Friday, November 30, 2007

To Jerome

In 1999, before we met and long before we were married, my wife was living in Giles County, Virginia. In need of a pet, she answered an ad offering a litter of barn cats to good owners. One of the cats was a strong, aggressive little orange tom. She fell in love and took him home, naming him "Jerome" after one of Morris Day's backup singers.

Over the years, my wife has told me many tales of Jerome's feats of strength. One of my favorites is the story of the bird: my wife swears that she once saw him pluck a bird out of the air. According to her, Jerome jumped between fifteen and twenty feet straight up, grabbed a bird, took him down, and killed him. Another great story involves Jerome's complete domination of a raccoon. According to my wife, she once saw Jerome drown a raccoon in a creek.

I don't know if either of these stories is completely true, but I'm inclined to take my wife at her word. He was an amazingly strong cat. Besides, the image of our sleek orange cat pulling down a bird or taking out a wily raccoon has never failed to amuse me.

When I first met Jerome, he was an outdoor cat living in the wilds of Giles. Although he was a little standoffish, I was immediately impressed by his considerable strength. Even after he was neutered, he was still a brawler; lifting him, I could feel that he was twenty pounds of solid muscle. Frankly, it was hard to make Jerome do anything that he didn't want to do.

When my wife moved in, Jerome came with her. We initially had a slight adjustment problem, as it took him a little while to figure out that he was no longer the dominant male in the household. I convinced him of this by grabbing hold of him and snuggling aggressively, refusing to let him go until he stopped struggling. After a few days, he learned to just give in. We became great snugglebuddies, and he decided that he loved the life of a housecat. He would often bug me to pet him, and regularly climbed in my lap when I sat down.

However, I was also loath to try to make Jerome do anything that he didn't want to do. For example, I never clipped his nails, as doing so involved wrapping him in a towel, pinning him to the ground, and getting my wife to release, and clip, one paw at a time. Besides, Jerome was pretty careful with his hygiene; he would gnaw off his nails and spit them out when they got too long. It was a little disconcerting to come across discarded cat nails, but the alternative was pretty miserable.

When my wife went to New York, Jerome and I bonded still further. We both missed her, and he got used to curling up in bed with me every night. On our own ride North, he was a total sport, sitting for two days in the car with a minimum of yowling.

As I mentioned previously, he acclimation to New York was not nearly as easy.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerome became ill. He had been listless for a couple of days, and stopped going to the bathroom. We called around to a lot of local vets. Before we even had a chance to tell them what was wrong, the doctors offered to euthanize him. Their rates were very competitive, but we told them that we preferred to give him a chance at survival.

We finally found a doctor in Riverdale, a ritzier section of the Bronx, who offered to see what he could do. We had to give him an initial deposit of $450, as he had a lot of customers who had run out on their bills. This was more than we could afford, but Jerome was a special cat, and we wanted to do everything we could for him.

He kept Jerome for about a week. It turned out that our cat had crystals in his urine. This, in itself, was not that big a problem, but he had caught an infection that had caused his urethra to narrow. The crystals had caught in his urethra, causing urine to back up into his bladder and kidneys. His kidneys had shut down, and he had been near death when we brought him in. Over the course of the week, Doctor Cedeno gave Jerome a large quantity of antibiotics and bladder medication, constantly retested him, and ultimately pronounced him stable, if not exactly healthy. We were tasked with giving him a daily bladder dilator and continuing his course of antibiotics. The doctor was honest with us; Jerome wasn't out of the woods, but he had a good chance of survival. If he continued to get worse, the only other course of action was an operation that would effectively turn him into a female cat.

We compared notes with a good friend who is in vet school. She assured us that Dr. Cedeno did everything by the book. In fact, according to our friend, he ended up charging us about a quarter of the going rate for the work he did. Even so, Jerome's medical bill cleaned us out. Still, as long as he was willing to keep fighting, we were going to do everything we could to help him.

Over the next few weeks, we gave Jerome his medication, an often miserable task. He was clearly suffering, but was also fighting hard. As his energy was low, we set up a bed, food, and water for him in the bathroom, where he could relax and not have to deal with our other cat, Bagheera.

On Tuesday, Jerome stopped fighting. He went quietly, on his bed. I was petting him, and he was using the last of his strength to purr. Finally, he closed his eyes and stopped purring.

Jerome was a strong, friendly, amazing, and oddly vulnerable little guy, and I am grateful for the time I got to spend with him. In a household filled with women, he was my sole male companion and consistent co-conspirator. He brought a lot to my home, and I'm going to miss him a lot.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007


Please excuse my recent absence from your blogs. Unfortunately, Verizon has recently cut off my internet connection, so I can only access the web from the local library! Hopefully, the problem will be dealt with soon. In the meantime, here's a final Flushing Meadow post.

