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:

 

 

Angels in New York

Just when you least expect it and are sinking into the despair of self-isolation with a sick spouse and extreme personal vulnerability to the coronavirus, someone appears as if by magic to save the day. It’s not magic, of course; it’s human kindness and generosity at its best. I referred to her as an angel in an email and, with no prompting from me, my wife used the same terms. It must therefore be true.

The story is simple enough. My wife has come down with what appears to be COVID-19. We don’t know how it happened. We’ve taken all the precautions. Nonetheless, a doctor in a televisit said she thought it was COVID. It fits the symptoms list perfectly. Fortunately, so far, there are no breathing issues. But you may take my word for it – this virus is mean as a junk yard dog. Everything bad you’ve heard about it is true.

Anyway, my own vulnerability has led my wife to vehemently object to my leaving the apartment. Since she became ill six days ago, I have left only twice to pick up food deliveries and packages at the concierge desk and that was over her protest. When she started to need some things we had consumed, like ginger ale, I found that it is impossible to order online at CVS for delivery of items sold “only in store.” We then recalled that a few people in our building (700 apartments in two towers) have volunteered through the resident portal to help people like us. One of them was recent. I found her message and we began to communicate.

Skipping some of the details, she instantly agrees to trek to the CVS around the corner to buy whatever we need. Faced with imminent store closure (it’s Saturday night at 8 pm and the normal “open 24 hours” has apparently been suspended), she makes them stay open until she gets everything we asked for and delivers it to our door. She exhibits no impatience whatsoever as we text back and forth about the options/brands, etc. She wants us to have exactly what we want, not just what is convenient for her to grab and go. I am a bit overwhelmed.

This leads to a second trip the next day when we discover other needs. She texts me from the store to recommend an over-the-counter medication that may help my wife’s nausea (it did) after consulting with the pharmacist about it. She sends photos of various options so I can choose specifically what she should buy.

She patiently helps me struggle to reimburse her through her website (standby re that), but refuses to accept anything beyond the actual cost of the purchases. She says: “no way I’m taking anything other than exact amount.  Grandpa, who stormed the front in Battle of Bulge, would be horrified and embarrassed if I were to dishonor family name during time of national crisis.”

Now, I know I’ve encountered someone very special. An angel in human disguise. In New York City. We exchange a bunch more emails and texts after I check out her website where she manages, as a hobby, a meditation/mindfulness training program for working people. My wife in particular is interested in this for her post-recovery work life. It turns out this new friend-by-text and I are both alums of Yale University (me, Yale College, she the Law School) and Harvard (me the law school, she the Business School). To respect her privacy, I will not identify her by name. Her resume is intimidating. I joke that I and members of my class often observe that we probably couldn’t get into Yale now and her background shows why. She finds this amusing. She has a sense of humor and an infectious positive attitude toward life. [Is it a pun to refer to “infectious positive attitude” during a pandemic?]

I explain that since there is an immutable rule of life that no good deed goes unpunished, there will be two consequences to her work as Good Samaritan for us: one is that my wife must make dinner for her when the lockdown ends and life returns to some semblance of normality. The other is that I will write about her in this blog.

This is a story that must be told and included in my tales of life in New York City. She demurs on the blog but we agree she will bring dessert of her choice to the dinner. She sends me a remarkable photo of a multi-color dessert cake she had baked and says, “be afraid.” Date to be determined but I am optimistic we will make this happen.

And, for sure, my wife and I will be made better by having known this generous, ebullient, kind-hearted person, an unexpected benefit from the pandemic. As I conclude this post at 7 pm, I hear the New Yorkers that have balconies applauding, banging pots and cheering for that other group of angels working in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs around the city. This happens every day and apparently has started a national “movement,” as well it should. Giants and angels come in all sizes and in many disguises. If you’re lucky enough, an angel will find you too. I hope so.

 

New York Philharmonic Orchestra Pandemic Performances

Everyone knows by now that all live music and dance performances on Broadway, jazz clubs, Lincoln Center and elsewhere in New York City are on indefinite pause. For those of us who can’t get enough of these extraordinary “gifts” of this city, this is a particularly dark time on top of the, obviously more serious, general lockdown that has necessarily been imposed.

