer will his hand reach for the enter key? Will he say things like 'ROFL' instead of "I'm molly as a monk"? And how did he find out about email anyway?

So annoying that some people just can't let other people live their lives in peace. No, it's not enough that the internet occupies their own lives, they have to inflict it on others! Next thing we know even old George W will be on email. The mind boggles.

I'm in shock. Gone is any stability I might have had; the little faith I had left in this world has dissolved. The ground under my feet will never be the same again.

I feel like my life is on a foundation of wet silicon.

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Secret Question Sadists

To be, or not to be: that is the question: - from Hamlet, William Shakespeare,

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions. - Naguib Mahfouz

Today I mistyped a password into one of the more paranoid financial web sites that I'm a member of. I did it three times in a row and got barred! I then had to answer three of my "secret questions". I broke into a cold sweat.

Secret questions - security questions you answer when setting up web accounts, for later verification that you are really who you say you are - must have been made up by people raised in a 1950s "Father Knows Best" environment. Either that or they were brought up by Betty Draper wannabes. Such settled lives these secret question people must have led.

My mother acting the part of a secretary
"What is your mother's occupation?"

Are they serious? My mother has "gone to god" as she used to euphemistically call the state of being deceased. And before that? Well it depends. She had many jobs, so I typed in her last job - "Legal Executive". WRONG!!! Had I perhaps used the American equivalent when I typed in the answer three years ago? After all America is where I now live. I say zed with a zee, do I not? I tried again, "Paralegal". Wrong!!!

Luckily the kindly secret question module gave me another chance.

"What was the name of the street you lived in as a child?"

That is a secret question I particularly hate. Hawthorn Street. I don't remember living there but I have the distinct impression that my mother once told me that I lived there when I was four. I can't remember the five different streets I lived in before that. Straight after what might have been Hawthorn Street was possibly Brighton Street, though it COULD have been Kooyong Road, and after that I THINK I lived in Alma Road. Would that be what I could have typed in when I set up my account at XXX? Or was it Lambert Street in Bathurst. Or Enfield Street in Perth? Or Victoria Street, Elsternwick? The mind boggles. Maybe I could phone my brother and see what he would have answered.

"What was your first teacher's name?" Well that one I know. How to pronounce it, that is. As to how to spell it, well you've got me there! I was only four at the time. How unreasonable can you get?

Perhaps someone can recognize this street?
 One hundred years later when I initially set up my XXX Financial web access, how would I have spelled "Howie"? Who-ey??? And should I include the "Miss" in front of it, even though it wasn't part of her name. "Good morning children." "Good morning Miss Howee." Those were the days, my friend.

"Who was your favorite cartoon character?" Excuse me? We weren't allowed to have comics, and TV wasn't even invented when I was a kid. Or if it was, we didn't have one. And if we did have one, it was broken. And even if it wasn't broken we would not have been allowed to watch cartoons. ASIF!

"What was the first and last name of your child hood best friend?" Obviously written by a male. Little girls change best friends daily. In any case mine changed all the time. As soon as I made friends, we'd move. Often to another state thousands of miles away.

"What was the name of your first pet?" I THINK I had a fish called Henry but if I DID, I KNOW I had two fish and the other one was called Bouncer. Which one did I put into the XXX secret question bank? Or would I have put in my first cat? I remember distinctly it was a tabby and used to hide behind a hedge in Hawthorn Street and scratch me when I went outside to play. Or was that at Alma Road? Then again it could have been the sick bird I remember finding in a gutter and bringing home. My mother yelled at me and threw it in the trash. Would that count as a pet?

"What is the first and last name of your favorite historical figure?" Well I really like Gough Whitlam who was Prime Minister of Australia between 1972 and 1975. But as far as I know he's still alive. Is 1975 classified as history yet? Do historical figures have to be dead? I suspect this is a TRICK QUESTION.

