Tofu Scratch Parade

October 14, 2010

One is often the most productive the more one has on their plate. Sometimes it feels like you gotta go out shopping for dishes, but the more you juggle the more things you might clearly and leanly scratch off the list without having to get too scratched.

There are signs all over the campus of Queens College instructing students how to successfully wash their hands.

After all, the swine flu did first pop-up in the QC neighborhood, as it also did at St. Bridgid’s School around the corner from my old apartment in Wyckoff Heights. But surely grammar school kids are wiping boogers on the same sign in school toilets all over town.

In Hell’s Kitchen last Sunday, I encountered a Peruvian parade, the Hermandad de del Señor de los Milagros de New York in Hell’s Kitchen.

Gray Line is advertising tofu on its buses. I hope some of the tofuvenues are going to the union dues on my paycheck.

I have been hosting a radio show on the campus station, WQMC, which is livestreamed at, every Wednesday eve at 9:15PM for about an hour after class. I’m not sure if anyone except my mom and a few friends are tuning in, and my Aunt Jennie in Ohio,and my brother in Redondo Beach, CA. who archives all the shows – thanks Fud.  All in all, it’s a blast to host The Roister Show, which sets out a palimpsest of music, schpiels, mash-ups and comments by your host Roister.  I haven’t had much time to incorporate interviews, and the phone lines are screwed up in the studio so a call-in session is TBA. The guys in charge, Amrish and Juan, are good guys and run a whambang show down there in the bowels of the Student Union. Tune in people: Weds at 9:15!!!!.  All you QC Knights, let the Roister Show know of any campus doings or announcements you want shouted out on air. It’s not Pump of the Volume, alas, but it also isn’t The Z Morning Zoo.

Last week, the campus was looking fit and ripe and prime.

The Bigot Spigot

October 14, 2010

The headquarters of Gray Line Bus Tours is at 777 Eighth Avenue, between 47th & 48th St.  In the 1970s, the building was a movie theater, Hollywood Cinema, that screened gay porn, and in the 1980s switched to playing revival flicks, but still promoted the second floor theater as the Night Shift, an “all male theatrical center,” which also offered a free continental breakfast to ticketbuyers.  Today, the second floor twin theaters remain intact, with seats and movie screen.  In one theater, which Gray Line advertises as the Blue Diamond, ticketed tourists are given a private show by a Broadway performer.  The other theater is where the tour guide staff hang out in between tours.  We call it the “lounge” or the “theater” or just “777.”

In the theater, I usually have made it a habit to stay quiet when most of the other tour guides talk with each other.  But I do listen, which is something most guides find it impossible to do, and end up blabbing to each other without response, like a batting cage or a one-way time machine.  There is often company gossiping and kvetching and exaggerating.  Other times the banter is highly entertaining and abstrusely informative.  Either way, no matter how alienated the vibe may seem, it never gets too ugly, just weird.

The other day I was alone in the theater with another guide, who sat a couple rows behind me.  I sneezed and he said god bless, and then asked why I held in my sneeze rather than let it out.  I said basically because it was less messy.  Eventually we started talking.  The exchange turned out to be a prime example of why I usually make it a rule to keep silent – it was weird and it was ugly.

This guide has worked for the company a long time, and though I’d see him ambling about 777, snapping caustic one-liners about the epically absurd rigmarole all employees of Gray Line can relate to, I never talked to him.  A few weeks earlier, when I was doing tours with the driver Mamadoo, this guide stopped by the bus. Mamadoo, born in Paris, his parents from Mali, had a laugh over how he thought he looked like Larry David, the comedian and co-creator of Seinfeld. “You watch Curb Your Enthusiasm?” Mamadoo asked. Mamadoo is a big fan.  The guide – I’ll call him LD – didn’t watch TV.

Talking this day in the theater, LD asked what me what a libray science degree entailed, what library science meant. I shuffled a bit in my description until finding the right terms, feeling that this is a question I should have a dense and succinct answer to. I boiled it down to organizing information so that it is most available to seekers of that information, etc.  As an example of the sensitive gravity of the field, I mentioned that it seems to be a pattern that often political regimes which commit the most heinous atrocities also keep the most detailed records of their acts.  LD used this to mention that Hitler “didn’t exactly have a bad idea.”  And suddenly the conversation was no longer about information science.  LD stressed a caucasioid bias against many different American ways of life, specifically Muslims, and generally non-Christians.

I do not usually engage most tour guides in conversation, but when I do, the odds favor that I will encounter a certain disturbed and anti-social psychology. For a few minutes I talked honestly about the job and about school, and LD was prompted to talk honestly too, about an ostensible belief in white supremacy.  He was calm in his enunciation but a suppressed rage roiled in him.  He hadn’t had fun on the bus in years and despised his passengers.  Did he think I was going to go along with all his bullet points of bigotry? No – he just realized he had an innocent listener, and this was a guy who no one listened to.  The irony of course is that his job is to talk to people.  After after a few minutes sniffing the rancid gust of LD’s temperament, I just turned back around to reading the newspaper, mumbling to myself (which is also a symptom of several tour guides, talking to themselves) . . . what the fuck?

New York City of course is a breeder of both enlightened civil consequence and violent prejudice.  A city this multi-ethnic and so fused with wealth and working class, is a pressure cooker.  LD is swallowed up in it, a mite in the teeth of the kracken, and for a few moments he exposed the dark depths in which people foresake human compassion and pragmatic sense, when they have given up common soul.  Clearly a weak man with a helpless mind, LD lashes out against minorities out of belief in his own existential captivity.  Might give him meaning – grossly – and he ends up posturing his negativity as a matter-of-fact.   You can’t argue with such a person – he is not arguing, just whining – but I could see him opening his mouth to the wrong person and rightfully getting his ass kicked.  LD gave a tour of his stance against the world, and I wanted off the bus at the first stop.  It’s an oral history that won’t make it into the Gray Line Archives, unless they got the theater rigged with secret microphones.

Office Spaced

October 1, 2010

Besides part-time work as a double-decker bus tour guide, I am a legal assistant at a small landlord-tenant law firm on Fifth Avenue up the block from the Flatiron Building.  The spare characterlessness of the office space is a result of the obsessive-compulsive habits of my boss, a single practitioner.  All white walls with a few generic framed photographic prints of the old city, not a trace of knickknacks, a set-up of individuality without individualism: the product of a seasoned, smart and sometimes undealable New York control freak.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, 1909Last week the office got a call from a former employee, recently laid off from a big firm, who wanted to see if there was any work to pick up, and there was.  The woman hasn’t worked here in 5 years, and so for her first days back on the 17th floor of the Croisic Building, I ended up training her as a new old employee.  The training was surprisingly fundamental – she took overly detailed notes about tasks which she herself had showed me how to do when I started work there in 2004.  I made a joke, “you must really have blocked this whole place permanently out of your mind!”  Except it wasn’t so funny.  In keeping with the pallid countenance of the office – staid, track-lit, no music, shelves of leather lawbooks unconsulted – nothing had really changed except a faster computer, an updated MS Word and the use of a scanner.  No new clients, no new verbiage, no new forms lists, no new furniture.  I re-trained the step-by-step processes as if for a first time to an old employee now new who had showed me the same the first time.  Duly perplexed, I fought the urge to denigrate the common senses of people.  In NYC, one fights that urge much much, it can easily become a dangerous game played with one’s own good faith, dug into the synapses like bedrock for skyscrapers. I suppose it was my own common sense, to have put myself in this schizoid circumstance, which I really questioned.

As a countersignature, my desk does yield a transcendental view of Madison Square Park and the full Venetian ziggurat of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, built in 1909 and the tallest building in the world for four years.