What did I just witness?

So, I was walking down Broadway here in lower Manhattan, and saw a lady writing on a piece of cardboard about how she’s homeless and needs help, etc.

Terribly sad, for sure.

But something hit me.

Had she been homeless for a while now, and just updating her sign as a means of requesting donations?

Or…

…what if I witnessed a human being on their first day of being homeless – having just given up her last-ditch attempts at continuing to live in the place she had called home that very morning?

…what if that was the very moment she resigned herself to having to take to the chilly streets of Manhattan, and relying upon the kindness and spare change of strangers?

…what if, she’d spent the day wandering around the city, and had just chosen that spot, on this windy, busy, thoroughfare, as her new perch for the indefinite future?

I find that possibility completely horrifying.

Someone please appreciate this Honeymooners reference!

Someone please appreciate this!

I was at the gym, talking to a guy named Ralph. When I meet guys named Ralph, my mind instantly goes to Ralph Kramden, of The Honeymooners fame. Thankfully, he made the reference first, so I didn’t have to hold it in for eternity and constantly try to NOT mention every single time I see him.

Anyhoo, I was kibbitzing around with him, and he called me ‘a riot’. After doing a double take, I was sooooo tempted to yell, “A regggular riot Alice, a regular riot!” but I resisted, mainly because I didn’t want to have to switch gyms.

It should also be noted that every time I see him, I have a remarkably strong desire to howl in a Norton-esque voice, “Heyyyyy Ralphie Boy!!” but I have thus far resisted.

This city I take for granted

I work in Lower Manhattan. I have a job that happens to be located down there, so there I go. Whenever one goes to the same place every day, the trip is done by rote – it’s automatic.  A while back it began to dawn on me how fortunate I was to be working in an area filled with history significant to people around the world - indeed, tourists are abound, taking snapshots of these historic locations, trying to create enduring memories of their trip to New York City.

Spending a lifetime living in New York City has a way of desensitizing one to the vast quantity of famous places all around us. Much conversation has taken place among native New Yorkers about how irritating it can be with all of “these tourists” overflowing “our” streets, wont to stop on a dime to take a picture of  some building or statue.

To name just a few of the world-famous locations I see on a daily basis, I pass the World Trade Center, the Trump Building, the “Charging Bull”, Federal Hall (location of the first inauguration of George Washington (along with the statue of him outside the building),  Trinity Church (which includes the grave of Alexander Hamilton), the New York Stock Exchange, and so many more.

I might be in the minority here, but sometimes I wish I were there when Wall Street had a wall, when Canal Street had a canal, and when Beaver Street had, errr, beavers? Whenever I am lost in such reverie, I try to remind myself that indoor plumbing, brushing teeth, regular bathing, garbage collection, and sewers weren’t standard in many of these times.

As usual, I digress. It’s often so easy to get used to things that we see all the time. I imagine it’s a natural progression. We may not look up at the tall buildings, towering well above our grasp. We may not look down at the ground where battles were fought and rights were won. The familiar loses its majesty.

Sometimes it’s important to break from your routine, and open your eyes to the history and beauty around us.

My Thoughts on “Death Pools”

For those who don’t know, “death pools” involve wagering of some kind as to which celebrities will die next, over the upcoming year, or some other defined time period. A friend (who will be identified only as “Lazer”) asked me who I thought would be good candidates for such a poll. I came up with a nice-sized list, which I will paste later. These were all off-the-cuff, and some of them are pretty obvious guesses. Again, we’ll get to that later. 

It got me thinking, though. On one hand, the whole idea makes me feel uncomfortable, and it feels somewhat macabre. On the other, I rather enjoyed thinking of people who I thought would be good “guesses”, for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure if it troubles me to the degree with which I enjoyed throwing names of human beings out there casually, as though their deaths were like a random card chosen from a deck, or the equivalent of flipping over a Monopoly ‘Community Chest’ card.  Many of the people on the list have been going through hard times, or have had troubles in the past. Gambling on peoples’ unfortunate situations is weird. That said, I don’t hope they actually die, and it was fun speculating nonetheless.

Okay, sorry.

I was going to post the list, but I would just feel horrible if someone on the list saw it, and was like, “umm… glad you’re finding my hard luck humorous, jerk”, so I’m going to leave the list out. That would only detract from the point of the post, at any rate. I’m thinking that to some degree people choose to become a celebrity (Charlie Sheen), and as a result their lives are entirely public, and therefore subject to the whim of random online bloggers. Someone like Jerry Sandusky has never wanted to be in the news, but I don’t see too many people who would feel bad that his *alleged* atrocities were made public.

As such, I’m not sure if it’s a super idea to do something like this, but it was super-fun nevertheless.