But, thanks to human ingenuity and determination, all is not lost. Among the many arts institutions offering online streaming of past performances is the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Every Thursday at 7:30 pm on the NYPO Facebook page, one can link to a truly amazing experience. Last night, for example, the NYPO showed a May 1994 performance conducted by Kurt Masur that was “attended” electronically by people all over the world. Three Beethoven masterpieces were performed: the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by the orchestra, the Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Emanuel Ax on piano) and, finally and oh so remarkably, Symphony No. 5. You can see the performance at: https://www.facebook.com/nyphilharmonic/videos/525953654947771/ and also at https://nyphil.org/playson

[As an aside, check out https://www.facebook.com/nyphilharmonic/videos/630361074485568/ where cellists of NYPO perform J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello in G major]

In May 1994, Masur, then the music director of NYPO, was approaching 67 years of age and Ax was just 44. They “brought the house down.”

The program actually began with an introduction by Hugh Downs followed by an interview in present time, with Alec Baldwin engaging Ax from another location where he was holed up. The two artists from different disciplines shared some of their similar feelings of nervous tension experienced before performances, with Baldwin wisely noting that “I would never compare what I do to what you do.” It’s fair, I think, to say Ax is a “genial genius” whose talents were shortly on full display in his execution of the Piano Concerto.

Masur, the more mature of the two in 1994, is described in Wikipedia as “one of the last old-style maestros.” I am not qualified to comment on that but watching Masur conduct is an extraordinary sight. He speaks to the orchestra with his hands, of course, but also a lot with his eyes and facial expressions. He goes from an apparent passivity to what reminded me of lightning in a storm. His passion transfers to the musicians, each of whom is surely a virtuoso in his/her own right. He stood on the riser for all three pieces with no sheet music, an imposing presence at 6 feet 3 inches height and in full command of the music and the orchestra.

Again, I am not qualified to judge but Emanuel Ax’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 is breathtaking to watch and hear. You can see him “talking” to himself as he blasts through some of the faster passages, fingers moving through muscle memory alone over dozens of notes in seconds. He too has no sheet music.

A unique aspect of these presentations is that there are multiple cameras that are regularly used by the unseen director to capture closeups of the musicians, lingering briefly and moving on to another section of the orchestra. Even from the best seats in the house, you could not see these details of what the musicians are doing at any time.

The concert closed with a remarkable performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. The playing was preceded by a talk of a number of musicians who explained some of the features of the symphony that everyone experiences without actually understanding why. It was like auditing an advanced class in music theory and practice. The concert itself was supernatural, all the more so because of new insights gathered beforehand.

Finally, note that on April 3 the Philharmonic did a special presentation of Ravel’s Balero as a tribute to healthcare workers everywhere. Not only were the music and musicianship extraordinary, but the musicians were each playing from home using Zoom. You can see/hear it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3UW218_zPo For a similar experience, by a flash-mob in Spain (2013 when public gatherings were still possible), see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsF53JpBMlk complete with cymbals and kettle drums.

How glorious it is that these masterpieces can be shared this way and enjoyed over and over. I can’t wait for the day when we can return to a live concert hall, theater or club to experience the unbelievable skill and creativity that will once again, one fine day, be on display.

 

Adult Guide to Attending Broadway Shows

Based on a ghastly experience last night at the St. James Theater showing of Frozen the Musical, I thought this guide might be useful, especially if it were forwarded far and wide to people who might actually need the information provided.

When buying tickets for a show, be sure you understand the seating, restroom and stairs/elevator situation in the theater you’re going to attend. Many New York theaters were built many years ago when people with physical limitations never attended shows or if they did, their interests were ignored in the design. Most of the older theaters have chosen not to spend the resources to update their facilities; apparently, the law does not require them to do so.

It is, therefore, common to find that tiny restrooms are not anywhere near your seats or indeed on the same level as your seats. This can be disconcerting during what are sometimes short breaks relative to the lines that form even at the men’s facilities. By way of example only, our balcony seats at the St. James involved a 77- step climb from the entry level, and the men’s room up there had two urinals. There are no elevators. The extent of the climb is not covered on the ticketing website, www.frozenthemusical.com but only in the Accessibility section of the website for the theater where no tickets may be purchased and that took some searching to find. https://www.jujamcyn.com/shows/frozen/

Note carefully whether your show has intermissions. Many Broadway shows run two hours or more without an intermission. This can be challenging for … well, you know.