Near the Unisphere, there's a huge marble neoclassical building that is the only surviving remnant of the 1939 World's Fair. Named the New York building, it originally housed the New York exhibit in the first fair. Afterwards, it became a recreation center and ice rink. Later, from 1946 to 1950, it became home to the United Nations General Assembly. This, in fact, is the building in which the partition of Palestine and creation of Israel occurred.

It was subsequently renovated for the second World's Fair and, in 1972, became home to the Queens Museum of Art. Half of it houses the museum, and the other half still has an ice rink.

Most of the art in the Queens Museum of Art is fairly interesting, but isn't particularly worthy of a visit. However, the museum has an amazing collection of World's Fair paraphernalia. Of particular interest is the New York Panorama.

The Panorama is somewhat misnamed. Actually a diorama, it was built for the 1964 World's Fair. It is a gargantuan model of New York City, featuring every building, park, field, and waterway. Every so often, it is updated to reflect the changing face of the city.

The Panorama is showing its age somewhat. It has visible creases showing where the individual sections are connected, and the city could do with a bit of dusting, but it is still pretty amazing. Best of all, a glass pathway goes most of the way around the room, making it possible to view almost the entire city from a fairly close range.

All in all, visiting the Panorama made me feel a lot like Godzilla.

Here's a picture of Manhattan looking South from the Bronx:

And here's a somewhat blurry picture of George, my wife, and our friend Katie laying on the glass for a birds-eye view:

Here's Prospect Park, near my sister Jen's apartment:

This is Northern Queens, looking South from the Bronx. LaGuardia airport is on the right:

Here's Flushing Meadow:

Here's the Fordham area of the Bronx, where I live:

And here's a close-up of my neighborhood. Poe Park is on the right:

This is Coney Island. The parachute jump is toward the left:

Here's my wife, looking out over the whole thing:

And here's my foot, hovering over a small part of the city as the denizens lie below, unaware of the threat that sits but a few feet above their sleeping heads:

It's hard to avoid feeling godlike at the Panorama.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Down and Up

Walking through Flushing Meadow, it's easy to forget to look down and up, but some of the most beautiful remnants of the World's Fair are on the ground, in the sky, in places just out of the range of easy sight.

When you enter the park from the Shea Stadium subway stop, there is a plaza with several mosaics. One of them, by Andy Warhol, shows Robert Moses:

Up close, he looks a little psychotic, and appears to have a major cavity:

Another one, a few steps away, is an abstract piece by Salvador Dali:

As far as I can tell, it is a mermaid, bent double, over the black outline of a heart. That Dali--such a kidder!

I don't know who did the one of the "Fountain of the Planets," bit it's beautiful:

Unfortunately, the real fountain is empty and gated. It looks like an industrial waste dump:

Over near the Unisphere, there is a small plaza with sandblasted murals commemorating both World Fairs. They are almost impossible to see, and are usually covered with skaters, but are really beautiful:

A few hundred feet away, the remainders of the New York State pavilion are still standing. The towers were designed as platforms for viewing the Fair and the city, and the oval space beside them had a fiberglas "tent" over it, covering a gargantuan map of New York state.

After the fair, the New York Pavilion was made into a roller skating rink. However, it had a few major design flaws. A few years later, the fiberglas covering started to fall apart, so it was removed, and the floor was patched with concrete. Finally, though, the whole space was fenced off and left to rust.

In the meantime, the towers were also shut down. One of the glass elevators was stored in the sub-basement, while the other was left halfway up the tower, where it has spent the last thirty years falling apart.

Having seen Men in Black, I expected the towers to be slick, exciting, ultra-modern structures. In person, though, they look incredibly depressing:

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Corporate Art

Wandering through Flushing Meadows, one sometimes comes across huge cast-metal sculptures. Poorly proportioned and painfully self-conscious, these statues don't have a lot of artistic merit, but they say a great deal about the combination of sophistication and prudery that was New York in the mid-1960's.

One of my favorites lies between the Unisphere and the Fountain of the Planets. It has an impressive-sounding name, "The Rocket-Thrower."

For me, though, the sculpture hearkens back to adolescence, when I was first discovering the wonders of masturbation. Looking at it from this angle, the connection becomes a little clearer:

And the surprised expression on the sculpture's face also seems very familiar:

I see it as a mixture of amazement, pride, and abject terror, something along the lines of "Dear God! I'm never going to be able to clean this all up!"

Aah, childhood memories...

