Posts Tagged ‘Queens


It’s 2 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Contribution to Global Mercury Poisoning Is?

It’s like … ten thousand sick Nigerians when all you need is a clear desktop.

The day after we dropped off a non-functioning printer and a bag of old cell phones and chargers at the recycling center, we found this from the AP:

America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas

An excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Most Americans think they’re helping the earth when they recycle their old computers, televisions and cell phones. But chances are they’re contributing to a global trade in electronic trash that endangers workers and pollutes the environment overseas.

While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

“It is being recycled, but it’s being recycled in the most horrific way you can imagine,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, the Seattle-based environmental group that tipped off Hong Kong authorities. “We’re preserving our own environment, but contaminating the rest of the world.”

Beautiful. You think you’re saving the planet, but really you’re just killing Chinese babies. Uhm … It was emotionally wrenching enough to get rid of my old Power Mac G3 in the first place (not to mention my dear departed iPod). I was hoping not to add unwilling complicity to murder into the bargain.

You just can’t win … so it would seem.

Lucky for us, we live in the civilized borough of Queens, and we dropped off our junk at Build it Green NYC‘s collection site in Astoria. In association with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, Build It Green provides a drop-off center for disposing of electronic equipment — the right way.

From their Web site:

Is any of the recycled material sent overseas?
No. We share your concern about dumping electronic waste on developing countries. Therefore we require that our vendors recycle all collected materials in the US and provide us with documentation about their down stream vendors. We audit this information to confirm validity.

Yay! We win.

For more information:


…But You Can’t Take the Country Out of the City

When I was reminded this summer of the last remaining functioning farm in New York City, the longest continually farmed land (by white people) in the state, there was no question that Jeff and I had to go check it out. Of all the crazy things to do in this city, surely this must be among the craziest. And the Queens County Fair, held in mid-September out on the Nassau County border in Floral Park, a neighborhood I’d never heard of, was the perfect opportunity.

Being good Midwesterners, we love a good fair, and having lived in Minnesota for a good chunk of time, we’ve had a taste of the best. (The Minnesota State Fair, though it is the second largest state fair in the country after Iowa, will always get my blue ribbon. But I am not without my prejudices.) The Queens County Fair is a charming escape from urban frenzy, recalling the ghosts of an agrarian past that New York City has all but forgotten, but it seemed to me ultimately a desperate recreation of a Queens that no longer exists. (I have found that Queens is often the site of such grand anachronisms. Witness the World’s Fairgrounds in Flushing Meadows.)

For the owners of the prize-winning chickens and wood carvings, this is still obviously a very present and real lifestyle, but for the vast majority of us, this is all a vision of “the old days.” The farmhouse, the fairgrounds, the vegetation, the animals — the odors — it is all an exhibit. The site is in fact a museum — a source of amusement and distraction for us city folk, no longer front and center in our minds as the backbone of a way of life.

Also, it’s a very white audience, which may have reflected the local demographic 50 years ago, but not today. The clearest example of this that I saw was the Bavarian tent, with its beers and brats and lederhosen. It’s a long-time staple of events like this, but why? The gyros and kebabs of the midway could have come out of Astoria, maybe, but a far better representation of the county might have included empanadas, halal chicken and rice, or maybe some tandoori or curry. Not that I have anything at all against beers and brats. Or lederhosen.

A woman working in the livestock tent said to a patron, “City kids don’t have a chance to see this stuff.” Goats and cows and chickens are exotic to us now. Ironically, these days, as suburbs and exurbs encroach on the shrinking countryside, many country kids don’t get to see so much of this stuff either. Neither good nor bad, I suppose; just true.

A pictorial:
Green Acres — You can see we’re still in the city.

MENSA Chicken — Some of the chickens were wandering around the fairgrounds, while others among them were too stupid or unlucky to figure out how to escape their pens.

Big Cock — Roosters really are sort of beautiful, even if they’re standing next to a dirty man-made “pond.”

Turkey — “When Thanksgiving time is here, then it’s our turn to gobble, gobble, gobble.”

Ouch! — Do you cook with these or defend yourself against burglars?

Orange Crush — I have a perfectly healthy obsession with pumpkins.

Eat ‘Em Up — Oh, what I couldn’t do with a sharp knife and a cutting board.

Purple Haze — Look at all the shiny, purple lusciousness. This was one of the most beautiful things I saw at the fair.

All Tarted Up — Midwesterners like me have a special fondness for rhubarb.

Fat Hogs
Super Size — These hogs are so painfully obese, they can hardly stand, and their bellies scrape the ground when they walk.

Goat and Jeff
Face to Face — I can hardly tell the difference between this goat and my husband! They’re both so cute.

Goat and Arley
Man and Beast — Arley tries communicating with a billy goat.

Creepy Snake Guy
Charmer — This guy popped up all over the place. I couldn’t tell if he was officially part of the fair or if he was just some creepy guy who showed up with a snake to show around. Touch my snake! Touch my snake!

