Sunday, October 31, 2010



A year or so ago a large carton was delivered to my wife's lab first thing in the morning. It was something they ordered. I asked Helen yesterday whether she could remember what it was, and she couldn't. It doesn't matter.

Someone coming in to work a little later saw the carton on the floor and asked, "You got a body in there?". Ha ha.

A little later someone else came in to work and said, "What, is there a body in there?".

And someone sighed and said, "Jersey!".

Right. A friend helps you move ; a good friend helps you move a body. That one probably originated in New Jersey. I first heard it from Tom and Ray on Car Talk, but it doesn't sound like a Cambridge, Massachusetts, joke.

Last weekend Helen and I went to see The Soprano State with my brother and his wife. He's in it. Oops, let's make this clear : he's in it because he's been reporting on the Meadowlands saga for The Record, and you can see him commenting on the Xanadu shopping mall project and the Encap golf course and housing project. He's not one of the persons of interest that the movie is about.

The movie got mixed reviews. It might be because it's a combination of factual reports on dozens of corruption cases and a lounge comedian commenting on them. Maybe some viewers don't know what to make of that. Is it funny?

The four of us laughed. I don't know what else you can do.

Most of all it's about the arrogance of public officials, people who start out well and then get to a point where they think laws don't apply to them and they can do anything they want.

I thought I saw something fishy locally two or three years ago. This is pretty small compared to what's in the movie, but I was sure I was onto something.

In South Orange, near the railway station, there's a nameless street running from Third Street to the New Waterlands Park. Commuters park along one side of it. Near Third Street there was one sign on that side that said "no parking", and no others.

Here's what I saw every morning as I walked down Third Street, on my way to the station.

I would see a South Orange Parking Authority car at the curb at the "no parking" sign. Its engine was running, with an agent at the driver's seat. He must have been there for a couple of hours each day. Drivers pulled up behind him to form eventually a long line of cars parked along that side of the street.

The driver of the Parking Authority car always had the window cracked open, in summer heat or winter cold, clear or rain or snow. He needed to, because after each driver parked and then walked past the Parking Authority car, they slipped something to him. I saw this several times.

I wondered if the town got a cut.

I walked up the little street one afternoon and I could see that each car had a card displayed in the windshield. So maybe it was permit parking. I couldn't tell for sure because at that time the South Orange Parking Authority had no information online about where permit parking was, and the sign at the curb did not say anything about "permit parking". It just said "no parking".

Besides, what were they giving this man? If it was permit parking, all he needed to do was come by around 9 or 10 in the morning and look at all the cars to see whether they had permits displayed. Why did he need to be there burning fuel for a few hours every morning?

And let's not blame it only on the one man. What did his supervisor think he was doing for a couple of hours every morning?

Update. The Parking Authority now has a map online and it shows the nameless road as "Resident Commuter Permit Parking". And their car no longer appears there at the head of the line.

So I can't give you the Big Exposé I once wanted to do.


Sunday, October 24, 2010



A few things happened this week.

I'll lead with the weird one.

A few of us at work like to go to lunch together on Fridays. I won't mention where we went this past week, but it was a good place that we haven't been to in a while. As usual I sat where I could see the door.

From time to time my eyes gazed past my friends across the table and to the people behind them. There were three people at a round table. A guy and a red-haired girl were sitting together, and across from them was a black-haired girl, with an empty chair on either side of her. So I thought I could figure the relationships. So can you, but just wait.

They finished before we did. The redhead got up first and put on her jacket and left. After about two minutes the black-haired girl got up and moved into the seat the redhead had been sitting in, and she smiled at the guy and they leaned closer. And all of a sudden they're into a big kiss with arms holding each other tight! WTF!

My friend Linda was sitting right next to me but she somehow missed seeing this little drama play out. I described it to her as we walked back, and she summed it up perfectly. "We thought she'd never leave!"

It's like Overheard in New York, but without any words.


