Friday, October 31, 2008

Costumed attire

I think I've outgrown Halloween.

On the way into work tonight, I saw several people dressed on then train to Hoboken, the PATH to the city, and lining up along 6th Ave. waiting for the parade to begin. And yet it wasn't the fact that I had to work and couldn't party that bummed me out. If I had my choice, I would've been in South Bend tonight, drinking with friends and awaiting tomorrow morning's tailgating before the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game.

I suppose if I had more friends nearby who had parties to go to (or to throw) and a more creative mind to come up with a unique and clever costume, I might be more into it. But I was more excited to carve pumpkins than I was to dress up in disguise, even for work.

Maybe I'll treat Halloween like the presidential election and recognize it once every four years, though not the same four years, since I've clearly missed that boat this year. I think I can find the inspiration on a four-year cycle.

It's interesting how our views and the meanings of holidays change as we grow. As a kid, Halloween is probably No. 2 on the holiday list -- No. 3 if you count your birthday as a holiday -- and marked by costumes and candy. You get to wear your costume to school, you get to spend time with your friends after dark on a school night (though pushing back daylight savings time to early November may have eliminated that one), you get to eat a LOT of candy in one day. And there are no religious lessons or good lists or bad lists to worry about; it's all about the candy.

Then when you're older, the costumes move to the forefront, along with the parties. This seems to be doubly true if you're a supple 20-something woman in New York City. Perhaps the fact that I am off the market has also sapped the interest in Halloween.

I managed to note some of the costumes I saw on my commute into work tonight (and a couple earlier today). I thought about bringing my camera to work with me, but then I realized that would only slow me down and make me late. So here they are in order of how well each wearer pulled it off, with originality of the outfit and effort incorporated into the ranking.

1.) Organ grinder's monkey. Saw this guy on 15th St. at 7th Ave. He had a monkey mask, a body suit and an accordion. Plus I could see his curved tail sticking out from behind him from 100 feet away.

2.) A nun. The best part about this was that I was in Stop & Shop picking up a couple of bags of candy and this nun was in front of me in the cramped candy display area. As I grabbed my bags, I relalized that she was restocking the shelves from a cart -- she worked there. And at first, from behind, I thought that it was a Muslim mother doing some shopping in the morning. It was only when I saw the rest of the Stop & Shop employees dressed up that I remembered what day it was.

3.) Jack-in-the-box. Nothing to do with fast food. This guy was a bagger at Stop & Shop, standing at the end of the conveyor belt in colored tights, with a box around his torso.

4.) Wonder Woman. Saw her from afar at the Hoboken station. She certainly had the legs for it.

5.) Bubble Bee Woman. Nothing like Bumble Bee Man from The Simpsons. She was tall, pretty and wearing fishnets.

6.) Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas. She could probably be higher, but I only saw small glimpses of her through the crowd as she lined up on 6th Ave. and I'm not sure the costume was necessarily true to the movie or just an attempt. The hair was also long red strands of yarn, more like Raggedy Ann (which is who I thought she was at first) than Sally.

7.) Guy with jester hat and ukelele. The hat wasn't anything special, and other than those two props, I couldn't tell if he had a full costume on because he wore a long winter overcoat. But when I saw him standing on 8th Ave. presumably waiting for a cab, he was playing the ukelele. Rather than chalk that up to laziness ("What do I have lying around the house to wear tonight?"), I chose to appreciate the effort (or ability?) to carry a prop that he can actually play.

From this point on, the costumes are decidedly less varied and more cliche. So no more rankings, though the first one is there because it deserves to be.

A pirate. This guy put some effort into a fallback outfit. (The last time I dressed up, Casey was a pirate wench and I was a Pittsburgh Pirate.) He looked like a classic Pirate picture, with a striped bandana, an eye patch, pirate-looking facial hair, a vest and leggings. This was no jeans-and-T-shirt pirate.

From the woman-as-animal camp: a hound dog (loved the floppy ears) and a mouse. From the woman-as-slut camp: a cheerleader and Catholic schoolgirl (have you ever noticed how you never see 20-something women dressed as the homely cheerleader or the mousy schoolgirl?). From the what-I-had-in-the-back-of-my-closet-from-a-former-job camp: a guy in the army and an orange biohazard jumpsuit (no hood or anything, though). And from the has-to-be-one-at-every-Halloween-party camp: a witch (saw two). There were also several people in half-costume en route to parties or seen from such a distance that I couldn't tell what their full costume was.

So that's the extent of my Halloween 2008. Roughly one hour broken into two segments at the beginning and middle of my day. Perhaps next year will be different.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Punkin' '08

This year's carvings included two replicas of the neon players that (used to) adorn Shea Stadium's exterior. I carved those. Ideally, I would've loved to have done all six, but with a particularly taxing World Series keeping me at work until 5 a.m. pretty much every night, I just didn't have enough conscious non-work hours. Two was my limit.

