The End is Nigh — But You Have a Choice

As previously advised, circumstances compel the termination of this blog. I write this very last post to invite all followers to check out shiningseausa.com and consider following it. While the New York City focus will be lost, our hearts will always remain attached to the Great City, and visits and other occasions to write about it will definitely arise. In between, shiningseausa.com is devoted to everything between the coasts; hence the blog title.

Shiningseausa.com will, of course, retain a major focus on issues of national policy with other subjects of interest, at least to me, thrown in irregularly. Give it a try; if it’s not to your liking, you can easily cancel your following and you’ll hear no more from me.

In all events, I wish you all well. We are, I hope, on the verge of beginning to restore sanity and a semblance of order to our politics, though we clearly face some very serious short-term challenges. The nation’s capital city where we now live is under siege; the security grip tightens more each day. It feels like living on a military base but with nicer buildings. If you believe in democracy, send peaceful thoughts to the capital and prepare for the dawn of a new age.

 

You Had Me at ‘Welcome to New York—Have a Cookie’

We are leaving New York City. This is the final post in this blog. I write this with profound mixed feelings, but the move is necessary and, ultimately, will be beneficial. More about that in a minute.

I never expected to live here. It was always an interesting place to visit but …. cliché. My first “encounter” with the city this time occurred when I arrived to get the keys to our apartment. I decided to grab a couple of slices (pizza, for the uninitiated) at Fluffies, a rather inelegant “restaurant/cafe” at the corner of Ninth Avenue and West 58th Street [since closed by the pandemic]. Fluffies had pizzas arrayed in glass cases, already baked and ready to be reheated briefly, so little waiting while you sat at one of the remarkably small tables on a remarkably uncomfortable plastic chair. The pizza was middling quality but good enough, as I perused diagrams of how we planned to set up our furniture.

A largish man, whom I later understood was the owner, approached with my Coke and, to my amazement, asked if I lived around there. I said I was about to move into the towers at One Columbus Place. He nodded and went to pursue other duties. As I finished my pizza and prepared to get up, the owner appeared again, slapped a large Black & White cookie [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_and_white_cookie] on the table and said “Welcome to New York!”

Now, that’s a New York story, if ever I heard one. The city reputed for its hostile environment, for rudeness in that special New York style, and then “have a cookie on us.”

It took about two weeks to complete my rapture with this place. True enough, it was noisy (there are noise ordinances but like many other “rules” they are not enforced), crowded, rushed, dirty in some places, often in shadow, windy … and more. It was also New York City  that should be a Wonder of the World.

Here I fell in love with ballet after seeing and photographing the Continuum Contemporary/Ballet company in a free (yes, free and a front row seat) performance at Bryant Park. See https://autumninnewyork.net/2018/06/18/ballet-bryant-park/  before it’s too late. This led to many extraordinary evenings at Lincoln Center, a short walk from our apartment, where we reveled in the stunning, often super-human, performance of many classics of the genre. I still can see the stage when the curtain rose and the audience spontaneously roared over the spectacular colors for the amazing Jewels. We bought a membership in New York City Ballet and were able to attend rehearsals of the orchestra and dress rehearsals of major performance which were, for all practical purposes, the actual performances. Breathtaking in every way.

And so it went. Jazz clubs (Jazz at Lincoln Center just a short walk away, the Vanguard and others), Broadway shows, museums, endless stores selling anything and everything, restaurants of every imaginable and unimaginable type, concerts, Central Park – OMG, Central Park where we walked and walked and watched birds and people and dogs and  … rats … and jazz bands and the end of the New York City Marathon and so much more – poetry clubs. New York City has it all. Over 200 languages are spoken here and on any given outing you can expect to hear several of them.

Getting around requires some basic understanding of the subway system as well as how to hail a taxi, how to summon an Uber/Lyft. New Yorkers tend to be ‘New Yorkish’ in their dealings with people they don’t know, but if you don’t take it personally, you find most of them are helpful if asked politely. Sometimes they will ask you for directions or other information. They won’t often say “thank you,” not, I think because they want to be rude, but because they don’t want to waste time and it’s a give-and-take situation that they’ll be on the other side of soon enough. It all balances out without wasting time with too many niceties. They want information, not a relationship.

