Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bags, Bags, Bags, Bags, Bags

Stop the madness already.

I moved to a new neighborhood in Brooklyn where the grocery store is close and has a parking lot.  I was there twice yesterday.  The first time I went, I came from work and didn't have my reusable grocery bags.

My sister turned me on to reusable grocery bags.  She used them long before they were something that most people had.  She always had them in her car along with some chairs, blankets, water, food, the kitchen sink, etc....

When I lived in Chicago, they gave you money off if you brought your own bags at the grocery store. in Washington, DC, you paid for plastic bags if you wanted to use them.

In Brooklyn, they could give two shits.  No matter what store you go into, they give you not one, but two bags.  They double the bags.  Buy a candy bar, get a double bag to put it in.  You actually have to remind them to use your bags if you bring them.

"No, please don't put that one candy bar into two bags.  I don't need a bag for it.  I'm going to put it in my belly in about 30 seconds."

I understand that some people walk long distances or take public transit and may need a double bag for some heavy things that might fall through.  The rest of us, 90% of the people, don't need you to waste the bags like that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Muslim Fear

Forgive me, please.  I know that the meditations in my heart and the ministrations of my mind were not acceptable in thy sight, oh my rock and my redeemer.  

When he first walked onto the subway car, I thought he was handsome.  His hat was cute.  As he sat down, I noticed him reaching into his bag.  He pulled out a book in Arabic.  I assumed it was a copy of the Koran.  I don't know, still, if it was.  

My first reaction was one of fear.  Is this some extremist who is going to blow up the subway car?  Does it even make sense to blow up a subway car at 9:30 at night?  It's not rush hour.  Does he have a bomb on him or in his back pack?  Should I get off the train and wait for the next train?  

I decided to sit with my discomfort.  My friend, the Reverend Diane Ellis, and I have talked about sitting in and letting ourselves experience feelings that aren't good.  Accept that we are sad, mad, uncomfortable, embrace it for a bit to understand it better.

So I stood in the subway car looking around.  I was people watching and waiting for my stop.  I was trying to calm my racing mind and my fast beating heart.  

Why should I worry just because a man happened to be reading a book in Arabic on the subway.  It could be his favorite copy of the bible for all I know.  

Isis won a little bit last night.  They made me afraid of someone.  

I'm reminded that the KKK call themselves Christian and for many years made people fear them.  I don't think people every thought that every Christian was a part of the KKK though.  Why do I immediately assume that every person reading Arabic is even a Muslim?  

I stood there praying for peace.  I pray that the God of us all shows us a way for peace regardless of race or religion.  I pray that the God of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity shows and helps me (and us) figure out a way to work together and not fall prey to terrible stereotypes.  I know many wonderful people from all religions who all want peace and to treat each other with love and kindness. 

God bless you random stranger.  I refuse to give into fear.

Drug Dealer, Stripper, Beggar, Street Performer, or Waitor?

Last night, I went to hear the National Geographic Live presentation on Gorongosa National Park.  It was an awesome presentation about conservation.  I took my future brother-in-law with me.  We grabbed a slice of pizza at a local shop just around the corner from NYU where the lecture was happening.  

As we were eating, I saw this man (pictured above) stroll in and start pulling crumpled bills from every pocket.  He had them in all six of his jacket pockets and all four of his pants pockets.  They were $20s, $10s, $5s, and $1s.  He piled them all on the table to count them.  He then pulled out some reading glasses and a tiny bible that had a lot of writing on the inside cover.  He called someone and said that he was ready and had the money and needed to meet in an hour to get the stuff.  He asked them to call him when he was in the area. 

I just thought it was interesting.  When he left, my soon to be brother-in-law and I were trying to figure out how he got the money.  I was guessing he was a beggar except for the $20 bills.  It made me wonder.  He doesn't look like stripper.  He could be an amazing street performer?  Do drug dealers make calls like that?  Maybe he was calling his supplier?  

Do people give beggars $20 bills? 

If he was a waiter, he didn't talk, dress, or act like one....or a bartender.  

Monday, March 28, 2016


Saturday night, David and I joined a friend of his at a night club for his birthday.

We waited outside of the hotel for a half hour in the cold to go up to the club.  The bouncer told us that our friend might not be able to get in because he was wearing Timberland boots.

As we approached the gatekeepers, I kept them talking to distract them from looking too closely at what our friend was wearing.

We got in the door only to wait another 20 minutes for the elevator.  When we got upstairs to the club, there were only about 100 people there.  I really am not sure why we waited outside except that they wanted the perception to be that the club was exclusive.  The cover was $20/person if you didn't have a ticket.  We got upstairs and ordered four drinks.  $68 later plus a tip, we walked up to the upstairs "club" where the "dancing" was supposed to take place.  It was a very narrow roof top club.

