Saturday, August 23, 2008

Size Matters

Today was filled with items whose size didn't seem to be appropriate. First sight was a small infant with a large beverage.

New York pacifier

Kid's getting some serious nutrition. I'm not complaining. It kept him from crying. When his mom tried to move the cup a little so the kid wouldn't spill it all over himself, he started to scream his head off. As soon as he had both of his little hands firmly wrapped around the cup, his serenity returned.

Five-foot Fay provides perspective

My next oversized sighting was in Chinatown. People in New York use these collapsible carts to shuttle groceries from the store to their homes. A normal cart is about 3 feet tall. I'm not sure what you are supposed to transport in that thing.

Mr. Airport Hustle

I have been to a fair number of airports over the years. Each airport has its own advantages and disadvantages. Take JFK in New York, for example. One of its advantages is that you can get direct flights to and from most places. One of its disadvantages is that, if you take delays into consideration, a direct flight from JFK will not necessarily get you to your destination faster than a connecting flight.

JFK is one of these airports that charges you to use a luggage cart. I don't have a problem with that. The system, as implemented at JFK, however, has a significant design flaw: there is no incentive to return the cart to the cart-stand. Some airports give you money back when you return the cart, but JFK does not. The result is parking lots full of abandoned carts.

Mr. Airport Hustle

Enter enterprising New Yorkers. At the airport today we saw this guy collecting a few carts from the parking lot and bringing them back to the cart-stand. Only he didn't return them. He stationed himself in front of the stand, intercepting tourists and selling his carts. Mr. Airport Hustle was pocketing $3 per cart.

Shouldn't you be working?

When Mr. Airport Hustle's cart supply was running low, he found a friend with airport credentials to sell his carts while he corral more of them. That added an air of legitimacy that seemed to attract the locals as well as the tourists.

It got interesting when one man didn't want to pay Mr. Airport Hustle. I couldn't tell if the man was insisting on putting his money into the machine to retrieve a cart or if he was trying to negotiate a better price with the Mr. Airport Hustle.

Whatever it was, it set Mr. Airport Hustle off. He started muttering to himself like a profane cartoon character. "Who the fuck does he think I am, mother fucker. He ain't getting no cart for $3. Fuck that mother fucker." It was a shocking transformation, and one that made me want to call airport security.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Where can I Catch the Dowtown Train?

Misspelled signs are plentiful in New York. I consider it to be a perfect example of the apathy you encounter here. In New York, you can go to a sign maker and ask for a sign that reads "Mike's Auto Garrage", and the sign maker will be happy to make you the sign, misspelled word and all, no questions asked.

I'm all for correct spelling, unless it means a fare hike.

Today I saw a misspelled word in the Fulton Street subway station. The MTA misspelled "downtown".

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Recycling Woes

When it comes to recycling, my neighbors are idiots. In the recycling bin I find the strangest assortment of trash. People throw empty chip bags, used paper cups, old shoes, and broken toys. And today there was this. I don't know what it is, but it is certainly not recyclable in New York City.

Random pieces of plastic are not recyclable, but neither are half of the other items deposited in the recycling can.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Next to my subway stop there is a small grocery store. On the curb in front of the store there is usually a pile of trash bags leaking some foul, brown liquid into the street. The store's dumpster omits a stink that always brings to mind a lyric from Thriller: "The foulest stench is in the air, the funk of forty thousand years." In a city full of offensive odors, this is one that stands out as particularly vile. It is the super-concentrated smell of New York fermenting in the summer heat.

I always assumed the smell was that of rotting produce. During high school I worked in the produce department at a grocery store. Decomposing plant life is able to produce some incredibly horrible smells. Potatoes were the worst. Just the thought of that smell can make me shudder.

When will the protesters descend upon Brooklyn?

This morning the sinister truth behind the smell appears to have been revealed. There is an abortion clinic hidden at the back of the store.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

No Parking, Brooklyn Style

I see signs like this all the time. New York is filled with this junky little chotchkies, but I usually see them gathering dust in the cluttered aisles of a dollar store. When I see them I wonder to myself if there are people who are actually amused by them.

While out for a walk in Brooklyn a few weeks ago I noticed this particular sign attached to someone's garage. It made me laugh.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Quite Possibly the Worst Street Musician in New York

While riding on the New York City subway it is not unusual to be entertained by various artists. There is a wide range of annoying musicians, everything from a man who accompanies a sound system blasting "New York, New York" with his trumpet, to a man wearing the tattered rags of the homeless who sings a rendition of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?", to various pan-fluting Peruvians.

But as irritating as these musicians may be, at least they have some talent - or at least the ability to perform with tuned instruments. They are tolerable.

What is truly awful is when you get stuck in a car with a junkie playing a guitar. At first they can be hard to detect, especially at a distance. Is that a dirty-looking hipster, or an addict? If he gets close enough that you can see scabs, it's a much easier call to make.

On tonight's ride home my fellow straphangers and I were serenaded by what might be the worst street musician in the city.

If $0.31 makes a professional, then you're looking at a pro.

This guy enters the train and is immediately disruptive in the style of a panhandler. His unusually nasally and piercing voice announced that he was a street artist, that he was going to play a song, that donations and handouts were appreciated, etc. It was mildly amusing when he referred the subway car as a room, as if he were performing in a concert hall or were regaling some of his closest friends with a little song or two in an intimate setting.

His first chord was a mess. Mercifully he realized how out of tune he was and decided to tune up. It took him three stops to decide that he was tuned up enough to perform. You have to be really bad on the guitar to make it sound like a ukulele. He was playing six strings but somehow they sounded like four, each tuned to a slightly different version of the same note.

I would not wish drug addiction on anyone, but I sort of hope that he is a junkie and that when he hears the sound of his own guitar his drug-addled brain interprets it as beautiful music.