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Monthly Archives: April 2015

Summer Is Coming

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So a somewhat tenuous job situation has resolved itself, and so for the past two days I’ve been in a total orgy of planning ahead for fun things to do (weekend in the Adirondacks!  Day trip to Storm King! a pilgrimage to Howe Caverns!  a writing class and a day hike on the Hudson!).

And ironically this is all happening right when all the free events will be starting up anyway.

Five years ago, when I was having a broke-as-hell summer, I discovered that when it comes to free entertainment, New York City rules. I’d known about the Summerstage free concerts in Central Park and the free movies in Bryant Park every year, but that barely scratches the surface – there’s also the free concert series in Brooklyn, then the other free concert series in Brooklyn, then the other other free concert series in Brooklyn.  There are free movies in Brooklyn Bridge Park, in the neighborhood of Red Hook, in Williamsburg, two series in Hudson River Park (one series for adults, one for kids), and even movies at a Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood that uses solar power and projects the movies onto the solar panels on Sunday nights.

Thanks to all of this I have seen some amazing acts for totally free.  One year I went to a gala tribute to someone whom I don’t even remember – because all I do remember is that Lou Reed came out as one of the acts as a surprise.  And then there was the all-star tribute to Bill Withers, who also made a surprise appearance towards the end, making jokes about his kids and leading everyone in a rendition of “Lovely Day“.  I rounded up a bunch of friends to see Dr. John and got so into it that during “Such A Night” I pulled one of my oldest friends up onto his feet to dance with me.  During the gig with The Waterboys a ceili broke out 20 feet away from me during “Fisherman’s Blues” and I got up to join them, nearly tripping some poor guy when I jigged onto his feet (he forgave me).  I gave up my good seats during a B-52s concert because the people around me were just sitting there, and 20 feet behind me was a whole group of college kids dancing maniacally, and I ran back to join them during “Private Idaho“, singing along and dancing with some girl I’ve never seen before in my life and never saw again.  The first time I heard Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” in my life was hearing Glen Hansard singing it somewhere in Prospect Park, backed up by an entire horn section and his opening act in something that turned it into a mind-meld of Dixieland Jazz and folk.

Totally free, all of it.

So much goes down that I got a whole write-on wipe-off calendar that I could keep by the door and use it to record all the everything happening, just so I’d remember.  I may actually have to get a bigger one this year to include all of the free stuff in the parks that I somehow only thought to look up this year (canoe trips! Hiking!  Guided tours! Camping!). And in a few short weeks one of my absolute favorite spots in the city will open back up again.

I never quite shed the whole summer-vacation vibe after graduating from school; at least New York gives me a reason to hang on to that zest.


Hyacinths To Feed Thy Soul

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I grew up in New England, and was raised by New Englanders.  And on top of that, one of my grandmothers was herself the daughter of immigrants, and the other was the grand-daughter of immigrants.

All of which means, I have more money issues than a subscription to Forbes.

It takes a lot for me to spend money on myself.  I darn holes in socks I bought for only two dollars; I’m likely to go months without a haircut simply because of how much haircuts cost; and a lot of times I see something pretty that I would like, but then at the last minute I walk away from it, because “oh, it’s just so much money and I should save it.”

I’m working on that, though.  You know how if someone’s on a diet and they’re being too obsessive about it, where they eat nothing but salad for a solid week, but then something snaps and they eat an entire cheesecake and a bag of Doritos and top it off with a huge banana split or something?  I used to do that with money – I’ll starve myself of treats for so long that when I finally decided I should buy something, I’d go a little nuts and get into a kind of accumulating-things fugue state where I’d buy eight books instead of just one, or I’d go clothes shopping get the two shirts I really liked and then another three I sort of liked “just in case” or something.  And then I’d be right back to the self-deprivation because “holy crap I just bought six shirts and I’m not even really going to wear one of them” or whatever.

