Browse Category: New York

IT’S THE WORLD I KNOW

20020414towersOfLight1

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

COLLECTIVE SOUL plays on as I begin this entry. Not knowing where the words will lead me. Not knowing what stories or memories I might chose to relate to you. I do have some thoughts about New York City running about in my brain. Maybe I’ll go there…

“Has our conscience shown?
Has the sweet wind blown?
Has all the kindness gone?
Hope still lingers on.
I drink myself to newfound pity
Sitting alone in New York City
And I don’t know why.”

AS YOU MAY already know, I spend quite a bit of time in New York City. Chinatown mostly. Driving in, out and around the city has become second nature. I never had much of a problem with it really. A long time ago I learned the secret of how to drive in the city. Want to know it? Simple. Do what the taxi cab drivers do. No hesitation. No apologies. Just drive. If you hesitate, you lose, you wait. Now the drivers that I truly admire in the city are those on bicycles. Some of those guys are insane, especially the messengers! Man, they fly! They dodge pedestrians, bounce off of cars, weave among the traffic up and down the avenues. I have to do it one day! I have to take my bike to the city and go for it! Anyone man enough to go with me??

WELL, recently I was in Flushing for a business seminar. A big group of us went out to eat at Bobby V’s afterwards. Even though our waitress forgot to put our order in (and wouldn’t admit it) and all the rest of our group was on dessert before we even were served our drinks, it was a decent place to eat. It’s in the Sheraton Inn near Shea Stadium.

It’s funny how places that you went to as a kid seem so different when you see them as an adult. Such is Shea Stadium. I think I was there as a young kid with my grandfather. I think that was the time that he caught a ball with his bare hands in the stands. Pop just stood right up and caught that sucker with one hand! One bare hand! It was awesome. And I vaguely remember a friend of his who went with us. He was an older man and he had a big ol’ Jimmy Durante nose. Or did this happen at the Vet in Philadelphia? I’m not sure. But I was at Shea with my dad for a Jets game when I was around 12 or so. I distinctly remember that time because we were in the nosebleed section where binoculars didn’t even help us to see much. And that was the game where some jerk spilled beer all over my coat. But now Shea looks different than I thought I remembered.

20020414towersOfLight2

So, after a late meal at Bobby V’s, I drove from Flushing to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to take JF home. Then I drove back up to the Manhattan Bridge in crossed over into Chinatown to go out through the Holland Tunnel via Canal Street. I don’t know which is worse, paying the outrageous seven-dollar toll to cross the Verrazano into Staten Island or endangering my kidneys driving on Canal Street. I mean, there are ruts so deep on that street that my little red Toyota disappears from view several times before I reach the tunnel! But I usually go that way and make a pit stop at a Dunkin Donuts just outside the tunnel in Jersey City.

ON MY WAY through Manhattan that night I noticed that the Towers of Light were still shining up into the sky. Then I remembered that it was the last night that they would be on. So I went downtown, parked the car, grabbed the camera and strolled around. It was 1:30 am. There were a lot of people there. A lot of people had camera gear set up. I took a few shots. They didn’t come out as good as I would have liked. I walked over to Ground Zero but didn’t stay long. By then it was 2:30. I remember thinking, “Wow! Look at all these people out here at such an hour! What are they thinking?” Duh! What was I thinking?? I was probably the only one in the crowd that still had 75 miles to drive home! I was glad that I took the time to stop there. I still cannot believe that the Towers are gone. I still cannot comprehend the evil that carried out such an act. I wish that we could go back and rewrite that day. Incidentally, I found a journal written by a woman named Deima who worked in Tower One. Her fiancee worked in Tower Two and did not make it out. Her perspective on her loss is moving. Check out “Start from One.” (12/14/15 – Note – Her website no longer exists.)Here’s a clip from her entry for December 11. “A noise that sounds to me like a train slamming into a brick wall drowns out the horns and sirens and suddenly the air in front of me is milky, chalky, grey and white. Smoke or fog, something I can’t breathe, is charging after us, over us. It’s all around. I fall and someone falls on top of me. I think that I can smell cologne. I gag. Building two has come down. Rob works in building two. It is now 9:50 AM.” Be sure to go into her archives and read her entry for December 11.

20020414towersOfLight3

“Are we listening
To hymns of offering?
Have we eyes to see
That love is gathering?
All the words that I’ve been reading
Have now started the act of bleeding
Into one.”

LAST SATURDAY, I was in New York with JF. It was a nice time. We went to the South Street Seaport. JF wanted to try on some dresses at Anne Taylor. She looked great in this black sleeveless dress! There’s something about a Chinese girl in a black dress! Is it the dark hair? Is it the dark eyes? Is it the skin tone? Maybe it’s just JF. She sure made that dress look good! At the Seaport we also walked around in several other stores. I got an “air plant” from this little seashell shop. It’s really cool! It doesn’t have to be planted in dirt. It has no roots. Its leaves absorb moisture from the humidity in the air. Talk about low maintenance!

