Archive for July, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns, July 27, 2009

July 28, 2009

Letter From New York
July 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns


This past Saturday felt like an old-fashioned summer day; warm to the edge of hot, muggy to the edge of insufferable, sun showers – crowds swarming Warren Street, moving from shop to shop with the riverfront swelled by crowds looking to study the Halfe Maen [Half Moon], the half size replica of Henry Hudson’s vessel which was docked in Hudson as part of the 400th Anniversary Celebration of Captain Hudson’s historic voyage up the river that bears his name.

Standing on the waterfront, looking at the half sized Half Moon I thought: at full size I might have trusted it to carry me up and down the river but across the Atlantic? No. I prefer something more the size of the Queen Mary II for that voyage. Looking at the wooden craft, I imagined 400 years ago. It must have taken tremendous courage – or foolhardiness – to set sail from the old world for the new. The Half Moon may have been the height of maritime technology at the time but it’s not very spectacular four centuries later when we can compare it to the Queen Mary II – the Half Moon would probably easily into one of QM II’s holds.

While I was attempting to imagine crossing an ocean in a ship twice the size of the craft I was staring at, I found myself thinking of another anniversary that occurred last week – the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon. Apollo 11 was the height of space technology at the time and yet the further we get from that moment when Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” we now know that their craft was the space equivalent of the Half Moon, best available but crude at best.

A few months ago I read somewhere that the Apollo 11 mission was not expected to succeed. In fact, speechwriters worked hard at crafting words for President Nixon so that he could announce their deaths to the world should the mission, as expected, fail. The best-case scenario seemed to be that Apollo 11 would probably have to abort and return to earth without successfully landing on the moon.

However, the Eagle did land.

Standing on the riverfront while appraising the Half Moon, I found tears coming to my eyes as I thought of the courage of Hudson and his men willing to toss themselves out onto the cold Atlantic in a voyage of exploration. The feeling was intensified when I thought of the men of the Apollo 11 mission: Collins, Armstrong, Aldrin, men who chose to risk their lives to learn more about the unknown, to stretch man’s reach to the moon if not yet to the stars, to begin the long hard journey out into space – “the final frontier,” to toss themselves out in the coldness of space in a voyage of exploration.

The only autograph I have ever asked for was from Buzz Aldrin, one of the Apollo 11 three. At the request of my friend Howard Bloom, I orchestrated a meeting for him at History Channel. As he was about to get into the car to head for the airport, I couldn’t resist and it sits framed in a place of pride in my home office. I want to be reminded of that kind of courage as often as possible.

Life often seems daunting and impossible, occasionally causing even the most stalwart of souls to edge on despair. It is good when edging on those moments to think of those who risked their lives to stretch the horizon of the world inhabited by other human beings.

Thankfully, Nixon did not have to give that speech and the first three men to the moon are still alive and were able to celebrate their anniversary. Hopefully, by the 50th anniversary of their feat we will have returned to the moon and start the long march to the stars – because it is the “final frontier” and the human race seems to do best when it stretches its imagination and efforts to know the unknown, to find the wonder of being human.

A Tale of Two Towns: July 19, 2009

July 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns

Death comes as the end…

My mother was a great fan of Agatha Christie; I believe she read everything Ms. Christie wrote as Agatha Christie; if memory serves me correctly Christie also wrote books under the name of Mary Westmacott. I don’t recall those having much space on our bookshelves.

Christie, if it was possible, made murder elegant – people rarely died violently, often of poisons, and almost every one of her characters were ladies and gentlemen – or those who served them.

Unfortunately, murder is rarely so neat and never elegant. Christie type deaths don’t happen in real life – something deeply clear to me this past week. A week ago Wednesday a general notice went out to everyone in my office building not to come in – there was a “police action” happening in the building. In this post 9/11 world that has come to have terrifying connotations with immediate thoughts of bombs.

What actually happened was that one of the cleaning people, Eridania Rodriguez, had gone missing the night before and could not be found. The surveillance cameras caught her arriving; they could not find her leaving. For four days the police searched the building until the following Saturday, Eridania’s body was found in an air conditioning duct that was scheduled to be sealed off. Her hands and feet were bound in tape, a gold crucifix was draped over the tape that covered her face and which had been the instrument of her death; she had been asphyxiated.

Nothing in her life would indicate that she could be a candidate to come to a gruesome end. Eridania [Iris] Rodriguez was a single mother of three children, a hard worker, who lived in the northern tip of Manhattan. People who knew her characterized her as a good person, a good mother, and a caring individual. Not a person who deserved to be gruesomely murdered. She came from the Dominican Republic in the early 1980’s looking for a better life with her parents and siblings. She was working the American immigrant dream. And it ended in an American nightmare.