I took the car in for its checkup on Tuesday. The silly warning light about getting service was coming on. Not the check engine light, which means something is wrong, but the other one, the one that just annoys you about getting service. I had put it off for a couple of weeks.

I'd been putting off a few things lately. I was only half aware of it, but I realized afterwards that I had been trying to keep my schedule clear, in case I was going to get The Call about my father.

I scheduled the car online on Saturday, the day after the funeral. That was a conscious decision by the thinking part of my brain. I knew I could bring the car in on Tuesday. No problem.

Free and clear now. The whole funeral process was complete, and we all went home on Friday and tried to go back to normal. But it turned out that it took a little time.

Free and clear didn't quite hit me on an emotional level till Tuesday. Here's what happened. The weather influenced me. It was grey and raining when I got up on Tuesday, and just grey when I drove the car to the dealer. Bla. I sat in the nice waiting area and had the free coffee and read most of the Sunday Times. The sun came out while I was there. They finished with the car and I drove back home in beautiful weather. When I went up the steps to my house I knew I had to be outside some more.

That vague worrying was gone. The uncertainty was resolved.

I put on my running clothes and went out in daylight. Not the pre-dawn darkness. Full daylight. And I didn't go my usual route either. Instead I walked quickly up a steep hill, a few blocks up, to a wide street with a shoulder where I could run safely with daytime traffic. The hill got my metabolism up, so as soon as I got to the wide street, at the top of the hill, I started to run.

There was no pre-measured distance this time. I hadn't worked out a plan. I was just doing it. I usually ran a mile, walked a half, ran a mile, on the same roads I'd been running all summer. Now I was breaking the mold. I felt good just being out there in daylight. No darkness. It sounds metaphorical but it really was doing something to me.

I knew after a while that I was going more than a mile, but it felt too good. I kept going. The road was straight and level for a long way and then finally went gently downhill for about five blocks to an intersection. I decided that that would be where I would drop to a walk and turn around.

I turned the corner and started to walk. But soon I felt like running some more. I started counting blocks, and walked one and ran four, until I got near home, and just plain ran the last six or so.

I measured it later. The first long run was a tenth shy of two miles. Two miles straight. I never did that. The total running that day had to have been over three.

I've done it again three times now. Thursday dawn, I even stretched it to two and a quarter, because I felt like it. Saturday and today, I ran "only" two, but both times I ran again in full daylight.

Oh. The foot injury I was telling you about a few times: it's gone too.


I went to some live music Sunday night. Samantha Gibb and the Cartel. I wrote to friends:

I saw Samantha, Laz, and Nik tonight in a tiny room called Rockwood Hall in New York. You can squeeze no more than three dozen people in there. There isn't even a backstage. They had to wait with the rest of us outside on the sidewalk until the previous act finished.

It was just Laz on acoustic guitar and Nik on electric bass, with Sam singing and doing a little percussion. I was talking to Laz a little while we were waiting to go in. He told me how great Sam sounds with the minimal backing, and he was absolutely right. They did new songs from the forthcoming album.

She's Maurice Gibb's daughter. I mentioned meeting him back in Two Degrees and connecting as one father to another. Maybe that helped nudge me to go see her sing. But I have a couple of CDs they've recorded, and I like their music.

I started talking to Laz because he answers their email. We looked through the window at the grey-haired band playing, and I said they're as old as me. He said, yeah but some older guys can really play ; that they might not be famous but they are usually really good. And I could see him considering that could be his future and that he'd be satisfied if it is. Cool. I liked too that he praised Samantha, and he said we wouldn't even be listening to him once she started singing.

You could be suspicious that this band is a case of a rich star's kid messing around and using the name to get favors, but I don't think that's what's going on here. I think Samantha is pursuing her dream, and her dream is not to be famous but to be good, just like Laz implied. Look at the tiny place they played here. No attitude. Just glad to be playing music.