Also that Saturday we went to Long Island City in Queens to visit Yue Yun, one of JF’s friends. This girl works in a garment factory there. She works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. She was working this day and brought us inside. So, quite unexpectedly I found myself in the middle of what we would definitely call a “sweatshop.” It was a damp rainy day. But even with fans blowing, that room was pretty warm. I am sure that it is nearly unbearable in there in the summer. There I sat with my tie and dress shirt on, the only white guy in the place, surrounded by a few dozen Chinese women and a few Mexican ladies and guys. The floor supervisor came running over asking if he could help me with something, a look of anxiety in his eye. Yue Yun said something in Chinese and he just walked away. I guess whatever she said assured him that I was not INS or CIA or FBI or anything. Can you imagine that? Me as an undercover agent for the CIA or something? There’s a place where JF and I go in Chinatown where they have gambling in a back room. The room is always full of smoke and the sound of mahjong tiles shuffling around on the tables. The bathroom is at the end of the hallway just before the door to this back room. About a month ago I noticed that the people in the room get rather apprehensive when I walk down the hall to use the bathroom. It cracks me up! So now I intentionally use my best secret agent strut when I go down that hall. The last time I did that one guy in the room looked really scared. As soon as I shut the bathroom door, I heard the other door slam and lock. What was he thinking? Doesn’t he know that Inspector Snyder always gets his man? “I’ll be baachk.” And I’ll be wearing a tie too, punk!

20020414towersOfLight4

“So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below.
And I laugh at myself
As the tears roll down.
‘Cause it’s the world I know.
It’s the world I know.”*

YES, this is the world I know. This journal just relates bits and pieces of it. Sometimes the tears roll down and I wonder how some of it got to be the way that it is. Mostly I laugh at myself. Someone said, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Five years ago it felt like it was all tragedy and tears. It was like the line in the song above, “Has all the kindness gone?” Back then I would not have believed you if you told me that a whole new world would begin to open up in a few years. “Hope still lingers on.” There is always hope. When you cannot feel it you have to just believe it. How does one believe in hope when he feels like there is no hope? Well, I don’t know how to explain it in a few words. That would take several journal entries. Some of the explanation has been woven between the lines of this journal already. I just know that hope still lingers on even in the darkest of days. You can believe it even when you can’t see it or feel it. I did. You can too. “Walk up on high and step to the edge to see my world below.” Stand here with me for a moment. I finally found the courage to step to that edge. “It’s the world I know.” Sometimes it’s crazy as a single dad. Sometimes it’s quite interesting as an American guy in love with a Chinese girl. Sometimes it’s exciting as a country boy in the big city. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s heart-wrenching. “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” If I wrote the story of my life, would it be a “tragically romantic comedy” or a “comically tragic romance?” I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

*Lyrics from the song “The World I Know” by Collective Soul.

THOUGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 2001

20011123xmaslights012

(Originally titled “IT’S CHRISTMAS IN BROOKLYN” and posted on the website Continuum…)

OH, SAINT NICK! Can you make all things right in the world this year? Can you make the world a better place? Can you bring us tidings of great joy? Can you bring us justice and peace? These are the things that we truly want. These are the things that our hearts yearn for. Forget the goodies and trinkets, so many soon forgotten baubles. Give us justice and peace.

Dear Saint Nick, this year we have seen tragedy as none of us ever expected. We have felt fear close to home, something so foreign to most of us. We have witnessed murder on an unbelievable scale. We have seen planes crashing and bodies falling from the sky, the end of the world on a bright September morning. Chaos and confusion. Death and destruction. Anguish and weeping. All on a bright September morning.

YOU KNOW, Saint Nick, I almost did not expect to see the Christmas lights this year. I was happy when I saw the earliest lights on a house in Brooklyn. And there YOU were! Right here in Brooklyn, so close to the scene of tragedy. We had to stop the car and take pictures. We did not know the people who lived in the house. We did not care. We needed to laugh and be as children again. Is that all adulthood really is, a constant struggle to be a child again? How refreshing it was to play the child and take pictures right here in Brooklyn! How we laughed until we nearly peed our pants when the owners came home and found us on their steps! The husband even volunteered to take a picture of us together, right here in Brooklyn! Christmas IS coming!

20011123xmaslights013

Saint Nick, I remember the excitement that I felt as a child as Christmas was approaching. We made chains of colored paper. Each link was a day until Christmas. How tempting it was to cut more than one link off each day in an attempt to shorten the time until you came. Did you like the cookies I left for you each year? Did you hear my anxious breathing every time that I heard a noise from downstairs as I lay in bed on Christmas Eve? Every sound was you. Do the children today feel that same excitement? Is their excitement carefree? Or is it somewhat stunted by the fear that seems to pervade our air today? Do they have visions of National Guardsmen dancing in their heads? Does their breathing betray anxiety every time a plane flies overhead? I feel badly for them. Can you make things better, Saint Nick? Can you help the children?

