You Can Save This Rat, Or You Can Turn the Page

Oh, this is so perfect — the head of the MTA opposes a bill that would ban eating on the subways.  Here’s the link to the article in today’s New York Times: 

In case you hadn’t noticed, rats are running amok in the subways.  A Straphanger’s Report survey finds that riders have spotted rats in 1-out-of-every-10 subway stations.  Time-starved riders eat more on the subways.  Chicken-starved rats eat the leftovers. 

It’s a perfect storm of rodent renewal.  Think “Born Free,” Real New Yorkers style. 

The MTA Commish, Joe Llota, was once known as the “rat czar,” when he worked as Deputy Mayor under the “czar czar,” Rudy G.  Llota rolled up his sleeves and eradicated a severe rodent infestation problem.  But that was then and this is now.

With a bill in Albany that would ban all food eating on the subways, punishable by a $250 fine, Llota says, hey, that’s discriminatory against minorities and little kids eating their meager meals on the way to school. 

Hold the strychnine — maybe he’s onto something.  Maybe the explosion of the rat population in NYC subways is actually a defining, teachable moment.  Think of the possibilities:

  • Name That Rat: Create a citywide contest to name your station’s favorite rat.  This could help promote spelling accuracy, while teaching schoolchildren how to fill out an entry form — a skill that will help them all through life;
  • Stupid Rat Tricks: Straphangers waiting interminably for their train could teach their platform rats how to roll Snapple bottles, sit up and beg for BBQ chips, jump across the third rail — Letterman could send a camera down to tape the fun.  This teaches basic behavioral psychology, as it fosters a love of animals;
  • Rat Math: To keep school test scores up, kids could learn to count the fast multiplying rats in their station.  No calculators allowed, children!
  • Comfort Rats: Sweet-tempered rats could be specially trained to comfort the sick and poor huddled in our subway system.  Plump, cuddly ones could be petted, and nestle nicely next to the less fortunate.  Hey, they do it with dogs in hospitals, right? Who says we don’t take care of our own?
  • Savory Pies: do I need to spell it out? This is Home Ec — NYC-style!

So, yeah — right on, Joe Llota.  Why ban eating on the subways, which helps feed our rat friends?  But, we’d take his approach one step further.  Encourage the rat population to grow.  Make the last car of every train a “dining car” where people can eat their blueberry muffins, wings, chips, lo mein and more with reckless abandon.  And don’t throw out your leftovers — no, just drop it on the floor or out the window onto the tracks. 

Those little fellers gotta eat, after all.  They were born free.  They have a right to live free.

Right, Commissioner Llota?


Just Another NYC Nabe

I did it.  I returned to Park Slope, had a great meeting, and enjoyed an epiphany.  “The Old Neighborhood” was just another NYC nabe.  It did not have magical powers.  It could not hurt me.  It was there, available, for my use whenever I wanted it. 

Just like any other NYC Nabe.  Over time, it will continue to change and, as all Real New Yorkers know, this is the way of our City.  The burned out fruit store on Seventh is now a pet supply store.  The former Snooky’s space, after three or so failed restaurants, is now a big bageleria.  Aunt Suzie is kaputsky.  But, overall, meh.  It was a pretty day.  People were out walking.  Delivery trucks were double parked.  Just another day in Park Slope.

OK, it was pretty weird to see the skeleton of the Atlantic Center on Flatbush, arched like the dinosaur in the grand hall of the Museum of Natural History.  Sixth Avenue near the cop house is now a two-way street.  The entire area, though, is about the same.  Some very pretty blocks.  Lots of traffic congestion.

And lots of memories.  But those are transportable.  Those are on the mental hard drive and backed up in the Cloud.  They’re saved, stored, protected.  Park Slope will change and, in time, will have as much relevance to me as this view of Midtown East, as seen from the Queensboro Bridge.  I never would have imagined that the Tin Man would be implanted into the Lego-like big box apartments of this part of the City. 

I once worked there in that neighborhood, in the A&D building, 150 East 58th Street.  I knew every store on every block.  It was MY neighborhood.  Now?  WTF. It is totally foreign to me.  I don’t know it anymore.

So I had my meeting, re: publication of my upcoming collection of short stories, Home Front (or, will I change it to The Real New Yorkers, as my publishing expert friends advise?) drove around Park Slope, hopped on the Brooklyn Bridge, faded right to the fun, curvy ramp leading to the FDR North — as I had done so many times in my 25 years in Brooklyn.  Only now, instead of exiting at some point in Manhattan, I kept heading North, merging onto the Harlem River Drive. 

And, as I drove on, towards Dyckman Street, I felt good — great, in fact.  Why not?  I was almost back home.

What To See, What To Do?

