Friday, March 30, 2007


Yesterday, I was born a curmudgeon. Reborn actually; since I've already spent slightly more than half a century developing all the tools that the modern curmudgeon needs to do his work- the bristly eyebrows, Nixon-like flapping jowls, that not-quite-obese spare tire that would go well with a checkered shirt and oddball bow-tie, if I could stand to wear a tie. And of course, the New York City Perpetual Scowl.

I haven't lived here all that long- maybe three years so far. Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, I never needed to Perpetually Scowl very often, so my scowl muscles were poorly developed. They're ripped now, baby. It's like I have a scowl-sixpack on my face. To fit in with everyone else, of course. To see me walking down the street, you'd never guess I was not a born and bred native New Yorker.

"Walking down the street" will be my first Curmudgeonly Comment. I walk to work every day. Well, whenever I feel like it and if it's not too cold. Or rainy. Or hot. I like to look and smile at the attractive women of a certain age as we're passing on the sidewalk. Not that they ever look back, of course, but that will be a Curmudgeonly Comment for another day. No, my friends, today's subject concerns Dog Poop. Not just the regular poop you might see here and there on the sidewalk, but the special poop that you see only on Monday mornings. At least on the UES.

I have this theory, see- it's not so bad on weekdays because on weekdays, wealthy people are much too busy to walk their dogs. They have their domestics do it. And from what little I know about them, domestics as a class of people are generally decent folks just like the rest of us. Only a bit more haggard and whole lot more weary. Anyway, they will pick up their Master's doggy's bowel movements because you're s'posed to do that, for the common good. But on weekends, wealthy people need to be seen walking their Pomerpoodleshit-zhu's so those attractive women of a certain age will have a reason to smile back. Not that you ever need a special reason to smile at someone who is obviously wealthy. I'm strongly suspicious, however, that not all of these wealthy animal lovers actually bend down with their inside-out baggie and pick up the steaming pile for disposal. I mean, eeeuwwww, that's gross! So- my Monday morning walk to work can seem like navigating the Ho Chi Minh trail. If you're old enough to remember how shitty that was.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Be, All That You Can Be

If rich folk's dog poop litters the sidewalks of the UES like landmines on the Ho Chi Minh trail, I wonder if the guy who sits outside of Starbucks on Lex & 78th ever stepped on any? Landmines, that is; he sits in a wheelchair now so I don't think he has to worry about stepping in doggie-doo anymore. But I think maybe he stepped in some deep doo doo a few years ago, like back in the seventies, like over in Vietnam.

I dunno. I have gotten burned with street people so many times that typically I just bristle my curmudgeonly eyebrows at them when they ask for money. Or, when they ask me if they can just ask me "a quick question"- (yeah, like I am gonna fall for that one). If not to ask me for money, just exactly what are they going to inquire? "Excuse me, can I ask you a quick question? I was just wondering if you think Carnegie Hall is a better venue than Lincoln Center for concerts. And, how does one get to Carnegie Hall, anyway?"

But I dunno, still. This guy sits outside the Starbucks selling felt pens. He wears a boonie hat and fatigues (the good ones- ODs- not the modern camos sported by the skinny kids in hipper neighborhoods). And he rolls up his pants legs so you can get a good look at some terribly nasty scars. Like the kind you might get if you stepped on the doo-doo buried on The Trail about 35 years ago. He nods at passersby who catch his eye (and some of them are attractive women of a certain age) and every so often, someone stops to buy a pen.

I just wanted to give him a dollar. I said "heya" and dropped my buck into the cup and started to turn away. In this really deep baritone voice of his, he said "You gotta pick out a pen". Huh? Since when do I gotta to do anything? Except maybe, pay taxes. Or pay dues. I wondered if he had paid his dues, or if I was being suckered again. But I picked out a red one, saying "I use these all the time" and from the subtle softening in his expression, I knew that the transaction was properly complete. It was a really cheesy pen, the kind that probably cost about 1 cent wholesale. But it seemed worth way more than a dollar.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Got to Carnegie Hall

And I didn't even have to practice. Just buy a ticket. Two tickets, actually- in the hope that my Curmudgeonly Companion would enjoy a night out on the town. But alas, Jane Siberry (my stranded-on-a desert-island favorite singer, whose music always seems to have accompanied sea-changes in my life) is anathema to Lady Curmudgeon. So I got to sell my extra ticket on the open-air street carnival circus that is Craigslist.

