Monthly Archives: November 2012
I am an American, and truly believe that as a whole we’re a good bunch. With all my flaws I am by no means qualified to say otherwise, but since I don’t want my words to be misinterpreted, I happily begin by complimenting my fickle countrymen for their basic decency and kindness.
As we look back to the recent presidential election, I can’t help but sense that an election fatigue has set in. Going back to when the Republicans had what was close to a football team on the debate stage, till the final contest in which the incumbent President Barack Obama defeated his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the process has been so long I truly believe many are happy it is over. Even those on the winning side.
The good thing about the timing of the election was that it came just in time to help deal with Disaster fatigue. Please forgive me if this comes across cynical. That is not my intention. I do not believe that most people who felt bad at the peak of Superstorm Sandy no longer feel bad. I do however feel that many are less fascinated by the news reports than they were in the immediate days that followed.
All these stories not only continue, but they continue to be important and relevant. The presidential election in of itself is not as important as what gets done moving forward. Everyone knows we have a big mess on our hands and that the President, together with the Senate and Congress need to move into action and get things on the right track. But enough about the election now. It’s old news.
Hurricane Sandy in many ways is two stories. The first story was the immediate storm and the drama and serious impact it had. The second story, the more serious one, is the story of the people who have suffered and still suffer as a result of the storm. This is a story that unfortunately will continue for quite some time. People are homeless, hungry and cold. They are frustrated and despondent and will be needing help for a very long time. But the story of the storm itself, the floods, fires, storm surges, well that’s old news now.
Gas shortages and long lines is becoming old news as well. Unless of course fights break out while people wait in line. Then the news becomes exciting again. We are a sensationalist society and when the story loses its sensationalism the public loses some interest. That doesn’t mean we become uncaring. There are so many good people, people better than me, who give so much time to help those in need. It’s just that unfortunately people’s suffering is never really news. It doesn’t go away and being that it is a constant, loses its headline status.
Part of the biggest challenge facing us is to see to it that when these stories lose front page stature they don’t lose their importance. It is incumbent on anyone with any audience, even a small one, to seek out and find the stories of those who need help. That way we can continue to be the sensationalist society we obviously and honestly want to be, while not turning away from those who truly need our help.
If any of you have stories of people in need that you wish to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes the greatest help starts from the most unlikely source.
More fun travelling through storms yesterday. I got on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR)train at Rockville Centre just as the Nor’Easter Athena(apparently they name them now as well) was in full force. The train which was already 10 minutes late, did not leave the station right away. As I moved to a seat closer to the front of the train, pausing near the open doors, a woman in a seat nearby commented on the train’s status. Realizing this could end up being a long and boring trip, I sat in a seat nearby and continued our conversation.
The woman was reading updates on her phone and was kind enough to share them with me. What she was reading was that the LIRR was temporarily suspended due to overcrowding at Penn Station. When we began to move, and the conductor came by to collect our tickets, she asked him if this train would be remaining in service. He jokingly replied, “when I told them you were on the train they had no choice but to continue the service”. At first I thought the conductor was just being flirtatious, the woman was definitely flirt-worthy, but then he asked me if I knew who the woman was. He told me she was a reporter for NBC 4 in New York, at which point she introduced herself to me as Pei-Sze Cheng. I shamefully confessed that I do not generally watch NBC which caused her to inquisitively ask me why. A word of advice. If you ever meet a reporter, don’t tell them you don’t watch their station. There really is no good answer.
Although nothing she told me was particularly private, I will still give her that basic respect and not recount everything that she did tell me. I will say that I was somewhat taken aback by how down to earth and pleasant this woman was. We spoke of the storm, some of the issues facing the city, and debated as to what was the best way to make into Manhattan. At this point nothing was certain because we were stuck outside Jamaica station for a solid 15 minutes and still seeing reports of system-wide suspensions. When I commented on how we are the lucky ones, she smiled sincerely and said something along the lines of how we certainly need to constantly remind ourselves of that fact no matter how frustrating or inconvenient things become.
