W5D1 Hubris

As always, the plan was simple. Go to the hardware store, get the right tool, fix the problem. Boom. Done.

The drain in the bathroom here has been running slower and slower. Even a short shower leaves water almost ankle deep, which takes several minutes to completely drain. There are two people living here who have long hair. The math is easy.


Remember to take the real part of the equation in the last step or everything goes topsy-turvy.

The solution is, of course, to buy one of these nifty gadgets, the Zip-It.


You simply stick it down the drain, pull out a squirrel-sized hunk of hair cemented together with hair products, and *poof* the water swirls down the drain.

So that is what I decided (with my hostess’s permission) to do. It was a nice evening here, so I took myself down the hill (second time today – I am getting better) to the hardware store. One of the nice things about living in the city is that hardware stores stay open later. I’m not talking about Home Depot (there are none near by – 4 miles is a long way in the city when you don’t have a car). DT Hardware (don’t go to the website – that site is actually for a company in Guangdong province in China – I’ve submitted a correction to Google. I submitted a different correction earlier this summer, and it was in place within a couple of hours. So cool.) over on 231st Street is open until 8. The store is narrow and deep, like many of the other stores and delis in that area. On the other hand, it is very tall, and every single inch of wall space was covered with hardware of all kinds, nuts, bolts screws, washers, gizmos, whatsits, doohickeys, thingummies, and most importantly, a Zip-It tool.

I bought it (only $4) and brought it home. As I climbed the middle set of stairs that leads from Cannon Place up to our courtyard, I heard a voice behind me say, “Hi, Joe.” It was Renee, the other AirBnB guest staying for the summer. She is a Physics/Computer science major at Stanford, and is working as an intern this summer. She was just getting back from the gym. She saw the tool in my hand, and said, “Good idea.” She has been taking shorter showers so as not to fill the tub too deep.

She was about to take a shower, so I suggested that if she waited a few minutes, I’d have the tub unclogged, and she would be able to take a “real shower”. Ha!

I will say I tried valiantly. I removed the cover on the drain and reached in with the Zip-It. I was able to remove some hair using my new tool, but I knew it wasn’t enough to unclog the drain. You really have to get the squirrel sized chunk. I added some water to see what effect I had. To my horror, the water did not go down at all. I thought maybe the actual drain mechanism itself was causing the problem. I could hear the Zip-It banging into it, so I removed the the drain lever assembly, and used the Zip-It tool down that opening. I got more hair, but no water moved.

By now I was starting to panic a bit. “I need a better tool”, and by better, I mean longer. I unraveled a wire coat hanger from my room, and tried that. It was about eight inches longer. No go. I combined the tools, wrapping the wire around the handle of the Zip-It tool, and put it down the drain as far as I dared, afraid that the Zip-It tool would become unattached to the hanger and get stuck in the drain. No go.

Finally, I grabbed the good old toilet plunger and plunged. That was largely ineffective, because the overflow drain pipe prevented the water from getting any substantial pressure. It did loosen up some gunk though, which flowed back into the tub. It’s pretty gross in there.

That’s where I gave up. I reassembled the level and drain cover, and my hostess texted the building super. She thought he might come tomorrow. I’ve basically been hiding in my room ever since.

I snuck out once to use the bathroom, and there was more water in the tub, so I suspect Renee snuck in to get a quick shower. Sorry, Renee.

So that’s where we were, up to about 5 minutes ago. I can hear someone working in the bathroom, and it sounds like they have a real plumber’s snake. Yep, definitely some real tools in there. Whoever it is is working hard. Naturally, nature is calling me.

Update: I hear lots of water running in the tub. Maybe this is a good sign.

2nd update (20 minutes later): I just heard an unfamiliar voice, “Oh, man.” I’m just going to hold it.

Read the comments for further updates!



W4D5 I scream, you scream…

It was kind of a fun day yesterday. In the morning, I went with a class to tour Google and listen to a panel of interns and young women in tech there. Afterwards, we came back to the site, ate lunch, the teaching teams and I talked about approaches to next week’s lessons, then went back up to the classroom, where the girls wrote thank you notes. After that, I showed them my girls’ classroom cheer (here) from last year, and watched as these girls came up with their own. It was a hilarious process that, for some reason, not even known to the girls, involved a whole lot of that Italian chef kiss hand gesture where you bunch all your finger tips together, kiss them and sweep your hand into the air in front of you. Crap, I was hoping not to have to research this, but I am failing to describe it accurately, so I’m going to have to find a visual representation. The reason I don’t want to research it is that I’m sitting on my bed where I can’t actually see my laptop screen very well, and I don’t have my mouse over here, so I’ll have to get up and move over there for a bit. I find that writing goes much faster here because I write write write, then correct it at the end, rather than keep correcting as I go along.


Who can understand teenagers? All this started before Scaramucci was appointed, so it has nothing to do with that. It’s a mystery.