Oddly enough, "Spoogius, the Rocket-Shooter" seems to be flying on a huge turd:

Over the years, Spoogius has gotten a little weathered, and the streaks of water have created beautiful patterns of tarnish:

Near the U.S. Open Pavilion, there's a huge statue of a man and a woman floating on a bunch of birds. I'm sure it's called "Leda and the Swans," or something similar:

I call it "Anorexius and Minimus," after the classic Greek myth featuring a starving woman and a man with a very small "hoplite." I'm sure the sculpture is supposed to honor the ideals of athleticism and the classic ideal of victory, but the woman is really, really skinny, and her ponytail hairdo seems a little out of place:

Overall, it looks as if Joani Cunningham from Happy Days decided to go bird watching while naked.

The male counterpart is actually kind of scary. He's also really thin, and has a very, very small penis:

Ooh, look! It's an innie!

The unintentional subtext of this sculpture is that the man is allowed to be naked, but he can't be threateningly well-endowed.

All in all, the sculpture seems to have a very confused perspective regarding art and nudity. On the one hand, the sculptors realized that nudity is classical and artistic, but they couldn't bring themselves to openly support it. Going for a middle path, they offered a starving girl with bizarrely huge boobs and a man with almost no penis. The subtext is clear: heterosexual relationships bring emptiness and castration. One wonders if this was a piece of subtle homosexual propaganda, an indication of a general scorched-earth policy toward relationships, or merely evidence that the artist had never seen anyone with their clothes off.

The 1960's are so weird.

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Monday, November 26, 2007


When I was a kid, Indiana Jones was my hero. James Bond, Bruce Wayne, and Clark Kent were all well and good, but I could imagine nothing cooler than hours of research followed with hours of fieldwork, as I pursued the world's greatest treasures, a pack of fiendish Nazi rivals hot on my heels. I knew exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up.

Somewhere between then and now, a few things went awry. I never quite got around to learning Aramaic, Hebrew, or even Latin, and my few experiments with bull whips nearly cost me an eye. I must admit that I look very cool in a fedora, but I avoid khaki pants with a passion, having been forced to wear them in High School.

While my career path has not brought me to foreign lands, I have never lost my love of discovery. When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, I spent hours traveling to Civil War and Revolutionary War battle sites, poking around ruins, and imagining the events that unfolded there. When I moved to Southwest Virginia, my interests switched to neglected railway tunnels and overgrown mining settlements, both of which were common in my area. I would wander the woods and trails, noting signs of neglected habitations and trying to imagination what the area had looked like before it was abandoned.

I thought that I'd have to give up this hobby when I went to New York. After all, in a city with millions of citizens, how could there be any areas that were abandoned or neglected? Surely, every inch of land must be constantly used and reused, adapted to the changing purposes of the community!

Surprisingly, I have not found this to be so. Sometimes, New York seems like a city without a memory. It has numerous little parks and hidden treasures that have been ignored, abandoned, or forgotten. Even when these little spots have been remembered, as is the case with Poe Cottage, there seems to be a total lack of understanding about what they symbolize or why they are noteworthy.

I've coined a term for my park explorations: Parcheology. This is the study of forgotten civic spaces. It focuses on areas that were once famous, and which city planners, officials, and citizens once spent millions of dollars developing. These spaces were fads: incredibly popular for a time, they have long since been consigned to the rubbish pile of history. Wandering around them, I've learned a lot about what people once considered vital and important. Although tastes have moved on, these places have stayed. They aren't really meaningful anymore, but they exist as mementos of forgotten eras, and they allow us to relive our cultural history.

Some Parcheology spots that I've already covered include The Hall of Fame of Great Americans, Poe Cottage, The Bronx Community College Library, Woodlawn Cemetery, and Grant's Tomb. However, the mother of all Parcheology spaces is the World's Fair at Flushing Meadow, Queens. The site of both the 1939 and the 1964 World's Fairs, Flushing Meadow was a huge trash dump until Robert Moses decided to reclaim it.

Moses spent a fortune to create the ultimate exhibition space, an area that showed New York's optimism would cement its position as one of the World's greatest cities. After the fair, many of the buildings were demolished, and fairgrounds were allowed to lie fallow.

A few decades later, several prominent businessmen had fond childhood memories of the Fair. Wanting to recreate it for a new generation, they approached Robert Moses. He had lingering disappointment over what he perceived as the failures of the first fair, so he began planning for the next one.

Several years and millions of dollars later, the 1964 New York World's Fair was ready for the public. Featuring pavilions from countries around the world, the fair focused on the idea that the world is becoming much smaller, even as the Universe seems to expand. After two years, however, the fair closed and most of its exhibits were demolished. The fairgrounds were once again allowed to fill up with grass, and the few remaining structures were permitted to deteriorate. A few statues, a few buildings, and the occasional piece of art remain, letting the viewer imagine the grandeur of the World's Fair.

The central structure of the World's Fair was the Unisphere. Twelve stories high, it weighed 900,000 pounds, and was created by U.S. Steel. Surrounded by a ring of fountains that were designed to obscure its base and make it look like it was floating in space, it had three rings suspended around it. The rings represented Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, and the first communication satellite to orbit the Earth. All of this was illuminated by a state-of-the art light display.