WHAT will Christmas be like this year? Will it be so commercial like all the other years? What will people really care about now? Which will prevail, a spirit of giving or a spirit of getting? Where will our hearts be? How will we love our neighbor? Will we finally love our neighbor? Or will it take further tragedy to wake us up to what truly matters in this world? Must all the world fall down upon us before we learn to love with all of our hearts?

20011123xmaslights015

SAINT NICK, I know that you are a good guy. You won’t let us down. We have believed in you since we were just a few years old, long before adulthood stifled our belief. Please tell us that our confidence was not misplaced. Please tell us that we can still believe. Please tell us that the world is not such a bad place after all. That is what we want to hear more than anything else right now. We want to believe. We need to believe. We need someone stronger than ourselves. Can you be him? We need someone who will not be shaken when buildings tumble down and when mountains fall into the sea. A super-hero will not satisfy. We need someone more like ourselves, someone better able to relate and feel the depths and intricacies of our humanness, someone otherworldly and yet so much like ourselves. We need…

Oh, look… There is a manger in front of that house.

I LOVE NEW YORK

20010826wtc_sm

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

(CLICK PICTURES TO ENLARGE)

NOW, more than two full weeks since the unbelievable attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, my feelings are still those of shock, sadness and anger. Over these past two weeks, I have attempted to write several times but was not able to get my thoughts out. My thoughts were two chaotic and emotional. They ran into each other and overlapped each other. The attack on the World Trade Center feels personal to me. There are several reasons for this.

I have lived almost my entire thirty-eight years in New Jersey. The few times that I have lived out of the state, I have still retained my New Jersey identity and have always preferred to be here (as strange as that may sound to some). In 1982, I attended a college in Minneapolis, Minnesota for about five months. As people stood in line to register and began to make conversation, it was soon discovered that I was from New Jersey. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by lots of kids from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and other Midwest states. Immediately the interrogation began. Question 1: “What do you drink for lunch?” Answer: “Soda.” Response: “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! It’s POP!” POP? That’s a name for my grandfather! Question 2: “What do you pack your lunch in?” Answer: “A paper bag.” Response: “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! It’s a paper SACK!” A SACK? That’s for potatoes! Question 3: “How do you say DOG?” Answer (in my best NJ accent): “DAWG!” Go ahead, laugh if you want. I think your winters are too cold and it has damaged your brains. I’m going home! I also lived in Easton, Pennsylvania for a few years. But I worked in Jersey and most of my friends lived there. So it felt like I still lived in Jersey. I also spent a few brief months in Nowhere-ville, West Virginia. That is a story for another day.

ny009_sm

When you live most of your life in northern New Jersey, New York City just feels like part of your “neighborhood.” I live about 70 miles (driving miles) west of Manhattan. Without traffic, I can make it to the city in just over an hour. (No comments on my speeding addiction right now. Thank you.) It is common to see the New York skyline from many points in eastern New Jersey. Of course, the Twin Towers were the first and most noticeable objects of that skyline.

Now all has changed.

I FEEL robbed. Something personal has been taken from me. No, I cannot lay claim to a tragic loss of a loved one who was in one of those buildings, or a brother who was a New York City fireman lost while trying to save others, or even a close friend who was injured on September 11. However, I still feel a sense of loss. The feeling of loss was immediate when I heard the news. Do we all not feel that loss, those of us who are American? Tell me my Hawaiian and Alaskan brothers so far from lower Manhattan. Did you not feel some kind of loss as soon as you heard the news? Furthermore, do we not all feel the loss, those of us who are human and decent? Yes, we do.

20010826fromwtc1_sm

For me personally, it is not only the loss of a spectacular and familiar skyline. I have certain attachments to New York City, some of which go back many years. I love New York!

Sometimes when I go to New York I have very strong remembrances of my dear grandfather. I remember going to see a rodeo at Madison Square Garden when I was young. For a souvenir I got one of those little flashlights on a plastic cord that you could swing around over your head when the lights went down in the Garden. (I think they are outlawed now because too many little sisters got beaned in the head by overly excited older brothers at rodeos.) I also remember my grandfather taking us to see the New York Rangers play hockey at the Garden. One time I brought a friend and our seats were a few rows away from Pop, just far enough for him to be unable to distinguish our 14-year-old voices screaming out the “F-word” (of which we were very fond at that age) from the roar of the rest of the fans.