At the end I told them they sounded great with only the three of them. I just thought they'd like to hear it said, since I was thinking it. Nik replied that I should hear them with drums and keyboards... and horns... and backup singers... and he started laughing and said thanks.

Then I went back home. That two-mile run was still two days in future.

So, to put all this together:

Lisa: Perhaps there is no moral to this story.
Homer: Exactly! Just a bunch of stuff that happened.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peter Brennan


My father died Monday night.

I'm the oldest of five. Dad told all of us at different times that he thought people shouldn't live much past 75. That was old enough for anyone. If you live longer, all right, but you don't need to. He was about 85 when he started saying so. He was 92 when he passed. So I can't say that he felt like it came too soon. He didn't. He was ready, and by being ready, he helped us.

He disliked the idea of lingering, too. And he got what he wanted. The end came fast. He decided not to drive any more only a few weeks ago. On one of his last visits from any of us, when he was feeling very tired and short of breath, he apologized for not being able to entertain. He was getting a little forgetful but not much. He was in pretty good shape till almost the end. I'd love to go the same way.

When my mother died back in 1995 it was a shock. She was only 73 and was taken in less than a month by a fast-growing cancer. We didn't expect it. And she wasn't ready. There's something else too. While I knew in my head that people die, I don't think I knew it in my heart. It seemed distant and too hard to imagine. It wasn't real. The possibility seemed outside my experience of the world. And then suddenly it was real. That was hard.

This time, we expected it, and even my father expected it. And we knew in our hearts that it can happen. It didn't seem terribly wrong. My father was at peace and so were we. Without realizing we were doing it, we had an Irish wake. The five of us told stories of what we remember doing with our father, and we each remembered different things, some memories we'd forgotten and some things we'd never heard. We laughed, and we felt good about having a man like him for our father. Our ten children, his grandchildren, had heard very few of these stories, and they laughed too at what nuts their parents, aunts, and uncles had been. We had, in a weird way, a really wonderful time.

My father was born during World War I. His father Peter and mother Nora were Irish immigrants who came over separately in 1906 and met at the socials in Brooklyn a few years later. He was an unskilled laborer, and she had been a housemaid, before she married. They weren't much, you might say, but I respect them for the hard work they must have done and the spirit they gave to their two children, Peter and Mary. His father died some time around 1936 to 1940 of a burst appendix ; his mother, who I knew, lived until 1962.

My father told me once of two early jobs, a delivery boy for a department store and a photographer's assistant. The photographer took photos for magazines and catalogs. He recalled a shoot of Cole Porter. To save money on model fees the photographer sometimes used my father as the model, for clothing catalogs and for magazine fiction illustrations. I wish I had one of those to show you.

He took the Civil Service exam. Around the time war broke out, he was hired for the reservoir police, who patrolled the New York City Water Department lands in Westchester, checking for German sabotage. This is where he met my mother. Her family lived in a house right next to an aqueduct. Here he is looking pretty serious, about age 24.

He entered the Army Air Force around 1943. After training in Texas, he was assigned as a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, 388th Bombardment Group, to fly missions over Germany from a base in Knettishall, Suffolk, England. He flew in the late months of 1944 and early months of 1945. Many men were killed and seriously wounded by ground anti-aircraft fire in those missions. My father was the only one of his original crew to come back unharmed. He would never talk about the war until he was in his eighties. Here he is at an English railway station, between missions.

After the war, he took some classes at Syracuse University, but left, and he started his long career with the Fire Department City of New York. I remember him studying to be lieutenant, and captain, and chief. A book he was reading had mathematical formulas I couldn't understand about water pressure and distance, and the strength of different kinds of building materials. I know he worked early on at a firehouse in Ogden Avenue in the Bronx, and then another in lower Manhattan, and sometimes he was called to fight brush fires in Staten Island. His last position was Battalion Chief for Manhattan north of 155th St. He retired in 1983 mainly because there was a rule about retiring at 65.

Here are the new parents with me, their first child, in a backyard in Brooklyn.