After 2 1/2 hours in transit I finally made it home. My encounter with a local celebrity just another result of one of the strangest times I’ve experienced during my time in New York. This would almost be fun if not for the fact that for so many people yesterday’s storm was a lot more than a delay on a train. For so many others it provided the challenge of finding enough food and shelter to survive another day.
I could not have written the book Jew Face without a basic appreciation and empathy for what my parents’ experienced between 1940 and 1945. These past few weeks in New York put things in an even clearer perspective. Imagine a 5 year period of, at best, uncertainty. Imagine not knowing where you are going to sleep, if you are going to eat, and what natural elements will cause you even greater obstacles to finding life’s most basic needs. And oh yes, add to this the fact that your life is constantly threatened by the most hostile enemy imaginable, and you have their life over those 5 years.
I want to thank Pei-Sze Cheng for the short and pleasant company and acknowledge her wonderful perspective on the situation. More importantly, I know we all hope that those suffering today get relief soon and have the opportunity to rebuild their lives with safety, dignity and a secure future.
Those of you who know me somewhat well, most likely know who I intend to vote for tomorrow. It is however, of no significance to this particular post. In fact, this post can very likely be described as being apolitical. I will not be making an argument for one candidate or another tonight. This does not mean I am not taking a stand or that I am ashamed of my vote. My reasons for making this, what I hope is a very noncontroversial post, are not important. What is important in my opinion is that we understand truly how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have a genuine opportunity to choose our leaders, where we can verbally attack our leaders if we so desire, and where we can battle those who hold different opinions from what we believe.
I started this website to promote the book Jew Face. Tonight, although I am not writing about the subject matter in the book, I find it very easy to draw a connection between Election Day and the events in Europe between 1933 and 1945.
I have watched over these past months as the attacks on ideologies and candidates has become more and more intense and less and less subtle. The people with the loudest voices on social media certainly do not fall into the “Undecided” category. They make their points unapologetically, they often hold nothing back, and if you choose to challenge them, you better be prepared to take what they throw at you. Let me make two enormously important points. First of all, these people are on both sides of the political aisle. I am by no means implying one side is less passionate than the other. The second point, but probably the more important one, is that the intensity and passion these people feel for their viewpoint is by no means a bad thing. If these people are good or bad people, it is not for me to judge, but I will say that I do not believe that judgment should be made by whether or not they vote for Obama or Romney.
These people I am referring to are Americans. I am an American. I am proud of being an American. I am proud of all that I am. I am so very proud of being Jewish and I am very proud of my Dutch background. But tomorrow, all that matters is that I am an American. And when I look at what my parents and all of Europe went through under Hitler’s dictatorship and we hear the stories today of what still takes place in countries run by people who would crush those who passionately disagree, dare I say even hate their leaders or candidates, I am so tremendously proud and grateful to be an American.
Our leaders will always make mistakes. I guarantee you that whoever wins tomorrow, over the next 4 years he will make some mistakes. But what I also know is that, not even based on the morals of the individuals but on the strength in the system, if you speak to a crowd or post all over Facebook that you hate your president, your basic human rights will not be taken from you. I know that the extremely passionate amongst you might say, “that might not stay the same if the wrong guy wins”. The great thing is that you have the right to say that and no one can ever take that right away from you. And no country in history has defended that right like the United States of America.
So when you get up tomorrow, and hopefully cast your vote, be thankful that you live in a country where you not only do not need to hide who you are voting for, but even if you wish you had a better choice, you still do have a choice. And the best part is, that in this country you are the only one who needs to feel it is the right choice.
On September 16 I wrote a piece about the tragic death of Ari & Sari Horowitz who had been struck by a car and killed on the way home from synagogue earlier that day, the day before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Today I was contacted by Ari’s cousin who sent me a copy of his very moving words spoken at the funeral in Israel. Scroll down to the comments to read this moving eulogy. My thanks to Yoni Reif and my deepest condolences for your loss.