When considering a show to see, think carefully about the likely makeup of the audience. Frozen’s website says it is “intended for ages 8+ and is not recommended for anyone under the age of 4. If you have already purchased a ticket for a child under 4, please contact Disney Theatrical Guest Services.” All well and good, but there were many children under 4 in the audience on Saturday night. However, candor compels me to note that by-and-large the children were better behaved than some of the “adults.” More on that later.

One of the consequences of a show like this is that many children need booster seats to see over the heads of adults in front of them. This was not so much as issue for most of the small kids, but once the “adults” saw what was happening, they too asked for booster cushions. This led to a cascading effect as people in higher rows were confronted with tall adults now even taller and they too asked for cushions. And so on.

Another consequence of such a show is that many audience members have seen the movie, know the story and react viscerally to events. This led to considerable hooting and hollering at various developments in the show. While audience enthusiasm should be encouraged, it can be disconcerting and overshadow what is happening on the stage. It seems more important to these guests to make noise than to hear what is happening next. Be prepared.

Now, for some rules of “adult behavior.” These are based on observed behavior at musicals, shows and even ballet performances at Lincoln Center.

  1. Do not make out with your partner.
  2. Do not lean on your partner, then shift your body far away, then later back, then ….
  3. Do not talk to your partner when the show is underway. Save it for the break or the end.
  4. Absent a genuine physical emergency, do not leave your seat for the restroom or bar while the show is underway. If you do, you should NOT return to the theater until the intermission.
  5. Keep your shoes on and your feet on the floor. Do NOT put your bare feet on the seat.
  6. During intermissions, do not sit in your seat obsessively taking selfies.

Last night, the young woman seated next to my wife did this during the break, taking photo after photo as she adjusted her hair, changed the tilt of her head, made “sexy” shapes of her mouth and so on. It was distracting and obnoxious.

  1. Do NOT get out of your seat until the intermission.

Last night there was an unexpected break in the show, when a prop malfunctioned. An announcement was made but no directive to remain seated. Two stage staff struggled to fix the problem. Numerous “adults” now decided to go to the restroom or to the bar, then returned after the show started, struggling to return to their seats in the dark. The theater personnel should have prevented this, but regardless, act like an adult and have some respect for the other guests and for the performers.

  1. Do NOT treat the theater as if you’re at a baseball game. This is not the venue for rustling plastic wrappers, sharing candy and nuts and slurping drinks.
  2. The seats in many older theaters are quite narrow and there is little room between rows. Either check your coats or keep your coat and other belongings within the area of your seat.
  3. DO NOT KEEP YOUR CELLPHONE ON DURING THE PERFORMANCE. DO NOT SNEAK PHOTOS OR RECORDINGS. DO NOT TEXT, EMAIL OR TALK. JUST DON’T.

 

I Love the Sound of a Symphony in the Morning

I have once again had the opportunity to attend a New York City Ballet orchestra rehearsal of for both Stravinky’s Firebird and Tschaikovsky’s Allegro Brillante starting tonight. It started at 10 am with a volunteer’s explanation of the background of Stravinsky’s composition of the music for Firebird, after which the group of attendees (perhaps 25 in number) was ushered into the seating area as the rehearsal began. The seating area is near the front of the orchestra, the best seats I’m likely to ever have. And the price ($0) was right.

Even more right was the music itself. While we were told that the rehearsal was not a performance but only a practice that would likely be interrupted by the conductor, the reality was that they orchestra initially played the entire music through from beginning to end before the conductor took them through the changes. Our membership thus earned an opportunity to hear what amounted to a full concert. The music, even without the dancers, is simply stunning. Conductor Andrew Litton clearly knows the score in great depth. After running through the entire piece, Litton worked through many sections he wanted to be done differently, covering all of the iconic sections as well as less well-known parts that tie everything together.

One of the most amazing aspects of a professional orchestra is that the conductor can call on it to start anywhere in the lengthy score and they can immediately pick up the music at that place at the proper pace and volume. Their knowledge of the music is total.

After a short break, the orchestra moved into Allegro Brillante, again playing, I believe, the entire piece before going back to clean up a few details that only the conductor heard.

As I sat there, I thought “how lucky I am that on this frigid January morning, I am able to sit in this beautiful classically-styled concert hall and listen to some of the most extraordinary music ever composed being performed by a world-class orchestra.” Every time this happens, I believe I am permanently changed into a slightly better person. It’s analogous, I suppose, to being sick and receiving a super medicine that makes you well again immediately. It may not work forever but while it’s magic is happening, it is sublime.