Vacationing in Bali
"What is the name of the town where your grandmother lives/lived?" I LIKE that question as it doesn't make so many assumptions. Dead or alive ... freedom of choice already yet! But what TOWN? She didn't live in a town. She lived in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. The suburb was called East St. Kilda, but many people just say St. Kilda. And sometimes I don't put a period after the 't'. Remember, one must be exact - computers are unforgiving and "typo" is not in their vocabulary. Or could the answer be just "Melbourne"? And do they mean where she mostly lived or where she lived when she died? The nursing home was definitely not in St Kilda. Well at least I don't THINK so.

Oops, I'm a bit slow on the uptake today. WHICH grandmother? Like most people I have two. Another TRICK QUESTION no doubt.

"What was your favorite place to visit when you were a child?" Ha, that's easy. "Nowhere"! Everywhere was scary when I was a child. I used to like going to Tocumwall on the Murray River until a relative molested me there. And because of the trauma associated with that place I can no longer spell its name. So I wouldn't have put that in. Yep, most likely I should put "nowhere".

"What was your father's occupation?" - Huh. "WAS"? An assumption that he's gone to god? True in my case but really!!! What would I have put? Actor? That is true but it wasn't his only job. He started his working life as a shoemaker. We were so poor we couldn't afford heating and so he used to bring home leather scraps and burn them in the fire-place. At Hawthorn Street. Or was that at Kooyong Road. I know it wasn't at Alma Road as that's where our mum took us when she left him the third time.

Alma Road (with brother)
I hated the burning leather. It made my eyes smart. I liked it better when we lived at Lambert Street. There he used to get his mate to chop down trees (my dad wasn't any good with tools) and strip all the branches off so he'd have a very long log. He'd put one end in the fire-place and the rest of the log would stretch out over the lounge room floor.

We used it as a replacement for the chairs we didn't have (he was a gambler). I hated being the oldest kid as I'd have to sit on the bit of the log the furtherest away from the fire-place. When some of the end-bit had turned into coal we used to have to all stand up and push the log further in. Eventually there'd be nothing left for me to sit on.

"What is your favorite vacation spot?" At last we are moving into adulthood. A tad more stable. But where do I vacation that I enjoy? I usually have bummer vacations though my last one at my friend Di's was great. However I've only been to her new place once. And that was years after I set up my answers to my secret questions. So it wouldn't be that. I try "Bali". I used to love Bali and I went there before the internet was invented. So it is a distinct possibility I used that answer. WRONG!

I like visiting Australia. But can the country you are from count as one's vacation spot? I doubt it.

"What is the first and last name of the best man at your wedding?" Which wedding would they be talking about? Not that I had a best man at any of them.

Madame with Girls, Macrob 1963
"What was the first and last name of your favorite high school teacher?" My favorite high school teacher was called "Madame". She taught us French. I admired her because she'd been in the French Resistance. She was my hero. We all called her "Madame". I know she had other names. I have an inkling her last name was Lewisnki but perhaps I'm confusing her with Monica.

What are these question-makers up to? What turns them on? Personally I think they are all sadists. They make me remember bad things like being molested or having to smell burning leather or missing out on a place on a burning log.

I always feel like they are thumbing their noses at me - "Ya ya - I'm normal and you're not." I think they look like Fred MacMurry or Leave it to Beaver's dad. They are all white and believe in Jesus. Some might even be members of the Tea Party. They are the sort of people who don't acknowledge that not everyone is fortunate enough or boring enough to have been brought up in two-parent households with parents who had stable jobs, in houses with heating, in ONE street, where kids were allowed to read comic books in front of televisions and had with pets who lived long and happy lives and were called names like "Lassie".

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Syndicating Love

The I Love New York logo is a rebus created by Milton Glaser consisting of the capital letter I, followed by a red heart symbol (), below which are the capital letters N and Y, set in a rounded slab serif typeface called American Typewriter. The logo and advertising campaign have been used since the mid-1970s to promote tourism in New York City - and also in New York State. I love New York - Wiki

I love New York.

New York is the city that first used the heart symbol to represent the word "love". And now the verb "to love" is being replaced, in yet another internet-driven change to our language, as "to heart". "I heart New York", for example. Weird. First we used symbols to represent words and now we are translating the symbols back into words, though not to the word that they originally represented.

Although I cannot bring myself to say "I heart New York", I do (love it). New York, that is.