Today in taking the D train into Brooklyn I hoped to either find a place where I could either volunteer to help or end up at Coney Island to see some of the damage. Instead what I learned today is that the usual rules of travel do not apply. Obviously there are still service changes on the trains so I knew that I was dealing with that issue, but when it comes to getting somewhere in New York I tend to have a confidence bordering on arrogance. I believe that I will figure it out as I travel and that no significant planning is necessary. Under normal circumstances I am correct. Today I was not. So when I got off the train at Bay Parkway to go to Coney Island, instead of my walk getting me to somewhere where I could do some good, all it did was provide me with about 2 miles worth of walking. Sure I was in the general vicinity of one of the hardest hit spots, and I did see cleanups in progress, but had it not been for my chance encounter on Stillwell & 86th Street, my trip would have been a waste of time.
While passing a gas station on this particular corner I thought I heard someone shout out “Dave!” There are some occasions when you hear your name called that your gut reaction is that it is not you the person is calling. Nevertheless you always look because IT IS your name you are hearing. This was the case for me today. As it would happen, getting out of one of the cars waiting in line for gas was an old friend named Desiree. I worked with her over 5 years ago. Desiree’s memory was so eerily good she remembered things about my life I had already forgotten. It was 4PM and Desiree, who was celebrating her birthday, had been in line for gas since 3:30AM. This was a gas station she frequents, but told me that the man working there who sees her normally was anything but nice today. There were already problems there earlier that had required police involvement and this man’s patience was wearing thin. I admired Desiree’s persistence and diligence but when I left her I was fairly certain she was not going to be getting any gas today.
Desiree lives a few blocks from Coney Island. She was without power until yesterday. She actually was surrounded by blocks that had powers days earlier, but for some reason it took longer for hers to be restored. The thing she told me that was fascinating was what happened during the peak of the storm. As the water was rising it was closing in on her from 2 directions. It was clearly rising fast and the feeling of it closing in on here scared her to the point of paralysis. I have not seen Desiree in over 5 years, but one of the things I remember about her, is that she is tough. For this to scare her to this extent just puts emphasis on what I’ve heard from others who experienced the storm surge. It looked like Titanic.
I have heard many things said this past week that were frightening and disturbing. One of the most poignant statements was from my brother Marcel who reminded me that with all the devastation, this was only a Category 1 storm. The thought of what might have happened if it was a Category 3 storm or stronger is somewhat terrifying. However, what Desiree told me today, at least for me, was the most frightening thing I had heard. From what she saw firsthand, if the storm surge had lasted about another 15 minutes, the devastation we’ve seen this past week would have been significantly more widespread.
There was some comic relief provided by the people who seemed to get aggravated at Desiree for not having the answers to their gasoline related questions. It was even funnier when they asked me because I don’t even own a car, but they’d have no way of knowing that.
So the cleanup continues, it appears as though Long Island is still very much in the dark, and it is getting very cold in New York. Let’s hope and pray the worst hit find a way to stay warm. And for those of you who are wondering, the crane looks secured but my street is still closed. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.
Today I had the benefit of two firsthand accounts. One is from a friend in Coney Island and is accompanied by pictures; while the other is from someone I met from Staten Island and may later be accompanied by pictures. Having heard that today would be the day they would secure the crane hanging over my head in Midtown, I did not venture out till mid-afternoon. Yes I’ve decided to declare that it was hanging directly over my head. I’m not saying this based on any real evidence, but rather for the mild degree of drama that the statement carries with it, and since after tomorrow the crane may no longer be a story at all, I choose to give it one last moment in the forefront.
