NYC: July 2005 Archives

Eastern Fence Lizard, Northern fence subspecies

I think it was one of his relatives.

I don't know when a modest garden of pots on a low Manhattan roof qualifies as a natural wilderness, but I'm thinking that ours must be getting pretty close. We've watched birds of all kinds visiting the scene for water, berries, grubs or house-building materials, and one parakeet decided to come in out of the cold and stay. I've also collected and resettled a few snails in the last couple of years, but today I spotted a tiny lizard on the wall above the pots. Its body couldn't have been more than an inch long, excluding its tail, and because of its size and line-markings I thought at first that it was some kind of centipede or water bug. I just don't think of lizards as being big on New York real estate.

I didn't get a picture while I stood out there with my hose. I guess I couldn't quite believe what I saw, or maybe I couldn't imagine it was an unusual sighting. I still don't know if it was: Try Googling "New York City" and "lizards," and you'll see what I mean. Also, the critter was so small and well-camouflaged on the brown-grey stucco wall that I doubt it would have shown up at all even if I had my camera with me.

If he stays around I'll try to do better next time, but I don't want to frighten him away.

[image from eNature]

untitled (rose scallops) 2005

. . . there were these communities.

I'm very fond of shellfish, and my taste in art and food, especially food preparation, includes a powerful strain of minimalism. I spotted this gorgeous cache of shellfish at the Union Square Greenmarket this afternoon. Our plans for the evening precluded my bringing any home today, but at least I was able to take away the memory, the pleasure and this captured image.

The suppliers of this happy bounty were the smiling people of Pura Vida Fisheries, from Hampton Bays, Long Island.

I'm going back next Friday.

not so simple now, even for white guys, but maybe it never was

UPDATE: I received a very constructive comment on my last post, "bag the entrance searches, we need exits!", from Matt of the "Flex your Rights Foundation," and I thought it would be extremely useful as a post of its own.

Go here for The Citizen's Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches. The site includes an excellent introduction to its practical advice on how to "safely and intelligently 'flex' your rights":

In response to the recent London terror attacks, New York police officers are now conducting random searches of bags and packages brought into the subway.

While Flex Your Rights takes no position on the usefulness of these searches for preventing future attacks, we have serious concerns that this unprecedented territorial expansion of police search powers is doing grave damage to people's understanding of their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In addition, as innocent citizens become increasingly accustomed to being searched by the police, politicians and police agencies are empowered to further expand the number of places where all are considered guilty until proven innocent.

Fortunately, this trend is neither inevitable nor irreversible. In fact, the high-profile public nature of these random subway searches provides freedom-loving citizens with easy and low-risk opportunities to "flex" their Fourth Amendment rights by refusing to be searched.

The site includes a handy guide-flyer which can be downloaded and printed for giving out to friends and strangers, dressing up a refrigerator or carrying in your . . . er, . . . bag.

[image of Norman Rockwell's 1958 "The Runaway" from the artchive]

the wrong kind of crowd control

It's a good thing it was Penn Station, because virtually none of New York's Transit system stations could be evacuated for either a real or a false alarm.

Chief Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg's new policy of passenger searches absolutely will not prevent a terrorist hit in our subway system. A real terrorist will just take another train or set off a weapon on the spot. But if something does happen tomorrow, any survivors of an initial attack are likely already doomed by today's official negligence.

They'll never get out.

Sometimes there are a few regular low-bar turnstiles at a station, but most of the time passengers have to exit through ceiling-to-floor turnstile cages which admit only one person at a time. In addition, even though there are often a number of exit stairways in each station, during many hours of the day (or permanently) all but one of them is locked, even those which can only be used as exits!

There's no chance a number of cars and a platform could be emptied in anyone's definition of a hurry. Up to 2000 people may be on a single train, and many more might be on the platform, waiting or leaving, at the same time. Most everyone will have to pass through cages one at a time. I sounds to me like this could easily take a half hour or more.