Casey did the Mets logo, as well as an attempt at the Home run Apple, but it didn't translate to the gourd as well as these three did.

Another note: This photo has been retouched. I fixed the head of the batter on the pumpkin on the left, because I came home this afternoon to find a squirrel had started gnawing at it. Here is how he really looks now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not your usual sight

I sit in the home office, in a cozy hooded sweatshirt and comfy slippers. Late fall is trying to hang onto a few more crisp days before yielding to the biting cold of winter. But the old man is eager to arrive, hoping to make an appearance before November, pushing a cold front across New Jersey. Some of the Garden State's upper reaches, its northernmost counties and hilly hamlets, have already seen snow in the past day or two. But now it's here, in flurry form, in the denser suburbs. The light, drifting flakes blow diagonally outside the window and aren't here for long -- just long enough for me to notice them, and to wonder if I've ever seen this kind of weather in October in New Jersey.

Several years ago, I spent about 24 hours with a friend's (now long-ex-) boyfriend up in the Berkshires, visiting a high school buddy of mine. It was Columbus Day weekend, mid-October, the peak of the fall season in Greenfield and Shelburne Falls and the surrounding towns. We took pictures, ate apples, shot arrows (some of them at apples, none of which were perched on our heads) and made the most of a day in the country. That night, Dave and I climbed, fully clothed, into our sleeping bags in a not-so-well-heated room of the house Walker was renting or caretaking and shivered ourselves to sleep. Winter seemed to move in overnight, a frost encrusting the lawn of the meadow I hiked across at dawn in a fruitless attempt to photograph the sunrise.

When we left later that morning, we headed west along the Mohawk Trail -- otherwise known as Massachusetts Route 2 -- because of its dotted scenic route designation on the map. We had no reason to rush home, so we took the long way. Crossing the crown of the Berkshires, we looked down snow-dusted slopes to the valleys below. I had never seen trees holding a coating of snow while still maintaining a grasp onto their red and golden leaves. Autumn and winter came together in a mash-up of the seasons. The air grew warmer as the morning went on and we descended the western side of the mountains and crossed the river into Albany. Like a shooting star, the melding of the seasons didn't last long, but it left an impression.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nancy Kerrigan stopped by

It's 1:40 a.m. on a Saturday and I just walked past Nancy Kerrigan in the office. She was with a group of people discussing something work-related (all I bothered to hear was "should we set up a conference call?") before they all stepped onto the elevator and scattered.

We presume she was here using our studios for some Ice Network purpose, though it's the first time I've heard of such an arrangement. Not that I would be privy to such agreements, but I already did know about our relationship with CBS Sports (particularly during the NCAA basketball tournament).

Anyway, it was a fun celebrity sighting, and a close one. On my way to the kitchen (via a different route than usual, no purpose, of course), I had to walk right next to her. At 39, she's very pretty (for any age, really) and is about my height -- without skates.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Me time

I finally got back to the photo blog tonight. And, as I mentioned, I'm using my Wednesday to take a day for myself and hit the road (gotta love gas prices now down to $2.70 a gallon or less) for a New Jersey foliage day trip sojourn. It'll be good to get away to the hills for some Dan time, away from the hectic city and a nice break after the League Championship Series and before the final stretch of the World Series. It was nice to get Game 1 off following a Sunday at home, just to have a couple of nights where I don't have to deal with the craziness.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Signs I need a new point-and-shoot digital

When I bought my laptop years ago, I added a Kodak digital point-and-shoot for about a hundred bucks. It was worth it at the time, when I didn't have my digital SLR, and it worked out just fine. Picture quality was good and it takes video, too.

But now it's an albatross. It is, like most technology more than a year old (if that), a bit outdated. It's heavy for a point-and-shoot. The tab that kept the battery door closed broke off years ago, so I've been holding that together with a rubber band. If it's not tight enough, the door doesn't fully close on the battery, which then doesn't reach both contact points and, therefore, doesn't provide its power to the camera. And now it seems that the two batteries no longer hold a sufficient charge.

I haven't used the camera in a few weeks, but I've been carrying it around in my bag each night on my way to work. Today, as I headed up 6th Ave. to then head west on 15th St., I looked up at the Empire State Building in the dusk. Its floodlights were orange, a perfect contrast against the darkening blue sky. They were Mets colors creating a visual complement to the autumn chill in the air. I watched the tourists' cameras flash from the observation deck as I pulled out my camera; their strobe effect was a nice touch and I planned to take a short video of it to see if it would translate. But two dead batteries scuttled that plan.

