Sunday, April 24, 2011

Last House


I remember being in a large room.

It didn't seem spacious though, because the ceiling was low and the lighting was indifferent. The walls had fields of red, and wood panels. It had a closed-in feeling.

It was both an event and a dinner. Someone I knew was getting honored. Was that it? Or was it some kind of show?

On one side of the room, on the tables, cases were on display. You could look through the glass tops at something. Whatever it was, it was not the center of attention. The people were mostly standing and talking to one another.

Lots of people. I felt I knew some of them, but I cannot identify any one of them.

Then we all sat at tables on the other side and were served food. It was not a fancy place. It was a little shabby but comfortable. I remember it as chicken with green vegetables. Probably off a steam table. The food was not the reason we came.

Someone stood and spoke for a few minutes and we listened.

I was standing after dinner among all the people and a woman came over to me and started talking. I felt like she was someone I knew but I don't know who she was.

I could tell she really liked talking to me and standing close to me. It was awkward. She knew I am in a long term relationship. What was she doing?

This happens to me all the time. No. No it doesn't. But there we were.

When it was time to go, she said she was taking the same bus as me, so we rode together.

The bus was really moving. I remembered the Fordham Road bus as poking along. Something had changed. I leaned over to see out the front. They had built bus lanes down the center of the road, with dividers separating them from the rest of the traffic. We could race from one bus stop to the next.

It then entered my mind that this bus didn't go all the way to the terminal where I needed to change. I got off. She did too.

Evening by now. Night in fact. We walked down busy sidewalks past the bright light of stores. We crossed many streets.

Presently there were fewer stores, and less light. The street got narrower and less busy.

Then it was only a narrow sidewalk, just enough for two to walk side by side. The concrete walk hugged the line of brick buildings on the right.

On the left there was a black empty space. I didn't look there.

We came to a place where the walk went up a half flight of steps. They were brick, with a waist-high brick barrier against the open space on the left.

At the top we found the barrier wrapped around a corner to the building wall, so our path went no farther. There was just a heavy closed door with no handle into the building on the right. We turned around and found a young couple coming up the steps.

"Dead end", we told them.

"There's no way down to the basement level?", they asked.

We all realized we should have taken the other steps that went down a half flight. Why hadn't the couple gone that way? Maybe we had all instinctively chosen the steps closer to the building.

The four of us went down those steps. On this level there was another door on the right. Through a window we could see young people gathered in an apartment, and the couple behind us went in there to see their friends.

But she and I continued on. The walk had changed to weathered wood planks but it was still attached to the building on the right. Now on the left we could see and hear, not three feet below, dark waters lapping on a pebbly shore. A damp breeze went through us.

And then we reached the end of the buildings on the right, and as we faced forward the dark open water was all around us. We had come to the Last House.

No sound of traffic, no voices. Out across the water were the lights of ships passing in the night. We could taste the salt in the air. We could hear the movement of waves, and once a faint and distant ship's bell. I thought there was a flapping of canvas.

We stood there in silence. There was something about her. I wanted so much to tell her something that would make her smile. But the only thing I had to say would not make her smile.

I put my arm around her waist for a moment and gave a her a hug. For another traveller on the road.

I told her. She nodded. And she was gone.

I mean, she was completely gone, just like that.

I faced the dark water a few minutes more and then turned back.

I found my way to the bus terminal. I could not think of what time my bus was scheduled to leave. I used to know that. But I have not taken a bus from that place in twenty-five years.

A clock hanging from the ceiling showed me the time. It was too late.

And I woke up.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Comic with No Pictures (Tree with No Leaves)


I stopped in at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MOCCA) festival last weekend. Megan B was there, so were the creators of a few web other comics I read. I saw Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content), Dorothy Gambrell (Cat and Girl), Yuko and Ananth (Johnny Wander), and Klio (SPQR Blues). I got books from three of them and a CMY Cat tote from Yuko and Ananth. That's a web design joke: they had a black cat with yellow eyes and a magenta mouth, so they added a cyan collar and that made the cat CMYK. Never mind.

