A Letter to the Pedestrians of New York City

The umbrella you will lose anyway

Dear Citizens,
We can all agree that it was raining this evening, and lightning was seen from some parts of the city. At times the downpour was strong. Those of us who paid careful attention to the forecast may have been more prepared for the rain than those of us who did not.
Nevertheless, I would like you to consider giving up your umbrellas.
First, in the interest of public safety, consider the eyes that will go un-poked-out when you no longer stab passersby in the face. Give a thought to the unsprained ankles dangling there on the legs of the people who will no more need to dive out of your, unseeing way. Think on the empty lost-and-found shelf of your favorite restaurant, the library, and the subway, no longer required to store your forgotten umbrellas.
Next, know that your second hand is henceforward free! Now you can carry your lunch, your handbag, your gym bag, your groceries, your WNYC bag full of library books, your briefcase, your tool box, and your huge and heavy shopping bag full of new sheets from Bed, Bath & Beyond.
You will not dissolve in the rain, New York. Lift your eyes from the pavement and let the raindrops land on your eyelashes. Allow the rain to run down your cheeks. Feel the mile traveled by earth’s evaporated water from the surface of the earth up into our atmosphere and back. Welcome those raindrops back to earth.
You will not dissolve.
Yours truly,
New New Yorker
(Recent Transplant from Seattle)

Another Landlord Story: Appliances

While the stacked washer/dryer unit—which never manages to empty itself of water and has ominous signs of mold in its interior—seemed certain to be the first to fail, it was the ice-maker which had to be replaced not long after we moved in. Its replacement was necessitated by the formation of a glacier in the freezer, and if ever I find a glacier has formed inside my freezer again, I will know not to try to pry the thing open. The oven quit the Monday of Thanksgiving week, requiring a new burner unit, and creating the kind of household emergency so mundane it would barely be worthy of a sit-com, though it was pretty scary for me. In general the hot water situation is like an ancient polytheist religion: quaint, unnecessarily complex, incomprehensible, and frustrating. There is a toilet that flushes with a startling violence.  The room above the furnace/hot-water heater is a consistent 82˚F, perfect for rising bread dough. Most showers are equipped with two separate shower heads, controlled by individual levers, capable of spraying at the same time without overlapping the same sprayed body (unless the person is triple the width of any person in this family).  It’s a rental. It’s fine.
New dishwasher is
different from old
in one respect:
red light on floor
shows it’s on
Before it stopped pumping water out, the dishwasher had been making loud, unhappy-pump noises for a few weeks. Its demise was not unexpected from our point of view. I called the Landlords and She and I discovered that the unit would need replacing since it was not worth a repair.  She and I had two separate conversations where I assured her that ten years is a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher.  A replacement was arranged for, and being an updated version of the same model it would fit perfectly, as would the decorative front panel.
The following Monday we had an appointment for a new unit to be delivered and installed. The Landlord had paid in advance. Two guys arrived and got to work, and I did the sensible thing and stayed the hell out of their way.  It was at this point that I heard vigorous, fast-tempo, insistent knocking on the front door, and though I was only a few feet away I was unable to open the door before it burst open.
There is a sit-com scene where the landlord walks in to the apartment right after delivering his quick, signature knock, and the studio audience (or laugh-track) lets you know that he does it all the time. In the sit-com, this drop-in character will be wacky, and a reliable source for laughs.  While our Landlord is wacky, you do not really laugh at him; you might miss something.
First, he wanted to know if everything was going to be okay. He had to shout to get the attention of the two guys, and they did not really understand his question. Next, he asked if ten years was a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher. Again, he had to shout and ask the question several times. The two guys assured the Landlord that ten years was a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher, and got back to work. Lastly, he asked them if there were spare parts that we should keep from the old unit.  At this point the two guys did not answer even after being shouted at.
The Landlord turned to me and with a twinkle in his eye informed me that his dishwasher is 81 years old. He continued and said that he heats the water for dishes on his wood stove and washes everything by hand, because he has an abhorrence of chipping dishes. He may have actually gone on to tell me about brain scans, the strength of his fingernails, and how he had been a sharpshooter as a lad, but I was in such a hurry to have something else to do that I might have stopped listening.  When you don’t like the wacky landlord character on TV, you just change the channel.

Yet Another Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message

I am not just cleaning out my house. The following email did appear in my in-box on the 9th. 
I am a little busy right now, but perhaps one of you, dear readers, will take up the good work of the lord. 

My name is Mrs. Natte James Ray am going on a cancer surgery
today.contact my lawyer, Tell him that I have WILLED 14.258M to you for the
good work of the lord. quoting my personal reference number
JJ/MMS/953/5015/GwrI/316us/uk. I have paid for the state tax on this money
to be transferred to you.
My lawyer’s Name: Barrister stacy miller
Email: stacy_miller50@yahoo.co.uk
Attorney at-Law.
S.Miller & Associates LLP
11 Staple Inn Buildings,
London WC1V 7QH,
United Kingdom
Dear friend

That bit at the end really gets me. Interrupted? Copy pasta error? Artistic license?

A Busy Day

Yesterday, around 1:20 p.m. my husband Otto submitted his resignation from Microsoft, effective immediately.  
He texted me at 1:21, but I was having lunch with a couple of former students of mine, and I did not see his message until about 2:10.  It was a one-word message, “Swordfish.”  When I did see it, I burst out laughing (so much for the sneaky glance down at my iPhone). 
At 1:22 p.m., local technology journalist Brier Dudley’s blog post went up. 
At 3:37 p.m., Otto got a text from my brother’s ex-wife saying, “The ex-sister-in-law is always the last to know…” For at least part of the afternoon yesterday, it was the lead story on the Seattle Times online. I feel perfectly terrible thinking about her sitting at her desk at work, opening another browser tab to check the news, and seeing Otto.
Of course, it has been in the works for a while. Otto is leaving a company in which he has invested his last 18 years, and a decision like this came after months of uncertainty.  Until we were absolutely sure it was happening, we had to assume that he would stay at Microsoft and life would continue as before.  
I imagined the outpouring of goodbyes and good wishes from colleagues and former bosses, including a whole bunch of people who left Microsoft a year ago or five years ago. I did not imagine that four or five new articles generated by paraphrasing the original would appear by dinner time.  
The interview with Brier Dudley states “Berkes is leaving for another company outside of the Seattle area but he wouldn’t say which one.” At 5:51 p.m. Tom Krazit of mocoNews.net reported, “He’s leaving to join a Seattle-area startup, according to the Times.” At 6:10, Todd Bishop wrote on GeekWire.com “Berkes plans to work for another company, based in California, but he isn’t saying yet which one.” I am not at liberty to tell you which one of these is true.
His phone burbled with texts through dinner, his email inbox kept refilling, and he was still receiving calls at 10 p.m. At 10:33 p.m., Otto’s most best-known former protégé showed up at our front door with his girlfriend, and we all went out and I watched them drink martinis until last call. 
Our youngest son, who is 13, was baffled by the interruptions to dinner and the article in the local paper. “Why are they making such a big deal about you?”  he asked. “You’re just you.”


Snakes are easy pets.  They eat infrequently, and their poop, while nasty, also occurs infrequently.  They require water and special lights on a timer, and a good secure, escape-proof cage.  They appreciate a place to hide, a log to bask on, and being left alone.  You do have to buy a particular kind of bark mulch, because some mulch has naturally occurring chemicals in it that is bad for snakes.  I am busy and unwilling to learn the details of which mulch, relying instead upon the packaging to show me a picture of a corn snake on the bag of mulch.  Once, after buying a bag of the appropriate mulch, I dumped it into the snake’s cage only to find that there was a baby snake in it.  Now I think of myself as an unsqueamish person, but a surprise snake made me scream.  I went and found the house-painter, who was way up a ladder outside and made him hold Basil while I figured out what to do with the stow-away.  The painter was not even politely happy about it.  In the end, we got him his own cage, and named him Moses because clearly he had been trying to lead his kind to freedom.  Moses was no bigger than a pencil, and very wild.  He looked very much like Basil, and for that matter the corn snake on the bag of mulch he came in.  No doubt he found his way there having escaped his cage.