Craigslist is a wonderful, loathesome, fascinating schizophrenic gathering place for the best and worst that NYC has to offer. With just a few clicks of the mouse you can find yourself a job, have a Missed Connection with one of the hotties at your new workplace, find a killer apartment to rendezvous with your newly Made Connection workplace hottie, locate a willing third or fourth to set up a ménage à trois or ménage à quatre at your new digs, compose a scathing Rant about how the Republicans have put the kibosh on your little orgy by ruining your ability to achieve and maintain an erection and finally, read that your new hottie has broken up with you because of said Political Dysfunction. Sometimes, this all happens on the same day.

So, Dear Reader, you may appreciate the trepidation with which I opened the first response to my ticket offer. The sender had a weird-sounding name (weird to my small-town sensibilities, where folks employed acceptable monikers like "Pete" or "Sue" or "Bud Jr.") and could easily have been a grifter, slack-jawed roustabout or even a reprobate. Smelling a rat (Craigsters have been known to resemble street people, only with ripped abs, enormous genitals and much better internet connections), I demanded an initial meeting to exchange ticket and money. So as not to get left standing at the altar, so to speak.

She was beautiful. Smart and funny and interesting and engaging, and our cup of coffee went by much too quickly. She did stand me up on concert night; I didn't find out until afterwards that she arrived late and as a result, was seated in the center of the very first row. THE VERY FIRST ROW. Close enough to see the spit fly and the eyes glisten and to be the first to feel the shock waves of emotion emanating from this enormously emotive singer. I know it really wasn't a date, it was just a business transaction and she was literally young enough to be a Curmudgeon's Daughter. But the surprise little kiss she gave me when we parted at the subway entrance lingered on my cheek all the way home, and well into the night. God, I love New York.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Johnny Can't Dance

Why didn't the nuns back in grammar school tell me that dancing skills and typing skills were the two most important things I could have learned at that early age? It's just not fair. Now, at the tender age of fifty-one-and-a-half, I can do neither well.

I have recently concluded that if I could type using more than two index fingers and my right thumb (with the occasional pinky foray to press the Shift key) I would be much, much further ahead in my career. Especially now that everything worthwhile in life depends on one's ability with a keyboard. Where I grew up, there were two tracks in school: the Academic Track, that would train the future movers and shakers of our world, and the euphemistically-named Career Track, which would prepare young men to be assimilated into the steel mills (resistance is futile). Typing was for girls, anyway, and for that sissy Brendan Behan who is surely head of his own accounting firm by now. It's probably called "Behan Counters" or something cutesy like that. I did the Career Track and can proudly boast that I can craft a birdhouse, build a nifty napkin holder and do mechanical drawing along with the best of them. But I still can't type worth a danm.

The nuns weren't real big on dancing skills either. At least, not on teaching them to others. Since most of the nuns were technically women, I am sure they were all born with that innate grace and rhythm that all women seem to possess. Go to a Singles Dance and you will see what I mean. Singles Dances are the one and only place in New York City where you can actually see more than two attractive women of a certain age gathered together under one roof at the same time. Excluding Macy's on the Day After Thanksgiving of course, but even The Curmudgeon has not the courage to face such an ordeal. But $20 gets you in the door, where you can experience the adult version of the first high school dance you ever attended. Women, dancing; their ponytails and cotton dresses now replaced by elegant up-dos and some eye-popping cleavage. Men, leaning; their uncombed hair and ill-fitting jackets replaced by- well... some things never change, do they?

