Better Than Snow

That’s my ‘carmometer’ on the left. OK, it’s not lab certified and it’s reading as it rides over black pavement, but you get the idea. It’s brutally hot.

Today was a good day to realize just how hermetically sealed many of our lives are. I leave my air conditioned house and walk into the garage. I drive my convertible… but with the a/c blasting directly on me. Then, after a twenty second walk from the parking lot, I’m in my air conditioned office.

I remember as a kid sweltering in our fifth floor apartment. Summer nights were still and humid. The quiet of the heat was broken every minute or two as the slow and low flying multi engine prop planes of that era rumbled toward La Guardia Airport, a few miles away.

The apartment rattled, but the heat was unshaken.

At home, we often discuss the relative merits of heat versus cold. In the winter too it’s possible to remove yourself for the elements. But winter weather is much more invasive when it comes to driving.

In my family, we’d vote for heat versus cold any day. My sense is, from years of listening to people, most Connecticut residents feel otherwise. On the other hand, you don’t hear about a lot of people retiring to Maine!

Today was too hot to stay outside for any length of time. But tonight, the torrid weather is inviting. I like to walk around when the air is warm and humid, as long as the Sun isn’t shining.

I guess my perspective is changed by the availability of air conditioning. If I were back in the apartment, or the non-air conditioned apartment I had in Lake Worth, Florida back in 1969, maybe I’d feel differently? Probably not.


A few days ago I kvetched about the humidity. Let me withdraw my complaint.

I’ve really been thinking about this. Sure, before air conditioning… or at least before air conditioning in my life, summer was brutal. Now, summer is just basically not winter – and that’s good!

I remember growing up in our fifth floor apartment in Flushing. The windows were wide open. We were on the flight path to La Guardia Airport.

Back in those days they were prop planes, mostly four engine jobs, flying into LGA. They were low and slow and very loud. You couldn’t talk, couldn’t speak. The building vibrated to the drone of the engines. All you could do was wait them out – one after the other after the other.

That was also in the pre-cable era. As the planes flew by, TV reception flew away.

After I left college, I lived in Florida in the early-70s. I was making $130 per week, living without air conditioning in a little walk up apartment in Lake Worth. What was I thinking? From May to October it was criminally brutal.

Back to today.

I know I’m lucky because for the most part, heat and humidity are optional in my life. I can go out or I can live my entire life hermetically sealed.

When I drive, the weather is no problem – part of the reason summer shines above winter. But maybe it has to do with the connection my psyche has with the warm weather months.

Warm and sticky meant no school. Warm and sticky meant not worrying about when I woke up. Warm and sticky meant a life free of responsibility.

I respond to warm and sticky as Pavlov’s dogs responded to that damn bell. It’s beyond my control and I’m not fighting it.

Shuttle to Boston – No More Guaranteed Seat

My first commercial flight was a trip from La Guardia Airport, New York to Boston’s Logan Airport. It was sometime late in 1967 and I was flying to my interview at Emerson College.

There are few things I remember about that day. I remember (after it was over) thinking the interview was worthless. I remember riding the “T” from the airport into the city, transferring to an underground trolley for the final stop in Back Bay.

I also remember flying the Eastern Airlines Shuttle. If you don’t remember it, click here for one of their classic print ads.

Back then the airline business was very different. It was heavily regulated, guaranteeing airlines a profit and little real competition. It was also very special. You didn’t get on an airliner unless you were well dressed.

There was no security as we know it – no magnetometers or guards. Anyone could walk into the terminal. At Kennedy Airport there were even outdoor terraces where you could watch the planes as they came in and out. A coin operated radio was available to listen to the tower.

The Eastern Shuttle was something very different. If you walked up and paid your fare, you were guaranteed a seat. If the plane was full, they’d just roll out another one and put you on board.

That first flight&#185, I flew on a ‘student fare,’ which has half off. That also put me at the back of the line as far as boarding was concerned. As it turned out, the flight was full.

True to its word, Eastern brought out another plane. Though the one I missed was a jet, the ‘second section,’ as they called it, was a Lockheed Electra – a four engine turboprop.

This is a long time ago, nearly forty years, but I do have some vivid memories.

There were only 3 or 4 of us on this plane. I remember looking down as we flew over the Connecticut countryside thinking how slow we were going! I expected more. I stared out the window at those engines with their spinning propellers.

