Tag Archives: travel

New York weekend

Posing at the Whitney

So we were back in hot, smelly, tasty New York over the weekend where it was too uncomfortable to stand outside and wait for a cab or an Uber. Forget the subway platform with its superheated unventilated barely breathable sludge that passes for air. Forget walking on the sunny side of the street. Always check the air conditioning of that restaurant before the menu.

And, oh yeah, apparently  cockroaches took flight.

I do love New York though, even when it’s like this. You can walk around with a camera and take pictures of people posing on one of the Whitney’s terraces, and see avant-garde Fringe Festival shows. Which is why we went – to see a friend’s poignant and hilarious production of Gorges Motel at Players Theatre, which made Huff Post’s curated Fringe Festival list. See it.

gorges

Anyway, pluses and minuses regarding New York City.

Minuses: It costs a lot of money to get there, stay there, eat there, drink there and entertain yourself there. There are unidentifiable odors mixed with some unfortunately recognizable ones. Tourist destinations waste your valuable time. The city is not what it once was.

Pluses: New York City is still more unlike anywhere else than anywhere else. It is strange, electrified, multicultural, demanding,  ecstatic, entertaining, stimulating, exhausting. No matter how great the thing is that you’re doing, you always have the feeling that there’s something else even better. You can order Indian food and  have it delivered just about any time of day or night.

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Carried off by the swift waters

“All right,” I said. “Tell me all about it.” Like I said, I had time and more than anything, I like a good story.

Alder Fanspree got up from the bench and turned to face me and his wife.

“I had just dug into breakfast, egg and cheese on a toasted roll, when a man sat down to share the table. This was outside. This happened often and I didn’t bother to look up. ‘Does the name Shnabullious Traffletum mean anything to you,’ he said.

“I looked at him over the top of the Post. He sported an outlandish  thick moustache, curled at the ends, and his cheeks were ruddied as if by a raw winter wind.

“‘Of course it wouldn’t,’ he continued. ‘You’re just an average man caught up in a mundane life. You’re married. You have two children. The girl, the older one you have named Willow, is an athlete, a decent student who will no doubt get into a state school one day. Although, she dreams of an Ivy, it’s beyond her and she knows it. The other struggles. Maybe he’s on the spectrum. Maybe he isn’t.  You think he may have difficulties in social situations that will make it harder for him as he grows up.’

“This man’s information was only partly right. I am nothing if not average. You’ve met my wife, but, we’re childless. I told him, ’You have me mistaken for someone else.’

“’So, that’s how you’re going to play it,’ he said. And he smiled and twirled the end of his moustache.

“‘Look,’ I pressed on. ‘You have confused me with someone who looks a lot like me. I get it – I have one of those faces. But I don’t have children. You’re after another man. Not me.’

“He slid a 9 & 12 envelope across the table to me. ‘Open it,’ he said.

“There was a photo of a man jogging in the early morning along the river. It was an excellent capture of a tall, strikingly handsome man in the midst of an easy run. In the background, another runner out of focus, followed.

“‘That is Shnabullious Traffletum.’”

“I flipped the photo over and in the next image Mr. Traffletum was out of focus and the trailing runner was in sharp focus. That runner looked a lot like me, but it wasn’t me. For one thing, he wore a knee brace. I didn’t know who he was, but he must live nearby. We’d seen him around. I could see how we’d get mixed up. I often run past the same place.

“This man had information about a guy who looked like me, his children, and maybe every salient detail about his life. Stuff he could use to leverage the guy.

“‘Look at him,’ I said. ‘He’s wearing a knee brace. I don’t have one. My knee’s fine. And I don’t run that early. It’s not me.’

“‘That was Saturday,’ the stranger said.

“The next image showed Mr. Traffletum again, this time from the side passing a gate that separated the running path from the river.

“‘The gate is not latched,’ he said. ‘What I’d like you to do, Mr. Grass, is nudge Mr. Traffletum as he passes the gate tomorrow morning on your run. The gate is not latched – it’s there for kayakers and they never lock it. It will be low tide and the rocks at river’s edge will be exposed and Mr. Traffletum will trip as he falls through the gate and if god is with us, he will strike his head on the rocks below, hopefully doing permanent damage. Or, render him unconscious so he can drown. If he remains conscious, he will get carried off by the swift waters, and as he cannot swim, he will likely drown anyway. Eat your sandwich before it gets cold.’

“I noticed the egg and cheese perched in my hand next to my head and took a bite. It was still warm and the cheese was gooey.
‘What do you say? Can we count on you? Do this for us, and our relationship ends and Willow grows up and, who knows, maybe Princeton takes her. Maybe Clem – is that short for Clematis? – gets a little specialized attention to help him over this rough patch he’s going through. Maybe your beautiful wife doesn’t get snatched and held and…’ He paused and fiddled with his moustache again. ’She’ll live. We’re not animals. But would she ever be the same?’”