The light display has long since stopped functioning, and the Unisphere is starting to look a little tarnished. A few years ago, the State spent a lot of money to clean it up and get it running again. From some angles, it's beautiful; from others, it looks a little sad. It has plants growing in some spots and the fountains don't work any more. Still, it is huge and impressive at a close range.

The Unisphere, and its surrounding pool, are now the preserve of skaters. They're generally friendly and seem willing to share the space. On my second visit, I climbed up the base of the Unisphere and took some pictures. It was scary, but exciting, and I got to touch both Antarctica and South America.

One final note: from the U.S. Open Tennis pavilions, the Unisphere is a shiny, beautiful sculpture, glowing as it floats above a perfectly landscaped garden:

From the other side, it's dingy and tired-looking:

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Feel the Need...

I actually had a post lined up for today, but I was doing a little You Tube surfing with my friend Jorie last night when we came across this trailer for Top Gun.

There have been a few recut trailers that made me laugh out loud--for example, The Shining romantic comedy, the Mary Poppins slasher flick, and the West Side Story zombie movie. The thing, though, is that most of these edited trailers completely change the meaning of their films. This one, on the other hand, draws out a subtext that's in the original movie. I've always wondered about Maverick and the Iceman, and this trailer only increases the questions.

I hope you get a kick out of it!

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb? Part Two

One of These Kids Is Doing His Own Thing

In the 1970's and 1980's, at about the same thime that I was bugging my father to take us to Grant's tomb, it was caught in a rapid decline. A lack of interest about the Civil War, a major increase in crime, and a total lack of vision on the part of the Park Service, led to vandalism, graffiti, and generalized decline. The Grant Monument Association's website states that there was evidence of prostitution, homeless residence, drug activity, and the use of high explosives in the area. The website even claims that the tomb was used as a site for animal sacrifices.

I don't know about the animal sacrifices, but I believe their assertion that vandals used high explosives to blow the beaks off the gargantuan granite eagles that sit in front of the tomb. Although the statues have been restored, it is still possible to see where they were damaged:

Here are some pictures of the graffiti and other damage to the tomb:

In the 1990's, the remaining members of the Grant family threatened to re-inter Grant and his wife in Illinois if New York did not refurbish the tomb. This, along with a lot of lobbying and lawsuits, led to a massive cleanup effort. The change has been massive, and it is difficult to connect the tomb as it now stands with the disaster depicted on the Grant Monument website.

This is not to say, however, that some jarring notes don't remain. With its marble and granite materials and elaborate ornamentation, Grant's tomb represents the height of Beaux Arts memorial architecture. Inside, however, this is paired with a gray cloth cubicle divider that is used to display contextual historic material:

The Office Space look really clashes with the marble and granite and, generally, looks tacky as hell. Of course, compared to graffiti, dead animals, and human excreta, a jarring cloth divider is a pretty minor problem. The bigger disaster waits outside.

In 1972, the National Parks Service spent much of its budget for the upkeep of Grant's Tomb on the creation of a collection of mosaic-covered benches. Here's an example:

This bench, from the "alien autopsy" school of furniture design, seems to hug the tree, even as it mirrors the structure. Here's another image from the Grant's Tomb website. It juxtaposes the side of the tomb with the horrifying benches:

And here's a shot of one of the benches, sporting a scorpion motif:

One wonders how much of the NPS' grant to the artist went toward the purchase of psychedelic drugs:

This particular section looks like a dragon ate a big box of crayons and took a crap all over the plaza:

More psychedelia:

Yay! A cab:

One massively under-represented segment of American society is the druggie chess players. After all, it's not easy to play chess with a head full of acid, and society tends to ignore their need for a place to inspire the hallucinations while one battles opponents. Luckily, the National Park Service is nothing if not understanding, and created this space for the guy who can't choose between Timothy Leary and Boris Spassky:

I don't want to seem like a snob, but, well, I am. I tend to regard the artistic produce of the late-1960's and early 1970's with a critical eye. This isn't to say that the monstrosity surrounding Grant's tomb doesn't have its place: I think it would be perfect in a playground.

Preferably next to a school for the blind.

Deprived of the jarring colors, I'm sure that blind children would be able to really enjoy the exciting contours and textures of the sculpture. They could spend hours crawling on the uncomfortable surfaces, playing with the designs.

That having been said, however, the benches definitely don't belong next to Grant's tomb. The two structures have nothing in common whatsoever. Next to the benches, Grant's tomb appears stodgy and standoffish, and next to the tomb, the benches appear amateurish and cheesy. I can only wonder about the combination of blackmail, drugs, and oral sex that the artist must have employed to convince the Park Service to sign off on this travesty.

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