Colleagues – This month I was handed the reins to the Mayor's quality of life street monitoring program. Twenty-five people crisscross the city five days a week observing and reporting on, among other things … LITTER!! It's true. I am now the litter counting king. These observers have litter observing down to a science – randomized samples; strict rules for rating; observation data going back 30 years. There's only one little problem. The ratings don't jibe with my experiences – at all. My folks rate nearly 90 percent of NYC streets as acceptably clean on average. Ha!
Unfortunately, we have a brand new law in the city that allows neighborhoods meeting a certain cleanliness standard to opt out of having to move cars twice a week for street sweeping. This is a very big deal for New Yorkers so lowering the ratings, carte blanche, as I would like to do would get me run out of town. The catch is ratings have to stay above that standard for a neighborhood to continue to qualify for reduced cleaning. I have to wonder, if reducing the amount of street sweeping by half doesn't cause ratings to worsen, thus voiding the exemption, why does the city bother to do it?
Figuring out what can actually be done to make this city work better is no easy task. Our management report showed that for the third year in a row, trash volume had gone down but costs for trash collection had risen. When asked about it, our Sanitation Department contact explained to me that no matter how much trash volume went down, their union agreements required them to have a certain number of trucks on the street, each with a certain number of workers. End of discussion.
A few weeks ago, Pat and I went to the New York "Phil"(harmonic) to hear a new piece commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 9-1-1 tragedy. I was really excited about going, but here's the thing….the words to this operatic presentation were sung in English and projected onto a screen above the orchestra. All the drama and power of the music were totally ruined for me by the realization that this incredible singer was mouthing lines like "the sparrow pecked lazily at the copper drain pipe as the rain fell upon the cheeks of the fallen." As far as I can tell, this prosaic language is pretty standard fare for modern operatic pieces, so here's my next proposal for a government program that would improve the cultural life of New Yorkers. Any production receiving funds from city government (and that's basically all of them) would be prohibited from presenting modern operatic pieces in English. Bombastic pieces would be performed in German and lyrical/romantic pieces in Italian. And no projections of English translations would be allowed.
Today, I joined a group of volunteers planting trees in Queens. Very similar to activities I've done in Portland and Adelaide except this one was in Technicolor. It was a great scene - a Jamaican matriarch sat on a log overseeing her family's work; lots and lots of black and brown children lugging shrubs around; people of all colors and ethnicity working side by side. That's one New York.
On the other hand, I recently learned that the overwhelming majority of the top lawyers in New York City are white. Well at least according the New York Times which ran a special supplement in the Sunday magazine with photos of the city's "super lawyers." Of the 347 individuals pictured, two appeared to be African American and one of those was former New York mayor David Dinkins. How could that be in the city that I have been touting as the most color blind place I've ever lived?
It is definitely bizarro-blind, especially on the subway, at night. Pat and I were travelling home on the train from a very cool neighborhood called Astoria (in Queens) when we came across "Candyman." On this chilly, rainy night, Candyman was wearing nothing but a faux grass skirt made of those little tubular hard candies strung together, with matching candy coated glasses and flip flops. Oh, and a very large "Candyman" necklace, made of the same candy, hanging across his naked chest. Just as he faded into the crowd (The subway is hoppin' at midnight.), bed sheet man appeared. This guy had a gigantic ponytail-like train of his actual hair that required him to wrap it with a sheet to keep it from dragging on the ground. When he sat down, he would hold the train in his lap like a child.
I've noticed the funniest thing about hair recently. My office is full of younger women with shoulder length hair. Many of them fiddle with their hair incessantly – rolling and unrolling; putting it up, taking it down; even chewing on it. I'm thinking it's part of that New York nervous energy thing; lots of knuckle cracking; pen twirling; knee bouncing; and fast talking. Yes, New Yorkers do talk faster than the rest of us; no doubt about it.
We have the oddest way of recycling deposit containers in Manhattan. My neighbors and I apparently care so little about the 5 cents attached to bottles and cans that we routinely discard them; often in with the non-deposit recyclables. That all goes out on the street in vast numbers of trash bags which people then open up to pull out the deposit bottles. An older Asian lady apparently "owns" the waste bags in front of my building. Every trash night, she's out there, with a little girl standing nearby, picking through the recyclables. I'm guessing hundreds of people make their living "picking trash" in NYC. Dang, back to trash, again.
Looking forward to Halloween. I can already feel the excitement building around town. Apparently the parade in Greenwich Village (Think Lou Reed.) is simply amazing. Heading out to buy an incredibly overpriced pumpkin to get into the spirit.