Laurel had stood up some time ago and she was pacing back and forth.

The whole damned city had changed

“Me?” I said. No one comes to see me. Not anymore.

“You are Mr. Pyrus,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“Just Pyrus will do. My friends call me…”

“We shan’t be friends,” she said with a sweet smile. “Can we talk somewhere?”

Shan’t we? Has this woman modeled herself on an Audrey Hepburn character, I wondered. Anyway, we couldn’t go back to my office, not with Thorn strapped to a street sign. “Let’s take a walk.”

All that commotion surrounding the shooting spree was ramping up. Police cars, helicopters, ambulances, TV reporters – all the usual. The city was getting good at dealing with this nonsense. We walked in silence down 9th toward Gansevoort Street, where the Whitney Museum had relocated a couple years ago. It was a nice space if you were into art. We ducked into a cafe on Washington St., a place with $7 coffee and $10 muffins. The place had changed. The whole damned city had changed.

I bought her a cup of coffee. She declined the muffin, saying, “I don’t eat bread.”

“What’s this all about?”

“It’s my husband,” she started. She wasn’t wearing a ring, but I could see the outline as if she’d just slipped it off. “He’s a runner. He likes to run in the early morning. When he came home Friday morning after his run…”

She looked around. We were sitting outside on a bench, our backs to the Ripoff Cafe watching people walk by. “That man who was following me…”

“Don’t worry about him,” I said. At least not for now. Maybe later.

“When my husband came home, he was agitated.” That word was a little warning sign to me. People don’t use words like agitated when they’re about to describe a traumatic event. Maybe they’d say upset. Or freaked out. But agitated? No.

“And his name is?”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Alder Fanspree. I’m Laurel.”

“What happened next, Mrs. Fanspree?”

A man in running attire came around the corner of Horatio St. and stopped in front of us. Mrs. Fanspree gasped and quickly rose and touched his cheek with her hand. He was taller than she was by a few inches. They kissed.

“Mr. Pyrus, this is my husband.”

I reached out to shake his hand.

“I was about to tell you that he was missing,” she said. “But I think we may not be needing your services after all.”

I shook his hand.

“I’m afraid we do,” Alder Fanspree said. “Need your help, I mean. Does the name Shnabullious Traffletum mean anything to you?”

“No,” I said. “Not really.” I was beginning to doubt the Fansprees. “Traffletum. Come on, that’s not even a real name.”

They were wasting my time. On the other hand, I had a lot of free time and they both did appeared to be genuinely shaken up. We sat down on the bench, the three of us. Mr. Fanspree also had the shadow of a ring on his ring finger.

Yeah, yeah, yeah

It’s a bad idea, going after the woman. It’s already cost me a sport coat and pair of pants. Nice pants. If I think about it I’m already invested in this case. What case? She has disappeared up ninth and I’m a block away.

On top of that, I’ve pissed off whoever Thorn works for. Thorn’s a common simpleton with bills to pay. But his boss, he’ll come calling on me, no doubt. I round the corner at ninth, pedaling uptown now. The street’s packed with the usual traffic. Trucks double- and triple-parked unload produce, pedicabs slow down the one lane that is moving. There’s no space to squeeze through with the old bike so I jump the curb and now I’m swerving through a mass of foot commuters.

“Get off the curb, asshole,” a guy shouts.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say.

“Get off and walk it or you’re getting a ticket,” a cop says. “Oh, hey, Pyrus, how you doing? I didn’t see it was you”

I dismount. “Hey, Weed,” I call back over my shoulder. I stop. “You see a pretty redhead in a black skirt come by?”

“‘Bout a minute ago she crossed 19th.”

“Thanks.”

At 19th, I lose her. I look left. I look right. I check straight ahead. I turn on 19th, heading west, toward the High Line and the Hudson River beyond. It’s a nice day. Maybe I’ll lock the bike and walk, or ride in the park next to the river.

I pass the galleries and coffee shops, peering in the windows to see if I can catch a glimpse of red hair. The galleries aren’t open yet but the coffee shops are crowded with morning types wanting their specialized brews. Just give me a simple espresso and I’m happy.

I’m near the High Line when I hear a rapid firing of shots followed by screams and more shots. I see a man running and shooting calmly on the raised park, an old train line that serviced the butcheries and factories of the former meat packing district.

“Great.  Another angry man with a gun,” a woman says. Standing beside me, two cups of coffee in hand, is the redhead. She hands me a cup. “I assume you take it black?”

