Monday, September 1, 2014

A Mute Witness to Human Horribleness

One century ago, the last passenger pigeon on Earth died in captivity. When Europeans reached these shores, flocks of the birds darkened the skies- sixty years before the last of the birds expired, an individual described the vast numbers of birds as they migrated:

`There would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.'

Sixty years later, the last one died quietly in a zoo. Despite the vast numbers of birds, each female laid one egg a year, making population replenishment virtually impossible once the wholesale slaughter began.

As with the extinct thylacine (by the way, everybody should buy and read Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by my friends Margaret and Michael), there are efforts underway to clone passenger pigeons in a "de-extinction" effort. I'm on the record as saying that "de-extinction" wouldn't bring these animals back, but would bring into being simulacra... and such simulacra would probably be housed in captivity, rather than being viable species with sustainable wild populations. We need to try to keep what we have, rather than to bring back what we've killed off. A guilty conscience is not the best arbiter of policy. Besides, why would we bring "back" a species into a rapidly changing world in which it may very well go extinct again? The loss of the passenger pigeon is one of Homo sapiens big screwups, but it doesn't hold a candle to the extermination of numerous indigenous societies that accompanied the kill-off of the birds. Sometimes, it's better just to admit that our forebears did some monstrous things and to work to prevent further monstrosities.

Since this is Labor Day and I need to get a little bit of politics into the mix, I'd have to note that the unions are in danger of going the way of the passenger pigeon, and we'd better start fighting back against the anti-union forces. Lately, the local "all-news-except-when-the-Yankees-are-playing" station has been running anti-teachers' union ads from the Center for Union Facts (if that name doesn't raise a huge red flag, you're not paying attention). They have a lot of nerve running these ads around Labor Day, but these sort of mendacious shitbags are shameless.

Hope I didn't bring anyone down on their day off, but if I did, then I just have to say that you should have gone to the beach in the first place.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Just after 1AM, when I was driving home from work, I saw brake lights lighting up on the highway ahead of me. Just beyond the exit that I take to the road which brings me home, I saw two NY State troopers stopped side-by-side on the highway as if they were getting ready for a drag race. I realized that they were blocking the road for the presidential motorcade, the President having attended the wedding of his longtime friend and personal chef. Besides being President Obama's personal chef, the newly married Sam Kass is also the nation's second biggest arugula pusher:

Besides preparing the family's meals most weeknights, Kass is also a senior nutrition policy adviser and executive director of the first lady's anti-childhood obesity initiative.

Can't you just taste the peppery, delightfully bitter liberal fascism from where you're sitting?

I had to sit in traffic for about five seconds before I was able to exit the highway. How dare the Kenyan Usurper engage in a normal activity such as attending a friend's wedding... and what sort of fancy-pants elitist is so friendly with the help? Aren't those people supposed to enter through the side door and keep their eyes averted while serving their betters? Sheesh, what a tyrant.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Patina of Melancholy

Today was the first day of our surprisingly popular end-of-summer fundraiser. We had about 1,300 people descend on the site for a variety of activities- games, live musical performances, and a beer tent. It's a nice family atmosphere, with a lot of little kids running all over the grounds. It's also a good dry-run for our major fall fundraisers... staff members from all of our various sites converge on my primary workplace and a bunch of our fall contract players and temporary workers return to the site after a long hiatus.

Hanging over the normally joyous proceedings was a patina of melancholy, as word got out about a co-worker's near-fatal car accident. Details are slowly beginning to emerge- our director of Human Resources was able to ascertain which hospital our friend is in, and was able to visit her in the trauma unit, where she lies cocooned in bandages and hooked up to a machine. The manager who informed me of the situation in the first place was also able to visit her. The young woman is an only child, so it's been difficult for a bunch of non-relatives to visit and impossible to learn about her conditions (the privacy laws are rightfully draconian). When I got to work as the event was winding down (I'm the night-man), longtime co-workers would take a brief moment during a lull in the action to mouth a quick question or offer a vague update about our friend.