Surrounding the outside of the two rooms were large L shaped sofas with a little coffee table in the middle that had a stack of glasses, bucket of ice, and carafes of juices and soda.  These are for "bottle service."  If you want to sit down at any point in the evening, you have to buy a bottle of liquor or champagne.  That in essence rents you this sofa area for the evening.  The cheapest bottle of liquor was a really bad bottle of vodka.  In the store, the bottle would cost you approximately $20.  In this club, where we already paid a high cover, the same bottle runs you $250.  You then get to sit on that sofa and mix the vodka with the mixers at the table that are provided.  I guess if you figure out how many shots are in a bottle and you have a bunch of friends, that at $15/drink it's probably worth it to buy the bottle.  If a shot is 1 ounce and the bottle is a liter which includes 33 ounces, you do get your money's worth.

There were four of us.  We weren't about to buy a bottle of liquor for $250.  In fact, just buying the four drinks for David and friends, and the two more rounds for the two of us cost me $130.  Rochester definitely is much cheaper.

On top of that, at the bars at the dance floor, they said they didn't do cocktails, only mixed drinks.  I asked the difference, only to be met with some major attitude.  Apparently, a mixed drink has one shot of liquor and one mixer.  Cocktails have more than one mixer or shot.  The bar tender was so rude, that I ended up waiting in line at another bar to get my drinks.  She wasn't going to get my business or my tip.  You'd think that if you were paying that much for drinks, you would get better service.

I don't remember seeing bottle service at Rochester except for on rare occasion at some clubs.  In the city, it's a regular thing.  For me, I think I'm getting to old to stay up until 3:30 a.m. at a club to dance.  This place didn't even have a dance floor, so it sucked anyway.  I'd also rather have people at my place for drinks anyway.  Cheaper, more fun, and the bartender is always pleasant (me or David).

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dying in my arms

He staggered into David and was incoherent.  He was asking where he was and waving his phone around like a mad man.  David just looked confused.  I was worried that it was someone trying to extract money out of him with a sad story.

It was 12:30 a.m. in Times Square. We were about to go out on the town.  David, his brother, and a family friend, were stopping at a food cart for some halal food (meat kabobs and rice).  There were still thousands of tourists walking up and down the street.

I came closer to ask the guy to back off and he thrust his cell phone into my hand.

"I'm dying, please tell 911 where I am."

He then collapsed at my feet, his wheeling suitcase falling by his side.  The 911 operator was asking where we were, between what two streets.  I had no idea.  I gave her an exact address, "We are in front of Madam Tussauds, 234 West 42nd street."

"I understand sir, but I need to have the cross streets."

"This man is lying at my feet moaning and saying he is having a heart attack, has a history of heart attacks, you need to send an ambulance now."

"I need to know what the cross streets sir."

"I've given you an exact address.  I don't know the cross streets."

"Please stay on the line for a paramedic, and what number are you calling from, area code first."

"This guy just handed me his cell phone, I have no idea."

Then the operator hung up.

At this point, someone bumped into David and knocked his food out of his hand spilling rice and chicken pieces all over this poor man's body.

A lady stopped and took his pulse.  She told him he was fine and was having a panic attack.  I asked if she was a nurse, and she would only reply that she was "in the field."  Her boyfriend started yelling at her to get up and let the ambulance take care of it that this wasn't her job.

New Yorkers kept stepping on this guy even though I was trying to get them to go around him.  It's the middle of the night, but the place is still crawling with people.  Tourists stop and ask if he is ok.  I don't know how to respond.  He is howling about a heart attack, holding onto his right arm and rocking back and forth.  You can easily know who were the the tourists.  They were genuinely concerned and offered to help me.  The New Yorkers just stepped over, and in some cases on this poor man.

I tried to get him to breath easily and to sit up.  I'm not a doctor, but I didn't want him trampled.
There were a dozen cops on horses in the area.  They started yelling at him and me.  They wanted him to move.  That was it.  No idea that he was down.  Finally, they got a radio that someone had called an ambulance.  They came over and made everyone move.  They were not nice to this man or to the people who had helped him.  They stood over him and yelled at him to tell them his name.  They yelled questions at him that had nothing to do with his health.  They didn't even direct tourists around him.  I knelt down in spite of their objections and put his cell phone in his pocket.  I told him where it was and waited for the ambulance.

In less than 10 minutes, an ambulance from Mount Sinai St. Luke's showed up.  The police didn't help direct them or move traffic for them.  New Yorkers rarely move for emergency personnel.  They didn't here either.  Even though the police on horses knew where this guy was and he could have been having a heart attack, they let the ambulance pull into the wrong spot a block down.  I was about to wave them down when they moved again.

I made sure that the EMTs knew what I could tell them and that they took his suitcase.