I've never understood why women are born knowing how to dance, their lovely hips gently swaying to and fro with the beat and doing inexplicably graceful things with their hands and feet and hair. When men try to do the same thing, they look like- well, they look like Brendan Behan (and look where he is now). The best a man can hope to do is stand somewhere near the edge of the dance floor and do this modified
hunched over Neanderthal shuffle thingie, with the random Travolta-like arm spasm to let the world know that you have evolved far beyond your cave man days. And guys, warning: never, ever attempt to dance on your own, without a partner. YOU may think it is an invitation for that cute woman dancing by herself to sidle on over; OTHERS think you have had too much to drink, are really desperate, or that your blood pressure medication is reacting with your liver pills. More on dancing some other time. Or, is it moron dancing?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Leave the Driving to Us

Why is it that hillbillies always ride Greyhound buses? This past Friday marks the thirtieth or so anniversary of my last Greyhound bus ride. Or so I thought it was my last.

Up until the time I bought my first very own car for $600 in 1974, I was a Greyhound Regular between college and home. Each and every time I rode the Grey Ghost, it seemed to be filled with hillbillies of various sizes and aromas, all travellin’ to the “Big City” (Pittsburgh). Invariably, one of these slack-jawed yokels would choose the seat next to me and flap their hillbilly lips about how “they was a-goin’ to jine up the Army”. With recruits like those, it’s no wonder we lost that war.

Fast forward to 2006, and travel with me, my friends, on an epic journey from The Really Big City back to Pittsburgh, goin’ Greyhound. The same hillbillies were on this bus (they haven’t aged a day!) along with assorted NYC denizens- the crazy-haired man who muttered to himself the entire way, the wild-eyed grandmother who spoke not a word of English, and of course, an overabundance of women with seat-and-a-half wide asses who munched on Doritos and Ho Hos for each and every one of the 28,800 seconds it took to finally get there.

The hillbilly took his rightful place in the back of the bus, next to the charming lavatory (you had to step over his clodhoppers to get to the little accordion door). From the moment he got on until the moment he got off, his jaws never stopped a-flappin’. Addressing no one in particular and everyone in general, he recounted every Greyhound Journey he had ever made (“Now Cleveland… that there was a trip an’ a half, lemme jist tell ya!”). At each rest stop, he was the first one off to chain smoke half a dozen cigarettes, then the first one back on to cough up a lung for the next couple hundred miles.

Your Curmudgeon sat near the front of the bus. But not far enough away to keep from having a serious 1974-vintage hillbilly flashback. In my flashback, the crazy-mutters man and the fat women all ganged up and attacked the hillbilly, while the grandmother ran around in circles waving her arms and cackling “scutta malocchio- poo poo poo!!!” while spitting through her fingers. Damn it, the hillbilly still came out on top. Covered with spit and Ho Ho wrappers, he emerged victorious, like a cockroach after a nuclear holocaust.

Leave the driving to us… but it’ll drive ya crazy. Lemme jist tell ya.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Go 'buck Yourself

It wasn’t until after I got my first Starbuck’s card that I realized how incredibly much coffee I consume. My mother (herself quite the curmudgeonly lady, may she rest in eternal peace) bought it for me a couple of Christmases ago, knowing how much I like a cup of good, strong black coffee. It was a $50 gift card, conveniently redeemable in any one of the 7,661 Starbucks stores coast to coast. Or maybe even around the world; how the hell do I know- I’m lucky they still let me on the Greyhound bus.

By around the end of January, my card balance had already shriveled to a measly $1.43- not even enough to pay for the large (I refuse to say venti) coffee I had just ordered. And coffee is just about all I ever have... I get irritated at all the twinks in line ahead of me whose orders contain more adjectives than a James Michener novel: “Uhhhh, I’ll have a grande double skinny half-latte extra hot mochacrappachino with soy foam and an extra shot of espresso. Oh- and could you put it in a venti cup with a flat lid?” C’mon people, it’s coffee. Be a man or be a woman and just order a goddamn cup of coffee, like God damn well intended in the first place (may He rest in eternal peace).