As I left the site at the end of the day, I decided to take a longer route home. I knew the 4 train would be crowded and SRO at rush hour, so I decided to walk across town and catch the 1 train. My path led me past Bryant Park, where there was a picnic in the park going on, with people playing with hula hoops, juggling, acrobatics, just laying there (you could borrow a blanked from a booth if you wished). They also had a couple of food vendors, so I bought dinner. I had okonomiyaki, which I would liken to a Japanese omelette. I chose it mostly because I had no idea what it was, but it looked good. After dinner, I wandered toward Times Square to catch the train, but it seemed to be awfully busy in that direction, so I instead turned south on 6th Avenue, with the idea of catching the train a few stops earlier, so I could get a seat (it’s a fifty minute ride if everything goes perfectly, and I knew the train would be crowded).

As I wandered south, an idea floated into my head. I remembered getting ice cream last Friday, and thought, “Hey! Ice cream could become my Friday tradition!” I’m going to try to visit a different ice cream parlor on some list of New York’s best (there are many lists, I’m going to hit the ones that are common to all of them). This has the side effect of getting me to new neighborhoods that I might not otherwise get to see.

I pulled out my phone and found the closest place, Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, and it was only a few stops south on the 1 line, so getting home would be easy. I noted the stop, St. Christopher’s, and hopped on the train.

When I reemerged from underground, I had no idea where I was, other than I was in Lower Manhattan. I soon found out. I chose not to use my phone, but to just wander around trying to find the parlor. I had a vague sense of where it was, within a few blocks, and it’s much more interesting to explore, rather than go right to my destination.

You may know the city better than I do, but it quickly became apparent that I was in Greenwich Village. I walked about half a block before passing the Stonewall Inn, site of the beginning of the Gay Pride movement in 1969.

The streets in that area are not laid out in a grid – it is an older part of the city, so the streets are a little haphazard, It’s kind of like when a little kid started coloring a big patch in a picture – first they focus on one part and color in every direction, then they figure out that this is going to take some time, so they switch to a more organized way of coloring that fills in the space faster. I think Manhattan was colored in that way.

I wandered around, and soon found myself faced with a dilemma. I was walking in front of Snowdays which was a shaved cream store. I have never had that before. Shaved cream is made from a block of frozen (usually 1%) milk which is shaved to make a the dessert. So, do I have this new thing, or do I stick with my plan to go to Van Leeuwen’s? Which is one the best list? Or maybe do both? Both seemed a little extreme. Two things helped me decide. First, Snowdays was not on the best ice cream list (I have since discovered it is on the best shaved cream list – hmmm, Tuesday evenings may need a thing), and, second, the smallest size was a regular which cost nine dollars. I decided to press on, or I’d have blown my ice cream budget in one shot.

About a block later, I found Dominique Ansel Kitchen, promising something different. They served soft serve ice cream at a walk up window, and I was actually in line there. I still didn’t know what I was getting – no one in front of me had walked away with any product. One of the choices was some weird thing with milk foam on it (Update: It was a coffee flavored ice cream with an anise biscotti and milk foam dusted with cocoa powder – I may have to go back). I just wasn’t sure. Plus, whatever it was carried a $7.25 price tag. I stepped out of line and pressed on.

I finally found the place. It was really small, and I had already passed within a block of it twice. The spiral method of locating a place can be inefficient, but that is part of the point. I ordered a small sorrel blackberry jam crumble. It was the day;s special flavor.

OMG. It was unbelievably good. The jam had just enough tartness to complement the rich creaminess of the sorrel base. I have to look up sorrel (did it). I have a weed in my yard at home called sorrel, which is edible and is a great thirst quencher when you are mowing, I wonder if they are the same thing (Pause.) Yes, yes they are.

I did manage to get a seat on the train on the ride home. It was a long ride – signal problems. The trains are really messed up here. Thankfully, I have lots of time, so it doesn’t bother me. I was another game of train station roulette. After we passed 72nd Street station, the train began stopping at about every third station. I was in the front car this time, so I could hear the announcements clearly.

After yoga today, I plan to head to a farmers market. I can revisit the 79th street market, or go way downtown to the Union Square market, which is supposed to be one of the best. Which will I do? Only time will tell.

I didn’t finish editing in time for yoga, and, now that I’m back, time did tell. Union Square. Was there ever really any doubt?

W4D4 A bit of this and that

I’m pretty sure yesterday or today is the halfway point of my stay in NYC. I know this because my MetroCard expired (I only missed the train that was in the station as I tried to swipe through) and I had to re-up for Ellie’s humble abode. There was no one thing today that was quite enough for a whole post, so I have four topics today, though who knows if I can get to them all; I am logorrheic, after all.

The first is something that could happen other places, but is so emblematic of GWC that I must relay it. An instructor, a student, and a worker at a particular site were riding the elevator up to the floor with the Girls Who Code classroom this morning. The worker asked the instructor, “Does anyone in your class speak Bengali?” The student answers in the affirmative, in Bengali.

I probably should go in chronological order. Today was the first day I spent an entire day in the same classroom. I didn’t plan it that way, but, you know. I was in the same classroom yesterday because one of the teaching team was out sick. They were working on a particularly difficult section of the curriculum, one where a single character change can break the code in a way that is hard to decipher, and render it difficult for the girls to move forward in the tutorial. I left a little early yesterday to visit another site, but heard from the teaching team at the first site, later in the evening, that they were having difficulty unsticking some of the computers. I said I’d stop by in the morning to help them get unstuck. I planned to spend the afternoon at another site where they had a guest speaker talking about computer security.