In addition, it won't help any of us to survive if the system's emergency lighting is still connected to the third rail, as it is now. When train power is cut for whatever reason there is no light anywhere in the tunnels.

Looking to the near future, the MTA is still proceding with plans to eliminate clerks in the stations, conductors in the cars, and even motormen at the stick. Where is the sanity?

Our politicians and public guardians hope to give us the impression that they are making us all safer with unconstitutional searches. Certainly they know the policy is wrong and useless, so why are they not addressing a very real danger but jumping at the chance to push this obviously bogus remedy? I think it's because sending the police in to go through the bags of people of color is much less trouble, much less expensive, and, above all, much less like an embarrassing admission of continuing incompetence - that is, until something really does happen.

For a personal account of our own experience of MTA incompetence in a real incident, fortunately with neither serious injuries nor terrorism involved, see this post.

[image from the MTA]

for picking weeds

It probably won't be news to anyone in the new music scene, but this account of vicious New York city police thuggery may be a surprise to many of my readers, even those who have seen my Chief Smolka posts; and even those who are familiar with the police camp that the Village's Washington Square Park has become in recent years. Smolka is in charge of the street crimes unit which assaulted the Broken Social Scene's Dave Newfield in the park last Thursday.

The cop's official title is "Commanding Officer Patrol Borough Manhattan Assistant Chief Bruce Smolka," according to the NYPD site. I call him very dangerous.

Who will protect us from those who say they will protect us?

This is an excerpt from the pitchforkmedia report:

So, [his friend] exchanges $20 with a dealer in the park while Newfeld stands by watching the events unfold. As Newf tells it: "We walk around the corner, and all the sudden I'm tackled in a football style attack, like a mugger would do, you know? You grab the person and catch them by surprise and they ambush in a football tackle. And then they're like, 'Police, police, police! Fucking put your hands behind you!'" Due to the lax drug laws in Canada [his home], Newfeld says he didn't connect what he assumed to be a mugging with his schwag score, assuming the "police" claim was a ploy by thugs to keep their victims passive for an easy stick-up.

"They started punching me in the face and beating the shit out of me and throwing me on the ground, so I'm trying to get away-- not fight them back, because I'm not capable of that, but just to escape. And then they threatened to break my hand and I'm like, "No, don't break my hand! I'm a musician. I gotta fuckin' play tomorrow! And so I'm really freaking out, and at that point I thought, 'Just take my wallet, whatever. Don't break my hand. My wallet's not worth it.'" By now, Newfeld's pal was cuffed on the ground, and finally decided it was time to break the news: "They're cops! Submit!" Oh, and P.S., whoops!

After being thrown in the back of a paddywagon, Newfeld was left to sit with a handful of shady characters while the 5-0 went around picking up other perps. He was then taken back to the station in pretty poor shape, strip-searched (whuh-oh), and, having been left in a cell for an hour or two, taken to Bellevue Hospital to have his beatings checked out. It turned out he'd suffered two cracked ribs. While in his hospital bed, he was given a report detailing the charges against him-- four counts of assaulting an officer and possession-- which still stand as of press time.

[image from pitchforkmedia; story tip from a reader, whose email subject line read, "where's there's smolka, there's fire..."]

leaving it up to the riders

Barry has just about covered the issue, with the help of Newsday's estimable Ray Sanchez, but a letter to the editor published in the NYTimes helps to illustrate the scale of the criminal incompetence and negligence of those at the top by bringing up the most recent scandal involving the MTA:

To the Editor:

The terrorist blasts in London and a similar attack last year in Madrid dramatically point to the vulnerability of New York's transit system to a similar attack.

Despite setting aside nearly $600 million [state and federal money] to secure the transit network against a terrorist strike, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has accomplished little since 9/11. It was not until March 2003 that the agency announced a plan to address the transit system's weaknesses.