I never even had a cup of genuine brewed coffee until I went away to college. Nescafé instant; yeah, that’s what the Curmudgeon family drank. If you had the luxury of time, you could boil up some water in the little tea pot that always sat on the stove and have yourself a steaming cup of coffee in a jiffy. If time was short, a splash of hot water from the kitchen tap would still do the job. In a pinch, The Curmudgeon was even known to have spooned dry coffee directly from the jar into his mouth, but Mama Curmudgeon frowned upon this as well as other things like drinking right from the milk carton, scraping off the insides of an Oreo with your teeth then reassembling the dry husks back into the package, and licking all of your Halloween candy in front of your brothers and sisters so they would keep their filthy mitts off your stuff.

The $50 that lasted me less than three weeks at Starbucks would have bought a year’s supply of Nescafé, even adjusting for today’s inflation. And I wouldn’t even have to stand in line for it. But think of all the wonderful experiences I would have missed, not rubbing elbows with my fellow Starbucks junkies. Like this standing-in-line drama, which plays out with disturbing regularity about 3 times a week:

Me (displaying my nicest, cutest smile): “Man, I think we’re in the wrong profession- just look at this line!”

Attractive Woman of a Certain Age: “Yeah.” (looks at watch).

Me: “You know, they say that drinking coffee can actually lower your risk of heart disease.”

AWOCA: “Yeah.” (checks out pastry case).

Me: “I love those oat-maple scones! The only thing better would be if they were all covered in chocolate.”

AWOCA: “Yeah.” (takes out cell phone and pretends to take a call)

Me: “You know, there is a big hairy spider crawling up your pants leg”

AWOCA: “Yeah.” (proceeds to order a grande double skinny half-latte etc. and gives the disinterested guy with all the hair a smile and a lingering glance on her way out the door).

That’s what your $2.09 buys, folks- atmosphere. You can’t get that from a jar.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dr. Phil Goode

Browsing the self-help section at the Barnes & Noble on E. 86th Street the other night made me finally realize what a sick, sick man I really am. Until I saw the wide array of syndromes, phobias, disorders and other assorted afflictions that could be self-treated for only $14.99 ($17.99 in Canada), I thought I was normal. Well, as normal as one could be having survived 12 years of Catholic School and two ex-Mrs. Curmudgeons. But it's abundantly clear to me now that I suffer from Excessive Narcissism (I should be striving for just the right amount of Narcissism), I'm Just Not That Into Her, I Sweat the Small Stuff, I Sweat, and I need to Free Myself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior. I need to Free Myself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior. I need to Free Myself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior.

I tossed and turned in my bed last night, Dr. Phil's steely gaze and shining head shimmering in my vision like some new-age Wizard of Oz apparition. I wonder who Dr. Phil talks to when he has problems? Oprah? I wonder if he even has any problems? Now there's a guy who has his shit together. My Erroneous Zones shuddered in ecstasy as I tried counting up all the steps one would have to go through to solve all of life's problems, but I soon ran out of fingers. Twelve steps if you're an alcoholic. Seven more if you want to be a highly-effective alcoholic. Five people you will meet when get to heaven. Or is it five virgins? According to the religion I was raised in, dying a virgin pretty much assured you eternal happiness, at least after you die. Unless you've murdered someone or attended a Jewish ceremony or something equally egregious; then you're SOL, virgin or no. I don't think I will meet any virgins after I die, but that's OK with me.

There was one topic missing, though. And that is: how to deal with the pressure of finally realizing that you are a complete and utter wreck and there are more steps required to achieve true happiness than there are days left in your life. If so, which steps should you focus on to salvage at least a part of your miserable existence before it's too late? I vote for "Anger Free- Ten Steps To Managing Your Anger". Ten steps is pretty do-able, and it corresponds nicely with the number of fingers and thumbs that I have (as well as gives purpose to the remaining 7 digits I never use for typing). Best of all, it was only $7.98, which didn't make me nearly as angry as I would have been if I were a Canadian.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cell, NO!