White men singing
White Men Singing — Seeing these guys sort of reinforced the whiteness of the whole thing.

The petting farm, pony rides, hay rides, magic shows and blue ribbon-winning jams and cakes and breads locked away in acrylic display boxes, each one with a single piece missing, were all standard fare. (Jeff wants to enter his zucchini bread next year!) Other random oddities, like the guy with the snake, and a kid in a hot air balloon basket demonstrating his flaming apparatus to a small crowd, rounded out the offerings. And of course there was a cornstalk labyrinth, the “Amazing Maize Maze,” which sounds funny no matter who says it. (What happens if the kids can’t find their way out? I imagined little skeletons scattered around the maze at harvest time.)

I was disappointed to have missed the pig races. Watching those little frenzied curly tails bobbing around the track was always a favorite part of my own home town’s annual fair.

The frog jumping sounded promising, too. I was imagining something out of Mark Twain, but the emcee frustrated much of his audience, including me, by dragging the show out to exhaustive lengths (much like this blog post) before actually pulling any frogs out of his buckets. All I saw in the time I waited around was a tree frog peeing repeatedly on some poor little girl’s hand.

And maybe that’s the best place to close. I’m glad to have seen the Queens County Fair. It was precious. I am amazed that such a thing can still exist at all. And at the end of the day, I guess, we wash the animal excretions off our hands and return to our city, leaving the farm behind us.


Just My Luck

Should I consider it a good omen that a bird shit on me late last night while walking home from the bar?

If so, then good luck has been clamoring to find me this week. On Wednesday, as I was crossing 9th Avenue toward my new barber, I heard a splash near me on the pavement, maybe a foot away from my shoe. It was surprisingly loud, considering the level of midday city noise, and blended in well with the customary filth of the street. Looking up, I saw a row of pigeons on a streetlight suspension wire.

I considered myself lucky at that moment that I had dodged a bullet, so to speak. I mean, there’s a time and a place, right? Apparently that time was about midnight and the place was 82nd and Roosevelt Avenue in Queens.

As the train passed, I felt something light strike me in the chest. I thought it might be some small piece of debris falling from the underside of the elevated tracks of the 7 train, but whatever it was seemed to have stuck there. I could feel its light weight sitting on my chest. Without thinking, I reached up to my chest to feel what it was, and my hand slid across the warm, slippery substance and came away with a bit of bird shit.

It was the color of graphite and much more solid than I had expected, like an exuberant dollop of acrylic paint. And it covered a good three or four square inches of my shirt. It was revolting.

The last time a bird hit me, I was about 7 or 8 years old and standing under a tree. It hit me on the back of my right hand. I wiped it off on the tree trunk without comment and carried on with the business of hide-and-go-seek. With the enormity of New York’s pigeon population, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. At least it did not land on my head or on my face this time.

There was a rumor for a while that a bird once shit in Cyndi Lauper’s mouth, back in 2004, while she was going for a long note at a concert in Boston. “My grandmother says it’s good luck,” she said, “but I think it’s disgusting.”

She put the rumor to rest recently: “It is not true that a flying bird once pooped in my mouth when I was singing in a concert. It did not go in my mouth. It went on my lower lip. I could not taste it. I just wiped it off.”

The shit-upon shirt was my spare. Living in Queens and working in Manhattan, I have learned to carry my house on my back; never knowing when I will will get back home in the day, I always have a spare shirt, some basic toiletries, reading material, and sometimes gym clothes in a bag when I go off to work in the morning. So I changed back into my slightly damp shirt from earlier in the day.

I don’t particularly like the shirt. I got it from the clearance rack at Gap, and every time I wear it, I see three or four people wearing the same thing — without fail. I avoid wearing it if I am going out into the city. Maybe the bird was merely suggesting I retire the garment and try one of the boutiques along 82nd Street.


Left Behind

One wonders why there is a pair of boxer shorts politely hung from the black wrought-iron fence in front of the apartment building at my bus stop. But there they are, in the humid morning sun, half turned inside-out, as if hurriedly discarded, yet draped calmly over the spikes. Light blue they are, with a cheerful pattern of clouds or sheep or something soft-looking. Perhaps they are being returned to an occupant of the building, the borrower having forgotten the correct apartment number. They are flannel by the look of it, cozy, and far too warm for a day like today. Perhaps they were abandoned for some relief from the heat. Maybe this really is evidence of the Rapture. They appear to be about a size 34 or so. No one seems to notice them, or if they do, no one seems to be bothered. No one wants to appear to be bothered. In any case, no one wants to fold them up and take them home.


Simple Things, Important Things

In a conversation I had once with my sophomore English teacher, Mrs. Przeslawski (so many teachers in the Detroit suburbs had ponderous Polish last names), I observed that the bell had just rung and that several students in the hall would be late to class.

“They’d better run,” I said to her.

“Oh no,” she said. “No. Never. They’re seniors. These are all seniors’ lockers around here.”

