Monday, September 12, 2016

Memories from Firefighter/Volunteer gatherings, New York City, 2001-2002

Fifteen years ago I was living in New York City when the World Trade Center attacks occurred. The following is taken from notes I wrote in 2001 and 2002, when I met and talked with firefighters who were working on the site, which they first referred to as “the pile”, and later called “the pit.”

I volunteered for the Red Cross in November 2001. We served meals at the Marriott World Financial Center, just south of the World Trade Center site, where meeting rooms were turned into rooms of food, recliners, and other amenities for the firefighters, construction workers and police … everyone working at the site.

The room was filled with letters and cards from kids and adults from around the world, that were sent to the rescuers. The rescue workers did sit and read them. Some wanted to talk, some looked like they just wanted some quiet.

When a firefighter dies, everyone goes to the funeral. Firefighters from Canada came to New York to help attend funerals.

Fireman Tom started organizing parties to thank the volunteers, having firefighters and volunteers meet at bars and pubs around the World Trade Center, giving business to the local bar owners who were suffering. For many months, I attended these casual fireman/volunteer gatherings, having a beer and talking with the firefighters. I had written down some of the pub’s names: Brady’s, Rosie’s, Suspenders, The Roadhouse. Don’t know if any are still in the neighborhood, 15 years later.

Talking to an older battalion chief, I was asking what they were going through, and what he did when he wasn’t fighting fires. He talked about his sailboat that he keeps out on Long Island, and he likes to go out alone on his boat for peace and quiet.  He talked about what they were finding, and I said I was interested to hear about it, but if he didn’t want to talk about it, that was okay.  He said, no, it’s probably better I talk to you about it rather than bringing it home and telling my wife and kids about it. I was glad I could be of some little help.

I remember hoping these guys find someone to talk to. Several told me they don’t talk to their wives or families about what they are seeing and going through. They don’t want to burden them.

Young firefighter was in his car, not working that morning. Turned around, headed back in to grab his gear and go help. In the Bronx, he ran into traffic, and had a hard time getting into Manhattan, as they weren’t letting people in. He showed his badge, and got in. He got stuck in traffic for around 10 minutes. He finally got downtown, grabbed his gear at the firehouse, and was running down towards the burning towers. He was several blocks away when the first tower fell.  All he kept thinking was if it hadn’t been for the traffic jam, he’d be in the tower by now.

Fireman was in his back yard, on 9/11, getting ready to paint his house, a beautiful morning, when he got a call, and… now, months later, he felt it was stupid, but he’s afraid on a nice morning, to go back out to his yard and get ready to paint.  I assured him that wasn’t stupid.

One man said their firehouse lost 7 firefighters, and had only found a few remains. One man was identified, they found his leg and recognized the tattoo on his leg.

Retired firefighters looking for their sons.

One firefighter lost 21 friends, and many more acquaintances.

Very soon, all they were finding were bones.  Raking through the dirt looking for bones.

The firefighters I met were tough, blue-collar type guys, with a love for their work, a positive spirit; they’re there to help people, to put out fires.

I have often wondered if it’s testosterone that causes men to often get some sort of adrenaline rush from charging into battle, wars, violence. But firefighters apply that drive for good, they run into burning buildings, charging into a fire, running into battle, but to help people, to save people, not to hurt people.

One said, a good day is when you have fires to go to and take care of. It’s a bad day for the homeowners, but a good day if you’re a fireman.

One loves working in the poorer neighborhoods, because the neighbors really know them, they get calls for help by lots of neighbors… and more fires to help with.

I don’t remember exactly what we were laughing and joking about, but with self-deprecating humor, one fireman told me, “Well, they call us New York’s Bravest, not New York’s Smartest.”

I asked one young firefighter, on your one day off, will you rest? No, he was going to Vermont, to go skateboarding.

I danced with a firefighter who was a good dancer... he may have had a few too many beers, but the other guys seemed to look out for him and make sure he was okay.

So many of them really love their jobs. They can’t think of anything they’d rather be doing.  One fireman said, all he ever wanted to be was either a policeman, a fireman or a cowboy.  He started studying to be a cop, didn’t like it, switched to firefighting, loves it.  “As far as the cowboy thing, I listen to country music, so I figure I’m covered.”  I guess if you live in NYC and want to be a cowboy, listening to country music is the closest you can get.

Most firefighters work other jobs, mostly construction.  We decided, if you are going to build a house, you may want to check your local firehouse, you’re likely to find carpenters, framers, masons ... many crafts are represented.

The firefighters told me, the towers fell to the west, and twisted slightly as they fell, so for example, the north stairwell would be found facing a completely different direction. 

The south tower fell into the Marriott World Trade Center, which had been evacuated, but people died in that building when the south tower fell on it. I later met a man who had worked at that Marriott. His boss was out of the building, but went back in to make sure everyone got out safely. He did not survive.

I remember when the EPA announced within mere days that the air was perfectly safe to breathe down there. There is no way that could be true. That smell in the air of burnt plastic and electrical, with a weird smell of powdered concrete persisted for months. Sometimes even many blocks uptown, the subway door would open, and there was that smell. Ugh. It was awful.

Every year in September, I do not need to be told to “Remember” or “Never Forget” the events of September 11th. I was there. It’s still difficult to see World Trade Center images, and I think that will always be true.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Keeping Up

Is it possible to keep up with technology?

Unless it's your full time job, that is.  If you even have a full time job anymore, in this ever-growing freelance kind of world, where the only people who get any help seem to be the billionaires and the giant corporations who appear to be destroying the world with their greed.

Check your email, check Facebook, post on Facebook, check Twitter, post on Instagram, on Snapchat, show everyone what you had for lunch, and oh yes, did you start a blog intending to write on it every day? Every week? Every month?

Tapping on your phone while you're walking down the street. Avoiding personal interaction? Avoiding having a face to face conversation with a person? Or it's just easier.  But is it?

Is it possible to keep up?

21st Century Overload.

Monday, August 11, 2014


War is stupid.

Violence is pointless.

Stop it. Everybody. Seriously.

It's the 21st Century. When will we learn that violence solves nothing.

It just creates more violence.

Some people seem to enjoy violence.  I don't understand it.

Destruction is easy. Any idiot can destroy.

Show me you can make something, build something, create something. That is impressive.

Give peace a chance.  It's time.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Song Onomatopoeia - Song-omatopoeia?

If a word that sounds like what it describes is onomatopoeia (POP, POOF, THUD), then what do you
call a song with music successfully matching the feeling of the lyrics?

Best recent example is "Happy" by Pharrell Williams.  The music of that song just sounds happy! When it plays, it's impossible not to find yourself tapping your foot, or bobbing your head, just feeling happy-clappy!  If you need to boost your mood, just play this song. It sounds happy!

Another example of song-omatopoeia (I made that up) is from the Beatles.

"I'm So Tired,"written and sung by John Lennon, is from the White Album, 1968. The song starts and John sounds tired. The music, lyrics and John's voice, all sound so tired.

Not familiar with the song?  Try this link:'m+So+Tired

"I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink. I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink.  I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink.  No no no…… "

Sometimes when I am feeling so tired, I find myself singing this. It perfectly fits the feeling.

What other songs successfully match the feeling of their lyrics with the sound of their music?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Beatles in America - 1964

It was 50 years ago today… The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I was just a kid, but I still remember it. It was the first music I listened to, followed, and saved my money to buy the albums. I think albums were around $4.00 at the time.  I still have a few of my originals: Beatles '65, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road...

If you watch the press conferences from that time, it seemed the press kept trying to trip them up with serious questions, since they were just kids in a pop band… but they always seemed to have witty and clever responses. And remember, they were all under 25 years old when they arrived in 1964.

It's also interesting to remember how shocked people were about their long hair.  Seriously. Look at their 1964 pictures, and think about how shocking this long hair was at the time.  Seems silly today.

A few years later, some religious groups gathered to burn Beatles records, because they decided they were evil, for some reason.  Even as a kid, it seemed silly to me at the time.  Just because they were new and inventive was no reason to fear them. At that time, I actually decided, that as I grow up, I should give new things a chance.  I still think of that today.  If I hear music that I don't like, I try to pause, give it a chance, and try to understand where they're coming from, and what they're expressing.  I still might not like it personally, but everyone has a right to their voice, and their point of view.  Truly inventive, creative people are sometimes not immediately understood, because they're ahead of their time, with new ideas.

I recently read a comment from someone who asked what's the big deal, The Beatles were just another pop group.  But I'm not sure that person realizes the context.  What did music sound like before The Beatles, and what happened after they started writing and performing their own music?

The Beatles Anthology CD's are amazing.  There are 3 volumes, with 2 CD's each. They are chronological, so in Volume 1, you hear some early covers they did of other people's music. As time progresses, they start writing their own music, and you can hear the sound developing. These CD's also include early takes in the studio of music they later released.  I love hearing the process of creativity, so these CD's are amazing as you hear their rough demo tapes then get developed into what eventually became the finished song.

You can probably download the music, without actually having the CD, but the liner notes of these CD's describe what you're hearing, and add a lot to the audio as you listen.

The Beatles changed popular music, and we're still listening, 50 years later.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What's the opposite of Onomatopoeia?

Onomatopoeia is the term for a word or words that sound like what they define.
Examples:  Tick Tock, Kerplunk, Oink, Meow, Plop Plop Fizz Fizz.

My question is, what about a word that is the opposite of what it defines?
Example: Monosyllabic.

Just wondering if there's a word for that...

Monday, February 3, 2014

This is the oldest I've been yet

Every year our birthday gives us a time to reflect.  Sometimes we're happy with where we find ourselves, other times we wish we would have accomplished more by this age… whatever age that is.  It's part of life.

Often we complain about aging, getting older. But once you've known someone who never got the chance to get old, that changes.  For me, when my brother, Michael and my friend, Jana each died before they had a chance to get old, I realized that I could not complain about getting older, in honor of them. They never got to be this old.

Sometimes life is fun, sometimes it's difficult.  Some days are hard, some are easy. But onward we go, because, well, this is all we've got! We strive to keep a balance in life, aim to stay positive, and enjoy the time we have with the people we love. We continue to get older, because that's what we all do.

So, this is the oldest I've been yet, but I hope to get much older before I'm through.
Here's to a great year ahead!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

So Much Time, So Little To Do

Wait... Strike that, reverse it.

This, I believe is a quote from Willy Wonka. It is how I feel about the world lately.  
Too much to do!  Computers were supposed to make our lives easier (weren't they?) but they  just give us more stuff to keep track of.  Access to more information, certainly, but how do we keep track of it all?

We can search the Web for answers to anything.  It is amazing, any question you can think of, someone else in the world has the answer, or has at least asked the same question.  The learning possibilities are endless.  It's exciting. And time-consuming. Especially when one page has an interesting link to another, and then to another, and then you see something else interesting, and that reminds you of another thing you want to look up and then... wait, what was I searching for?

Check emails, read, reply to some, save others till later, until the email box is overflowing, go back through the old ones, and try to remember, why was I saving this? Delete. Delete.  Check your Facebook page, update. Check Linked In, update.  And Twitter. And Pinterest. And all the others I don't use. Watch a video clip. Listen to some music.  Remember to write something on your blog, at least once in awhile.  Send out some pictures. Pay your bills. Check emails again. And Facebook. And Linked In.... it's truly neverending.

How do you keep up with it all?

Maybe it's just me. Some days it's hard to focus.  I have to work on that.  
But first, let me go read that thing I just found...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Speeding Towards The Red Light

When you're driving, and the traffic light up ahead has just turned yellow, then red, do you still step on the gas and speed towards it?  Then at the last minute, do you step hard on your brakes, causing your car to lean forward and then lurch back sharply when coming to a stop?

Why do you do that?  I guess if you're trying to get into the left turn lane in time for the next arrow, I understand it then, but otherwise, it makes no sense to me. If you're trying to beat me to the red light, then, well, congratulations, I guess. You win.

I'm no car expert, but it seems that doing this would cause you to use more gas and wear out your brakes faster.  You're also really counting on your brakes to work perfectly. Luckily that usually happens. But as someone who was once sitting at a red light, and watched in their rear view mirror as a fast approaching car coming from behind DIDN'T manage to stop in time...  well, maybe that's why I'm a bit sensitive to it.  It's just one of my driver pet peeves.

So I guess my advice is, if the light ahead has just turned red, slow down!  You have nowhere to go, and you can save a little gas with a little coasting.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Slower Traffic Keep Right

My mind seems to be on traffic pet peeves these days so here's one more.

When you're on a multi-lane highway or freeway, with at least 3 lanes in each direction, it used to be common knowledge that slower traffic should stay to the right lane, and as cars wanted to drive faster, they would move to lanes to the left.

There were signs that said "Slower Traffic Keep Right" but I don't see those much anymore. So I wonder if people still know or follow that basic premise, that as you want to drive faster, you move a lane to the left.

You often see people zipping up the right lane, going fast, passing everyone. And in the far left lane, also known as the fast lane, or passing lane, you see people there, driving too slow, compared to how traffic is moving. This forces other drivers to go around them on the right.

Is it true that some drivers get into that left lane, and purposely drive exactly the speed limit, just to teach other drivers a lesson, that they shouldn't be speeding? I've heard some do and that seems silly. And dangerous. If people want to speed, they're going to do it. Blocking the flow of traffic in the fast lane doesn't teach anything, it just annoys other drivers and could encourage them to try more dangerous maneuvers, as they weave through traffic.

We're all in such a hurry, it's easy to lose our temper while driving. What they used to teach as "Defensive driving" I like to call "Driving as if every driver around you may be about to do something really dumb." It's hard to stay calm sometimes, and other drivers will occasionally do something really dumb.

While some traffic rules seem silly, most are designed to keep traffic moving safely. So, take a deep breath, stay calm and if you don't want to speed, stay to the right and let the speedsters fight it out in the fast lane.