This coming week, I am returning to my old hometown, Park Slope, to discuss the publication of my short story collection, Home Front. 

It will be my first visit to Park Slope since, let’s see, December 2010 — and that was a quick pass-through, as I returned a U-Haul truck on that snowy Christmas Day after helping move my son to his new home, in North Brooklyn.

It feels strange.  I still consider myself “untimely ripped” from the comfort zone of my 25-year life in Brooklyn — although I suppose it’s ridiculous to think that way after living in one place for a quarter century.

Yet, on the other hand, and as regular readers of The Real New Yorkers  know, the move from Brooklyn was not without trauma.  Lots of ambivalence there.  First, plainly, baldly, I no longer fit in.  The neighborhood was a fast-changing neighborhood: it went from cozy, cultural, post hippie-ish haven, to an uber-affluent, very young, transient, tourist destination in the blink of a BMW.

Second: jeez, after 25 years, enough was enough.  Time for new horizons, right?

And yet.  This was where my marriage really took root.  This is where I raised my son, and where my family developed deep affiliations at school, temple, 78th Pct. Little League.  I was the mayor of Park Slope.  We walked the streets, roamed every corner of the Park, did the stop-‘n’-chat with myriad neighbors.  The connective tissue grew stronger by the year.  It’s called “making a life.”

Then, bam, we were empty nesters. Bam, we felt out-of-place.  Bam, we visited and fell in love with a new area of New York.  We pulled the trigger, did the move, and it all worked out.

On paper.

In our hearts, we miss Brooklyn.  Actually?  Truth be told?  I guess what we really miss is “who-we-were-and-what-we-did-when-we-were-younger-and-lived-in-Brooklyn.”  Because we moved on.  We’re not those people anymore.  And Brooklyn moved on, too.  Brooklyn is not the same as it was, even as recently as 2010, when we moved that scorching summer — the hottest summer in the city’s history, as Real New Yorkers know.  The summer my son returned from a year-long, after college, stint in Montana helping the underprivileged, to plan his life and, ultimately, move out on his own, back to Brooklyn. 

And it was the summer my trusty dog of nearly 12 years died, mere weeks before our move.  No, he never made it to the new place.  He would have loved Van Cortlandt Park, and the wooded areas near the Hudson River, just as much, if not more, than the Great Meadow and the Nethermead and the little back paths that criss-crossed Prospect Park.  But the life of a dog is painfully compressed, and we are left to survive, and remember.

We remember, alright.  It’s all so wistful, bittersweet.  And, as I write this post, I realize why I am listening over-and-over these days to the wonderful rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s For the Good Times, by Norah Jones’ The Little Willies.  It’s over, she sings, but let’s not fixate on the burning of the bridges. Let’s just lie here, now, together.

And so, next week I will end my self-imposed exile, “lay my head” on Park Slope’s “pillow,” and savor whatever is left of “the good times.” 

After my meeting on Garfield, I’ll visit 826nyc, where every Thursday I was a volunteer tutor for little kids, from the very first day it opened, in 2004, and see if any of the people I knew are still there.  I bet not.

I’ll pass by the Park, for sure, and revisit the little corner of the meadow where my dog, Gengy, and I played “stick,” day after day, year after year, in summer’s heat and winter’s cold, for he was a Boxer, and Boxer’s must run every day, and hard.

I’ll pass by Berkeley Carroll and see an entirely new cast of kids wreacking havoc and acting “cool.”  We were never poor, for sure, but these kids, I bet, come from real privilege and are probably loaded with the sense of entitlement we came to abhor in our newer Park Slope neighbors.

I think I’ll pass by Beth Elohim and then visit the guys at the Middle Eastern food place on Seventh Avenue.  I’ll pick up some Turkish pistachios and dried apricots.  I remember how after 9/11, with the neighborhood still smelling like a crematorium from the smoldering ruins just across the river, I boycotted them.  Not with placards.  But I just couldn’t, wouldn’t, go there — and it lasted for two years, no three, until I crawled back the summer I crushed my shoulder in a bike accident and they helped me hold the little plastic bags as I filled them with whole wheat cous cous, lentils, and dried oregano.

Aunt Suzie’s Italian restaurant went out of business, I read.  And Tempo, the “grown-up” restaurant and a leader of the charge to revitalize the formerly hardscrabble Fifth Avenue, is long gone, replaced by what?  A kid-friendly, overpriced pizza joint, I think I heard.

I suppose I’ll have to pass by my old apartment house.  Ugh.  That will be tough. I know my stomach will flip when I get there.  Who will I see?  Is the same super there?  The same doorman?  Will I see any of the neighbors that I adored?  Despised?  And, if I do, will they have time for a stop-‘n’-chat, or will they merely nod, smile thinly and walk on, continuing with their lives?

As I must, as well.