The pandemic and the response to the murder of George Floyd ripped the heart out of New York City in a way that was and still is hard to grasp. The place that had some of the largest marches for women’s’ and minorities’ rights, and in which we participated numerous times, the city with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the Fifth Avenue Christmas lights and Rockefeller Center’s tree and all the rest, was laid waste. As we prepare to depart, Times Square is an empty and sullen place. The virus is resurgent, and humanity is in retreat yet again as we confront the consequences of people refusing to accept the science. The vaccines are arriving as we depart, but so many people say they will not be vaccinated.

One is led to believe that Americans have grown soft. Our consumerist economy and culture have left us with millions of countrymen whining about being unable to go to a bar whenever they want, or unable to work out in their gym like they could in the Before Times. This is the same country that survived the Great Depression and defeated the Japanese and the Nazis in a global two-front war that lasted four years and saw rationing of food and a multitude of other “necessities.” People worked around the clock, seven days a week to support the war effort. Women took up jobs conceived for men who went off to war. Women too fought and died in the war. Now we have millions of people unwilling to be inconvenienced in order to stamp out a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans so far and is raging out of control across the country.

I digress, but I am struck every day by how Americans seem to have changed. This is not a political blog – I have https://shiningseaUSA.com for that and will have more to say there about what I believe has happened to us. For now, suffice to note that we leave this extraordinary place with heavy but hopeful hearts. We lost a family member to COVID recently and that still weighs on us. But my wife is returning to school, to a Georgetown University program in non-profit management which will lead to other interesting challenges soon enough. Our departing New York City is, in the end, a new beginning and not a true ending.

And this great metropolis will never end. The city is such a remarkable place –it must rebound, and I believe it will do so in time. America is not the same without it. Indeed, the world is not the same without it. New York City is testament to all that we can be and much that we must strive to avoid. Like all of this nation, it aspires to heights that cannot always be achieved but in the reaching, in the breadth of it is its greatness. When it is safe to do so one fine day, we will return here, again and again, to re-experience everything that only a place like New York City could ever begin to deliver, a theme-park of human culture and diversity, truly a Wonder of the World. Believe.

Spectrum – Departing Is Such Sweet … Nothing

After searching in futility through the various circular navigation lines at Spectrum.com, I finally found a phone number to call regarding the disconnection of our service in conjunction with our forthcoming move from New York City.

The answering system informed me that, surprise, Spectrum was getting an unusually high volume of calls but could call me back if I left a phone number. I did. They did. I spoke at some length with a young man, explaining, as he demanded, why I was moving, that Spectrum was not available where I was moving (sorry, not sorry), that I needed to terminate my service on the last day in our apartment that was also the last day of the lease. Thus, it was essential that Spectrum pick up the equipment it had installed. I didn’t have my last bill so I couldn’t provide the security code that is apparently essential for every oral communication with Spectrum but whose absence never stops the calls from going through. The young man texted a new code to me that I dutifully read aloud. Victory! We could now address the reasons for my call. We are at about 20 to 25 minutes into the process at this point.

The young man eventually told me he needed to leave the line briefly. I said ‘fine.’

Silence. More silence. Growing concern that something was amiss. More silence. Then…music and the traditional “on hold message.” Eventually, as I now feared, another person came on the line and asked if she could help me. I explained what had transpired. She was the usual apologetic self that one gets on such calls. She texted another code that I dutifully repeated. I then re-explained in detail why I had called.

Uh oh. So sorry, but Spectrum doesn’t pick up the equipment it previous installed. The customer, in whom Spectrum no longer has any interest in making happy, must return it within 12 days of service termination or owe Spectrum an indeterminate amount of money for the equipment. After what can only be described as a hostile exchange (me hostile, she apologizing), we moved on to the next problem.

That problem, it turned out, was that Spectrum could not accept my request to terminate service until 30 days, or less, before the requested termination date. Since the day in question was October 26 and the service is to be terminated on, exactly, November 30 … well, you can see what a problem this would be for Spectrum. I said I would call back on October 30, at which point I could reasonably expect to repeat the entire fiasco conversation with some other hapless employee of Spectrum unlucky enough to pick up my call in the rotation.

I conclude this tale of woe by wondering aloud, so to speak, what the rationale might be for the policy that one cannot terminate service on more than 30-days’ notice. Did Spectrum experience a rash of cancellation notices only to have the customers suddenly decide not to cancel after all, causing some huge crush of cancellations of cancellations? I am at a loss.