I pray that this man is ok.  It really messed up my evening.  I was tired anyway and took the subway home instead of going out with David's friends.

Nights like Friday night make me really appreciate small town NY and not NYC.

At least the man didn't die there in my arms.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Liquor Stores

I know that I wrote about the liquor store near my Bedford Stuyvesant apartment.  We've been pretty busy unpacking our new apartment and setting it up around hospital visits for a friend and a busy work schedule.

Two weeks ago, we ran out of rum.  Last night, we ran out of whisky.  Finally, I decided it was time to go get some more.  David stopped me when I came into the apartment to let me know we were out.  It was 10:00 at night.  In my old neighborhood you could visit the liquor store on just about any block and they were open until 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m.  When you walked in, you were sure to run into one of the local men who was high as a kite and either funny or belligerent.

Last night, I had to look up where some liquor stores were in our new neighborhood.  I guess it's a good sign that there are not very many easy to find liquor stores?  Those that are there are not open at 10:00 p.m. and host things like wine tastings.  I love this new neighborhood, but this is definitely an inconvenience :)

I walked the half mile to the liquor store and walked in.  There was actually a counter and a clerk and rows of bottles you could touch and look at.  The clerk was friendly and made some recommendations about what to buy.

This was so different from my old hood

Walking back from the store, I found a penny on the sidewalk.  Now that I'm living with my fiance, we are both picking up pennies and money on the street.  Our penny bank is filling up faster.  Yesterday, on the anniversary of the death of one of David's family, he found a dime on the sidewalk.  I'm grateful for the continued blessings from above.  I'm reminded every time I find money on the street that I'm in a good place.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Damn Dental Dilemna

Moving to Brooklyn from Oneonta, NY has proven to be a challenge in many cases.  The fact that my new job doesn't offer dental insurance is just one of the problems.

I guess I've been spoiled by the amazing dentists in Rochester, New York.  I can say that I've had really good experiences there in spite of my fear of dentists.

When I was a kid, my entire family went to the same dentist.  At 12, I was the 3rd of four kids to get braces.  My orthodontist was one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.  His name was Dr. Zysik.  One of the necessary evils of fixing my teeth and smile was that I had too many teeth for my mouth.  Dr. Zysik recommended an extraction of four teeth.  I went to my childhood dentist for the first three extractions.  They seemed to go fine.

The fourth one, on a separate visit, was where my true fear of dentists was born.  Although my memory may be faulty, I seem to remember the dentist kneeling on my chest as he tried very hard to yank my tooth out of my mouth.  The pain, in spite of numerous shots of novocaine was beyond description. He ended up having to bust up the tooth to get it out of my mouth.  When I left the office to go out to my mom in the waiting room, she almost cried because I was so white.  I had gone into shock.  The pain had been greater than any I'd ever felt at the dentist or the orthodontist before.  Milkshakes and liquid meals for two weeks didn't help much.

Just a week later, three weeks after that fourth painful extraction, I visited Dr. Zysik to have him readjust my braces.  He looked in my mouth and started poking around...."Eric, somethings not right here.  Does it hurt when I press here or here or here."

I winced at each touch.  My pain had not subsided.  Earlier in the year, I'd had three teeth taken out and within three weeks had my braces back on.  After this last one, only one tooth, I couldn't handle the pain in my mouth.  Dr. Zysik then got up from his chair and called my mom in from my the waiting room.  He had her look in my mouth and explained to her and me that he thought my jaw was broken.  He took me to his x-ray machine and confirmed that when that tooth was removed, the jaw underneath had cracked in a few places.  It was a few months before Dr. Zysik could go back to my braces.  I didn't go back to that dentist again.

In College I had to get my wisdom teeth out.  There, I found a nice oral surgeon to do the work.  I hadn't been to a dentist in four years.  He suggested that I go to a local dentist.  I took his advice.  The local dentist's wife worked in the College Admission office.  His practice was called "bearable dentistry."  He was funny, kind, and good at explaining everything to me.  He took care of my mouth.  I hadn't spent the time needed to care for my teeth and he filled a bunch of cavities.  It was fortunate. After having him care for me, I found dentists every year.  In Connecticut, I found a nice dentist who did a cleaning.  In Rochester, I had a great dentist and hygienist (she was rough but thorough).  When I took a job consulting, I found a good dentist on Wall Street, one bad one and one good one in Chicago, and a nice dentist in DC.

Ten years later, I moved back to the town where I went to college.  I immediately looked him up to get dental care again.  Unfortunately he had passed away.  The young dentist who replaced him was charming.  A year later, she left.  The new guy was so bad that I left in the middle of a procedure.  Then I found an amazing lady dentist.  Most of the staff from the dentist I used to go to had moved over to their office.  They were the best people I'd ever had for dental care.