As it turns out, they were having a pretty good guest speaker at the site I was already at; one that hadn’t made it onto the calendar. The speaker was Meg Urry (rhymes with fury), who is often recognized for, among her other achievements, this Washington post piece, which is well worth reading.

She spoke to the girls briefly about her research on black holes, then began to talk to them about gender inequality in science, especially computer science and physics. She was frank and forthright, said “shit” and “bullshit” a couple of times, and really engaged the girls. Not all the girls asked questions, but those who did asked excellent ones.

There were several references to white men and how blind and unfair they can be. I was the only white male in the room, though one of the instructors, also male, is from China. I did not take offense at what Meg or other people said, because I have seen the evidence for what they are saying with my own eyes. It’s the reason I do what I do.

The ride home was a little interesting, kind of like train station roulette. At 79th Street there was an announcement that the next a stop would be 96th street, skipping over 86th. Anyone who wanted 86th had to get out and wait for the next train. That was the easy one, because it was announced in an underground station, and you could hear it pretty well. The next was announced above ground, where the sound doesn’t echo so well. The speaker in our car kept cutting in and out (it was sort of like being at a dilapidated drive-in), so all we got was ‘Nex op three str”, and had to decide our fate based on that. To heighten the excitement, the announcer added 100 blocks to the station numbers, so I could sort of make out that the train was not gong to stop at “three ty ate str”, but I think she meant “two ty ate str”. I stayed on, knowing that whatever the case, the train could go no farther than 242nd, where the tracks end.

I got off there, and proceeded to walk the six blocks back to my stop when I glanced across Broadway. Something I never noticed before caught my eye, although I have been by that intersection at least half a dozen times. Just inside the gate of the park, there is a large rock with a statue of, what looked to me like, a wolf. Here is a picture I took.


In fact, it is a statue of a coyote. To my eye though, it looks more like a wolf. Here is my favorite silhouette comparison.


And here is a more general comparison:


I still think wolf, but here is proof of coyote, from the rock:


The statue was erected in 1998 to commemorate the reappearance of coyotes in NYC for the first time since 1946. The particular coyote in question was spotted on the Major Deegan Highway, about a block away. I won’t say what happened to it, but you can read it here.

That last site has proved to be a boon! It lists “All the weird attractions, hidden sights, and unusual places in New York.” I’m making plans now.

W4D3 Dog days of summer

Wow, we’re really on week 4 already?

The scene: I am listening to In the Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit before Hamilton. Why? Cuz I was in the aforementioned heights last week. That, and I like it. I am eating (Do I do anything else here?) some mixed fruit salad from some place in Chelsea. It’s just getting that slightly fuzzy taste fruit gets as it starts to ferment, which I prefer to unripened fruit. That may explain why it was twenty percent off, and if I don’t write anything tomorrow, it may explain that, too.

I had never been to Chelsea before Sunday, but now I’ve been there three of the last four days. Girls Who Code headquarters is there. Okay, not technically. Technically it is in the Flatiron District, but it is only half a block away from Chelsea.

There is a pet shop on 7th avenue, about a block from my train stop, which has lots of cute little puppies in the window. I woke up to a news report this morning that store has been mistreating their dogs. Don’t click on that link if you are sensitive to that sort of thing (aren’t we all?) In the article they mention that some of the dogs sell for up to $4,000 (not a typo).

As a family that has only rescue pets (and rescue kids, and rescue each other, and I have a rescue bike (Hi, Ellie!))), I am taken aback by that. (Did you know that taken aback originally was used for ships, when the wind took a sudden turn and blew the sails back against the mast? That’s a little tidbit for those of you finding yourselves interested in nautical science.)

At one of Meet and Greet events earlier this summer, one family brought such a dog with them. (I was taken aback by that as well. You brought a dog?) Although the dog was just a puppy (seven months, I think), he was well behaved. He sat in the GWC student’s older sister’s lap quietly while the event went on.

The father of the family talked to me afterwards, asking “Isn’t the dog well behaved?” His daughters were well behaved, too, but he didn’t ask about them. I agreed that it was, and he proceeded to tell me all about the dog, though I remember very little of the details other than the dog cost $3,100. I kept thinking you could rescue a lot of good dogs for that much. I’ll admit to being distracted by those thoughts, and not really paying attention to what he was saying. Something about the dog never messing the house or something.

The family stayed for a long time after others had left. The dog started barking at the older sister, who kept asking it why it was barking. I was thinking that maybe it had to go to the bathroom.

Just as we were leaving, the father said something about hoping that the GWC program would increase his daughter’s confidence. I said that it could well, and that that was a goal of the program. He said, “I don’t know why she can’t be more like her sister. She gets great grades in school, is in the honors program at [some college], can speak confidently in front of large groups…” and so on. He said all of this right in front of the younger sister.

I’m thinking, “Dude, you just answered your own question.” I don’t know that the Summer Immersion Program is long enough to undo 16 years of living in your sister’s shadow, but it’ll be a good start. If she can begin to discover some of her gifts and how amazing they’ll make her, she’ll be on a good track.

