Mike Agranoff

Blog - 2021

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September 1, 2021
Ida

Click on any photo for full screen view.


My house under normal conditions


Looks like it might rain?




My house midday after Ida


 

Not nearly as bad as it looks. More like, "Ho-hum. Another hurricane. Been there, done that, didn't even bother getting the tee-shirt."

Perhaps, I shouldn't be so flippant. Hurricane Ida caused a whole lot of damage and a whole lot of misery in many parts of the country. But after Irene in 2011, anything else is all pretty much routine for me. Long ago I made preparations for these occasional floods, and I now consider them inconveniences, rather than disasters.

For those of you new to this Blog, my back yard borders on the Rockaway River. Most of the time, that's a joy. But a couple of times a year, the water will come to visit. Sometimes it will just cover my back yard with a few inches of water. Occasionally it will surround my house. And once every few years it will get sufficiently high to impede my access to the house. The first time it got serious was only 6 months after I moved in in 1980, and put 30 inches of water in my house. I resolved to cure that problem by raising the house. Best decision I ever made. When I bought it, the house was a single-story bungalow with a crawlspace under the floor. The photo at the upper left shows the result of the house-raising. The entire lower story is now a full under-house garage that's all masonry construction, with a cement floor at ground level. There's nothing there that can get damaged by immersion in water, and the water all runs off after the flood recedes. (For photos of what the house used to look like, see my Blog entry of January 2, 2019, A Blast From the Past.) Leave the garage door open a few days to let it dry out, sweep out the dirt, and it's all over.

I must admit to a little concern on Wednesday night, September 1, when Ida passed over. It had been a few years since the last serious high water, and the news was showing some pretty horrific scenes of destruction. The sound of the downpour pounding on the roof in the dark was a little unnerving. But I looked at the weather radar, and saw that although the center of the storm was passing right over me, it was moving pretty fast, and would be past me in only 4 hours. The rain was torrential, but there was no significant wind. Power went out around 1:00 AM Thursday, but the generator kicked in immediately, and held through until the grid power returned about 12 hours later. Dawn saw the water level higher than my average flood, and still slowly rising, but well below a level that would cause any real damage. And indeed the water peaked around noon, when the other two photos were taken. You can see by the stillness of the water that there is no significant current to cause any damage to the foundations of the house, even though the water out over the riverbed was moving along around 15 MPH by my estimate. (The photo at the right was taken by a neighbor from her kayak.)

I went out in the morning in my canoe to survey the situation. You can see from the upper left photo that I keep my canoe stored hanging from homemade davits on my deck. I can upright the canoe in its slings, and lower it into the water from the deck. I did have one setback there, though. The paddles were stored resting on the underside of the thwarts of the upturned canoe. And I was concerned that they might fall into the water when I rotated it upright. I quickly realized that was no real problem. I put on bathing trunks and water shoes, and just walked down the steps, and waded under the canoe to retrieve the paddles before I rotated the canoe. The water was comfortably cool, and quite pleasant. It was a little muddy, but not so much as to leave a film on my skin when I got out. I could have even waded out to the end of the driveway where I had parked my car out of the water's reach. But since I already had the paddles, I decided to take the canoe anyway, and paddled around to survey the surroundings.

By Friday night, I was able to walk to the house with nothing worse than a couple of deep puddles to avoid. And today, Sunday, the river is back within its banks. My woodpile is stacked high enough so it hasn't floated. But I will have to corral a number of rounds of unsplit wood, and manhandle them to the back of the garage (They're heavy! About 70 - 80 pounds.) from where they were eventually deposited by the receding water, so I can have space for my car. That's the worst of my problems.

All in all, I got off easy.

As I had planned.

August 10, 2021
Long Ago, In A Galaxy Far Away…

Well, that’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. But it was another time. And in a different America.

I actually don’t remember the exact year.  Somewhere around 1979.  I had been invited to a party in New York City by a friend of a friend.  It was a pretty nice party.  I had brought my guitar and played some music, and had some listeners.  I also brought some marijuana, and got a little high, along with many of the other partygoers. It was not a wild party by any stretch of the imagination. I left the party in the wee hours and headed back across the George Washington Bridge for home. 

I was still somewhat buzzed, but I knew it, and was being extra careful.  But I was also very tired, and somewhat sleepy.  So once I got across the bridge, I kept my eye out for somewhere safe I could pull over and close my eyes for a bit.  I located a good spot, pulled way off the shoulder, put on my flashers, and nodded off.  Some indeterminate time later, I was awakened by a RAP-RAP-RAP on my side window.  I awoke, and looked up into the eyes of a New Jersey State Trooper.  Blue-grey uniform, starched and pressed, military-style officer’s cap, looking like a Marine recruiting poster.