What do I love about New York?

One of the things that I love this city is its lack of division between between being private and being public. Between being isolated and being part of the big picture. Between being born in New York and being not.

I love the acceptance of new people by the New York that has existed for 400 years.

People wonder about us  Manhattan New Yorkers - I have to distinguish between Manhattan  urban dwellers and what we call "up-state New Yorkers" -  those who live in rural areas (with bears and waterfalls).

Such people  wonder how we shop at supermarkets, how we live without trees and birds. How we live with concrete and mass-transit? How we live not needing paper books and pay phones.

"Quite well,' I say.

The world is our playground. Well, THEIR playground, I should say - meaning the life and environment of young New Yorkers - I'm getting a bit old to be counted ...

In most other cities and countries the inhabitants draw barriers between private and public life. "The Englishman's home is his castle," sort of thing.

In New York - well in Manhattan that is - is there any other New York? - our bedroom and bathroom and if we are lucky to have one, our kitchen form the nucleus of our homes.

These rooms are for the necessities of life. Social life - exists somewhere beyond these four walls.

Look at the young woman holding a pair of shoes in the photo top left. She's on the subway from New York to Hoboken - on her way home from a Saturday night in Manhattan. So at ease is she, that she's gotten up, grabbed her evening-shoes not bothering even to put them in a bag, and hopped onto the subway to go back home. Just as anyone would carry a pair of shoes from one room to another in a house.

Hoboken Gospel
No suit-case, no back-pack, no boundaries. No hang-ups.

However, as normal as it may be to carry your un-bagged shoes on a subway, there are other aspects of New York that DO attract my attention by being - well, a bit weird.

Take property tax and soft drinks for example. Where else would a realtor put those two things together?

Or the gospel according to ... Hoboken???? Or medical staff wearing their scrubs on public transport. Hardly hygienic. Or people having Great Danes live in high rise apartment blocks - with their own bedrooms.

Strange and unexpected things must be taken in one's stride - as part of a diversity that is essential for the health of any culture.

And diverse New York definitely is.

Yep, there has to be something to be said about the diversity that is New York.

New York, my (adopted) town.

New York - I'm standing in it!

On another note - to add to my list of disappearing things - see      . The typewriter. This YouTube video illustrates what can happen if you don't keep up with technology!

My name is Kathleenwng and I approve this message.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Non Remembrance of Things Past

I read the news today oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh - A Day in the Life - Beatles

Paper back writer (paperback writer)
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear  - Paperback Writer - Beatles

Papers and Magazines  Use-by dated?
I was thinking today about change, and how technology has altered many aspects of people's lives.

What has gone and been forgotten? And what WILL be gone and be forgotten?

Paperbacks and hardcovers - dead-tree books - sorry to all those people who have suddenly thought that books like "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace" are oh so much better when you can smell the paper pages. Weird that no one thought of smelling paper before ...

I, being a non-smeller of paper, have been  noticing those things that will soon be gone, if not gone already.

Paper-printed newspapers for example. The Boston Globe   has gone already. The New York Times (paper version) expects to go soon. What shall we sniff now?

I wonder if when the motor car was invented, that people worried about missing the smell of horses.

Pay-phones - Grand Central, New York
Pay phones are on the way out. So much so that I actually noticed the ones shown on the left at Grand Central. Of course no one was using any of them. Copper land-line phones as well. I haven't had one for at least five years. Will anyone mourn their loss?

Books - maybe we should all go back to scrolls. Printed airline tickets, tape recorders, vinyls, Polaroid cameras, ATMs, Would be better humans if we all lined up to show human bank tellers our paper bank-books in order to withdraw our hard-earned money. Or if we played our music on turn-tables. I am sure that some people think this way.

Next people will be decrying the loss of the feudal system of strip-fielding agriculture in the Middle Ages in Europe.

I just had dinner with a friend. She opened her handbag to show me her iPad.

"This is better than sex," she said.

Maybe she's right. I'd always thought it (sexual gratification) was about shopping at Bloomingdales.

I will now look at my iPad with new-found  enthusiasm.

Stay tuned