On Post-War Hatred

With today being Pearl Harbor Day, a quandary I have had many times came up. The issue is this – for how long after a war/attack/persecution is a people allowed to hate the other party?

The examples are many, and yet perhaps somewhat inconsistent. People would look at me like I was insane if I started cursing out British tourists for their treatment of the colonials 240 years ago, but would you be shocked if a Native American expressed anger towards the U.S. government for the terrible treatment of their people? Across much of the southern part of the United States you will see people flying Confederate flags, with slogans like “The South will rise again”. Is this merely misplaced anger from 150 years ago? Does it even matter? Is it odd that many Brits are still wary of the French after all the years of fighting? So many examples, and there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer.

Would it change anything if both sides of the war were angry? Americans had (have) spent a long time being angry at the Japanese for World War II, Pearl Harbor, etc., and I’m sure there have to be many Japanese who are upset with the U.S. over the use of the atomic bomb. If one started to be less upset, should that cue the end of the other side’s hatred? Clearly this is not the case.

Does it matter if our former enemies are now our allies? Does time heal the wounds? I would think that you could argue that in both cases the answer could be no, absolutely not. If time does play a role, how much time must elapse? One generation? 100 years? It all seems rather incongruous to me.

In some regions of the world I am sure that the wounds from thousands of years ago still sting as though they were fresh. I imagine that in the Western world it’s much harder for a people to hate the people of a nation, or to refuse to purchase their products, than it used to be. Society is much more liberal; everybody is expected to get along with everybody, and every kid gets a participation trophy so they don’t feel badly about themselves. Nobody is allowed to hate, or even resent, people in public anymore. On the flip side, there are many regions of the world, and subsets of people who VERY much still harbor hatred for their former antagonists and live their lives according to this ethos.

I’m not totally sure I have an answer to this question. It was just something on my mind, and I decided to share. Your thoughts are welcome.

Hey air-traffic controllers – can we have a word for a minute?

Hi there.

You have been entrusted with a vital job in the workforce. It is on your shoulders to make sure that every single person that flies through the air lands safely. I get it. I think that you have one the more thankless jobs in this country, because nobody will ever hear your name unless you make a major mistake. Most of you get paid fairly well, it seems.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:

Air traffic controllers earn relatively high pay and have good benefits. Median annual wages of air traffic controllers in May 2008 were $111,870. The middle 50 percent earned between $71,050 and $143,780. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $161,010. The average annual salary, excluding overtime earnings, for air traffic controllers in the Federal Government—which employs 90 percent of all controllers—was $109,218 in March 2009.

The Air Traffic Control pay system classifies each air traffic facility into one of eight levels with corresponding pay bands. Under this pay system, controllers’ salaries are determined by the rating of the facility. Higher ratings usually mean higher controller salaries and greater demands on the controller’s judgment, skill, and decision-making ability.

Depending on length of service, air traffic controllers receive 13 to 26 days of paid vacation and 13 days of paid sick leave each year, in addition to life insurance and health benefits. Controllers also can retire at an earlier age and with fewer years of service than other Federal employees. Air traffic controllers are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service as an active air traffic controller or after 25 years of active service at any age. There is a mandatory retirement age of 56 for controllers who manage air traffic. However, Federal law provides for exemptions to the mandatory age of 56, up to age 61 in certain cases, but controllers must have exceptional skills and experience. Earnings and benefits for controllers working in contract towers or flight service stations may vary. Many air traffic controllers hold union membership, primarily with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

I think you deserve to be well-paid because of what’s at stake here. Of the many considerations, concerns, and fears people have about flying, I would venture to say that most do not factor in which air-traffic controller is on duty, and how good they are at their job.

I’m sure that the map of flights cross-country looks something like this, and it’s not such an easy job. We need you to do your job well, unless we should all only buy one-way tickets. To the best of my knowledge, you “guys and gals of the high tower” do a good job, because most people never even consider collisions with other aircraft, or any of the twenty other things I’m sure you do.

Are you in charge of deciding which planes take off in which order? If so, I’m sorry to hear that. People hate you when they hear that they’re number 24 on the list, but we know it’s one of those “someone’s gotta do it” jobs where friends are seldom made. I guess the anonymity works in your favor this time.

Hey, while I have you here. Is there any way you can stay awake? I know you mostly do, which is important, but I mean, twice in the past few weeks? The first time, March 23rd, a supervisor controlling traffic at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was asleep, and two planes almost crashed because there was nobody there to guide them. Not good. The other one involved another controller sleeping in Knoxville, Tennessee.

I realize that you’re understaffed, and that it’s the midnight shift, but isn’t this the type of job where one screw-up is way too many? I’m with the FAA. There needs to be two of you up there. One to do the work, and the other to snooze or look out the window at the pretty things below.