My relationship with cops has always been pretty good.  Even though back then, as now, I had long hair and a bushy beard. I treat them with friendly respect, neither hostile nor obsequious, and understanding and accepting of their authority.  Generally if they’ve pulled me over, I was probably guilty of whatever they thought I was doing wrong (I tend to drive fast.), and I accept the consequences.  But this time, the consequences might be a little more serious than usual.

I rolled down the window, and explained that I was falling asleep on the road, and I had pulled over to rest a few minutes.  That’s happened to me before, and the cops usually understand and approve. Although they sometimes ask me to find the next exit and get off the highway for my nap.  But this time, he said, “Please step out of the car.”  Uh-oh.  I complied, and he patted me down.  I can’t think what prompted him to do that.  I had not been smoking in the car, so there couldn’t have been any smell.  Dilated pupils perhaps? It was dark.  Everyone’s pupils were dilated.

Well, he found my  film canister of dope and my hand-carved rosewood pipe.  Oh well.  I’m in for some shit now.  Well, I guess I’ll just take whatever lumps are coming to me.  He asked for my documents, which were all in order.  He asked what I did for a living, and if I’d ever been arrested.  I Yessir-ed and Nosir-ed him, and essentially rolled over on my back and waved all four paws in the air in complete submission.  He said, “Please get back in the vehicle and wait.”  He went back to his car and did whatever cops do when they’re checking out a perp. 

The upshot was, when he came back to me, he opened up the canister of dope, and emptied it out on the ground.  And he threw my pipe into the weeds.  And said, “Don’t you ever EVER do this again!”  And got in his car and drove off.

New Jersey State Trooper. 

To this day, I’ll never know why he didn’t arrest me.  Maybe he thought that even stoned, I was wise enough to pull over and rest when I wasn’t in full control of my faculties.  Maybe he thought I’d be more useful to society as a working tax-paying engineer than as a criminal.  All I know is whatever traffic violations I am stopped for now or in the future, I will say, “Guilty as charged, Your Honor”, and still be ahead of the game.

But these days, I’ve come to have a new perspective on this incident.  I’ll bet you any money, the outcome would have been different if I were Black.  I was the classic beneficiary of White Privilege.  And you know what?  I’m glad.  I wouldn’t want to give up that White Privilege.  I would just want to bestow that same Privilege on everybody else, no matter what their color. 

Sure miss that pipe, though.

 

June 5, 2021
Central Park Zoo

Have you ever noticed that we will travel thousands of miles to do sight-seeing, and yet never visit attractions in our back yards, which people travel thousands of miles to see? (Unless, of course, we're entertaining guests who've traveled thousands of miles to visit us.)

Well, that's not quite the case we're talking about here. I grew up in New York City, and used to visit Central Park a lot. I have seen dozens of Shakespeare plays at the Delacorte Theater. And in the 70s, I made many pilgrimages with my guitar to Bethesda Fountain, where impromptu folk jam sessions sprung up every summer weekend when the fine weather was fine. (Or at least they used to until we were driven out by the drum circles that sprung up in later years.) Even after I moved to New Jersey, I'd go pay the Park a visit every few years just to be there and people-watch. (See my Blog entry of October 27, 2013.) But I hadn't been to the Central Park Zoo since I was a kid.

I was looking for an opportunity to visit a friend, Abby Turner, who lives in the City. And we decided upon the Central Park Zoo, which neither of us had visited since we were kids. (Remember what I said about "entertaining guests"?) It's getting harder and harder for non-New Yorkers to drop by the Park. Street parking used to be, if not ample, at least findable. Not so any more. At least not on the East side of the Park, and certainly not free. I did find a metered space at $9 / hour, which was still way cheaper than the parking lots. And taking public transport would involve at least two changes of train or bus, or a taxi ride from the station that would have cost something in the same ballpark. I had considered taking the train and walking from the station, but it was 94°, and I wasn't up for the hike. (Although subsequently, I looked at a map and saw that it would have been only 1.2 miles. I probably shoulda done that.) The population density of the City has pushed real estate prices through the roof of the penthouse, and the prices of everything within its boundaries reflect the need to pay the rent. It's almost like you're in a different country or using a different currency.