In fact, the lion's share of the money has not been allocated. The agency's most public initiative is a failed proposal to ban photography by straphangers.

Its foot-dragging is especially unsettling when contrasted with the speed with which it rushed through a deal for the proposed West Side stadium. [the italics are mine]

Instead of issuing color-coded alerts, the federal government and the M.T.A. should urgently undertake measures with existing money to enhance security.

Manuel Cortazal
Bronx, July 7, 2005

Wish us all luck. It looks like we're going to need it.

[image from the MTA]

Bubba waiting for us on Bedford Street in Williamsburg today

I have always been interested in cars. Actually, I'm something of a car nut, in spite of my interests and principles otherwise. Yeah, I know, it's 2005 and we now understand how much the automobile has done to destroy the world, but I can't explain my fascination. And I can't help it, if for no other reason than that I live in that world, where the automobile is necessary at least occasionally, even if you're a New Yorker and you really, really hate its cabs.

Barry and I have a new magic carriage. It comes when we call it, a little like Aladdin's ride.

I've always described the subway as a magic carpet, because its there when you need it, it never has to be parked and you can take all your friends with you. But sometimes carpets get tired and they start falling apart. I'm thinking in particular of my experiences with the unreliability of the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn on weekends, but the cancer has been spreading. It shouldn't take us nearly an hour to get to our home in Chelsea from Soho (that's about two kilometers, or a mile and a quarter), as it did this past Friday.

A few weeks ago we decided to activate a dormant Zipcar membership for the first time because we wanted to get to several openings in Chelsea and a few in Williamsburg on the same night. Alright, I admit it: I missed driving a car. Anyway, we picked "Bubba," which is the name assigned to the wonderful little Scion Xb in the picture above, and that night we carried five friends (two or three at a time) between the boroughs and around the town. We had a ball, in the end stopping for dinner with three of them before we floated back to the garage, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge again and continuing our stately progress up a lively Clinton Street and Avenue B before turning West and heading for home, on a perfect summer evening.

It's a fantastic carriage, and I use the noun advisedly, since we sit high inside a comfortable box, with six or eight extra inches above our heads and several feet between our noses and the upright windshield. A number of travelling trunks can ride secure and dry inside behind the second row of seats. The four doors open wide and if you want you can cross your legs while sitting in each of the passenger seats. There's excellent air conditioning and a great sound system. The car is whisper quiet, well-built and incredibly practical, and you can rent it on line or on the phone, by the hour or the day, picking it up and dropping it off at a garage around the corner (there are no check in or check out lines and no clerks to deal with). The Scion is two feet shorter than a Volkswagen Golf (or is it the Toyota Corolla?). Anyway, it's pretty short, and you can park it almost anywhere. It's just about the unAmerican car.

I have to admit Zipcar's biggest appeal for me was the kind of cars they have available, and not just the short-term feature which must account for much or most of its popularity (you can rent some models for as low as $8.50 an hour, or $65 a day). It's been years since I rented a car in New York (for a day or weekend trip), and I think I only indulged myself twice. I blame my lack of interest in repeating the experience on the incredibly junky choices available from the standard rental companies. And what does it cost now to rent a car in New York on a weekend? I'm guessing around $130 to $150 a day.

I had decided that if I wanted a decent ride I would always have to wait until I got to Europe, where they have cars for people who really like to drive. Zipcar has Volkswagen Golfs, new Beetle convertibles, Scion Xbs, Mini sedans and convertibles, even small Volvos and BMWs for the big spenders, but I'm not going to give up Europe. They have the Smart, and the roads are wonderful too.

We revisited Bubba this afternoon and evening, because we were trying to get to a number of galleries in different parts of two boroughs not easily accessible by subway and on foot. And because we had so much fun last time.

Next up: a short trip into the country, and maybe even a splurge on a little convertible - short term of course.

This page is an archive of entries in the NYC category from July 2005.

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