As I mentioned, the event is normally an occasion for mirth. One of the musicians playing the event is friend that I have known since the days I had a big blond 'fro. Three of our long-time contract entertainers are individuals that I am particularly fond of (the sweet NPR nerd, the moon-faced comedienne, and the flame-haired snarkslinger- for the record). I know all of the temps, and have even been involved in zany misadventures with some of them. Even the guy who comes across as Santa Claus' jollier brother was subdued. Everybody went through their paces with the usual aplomb, but there was just the merest patina of melancholy, which I doubt the visitors were able to pick up on.

When the event ended and everybody could drop the brave facade, the topic of the conversation turned to our friend. We filled in co-workers who hadn't heard the news (nobody knew before yesterday afternoon) and those who knew more details told what they knew. The number of hushed conversations would have led a distant observer to think that we were hatching a conspiracy. Tomorrow, the manager who had initially enlisted my aid will be working the event (she sent me a half-dozen text messages over the course of today), so I will be able to provide a sympathetic ear and a supportive shoulder.

Here's a melancholy number from our stricken friend's favorite band:

We'll get through this weekend's event, and few, if any, of our visitors will be aware that there's a sadness weighing on our minds. We'll get through, we always do.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bad Before It Began

The phone call came in at 3:46PM. Having worked the night-shift, I was half-asleep when the phone rang. My usual routine is to sleep from 5AM to 10AM, wake up so I can listen to the news on the radio so as to maintain some semblance of a grip on the outside world, then take a short nap in the afternoon before getting ready for work.

One of the managers on the job was on the line... one of her underlings hadn't shown up for work in two days. This young woman is very conscientious, and has been on the payroll for almost five years. She's not the type to blow off work. The manager told me that she and our chief operating officer had both called the young woman several times, with no answer, and a follow-up phone call to her emergency contact, her mother, had also been unsuccessful. Needless to say, the manager, who is a very caring, empathetic woman, was distraught. She asked me if I would accompany her to our missing comrade's apartment building to check up on the situation.

It's no secret on the job that I used to investigate questionable insurance claims back in the '90s and worked as a Census enumerator in 2010, and had a knack for "canvassing" a neighborhood for information about the whereabouts of an individual. I assured the manager that we'd follow a procedure which almost always worked for me- after trying the apartment, we'd contact the building superintendent and, if that were unsuccessful, we'd ask her neighbors if they'd seen her. If we'd exhausted those options, we'd look for her car in the vicinity and then inform the police that our co-worker was missing.

Before hanging up, I asked the manager if they had explored all of the avenues of inquiry that could be pursued in the office. The I.T. guys had checked her e-mail account to see if she had requested days off, nothing out of the ordinary there. I opined that, before heading out into the field, it's important to follow all of the leads one can, gain all of the information that could be gleaned. I asked her to double check the full range of procedures that they'd gone over with the head office, and told her I'd shower up and head out.

While I was performing my ablutions, the manager checked the missing employee's Facebook page, and checked out the various contacts. Sure enough, she discovered that our friend and co-worker, with her mother, had been involved in a serious car accident, and that the two of them were in critical condition in a hospital in New York City. I had two text messages waiting for me as soon as I got out of the shower, telling me that there was no need for shoe-leather work.

Needless to say, today has been a bad, bad day on the job... it was bad five hours before it began.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hadn't Heard This in Years

Yesterday, the awesome "Ten at Ten" feature (ten great songs from one great year) offered every weekday by the great local commercial radio station featured the year 1982. One of the "songs" featured in the playlist was David Johansen's awesome medly of "Animals" tunes from his live album, "Live it Up". Being a child of the radio, living in a home where we went long stretches without a television, I never even considered that there was a video of this great 3-fer:

Funny, in my entire "blogspan", I only mentioned Mr Johansen's band, The New York Dolls, in one post. Needless to say, I am a big "Dolls" fan. David Johansen eventually reinvented himself as the inexplicably popular (indeed, ubiquitous) lounge-lizard Buster Poindexter. Funny how an extended joke managed to become a genuine hit... didn't anybody realize that it was a piss-take? Anyway, the video I embedded remains an interesting relic of Mr Johansen's musical trajectory from his glam days to his novelty dance-pop days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Git and the Pendulum