I remember very little about the interior of the plane, except there was a step about halfway down the cabin. It seemed strange at the time, and does today, that the cabin’s floor was not all at one level.

Oops – I almost forgot why I was writing this. It’s in Wednesday’s New York Times. The Shuttle, as I knew it, is no more.

Generations of East Coast travelers have been comforted by a reliable guarantee that dangled at the other end of a harried cab ride: there would always be enough seats on the hourly shuttles connecting New York to Boston and Washington, even if another plane had to be rolled out to accommodate them.

Since the 1960’s, that promise had been made by a series of airlines operating the Northeast shuttles, from Eastern to Trump to USAir to Pan Am to Delta. But now, like china coffee cups, it has become part of airline history.

Starting yesterday, Delta Air Lines, the last airline to offer the promise, is flying just one shuttle an hour from La Guardia Airport to Boston and Washington and vice versa, no matter how many people show up and no matter how urgent their need to get to the nation’s capital or its capital of capitalism. The era of the “extra section,” as Delta called the jetliners that would be rolled out to accommodate overflow crowds, has ended.

Of course Eastern Airlines is gone. USAir, which runs what was the Eastern Shuttle stopped this policy a while ago. Delta, which runs what was Pan Am’s route, doesn’t have much choice. They’re all bleeding money.

The days of dressing up to fly are long gone. And now, the era of walking up to the counter and knowing there would be a seat for you is also gone.

I think I paid $16 each way back in 1967. A walk up tomorrow for Delta Shuttle would be $488 round trip. I wonder how much longer that will last? How much longer will it be before Delta, USAir or United disappear?

&#185 – I had flown in a 2 seater from Flushing Airport before this much more sophisticated trip.

Uncle Murray is Moving

New York is different that the rest of the United States. I can’t imagine there is a part of country where a higher percentage of the population lives in apartments. And, because of New York City’s rent control and stabilization laws, many people stay in those apartments forever.

My parents lived at 6543 Parsons Boulevard, Apartment 5E, from the early 50s to the late 80s. Our next door neighbors are still in the building, having moved in in 1953.

I’m not sure how long Uncle Murray has lived in his apartment, but it has to go back to the early 50s as well.

Before cable they had the worst TV reception I had ever seen. I remember trying to watch baseball games with my dad, Uncle Murray, Cousin Michael and some other family members. Every time a plane approached La Guardia Airport, the signal would go nuts. I seem to remember the TV sporting rabbit ears with tin foil for good measure – as if you could fool the signal into being watchable.

This from an apartment with a line-of-sight view to the Empire State Building where the TV transmitting antennas used to be… and are again, since 9/11.

The apartment is on the ground floor, facing out onto a busy street. It is in Queens, a short walk from the Flushing el, so not far from Manhattan by public transportation.

In that apartment you are never far from the noise of the neighborhood. If a car alarm goes off – if the bus goes by – if a horn is honked (and all of those seem to happen continuously) – you will witness it from inside the apartment, even with the windows closed.

But it is quiet in comparison to my grandparents’ 23rd floor apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. From their windows they could see two elevated trains lines and the biggest yard in the New York City Subway system. The building was right at a curve which caused the heavy metal wheels on the train to squeal a little around the clock. It squealed as each set of wheels in the 8 or 10 car trains passed by.

I have been told Uncle Murray is leaving his apartment, moving closer to my Cousin Judy and her family in Maryland. It will be good for Murray to be closer to people who love him.

It will be the end of an era, as the last of the Fox family leaves New York City.

Uncle Murray will also end another, more universal, era. He is the last person I know whose telephone number is still remembered as a word and 5 digits. Uncle Murray is the last of the TWining-8’s for me.

Until he closed his store, it was the only other number I remembered non-digitally. That was STillwell-6 (I think).

When I was growing up, our home number was JAmacia-6-4308 and then AXtel-1-9790. At some point, the phone companies of America decided that wouldn’t do. I remember hearing some sort of propaganda about how all digit dialing would be easier to remember. I don’t think they were running out of numbers because you can make an exchange combination out of every number combo… though you’d need to use XYlophone for ’99.’

Later, AXtel-1-9790 became 291-9790 and then got changed to 591-0434 when we get our first area code – 212.