The past few years have made my money anxiety even worse.  My employment record has been…unconventional, and the past few years’ recession had me on something of a roller coaster, with a lot of temp jobs which would wind down after only a year or so, sending me back to being unemployed for a few weeks and thinking I had to pare down to a budget of ramen noodles and then suddenly getting more work, and then that term ending a year later and making myself pare down to wearing sackcloth and then I’d suddenly get more work, and…


And the past couple weeks, it was looking like the position I’m in now was gonna vanish on me again. Before my roommate Paul left town for the weekend, I joked to him that I was probably going to spend the weekend “in the fetal position in my room, afraid to spend money.”  Paul just rolled his eyes at that and left.

But then I thought a bit about whether I was really going to do that.

The week before that, I’d had a, er, gentleman caller, and he’d brought flowers.  They were just a couple of gerbera daisies, but it was sweet, and I’d tucked them into a couple of old soda bottles I use as bud vases and scattered them around the apartment.  One of them had hung in for the week, and had a pride of place on one of my bedroom bookshelves.  I was cleaning the other two bottles out on Saturday – and washing off a bunch of other vases in the process – and thought a bit about how my mood had lifted just a tiny bit each time I saw it sitting there.  And not even just because of the gentleman himself (although, okay, maybe that was part of it), but because…they were flowers and they were pretty.  And they weren’t even fancy flowers – it was just a cheap two-dollar gerbera that he could have gotten from a corner deli, but I still smiled just a tiny bit every time I saw it.

And that’s when I decided that instead of curling in the fetal position in my room, I was going to get defiant.  Smart, but defiant.

I picked a dollar amount that felt large enough to feel like a splurge, but still small enough to feel like I could afford to spend it, and on Sunday I took that much cash out of my savings and bought a grand new tablecloth, a small platter that matched it, and a couple sample-size versions of luxury body lotions; and with the remaining $20 worth of my own deli flowers, a big armful of snapdragons and daffodils and some other white waxflower-looking things, and some blue things that looked like cheerleader pompoms.  And then I went home, spread out the fancy new cloth and gathered all the vases and made six or seven different arrangements, enough to tuck into every room of my apartment – snapdragons on the kitchen table, tall stands of snapdragon and waxflower on the bar stand, daffodils and blue pompoms on the toilet tank and a small bouquet by my bed.  And after I set all that around the house, I took a deep breath and looked; I was still in a bit of a tense place, but the money I’d spent wouldn’t break me, and there was now beauty everywhere in the house and it was just that much more that could keep me hanging in and calm.


…And then my money situation resolved for the better today, but still.

Neighborhoods New York – Fort Tilden

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Okay, technically Fort Tilden isn’t a neighborhood as such.  At least, it’s not one any more.

New York Harbor is dotted with a lot of places like this – former military bases, built in one war or another, and long since decommissioned and left to whatever fate held for it.  In most cases fate ordained they be swallowed up by a huge national recreation area that straddles two different states and three distinct land masses.  And what this means is that if I don’t mind a bit of crumbling fortress in my nature, I’m just a subway or bus ride away from wilderness.  Or, in Fort Tilden’s case, from the beach.

You actually see some of the old barrack buildings first – former meeting houses, storage sheds, a chapel.  Old parade grounds are turned into Little League ball fields and soccer pitches.  I followed the main road past them all, passing a corner of the grounds given over to a public garden; I saw about four or five couples in the garden when I was there, each tackling the initial cleanup and tilling of their little plots.

A few dozen yards beyond that, the path turned pedestrian-only and got a little wilder, winding through thick brush on either side.  I could hear the ocean tantalizingly off to the south, just through the trees – but there were huge chain link fences thrown up, dotted here and there with signs warning that I was passing through a Protected Wilderness Area.  A couple of smaller paths veered off into the woods still – some leading to old sheds with tumbled-in roofs; I peered into a couple, but there was nothing in them but extensive galleries of graffiti and some old soda bottles.  Kids’ places – the kind of spots that younger teenagers find out about by word of mouth, party spots out of the eyes of grownups or forts.  Out of respect I left them be instead of going inside.