In looking at the pictures of her that have appeared in the paper, I am sure we had passed each other in the hallways and in the elevators. It is not unusual for me to know the cleaning staff of any building in which I am working; I frequently am still working while they are working. There is almost no degree of separation between this poor woman and me. In addition, her brother is a world-class body builder, Victor Martinez. He’s competing in the Mr. Olympia competition [the one that made Arnold famous] and is developing a reality series about his efforts with a producer friend of mine.

Not only is it profoundly disturbing that this poor woman has been murdered working in my office building, it is also, and perhaps even more so, haunting that no one knows who murdered her. The police believe it is someone else who works in the building; there is a suspect but not enough evidence to arrest. Walking the hallways with me is very likely someone who has committed murder. It leaves me – disturbed, deeply. I do not feel at ease there anymore. I am concerned for my colleagues who work nights and wonder what provisions are being taken to keep them safe.

Eridania’s murder reminds me that life can be capricious and unjust; unexpectedly ended, reminding me to do my best to leave nothing unsaid that needs to be said, to not forget to say I love you to someone, to hope that I forgive rather than resent, to admire the beauty of a moment.

DEATH COMES AS THE END was the title of one of Ms. Christie’s novels and death is the end, at least this side of paradise. The cruel death of this woman reminds me of the fragility of life and the random cruelty that walks the planet and the gruesome cruelty with which we often deal with one another, one human to another.
This just in:
A 25-year-old male elevator operator in the building was arrested for Eridania’s murder when DNA tests of skin under her fingernails matched his.

Tale of Two Towns: Living the Great Recession, July 10, 2009

July 11, 2009

A Tale of Two Towns
Living in The Great Recession

July 10, 2009

For those who follow closely, you will have noticed there was no missive last week; it was the 4th of July weekend, there were masses of papers to be sorted through for work and there just wasn’t time for everything. It was a quiet 4th; the holiday night was spent with a friend at Tannery Pond, listening to exquisite chamber music where the fireworks were aural rather than visual. Particularly wonderful were several Beethoven from the early 19th Century. Following, at home, I continued the path of solitary thinking that has been part of my spring and summer – assessing life – mine and the world in which I find myself living.

It is an interesting time, the one in which we are living. The economic malaise has now become an ongoing reality of our lives; it is more a chronic illness than a transitory one. As I write this it is a weeknight and I am at the cottage – a rare thing now for weekdays – but our train crowd gave a “furlough” party for our friend Ty West who works on a PBS Production. Donations and corporate support are at a nadir so it has become incumbent on their survival to furlough employees and it is Ty’s time. He is, being the man he is, taking the difficulty with good grace and understanding. I suspect it is not easy for him; it would not be for me.

His story is one of many that I know; pullbacks are everywhere. The friends who went down with the LPD bankruptcy are all still “on the beach” looking for the next thing, which is elusive. It underscores the grace under which I have been living – a fact that plays into the contemplative state in which I have been living since that shutdown.

On the party train tonight one of the “regular” passengers who joined our celebration was a young stock analyst from one of the boutique firms that inhabit “Wall Street.” As I tended bar [my task on train parties (for each one I must come up with a theme drink, tonight’s was the “Furlough Tini” a mixture of vodka, lemonade, crème de Framboise and crème de cassis, producing a concoction that had shades of pink [pink slip] but wasn’t quite, hence: furlough – an unpaid absence from a job with the opportunity to return and a clear indication of a sad economic reality], this young man opined that the market was headed lower and that at the end of the day it would all be better in some future we aspire to. It made for poignant conversation regarding depleted portfolios, delayed retirements and returns to work from retirement by men such as his father.

We are living in a poignant time. On many levels, individuals live as they always have though comprises are everywhere. Retirees return to the work place, home buying is deferred, roommates are taken in, purchases and vacations deferred or downsized, friendships matter more and values are reevaluated. Friendships feel more potent; what are we without people, people who love us.

In this current economic crisis, the most profound since the Great Depression, we are all in trouble. Yet our trouble is still quite modest compared with much of the world – the world in which 60 to 70 % of its population must walk three hours to find fresh water. It does put it all in perspective, doesn’t it? When I got off the train tonight I left behind three sinks full of ice, unused, melting into oblivion and completely normal for the western world in which we live. It was the young stock analyst who pointed out to me that the majority of the world is desperate for what we take for granted – still.

What gnaws at many of us is that there may soon come a day when we can’t take for granted the ice we’ve paid for melting casually in any kind of sink… Everyone I know senses some new day ahead of us. While unsure what that day may be, more people seem anxious than eager while also suspecting it might just be a time with sounder values.