And a few years later, I'm a fat kid squinting in the sunlight on the front steps of our suburban home. My father was a sharp dresser as you can see here.

There are a lot of photographs taken by my father but not that many of him. I have a few good ones on slides but I can't find the plastic holder to scan slides with, so you'll have to imagine it.

I'm just going to jump way forward now. Here he is with my daughter around 1990. He loved kids.

I could tell you some of the stories about us growing up, but for some of them I think you had to be there. Maybe I'll figure out which ones to write about later on.

It's been a long week.

He liked swimming in the ocean. I guess he must have gone to Coney Island when he was young. Our vacations tended to be places along the Atlantic coast, as far south as Georgia.

I'll leave him here, somewhere on the Jersey shore.

Dad, this one's for you.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Invasion from Beyond!! part 3


I've revised the subway diagram twice since last week. First, I corrected the name of 46 St station in Queens, and capitalized the T in Tremont at a station in the Bronx. Second, I added the 14th Street Line to the list of lines in the map key, something no one noticed, and I added the letter and number symbols to the subway lines. I don't like the clutter of the letter and number symbols. I wanted to see how it looked. I am not sure what I will do.


But for now... it's... Invasion from Beyond!!

Page 15:

Narrator: Soon, Wonder Dog and Wonder Pup and Supermouse have a conference.
Wonder Dog: I wonder if it's really aluminum they're after! Maybe we can set a trap by putting some aluminum bricks somewhere and seeing if they go for it!
Supermouse: Hmm. That's not a bad idea! But I've got something to add to it!

Supermouse: Why can't I hide inside the pile of bricks? I can put a robot of me outside with you so it'll really look authentic!

Narrator: Soon bricks are unloaded on a hill...

Narrator: No one knows the pile is occupied!
Someone: Look— a saucer!

Supermouse robot: There goes the ray again!
Wonder Dog: It's fantastic!
Narrator: No one thinks that's a Supermouse robot!

Page 16:

Narrator: The pile vanishes— the ship takes off— but where is Supermouse?

Narrator: First a smell, then a feeling of hurtling through space.

Narrator: Suddenly he's back in the pile again— but wait! Isn't this scenery different?

Supermouse: O K— so where am I?

Space alien with four eyes: Welcome to Zonar, Supermouse! That "ray" is a space warp!

Supermouse: Hmm— I've got an idea!

Page 17:

Supermouse: I'm... uh... very... er... fascinated by your machine! Is there any main switch?
Space alien with four eyes: Yes, there is, but I'm not showing it to you! You'll probably wreck it!

Supermouse: Oh, s-u-r-e! I'll bet you're just making that up!
Space alien with four eyes: I am not!

Supermouse: Are too!
Space alien with four eyes: Am not!

Supermouse: Are too!

Space alien with four eyes: All right!!! I'll show it to you!!!!

Space alien with four eyes: Here it is!

Page 18:

Supermouse: Thanks!

Space alien with four eyes: Aaagh! What have I done?
[ CRASH! ]

Supermouse: This string sort of winds up this case!
Space alien with four eyes: Aak!
[ The space alien with four eyes is tied up. ]

Narrator: Later, on earth.
Supermouse: It turned out that that alien in charge was a criminal on that world! Aluminum, on Zonar, is as valuable as gold or a precious gem would be on earth!

Supermouse: The aluminum things— (the plane, the satellite, the pile of bricks, and Berkhart Island)— were returned by the officials on the planet. Wonder Dog, you and Wonder Pup might've smelled it with your dog sense of smell— that smell is always in the space-warp! I smelled it before when I once was space travelling through a warp!


And that's it.

The last page is not even colored. Somehow I had got tired of the story and wrapped it up with a lot of exposition. I don't know what happened. Wasn't this worth a few more pages?

I thought of drawing a new ending for you. I thought of asking my talented daughter to take it over and make us a better ending, and that would have beat anything I can do. But it's hard to top the exchange on page 17. "Am not!" "Are too!" And once you've got that, what else is there to do but just finish the thing and hope the reader will be glad you left them wanting more?