The path finally came to what looked like a huge cement hatchway leading directly into a hill – it was the old casemate for a cannon that once stood guard over the dunes.  A set of stairs lead up the hill to a viewing tower on top, but I ventured inside the casemate instead.  The tunnel stretched clean through to the opposite side of the hill, with two other corridors leading off to the left and right and also open to the light themselves.  There was much more graffiti, and some broken beer bottles amid the soda bottles.  Along the corridors were some very dim rooms; I tried using my cell phone as a flashlight, but it wasn’t strong enough, and I thought about coming again with a proper flashlight.  Then in the very next second I thought of about twelve different horror movies where someone blunders into a dark room with a flashlight and disturbs The Eldritch Horror That Hates The Sun And Eats Them In Punishment.

Maybe not.

Opposite the casemate was a smaller path heading south, and hopefully to the beach.  I started that way – and got no more than 20 feet along when a little boy in a Gilligan hat rounded the corner and skipped towards me.  “That way’s the path to the beach!” he told me, skipping past.

“….Thank you,” I said, blinking.  Nice to have confirmation.

The path didn’t quite go directly to the beach – it wound through the brush and scrub along a huge dune first, curling over hills and through grasses, and dipping down to a pond at one point.  But finally it crested the dune, and I slogged over soft sand between brush until I was dumped out onto the beach proper.

…I grew up in New England, but the beach I knew growing up was on a bay, where there was always some kind of island or distant shore ahead when you looked out to sea.  My parents also live in the inside of Cape Cod Bay now.  So it was a small shock to look out over the water at Rockaway Beach and see….nothing.  Open ocean stretching ahead, and nothing but.

I head west along the beach.  It was nearly deserted ; only a few joggers and bikers, pairs of guys standing at the waters’ edge with fishing poles and beers as their girlfriends huddled behind makeshift windblocks further inland.   I passed the wreckage of a boat, something I assumed was left over from Hurricane Sandy; most of its structure had long since been picked over for scrap, but the toilet was still there, lying on its side next to what looked like a scrap of linoleum flooring.  The part of the hull which would have borne its name had been long since broken off or spraypainted over.  Further down the beach was a ruin that looked like another, smaller casemate – a huge round cement platform, and a short tunnel behind it.  One mouth of the tunnel had been covered in bright green spirals of graffiti that reminded me of the cave art at Newgrange.

A huge building perched on jetties lay beyond that.  I thought it was another military building, but as I got closer it looked more like an old motel; except the rooms were impossibly small.  And some had tattered flags still draped over each doorway.  I ducked under the jetty supporting it – only to see another, and peering underneath I saw yet another beyond that.  And further up the dune between them, a fenced-off pool and thatch-roofed shed.  It was the Silver Gull Beach Club, closed and waiting for summer and looking so desolate that even though the paint on the waterslides was still bright and spotless, I thought it had been shut for good.

I ducked under all the cabana buildings and kept walking.  There were a lot more shore birds on this part of the beach – flocks of gulls and the occasional tern, some of them trying to crack clams in the waves, but most just standing on the beach, briefly taking flight as I passed by. But the Oystercatchers were new on me.  They were funny little sandpipery things, with black backs and long bright red beaks, either digging at the waters’ edge or sitting in pairs further back from the waves.  They were a lot shyer than the gulls; some pairs would be outright spooked as I walked past, warning each other away from me with whistling calls that sounded almost like spring peeper frogs.  Other pairs were much more low key, and would simply stand up from where they were squatting in the sand, walk about ten feet inland as I passed and then sit right back down again.

The shells were a lot more stationary – the usual line of shells strewn down the beach, washed there by the tide.  But what was a surprise was the size of them; I’m used to scallop shells and mussels and quahogs just a couple inches long, just big enough to fit in the dimple of the palm of your hand.  But these were the biggest quahog shells I’d ever seen – each one about the size of a baked potato.  Much too big for the hungry gulls to have caught them, I guessed – there must have been some storm that churned everything up and hurled them all on to shore, cracking them open and turning the beach into a seafood buffet table.  I even saw a big horseshoe crab.  I picked up first one quahog shell, then another, captivated by their size and thinking I surely could find something to do with them – use them to hold pocket change, maybe, or paper clips or something. But after picking up five in the space of only three minutes I warned myself to hold out for shells that were especially big or colorful.