Today I wanted to go to Brooklyn. I knew it would be difficult to get anywhere close to the spots where anything happened, but even by riding the shuttle bus I would be experiencing an inconvenience, albeit a mild one, for Brooklyn residents. I took the train to 34th Street and 6th Avenue where I learned that the shuttle bus to Brooklyn was leaving from 34th Street and Lexington Avenue. I walked to the shuttle bus and decided to take a ride and see where it would lead me.
Earlier in the day I had chatted online with a Facebook friend from Coney Island named Yelena. I asked Yelena to read my piece from yesterday since I wanted to know her perspective of the events in Coney Island during these trying days. The following is most of what she shared with me.
The night of the hurricane the alarm sirens were going off all the time. When I got out Tuesday afternoon, many cars were looted. I took many pictures but I can’t post them to my Facebook page because I only have very limited access to the Internet on my phone. If you send me your email address, I’ll email them to you. (Click here for Yelena’s pictures).
The poor business owners on Brighton beach started to clean their stores on Tuesday and from what I have heard they had to stay there all the time to protect them from looters. On Wednesday the police sent 100 more policemen to the Brighton beach area to prevent looting. I think one liquor store on Neptune Avenue was looted right in the midst of the hurricane.
What I really find interesting is that I haven’t seen any news crews anywhere. This area has never been closed for access. People could come to us Tuesday morning with no problem. Many residents couldn’t get out, on the other hand, because their buildings, cars were flooded and the trains weren’t in service.
Thank you for offering your help. We pretty much don’t need anything besides hot water, the heating and the Internet. Our land line is also dead. I was able to get to Manhattan on Thursday and did some grocery shopping.
However, there are many older people who live closer to the water. They still have no electricity, no heating. Many have no running water at all. They can’t get out and I don’t know if anybody is doing anything to help them. Many of them won’t even be able to call for help because land telephone lines went dead and the cell phones need to be recharged.
Yelena’s words motivated me towards Brooklyn however, if there was a way to Coney Island today, I never found it. Maybe it would have required better planning or maybe it just wasn’t possible. I got as far as Atlantic Terminal (where I did get to see the Barclay Center for the first time). I was on the shuttle bus at 4PM when an announcement came out saying that the shuttle buses would be suspended due to service being restored on subway lines to Brooklyn as of 3:30. I hoped that the subway would take me deeper into Brooklyn, but alas it was not so. I was headed back into Manhattan.
I then decided to get off the subway in downtown Manhattan. I found myself at the Bowling Green station of the 4 & 5 train and a few minutes away from the Staten Island ferry terminal. I went into the terminal, considered riding to Staten Island, but chose not to since I had no plan or specific place to go to. I stayed in the terminal for a few minutes from where I took the picture you see at the top of this post. It is a shredded American flag, apparently from the storm, with the Statue of Liberty on the left.
I left the terminal moments before a ferry arrived and managed to strike up conversation with a woman walking uptown as I was. She was pushing her young baby in a stroller, and told me she had just come from Staten Island.
She told me that going on right now in Staten Island, not during the storm, not yesterday, but right now, was a shootout and stabbings over gasoline. She said it was a crazy scene and it had of course scared her. She spoke of trees that had fallen in the middle of streets blocking a number of homes at once. She said that her power had been restored, but then told me something I had not heard till now. They had power on Tuesday, but then there was a fire in a Con Edison plant in Queens on Tuesday night, causing them to shut down power in her area again on Wednesday. Just as she said this a Con Edison worker passed by and in a tongue-in-cheek way asked, “What about Con Ed?” To which she replied, a little less tongue-in-cheek and without hesitation, “you suck”. She too indicated she would be sending me some pictures to post. If they come in I will make them available.
I then went home and found out that the piece of the crane that had been hanging over my head was more than likely secure and that my street might be opening as early as tomorrow. It’s a good thing. I’m getting tired of carrying around my Verizon bill. There’s another storm possibly in the forecast for Wednesday. Let’s hope significant actions are taken by then to help the people who need it the most.