I met Abby at the Zoo entrance. The Zoo is rather small. Abby remembered it as a rather dreary establishment, with animals displayed in tiny cages. It was too long a time for me to remember, but it sort of jived with my childhood recollection. It is much improved these days with fewer large animals enclosed in big open habitats. Some of them so open, and providing so many hiding places that we never did spot the inmates. With a nod to the declining, but still present pandemic, attendance was limited, and advance and timed tickets were required for admittance. Admittance to some of the habitats was also monitored, and we sometimes had to wait a few minutes in line until enough people exited to permit our entry. Masks and social distancing were required on line, but not inside the habitats themselves, where we were never subjected to crowds we could not avoid.

I had brought my camera along with me, but I decided to leave it in my car, and use my phone for photos. I don't know why. I just didn't feel like toting it around with me hanging by its strap around my neck. That was a mistake. I always get better shots with the camera. And I'm still figuring out my phone's camera function. Half the shots I took turned out to be half-second-long videos, from which I had to extract stills that were of relatively poor quality.

Click on any photo for full screen view.

BIRD HOUSE


1 Scarlet Ibis


2 Ibises (Ibi?)



3 Sun Bittern (?)



4 Crested Pigeon



5 Storks (?)



6 Peacock


 

Abby is an avid birder, so of course our first visit was the aviary. It's quite a large building, seemingly completely open with no barriers between the birds and the humans. But there are some subtle separations. Some birds fly freely through the space. It's the humans whose freedom of movement is restricted by means of a raised boardwalk bordered by waist-high Plexiglas walls topped with wooden railings Some of those boardwalks go up to a second level within the canopy of the fully adult trees inside the building.

Photos 1 & 2: I don't know a lot about birds, but I did recognize the scarlet Ibises from having seen them in situ on a vacation to Trinidad and Tobago in 2002. One thing I learned about then was that their natural color is actually white, But their feathers are colored from absorbing carotin from the crabs upon which they feed. I wonder if the zoo imports their feed from Trinidad.

 

Photo 3: Abby thinks this is a Sun Bittern. If anyone knows different for sure, please let me know.

 

Photo 4: The crested pigeon is one big bird. About the size of a small chicken.

 

Photo 5: Again, we're not sure what this is. Abby thinks maybe some kind of stork. I'll welcome any input from those in the know.

 

Photo 6: This peacock wandered nonchalantly amongst the people, mostly ignoring them. A really beautiful creature until you look at its feet. In this photo it seems to be admiring its own reflection in the glass wall of the boardwalk.

ZOO VIDEOS


7 Seals


8 Penguins



We wandered through the rest of the Zoo. It was rather small compared with the Bronx Zoo or some of the other major zoos of the world. We saw just about everything in about an hour and a half. I didn't take a lot of photos. Sometimes there just weren't any good shots. Sometimes I just got involved in what I was seeing, and forgot about the camera. I later realized that In my distraction, I had not only omitted many of the animals, but had also forgotten to include Abby among my photographic subjects. The back of her head appears briefly in the penguin video. In case you're interested, here's a shot of her I took on my last NYC sightseeing trip I took with her in April of 2019. I did finally figure out the difference between video and photo settings, and took a couple of short videos.

Video 7: Seals: The seals had a relatively large aquatic environment with rocks and waterfalls and places they could swim or sun themselves. The environment was visible from several levels and vantage points, so it felt even bigger than it actually was.

 

Video 8: Penguins. By the time we got to the Penguin House, it was a very welcome attraction. The weather was very hot and humid. And while the viewing area in the Penguin House was not air conditioned, the penguins' habitat was chilled to a temperature comfortable to them. And the thick glass wall that separated the habitat from the viewing area was delightfully cold, and served to cool the viewing area as well. I gratefully sat on the low ledge below the glass with my back against it, and...well, chilled out. There was an amusing visual effect due to the thickness of the glass. The glass panel on the very left was set at a 45° angle to the next panel. And the thickness of the glass caused a significant refraction, shifting the penguin's apparent location on the other side of the glass. So when the bird swam from one panel to the next, it seemed to disappear for a moment behind the narrow divider between panels, and then reappear out the other side of the divider.