I suppose the fact that this incident is stuck in my craw almost two weeks later means something. I have a feeling I should do something about it, but I’m not sure what.

W4D2 …and now you know the rest of the story.

OK, please tell me you didn’t think the story from Sunday was over when I went to the museum. People, I have to milk this thing! It’s not that stuff hasn’t happened since Sunday, it’s just that, well, it hasn’t come together into some kind of cohesive whole, yet.

You’re probably thinking, “He’s gonna write about the mani/pedi now.” Nope. It was remarkably unremarkable. I did watch more NASCAR than I’ve seen in a long time. Do they alway kiss the track before a race, or is that only some teams? There was quite a montage of that. Also, the pit crews are damn fast. Wow.

I left the salon, and headed uptown to go to the farmers market, which was located just outside of Columbia University. It was scheduled to be 2 blocks long, like the 79th street market I went to a week or two ago. Plus, it was rate five(!) stars on Google (only 4 votes though). I was pumped! I got there about ten after four, which should’ve been OK, since the market is listed as taking place from 8am to 5pm. Plenty of time. Imagine my chagrin when I got there, and many of the booths were packing up (to be fair, 9 hours is a long day). More than half the booths were already gone. I quickly purchased some potatoes (patriotic red, white and blue), grape tomatoes and a couple of zucchini. Eventually, these were part of a delicious dinner, but I digress.

I decided to head home. Only one problem: the 1 train, which literally passes under the farmers market, was only running up to 137th. I knew that both the A train and the 1 train stop at 125th. I also knew that I was only a few blocks away from the Hudson River (to the west of me), and that I boarded the A train up at 207th to the west of the the 1 line. I figured, all I needed to do was walk a few blocks west, and I could pick up an A train headed home. I googled it, and Google said 18 minutes of walking to 125th.

Bathrooms are really hard to find in New York, though I think there’s an app for that. Before I started out, knowing that it would be almost an hour before I got home, I decided to look for a bathroom. I will say that I am willing to become a customer of a place in order to use the bathroom. Seems fair, although I realize that’s a privileged position on my part. Many people can’t afford to become customers, and businesses don’t want to become public restrooms. Tough call there.

First stop in the bathroom search – Columbia University Book Store. I can become a bookstore customer easily. I didn’t, because they had no bathroom. So I headed up Broadway toward 125th, hoping to find a restaurant or something with a restroom. No luck.

I did, however, overtake a man walking in the same direction as I was as I neared the 125th Street 1 line station. This wasn’t too great a feat, since the man was rather older than I am and was walking hunched over, pushing a kick scooter. You may be thinking, as you picture this in your head that he was hunched over because he was leaning on the scooter. Let me provide a few more details to clarify things. The man was wearing dark jeans that looked unwashed – they get this kind of brownish color and look permanently damp. He had on a dark blue pullover sweater with a brown button down shirt underneath. His hair was dark and wavy with a few grey strands, and his skin was deeply tanned and wrinkled. There was a large white cockatoo with a white screw-on type bottle cap in its mouth perched on his shoulder. Oh, did I forget to mention that? I think that may have been why he was hunched over. He spoke incessantly to the bird, and gently scolded it when it dropped the bottle cap to the sidewalk. It seemed as though the bird had dropped it several times, and this was the last straw, because the man looked at the bottle cap and said “You broke it.” (There was a chunk out of the side of it, which goes to show how strong their beaks are – I couldn’t have replicated the damage to the cap with a pair of pliers.) He continued to walk along, talking to the bird, reaching up and trying to extract the small bit of plastic from the bird’s beak.
I got to the 125th street 1 train station, and looked off to the west to see if I could find the A line station. There’s a clear view down to the Hudson at that vantage point, but no sign of the A line. Back to Google. The A line station at 125th is several blocks (and about 10 minutes walking) to the east of the A line. Who knew it passed under the 1 line?

I walked down 125th, rather than taking the bus, because I was still looking for a restroom. Traveller tip: No restrooms on 125th.

When I finally got to the station, I had to wait for a while for the train, so I started a conversations with the person standing next to me. She was wearing a grownyc.org T-shirt, carrying a ton of produce and some fresh flowers, so I asked her what market she had been to. It turns out that she is the manager of the Columbia market I was just at. The produce was a perc of the job – she gets the stuff vendors don’t want to take back with them. She also told me that some of the vendors start packing up as early as 3pm. Duly noted.

Eventually, I made it home, but not until after helping out a woman at the 207th Street station. She was the mom of four children under five years old, one of whom was still in a stroller. When I first spied her, she was climbing a set of stairs with a toddler in one hand, the stroller hoisted on her opposite hip, somehow corralling the other two kids with just her voice, and doing all this in high heels. Typical mom, right? She was not familiar with the station or the free shuttle replacing the 1 line. When she saw the number of stairs we had to climb to get out of the station, she agreed to let me lift the stroller. We just missed a shuttle, and had to wait a while for the next one. When it came, it stopped at an intersection about half a block away from us. I was determined that she was not going to miss that bus, so I stood in front of it until she got on. I did eventually to the bathroom when I got home.

I apologize for grammar and typos in this post. I just got an email that a teacher is out sick today, so I’m going to go help out in that room, so I am not going to have time to reread this before I post. Cavil as you will. *winky face*

W4D1 Om on the range.