Most folks in NYC who own cell phones have been doing a very good job of adhering to the unwritten code of NYC public cell phone annoyance. To you, The Curmudgeon says "well done". Keep up the good work. However, it has come to my attention that a (very) few of you still do not demonstrate the proper techniques for annoying others while using your cell phone in public. To that end, this Public Service Announcement should help you create the highest possible annoyance with the least effort expended. Attend.

1. Very Important Person (male version). When you are a VIP (if you have to ask whether you are, then you are not) it is essential that you conduct your public cell phone conversations in the proper fashion. When engaging in a cell phone conversation, it is important to first position yourself where everyone can see and hear you, preferably even have to step around you on the sidewalk or subway platform. Assume a jaunty Type-A stance (feet apart at shoulder width, head cocked at a decisive angle, perhaps a hand resting confidently on your hip). Hold your phone in such a way that passersby can see that it is the latest, sleekest most expensive model. Be sure to wear a fashionable little fighter pilot headset that tells your audience that you are the Wall Street equivalent of a Top Gun. If your phone rings, answer it brusquely using only your last name, just like the detectives on your favorite TV show. At the appropriate moment in the conversation, raise your voice so that everyone can hear you say "...and I won't accept a penny under two million dollars!!!".* Use simple, imperative sentences like "Fire him TODAY!". Accompany the snapping shut of your phone with a scowl that tells the world that you are a Captain of Industry not to be trifled with. Feign indifference to your admiring audience of tourists, Chinese delivery boys, derelicts and art students.

* increase by a factor of ten for every 10 blocks further downtown you are at

2. Very Important Person (female version). Female VIPs are found predominantly on the UES. They can be identified by their fashionable clothing, expensive handbags, and Pomerpoodleshit-zhus. They are often seen imperiously pushing a German-engineered baby stroller that is larger than my car and features rack-and-pinion steering and independent all-wheel suspension. Female VIPs should always utilize a handsfree earpiece and cord combination with a built-in microphone that inexplicably still requires one hand in order to hold it close enough to talk. In a nasally, privileged voice, assure your conversant over and over again that her husband was definitely wrong in doing that, that the playdate at the 92nd Street Y is still on, and that you can't understand either why the service at Demarchelier's has gotten so bad lately. Periodically, check to see that your child is still breathing.

3. The Angry Boyfriend. Sometimes, lover's quarrels can arise unexpectedly but do try to make sure you are in a room full of strangers when you have that final break-up-over-a-cell-phone conversation with your paramour. Start softly and demurely so that others have to strain to follow your conversation. But when you get to the part where you call her a "dirty lyin' ho who will sleep with anybody" be sure to scream that out at the top of your lungs. And, if you wouldn't mind- also scream out her name and phone number to help those of us who are always looking for a good lead.

4. The College Student. Try to refrain from beginning your cell phone conversations until you are comfortably seated behind The Curmudgeon on an 8 hour Greyhound Bus trip to Pittsburgh. Then, begin to call each and every one of your airhead friends, in alphabetical order. If your service plan allows, conference in two or more of your friends for an even richer experience. If you are a female student, proudly share your religious convictions by repeatedly shouting "Oh m'God... OH my Gaaaaawd" at every opportunity. Turn every declarative sentence into, like, a question? If you are a male student, be sure that every other word is "awwwwwwesome" or "duuuude...". If you are a hillbilly, then you are neither a college student nor can you afford cellphone technology.

5. The Enormously Fat Person. Wait until you are walking down the sidewalk carrying your gigantic shopping bag full of Doritos and Ho Hos that were on sale at the Dollar Store. Be sure that your amazing bulk blocks as much of the sidewalk as possible. Using your free hand, place your call, then slow to a waddle just as The Curmudgeon tries to pass you. If necessary, extend your cell phone arm at a ninety-degree angle to your ear to ensure that The Curmudgeon will have to step into the gutter (and quite likely step in rich folk's dog poop) to get around you. Talk about what you are making for dinner when you get home.

6. The Generic Cell Phone User: Just a few additional pointers for those who may not fall into the categories above.

a. No matter where you at, always make sure your ringer is set to "High and Vibrate".
b. Be sure that your ring tone loudly and proudly proclaims your ethnic background. If you are Irish, set it to play "Danny Boy" so complete strangers will know that you are Irish. If you are Jewish, set it to play "Hava Nagila" so complete strangers will know you are Jewish. If you are black, set it to play a 50-Cent gangsta song so complete strangers will know that you are black.
c. If you are in an enclosed area with no service (the subway, for example) you may still continue to annoy others by passing the time playing games on your phone. As always, be sure the volume is set to "High" so that fellow passengers can enjoy each beep, bloop and whistle.
d. If you speak a language other than English, be sure to talk extra loud and pause occasionally to look around and laugh, so the rest of us think you are talking about us.
e. If you are my boss, my co-worker or any store clerk, please be sure to interrupt me in the middle of my sentence to take a call from a friend, lover or family member. It really could be important this time.
f. No matter where you at, always scream "Where you at?!?!?!?" whenever you make a call.

Fellow citizens, I know that with just a little more adherence to the rules, New York City can become the place we always knew it could be. Thank you for your support.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It’s a Dog’s Life

On this glorious fifth day of spring in New York City, I donned my hat, scarf, gloves and pea coat to take a brisk walk along the gloom of the East River. Down to Carl Shurz park, where on a more pleasant day one can see joggers, strollers, skaters and brisk walkers. Not participate in, mind you; just watch. On a day like today, not many do-ers. Not many watchers either. But the dogs were still there, as always.

There are two separate dog runs at the park: one for small dogs, and one for larger dogs over 35 pounds. I wonder how many sessions of City Council it took to debate what the weight cutoff should be? All I know is that it wasn’t the IRS; if so, the limit would have been 35½ pounds. Like an IRA, where you may begin taking distributions at age 59½. The Curmudgeon can only suspect that the legislator who introduced the bill creating IRAs was, oh, 59½ on the day the bill was signed?

I didn’t spend much time at the large dog run. Large dogs are relatively serene, and they are generally not too interesting to watch. Small dogs and their masters, on the other hand, can be a fascinating study.

The little bitches were all about the same size. Their dogs, however, ranged from subway rat size and up. The subway ratdog wore a cute little tan sweater with tiny panniers sewn into each side, but what exactly was intended to be carried in these panniers? Prozac capsules? Judging by the overly-protective behavior of Mama Ratdog, Junior is certainly destined for a lifetime of doggy therapy when he grows up.

“Scooter”, a mangy looking little dog of indeterminate origin, was my favorite. Little Scooter had this little problem, see. Unable to browse the Self-Help section at Barnes & Noble, little Scooter was blissfully unaware that he suffered from Sex Addiction and Excessive Narcissism. In the course of maybe 20 minutes, little Scooter got lucky with more females than The Curmudgeon has gotten lucky with since way before he met the most recent ex-Mrs. Curmudgeon. The best part was that little Scooter didn’t seem to need to go through all of the elaborate social ritual that seems to always trip up The Curmudgeon. No coy glances from across the doggie run, no expensive dinner dates of kibbles and bits, no need to get in touch with his feline side to impress her with all of his new-age doggie sensitivity. Not even the need for doggie seduction; apparently, all little Scooter needed to get lucky was raging hormones and a good running start.

The only downside to being little Scooter was having Mama Scooter always hovering so close by. If I were little Scooter, I would certainly not have appreciated a large hand descending from above and unceremoniously scooping me up into the air at my moment of supreme victory. “Bad Scooter! Bad, BAAAD Scooter!!!” But on the other hand, The Curmudgeon was raised Irish Catholic so he certainly understands “Bad, BAAAD Curmudgeon!!!”. Only, he doesn’t hear it nearly often enough.