No Way to Run a Justice System

Note: The following is more substantive than most of the posts on this site, but since it arose to impact my life in The City, I am posting it here, as well as on shiningseausa.com.

Not two years after moving to New York, the justice system turned its attention, randomly, I’m sure, to me by sending me a notice to report for jury duty. At the time, reporting would have conflicted with a business commitment, so I asked for, and received, an automatic deferral. I chose January 16 as my report date. Fate, of course, would inevitably intervene and an important business meeting was unavoidably scheduled for January 17.

That’s the beginning. When I wrote the first draft of this post, it was all minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow in the same excruciating detail as I experienced a wasted day-and-a-half of my life for no discernible purpose. Upon re-reading the draft, I realized it was boring, even to me, so I decided on another approach.

What was wrong with the process whereby I was called upon by the state to assist in the administration of justice for parties who had demanded a trial by jury, as guaranteed by law in appropriate cases? Just about everything. The process seemed like something from another time, a relic of the days when everything was done manually and the administrative process was a slave to established practice no matter how wasteful.

You are ordered to report, then after arrival in the Jury Assembly Room (452) are told that you may be there between one and three days. If you’ve already had a postponement, you can go down to Room 139 and make a pitch for further relief but if called while there you may be forced to return again for another stint. And the implication is that your chances down there are slim at best. So, I decide to take a chance and stay put. Mistake. I collect my Juror Questionnaire and fill it out. I foolishly think this is good because when the lawyers see it, they will immediately disqualify me and I can leave. Trial lawyers generally are extremely averse to having other lawyers on their juries.

I am eventually called with a group of 35 others to follow some lawyers to a courtroom where 10 are selected for voir dire, the questioning by counsel for the parties to determine if each individual can be “fair and impartial.” It is now apparent that the system is not designed for efficiently dealing with the group of prospective jurors. The lawyers are in charge now and they only collect the questionnaires from the first group of 10 prospects. They don’t know I’m here and they don’t care.

It turns out this is a personal injury case involving disputes about medical records, medical treatments, negligence and related issues. There are, we discover the next day, other lawyers in the group and a doctor as well. None will eventually serve on the jury, but it takes a full day and a half to determine that. The lawyers painstakingly, slowly, repetitively query the jury pool in groups of 10 to pick the final six jurors and two alternates. They are in no hurry and spend hours in the hallway reviewing questionnaires and negotiating over whom to select. The first group of 10 produced only 3 jurors. The second group, another 3, then a third group to get the two alternates.

I confess I was not a trial lawyer by experience, although I did litigate administrative and arbitration cases in my active legal career. Nevertheless, it did not take a lot of imagination to grasp that this process was designed for the benefit of the trial lawyers and gave little to no consideration to the jury pool that was stuck there for, potentially, three days just to settle on 8 people out of the pool of 35. And the trial itself, scheduled to start the following Tuesday, is estimated to take five days but “it could be longer if, for example, the judge has to hear motions in other matters.”

By way of example only, once a group is selected from the pool, the lawyers and all of the pool jurors in that group must return to the clerk’s office for processing out. It seems that every step in the process is calculated to consume more time and that no one, except some members of the jury pool, is an any hurry to move the process to conclusion.

On Day One, we arrive at 3:35 pm and it is finally time to question the second group of 10 prospects.

But, wait, we’d been told earlier that the stop time today was 4 pm. The attorneys inform us that since there is only 25 minutes left before the appointed end time, we’ll just knock off early. Report back tomorrow at 9:45. What? 9:45? What the hell kind of workday do these folks follow? Do they not understand that everyone in the jury pool has another life to pursue outside the jury selection process?

I approached the lawyers and explained who I was and that since I was pretty sure they would never select me, how about you just excuse me now? The answer was “no, we can’t control that and, besides, we might run out of prospects and want you on the jury anyway, but you can go try the clerk.” I rush downstairs and approach the clerk’s desk, only to hear her tell someone else, “once you’re in the pool, there is no way out.” So, no way out, even if the lawyers take three full days to finish selection.

I leave the courthouse and return home. I am uncertain whether I really heard that the start time tomorrow is 9:45 rather than the 8:45 the first day. So, I call the number on the yellow card we were instructed to collect that morning. A voice message, at 4:45 pm, says that the number is not part of the answering system and therefore no message can be left. “Goodbye.”