OK, if things seem a little different today, it is because I am typing this at a remote location. Yes, indeed, rather than sit at my somewhat uncomfortable desk chair (even with two pillows on it), I am typing this from the comfort of my bed, where I am propped up against the wall with, you guessed it, two pillows. I am a full two and a half feet from my laptop. This is what wireless keyboards were made for, although, I am sensing an unusual warmth in my nether regions. Can BlueTooth do that?

I am going to pick up where I left off yesterday which was with “Godspeed, Ed.” I felt like it should just end there, but of course, there is so much more to tell you. That whole thing didn’t even get me to 11:30am.

First though, a word from our sponsor, Alice Ochterski, who informed me that Godspeed has nothing to do with speed at all. See for yourself.

Now, back to our story. The reason I didn’t need a ride from Ed is that I was headed in the other direction (as I so often am). I was aimed downtown for an appointment. Actually, it went like this. I found a place that does men’s pedicures, and after a long couple of weeks where I have spent mucho quantities of time on my feet, I decided they need a little TLC. I called the place, and asked what kind of services they include with a pedicure, being a relative neophyte to this activity. The person on the other end of the line and I did not speak the same version of English. I asked my question. The response “Pedicure? You want an appointment?”. I had no idea who I was speaking to, but the closest I can come to his accent is Serge from Beverly Hills Cop.

“Um, yes?”

“What time?

I looked at my phone for the current time. 11:40. I knew the 1 train wasn’t running except below 13th (I was at 230th), but there was a free (yes, free) shuttle running down to the A train station at 207th. I had noticed it on Saturday, when I went for my bike ride. On Saturday, the traffic was extremely congested, and walking would’ve probably been the best option. On Sunday, though, the traffic was a lot lighter, so I thought I’d give it a try. I also wanted to go to a farmers market I hadn’t been to yet. Surprised? You shouldn’t be at this point in the summer.

I guessed that I could make it down to the salon in about an hour, but I added some time, just to be safe. “1:30?”

“No, he as an appointment at 1:30.”


“No, a mani pedi takes about an hour.”

“Ok, 2:30?”

“OK see you at 2:30 for a mani pedi.” *click*

Wait, what? Ok, the adventure begins.

That left me a lot of time before my appointment, so I decided to go to the farmers market first. The market was at Columbia University, which is around the 116th Street stop. I figured I’d hop on the A train, get off at the closest stop, and just walk over. After the market, I could hop the 1 train (which was running below 137th Street) and take it down to 23rd street station, about half a block from my destination.

I hopped on the A as planned, and we took off. There were the usual perfunctory stops uptown so I settled in for the ride. I perked up when we stopped at 125th, knowing that 116 would likely be next. The subway sped up and carried us on. I’m pretty sure it was going top speed as we passed through the 116th Street station, and 110th, and 103rd, until we got to 86th. Apparently, the A train is an express.

So, I formulated a new plan. Why is it that I always formulate new plans? I mean, what’s the likelihood that they’ll work out? Not very good by my experience. Still, I do it anyways. New plan: Go downtown first (I was already more than halfway there), hang out for a while, then head to my appointment. That is, of course, if the A train stopped anywhere near my destination.

It did, sort of. I got off at 14th street ( I was headed toward 22nd), and began to look for something to do. I had about an hour and fortyfive minutes before my appointment. I did what any true blooded tourist would do. I googled “museums near me”. And even before the results came up, decided to go to the closest museum that was open.

Fortunately, the closest open museum was the Rubin Museum of Art, which I had never been to before. It had 4.5 stars on Google, so that was promising. I went in, paid my admission fee, declined a map (naturally) and began to wander. Oh yeah, did I mention that I had to go to the bathroom this whole time? I forgot to go at the diner, so the first thing I found at the museum was the men’s room. (Hmmm, I bet mens room doesn’t need an apostrophe, just like farmers market doesn’t).(Penn State agrees.) I did briefly regret not taking a map, but soon found the bathroom on the lowest level, but not without first noticing the unusual sounds coming from the large spiral staircase in the center of the museum, and the concave mirrored bowl underneath it.

Having found myself (and the bathroom) on the lower level, I decide to begin my tour there.

There was exactly one exhibit down there. It looked like two large cloth covered rectangles. Brown. Well, really more of a burnt sienna. Who remembers that crayon? Still one of the best, because, what even is sienna?

I read the description beside it (having decided that I wanted to “do” this museum carefully, and get the full experience, at least for the time I was there. It’s like when I went to the zoo. I tried to get the full experience of each exhibit.)

I was doing it all wrong. The two rectangular blocks were sets of speakers, and the exhibit was a soundscape, which was “best experienced by approaching it”. So I did. It was OK, but I was really more interested in the weird, noisy stairs.

I climbed back up to the first floor, and learned that the sounds were another (this time three dimensional soundscape, and that the sounds changed as you moved through it (by climbing the stairs), so I did.

I’m going to pause here, and move away from the details a bit to my overall experience at the Rubin. I have never been to an art museum where the bulk of the time I spent with my eyes closed. Nearly every exhibit was integrated with sound, much of it (at least the top three floors) was from Buddhist and Tibetan monasteries. There were many explanations about different kinds of chants and what they are used for. Each was accompanied by one or several artworks from the same regions.