20010912wtcsmoke_sm

New York City was also instrumental in developing a rather humanitarian and compassionate side of my character. At least 10 to 12 years ago, while going through my first divorce and raising J, S and T on my own, I was made aware of the terrible situation of the homeless in New York. A friend of mine from church was working at an inner city mission. He took me to Manhattan to help him distribute clothing on the streets at the Port Authority building. I was speechless at the condition of such poor people. I was somewhat ashamed for complaining at all about my own condition. I returned home that day with a pounding headache and a changed heart. After that day, my friend and I were able to mobilize our small church of about 40 people to send groups of people every Saturday through the winter to bring clothing to the homeless. That was not good enough. We also began bringing bagged lunches to these people. A group from the church would meet on Friday nights, sort through donated clothing and make sandwiches assembly line fashion. That was not good enough. It was cold and people needed hot food. So we made homemade chicken noodle soup (which my grandfather taught me to make), packed the soup in individual cups with spoons and packets of crackers taped to the sides, and distributed those too. That was not good enough! These were humans we were dealing with. There should be a certain amount of dignity that goes along with being human and with helping a fellow human. We gathered Band-Aids, Chapstick, combs, and other personal items. We put them into plastic bags and called them “dignity packs.” What a difference that made to someone who was used to sleeping on a piece of cardboard on a dirty New York sidewalk while many people walked by without even noticing, without caring to ask their names. Sometimes the only attention they got was to be spit on, cursed at or shoved out of the way. Sure, I have some moral quandaries that I struggle with over the issue of helping the poor, especially those who are able to work but are just too lazy. “If a man does not work, neither let him eat.” But I personally met many that for one reason or another were in a position where they could not help themselves very much, especially the elderly. My experience among these homeless people changed my heart in a permanent way. It was all done in the context of a city that is huge and often cold. Still, I love that city.

20010915wtcsmoke1_sm

OVER the past several months I have made some good friends in New York City. I have spent time there in business meetings, site seeing, and visiting with friends. Since July, I have spent nearly every Sunday in New York City. I was there on Sunday, September 9, just two days before the Towers crashed to the ground. A mere two weeks before that, a close friend and I had dinner at Windows on the World, the restaurant that was on the 107th floor of Tower One. Neither of us could believe the news on September 11. Not only Manhattan, but also the Twin Towers themselves had come to have special significance to us. When we drove to the city on Sunday, September 16, the absence of the Towers was glaring. We had been robbed, and worse.

I WAS almost to work on September 11, driving on Route 78 in New Jersey when I happened to turn on the radio and caught the tail end of a news report saying something about the World Trade Center. I thought, “Gee, I wonder what’s going on.” I changed stations and heard that a second plane had just crashed into the buildings. Instantly the faces of waiters and waitresses who had served us at the restaurant came flashing into my mind. Two minutes later I came over the mountain near exit 33 and I could see the smoke rising from over 20 miles away! I could not believe it! It was not real! It had to be a mistake! But when I entered the office there was nothing but somber faces. Someone had a radio on and all were listening in disbelief. Then Tower Two fell. Something happened at the Pentagon but no one was quite sure what. Tower One fell.

20010915wtcsmoke2_sm

Most of us left work early that day. We went home to talk with our children and watch the news. We could not take our eyes off of the images on our television screens. It was too awful, too huge, too unexpected. We waited for the President to speak that night while our perceptions of our country shifted. Are we as strong as we always assumed? Are we truly the people that we always told ourselves that we were? Within minutes the heroism began to shine through the smoke and rubble of destroyed buildings and airplanes. As the flags unfurled, a national consciousness was awakening. Many petty differences crumbled along with those buildings. Our courage and our patriotism rose. Unity was strengthened and we were comforted when our leader spoke that evening. Now we are awake. Now we are determined. Now we are even more American than we were when we retired for the evening on September 10. Now may God guide us in making our country and the world safer.

I PERSONALLY hold the sentiment that I have heard expressed by many of my fellow Americans. I will continue to live as a free man. I will continue to pursue my goals and dreams. I will not let some low-life, evil-hearted bastard cause me to give up my freedom out of fear. Certainly I will be more careful for my safety and the safety of those that I love. But I will walk on. I will support the efforts to rid the world of terrorism that this country will make. I will teach my children about the world that we live in. I will teach them to let the stark realities of the cruelties of this world drive them to become better people. Just as murder and heinous brutalities are realities, so are courage, excellence, kindness, goodness, compassion, and success. I will teach them to pursue these things with just as much devotion and seriousness as the fanatics who crashed those planes and killed our people. I will inspire them to love with all of their hearts, mindful that such love often leaves one’s heart open and vulnerable to attack by those who have no heart. I will instill in them the belief that in the end, whether it has been betrayed, murdered or simply ignored, love will always rise again and will endure forever. “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

SO WHAT are my plans for this weekend? You got it! I am going to New York! In fact, I will be in New York City before most of you even read this article tonight! I just cannot stay away!

20010916empstatelights_sm