Archive for Woerner

Il Bocca Al Lupo

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2009 by wally426

11-08-2009  Brooklyn, NY

As most of you know, I love subways. Even the odd smells that frequently emanate during summertime, squealing brakes, malfunctioning doors, scratchy intercoms, noisy panhandlers, rush-hour cars packed like sardine cans, sticky floors, wet seats and arrogant Jesus freaks that suddenly start preaching at the top of their lungs. Despite all of this, riding the subway from A to B is usually one of the very few moments of solace I get during hectic work weeks. It’s the one time to quietly listen to music, read a book or simply ponder the past, present and future.

During the early 70’s, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) was having somewhat of a renaissance. After years of neglect, the city decided to revamp the system by renovating stations, introducing new trains, and adding employees to assist riders during their trips. Less than ten years later, these changes became an after thought. The city had lost too much money during the economic downturn and couldn’t fund the MTA. Most projects fell by the wayside and the subways began a slow downturn that has continued into today’s era.

Today, we have a system that is a shell of its former self. Not only has the MTA raised prices, but the service is an absolute mess. If customers want to travel after dark on weeknights or during the weekends, they should expect to take numerous trains where they usually need just one. Express trains run local and most lines have been bastardized to run on others. Basically, all transit maps are null and void because they serve no purpose. I’ve gotten calls from friends who have lived here for years and ended up in odd places because the maps weren’t sound. In a nutshell, nothing can be trusted in the New York City subway system.

To top it off, pension plans for MTA employees have sunk the organization so far in debt, it’s nearly impossible to get out of the red. I hate seeing 70 year-old people standing on a crowded, delayed train, paying more so that 55 year-old MTA employees can live like kings on the city’s arm. The budgets are also terribly faulty, with strange surpluses coming here and there while statements come back bloody during budgeting season. Corruption is rampant. One example I wrote about earlier this year concerned the Atlantic Yards project. For land that was appraised at $214 million, the MTA took the absolute lowest bid of $100 million. When that wasn’t paid, they didn’t break contract and try to negotiate with other parties, they lowered the original amount to $20 million upfront (with the remaining 80 million to be paid over the course of 22 years)!! Who ends up paying for that difference? The commuters who rely on the subways every day. As long as buffoons like Howard H. Roberts continue to head the Authority, the downward spiral will not cease.

Il Boca Al Lupo is an Italian phrase that means “Good Luck”, but literally translates as “into the wolf’s mouth”. The appropriate response to this is Crepi Lupo, or “May the wolf die”. In all my years of riding the subways, I’ve never seen this much chaos and disruption in service. Every time you ride the subways after dark or on a weekend, you’re literally going into the wolf’s mouth and need as much luck as possible to reach your destination without a service change sabotaging your trip. These recent pitfalls have literally turned the NYCTS into a dangerous place… a reeking, craggy, unreliable cesspool of kickbacks and faulty budgets. Considering this, I only have one thing to say about them… Crepi Lupo!

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Sharpsburg

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 17, 2009 by wally426

17-07-2009   Brooklyn, NY

It has not unfrequently been seen that two powerful men would wrestle together and one bring the other down with a heavy fall. The two would quickly rise again, but instead of renewing the struggle, one would turn away in silence from the ring. To the eye it might seem at the moment that no hurt was done, but that a like contest might any day be renewed between them.

All a mistake, it has often proved. Follow the retiring contestant and learn perhaps his singular and unexplained withdrawal from the struggle was his involuntary obedience to the summons of death – that the shock of the fall had ruptured a vital blood-vessel, or stunned the brain with a death-blow; and he was moving off literally a dead man, in sole and silent procession to his fore-doomed funeral.

We believe it is such a case we witness on the Upper Potomac to-day. It was a battle of the giants we had there on Wednesday last. The victorious heroes of Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill, where the Union cause was baptized in fire and blood, met the battle-tired hosts that carried Gaines Hill by storm, and twice sowed with out dead the plains of Manassas. Each army had its best loved leaders, each had its ranks full, each felt that the world watched the struggle, and that all mankind had an interest in the result. Never in all history was a more honorable battle fought. No stragglers limped or crept to the rear. No column gave way save when blown back by the whirlwind of flame from the cannon’s mouth. No regiment, however stript by leaden hail of its officers, was left without a man still worthy to lead it, and no officer was left alone in the field to deplore that he had led cowards to the fight. From sunrise to sunsetting, with encroachment at each end of the day on darkness, the earth shook under the mighty battle, and at night the panting combatants rested on the field. The day after, the Union heroes were the declared victors; and in the shades of evening, the vanquished rebels retired from the ground whereon they had provoked the contest, and which they had advertised their own people and the world they meant permanently to hold!

The retreat of the revel army is not its defeat only: it is its demoralization and its death-blow. It marches away as the doomed wrestler does – not to study a renewal of his grapple, but because his heart is sick of the arena from which death summons him; he would “turn his face to the wall” and die! How can the flower of Southern chivalry – the aggregation of Southern strength – the personification of its enthusiasm and daring – meet its appalled Government and people, in its retreat from its supposed victorious invasion? What “spring” is there in all the Southern resources for war to “take up the recoil” of this terrible disaster? An advancing army may gather food and forage from an extended agricultural district, for it commands its own time and rate of progress. A beaten and retreating army can do no such thing; for its movements are compulsory. The goading of artillery in pursuit gives no rest; it has no regard to hunger of horses or men; its order is that of a cruel master, “Onward – onward – to the death!”

We have citizens who bewailed the war for freedom as almost lost, a short time ago, so much did they distrust the skill and power of our armed resistance to rebellion. Some of them revived but little when the news of Wednesday stirred the hearts of patriots with confidence and joy. When Thursday night found the enemy defeated and flying, the doubters became suddenly fierce to desperation. They demanded, in the name of an outraged country, why the fruits of the grandest victory of modern wars had not been reaped in the capture of 150,000 prisoners, with arms in their hands!

We shall now argue this matter. We have the confidence to declare the battle of Antietam one of the greatest ever fought – its victory substantial and its fruits imperishable. Its effects will be seen and felt in the destinies of the Nation for centuries to come. 

~Anonymous Editorial; NY Times; September 21, 1862

I often think about what life would be like as a soldier during the civil war. Marching twenty miles or more each day, subsiding on meager rations of stale biscuits and gruel, constantly waiting for the next battle. I imagine what the battlefields must have looked like, with such devastation contrasted against the beautiful backdrop of an American landscape. 

Most men who fought weren’t trained soldiers, but they fought with amazing voracity. During battles, traditional English methods of fighting were often used even though artillery had evolved over time. The rifles used during the war between the states had become more accurate, so when two lines of soldiers faced off each volley produced disastrous results.

Men made these suicidal sacrifices using their profound belief in a heavenly paradise that awaited them in the afterlife. There was a notion of a Good Death, or ars Moriendi, that was instilled amongst both Union and Confederate armies. As death was so prevalent, faith and repentance became a strong part of civil war culture, both on the battlefield and within the families of soldiers that had passed on.

The concept of ars Moriendi was never more prevalent than when Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of 51,800 men entered the 13th day of its Maryland campaign. It was the rebels’ first advance into Northern territory, and when it was over the Confederate army would never fully regain its power. Upon hearing of the Northern invasion, president Lincoln sent General George B. McLellan and his Union army of 87,100 to repulse Lee’s advances. The two armies clashed near Antietam creek in the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17th.

For over twelve hours, the battle roared. It was so fierce at one point that a Union general complained he could not hear shouted orders. Another said his soldiers gave and received ”the most deadly fire it has ever been my lot to witness.” A Confederate general said that ”this fearful storm raged a few feet above their heads, tearing the trees asunder, lopping off huge branches, and filling the air with shrieks and explosions.”

The fighting (which was actually three battles rolled into one day) went on from before dusk until after dawn. When it was over, 22,807 casualties would be recorded on both sides – almost four times the amount on D-Day. That Wednesday remains the bloodiest day in American history. A correspondent who visited the field after battle described the scene:

Mangled humanity in all its ghastly forms could be seen on this field; to the left, to the right, behind and before, on every hand the eye beheld the horrors of the field. Mingled with the dead came up to the ear groans of those whose breasts there yet remained a spark of vitality, but whose lamp had nearly expired; the hopeful cases, so far as possible, were removed for medical assistance before midnight of Wednesday; the hopeless cases were allowed to remain upon the field. Some in a perfectly conscious, other in a half conscious state, while more were insensible to all worldly affairs. One of the latter class – a rebel soldier – while we were walking over the field at night, vainly attempted to rise; he had received a wound upon the temple from which the brain protruded; he clutched at the air and a helping hand was extended to him and words of sympathy were spoken, but no sign of recognition followed, and in a moment more the helpless victim fell over upon his face and was numbered with the dead. God grant that we may never witness another such a scene.

As terrible as it was, the carnage inflicted that day was not done in vain. To capitalize on the victory, Lincoln decided to issue the emancipation proclamation as a strategic move. The French and British were considering an offer of support for the rebels as their textile businesses were suffering due to the lack of exported cotton. As outspoken abolitionists, the two countries couldn’t ally themselves with the rebel cause after the proclamation was issued (the issuance essentially differentiated the North as abolitionists as well). This was essentially the “death blow” that crippled the confederacy.

In light of all this, September 17th, 1862 is one of the most important and underrated days in American history. Hopefully we can raise a glass to all of the Union soldiers who gave their lives that day on the battle’s 147th anniversary this year.

Zheng Gu Shui

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by wally426

Vic has inspired me to write some broken poetry. Check out his blog if you get the chance (on the right side with the links). Just a few contemplations from the past week…

Dead Bird Blues:

A gentle flap, then a glide

so graceful, cutting through the thick haze

cool as a cucumber, ice veins pulsing

beak curves into a smirk, it cannot rid the crescent shape

the toothed arrow is quicker, anticipates every feather’s move

quickly it punctures the breast, a puff silences the horns

dead stop and a fall from grace, hoping dashed haze will cushion the fall

to no avail, only hard concrete and soft rubber tires

not soft enough though

the beak rolls to the gutter, still smirking

 

7th Avenue

Steps echo as heels clip the concrete

Rats wake me from a beautiful slumber, they gnaw at my sneakers

Bastards

 

The cave-like existence is swell

Amarous only towards those who lick crumbs from their beards

Malodorous? Me!?

This is what a real man smells like

Dirt. Sweat. Urine. Dust. Tears. Booze.

 

Body is swelling in this seat, wooden nursery school box

Does the MTA try and make them uncomfortable?

Spit lands on Armani shoes

Sorry? Watch where you’re stepping, man

 

The long lost breeze twirls newspaper into an avant garde dance

E and B come at the same time, a lover’s waltz

Must be rush hour again

 

Alert, Nunavut

Up, up, up

Past the snow and grass

Only grey skies and quick clouds visit the compound

The wind speaks in an alien tongue, unsure of its predictable mood swings

Skin is never caressed, only bitten by its lashing tongue

Ten minutes of sunlight break through the darkness

Hundred foot swells of gold wash over the jagged hills and rusting oil cans

Rays bathe the glistening permafrost, crunching lightly under the fox’s foot

It’s a long way down from here

En Verde Veritas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2009 by wally426

 

08-06-2009  Brooklyn, NY

As great as summer in NYC is, sometimes certain things can wear on you  during the warmer months. Shimmering walls close in around you, your shoes melt to the concrete, exhaust from city buses blows in your face, clothes drench through with sweat and relentlessly stick to your skin, horns blare, kids yell and dogs bark. You need someplace that is completely devoid of people. A place where there is a respite from the heat, where cool waters constantly flow. A place where strong breezes tickle the senses, carrying with them the sounds and smells of the natural mystic.

New York has plenty to offer in terms of amazing summer escapes. After a four hour drive up North, you can find yourself in the largest national park in the continental US. I first explored this place after graduating from Miami University in the spring of 2003. Rob (one of my best friends) and I charted a grand excursion through two sections of remote Adirondack wilderness. Being recent college graduates, we thought we had the world at our fingertips and could conquer any obstacle thrown our way. In reality, we had no clue what the heck we were doing. Our preparation was minimal, our food supplies were lacking, our maps were outdated and our cars were one pothole away from falling to pieces. After rendezvousing in Ithaca, we set out into the wilds of Adirondack Park for our week-long adventure.

Almost immediately, the trip began with a calamity. Rob and I had planned on making our first hike an easy one, so we set our sights on the Wolf Lake trail in the southwest sector of the park. In our respective hoopties (my 1992 Mercury Sable and Rob’s 1997 Hyundai Accent), we continued off-road towards the trail-head. The road went from mud to gravel to rocks to boulders and logs. Still, we prodded on into the woods, dodging rocks and sticks as the bottom of our cars scraped along. When we’d finally had enough and pulled into a clearing, we had gone eighteen miles into one of the deepest parts of Adirondack Park. As Rob and I exited our battered vehicles, we were bombarded with swarms of biting black flies. While dodging the swarms, we quickly set up our tents and cooked with the little bit of water we still had. It was at that time Rob looked at me quizzically and asked “What’s that hissing sound?“. The next morning, we would try and make it out of the woods to repair his ailing Hyundai Accent.

Miraculously, we managed to drive 40 miles in my Sable, bumping, scraping, and shimmying our way to Indian Lake and back to get some fix-a-flat. Not only did his tire hold up on the way out of Wolf Lake hell, but managed to last the remainder of the trip until we circled back to Burlington, Vermont, four days later!

After our failed attempt at hiking to Wolf lake, we took a stab at our second planned location – the Pharaoh Mountain wilderness. Here we planned on hiking the entire 19.2 mile loop over the course of three days. We had thought the first spot had tons of dreaded biting black flies, but this place was completely swarmed. Everywhere you turned they were buzzing in your ears, nose, mouth and eyes, biting every bit of skin that lay exposed. We trudged through the muddy trails and decided to go off-trail and make our camp on the banks of a pristine lake. Once the sun went down, we finally got respite from the evil flies. Bowls of steaming hot ramen warmed our bellies as the temperatures dropped. We finished up the meal with a cigar over a roaring fire and talked as the stars blew up the night sky. The haunting cry of loons in the lake lulled us into a fitful sleep. We didn’t know it yet, but we were on a completely different trail and were lost. Until this day we still don’t know where that lake was located.

Despite getting lost a few times and constantly battling the black fly menace, we completed the loop safely and made it out of the woods two days later. We crawled back to our cars, racked by fatigue, soreness, and bug bites, and continued on to Burlington. After finding a hotel with a fitting name (the Hobo), we took long hot showers and headed out to a local Irish pub for a few pints. It was paradise. We realized that most of our conversation during the hike was focused on the simple things we missed most. Pillows, clean clothes, subways, family, rocking chairs, steak, hot showers, cold beer, baseball games, soft beds and driving. One of the best things about being away from the things of man is appreciating the things you love most within the “civilized world”. That night, the beer was perfectly crisp, the steaks were succulent and perfectly charred and the sleep was blacker than an oil slick.

Helter Swelter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2009 by wally426

 

28-04-2009   Brooklyn, NY

Summer seemed to be back, if only for a few days.

Walking out into the unseasonable temperatures, a warm light bathed everything in a hazy yellow glow. The cars slowly passing by on 8th avenue spewed their endless exhaust, bumping the waves of heat to another level. Every memory from past heat waves collectively flooded my mind. It was almost as if summer had never left. I began to run up Mongomery Place towards the park to escape the gasoline fumes.

In the park, maple trees had exploded in a large green swath. The leaves seemed to have come in over night, yawning through fuzzy pods and stretching their fingers wide to embrace the weather. Their memory was long too, this was second nature to them. You burrow in for the winter, toughening up your bark. When the coast is clear and the last frost has dusted the city streets, you let fly the life within you. I tried keeping to the shaded sides of the path, but it provided little respite from the pulsing sun. People flooded every inch of the meadows and paths, floating along as if they were in a dream. We were all waking up again, shedding our thick layer of winter bark and letting our warm skin breathe life.

The memories became clearer now with each passing smell.

The smell of wet pavement took me back to my Nana’s backyard. During the dog days, she would fill up an inflatable pool she had tucked into the garage during the winter months. As she filled it the water would steam off hot cracked concrete and float over the green philodendrons. I could see her smile and perfect white teeth, her shining mahogany hair as the smell lingered for a moment, then faded as I ran on.

People were bar-b-queuing in the meadow, the smell of charred meat and cooked corn was everywhere, enveloping the runners and bikers in a lingering trail of smoke. I remembered my stepfather’s place in Queens. Steve had this hibachi that he and my brother used every weekend. Once a month during the summer I would go out there with my mother and we’d sit on his stoop and cook out all day. We would sit on cheap folding chairs, talk and laugh. Bob Murphy’s grainy voice filled in the gaps of silence as the Mets games blared on the radio. When it got dark, I would throw ants into the smoldering coals. They would sizzle and pop the instant their crumpled bodies hit the pile of hot ash. I didn’t think about what I was doing at the time, but years later I remember feeling terrible about doing that. As I approached the lake, the smell drifted and the memory gradually faded back through the rays of sunlight flooding the new Prospect Park canopy.

Then came the freshly cut grass on the hill overlooking the nethermead. Out of nowhere, the image of a long fairway came from the depths of my memory bank. I lived with my father out on Long Island during the summers in high school. My first job was as a golf caddy at the Hillcrest Country Club. I’m not sure how most country clubs are, but this one was full of snobby awful human beings who would yell at you any chance they got. The physical strain of carrying their heavy bags and keeping your eyes trained on their shanked balls wasn’t nearly as bad as the mental toughness caddies needed to maintain during constant barrages of insults and gripes. If the person you caddied for hit the ball in the water, it was your fault. If they missed a putt, it was your fault. If they hit a tree and you couldn’t find the ball, you didn’t get tipped. There was a great upside though… Mondays. Not only was the course closed, but caddies got to hit the links for free. Most times it felt as if I had the whole course to myself. There was no yelling, no pressure, just peaceful green all around. Even if I played lousy golf, it didn’t matter. After each shot, I would wipe the club face and rub the wet blades of grass between my fingers. It was the best smell… shredded grass, metal, and lingering leather from the club grips. I saw the ball hit crisply down the long verdant fairway, cutting through the morning mist towards the green.

I was at the top of lookout hill and the run was almost over. It was as if I had missed out on the grueling pain of the eight miles my legs had just covered. Those thoughts of summers past had whisked the aches and stitches away. I passed into the farmers market, past the smell of freshly baked bread. I was taken back to another place, my family’s restaurant on Remsen Street… to the summer mornings I would head into school with my uncle Arthur. There was always a sharp smell of freshly baked rolls and blueberry muffins coming from the restaurant in those early hours. I saw my Boopa standing in the kitchen wearing his red t-shirt, a white apron around his waist, thick tortoise-shell glasses hanging firmly on the bridge of his nose. He was smiling at me. I smiled back as I came back through the door of my building, happy that another summer would soon be here…

¡Jugo de Piña!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 23, 2009 by wally426

22-04-2009  Brooklyn, NY

I enjoy a nice stiff drink every so often. Whether it’s the taste of fine peaty scotch or the maple aroma of distilled bourbon, it’s tough to beat a tumbler of neat liquor after a long day at work. As drinking has been cut out of my diet since the marathon training has started, the simple act of having a glass of a choice spirit is one thing I’ve been missing since the ‘drought’ began. A few weeks back, I was over at Victor’s place playing Scrabble with some close friends (yeah, we act like 70 year-olds most of the time). At some point during the night, Victor brought out a bottle of (what looked like) tequila. I recoiled in disgust at the sight of the bottle, remembering nights where the vile nectar had thrown me into a completely unrecoverable stupor. Vic assured me that the bottle’s contents were nothing like Cuervo or Patrón, that it was Mezcal.

In researching the art of making Mezcal, I was taken back when I learned how labor intensive and intricate it was. First, the roots of the blue agave plant are dug up. Mezcaleros (farmers who make the Mezcal) call the roots “Piñas” after their likeness to pineapples. The roots are then buried under a pile of hot rocks and straw mats made of palm. As the mats burn, the smoke flavors the piñas which grow soft and absorbent under the hot rocks. After a day or so, they are dug up and crushed with a stone wheel (usually drawn by a horse). The resulting mash is put into wooden vats with water to ferment. In yet another step to the process, the mash is then cooked in round stills made of clay or copper and all alcoholic vapors are burned off. This last step is often repeated twice. To me, it seemed like the ultimate organic spirit.

 Vic handed over the open bottle to nose it out, and it proved to be unlike anything I had smelled previously. A smoky, delicate, agave-like aroma with a hint of spice which took my senses south of the border. The taste proved equally as magnificent, so smooth and balanced with very little fire. Needless to say, I’ll have to add a bottle of Gusano Rojo to the old liquor cabinet for those cold winter nights.

Abandoned

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2009 by wally426

13-04-2009   Brooklyn, NY

The wind blew hard from the north and made an odd whistling sound through the bars in the decaying fire escape. I took another step and felt my feet give weigh beneath me. My hands held fast to the railing and eventually I swung myself up onto the stairs above. The fragile rusty step couldn’t bear the weight and had broken off, clanging noisily along the crumbling framework three stories below. Luckily, there hadn’t been any people passing by and my presence had gone unnoticed. I jimmied one of the dusty windows open and tried to push open the wooden board which had been nailed over it. The thing wouldn’t budge. I would need to kick it open to get inside the abandoned building. That would make a ton of noise however, so I needed a distraction down below in order to complete the break-in. Less than a minute later, an old bag man came rumbling down the avenue with an overflowing shopping cart. He stopped at the corner and began rummaging through the garbage can, bottles clinking and clanking together as he emptied it. The stars were aligned! With three swift kicks, the wooden board pried loose with a loud squeak and I was able to squeeze into the darkness.

After shimmying through the narrow opening, I fell into a billowing pile, something soft. The smell inside the place was intense, an odd mixture of old books, dust, and bird droppings. Using the LCD light on my camera screen, I saw that I was laying on a huge mess of clothes. The whole room was filled waist-high with them! I walked toward the doorway on this layer of old cloth, it was like walking on a cloud. The low grey light from the LCD cast an eerie glow on everything in the room, shadows danced along the peeling walls as I moved towards the hallway. After walking from room to room, I noticed the place was filled with furniture, books, old records, toys, posters and boxes. Clothes were still neatly hung in the closets, toiletries still stocked the bathroom shelves, dried flower stems hung listlessly in dry vases, even beds were still made. It was as if whoever owned the place had just vanished one day and never returned. Signs of decay were pervasive. Paint peeled off the walls in large uneven swaths, water damage revealed piping in the ceilings and walls, tiles were ripped up and scattered all over the bathrooms, and staircases had splintered after years of neglect.

I wondered if the place was haunted. At various points during my journey through the house, I listened and closed my eyes, trying to feel some sort of presence. Sounds of the house settling and the occasional scurrying of rats was all I heard. If there were any wayward spirits, their intentions seemed to be benign. I imagined for a moment being a spirit trapped in that house, cowering in the darkness of one of the decrepit rooms, sick from the stench of bird shit and fading newspapers, looking out onto the avenue on a sunny day and watching the people pass by below, knowing all the while that I would never be noticed again.

After poking around the rooms, I eventually found my way onto the roof. The absolute stillness up there was incredible. Before my eyes, a beautiful sweeping view of Brooklyn and Manhattan spread out into an infinite matrix. When walking in the canyon between the buildings at street level, it’s hard to notice how residential Brooklyn is. From this vantage point, you see how few buildings rise above four stories. The Manhattan skyline looms like Mount Olympus over Thessaloniki. People once called Brooklyn ‘the bedroom of the city’, and from the roof it was easy to see why. The glow from all of the light pollution cast an orange aura over the buildings, bathing them in a soft haze. The distant street lights hummed and twinkled like stars. City dwellers have a virtual galaxy at our fingertips, we just need to get up above the lights to notice it.

The house moans beneath me, and it’s quite clear that I have overstayed my welcome. I am a flea on the back of a dying dog. I make my way back down from the roof, through the cracking hallways and crumbling staircases, through the room piled high with clothes and back out through the broken wooden plank. With my eyes fixed tight to the ground, I slowly creep down the old fire escape, careful not to step into the abyss my feet created on the way up.