Let me cut to the end now. No point in prolonging the obvious. Suffice to say that I was never selected as a potential juror, never questioned and the lawyers finally chose the six jurors and two alternates. We then had to return to the clerk’s desk for final processing, a final speech by one of the clerks, and then … freedom. I bolt out of the courthouse to catch a cab to a business lunch that is going on without me.

A day and a half of monotonous, repetitious rehashing that could have been accomplished in less than half the time with the judicious use of some documents for prospective jurors to read, perhaps even in advance of coming to the courthouse. Turning over prospects to the control of the litigating lawyers means that the jurors’ interests may be completely disregarded if the lawyers are in no hurry to complete the process.

I well understand the need to assure that citizens do their duty as jurors in order to assure that litigants that want a trial by jury can have one. But I do not understand why the process is under the unsupervised control of the trial lawyers. I do not understand why the process seems to be the same as was used decades before modern technology became available. Much of the factual information painstakingly drawn from the pool members could have been collected in writing beforehand. If the trial lawyers were going to disqualify lawyers, doctors and other people in certain professions or who had experienced injuries similar to the one at issue in the case, all of that could have been ascertained in advance. Doing that would require systematic changes in the way the jury selection process works but it could be done if efficiency were regarded as relevant to the process.

The good news is that the ordeal will not be repeated for me for at least four years. The clerks gave us a piece of paper that we can use to resist being recalled by the state for that period. It even protects against federal court jury calls which may come because “the state and federal systems are not integrated.” No surprise there.

So, fine, I will state for the record now that if called after the four- year period ends, I will not serve again. Lock me up if you want, but at this late stage of my life, I am not going to give the courts any more of my time under a system that provides little or no respect for me as a citizen. They can do better if they try. I, for one, am done.

 

Fotografiska New York

Yesterday we visited Fotografiska New York, a Swedish transplant museum dedicated to photography. The museum is housed in the old Church Missions House that resembles an old-Europe church from the outside, situated at Park Avenue South and 22nd Street. The building dates to 1894, squarely within the Gilded Age. Inside, it’s all modern, with a coffee shop in the lobby and five upper floors, four of which contain the exhibits. If not disposed to climb a lot of stairs, you can take the very modest (maybe six passengers) elevator to Floor Six and then walk down.

On Sunday there were two particularly compelling exhibits. A one-woman show by Ellen von Unwerth entitled “Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women” contained some extraordinary photographs. Be advised, however, that some of these photos are very explicit and not for most young children’s eyes. We were also impressed especially by Tawny Chatmon’s “Inheritance” show, consisting of stunning shots of Black women and children enhanced with elaborate ornamentation added by hand to the photographs. The result are powerful portrayals of people not normally found in museums that tend to feature extensive historical portraits of white people in room after room.

Helene Schmitz’s “Thinking like a Mountain” is a series of large frame shots of natural formations that dramatically illustrate the impact of man’s rapacious reshaping of the natural landscape of even the most resistant zones of pure rock.

Fotografiska is not a large museum – you can see everything in less than an hour. And it’s open early (9 am daily) and stays late, really late, as in 11 pm except for Thursday through Sunday when it’s midnight.

Finally, my one serious beef with the place and this is not unique to Fotografiska. The labels explaining the titles of photographs and some, usually limited, information in small type-face were typically placed at the lower corner so that a person of six-foot height would have to bend way down to read them, often in limited light. This was not only uncomfortable but in many cases I simply could not make out what the labels said. I can’t understand what the thinking was behind the decision to place the labels so low and in dim light or full shadow, particularly in a museum clearly focused on an adult audience. If the positioning is intended to assist visitors in wheelchairs, wonderful, but then why not (1) put some light on the labels and (2) have a second label at roughly eye-level for average walking visitors so that everyone can read them.

That gripe notwithstanding,, Fotografiska New York is well worth a visit.

 

Bronx Zoo Lights

Since we are catching up on holiday photos, I am going to share a large “sample” of shots taken during our visit to the Bronx Zoo for its Zoo Lights exhibit before Christmas past. It was really cold and there were relatively few people there, a fact I would normally celebrate, but during the holidays, making for a somewhat strange experience. That said, we persevered and discovered the mother lode of displays in the back half of the imposingly large zoo.  Here is much of what we saw.