In yesterday’s strained metaphor of a post I remarked that it was “safe to breathe,” though in doing so I completely failed to account for, you know, this:
Obviously depending on where you live it may not be safe to breathe, so please rest assured I didn’t necessarily mean that literally:
Furthermore, in that same post I mused about the state of New York City, and yesterday I took the kids down to Central Park. This was the first time in months we’ve taken the subway more than a few stops–not because of health concerns, but because until recently all the places we usually visit by subway have been closed.
As we rumbled and rattled along beneath the streets of Manhattan, I heard the familiar snap of the door between cars latching shut, followed by a vocal trio who launched into a soulful if not entirely on-key rendition of “I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners. There are plenty of subway performers and panhandlers who will make you want to pull the emergency brake, smash the window, and go fleeing into the dark recesses of the tunnels (fire-and-brimstone preachers come to mind), but this was the sort of interlude I’ve never minded indulging, and that I hadn’t realized I missed.
As they made their way through the car soliciting donations, one passenger proffered a bill. “God bless you,” the performer replied, offering up his forearm for one of those Pando-era elbow taps. The passenger raised his own, then seemed to think better about making physical contact, and after a moment’s hesitation he withdrew it again. “It’s okay,” the passenger said, by way of declining the gesture. In that moment of near-normalcy I felt like the stalled engine of New York City was straining to turn over, and it had nearly fired, but that the gap in the spark plugs was still a bit too large to overcome.
Later, in Central Park, after gawking at the captive animals (and some of the free ones, namely the rats, perhaps forced to forage more aggressively due to the dearth of food-dropping tourists), we came across a puppeteer who regularly performs just past the entrance to the Children’s Zoo. We’ve watched him a number of times over the years, and if you’ve ever traversed the city with kids in tow you may be able to relate to how grateful I always am for the entertaining respite he offers. (This is him, by the way; if you ever need someone to make a bunch of kids laugh their asses off I recommend him highly.)
The puppeteer had just finished a show and was sitting alone on a bench, his last audience having scattered to the playgrounds and climbing rocks.
“Are you doing another show?,” I asked.
“I was planning to leave at 4, but if you want a show sit down,” he gamely replied
We sat, and he began to perform, his voice slightly hoarse from hours of making children laugh but his performance no less spirited for it. I was self-conscious about having waylaid him just before he was going to punch out for the day, but another kid showed up, and then a few more, and soon I relaxed and enjoyed the encore. YouTube feeds kids videos all day, and I’ve long reconciled myself to the fact that we live in an age of digital, algorithmic entertainment. (Hey, when I was a kid they said watching TV was bad for you, but hear I am and obviusly my braen still works grate.) Nevertheless, I’m grateful to live in a place where kids can still wander into a real-life show put on by a real-live person just for them, and where talented people are still compelled to do it.
Tomorrow is September 11th. I remember a lot about that day in 2001, but two things stand out: watching people leap from the Towers as I stood on Greenwich Street; and meeting friends at a restaurant in Brooklyn the next day. When I remember the restaurant I remember how hard we all laughed–not at what had happened, obviously, but at all the usual stuff you laugh at when you meet friends at restaurants and the drinks start to flow. I cringe when I remember laughing while you could still smell the burning from across the river, but I also understand why we laughed–because it was so fucking awful and what else could you do? Sometimes you need to laugh to heal. But today you’re not supposed to gather with friends, because of “social distancing,” and you’re not supposed to laugh, because laughing expels fomites.
I was still buzzing a bit from my visit to Central Park yesterday, so this morning I headed back down there for my morning ride. (I haven’t ridden there since May, when I was set upon by an angry Frederica.) It was raining, so I rode my be-fendered Milwaukee:
A month or so ago I gave the bike a thorough cleaning. Not only did I finally change the bar tape (they only had grey; I like the way it looks but it was already dirty by the time I finished putting it on), but I also replaced the chain. However, when I went to ride the bike it skipped, and so I swapped the wheels for the Scaryums from my Litespeed–which are Campagnolo, but close enough. The cassette was not new, but I figured it was not nearly worn enough to skip skip with a new chain. Well, it did. But damned if I was going to spend actual money on a new cassette. (Plus, usually when your cassette is too worn you can feel it with a new chain, but besides skipping under load the chain ran smoothly and quietly on every cog.)
While cleaning the bike I’d noticed there was a distressing amount of play in the derailleur pulleys. Thinking maybe that could be causing the skipping, I swapped them with the pulleys from an Ultegra derailleur I had laying around. Put them on, went for a ride…skipped. Next I checked to make sure I’d installed the chain’s quick link right, which I had. Then finally it occurred to me to inspect the chainrings, which, wouldn’t you know it, were worn to the point they resembled shark’s fins.
I just so happened to have an Ultegra compact crank in my vast parts holding, so I put that on last night, and finally we seem to be running smoothly. (I did get an errant skip or two towards the end of my ride, but not under load, and I suspect that’s probably just a combination of the Campy/Shimano not being 100% compatible and the heavy rain, which always does funny things to shifting.) In the process of getting the bike back into running order I’ve also unintentionally upgraded it both mechanically and aesthetically, and while the rear fender line still looks like shit I daresay the grey tape, the black and red wheels, and the grey crank have smartened it up considerably.
Of course by the end of the ride it was filthy again, and I give it until December before it reverts to a grimy mess But nothing lasts forever, does it? And a little grime never hurt anybody.