But I’ve made myself a promise. Even though this entire experience resembles a story I read in my long-lost youth (Alice in Wonderland, I think), I am foresworn to shrug off the bizarre and inexplicable features of modern life and focus on something I can control. What is that mantra: give me the strength to accept what I cannot change …. I think we may be doomed.

PostNote: I did call Spectrum, on October 30 and it took two different tech support people and 22 minutes to successfully terminate our service. Went through the same hocus pocus of telling my needs to one person who left the line “for just a minute or two,” never to return, then music, then a new person: “How may I help you….”

PostNote PostNote: To assure we had wi-fi throughout the moving-out day (November 30), I had asked that the “service” be ended on December 1, knowing that we would return the equipment later the prior day. Skipping details regarding the move-out, we walked to the UPS store on West 57th that I had previously confirmed was an acceptable depository for the Spectrum equipment. We exchanged the boxes and cables for a receipt, walked to the rental car site down the street and left New York City.

When, some days later, we collected our forwarded mail in Washington, what to my wondering eyes did appear but a bill from Spectrum, dated December 3. The bill said we had not returned the equipment and therefore owed Spectrum $223, among other charges. Not good. I called Spectrum on a Saturday, acquired a representative on the line and explained my concern. In a voice suggestive that the entire problem was my fault for not understanding how Spectrum works, she explained that we had canceled the service precisely at the moment when Spectrum was generating our last bill and that Spectrum was unaware of my delivery to UPS at that time, but if I exercised appropriate patience, a new statement would arrive clarifying everything.

I asked whether I could expect that statement to arrive while I was still alive. She responded that she understood me to be making a humorous statement (though obviously she was not amused by it) and that the bill would arrive when it arrived, and she hoped I would be alive to receive. So, I admit, do I. Time will, as always, tell.

So it was written and so it was done. The final bill arrived December 10 and while it did not mention that the equipment had been returned, it at least had removed the charges related to unreturned equipment. Thus, after much unnecessary ado, our life with Spectrum is finished.

Walking with Joe & Kamala

Not really. The title is click bait. Truth is, though, that our walk in Central Park today was beyond spectacular, partly due to the stunning weather (sunny 70+ degrees), partly due to the brilliant fall scenery and also partly because of the news that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prevailed in the 2020 election. It felt like they were walking along with us and it was a wonderful, liberating feeling.

Of course, this site is not political. If you want that, go to https://shiningseausa.com where I have had a lot to say about our national political situation and where I will continue to comment as we move into our new future. Meanwhile, back in Central Park, what a glorious day. Here is the evidence:

Summer in Central Park

Summer this year did not begin for us until June 1. We had been in lockdown from March 13 and did not venture out except to pick up packages a few times a week from our concierge desk. There were also a couple of short walks for medical tests, which, in my case, were denied. Readers probably know that my wife was very ill with COVID for a good two really horrible weeks. My experience was comparatively mild though the taste/smell issues have lingered to this day.

So, when June 1 arrived, we were relatively healthy again and the city was beginning to “re-open” in stages. Governor Cuomo was, and remains, very cautious to avoid restarting the horrors that New York City in particular experienced. Good for him and us. Central Park, which has always been a key attraction for us, become an “essential fix.” We started walking every day and most times visited the park. I took my camera sometimes to record the evolution of re-opening as New Yorkers came out to recover. This post reflects a partial synthesis of what we have seen.

We start with July 4, when the city promised fireworks from the top of, among others, the Empire State Building of which we have a direct view from our 50th floor aerie. The result was an overblown dud, but given the circumstances, we were fortunate to see anything at all. Here, then, are a few shots of that experience:

There are quite a few animals in Central Park, although sightings are relatively rare. I suspect none of these will surprise you:

The Park attracts a diverse audience for diverse purposes. Various forms of relaxation abound, often leading to visitors nodding off:

There are, of course, many more active pursuits, some of which are surprisingly common, though not all:

And there are plenty of just plain “scenes” that capture the eye and the imagination:

Finally, saving the best for last, there are the birds. We have learned that, during the course of a year, the Park attracts some 200 species of birds. Many are “tropical” birds that traverse the United States when flying to and from feeding/nesting grounds in the far north and the tropics. These can be seen by astute observers during their stopovers in the woods, lakes and streams in this oasis within the metropolis. Some of them are so gloriously beautiful that we have become involuntary “birders,” that more than a bit obsessive clan of people you often see carrying long lenses and binoculars/note pads peering into the trees and bushes for the sight of something small and cautious or studying the waters for the stunning sight of the Great Egrets that fish there. There are predatory hawks and tiny thrushes. Happily, my wife has a very sharp eye for animals in the wild and I take an occasional nice photo, so, birders we have become, for better or worse. We have watched the stunning documentary entitled “Birders: The Central Park Effect,” available through Amazon Prime. As birthday presents this year, I now own the “Birds of Central Park,” a gorgeous book of bird photos, as well as “Seeing Central Park,” a beautiful guide to the varied and fascinating places of interest.

So with that background, here are some of the results of our partial summer in the Park:

And, finally, wait for it ….

 

 

Storm King Arts Center

On the last day of our break from NYC, reported in the prior post, Escape from Gotham, we drove north again to the Storm King Art Center which is near Cornwall, NY. It is described on its website as,

Storm King Art Center is a 500-acre outdoor museum located in New York’s Hudson Valley, where visitors experience large-scale sculpture and site-specific commissions under open sky. Since 1960, Storm King has been dedicated to stewarding the hills, meadows, and forests of its site and surrounding landscape. Building on the visionary thinking of its founders, Storm King supports artists and some of their most ambitious works. Changing exhibitions, programming, and seasons offer discoveries with every visit.

I can add nothing meaningful to that, so I won’t try. I don’t understand modern art and certainly did not grasp the concepts behind many of the pieces at Storm King. Trust this, though. Five hundred acres of rolling hills is a lot of acres and hills, so if you visit, be prepared to do a lot of walking and climbing. The terrain is beautiful if you are attracted to verdant hills and forest. The selection of photos below will give you an indication of what to expect but there is much more to Storm King than this.

Escape from Gotham

Desperate to get my wife a break from work and to free ourselves of the mental taint of post-COVID recovery, NYC lockdown and semi-lockdown and so on, we located Troutbeck in Amenia, NY (Dutchess County) and decided to go for it.

The apparent advantages were that it was in New York State, less than two hours’ drive away, car rental was available in our neighborhood and it looked pastoral and quiet. Just what we needed. The plan was to drive up on Sunday and stay for three nights, return but keep the car for some closer-in  day-trips for a couple of days. More on that in a later post.

Troutbeck had other elements that attracted us in the circumstance of the pandemic. In what could be a model for other businesses, the resort sent us a detailed set of instructions and rules governing arrival and our stay. For example only,

    • Signage will direct you to pull up to the Manor House front door where you will be met by our guest services agent. Please do not leave your car.
    • We will ask that you and your companion(s) please submit to a mandatory temperature check.
    • You will receive your sanitized guestroom key card and visual direction to your guestroom.
    • Please print the copy of your itinerary sent to you prior to your arrival. Our staff will not provide you with a printed version unless requested by you and, only once you have checked in.
    • We will confirm your itinerary and answer any initial questions you may have for us.
    • Luggage service is suspended temporarily. You may be invited to leave your luggage in a convenient location while you park your car, as directed.

Regarding dining, the “rules” were,

Led by Chef Gabe McMackin our exceptional culinary team will carefully plan all of your meals. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner all feature the most exciting things we can find in the moment. Our field-to-fork approach is strongly influenced by both the abundance and the scarcity inherent in sourcing only what is seasonal and what is best. Such is the nature and the pleasure in living close to the land.

We are now offering indoor dining at 50% of our permitted full capacity. All tables are spaced at a minimum distance of 6ft between the next. Up to 10 guests of the same traveling party may be seated together. All public areas at Troutbeck are fitted with HEPA/UV air filtration. All tables are sanitized between seatings. None of our services are open to the public at this time.

Should you choose to dine indoors a face mask is required to and from your table. Our service staff will wear gloves and a facemask at all times. At no time will you be presented with a check or a printed menu. Please help us to plan your meals below. Be sure to state your dietary restrictions – especially allergies – but also particular likes and dislikes as our team will keep these in mind. We will send our menus to you for the weekend prior to your arrival.