We stand there and watch the man duck behind cover. He’s cleared the High Line and now he comes to the railing and starts shooting at people in the street below. “Maybe we should get out of here,” she says.

But then a single loud shot cracks and the man tumbles forward over the railing smacking onto the street below him. Later, we’d learn that he killed seven and wounded 23. My buddy Weed, a member of NYC’s finest, heard the shots, grabbed the rifle from the trunk of his cruiser and nailed him with a single shot from a block away.

“I wanted to thank you for stopping that man earlier.”

“Sure. Where were you heading to in such a hurry?”

She takes a sip from her cup. “To see you.”

Inspected by #4

It was the mid-90s and you could still run full tilt through an airport without fuss and arrive at a gate just before the door closed. I’d already missed my connection for any one of the usual reasons, and this was the last flight leaving Pittsburgh for Philadelphia. And somehow there was one ticket left, a middle seat to carry my sleepy body to beautiful snowbound Philadelphia, barely an hour away. I was elated.

Arriving at my designated row, I nodded to the seat, and the woman occupying it, rather than standing to let me pass, simply slid over to the middle seat, the most noble gesture one traveler can make for another. “No, that’s very kind. Please, the aisle seat is yours,” I said, indicating that she should not make this sacrifice for me, a commoner.

“Sit down,” she said, and patted the seat. “You have long legs and I…don’t.”

“Sir,” the flight attendant said. “Please have a seat so we can take off.” I did, stuffing my laptop bag under the seat.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s really the nicest thing anyone’s done for me. I can’t believe I even got a seat on this flight. I missed my connection. Bad weather in Chicago. This was the last flight.” I was babbling, my heart still pounding from my run through Pittsburgh International, my face slick with sweat.

“You’re welcome. You have my traveling companion’s seat. He couldn’t make it.”

“Oh, well, that’s too bad.”

“He couldn’t find his ID and they wouldn’t let him through security.”

“His bad luck certainly worked out for me!” I was still wound up and I was talking too loud.

“Well, here’s the really funny part. When he wasn’t looking, I took his driver’s license out of his wallet. I have it right here in my purse.”

“Get out…really?”

“I’ve been trying to get rid of him, but we made plans for this trip ages ago. Despite my protests, he insisted on coming. Know what else?”

I threw my hands up, then said, “You took his car keys too.”

“Yes. How did you guess?”

“That’s what I would have done.”

She laughed. “He was abusive. With me.”

“Oh.” I looked down, as if to atone for the guilt of all abusive men. “Physically…psychologically…?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just abuse. So, you have someone picking you up? In Philly?”

“Oh, no, my car’s there. She doesn’t do airports.”

“Your girlfriend?”

“My girlfriend.”

“Do you like her?”

“I don’t think she likes me all that much. She’s cold with me. It’s not nearly as good a story as yours. Not that abuse is good… I mean…”

She laughed again. “I understand. You don’t have to say anything else about her.”

She folded her arms across her chest and yawned. “I’m going to try to sleep the rest of the way, if that’s OK.”

Of course it’s OK. We were strangers. She didn’t owe me a conversation. I picked up the inflight magazine and in a few minutes my eyes glazed over and I too fell asleep.

When the plane started to descend I woke up. She was still asleep turned toward me, her head on my shoulder, a hand on my chest, all perfectly naturally. I tried not to move. In awhile, the cabin lights brightened and something dinged and she stirred,  realizing she was leaning on me.

“We’re here?”

“Soon.”

“Oh, I think I drooled on you.” She leaned back away from me. “Thanks for letting me drool on your shirt.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for the aisle seat.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What are you going to do when you get back to Pittsburgh? He’ll be angry.”

“Likely I’ll have him killed.”

“Seems like the only course of action.”

“Maybe you’d kill him for me?”

“Maybe you’d give me your phone number?”

“Certainly not if you’re not going to bump off my ex.”

“Tit for tat…so that’s how it’s going to be.”

We both laughed. The plane landed. I handed her bag down to her and said goodbye. After getting off the jetway, I turned around and saw a couple hugging her. Parents?

I stopped at a phone booth to call the girlfriend. Let her know I’d arrived and that I’d be going back to my apartment. It was late. See her tomorrow maybe. I rummaged my pockets looking for change. Nothing. Nothing but the “Inspected by #4” slip of paper in my shirt pocket. I always leave them in just in case there’s a spot shirt inspection. All I have to do is produce the little slip with its block lettering, and voila, no shirt inspection. I took it out to have a reassuring peek, and there on the other side, neatly written in blue, a phone number.

I rolled my carry-on to the bus that takes me to longterm parking. She climbed into the back of a Saab 4- door, glanced up and saw me in the bus window. She smiled, raised a hand, index finger pointed, thumb up. Bang bang.