 

The video I should have taken, but didn't: Propitiously, we arrived at the sea lion enclosure right at feeding time. This display was unchanged from what I remembered as a kid. It was a big fenced-in circular pool, around 100 feet in diameter with an island of rocks in the center where the animals could climb up and sun themselves. When we arrived, there were four female trainers on the island, with pails of herrings which they would throw to the sea lions in reward for their performing various tricks. The tricks were very entertaining. The animals would mimic the trainers' arm movements in a sort of a dance, catch and throw back a frisbee, spin around rapidly in the water, catch the herrings at a large distance, retrieve a thrown beach ball by butting it over the water with their nose, and pushing it onshore to the trainer, bark on command, and the like. It appeared to me that the animals were enjoying these antics. They performed enthusiastically, and resembled dogs at play, delighted to be pleasing their masters. I wondered if that was indeed the case. their dog-like faces may have led me to canopomorphic (I just invented that word. It means "dog-like") conclusions on my part. When the feeding session was over, I asked one of the trainers if indeed the seals enjoyed the tricks, and took delight in pleasing the trainers as it appeared. The answer surprised me. "Not so much. It depends in part on the individual animal, and how hungry they are. Towards the end of the feeding session when they are sated, they couldn't care less about pleasing us."

CENTRAL PARK


9 The Clock


10 Bears



11 Alice in Wonderland


 

Video 9: As we left the Zoo, our timing, again, couldn't have been better. Astride the Zoo entrance stands an animated clock that Abby had fondly remembered from her childhood. And just as we approached it, it started to chime the half hour. I pulled out my phone, and caught the end of the parade of musical animals as they circled the platform beneath the clock. It was most gratifying that the parade ended with the concertina-playing elephant front and center.

 

Photo 10: We strolled along the east side of the Park for an hour or so. Central Park is rich in statuary. This bronze of three bears stands outside of a playground, and the backs of the two flanking animals are shiny from children climbing on them.

 

Photo 11: There has been a recent hullabaloo raised about the scarcity of park statues featuring women. I can't understand what they're complaining about

The Park is also home to hoards of buskers. Mostly musicians. (And mostly quite good. I believe they are auditioned, licensed, and scheduled.) But there are also mimes, acrobats, dancers, and other entertainers. We ran into one puppeteer who delighted Abby, but not me, so much. And a '20s jazz trio. Then following the path under one of Central Park's many arched stone bridges we found a violinist taking advantage of the natural echo chamber created by the bridge. The musician was engaged in conversation with an onlooker, and not playing. So I couldn't resist taking advantage of the echo myself. I started singing "Time Has Made a Change" acapella. The song is so well suited to that reverberant environment. I had planned on only doing one verse and a chorus, and then being on my way, so as not to usurp the violinist's assigned space. But in the middle of the chorus, the he started accompanying me. I asked him what key I was singing in, and he replied "G". I said, "Oh, that'll be easy," and continued with the rest of the song. He continued his accompaniment, a little tentatively, as he was not familiar with the song. So I prompted him with hand signs, giving him the numbers of the appropriate chords. We went all the way to the end, to our mutual pleasure, and the pleasure of some passers by. I dropped a dollar in his violin case, and we went on our way.

My phone sounded the alarm I had set for 20 minutes before the expiration of my parking meter. So we decided to call it a day, and headed back. At 72nd Street, we separated when Abby headed off for the west side of the park where she had some shopping to do. And I headed back to the car and headed home. A nice day.

 

February 17, 2021
Lucky Man

"Oh, I am a lucky man,
Favored by good Fortune's hand,
Far more than I'm deserving."

Grit Laskin

So goes the chorus of Grit Laskin's song, "Lucky Man". And every time I hear that song, I feel I could have written it. If I could have written it. (If you know what I mean.) Now closer to 76 years of age than 75, I find myself in a comfortable home that I love, free of debt, in excellent physical health, and with enough financial resources to be able to afford anything I want, with enough in reserve to cover just about any unforeseen circumstance that I could imagine. Not that I want all that much. I've always said you can't have too much money, but you can have enough. I have enough.

So one might say I am a rich man. Not rich when compared with those who are rich. But in the overall spectrum of human welfare, I am truly wealthy. And I must attribute the foundation of my fortune largely to the circumstances of my birth, rather than to any outstanding skill or achievement on my part. I was born to white middle class parents in an era when such folk could provide for their children a life that was better than their own. My own contributions to achieving my current status consisted primarily of not screwing up in any major fashion, or squandering what was bequeathed to me. This was perhaps abetted by my lack of desire to be a father. So there were no braces or summer camps or college educations with which to dissipate my fortune. My chosen profession as a mechanical engineer made me a modest middle class salary at best, and I loved the job. They paid me half what I was worth, and twice what I needed, and everyone was happy. My hobby (music) actually made me a little money each year. I lived on a small portion of my total income, and socked the rest of it away in very conservative investments that grew steadily, and weathered downturns handily. When my parents died, they left me a sizeable inheritance; by no means a fortune, but a significant amount. I never touched it, but added it to what I had already saved.