The big local news story is the letter written by Ed Mullins, the head of the NYPD Sergeants' Benevolent Association, wrote urging the DNC to not hold their 2016 convention in New York City, specifically downtown Brooklyn's Barclays Center. Mullins' letter is a masterpiece of dog-whistling and innuendo, invoking the "bad old days of high crime", and the return of "squeegee men" to the highway exits of the city.

Mullins letter opens up with a doozy of a paragraph:

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the Democratic National Committee to designate the beautiful Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn as the site of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. But while the Barclays Center is still new and glistening, the great city in which it stands is lurching backwards to the bad old days of high crime, danger-infested public spaces, and families that walk our streets worried for their safety.

I doubt Mullins is referring to the families of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham.

Mullins then engages in a little bit of, as Roy would put it, "Ooga Booga" by hinting at an éminence grise noire acting behind the scenes in the DeBlasio administration:

But it is not just that we have fewer officers patrolling the streets. The Mayor has provided a public platform to the loudest of the city’s anti-safety agitators, instead of giving voice to the millions of New Yorkers who want to live and work in safety. Why would he kowtow to demagogues who push a political agenda? Does he really believe people in the city care more about politics than quality of life?

Today, Mullins appeared on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show, with predictably disastrous results. The entire segment is a train wreck, with Mullins bringing up the 1987 Tawana Brawley scandal. He continually comments that the "pendulum" is swinging back toward the "bad old days" depicted in this documentary:

Mullins gives the whole game away, though, when asked if the DNC has responded to him:

"No and I don't think they will reply... What many people seem to not realize is that New York is a Democrat state and their real value is not in New York."

Democrat state? Mullins seems to forget he's not talking to Boss Limbaugh. As an added bonus, Mr Mullins characterizes the protestors arrested during the 2004 Republican convention as criminals, rather than the victims they were. Listen to the interview, Mullins is a git, and he can shove his "pendulum" where the sun doesn't shine.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Running Errands Buzzed

The best thing about living in a neighborhood with a vibrant commercial district is that you can walk to just about any store to buy the necessities. Today being my day off, the only blessed thing I had to do all day was buy, as the owner of the hardware store put it, a flapper for my crapper. Today being my day off, after I took a lunchtime "constitutional", I poured myself a nice, fat fake gin and tonic when I got home. Remembering my plumbing errand, I headed out while I still had a decent buzz on.

My first stop was the bank, where I took out some cashola so I could make my necessary purchase, and other purchases that would be necessary later in the week. I crossed the main commercial street and stopped in the local butcher shop to see if they had any Cornish pasties- I settled for a Scotch egg, and got a house-made black pudding for later in the week. As an aside, the children of the butcher shop proprietor are so good-looking that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that half of the customers are vegetarians. Funny, I am now picturing lovelorn high schoolers saving their pennies so they can buy pork chops for the family, just so they could chat up the counter help. After making these purchases, I headed to the bakery to buy a sfogliatelle and a lemon ice to go. I then re-crossed the street to hit the pizzeria for a finger-sized pepperoni twist and a broccoli twist. As I was waiting for these diminutive snacks to come out of the oven, enjoying my lemon ice, I looked out the window, right at the hardware store. Holy friggin' mission creep! I had gotten totally distracted in my buzzed state.

I had to re-cross the avenue to get to the hardware store, where the proprietor (who was smoking a cigarette indoors- you'd never see that at a big chain) made the "flapper for the crapper" joke and led me, like Aeneas led Dante, to the plumbing section.

When I got home, I debated whether or not I should mix another drink, but I decided that I really shouldn't "plumb" while buzzed. It took all of thirty seconds to replace the flapper... then I washed my hands and fixed myself another stiff drink. While I was reluctant to work while buzzed, I figure I could always post while buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz