Naked neighbors with illegal gas grills

When Karen, the boys and I moved back to NYC in late 2007 leaving a four-bedroom home on a ½ acre of land in Massachusetts and squeezing into an Upper West Side Manhattan 2-bedroom apartment, we had to lose the cat and the gas grill.  I was over the cat after about three weeks.  I still pine for the grill.


Lest you think me some feline hater, let me assure you that in addition to having a healthy respect for all lesser species—having faithfully watched Animal Planet’s “Untamed and Uncut” show with the boys on Saturdays, and seeing on Nickelodeon what an unruly yellow sponge can do to a quiet sea bottom village when in collusion 042209kentuckianawith a reckless starfish—I also had a Siamese cat named Pip for 21 years.  Well, Mom and Dad had him, but I was there for his first ten years or so until I left for college.


I love animals.


I cried when my grandfather’s English setter named Dickie died—Poppa had three in a row from this breed, all named Dickie.  When I was in first grade, I used to sit next to Poppa’s brown leather recliner in the library while watching TV and seeing the smoke from his filterless Camels form a ceiling at around three feet above the floor, and I would stroke Dickie’s fringe on his forearms.  Poppa instructed me to say, “Nice fringe, Dickie.  Nice fringe.”  So I’d do that for an entire episode of “I Love Lucy.”  Probably drove Poppa batty, but Dickie loved it.  I found it soothing.


As an adult, I had a black and white cat named Bandol, who died of some disease I can’t even remember when he was five.  I had to make the decision to put him down.  One of the toughest things I’ve done, since the day before he went into a tailspin he was as lively as a teenager.  There was a chance he would have survived a little longer, but at the time it seemed the most humane thing to do.  There are many cruel leaders and people in this world I’d like to put down, especially if the outlook is good for them to have a long life.  But Bandol…that was a tough one.  I lived with that for a while.


It was in fact a black and white cat whom we had to give away before moving to West 84th Street.  We got him for Bennett’s sixth birthday, for he had desperately wanted a cat, and we knew it would make him supremely happy. Karen had scoured Craig’s List and other online ads, and we found “Figaro” from a woman about 25 minutes from us.  She was single and was moving back home and had to find him a new family to live with.  Karen and this young lady hit it off, and she gladly let us become the new keepers of Figaro.  He was about a year old, and when we presented him to Bennett, the young boy’s eyes popped and a smile of complete abandon and surprise lit up his face.  He couldn’t believe a live animal was in his home, to stay, and was his to take care of.  He renamed him “Oreo” on the spot.  Oreo adjusted to his surroundings and came out from under the couch after ten days, and we all grew to love him.  Bennett loved to play with him, especially with this feather-thingy on the end of a plastic stick that he would jump five feet in the air and twist toward in order to bite it.  He was a wonderful playmate to all of us, with Bennett and Karen becoming the closest to him.  I even forgave the little critter’s habit of leaving dark hairs all over my nice sleeping couch, because he ravished me so with his slow blinking eyes when I stroked his sleek black back and vibrated my hand with his 8-cylinder purr.


Next summer, I took a new job and started commuting from Boston to New York each week.  By November, we had found a great brownstone apartment on the Upper West Side, yet there was a catch.  Because of the building’s forced air, everyone could hear and smell the floor above and below.  Therefore:  no smoking (not a problem), and no pets (problem).  I learned this at the lease-signing.  After some conversation and with Karen’s full assent, I signed nonetheless, and we made plans to break the news to Bennett.


Thirty minutes passed and Karen called me when I got back to work.  “Is it too late to change our minds?” she says, and I hear wailing in the background.  “Bennett is absolutely heartbroken [this boy was not one to get overly emotional about things under normal circumstances] and is weeping uncontrollably, saying that we can’t move without Oreo.  Is there any way we can get out of this lease?”


The good thing about the phone is that the caller cannot see the callee’s facial reaction.  I am good at controlling my voice but my face wriggles like jello when I receive news or communication data that I find disagreeable.  My Dad told me that my dimple always betrayed my lies when I was a child, and my frustration or anger as an adult have always shone through with some less cute feature.


“Let me call our real estate agent—” I started, figuring I was buying some time and also could have him play the heavy, “—and I’ll call you back.”


I called the guy, a single man, and after explaining the situation and asking if we were locked in, he asked me if I was familiar with a particular book on parenting that Karen and I had skimmed early in our life with kids, eight years prior.


There was a pause, mainly for me to take in that I had just heard a single man at least ten or fifteen years my younger suggest I read a parenting book because I was trying to understand how watertight our lease was in light of my middle son’s meltdown 250 miles away, which I could not witness or be there for to comfort him or his mother.


I felt like putting this man down like a sick cat.


“I don’t think you understand the situation,” I said.


We ended the conversation on a positive note, and he wrote an email immediately apologizing for any offense.  He’s a good man and made a good book recommendation but at a lousy time.  Oh… Having child custody trouble?  Have you ever seen Kramer vs. Kramer?


We were locked into the lease, and regardless of that, Karen and I loved the apartment and knew the neighborhood worked for the boys because of the school, so Oreo had to go.  This all transpired in early November 2007.


Fast forward a month later.  Moving day.  Everything has reached 84th Street on the truck with Gentle Giant, a company we’ve used twice (local and interstate) and which I highly recommend.  By the way, never…NEVER…use a NYC-based company that has ever done business as “White Glove Moving and Storage.”  My brother and I got scammed by them but bad, and this time I interviewed no fewer than ten movers.  (Karen will tell you that I am normally not one to shop around:  Need a white cotton button down shirt for work?  Go to Filene’s Basement, laser-direct the eye sockets toward the shirt bin, find a 17 neck on a shirt that’s not a blend, purchase at the nearest cash wrap even if it’s in women’s lingerie, and you’re in and out in less than four minutes.  Shopping with me is like the Navy SEALs extracting a hostage from Menswear.)


So back to Moving Day.  I get a call from Karen.  She is in NYC receiving the truck while I am in Massachusetts with the kids.


“Please go online and check the website,” she says.  “I don’t know if we can have gas grills here.”


I have been assuring her for weeks that it won’t be a problem.  I even went online before the move and learned that you can’t transport a propane tank across any bridges or through tunnels.  I took care of that and got rid of ours, leaving just the grill.  I’ll get a new tank, I figured.  They’re only about $25.  The information on tanks was in the first paragraph about grills and as most men will tell you, the first paragraph of anything—the owner’s manual to the Honda Odyssey, the claims section of my Health Plan—is the only part you really need to read.  The rest is intuitive.  Unfortunately, intuition helps more with automotive mechanics and dealing with customer service agents than with the New York City municipal code.


I go back online.  Deeper into the text it states that gas grills may not be used within 20 feet of a structure in Manhattan.  Charcoal grills okay.  Gas grills, bad.  Our terrace extends about 12 feet.  The people across the courtyard have a gas grill on a terrace that is about three feet wide and to date (now 18 months after moving here) no one has been led away in handcuffs—neither for that nor for the two times my kids have seen naked women prancing around in front of the window, once while dusting appliances and lamps.  Then again, such activity is fully legal and even encouraged in some circles.


But I, the intuitive yet legalistic type, decide the risk isn’t worth it and having realized the Law is against me, say to Karen, “Give it to the movers.”


I realize now we could have brought it up onto our terrace and sold it later to someone in Queens with a backyard—or I could have sold it to the Naked Duster with the three-foot terrace since she is a lawless hussy.  But I wasn’t thinking straight and I wanted to get the move done then and there.


It was a blue and silver Vermont Castings.  After buying it from Home Depot, I spent four hours in my backyard assembling it.  And I am not handy.  But for this tool, I made an exception and did a stupendous job.  It was a beauty.  On it I had prepared many a steak, chicken, fish, even lobster, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes, of course scads of hamburgers and hotdogs and sausages.  It was what you did in the summer.  It was the collecting place around which men stood.  And talked.  Flipped.  Presided.  A grill is where you, the Grill Chef, determine how well your family eats and what they eat and how pleasurable the evening turns out for them and any guests.  A grill is infinitely more precious to me than, say, a farm animal that cannot comprehend that it is better off marinated and then seared to perfection.  Hear me: a well prepared steak is that cow’s destiny, even its complete sanctification.


A cat?  Well, in my culture I would not eat one, nor have I heard how they do when blackened.


Oreo would have either jumped off our terrace (four flights up), or ran onto the roof and escaped to another building (ours and five others are connected roof to roof) or simply died somehow of some death and made us all miserable.  That’s the way these things with animals happen.  I would have cried.  Karen would have cried.  Bennett would have cried for days.  Instead, we found Oreo a wonderful home with our neighbors in Massachusetts, who had two cats which became wonderful playmates.  For about a month, that is, until Oreo started terrorizing the female cat so that she peed on our neighbors’ carpet all the time.  Oreo therefore had to go to another loving home, where he is now.  You see?  Four loving homes.  Lotsa love.




My grill?


Separated forever.


Nobody asks how I’m doing with this.



photo:  kentuckiana


Feeding time

The Central Park Zoo yesterday was packed with families, like our own, who had small children off from school for the week.  The Hassidic families were out in their sartorial splendor, this being Passover week, the men in long black silk coats and robes and women dressed in sensible skirt suits, their children often dressed in matching shirts or sweaters.  The Lovely K was getting overheated just looking at all of them in the 75-degree+ sun.  By 4:00, the entire visitor population, it seemed, was congregated around the sea lion tank, where the three pinnipeds put on a show swimming around their small home and sticking their heads out on cue in anticipation of feeding time.  Around the outer glass wall of the tank – there were two walls with a drainage “moat” in between – people of all ilk hung their arms over the edge and waited:  Hassidic and gentile children whose heads barely cleared the wall, Hispanic teenagers in sparkly blue NY Yankees ball caps, parents hanging back on the top step of three, chatting with each other and letting the sun warm their faces.


photo:  nikographer


An article in Christianity Today by Philip Yancey discusses God’s writing life.  Yancey comes up with only a handful of examples in the Bible witnessing God actually doing what he identifies as the writing process and, indeed, there are only a few.

But I am not so sure that Yancey defined writing correctly.  Now, Yancey has written many books, all of which have been published and sold well, and which he did not pay for the production of, unlike Yours Truly.  Far be it from me to criticize a published author and, moreover, such a capable thinker.  Yet, Yancey puts too much emphasis for my tastes on the act itself of putting pen to paper.  Or finger to keyboard, if you will.091907pencilidesign-er.jpg

Granted, it is often in front of the screen, or staring down at the paper, where we experience the writer’s block and where we have to really exert ourselves to get down what we only thought about while driving, or doing the dishes, or going to the bathroom.  (Indeed, I have thought many witty and interesting things in all three places, fortunately many of which have ended up on the editing floor of my neocortex.)

I consider writing 90% composition and 10% dictation.  If I have nothing to say, no amount of time in front of the computer is going to help.  You might be wondering this very thing right now about this post.

So this begs the question.  Is God’s writing ability only visible in the hand of God writing the Ten Commandments, or a finger on a wall in the book of Daniel, or Jesus writing on the ground, which constitute the examples Yancey points out?  Certainly not.  God composes all the time.  Take the Bible itself.  It is the “Word of God.”  Sure, written by a number of different people, but people who were inspired by God’s Spirit to write what He had in mind.  Now, this isn’t exactly dictation, but it’s awfully close.  And when you get in the zone with writing, even if it is a sonnet about loving a woman, it feels totally inspired, like you’re being carried along on a cloud that is zooming past mountains you’ve never seen and next to waves crashing on the seashore of thought.  It is the greatest adrenalin rush.

And that’s just the written Word.  What about nature?  Another article I saw in Brewing Culture quoted 19th century landscape painter Asher Durand as saying, “It is God who made the universe.  Nature is a Scripture.  The pious landscape painter who learns to read it rightly is thus a kind of priest.”  Paul’s letter to the Roman church says that nature speaks about God’s existence, so that people have no excuse not to believe in God.  Nature, in a real sense, is like an open book of all kinds of truths about God.  And God penned it from creation.

Here’s the coolest part.  Have you ever read a really good biography?  I have.  Not only do you learn about the main subject, but you also learn about the life and times around the person being written about, so you get a 360-degree view of that person’s walk through the 40, 60, 80 years of life they had.

You and I are stories writ large.  We are living stories that will one day have a final chapter and the words THE END closing the time we lived on earth.  God will have written these stories:  we are each the main characters in our own stories and also the co-author.  If we cooperate with God, if we write it with his help, the story has a happy ending.  If we run away from the screen, from the paper, it doesn’t.

At many points in our individual stories, a character named Jesus Christ comes knocking at the door, looking to get in to the central plot.  If we allow God to write in that plot development, then the rest of the story goes in one direction.  If we deny entrance of that character, then the story goes in a different direction.

God is composing; we are helping to write.  As the scribe to our own story, we will ultimately be able to “own the rights” to our own biography.

photo:  idesign-er