With everything else we've spent money on this year, I'm not in any position to be spending money on such luxury items. I'll have to use this financial quiet time to shop around and find the point-and-shoot that has the features I want in a conveniently portable camera: Lightweight, good-quality photos, compact, video capabilities and the ability to take good photos without a flash in low light for concert settings.

Then I'll have to get back to 6th and 15th at about 6:30 p.m. in late October when the Empire State Building is orange.

Should be no problem.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Next time, I should keep my finger to myself

Friday night brings them all out in New York City: The nutjobs, the wackos, the assholes. The ditzes, the flakes, the clueless. The pretty people, the arrogant, the self-righteous. I should know this by now. Or rather, I do know this, but I should bear it in mind more often when I find myself on the Manhattan streets after work at 2 a.m.

Here's the deal: The car is there when I walk downstairs after work, a nice easy night with a clear 2 a.m. finish because there was no baseball game tonight. I get in the car at the curb as a stream of taxis passes us even as the driver lets up on the brake and begins to move. The cabs are continuing south on 9th Ave., into the Meatpacking District. The avenue is packed in these wee hours of the morning as people hop from one trendy club to another or search for that dive bar on 14th St. for a nightcap or head home, drunk and boisterous in the back seat of a cab. After the light turns green, we're slow to turn right onto 15th St. because the cabs continuing on 9th cannot move through the intersection. The right lane we are in, which is marked as a combination straight and right-turn lane, contains cars side-by-side. My driver has his right-turn signal on -- as does the SUV to our left.

Horns begin blaring and a police cruiser toots his bullhorn. He leaves his dome lights off, however. With the inside track, my driver is able to make the right turn onto 15th St. just ahead of the pushy SUV, which did its best to position itself in front of us before the turn. I look out the window throughout the turn, trying to both get a glimpse and imagine who would have the gall to pull such a stunt, no matter how big or tough or overcompensating he is behind the wheel of his gas-guzzler. Not to mention the fact that he had to have heard the cop's horn moments before making the turn.

As we begin to make our way down 15th, I can sense the SUV's headlights close behind me. Turning around, I find I'm correct -- he's inches from our bumper, blatantly tailgating and swerving first to the left, then to the right, to get around us. It's not a two-lane road, and if parking were allowed on the right side, there's no way he would've had room. But the right-hand gutter is clear, so he floors it and passes us.

Now here's where I get stupid. Yet it must be stressed that I was in the right, clearly, while the SUV driver had three strikes against him: 1.) the illegal turn off of 9th Ave; 2.) tailgating; and 3.) passing on the right on a sidestreet.

Still, I probably shouldn't have given him the finger.

Or I shouldn't have done it so blatantly, my thumb securely holding down the other three fingers, my long middle digit pressed up against the top of the window -- where it was closer to his eye level and right up there in the lights shining down from the streetlamps. As soon as he surged in front of us -- swerving into our path before he smashed into a delivery truck parked at the curb -- and perhaps even before that moment, I knew I should've thought before extending my finger. At the very least, I should've disguised it by drumming my other fingers on the window as if listening to music or flat-out holding it up against the door beneath the window. It wouldn't have been seen there, but I still would've known and felt a moment of righteousness.

But he saw it. And he slammed on his brakes, coming to a stop in the middle of 15th St., halfway between 9th and 10th avenues. I looked behind us: No one. The driver got out and started yelling, approaching the driver's door of the car I was in. I held my hands up as if to say, "What, dude?" And yet I do not know why he approached the driver, when he clearly saw me in the back seat flipping him off. My driver, unaware of my instigation, started yelling and flipped open his cell phone to call the police. The aggressor yanked at the driver's door twice and (thankfully) found it locked.

In the back of my mind, I cursed the cops in the car on 9th Ave. who chose not to follow the SUV that had made an illegal turn two cars in front of him. Luckily, the SUV aggressor's passenger had a cooler head. "Come on, man. Let's get out of here." That's literally what he said, like we were in the opening scene of a Law & Order, when you see the aftermath of the crime that the detectives will spend the next hour (minus commercials) investigating.

My heart raced, my mind flashed through all the possible scenarios of what could have happened -- at least when it wasn't berating my hand for getting us into this predicament. The SUV sped ahead to the light at 10th Avenue. I was hoping it would be green so that he could continue on ahead of us, but it was red. We pulled up behind him. My driver continued to wonder what the hell was wrong with the SUV driver, and I explained that he probably thought I was giving him the finger, but of course I wasn't, because that would've been stupid. (He didn't need to know.)