We appreciated the clarity and detail; clearly, Troutbeck had thought through its re-opening in detail and with respect for the obvious health implications. Here are a few photos of the residential buildings, our room (standard double) and some of the common areas.

This is the perhaps the best place to also reveal some of the harsh realities of the early reopening of resorts/restaurants during the pandemic. We understood that changes might occur. Indeed, we did not receive the menu in advance and were surprised to learn that the dinner menu (priced at $75 per person) was the same for each night of our stay and included only four appetizers and four entrees. The first night I ordered “Roasted Pork Belly with White Nectarines” and “Smoked Beef Short Rib with Fingerling Potatoes, Spring Onions & Deciccio Broccoli.” Disclosure: I am not a foodie. That said, my wife liked the Nettle Cavatelli

and the deserts were delicious.

The Pork Belly was almost all fat:

and the Short Rib, with which I am very acquainted, appeared to be semi-tough flank steak. It certainly was not Short Rib:

I soldiered on. The next night, confronted with the identical menu, we both opted for the Steelhead Trout but asked that it be grilled rather than poached as stated on the menu. For those not familiar with this fish, it is more like salmon than trout. My wife’s fish came undercooked. The second try was better, but her appetite was ruined. I found multiple bones in mine and just placed them on the side of the plate without comment, but the waiter took notice on his own.

To Troutbeck’s great credit under the stressful conditions of reopening jitters and bad economics, and without our asking or complaining, the waiter removed the entire meal from our bill. We had a very nice and respectful discussion of the need for disclosure and the issues surrounding responsible reopening. When I explained that I planned to do a blog post, he asked that I send them a copy, which I will do. I hope they find it fair and balanced. I have tried.

The only other observation I will make is about breakfast. The advance notice explained that the culinary team would be planning the meals. In practice, this meant that breakfast was crafted in the kitchen and delivered all at once on a large tray.

No coffee while you wait. [Parenthetically, we are both coffee addicts but there were no coffee machines in the rooms or in the central areas of the lodge buildings (removed due to the pandemic). We tried once to order room service coffee, as proffered, but it took 75 minutes and 3 or 4 calls to get this done.] The food was plentiful and quite excellent. My only gripe was that the last day there was no meat; a large and ugly mushroom on a bed of spinach instead. As I revealed above, I am no foodie and this did not sit well. However, the bacon the first two days was crisp and plentiful, just the way I like it. There was fresh squeezed juice and homemade pastries every day.

The other good side of the dining experience was that we were able to eat outside each morning and evening, while appropriately separated from the few other guests.

But, enough about food. Let’s get to the really great parts of the Troutbeck experience. Yes, there is a nice swimming pool if you’re so inclined, but we were impressed by the “sitting areas” established around the property. These consist of reservation-only areas that include two Adirondack chairs, two hammocks and a fire pit, most of which overlook the stream that runs through the property.

Each area is well-separated from the others, so we never felt crowded.

We found that sitting by the burbling brook was delightfully stress-reducing. Lying in the hammock did nothing for my planned reading as it produced a powerful soporific effect in minutes.

Unfortunately, the proffered lunch that was delivered to our spot on the first day consisted of very greasy fried chicken that we thought was an odd choice in the circumstances.

We spent the last evening after dinner (elsewhere) at another of the sites; a waiter brings a pre-arranged beverage and lights the fire.

This was a very relaxing way to close out our stay.

Troutbeck is quite close to Amenia, NY, a very small town with little to see or do. The surrounding country is extremely lush, very hilly and mostly beautiful. Our day-drive took us to Rhinebeck for lunch at Pete’s Famous

and eventually to Hyde Park (FDR home closed) and then to the Vanderbilt mansion (also closed, but the grounds could be walked):

We recognize that our mixed experience at Troutbeck was not “normal,” although the staff was very pleasant in all interactions The grounds of the property are lovely and interesting.

We think in better times we’d have an even better experience. This is not to say that you should not go there now. Just do it with your eyes open and be generous in your reaction to what may be a few struggles for perfection. Preparation is nine-tenths of a good time. Bring some good instant coffee to make in the common room microwave and some snacks. You can get a small refrigerator for the room on request. We do expect we will return another time, by which time the pandemic, hopefully, will be behind us.

 

 

New York in Recovery??