Through all of this, I've explained my fear of dentists to them.  I have my blood pressure checked before and after each visit.  I make sure the dentist explains what they are doing and is careful.

Moving to Brooklyn, it seems like there are dentists everywhere.  There is no dental insurance at my company so I purchased my own.  Being organized, I went to the insurance website and pulled a list of dentists near work that "accept" the insurance.

I've called two dozen dentists.  Most of them have no answering machine and no receptionist.  When I do call and leave a message, no one returns calls.  The one dentist who did and scheduled an appointment for me, freaked me out.  when I got there, she spent the first 15 minutes yelling at her receptionist.  She took me into her chair and had me open my mouth.  She then explained that she needed to check my insurance for some advance cleaning and treatment that she wasn't going to clean my teeth that day.  I had just gone to a dentist six months before.  I explained that it was fine as long as she checked my insurance.  She couldn't do it that day and never got back to me.

Today, I called seven more dentists to see if I could get into one.  All of them were on the website saying they did take my insurance.  The first three didn't have voicemail.  The fourth had a lady answer who didn't speak english or Spanish and asked me to call later.  Numbers five and six answered the phone, but couldn't tell me if they accepted my insurance.  Number seven was where I reached the dentist himself answering the phone.  He also couldn't figure out the insurance thing.  I didn't realize this was so complicated.

I just wanted a simple cleaning and a check-up.  I didn't realize it was this complicated.  Brooklyn yet again confounds me.  Tomorrow, back to the drawing board.  Maybe one of them will call me back.

Monday, March 7, 2016

I flipped that f$%ker off

This morning, I finally lost it in my commute.

Growing up in the north country of New York north of the Adirondacks, I learned to drive where there were few cars.  My father taught me to parallel park our farm pickup between two trees in the front yard because it was practically impossible to find a place to practice real parallel parking.

We used to practice responding to skidding on any old road with our driver's education teacher.  We'd drive down the road, wait for no cars in the snow, and she'd press on the brakes on her side of the car and talk us through responding to a skid.

Where I grew up, people frequently wave you on if they thought you were in a hurry at a light or intersection.  If you heard honking it was because someone was saying hello.  On rare occasion, someone behind you would honk if you sat long enough at a green light.  This only happened if you were there a while and was usually a friendly toot toot to get your attention.

I remember my mom, my dad, and my driver's education teacher loudly complaining when anyone was too aggressive with their driving or honking.  They called them New York City Drivers.  It's true.

Now, I'm living in Brooklyn.  This morning I was running late because I was bringing a friend to an appointment at the hospital.  For those who don't know me, I hate being late.  Five minutes early feels like I'm on time.  I was ready to go by 7:30 this morning and was encouraging the friend who was staying with me by 7:00 to start getting ready in order to leave at 8:30.

We made it to the car by 8:50.  Although late, I knew it was better to take my time and not rush.

We pulled into traffic and up to a flashing yellow turn arrow.  Traffic was heavy, and I waited for the right time to scoot between oncoming traffic to take my left turn.  The old man behind me apparently felt that it was more important to either kill the pedestrians crossing in my turn path or risk getting t-boned by oncoming traffic than to wait for an appropriate opening.  He honked three times in the 30 seconds I was waiting there.  I know my car well and am not one who waits forever to turn.  I also know that I'm not going to risk an accident just because of impatience.

Because he was so inconsiderate in his honking and I was feeling spiteful (not a way to be, but I'm being honest here), I drove only 20 miles per hour down the next road that was only one lane.  The man who appeared to be driving his wife and had a long gray beard and hat on kept swerving behind me and honking as if my driving was going to change how fast he would get the extra 100 feet into traffic.

As we approached the next flashing yellow to enter a round about, two bikers biked into my path.  I was late, and was only waiting long enough for me to get into the circle not any longer than I needed to.  You'd think that me waiting and following the law was going to kill the man behind me the way he HOOOOONKKK, HOOOONK, HOOONNNKKed.  I lost my temper and rolled down my window and flipped him off with a shaking fist after pointing at the cyclists.

Having a sick man in my car who was riding with me to the hospital for an appointment, I immediately felt guilty.  This isn't me.  This city is affecting me though.  The other day, the people in traffic cutting me off and honking at me made me so frustrated that I just let out a primal scream in my car while driving.  It relieved some tension.

So, if you happen upon me in my travels outside of the city in Rochester, Oneonta, the North Country, or any other place that is even slightly more civilized and I end up honking before lights turn green, tailgating you, or being aggressive in my driving, forgive me as I re-adjust to what normal polite people do in society.  If you pull up next to me at a light, or any person for that matter at a light, and hear primal screaming at full volume, send some positive energy our way because we may have just driven out of the city for a break.