Gimme a dog’s life, any day of the week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Man vs. Taxi

I rarely take a taxi, if I can help it. The first time ever I visited NYC, back in 1992 I think it was, I took a taxi everywhere I went. I was convinced that if ever I plucked up enough courage to venture down into the black hole of the subway entrance, Hannibal Lechter, Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper and Dick Cheney would all be waiting to tear into me. That is ridiculous of course; every knows that Jack the Ripper preferred female victims. Eventually, on my second visit the following year, I braved the subway ritual and found that my fears were largely baseless. So now, I take taxis only when I have to; usually for the benefit of someone else.

On my way to Carl Shulz Park the other day, I came upon the saddest scene. An elderly man sprawled out on the pavement, unmoving; his khaki trench coat rumpled up around his waist, a couple of passersby kneeling next to him. A taxi stopped short; right at the crosswalk lines on 83rd Street and 1st Avenue. It didn’t take long for me to connect the dots and surmise the encounter between man and machine. The machine won, as they usually do.

What should one do in this scenario? The man standing next to me assured me that 911 had been summoned. I don’t remember much from my Boy Scouts CPR lessons and besides, others were already hovered around attending the victim. Do I stay and gawk like the rest? Do I continue on with my business as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened? I voted for the latter, remembering the stories about Kitty Genovese I had heard when I was growing up.

It was the taxi driver who stuck in my mind. He was standing aloof, next to his taxi, with a look on his face like “this is really gonna fuck up my day”. Maybe it was a cultural thing; I am evolved enough to realize that cultures other than my own express their emotions in ways that are alien to me. In all fairness, I can’t even say that the pedestrian didn’t jump the light or try a deadly game of chicken with the ubiquitous yellow taxis. I don’t know what I would have done had I been the driver, in the same circumstance. Still; it bothered me deeply. I don’t know whether the man was dead, unconscious, or just lying still waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

My own attitude towards the pedestrian-vehicle interface seems to be directly related to whether I am driving or walking at the moment. While driving, I resent the presence of pedestrians and their smug “I have the right-of-way” attitude. I get impatient waiting to make a turn at a busy crosswalk and even more furious at drivers behind me (usually taxis or Land Rovers) who lay on the horn as if to urge me to plow right through the herd. On foot though, I am a walking poster child for “I have the right-of-way, asshole”. Yes, when the red hand disappears I am going to boldly step out into that crosswalk even though I can see the $80,000 Land Rover impatiently edging its way to be first, as seems to be the purchased privilege of every Land Rover owner. It feels immensely powerful to be able to chastise the driver with a simultaneous critical look and extended STOP hand, accompanied by a curmudgeonly eyebrow bristle and an unspoken “Jesus H. Christ”.

Jesus H. Christ help me if I ever get run over, though. I like to think that if someone ever runs me over in a Land Rover, they'd better do it properly and kill me outright. Otherwise I am gonna jump up and smash their privileged face in with my bare fists. But in reality, I would probably just lie there waiting for the ambulance to come, listening to the ineffective Good Samaritans tell me everything is going to be OK, and hoping I didn’t mess up the Land Rover driver’s busy schedule for the day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Justice is Served- Part I

It's never easy sitting in judgment of another person. To be sure, we do it all the time on an informal basis: this man's cruel, that one is manipulative. This man's conniving, that one is dangerous. But enough about Cheney and Rumsfeld. The formal judgment process in New York City begins the day you receive the dreaded orange and white jury summons in the mail.

I have had the dubious pleasure of being suggested, ingested, digested, and finally divested from the New York criminal justice system for five out of the past eight days. Not as a "bad guy", rest assured; but as what the judges and various courthouse video dignitaries call the "indispensable element of our criminal justice system"- the juror. Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the feeling for once in my life of being "indispensable", but seriously- don't you think that the only indispensable element would be the actual criminal, without whom none of this other nonsense would be necessary?