So that left me sitting very pretty when the pandemic hit a year ago. COVID-19 was an inconvenience for me, not a disaster. A fucking massive inconvenience, true, but only an inconvenience. The house was paid for. I did not need to risk my health going to a job where my coworkers could unwittingly kill me by their mere proximity. I had no aging parents or homebound schoolkids to care for. I was even eligible for an early vaccination due to my advanced age. Oh, I am a lucky man.

So then came the news last month that President Biden and the Democratic Congress were going to send out stimulus checks to every citizen. That struck me as unfair. Unfair not to me, but to those who really needed it to survive. I should not be receiving any stimulus check. It would not affect my living situation one whit. I would deposit it in the bank, and not buy so much as a cheeseburger with it. It would provide no stimulus to the economy, but instead take that amount away from others who need it infinitely more than I. And there are who knows how many others in my situation. Hell, I know of at least 10 such folks personally. Yes, I know. That presents the government with a knotty question. Who will decide who gets or doesn't get a check?

Well I know who will decide in my case: That'll be me. I will not accept the money. I could tear up the check. But that would mean the money would not get back into the treasury until the check expired months later. (I solved the problem with the first stimulus check I got last spring by signing it over to the Biden campaign. I sort of liked the irony of sending them a check with Trump's name on it.) I could mail the check back. But to whom? I had a better idea. Suppose there were some way built into the stimulus program to provide people in my situation a means of declining the payment. If such a opportunity to decline were routinely offered in the stimulus program, there might be thousands of good folks in the country who would take them up on that opportunity. That actually might actually save the government a small but significant amount of money.

The idea tickled my fancy. So I decided to call up the office of my Congresswoman, Mikie Sherrill to personally offer to decline my stimulus check, and propose that the offer to decline be included in the stimulus plan as a matter of policy. The intern (I think) who answered the phone had a bit of trouble understanding what I was offering. I guess it seemed almost un-American. But when she finally grasped the idea, she said she would pass it on to the Congresswoman.

A few days later, I got an email reply from Congresswoman Sherrill. I could not have been more disappointed. It was a general outline of what she and the Democratic Party were doing to fight COVID-19. (See an image of the letter.) It had nothing to do with my request to decline the stimulus, or my idea to offer that route to those who did not need it. I responded with the following email message to her offer:

Dear Congresswoman Sherrill
If there is anything that disappoints me about my elected representatives, and makes me lose confidence it their ability to be of any service to me, it is things like the attached letter which I received from your office.  I called your office with a specific issue related to the stimulus program that President Biden has launched..  And in response someone in your office sent me your “Boilerplate Response #37:  COVID” letter, which has absolutely nothing to do with the issue I brought up.  What that tells me is you don’t care a whit about my issue, and just want to send me something that indicates that you’ve heard me.  What that letter actually tells me is that you haven’t heard me.

 

I voted for you.  I contributed to your campaign.  I had high hopes in you.  I would have expected better from you.  Now if you would like to address the issue I brought up, kindly refer to my original phone call and address my specific question with a specific answer.  And if my specific question has been lost in the shuffle, get back to me by phone or email, and I’ll refresh your memory.  And if I don’t hear back from you, it will be indicative of how little you care that you haven’t heard me.

 

And as a further incentive for someone to address my issue, let me give you the hint that if it is properly addressed, it has the potential to save this country a significant amount of money.

As of today, about a week later, I've not heard back from her. I'll follow up this post with a postscript if that changes.

 

Postscript: March 3:

Well, It's been four weeks since I first called Congresswoman Sherrill's office. By now the Stimulus Bill has already passed the House of Representatives, and it's too late for her to add an option to decline the stimulus checks. In the intervening time, I called her office 4 times, once requesting a personal meeting with her, and sent her the above message through her website. On two of those phone calls I spoke with a person, and on the other two listened to a voicemail message, and they all promised a prompt return call. I finally got a call from her office today. Hardly prompt, but at least a response.

The person with whom I spoke acknowledged, and apolgized for the tardy response, and the inattentive first reply letter. He also told me that in the House-Senate negotiations now in progress, there has been added a cutoff maximum annual income. People whose income is above that cutoff will not receive stimulus checks. Wonder of wonders! someone in Congress was thinking along the same lines as me. What's the world coming to? My income is above that cutoff, so I'm satisfied. Even if it wasn't my idea they used. It accomplishes the same thing.

 

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