My favorite room, by far, was the “Collective Om” room. Past patrons (and maybe current ones as well) recorded themselves chanting Om, and they were put together into an hour and forty minute continuous overlapping Om chant.

One time, about two years ago, I did a sort of yoga triathlon, consisting of a bike ride, a run and 108 sun salutations at the end. I had done 108 sun salutations before, and though it is difficult, I felt prepared for this experience. Wrong. When I had done them previously, we had gone a moderate pace, even pausing in some positions to catch our breath. Not so at this 108. They went crazy fast. Body parts were flying all over.

The best part of that experience was right at the end. There were over 100 people in the room, and we all participated in a flowing Om. We were each asked to chant om three times at our own pace. We all started together, but since each person’s om is a different length, the room soon started to reverberate with the mixed collective oms.

The experience in the room at the museum was similar. You could, if you wished, join in with the recorded oms. I did not. Too chicken. Maybe on a subsequent visit.

Subsequent visit? Oh yes. I did not get to experience the whole museum. I turned my admission fee into part of my membership fee, I think I’ve found a new oasis away from home.

W4D0 People plan, God laughs.

This morning, after yoga, I headed over to Tibbett Diner for breakfast. I’ve been there twice so far – the only restaurant I can say that about. It’s about a block from the studio, the wait staff is friendly, the food is good, and service is pretty fast. Today, though, they made a mistake, and it fell in my favor.

I ordered the western omelette special, which comes with homefries, coffee, juice and, in my case rye toast. I always order rye because it’s a sourdough bread, and we don’t usually keep sourdough at home. My breakfast came just as I ordered it, though if it hadn’t, I’d have eaten it anyway – it would be what I was meant to get. The gentleman sitting next to me, also a solo diner, did not feel the same way. Apparently, he ordered white, but also received rye. When he saw his order, he pointed to my toast and said to the waiter, “It looks like our toast orders have been switched, I ordered white, but got rye, and he ordered rye.” I said “I’m pretty sure I got rye.” The waiter took the errant toast and went to replace it.

I was sitting pretty close to this gentleman. There were three small tables built for two lined up next to each other, booth on one side, and three individual chairs on the other. They use this configuration flexibly to seat groups. It can hold up to six, but they leave the center table empty to sit two small groups. Thus I found myself an empty booth seat away from him, and why he could see my toast (almost) so well.

In order to lighten the mood, I turned to him (he seemed to have a sense of humor) and said, “I can’t believe that you still accuse me of stealing your toast after all the time we’ve been together.”

He laughed and proceeded to explain why he likes white toast. He likes to put jelly on his toast, and finds that the flavor of rye overpowers the jelly. Then he said, “Ha! People plan, God laughs” which could be the tagline of this blog, quite frankly.

I learned a lot about him over the course of our breakfasts. He just lost his wife of 59 years on July 5th. She had been terribly sick for the last two months, and in a sense he seemed relieved that it was over. I found out later that she had been ill, though not as seriously, for the past two years. He is still getting used to doing things, like shopping and eating out, on his own.

He was a teacher in the Bronx, drama and physical education, for 35 years, after which he retired into writing. He wrote some episodes of Ryan’s Hope (a soap opera from the mid seventies until the late eighties). He used to sit in on the bar scene in the show every St. Patrick’s Day (he is half Polish (from Białystok) – half Irish, and looks Irish), when they switched the cheat beer and cheat whisky for real beer and real whiskey and had a good time. He also wrote some plays, at least one of which was performed in Toronto, a city he likes a lot. He has also been to Buffalo a couple of times. He was arrested there once. He came back from a trip to Canada, and walked over the Peace Bridge. He had apparently forgotten that he had four Cuban cigars in his shirt pocket. The judge let him go.

His favorite Canadian city is Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit), which he claims is the cleanest city he’s ever been to. He relayed the story of one of the greatest moments in his life, which happened there.

He used to work for the writer’s union with a guy named Maury (or something like that). He didn’t really like Maury much – Maury was always voting against his proposals for the union and the like. However, Maury was a great logistics man, and would plan trips down to the last detail, which made him handy to have around.

There was a convention in Windsor, and Maury had made reservations at a restaurant known for two things, a flowing trout stream in the restaurant from which you could pick the fish that you wanted for dinner, and a great lobster special: $17.99 for a lobster, fried clams, and fries or corn on the cob. Maury made reservations for six: three gentlemen (including Maury), Maury’s wife, and two extra for girls two of the gentlemen met at the conference. However, Maury brought two other gentlemen he met at the conference with him to dinner. The restaurant was unable to take eight people on a reservation for six. It was too busy.

My new friend started to bargain with the maitre’d: “What if we squeezed into the table for six, and all ordered the same thing, so it won’t be any trouble for anyone in the kitchen.” The maitre’d acquiesced. So they all sat down, and proceeded to decide what to order. When the waiter came, they ordered one by one. “I’ll have the lobster special with fried clams and corn on the cob.” The waiter took the order and left, but soon returned, “Would any of you like beer?” They all agreed to have beer. “Domestic or imported?” One by one, “Domestic.” “Domestic.” “Domestic.” Maury was the last to order, “I’ll have imported.” Soon the dinner and beer arrived. Labatt’s, Labatt’s, Labatt’s, and a Schaefer for Maury, who had forgotten he was in Canada. From then on, every trip, “Hey Maury – want a Schaefer’s?”