I suppose that my name was suggested to the court system by the voter registration board. In the spirit of "no good deed ever goes unpunished", my civic good deed of registering to vote was swiftly punished by additional mandatory good deeds to appear as a potential juror. My one, measly little blue-tinted vote was apparently no counterbalance against the hordes of God-fearing, morally upright citizenry turning this beautiful country Redder by each election. But d'ya know what? It was worth it. Striking a feeble but ultimately ineffectual blow against those dirty, lousy Reds (does anyone else get the historical irony of this political color palette?) was a fair tradeoff to 5 days of boring jury duty.

Ingestion is the process of being selected as an actual juror from a pool of hundreds of other potential jurors. On reporting day, all potential jurors report to Room 336 where they, well... they sit. Sit and wait. The jury pool is supposed to be an accurate cross section of New Yorkers, but it looked to me to be suspiciously divided between male normal people and female normal people. The loonies, dysfunctionals, ultra-hips, hillbillies and Captains of Finance seemed to be disproportionately under-represented from the mix of juror wannabes. To inform and entertain us while we waited, no less a dignitary than Dianne Sawyer hosted a public service video highlighting the importance of jury service. The cynical side of me (yes folks, there is a cynical side to me) immediately wondered if Ms. Sawyer performed this video as a true public service or because, um, she was sentenced to do it by a judge for repeatedly ignoring her own jury summonses? Enquiring minds want to know...

My hopes remained high until the end of the second day, when my name was called along with about 100 others to serve on a jury panel from which 12 jurors and 4 alternates would be chosen. About a 15% random chance of selection, but I was soon to see that selection was anything but random. First, people who claimed they did not speak English well enough were allowed to plea for excusal. A reasonable excuse, it seemed; and though I was tempted to let my Pittsburgh accent honk on through as proof that I had absolutely no command of the English Language, I decided to defer to the hardcore Spanish and Chinese speakers.

Next, those people with a special "hardship" were allowed to plead their case for excusal privately before the judge. The little chippie girl sitting next to me who owned a nail salon rushed up to Her Honor and tittered a few things, then promptly sashayed her hips out of there on excusal, with a look on her face that proclaimed "well of course skin and nail responsibilities are more important than anything you could possible have to do". Most of the remaining Type A Men and UES-looking women managed to come up with something adequately urgent to be excused as well, leaving the Curmudgeon wracking his brain for something, anything, that could get him off the hook.

My anything excuse opportunity came up in the last session, where each of the remaining 50 or so jurors were asked a series of qualifying questions. One of these questions inquired whether the juror had any "moral objection" to serving on a criminal case. Since it was to be a trial of a two-bit heroin dealer, many of my fellow New Yorkers jumped on this opportunity to repeatedly assure the judge that they were so morally opposed to drug laws that was simply no way they could impartially serve on a jury, so very sorry. I was tempted to jump up and scream "well, then what have you actually done in the past year to protest these horrible laws? Have you written a letter to your Congressman? Have you made a contribution to NORML??? Have you carried a sign in protest??? Or, did you decide to save up all of your righteous indignation about NYC drug laws for the one opportunity where it would do the most good, ie- getting you out of jury duty?!?!?!?!?"

The Curmudgeon is no fan of many drug laws, either. And he is no enemy of anyone who has a righteous cause and the guts to stand up for it. But when it came my turn and I had to decide between insincere whining about moral objections, and taking my chances with the roulette wheel of selection, I held my tongue...

After all of this, there were only about 25 folks left to choose from- more like a 60% chance. Back out in the hallway, waiting for the judge and attorneys to make their fateful selections, I struck up a brief conversation with someone who would ultimately become known as "Juror Number Four". She looked at me with extraordinary eyes that transformed her pretty face into a strikingly beautiful face, and solemnly proclaimed "I am gonna get picked. And so are you".

She was right, on both counts. More later on the trial itself.