I purchased the three available Cat and Girl books, and Dorothy painstakingly drew a character on each title page for me. Here's the Cat she drew on volume 1. I thought she was going to stop after completing Cat, but she kept going, adding the big ice cream cone and the mice, and the wording.

The mice look like descendants of Ignatz, a bonus for this Krazy Kat fan.

I've just completed reading the Questionable Content book, and I am inspired to create a Slice of Life comic with many characters. My disadvantage is that I can't draw even as well as Jeph Jacques did seven years ago (he mocks his early art himself in the comments). If you've seen Invasion from Beyond!!, which I created when I was twelve, well, that was probably my peak.

So I will just present the script, and you can draw it yourself.

a comic


Street corner. Joe B, Gianni, Bill, Isaac, Lesley, Mindy have gathered.

Gianni: Lunch! Where do we go today?
Bill: Let's go to that Irish pub I mentioned to you.
others: Yes! Let's go!


Gianni: We can take two taxis.
Lesley: OK, but I think I'll take the subway back.


Isaac: I'm thinking about shepherd's pie.
Joe B: That's just what I was thinking of.


Joe B to Isaac: Wait, do you mean it? I really am thinking of shepherd's pie.


Joe B, Lesley, Mindy riding in the back seat of a taxi.

Joe B: Look, there's a little map on the screen showing where we are.
Mindy: Yeah, and they have a credit card swipe on the side too.
Joe B: I don't take a taxi very often. I never saw this before.
Lesley: I want Irish coffee.
Joe B: Is it the conversation?


Sidewalk outside the pub.

Joe B to Karen: Oh, hi!
Karen: I almost missed the second taxi but I made it.
Joe B: I forgot about you.
Karen: That's nice.


Inside the pub. The seven, a barmaid behind the bar, and empty tables.

Isaac: Seven for lunch?
Barmaid: We open at 4.
Gianni: Oh, we thought you served lunch.
Barmaid: Not on weekdays. Well, we do when there's a game.


Sidewalk outside the pub.

Bill: Sorry everybody.
Joe B: But now this is an adventure!
Gianni: There's an Italian place I've been to, a block from here.
others: Yes! Let's go!



Joe B: I haven't walked around here in a long time.
Mindy: We come down here sometimes after school. There's that big bookstore.


Gianni: I wonder if the Italian place serves lunch.


Inside the Italian place. Show that they are in a big room with a high ceiling and nicely decorated walls. Joe B is between Mindy and Karen, not with his back to the door. Lesley across next to Karen, Bill and Isaac and Gianni down the other side.

Gianni: Doesn't this look great? I wonder what this big room used to be.
Isaac: It looks so elaborate, I can't believe they did all this just for a restaurant.

Karen to Joe B: I said to Gianni, Bill has been talking about an Irish pub, but I don't know whether it's open for lunch, so you should check. He said it doesn't matter.


Gianni to waitress: Do you know the history of this place? What this room was?
Waitress: It was a hotel ballroom.


Gianni, pointing at menu: What's the difference between the Old School Round pizza and the Old Fashioned Square pizza?
Waitress: The first one is round...


Leslie to Bill: ... so anyway I told them to forget it.
Joe B: Absolutely.


Lesley: Right. Joe.


Joe B to Karen: I think she just told me to shut up.
Karen: I think so too.


Food has been served and they are all eating.

Gianni: The square pizza is actually rectangular.
Isaac: We shouldn't have to pay.

Mindy: The salad was so big we hardly have room for the pizza. That is a strategy for not eating too much.

Lesley: I like crumbled sausage on pizza better than sliced.
Joe B: They're both good.


Lesley, gesturing at remaining pizza: Would someone take half of this slice?
Isaac: I will.
Joe B: I will too.


Outside on the sidewalk.