I learned other things about him as well, like that his son is the golf pro at Van Cortlandt Golf Course, which is the only fact I could verify with Google. Still, it was an entertaining meal with a very nice (and talkative) man. At the end of the meal, I learned that his name was Ed Silva. Out in the parking lot, he offered me a ride, but I was good.

Godspeed, Ed.

W3D6 Quality time in the 34th Precinct

The plan today was dead simple: Hop on Ellie, ride 31 minutes to the farmers market, get some stuff, ride back. I certainly did not expect to be spending any quality time in the 34th Precinct Station (Washington Heights – Inwood). I should just stop now. The rest will be in next week’s installment. Just kidding.

First off, a tip: if you are riding around upper Manhattan or the Bronx, and there is a place with the word “fort” in it along your path, avoid that place. It is a hill. I know this from experience. Today I passed by the former sites of Fort Independence, Fort George, Fort Washington, Fort Lee, and Fort Tryon. All of them are on the tops of hills. As a matter of fact, I think I hit nearly all the hills around here.

The target farmers market was just 3.8 miles down Broadway. However, if you take the somewhat straighter route Google suggests (Google favors bike lanes and quieter parallel roads), it is only 3.5 miles. What you don’t see on the phone app is that it is a 210 foot rise to get to the market, and almost all of it comes in about a quarter mile section of Fort George Hill Road. Instead of taking you down St Nicholas Street, Google suggests you go down the quieter parallel street Wadsworth. Made sense to me. I had to avoid a spraying fire hydrant – they’re open all over the place in this heat. They have spray caps on them so the water squirts out in an arc about halfway across the street. I must’ve seen twenty today.

As I crossed 178th street headed toward 175th, I saw something lying in the street that looked like it might be a wallet. There was a car coming up quickly behind me, so I kept going. I got to the market and discovered that it was more flea market than farmers market. There was only one food vendor, and they had mainly produce, which does not transport well by bike. I turned around to head back.

I stopped back at 178th, saw that it was indeed a wallet, picked it up, checked Google for the closest police station and headed over to the 34th Precinct, though I have since discovered that 178th is actually in the 33rd Precinct (179th is the dividing line). I don’t think people turn in wallets very often, because it took them a while to get all the paperwork together. They knew who it belonged to in about 5 minutes, and if I’m not mistaken, judging by the snippets of conversation I heard, that person has a criminal record for cocaine. There were two other snippets I overheard (I was there for about 15 or 20 minutes, but I was enjoying the air conditioning, so I didn’t mind):

  • When a woman who was waiting for a cab (I don’t know why she had the police officer give the location of the station to the cab driver. Either did the officer. Afterward he asked her,”What was that for?”) asked if anyone had a lighter. No one did. One enterprising police officer joked as he looked at some stuff on the counter, “Hey, maybe the guy we just arrested has one!”
  • As several officers were looking at a video monitor of a tow truck impounding a car in the station lot, one said “If he touches my car, I’m gonna…”. No forget that one. It’s not in keeping with the family friendly tone of this blog.

On the way to the precinct, I noticed sign for a bike path headed toward the George Washington Bridge. One of my goals this summer was to ride over the bridge if I could, and today seemed like my best chance. I can’t imagine a reason I’d climb those hills again. But you never know. Here’s what I have to say about the GWB:

  • It is pretty long, about nine tenths of a mile.
  • The sidewalk is narrow – just enough for two bikes with riser handlebars, about the same width as the sidewalks on the Arrigoni Bridge (“Most Beautiful Steel Bridge”,1938).
  • There is a lot of pedestrian and bike traffic on the bridge. I probably passed thirty to forty cyclists.
  • Even though there was no traffic jam, biking is almost as fast as driving over the bridge, unless it is really empty
  • There’s not too much interesting on the Jersey side, at least in the direction I went. Ok, that’s not true, and would go against the spirit of this blog if it were. Some interesting things (I rode a mile or so north on the road next to the Palisades Parkway, were all the bikers seemed to be going. I turned around when I got to a sizable downhill because I didn’t want to have to climb back up it, not knowing what the trip home would entail):
    • You have to park your bike at a meter. It is not clear whether you have to pay.
    • There are a couple of places along the west side of the road where there are old stone lined ditches. I’m not sure how old. Not too, though. Maybe 30 years. Near one of them are two small, concrete statues that look like pagodas. I’m thinking this was someone’s front yard at one time. Update: I was close. It was the front of an office complex at one time. Right now, it is a level field of dirt. Here’s how it looked in April 2012. You can see the pagoda in the middle there.
    • There is a bike shop/cafe (Strictly Bicycles) with a ride up cafe window. Their seven layer bars are good. You can rent (rent) a bike there for a day for $200. Ellie cost $150. She is a rescue bike, and happy to have a (vacation) home (where the climate control is cooler than my room right now, and they play music for her all the time).