I never quite understood why there were exchanges like AXtel. What is an AXtel? Even Google asks, “Did you mean: axtell ?” ‘291’ could have been AWning-1 or AWful-1 or CYrus-1.

New York Telephone made some bad choices other than AXtel. On Staten Island there was an exchange, Saint George. Was that SA or ST?

Today, I know my number should be CEntral… though it’s a ’23.’

Back to Uncle Murray.

I can’t imagine how he’ll pick up and pack fifty years worth of memories? What will be found that had been lost? What will be found that should have been lost? Does he still have the Playboy Magazines I found under his bed forty some odd years ago?

I’ll have to call Uncle Murray this weekend. I want one last chance to dial that number.

You Make the Call!

The snow is coming down. If it’s going to change to a liquid form, it’s certainly taking its sweet time. My thermometer reads 24.6&#186.

Down to our south, at La Guardia Airport in NYC, the temperature has risen 4&#186 in two hours; at Kennedy Airport 5&#186 over the same period. At Kennedy, the snow has turned to rain.

I would guess we have 4-5″ on the ground already. Though currently in a lull, there’s more where this came from!

With all this in mind, two photos from today. The first was taken out my front door, looking across the street at a neighbor’s house, beautifully decorated for Christmas. The second, taken by my friend Peter Mokover (who somehow manages 5 weeks every winter in Hawaii) is of the Home Depot on Maui.

Where would I rather be? You make the call!

I Can’t Throw Stuff Away

I grew up in a small apartment, in a development of 2,300 apartments, in Flushing, Queens, New York City.

There is no one who grew up there who really thinks of it as New York City. Sure, you vote for the mayor and go to New York City schools, but it’s a bus and subway to get to Manhattan… and it’s Manhattan that’s called “The City.”

Queens, and its sister borough Brooklyn, are both on Long Island. Yet when we’d venture to Nassau County, we’d say we were going to “The Island.”

Flushing in general and Queens in particular have an inferiority complex – some of which is well deserved.

Our apartment, 5E, was tiny. For my sister, our parents, and me, we had two small bedrooms, a microscopic kitchen, dinette, living room and bathroom. There was no closet space to speak of.

The apartment, with only a northern exposure, had no direct sunlight. My bedroom window looked out on a fire escape, which overlooked a huge parking lot. In the distance I could see the Throgs Neck Bridge.

As a child, before air conditioning was allowed in the apartment complex, we’d leave our windows wide open in the summer, hoping for a breath of air. The slow, lumbering, propeller driven planes of that age would rattle the building while taking folks much higher in the social strata to La Guardia Airport.

We weren’t well to do. In our section of Queens I never knew a doctor or lawyer or professional. These were working people, many union craftsmen, some laborers.

Anything we kept that couldn’t fit in a closet was moved into position along the wall of the single hallway that connected our rooms. My mother had a sewing machine, and it snuggled against the wall where the hallway met the dining room. It didn’t seem like the walls were closing in – they actually were, as we accumulated more stuff.

Still, we did accumulate things over time. I believe my folks were adverse to throwing anything away. Helaine tells me I still have some of that pack rat mentality.

This is a really long way to go to tell you what I just did… and I apoolgize. I cleaned out the email folders on my computer. For me, that was a painful decision and process.

I don’t like throwing anything away.

First, I backed up all my messages to a DVD-R. There’s now 3.5 GB of penis enlargement ads, Nigerian scams, viewer mail and important correspondence on that disk, and I have no idea if I could re-import it if necessary! Still, I couldn’t do what followed without that first step.

I wiped out everything in my deleted folder that was put there prior to July. It wasn’t too much – NOT! I have just deleted 38,660 messages. There are still over 9,000 left in the deleted folder.

Tomorrow (I’m getting tired right now), I will purge my sent messages. I guess I’ll, again, arbitrarily pick a date a started chopping. The sent folder has 14,788 messages.

Why do I save them all?

Every once in a while, I’ll look for an email to find an address or remember what someone had said to me (or vice versa). Over time, as with apartment 5E, the walls have started to close in. My computer became more and more sluggish when I had to load the deleted folder. Often, it wouldn’t let me directly read what I had searched for, because the database had used so much memory.

Like my folks, as the boxes piled up, I worry that I’ve thrown out some gem. Hopefully, it won’t be a rude awakening.