Isaac: I should walk back to work this off.
Joe B: Me too.


They are all riding in a subway car.


Sunday, April 10, 2011



I ride the subway ten times a week. I stare at the MTA subway map when it's there in front of me. I can't help it. Some things bother me.

Not really the design itself. Obviously they had different goals than I had when I created my own diagram. That's OK. Seeking the balance of information and clutter is a difficult thing. I won't even get into it. I think they did pretty well with what they wanted to do. But on its own terms, there are some odd points.

Here's the worst one:—

They've taken the trouble to use the full name of the Whitestone Bridge, but they don't know where it is! It's been like this for years. It's like this on the cluttered version shown here, and on the cleaner version that is used in subway cars. They recently fixed it for the online map:—

The bridge was about a mile and a half out of place. And it's an MTA property!

I know that second map looks really blurry. That's how they have it on the web page.

You might well say that the bridge has nothing to do with the subway, so the error does not affect subway riders. This is true although it leads one to ask why the bridge is shown. But I said I wasn't going there. My point is that if you're going to show something, show it where it is.

The next one is about rail lines:—

They want to give us an idea where the Metro North Harlem Line stations are in relation to subway stations. That's worthwhile (and I do it on my diagram too).

The map really emphasizes how close Woodlawn is to 233rd St. In fact it looks like they are adjacent. If you go there you'll discover that from Metro North to the subway is a third of a mile up a steep grade. I wonder whether the map exaggerates the closeness because once in a very great while a service disruption leads them to ask Harlem Line passengers to change there.

I re-drew the position of the Harlem Line:—

This is still a bit wrong because the distance from Woodlawn station to the subway is about the same as the distance from Fordham station to the Fordham Road subway station (orange), and the latter is farther apart on the diagram. But that's because of the convention that the scale gets larger as you approach the central area, so it's acceptable. I think the map reader senses that because of the station spacing on the subway lines. It's something like perspective. Or is it just me? On the plus side, I got the Harlem Line out of Bronx Park (it really does run along the edge) and I have the stations on the correct side of the cross streets.

More misplaced railroads:—

This is right at the top edge. The New Haven Line does branch off north of Woodlawn, but it does not cross under the elevated subway. It's still very close to the Harlem Line at the Harlem Line's Wakefield station. Does this matter? Maybe to a stranger walking around up there.

The Hell Gate Route is horribly misplaced. Admittedly it's an Amtrak route of minor interest to subway riders, and there are no stations on it in this area. So maybe you don't need to know exactly where it is. But to a stranger walking around, the presence of its massive fills and bridges is overwhelming, so it is a landmark. The arch bridge looming over the elevated Ditmars Blvd station is certainly noticeable, and a user of the Northern Blvd station would observe the heavy overpass at street level.

Here's another one that might be political:—

The Nassau St line from Chambers St to Broad St is the only part of the subway system that is just plain closed evenings, nights, and weekends. No service at all. Shouldn't this section be shown with some kind of dashed line? The only clue on the map is that marker letters J and Z are shown in a light typeface at the two affected stations. I doubt many people catch that. I think someone didn't want to draw much attention to the situation.

There's a design problem around here:—

The station spacing on the red and green line is weird. In real life the stations are evenly spaced. I can see that they wanted to line up the two Church Ave stations to the grid, and the Flatbush Ave and Avenue H stations. This little area is jammed together compared to the areas on both sides. Compare to real life:—

(from Google maps)

As you can see, the yellow-orange line stations on the left are not evenly spaced, and Beverley and Cortelyou are notoriously close. But the red-green line is has only a slightly longer spacing before Flatbush Ave, not enough I would say to bother with on a diagram. I would simplify the grid to say that the first two stations are even with each other on lines at right angles to subway, that Newkirk (red-green) is at a line between Cortelyou and Newkirk (yellow-orange), and that Flatbush is at a line between Newkirk (yellow-orange) and Avenue H.