On the ride home after a long night, when I just want to get home, the red lights always seem endless. Tonight, on my earliest exit from the office in 10 days, the wait at 15th St. and 10th Ave. was unbearable. And yet, it lasted mere seconds, because the SUV then made a left onto 10th, going against the traffic (not that there were any cars at the moment he made his turn, but he still was going the wrong way on a one-way street) for 20 feet so that he could turn into the gas station on the corner. Yet once there, he executed a K-turn, once again bringing my heart rate up as I wondered if he was trying to maneuver around the cars at the pumps so that he could exit back onto 15th St. -- where he would then be behind us again.

Thankfully, the driver got out. I don't know if he continued to shout at us or even look at us because there was a car parked in between us and all I could see was that his door had opened. Our light turned green and we headed up 10th toward the Lincoln Tunnel. Yet as we were slowed by traffic outside the 10th Avenue clubs and the lights as they turned from red to green, I continued to look back over my shoulder every block, just to make sure the silver SUV wasn't back on the road, weaving its way through traffic looking for us.

I pulled out my notebook and wrote down the license plate number and added, "Approached car on 15th St." so that the police would have a clear lead should they find us run off the road, unconscious. As we sat at a light before entering the Lincoln Tunnel access road, my driver told me he has a hammer on the front seat. "I'm glad we didn't need to use it," I reply.

Once safely inside the tunnel, where I could confirm that the car immediately in front of us and immediately behind us wasn't the SUV -- even though it hadn't left the gas station before we were several blocks away -- and the right lane was closed at that hour, my heart rate finally started to level off. Once we passed the tiled New Jersey-New York border at the (presumed) midpoint, I at last felt a sense of relief.

The rest of the way home, I was glad that it didn't get past a tug on the door handle and a few curses shouted at us from the street. But I also wished I wasn't stupid, while at the same time wished I was bigger and/or tougher or, for that one moment, the slightest bit an asshole, so that I could've defended myself should it have come to that. Because in the end, my one small act of antagonism was nothing compared to the trifecta of aggression that had prompted my response. I mean seriously -- where does the guy who passes on the right on a side street in New York City get off getting pissed off because I flip him off in response to his stunt?

Ironically, all this happened while I was in Car 495, which seems to be a number associated with drama whenever he takes me home. True to form, not only was the right lane of the Lincoln Tunnel closed, but so was the helix on the other side, sending all the traffic on to the Weehawken streets to make its way around and back up onto Route 495 and toward the Turnpike and Route 3. At least the traffic was light in the 2-2:30 half-hour. An hour later -- as I finish this post, in fact -- the volume is probably doubled, the backup through the tunnel and out onto the various approaches in the city. By 3 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, the Bridge-and-Tunnel crowd seems to have had enough and has begun to make its way back across or beneath the Hudson. If the helix is closed, forget about it. You could be stuck in a 45-minute backup just to travel the three miles beneath the river. Your 20-minute ride home stretches to more than an hour.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case, and I walked into the kitchen well before 3 o'clock. With Casey spending the night at a friend's in the city, I didn't feel the need to head right to bed. And having worked until 4:30 or 5 a.m. every night since Tuesday, I'm not quite as tired at 3 a.m. as I otherwise would be. Therefore, it was the perfect time to enjoy a beer and rehash the ride home, if only as a reminder to think before I flip next time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seasonal signs

On my run today and later on my walk to the train, I noticed more houses with Halloween decorations than political signs. A lot more. Like a dozen Halloween-themed lawns and three political placards.

I don't think everyone should announce their allegiances, nor should they have to, but I seem to remember every fourth fall would have the red, white and blue lawn accents of campaign signs to go along with the oranges, yellows and browns of the changing leaves.

I'm all for Halloween and spooking out the yard, and if I was sure I'd be home for the trick-or-treaters, we'd probably have some orange lights on the porch and tombstones in the yard. (I hesitate because I don't think it's right for me to decorate for the season and then leave the place dark on the big night. Not that the half-dozen kids we'd probably get would really notice.) But I do hope that the choice of exterior decorations in my neighborhood does not indicate that household's choice in putting one day ahead of the other.

Hopefully, those with the haunted homes will get out of the house on Nov. 4 -- and those with the political point of view pick up some candy before the 31st.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

2 a.m. traffic

Getting Car 495 seems to mean one thing: A delay. It's a new one tonight -- Route 3 closed at the bridge near the Meadowlands. There's allegedly one lane open, but traffic was stopped for 10 minutes while construction workers moved some equipment or set a steel beam in place for the frame of the bridge over the roadway. It's part of the expansion of the complex, the building of Xanadu and new Giants/Jets football stadium, that includes a NJ Transit rail station. This bridge will, I presume, carry the trains over the highway.

Tonight, though, it's adding about 15 minutes to my middle-of-the-night drive home.