After that, I rode home.

W3D5 You could be anywhere. Why are you here?

There it was, written in white neon, right smack in front of me. “You could be anywhere. Why are you here?” I mean, I had to look across the garden and into the window wall up on the third floor in order to see it, and a couple of bars of the window frame were blocking some of it, but I swear that’s what it said. I’ve tried to confirm it, but the picture I took is blurry; Google street view was taken during daylight hours, so you can’t see in the windows; there are no interior photos of that space on the The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York website; and googling the phrase and the location (or even parts of it) yielded no results. Without going all the way back to see it, I can’t prove that’s what it said. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Now, that’s a weird sign to read,

  • especially when you are sitting in a community garden, listening to readings of horror stories sponsored by the Horror Writers Association, and there are only about a dozen people there
  • especially when you found the event quite by accident because of all the streets that pass between 11th and 10th avenue, you chose 52nd for some reason, and about three quarters of the way down the block you heard a person reading out loud, so you crossed the street and the threshold of the garden gate to see what it was
  • especially when the whole reason you are on 11th Avenue in the first place is because you went back to Ample Hills Creamery to get more ice cream on account of it was so good last time
  • especially when the reason you were even in that neighborhood at seven thirty at night is because you stayed after work for a couple hours, and the last site you were at was in Times Square
  • especially when the reason you were there was because the girls had gone, and it was quiet and air conditioned and you had good cell signal and plenty of power strips to plug your phone in
  • especially when you are glad you picked that spot because you need all those things for all the careful communication that had to happen to all the involved parties
  • especially when you are waiting for a call back from HQ about what steps to take next for a student in distress in her life outside GWC
  • especially when while you were waiting and the girls were still there, more than thirty years of programming experience allowed you to look at the scrambled output of a picture of Sponge Bob a girl was trying to filter and in ten seconds suggest a one character change to her code that fixed it, and there were high fives and jazz hands all around
  • especially when you walked into that building knowing that you were going to have to escalate the email you just got, and it was late in the day on Friday and you hoped someone would still be around, and they were.

And when you read a weird sign like that, you get to thinking that there aren’t too many people who could do what you just did (I hope it was the right thing), and that you and your team each were the right person in the right place, at the right time. Then, you know exactly why you are here.

What if we are all exactly the right person, in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time? What would you do differently?

Proof of the blurry picture. You can just make out the white neon in the gold windows, right under the tree branches.


Proof of the Horror Writers Association (less blurry):


W3D4 No title

I had to go without a title, because the best title would give away the end of the story.

I ended the day with Mark O’Donnell, who came down for a visit. It took us a long time to find a place for dinner. We sort of set the bar (at a bar) last year with our visit to Kimski, the Polish Korean fusion restaurant in Chicago. Standard pub fare was not going to cut it this year. We had planned to meet near midtown, where my last site of the day was, but the selection of interesting restaurants, once filtered by affordability, was very low. We decided to meet in Hell’s Kitchen hoping for better luck. Mark was waiting for me at a bar. We googled for restaurants, but didn’t find any that seemed worthy in the area. Mark had some extra cash value on his Metro card, so we headed down to Greenwich Village, thinking “we’ve got to be able to find something interesting there.”

We people- and performer-watched in Washington Park until we were good and hungry, then struck out to the south in search of victuals. We wandered up and down the streets in a six block area, noting places that we could come back to, but no place called us loud enough to go in. After about half an hour, we had all but given up, and headed back in search of places we had noted on the first pass. We went down a street, looked at a menu for a place I can’t find even with Google street view, thought, “This looks OK” and went in. It wasn’t long before we came back out – the music loud and not conducive to conversation, so we continued on, in search of the first place we had noticed.

We never found it. We were headed down “one last street”, when I spied a small restaurant on the other side of the road called “Cuba”. It looked good, and Mark hadn’t yet had Cuban food. We crossed over and checked the last hurdle on the menu outside – was it affordable? Yep.

After some wavering at whether to eat at the bar or eat at a table downstairs, we ended up downstairs in a tiny room whose ceiling opened to the bar and restaurant upstairs, which allowed us to hear the Cuban music and murmur of conversation upstairs, and made the room feel larger than it was. We had a truly excellent meal, complemented by my excellent mojito and Mark’s excellent Cuban rum. I’ll sum it up by saying that the first half of the meal had scant conversation other than Mark saying “Oh, man” after each bite of his masitas de cerdo. You might remember I did the same thing back in Week 0. I’d tell you more about the meal, but my time is limited today, and I want to relate one other memorable incident earlier in the day, one that so clearly highlighted the fact that I work with teenage girls.

It is robotics week for three of my classes. And while the Accenture class was busy making their robots dance and play music, the class at BlackRock had a special guest. Michael Jamet is an BLK employee with an interest in robots. He brought smart circuit boards with multicolor LEDs on them that looked something like this (I can’t for the life of me find the ones he actually brought):

When you plug them in for the first time, the LEDs light up in a series going up either side of the circle. First one, then two, then three LEDs on each side, creating a rainbow of color. When hers turned on Sarah’s voice rang out like a bell across the room, “Hey, now all we need is glow sticks and skimpy outfits!” (which was going to be the title of this post).