By the way the variant spelling of Beverly and Beverley on the diagrams is not an error, or rather it shows accurately the names that have been on the station signs since the stations were opened. Street signs disagree too.

And now I feel very picky, but:—

Isn't there a transfer there? The minuscule line that should be between the circles is missing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Great Falls bis


What did I say last time? Old pictures of the Great Falls. You'll see old timey stuff, and the pipe suspension bridge, and me looking horribly young. Well. Once you announce your intentions on the interwebs, you have an oblogation.

PASSAIC FALLS, N. J. / No. 2 / The Falls and Bridge across the Gully from the Basin. / This shows the place where the celebrated Sam Patch jumped from the old tree on the left, down 80 feet to the water. / PUBLISHED BY E. & H. T. ANTHONY & CO., / American and Foreign Stereoscopic Emporium, 501 Broadway, New-York.

Oh, Sam Patch. The Jersey Jumper. Famous for tossing himself off high places. Guess how he died, at age 29. Supposedly his tombstone read: Sam Patch – Such is Fame. Yes. He began his two-year career demonstrating the force of gravity right here near the falls.

We see here one of the earlier footbridges, before the arched bridge of 1888. Some of the Anthony stereo views are images as old as the 1860s. Unbelievably it is a covered bridge! After all why would anyone crossing here want to see out?

Somehow a Detroit Photographic Company agent snapped his lens from the same viewpoint in 1900. There's the arched bridge we know, but this was still before the hydro plant was built.

The beauty of nature! If you were standing here and turned around you'd see blocks of brick mill buildings worked from the system of watercourses that diverted some of the Passaic's flow. But we won't turn around.

And about seventy years later, Jack Boucher exposed some film at the same location again. The arched bridge has been joined by the little suspension bridge for the big pipe. It even had little stone towers at each end! It was cute.

And ten years after that, I joined the greats with my own version.

Notice the fine detail you get with "110" film. Not.

The interesting thing is the relative lack of water in August 1980. That's always been a problem with using the Passaic River for hydro-electric power. We have dry summers in New Jersey sometimes. There used to be a backup coal-fired generating station next to the hydro plant, right where the visitor parking lot is now, to ensure that the power lines emanating from this point always had some juice.

Maybe you want a better look at the suspension bridge for the pipe.

Although it's obscured by the arched bridge, this 1971 view shows you both towers of the suspension bridge. What I can't figure out is the condition of the arched bridge. It does not seem to have the sides it needs as a footbridge, and it seems to have a second pipe running across it.

But let's not worry about it. Here we are in 1980, looking from the arched bridge at the falls and the rainbow, and getting a very good view of the pipe bridge, which was always in the way.

See that? The two curved cables support vertical cables that hold up the cross bars that hold up the pipe. And that's it. No floor as such.

What a great looking girl! Am I still married to her? Yes I am.

So, upper left, there's one of the towers of the pipe's own suspension bridge, if something that short can be called a tower. You can click to enlarge. You won't get any detail of the tower, just film grain. But you can click to enlarge.

Also, upper right, you can see the 1838 dam in the river. We had a view something like this last time. Back in 1980 we could walk around closer to the falls than we could in 2011. That wall next to Helen is partially collapsed now, and people are not allowed down there.

Another view from 1900 reveals that there's something artificial in the river right at the top of the falls. That's still there too. I didn't notice it on site, but I can make it out in the photographs. Some of the buildings in the right background are still there, but not that tall smokestack.

Roughly the same view in 1980. The spirit of the falls— the rock that divides it in two— is on the left: compare its profile in the 1900 view. It doesn't stand out so much here with the diminished flow of water.

This also shows how little water was flowing. That's the 1838 dam again back near the bridge. In March 2011 the river was gushing over it.

Oh well. I said you would see this. What can I do?

Look at the waterfall. Look at the two bridges. And also, this serves as proof that a certain young dude was there, "in case someone thought they had missed it".