And I still collected eight.  Plus a shark eye moon snail, lying way inland underneath the cabanas.  I was reverting to the kind of beachcombing I did as a kid on Cape Cod, going full-on magpie and dragging home all sorts of pretty things without any idea what exactly I would be doing with them or whether they were fit to take home.

After a couple hours I turned back, my pack loaded with shells, stopping to climb up to the observation deck at the casemate.  To the north was the city – huge skyscrapers, a couple bridges, a subway snaking across one.  And to the south – the scrub and dunes giving way to open ocean. And almost no people.    It’s a beach view I like best – wind taking the edge off the sun, no people, nothing but me and the open water.  I just stood and drank it in for a long while before heading back.


Can’t Brain Today

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It was a good weekend – full of a lot of productivity and accomplishment and adventure – which came after a day of extreme hyper-productivity at work on Friday.

But today I’m just plain flat-out dim.  I’ve opened my mouth to speak and forgotten what I was going to say, I’ve forgotten names, I’ve called someone by the wrong name twice, I’ve lost emails that someone sent me within the space of a single hour, and am just basically acting like I’ve been beaten over the head or been sniffing nitrous oxide or something.

I can only assume that I used up all my Think Potency over the past 72 hours and just need to recharge.

Just Call Me Ms. Neeson

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I’ve been laying low in here due to some day job issues – nothing bad, just something I need to focus on.

However, something else happened at work today – an unrelated thing – that let me draw on a very unique skillset.  Without getting into the particulars, I got into work this morning and found an email asking me to start work on a specific set of tasks – and that I would need to have them complete by Monday.

This was the first I’d heard of the need to do these tasks.

And these tasks usually take a week.

But I have a secret weapon: I was a stage manager for ten years.  And solving problems on the fly and on short notice is precisely what stage managers are for – I have diagnosed an injury and prescribed first aid with a single glance from across a theater, I have created an all-new sound effect with only two minutes’ warning, I have re-designed the lights for a show while the show was still going on when some fuses blew.  I even once joined a dance routine in process on a stage because that was the best way for me to unobtrusively make my way over to an injured performer and carry her back off to the wings.

And when I saw that email, after the two minutes’ panic, I felt that familiar “click” in my brain and I slipped into Stage Manager Mode – and the series of tasks I had to have complete by Monday and which usually take a week were done within only four hours.

….I still got it.


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So I had this wonderful epiphany happen on Sunday, but because I think it’s something that would make for a great travel piece I wanted to write about it privately.  Except I’m at the very early “everything I write sounds like crap” phase now so I keep wanting to throw up my hands and give up.  And the fact that I’ve apparently got a cold isn’t helping.


Whenever I’m in this state I always think of a little throwaway scene from the film Misery, in a scene when James Caan’s character is finally well enough to be sitting at a desk and writing.  He’s just been given his “write me another book” ultimatum by a nut-ball Kathy Bates; he doesn’t know how much of a nutball she is just yet, but still isn’t looking forward to this.

The scene starts with him sitting at a table, morosely looking at the typewriter.  After a moment, he furiously types something for about ten seconds, then stops.  After a moment, the camera pans to show you what he typed:


He stares at the paper a moment longer, then sighs, rips it out of the typewriter, wads it up and throws it away, then rolls in a fresh sheet and gets to work.

That is exactly how I always feel when I start something.

Living Under A Damn ROCK

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So this weekend, through the fabulous Brooklyn Brainery, I’m already signed up for a guided walking tour of a far-flung park at the ass end of Brooklyn.  And I got curious – what other free stuff might there be lurking in the parks this month?  So I got on New York’s parks department web site and did a search for free events in Brooklyn.


There were 35 pages of nature walks and guided canoe trips and historic house tours and lectures and food truck festivals and I spent a good five minutes scribbling down things on my calendar like a madwoman, and why the hell hadn’t I been looking into this kind of stuff before?

I’m deciding to be glad that this is a sign I’m getting off my ass more rather than kicking myself for not having done sooner.  Let’s all just pretend that whatever holing-up I was doing, I needed to do it.