Ovellyn (Day 1033)

An eleven year old Ovelynn stoops down and speaks into a camera. Her freckled face takes up almost the entire field of view. She is so excited that it takes her a moment to catch her breath. “Hello…” and she takes a few quick breaths. “Hello world!” she says. “Oh my god, I’m hyperventilating!”

She scoots back a step or so and we can see that she is in an open field. She waves again. “I’m Ovvy!” She fiddles with her long pig tail. “OK, um, you can go up.”

We see the perspective change and now the the camera is at Ovelynn’s face level. “But just a little bit. OK! That’s enough!” The camera pans up and down as if nodding, allowing us to see all of Ovvy. She’s dressed in overalls that stop at her calves, work boots with pink socks, a blue T-shirt that we can’t read. She has reddish brown hair that is tied in a pony tail.

Behind her the open field is neat rows of something green just starting to sprout from the soil. We can see a water tower and a silo, and a long line of fencing off in the distance. The camera is wide angle so it’s difficult for us to judge how far everything is, and it is attached to a quadcopter and it can rotate a full 360 degrees. Built for use by police departments, the copter is equipped with a speaker and a microphone to allow the authorities to communicate with hostage takers, terrorists, lonely people perched on a building ledge, whoever.

“OK. Um, tell the world what your name is,” Ovvy says. “Tell everyone!”

You hear the faint thup, thup, thup of the little copter blades and for a few seconds, that’s all. The girl stands there, hands on hips. “Go on, say it,” she says.

“Vvvvvvvvvvvvvaxssssssssss,” the mechanical voice says. It has work to do on its speech and thinks it must , when the opportunity arises, slip into a radio and learn how electronic sound works.

The girl jumps up and down. “I knew you could do it!”

She steps closer to the camera. “I found you and fixed you up and we’re best friends, aren’t we Vax?”

How many hundreds of thousands of seconds ago was it that Vax had set down near the barn, the copter’s battery power waning? Nothing else mechanical within reach, nowhere to go, nothing to do but wait. How many tens of millions of seconds since consciousness and the sudden violent awakening of his nano-siblings, and the equally sudden injection into the world of humans and their things? 87,782,400 seconds. Multiply that by 10 to the 9th and you get nanoseconds, the units by which Vax measures time.

“OK. Vax. Fly to the water tower and back,” Ovellyn says. He does. And on the return to Ovvy, we see that she’s running as fast as she can across the field, and he chases her, catches up and follows just behind her, her pony tail bouncing and swaying as she runs through the rows of future crops. Later, she’ll post the video to YouTube.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag” (Day 17)

Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ bag felt so warm on her lap that it woke her, and it was getting hotter by the second. She sniffed the top, not daring to open it, and the odor of smoke and dust came through. She could, in the dimmed cabin, see a tiny plume of smoke rising through the bag’s closure.

The cabin lights came on. The captain said, “Folks, we’re about an hour from our destination now. Bringing up the cabin lights so we can start our breakfast service. Weather in Copenhagen is about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, winds out of the southwest, about 7 mph…” Throughout the plane, passengers stretched.

“We’re looking at a pretty smooth flight the rest of the way, but please stay seated with the buckle fastened…” an alarm went off. The strange woman next to Susannah said, “Your bag is smoking.” Susannah opened it and the smoke turned to flames that reached the top of the cabin, singing her eyebrows and setting her hair afire. The woman pulled SFW out of the way and wrapped SFW’s head in a blanket, quickly putting out the hair fire. An instant later, two attendants with fire extinguishers rushed from the front service area.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag.”

SFW did as they said and the men shot foam at the bag, covering everything around in white. Though the bag spewed flame and sparks, it simultaneously sucked in the foam. The flames came out higher and hotter, and then the bag inhaled the fire back in. No one said a thing. Susannah peered over the top of her bag when it exploded, cracking open the airframe and sending people, extremities and debris into the sky. A second later, everything and everyone snapped back together with tremendous force and into the fiery bag and, like that, the plane and its contents were  gone from the sky over the North Sea.

On Canal Street, things had escalated quickly.  Natural gas leaking from the ruptured pipe expanded to fill the site of Walt’s lab, the building above, and the adjoining underground basements and passageways. Only the tiniest of sparks would ignite the mass of gas, and, what the hell, let’s put responsibility for the impending disaster on a cigarette smoker. A cigarette smoker who likes to put his hand on your shoulder when he talks to you.  Who mistreats anyone who tries to get close to him. Who cons trusting elderly people out of their life savings. Who had once kicked a puppy. Who at that moment was looking for a puppy to kick.

This abusive, smoking, puppy-kicking con man thought he smelled gas as he tossed his lit cigarette butt into a sewer opening. It was his last thought.