We have survived the coronavirus, with some difficulty, and are thrilled, sort of, that New York City is now, finally, in Phase 1 of “reopening.” Roughly two weeks ago (it seems more recent), we began to go out again for short walks. With the exception of a couple of medical visits, this was the first going-out since the pandemic and lockdown began in mid-March. By then, unbeknown to us, the die had been cast. I was infected sometime just before the lockdown and passed the infection to my wife. I will spare readers the grim details. We are both better. I had it easy. She, the opposite. Trust me on this one thing – if it isn’t obvious to you from the statistics, accept that this is disease is, as I have previously reported, mean as a junk yard dog.

Which brings me to the point of this post. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, a man both revered and despised by different people for reasons with which I am largely unacquainted, has held daily news briefings for more than 100 days and throughout that time has begged, demanded and cajoled New Yorkers to “be smart.” New York City in particular was the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, with a rapidly mounting hospitalization and death toll beginning in early March, threatening to overwhelm even the vast medical resources of the city.

The steep rise in cases and deaths continued until one fine day when it began to level off (“flattening the curve,” was the term applied), stayed more or less level and then began a slower decline to where it is now, with daily deaths attributed to COVID in the neighborhood of 35. The Governor has made clear that the reopening of the state and of New York City was strictly dependent upon the data. If there are upticks, restrictions will be swiftly re-imposed. “Be smart” about how you conduct yourself, he has repeatedly urged, and we will be fine. Each region of the state will be separately evaluated every day.

So, with that as background, we emerge from our “bunker” and begin to take walks of up to 2 miles, just in the neighborhood and sometimes into Central Park that is about a third-of-a-mile away. We try walking early, say at 8 or 9 am, on the theory that there will be fewer people on the street at that time, but this is not apparent when we’re out there. We also walk at noon and in the early evening. It’s the same. As the days progress, both pedestrian and automobile traffic noticeably increase everywhere we go. But in no sense is it crowded. It just seems that way. The psychology of the pandemic, I suppose. Open space feels cramped when every person you encounter is seen as the possible source of re-infection with a disease that could kill you.

As we progress through the two-week period, a couple of things change. Mask-wearing seems to be diminishing. It’s not a scientific determination, more of a gut judgment, but it feels quite accurate. At the beginning, the end of May, we estimated non-compliance was around 10 percent of people we saw. That seemed high and mildly concerning, but as we approached June 8, the official reopening of New York City, non-compliance rose to about 20 percent. Not a comfortable or encouraging situation. The infection rate is also creeping upward, slowly but inexorably upward according to daily reports from covidactnow.org. On May 3, the 7-day rolling average infection rate was .63 and on June 2 was .84. As long as that number is below 1.0, the total number of COVID cases will continue to decline, but the projections indicate a rate of .9 by June 9, now three days ago. We anxiously await updated numbers, but we are getting perilously close to the point at which the Governor has said he will order another lockdown. In a few more days we likely will begin to see the results of the massive protests that recently occurred throughout Manhattan and the boroughs.

The Governor now says that the key number to watch going forward is the “tested infection rate” that is holding in Manhattan at 1.2 percent based on about 50,000 statewide tests per day. Time will tell.

Non-compliance in the neighborhood is not limited to any group. It is young, old, bike riders, casual strollers, mothers with children, delivery personnel. “My mask protects you; your mask protects me” seems to be a hollow sentiment to those who shun masks or wear them under their chin. Smoking on the street is still seen. We try hard not to breathe exhaled smoke. Any breeze is always a welcome relief because we’ve been told that the virus does not remain concentrated in moving air.

Yesterday, our early evening walk took us to Columbus Circle where we observed, for the third time, a phalanx of police vehicles and Central Park West closed by metal railings, all to protect the Trump International Hotel. A large number of police were present as well. My inquiry as to why NYPD was set up to protect the private property of Donald Trump who does not live in this hotel (it’s just one of his branded commercial properties), an officer said they were expecting protesters. Since Trump can easily afford his own security for the businesses he continues to own while serving as president, I resent the use of city resources to provide security services for his properties.

Finally, a few nights ago, we came across a restaurant on Broadway that was open for business outdoors, with numerous tables occupied by un-masked dinners/drinkers. A large sign in front proclaimed “open.” I reported this to the mayor’s office and the city health department. We haven’t been back that way yet to see if it’s still violating the reopening rules. The fact that this happened so openly is not a good sign for the future of reopening. If that restaurant is not stopped, competing restaurants may decide to follow suit and the proverbial barn door will be open.