Oh my. This means I have to come up with something new and different next week. I warn you: I have more old comics. Tip of the iceberg here. But maybe I can do better.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Making a Subway Map XV


Holy anything! Almost panic time! I found an alternate diagram that I made in 2001. Over the last few months I've been trying to remember what improvements I had thought of when I made the alternate, but I had to go by memory because I thought I had scrapped it. It assumed mythical status in my mind.

Then I found it. Aaargh. I started to think that if I'd had this holy grail a few months ago, I would have drawn the new diagram based on it. Now what do I do? Too late now. Should I even look at it? Should I torture myself?

But take a quick look at this— I know you can't see any detail, but look at the overall layout.

OK. It turns out it was a little weird. Now I remember why I didn't use it. Whew.

However it inspired me about how to improve lower Manhattan. I was getting a little unsatisfied with that. The main awkwardness was the connections at Chambers St, Park Place, World Trade Center, but the extreme left-right exaggeration in general didn't sit right.

The 2001 alternate used a couple of diagonals to pull the red and blue lines closer to the center, and got everything south of Chambers St closer together. Paradoxically, to do this meant breaking the diagram apart vertically and widening between the orange and green lines in Midtown. I did this, and did all the repairs necessary as a result of it. If you look at the south Bronx in the final version and in the one I posted last week you can see what I had to do.

Here's lower Manhattan, old (last week) and new.

That was a lot of work to get it almost the same, at a glance. But I like it better.

You can also see the stripy lines for part-time services there in the new map.

I'm still concerned that the two kinds of stripy lines for part-time service and lines under construction might not be sufficiently different.

I am sure that the solid color lines read as more reliable in some way than the stripy lines. Without reference to the map key, you already suspect the stripy lines are not quite there in some way. You'd want to check a service guide if a stripy line looks like the way you want to go. I think the kind with a solid border and long dashes looks a little more all there than the other kind with no solid border and very short dashed lines.

To try to reenforce the meaning, I have put the word "open" and a year next to the sections under construction. Two for one: it explicitly informs you about plans, but also implicitly tells you that you can't ride this way right now. I've avoided naming the stations under construction for the same reason: you can't use them.

I'm thinking about putting labels next to the part-time service too, like "Mon-Fri" or "rush hour". Again it would not only mean what it says, but implicitly clue you to what the striping means on the whole map. I haven't actually done it yet in this first version.

There is no part-time striping on the mainline railroads. The lines are too narrow to carry it. Additionally, all of the service is pretty poor by rapid transit standards anyway. Instead I introduced a grey circle for stations that don't have service throughout the day every day. It's funny how that rule calls out the outer portion of the Montclair line in New Jersey, which has more than hourly service on weekdays but nothing on weekends, but not Melrose in the south Bronx, which has a two hour headway all day every day. But waiting two hours for a train is much better than finding no trains for the whole day, right? Maybe I should not bother. For any of these lines you'd better consult a timetable before travelling.

Should I name which railroad runs on each grey line? If you didn't know, you'd have to guess from the list in the map key. I probably should. If I do, I should probably indicate the few stations where Amtrak stops, too. But I don't want to get too detailed, so I've held back on this.

No number and letter codes on the subway. I'm trying out the idea of not showing them. Putting them in adds a lot of clutter.

DONE. It's a PDF. It's on my subway map page.

Postscript: I think I said in one of these posts that I wasn't going to show the ARC mainline tunnel from New Jersey until it was a little more advanced than some holes in the ground in North Bergen. Ha! Now it looks as if Governor Christie will cancel it. Well, that saves me trouble. Poor ARC. An ill-conceived version was hastily approved for political reasons, and the whole plan may be cancelled, not improved, again for political reasons. Meanwhile Amtrak has recently proposed building third and fourth track to Penn Station in new tunnels, which would make more sense, if you ask me.