I didn’t follow.

She squared her face toward me and gave me a serious look. “Seniors never run.”

It is a lesson about pride I have carried with me through all my life. Better to come late to class quietly and calmly, with dignity, and suffer the consequences, than to arrive sweating and breathless.

To this day, for example, I never run for a bus.

I will turn a corner and see my bus barrelling through the green light toward me, careering toward the stop ahead. There are enough people at the sign that the time it takes for the bus to stop, for a few people to exit, and for those people to enter, I could easily make it in time to board myself. Only if I ran. Which I never do.

Once, and only once, since moving to New York did I run for the bus. And when I got there, the doors closed in my face, and the driver blithely drove away. New York bus drivers are merciless, but I can’t argue. If he stops to let me on, it could give others behind me time to reach the bus and further delay all of us.

So the bus comes and goes. I continue walking to the next stop, glancing back over my shoulder, coolly, calmly, knowing another will come soon, and I won’t have to break a sweat on my morning commute.

Other people, however, do run. From a precarious stance in the aisle, hovering over a woman with too much luggage or a man with halitosis and a dripping umbrella, I often see out the window someone tearing around the corner at a desperate gallop, panting toward the closing doors of the bus. They creak shut just as he or she arrives, and the best the hapless commuter can manage is an impotent bang-bang-bang on the windows all the way down the length of the vehicle, staring in with wild eyes and gaping mouth, or sometimes shouting something rather rude to the driver. I can empathize, but their effort is wasted: They are stuck at the stop anyway despite their run. They could easily have spared themselves the trauma.

Earlier today, as the Q33 was pulling away from the station at 74th and Broadway in Jackson Heights, a woman similarly reached the closed doors. She visibly chastised herself, or the driver, or fate, or the slow people on the stairs in the station a minute back — but she gave up the fight honorably and resolved to stand there, smiling, watching us take off.

The driver, a benevolent soul, glanced around him and decided it was safe to hit the brakes and open the door. He called to the woman, who was looking in the other direction.

“Hey. Hey, you! Come on. Get on!”

She snapped to attention and in one swift motion, she all but leaped aboard as the doors folded shut, and she was safe and on her way home.

She smiled radiantly, incredulously. She could not believe her luck — like a child who had just found the last Easter egg. “Thank you!” she said, dipping her Metrocard. She took a few steps in and grasped a pole at the front of the bus as the driver continued off the drive and the bus lurched onto the street.

Her reacton completely arrested me. It was so real and humble and grateful. I have never seen a driver stop like that, but it was ultimately a small, simple gesture, like holding a door. And she would have waited no more than 15 minutes for the next bus. But it obviously meant so much to her. I was totally charmed to see something so small matter so much and deliver such delight.


Mmm, Jurors…

The most valuable thing I learned today at jury duty is to never throw away my lunch voluntarily.

It’s my first time ever on jury duty. I reported this morning at 8:30 in Jamaica Center and noticed immediately signs posted all over the entrance to the courthouse: “NO FOOD OR DRINK IN THIS BUILDING.”

I took a quick few gulps of the bottle of water I was carrying and tossed it in a nearby trashcan.

Now, I had packed a lunch this morning. In fact, doing so, coupled with the disorienting break in my routine, had nearly made me late to the courthouse. I briefly considered stashing certain pieces of it in my coat pockets, but I thought better of it, in view of the x-ray machines. They’d find it anyway. Rather than be the dummy who didn’t read the signs in the eyes of the security guards, I thought it better to dispose of it altogether. So I dropped my perfect, neatly packed brown bag into the can. Thunk! A bagel with cream cheese, celery sticks, four Oreo cookies, a banana and an orange — wasted.

For much of the day afterward, I was completely distracted, you might say “obsessed,” in retrospect by this decision.

  1. I hate throwing away food on principle. For me, it’s a question of morality. I eat all leftovers. I clean my plate.
  2. I was almost late to court for making the damn thing in the first place.
  3. The kicker: On the other side of the security checkpoint, people blithely strolled around with McDonalds and bagels and coffee and bags of this and that as if there had been no signs.

So, not only did I feel totally morally compromised, I also felt stupid for throwing money away and being duped by a completely fake rule. To boot, rather than scold these rampant food-carryers, the officer who gave us all our instructions told us that we could leave to get food at any time — and bring it back to the juror lounge! We just couldn’t bring glass bottles in. Whoop-ti-do.

So, what were those signs for?

I hate them.

Apparently the security guards don’t take them seriously, either: One such sign had been amended with a piece of paper, a Sharpie and some scotch tape to read: “NO FOOD OR DRINK IN THIS BUILDING — EXCEPT JURORS.”

So, I bought myself a lunch across the street later on. And rather than bring it inside the building, I sat outside on a slab of granite and ate it there. It was 20 degrees outside, but it was actually rather pleasant in the sun when the wind died down.

the untallied hours