The data from states that have reopened incautiously is not encouraging. Virtually all of them have experienced significant spikes in infections following their reopenings. Today the Governor reported 23 states with spikes, of which 15 are experiencing their highest- ever infection rates. Their political leadership seems not to be concerned and under the sway of those who scream that their “rights” are being violated by lockdown orders. We truly live in insane times. I don’t know what else to say. Stay well if you can.

 

 

Desperate Times and Desperate Measures

I can usually stretch to a month or more between haircuts and was already planning to do it again when the NYC lockdown order arrived. Having some room to spare, the issue of haircuts never even occurred to me. Like many others, I was focused on assuring we had enough toilet paper, paper towels and, oh yes, food. Haircuts were simply not on the agenda of lockdown concerns.

As it happened, my hair continued to grow. And grow. While many women and some men are comfortable with long hair on their necks, I am not one of them. As time passed, I became increasingly aware that the “mop” on my head was uncomfortable. It seemed to me that my head was warmer than usual. There is probably science to support that idea, but I was not interested in explanations. I wanted the hair gone.

Life is funny that way. When you don’t have enough of something important, or might not, like toilet paper, you get very serious about searching for sources until you’re sure you “have enough.” Conversely, there are some things, like hair, that when you have more than you need/want, you can’t rest until you get rid of it.

Sooo, I commenced to searching for hair cutting tools for men. I had never imagined I would want to cut my own hair, but each morning, as I looked at myself in the mirror, it became clear that emergency measures were in order.

Having not prepared for this situation, I did what I always do. Research. For more serious and long-term projects, I would normally turn to books but in this case that option seemed “off.” So, to learn what the tools are, where to buy them, how to use them, study, watch videos, process, think, process, prepare and …. go to YouTube.  Done. Somewhat intimidating but not overwhelming. You can do this. Then, of course, turn to …. Amazon.

Now the reality begins to dawn. I am not alone. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions of men who would ordinarily go to a barbershop or salon are now in the hunt for the same tools I need. And I am late to the party.

As usual, Amazon has a vast multitude of options but, in the annoying way that Amazon works in times of trouble, you can put them in your Cart only to find at checkout that the items are either “unavailable and we don’t know when they will become available” or “there is no vendor who can deliver this item to your location.” I waste a staggering amount of time studying the user comments (I will be writing about Amazon user comments in the near future) and ratings, unwittingly falling further and further behind the army of men conducting the same search. I fall back to Google searches for men’s haircutting tools. There are surprisingly few sites selling them. All are out of stock or the reviews/ratings are so despairing that I decline to take chances with my precious hair.

Finally, after many hours of searching, I find a recognizable brand name clipper set at a site whose name seems sufficiently familiar that I can trust it. The predicted delivery day is quite far in the future, but this is the reality of being slow out of the gate in a pandemic. I order.

Two days later, the first email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of “8 to 14 days” from the original estimated time of delivery. I swallow hard but accept that this is the reality into which we have all arrived.

The next day, the next email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of 8 to 14 days from the estimated time of delivery. And so on, every day or other day for a week, at which point I decide that delivery may never occur and demand a refund. Provided with no argument.

Back to …  Amazon, the Jet.com, then …. Finally, it dawns on me that I have been seeing eBay in some of the Google searches. Now desperate, I go to eBay where, after many years’ absence, I have no account. Once that hurdle is overcome, I find a vendor offering exactly what I need. The vendor has great ratings from other buyers. Desperate times, etc. I order.

After only a few days’ time, the package arrives. Clippers (two!), various “combs” that control the length of the cut, hair clips, oil, brush, actual combs. Twenty-three pieces in all. I am “in business.”

Leaping ahead, after more “research” and overnight “processing” time, I line the bathroom floor with the last Sunday New York Times and proceed to cut my hair. Below, I have boldly gone where I have never gone before. The “before” and “after” photos speak for themselves. It is not a perfect haircut, but it will do for a first try. After two more of these, I will be ahead financially and by then, hopefully, the lockdown will be lifted sufficiently for a visit to a real barber.

So, here are the results. Read ’em and weep.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER: