Archive for November, 2023

Service Of When Things Don’t Work—There Are Those Days

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

In spite of it being one of those days, I nevertheless came home happy.

I made the trek to a favorite discount store to buy puffy large envelopes great for mailing gifts and they didn’t have any. They also didn’t have foil pie plates. [I have another source.] It happens.

It was cold outside so after walking through Bryant Park’s Christmas Market where I found no Christmas gifts, I dropped into the Stavros Niarchos branch of the New York Public Library to warm up. I discovered that it now boasts an Amy’s Bread watering hole. But over each poster—and in the elevator–was a sign noting that Amy’s closed at 3 PM. It was 3:30.

A security guard assured me that they were open on the 7th floor. They were, but they’d run out of chai, so I left after a conversation with the cashier who explained that they aren’t allowed to touch the incorrect early closing signs. Only someone from the library can do that. “Bureaucracy,” he shrugged.

My day was nothing like that of a man I noticed across Third Avenue on his hands and knees in front of a drain. My bet is that he was trying to retrieve something—maybe a phone or housekeys. By the time I got near he had already gotten up and walked away holding a long stick. I wondered if he’d put chewing gum at the tip of his stick.

He really had one of those days. I’d had a nice walk on a chilly, crisp almost winter’s day returning home to an intact to do list.

Have you been out and about recently where you didn’t reduce your to do list but felt cheerful nevertheless?

Service of Low and No Cost Giving in NYC

Monday, November 27th, 2023

We’re lucky in Manhattan because in addition to volunteering, there are countless ways to help others at little or no cost in time or treasure.

I pass by the UN and through Grand Central Terminal countless times a week where there are out of towners galore. If you want to make tourists happy, ask if you can take their pictures. They are easy to identify. There’s usually one taking a photo of a group or another person or trying to squeeze into the shot via selfie. I always take one showing the building or iconic symbol behind them such as the information clock in Grand Central and then a few closeups of the group. They are generally beaming, and I think they’d appreciate the capture of their joy. And I like to imagine, when they look at the picture, that they will think how friendly New Yorkers are.

Walking west on 39th Street the other day I saw a young man coming towards me carrying four paper shopping bags bulging with groceries. One ripped scattering his purchases all over the sidewalk. He scrambled to keep the other three upright as he lunged for his veggies, fruits and cartons. I was on my way to grocery shop and had an extra bag—from Home Depot—that I gave him. He said “thanks” and I walked on. [The bright orange bags weigh little, carry a lot and if you wear black, help drivers in cars, scooters and bicycles see you when you cross streets in the dark.]

People puzzling over their phones are often looking for a landmark, restaurant or store. It takes a second to stop and ask if you can direct them.

What other low and no cost ways do you help others?

Service of Laughter, a Salve for the Soul

Monday, November 20th, 2023


Image by Eva Michálková from Pixabay

I saved sharing highlights of this October interview on Scott Simon’s NPR show, “Weekend Edition Saturday,” to enhance moods for Thanksgiving week.

Simon interviewed the Keegans—Michael and Elle—about their book, “The History of Sketch Comedy.” Michael defined comedy as “salve for the soul” and “this thing is so silly it could be called ‘I can’t believe you went there.’”

How far is “there?” Could Mel Brooks have made “Blazing Saddles” today? No. Brooks told the authors that he couldn’t have made it in 1974 either but according to his contract he got final cut. Had cuts been up to the studio, it would have been a very different movie.

Comedy must be funny and uplift. Elle asked is it coming from joy or do you laugh because you are uncomfortable?

I learned what is meant by a blackout gag. According to the Keegans, “The blackout is a 30 second joke to keep an audience on their toes.” And Google defined “the gag [as] a kind of joke in broad, rapid-fire slapstick comedy. The term is derived from burlesque and vaudeville, when the lights were quickly turned off after the punchline of a joke to accentuate it and encourage audience laughter.”

Some examples:

Jack Benny’s iconic response to “Your money or your life” was “I’m thinking it over.” The authors said that the gag was a product of a made-up feud between Jack and his friend comedian Fred Allen.

A similar faux feud today is between Jimmy Kimmel who has made a “thing” of repeating apologies at the end of his shows saying that he’s run out of time so Matt Damon will be on another night.

Here’s a blackout gag by George Burns and Gracie Allen:

George: How do you like kissing?

Gracie: I don’t

George: Hugging?

Gracie: Nope

George: What do you like?

Gracie: Lamb chops

George: Do you like eating them alone?

Gracie: “No”

George: What do you like with them?

Gracie: Mashed potatoes.

What makes a bit fall flat? “Lack of commitment. If a person stays at the same level and they don’t explore the concept they are talking about–it doesn’t go anywhere–you don’t get more laughs.” And if the setup is too long, the gag better be good. Also, the authors said, “comedy jail is different from pun jail.”

Who are your favorite comedians? What are some of your favorite blackout gags made by friends or professionals?

Service of a Night of Contrasts: Art in 1905 vs AI in 2023

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

30 minutes well spent listening to the Met Museum virtual tour of the Fauvism show.

On a recent night I was watching the virtual premiere of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s tour of the exhibition “Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism.” At precisely the same time a friend attended a workshop about artificial intelligence—AI.

The years in question: 1905 and 2023.

I recommend that you spare 30 minutes to check out the museum tour conducted by Dita Amory, Robert Lehman Curator in Charge at the Met, and Ann Dumas, Consulting Curator of European Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. They tell us that in just over two months, in Collioure, a French fishing village, the artists “changed the course of French painting,” introducing modernism.

According to the notes accompanying the YouTube video, “With this new direction in painting, Matisse and Derain manipulated color in radical ways—nature took on hues responding to the artists’ sensations rather than reality. At the Salon d’Automne in 1905, when Matisse and Derain unveiled their controversial canvases, a prominent French journalist labeled them ‘les Fauves,’ or wild beasts.”

From the AI workshop, my friend shared an interesting AI-powered tool, Angry Email Translator, that will turn a nasty email into a polite, professional one. The workshop leader quoted Daniel Pink: “AI won’t replace humans. Humans using AI will replace humans not using AI.” His warning: “Be vigilant about the dangers” and advice: “Pay close attention and learn new skills.”

This morning, Dr. Arthur Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU shared some examples on WOR 710 radio. Take a radiology scan. With AI, the scan can be compared to hundreds of others. The experience of the radiologist can’t be nearly as extensive in identifying something that looks dangerous versus no problem. In addition, Caplan said, AI never needs to go to sleep and never gets tired which can happen to someone staring at scans all day.

Astronomer Carl Sagan said in 1979: “We live in an extraordinary age.” We still do. Isn’t it remarkable that we are alive to have access to such diverse, fascinating information?

Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fall 2023

Service of the Golden Rule Ignored

Monday, November 13th, 2023

Golden Rule

I often wonder if people think about the ramifications of their actions. Empathy needs to be taught and it seems to have been left out as a priority for too many.

Please stay silent, dear audience

I attended an amateur production of a musical in a small theater filled largely with the actors’ friends. I was on the verge of screaming “STOP PLEASE” if I heard another earsplitting “WHOOOOOOOOOO!” in the middle of a song or after an uttered inconsequential phrase or when a minor actor appeared on stage. Did these people think that they were at a sports event? If it happened once or twice, OK. But it was constant. Grumble.

In addition to the usual request to turn off phones and unwrap candies before the start of the production, I wish the audience was also asked to leave the hollered WHOOOOOOs and shrieks in a stadium or at least to wait for the end of a song though better yet—don’t do it at all. Energetic and enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation at the end says it all.

Do you need to pull away so soon?

Even if I’m not hoping to catch a bus, it drives me nuts when the driver pulls away from the stop just a few feet, only to brake for a red light. [See the photo below for placement of bus stop and traffic light.] I’ve written about this before and have notified the MTA as well. Because they are no longer at the bus stop, even though a few feet away, most drivers won’t open the door for a passenger pleading to get in. Aren’t the drivers supposed to transport as many passengers as possible?

A friend caught up with a bus on a weekend and asked the driver to please wait a moment for her colleague who is disabled and can’t run. The driver responded that there was a bus right behind [which any New Yorker knows is subject to interpretation as “right behind” might be eight minutes away]. The driver closed the door on her face. She yelled through the closed door, “she’s here!” The driver hesitated before reopening the door. Her friend thanked him and slowly slipped her MetroCard in the fare slot. Off flew the driver—using his gas pedal to show his anger and impatience. Her friend, unsteady on her feet, almost fell.

Empathy, compassion and etiquette would eliminate these irritations don’t you think? Can you share other instances of Golden Rule trashed?

From a bus stop like this one the driver can see the traffic light and should not pull away if the light is red.

Service of Don’t Count on Others to Do Their Jobs Well—or An Apology for Dropped Balls

Thursday, November 9th, 2023

Kids going home after school

Several friends shared stories of others dropping significant balls without owning to or acknowledging their mistakes, much less apologizing for them.

This ducking blame trend is longstanding and goes far beyond issues with significant repercussions. Have you noticed that some baristas or deli workers will blame the customer for mistakes? “You did—or did not—ask for milk or mustard or multigrain bread.”

So Taxing

The IRS contacted one friend this summer about a large outstanding balance–that she had already paid–plus interest/a late fee. She called her accountant who said he’d get back to her. He didn’t. She assumed all was well.

Last week she received another letter from the IRS and the original $260 had jumped to $420 reflecting more interest on the late fee—that shouldn’t have been charged to begin with. She called the accountant who claimed that they had discussed this. Nope. The fault, he said, consistently steering the conversation away from his mistake and the issue, was because she wasn’t paying quarterly.

Testy

Another friend discovered that a test that the school should have administered to her child last year had not been. The school psychologist did not respond to her query, so she copied the principal in her follow up. The test was to be given every three years. She finally heard back from the psychologist with no apology.

Read the Small Print

A pal takes medication for a chronic condition. She also has high blood pressure. Before checking her record, a social worker suggested she try a new medication. A side effect of the new meds? High blood pressure.

Do you count on others to do what they say they will or what they should?

Service of Signs the Pandemic is in Our Rear View Windows

Monday, November 6th, 2023

Columbus Circle crowd on NYC Marathon day.
Chips handed out on 42nd Street

I saw something last Friday that exemplifies “pandemic over” at least in the minds of some marketers.

Until the Pandemic, 42nd street during lunch hour was a great place for companies to pass out samples of new products such as yogurt, drinks, snacks and the like. That activity stopped during the pandemic and even though the picture isn’t rosy yet, it’s taken a while for marketers to think there are enough people to reach and that pedestrians would be willing to touch/take food or drinks from a stranger. According to New York Post reporter Carl Campanile, “Foot traffic in New York City’s business districts is still down 33% from what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic — one of the lowest recovery rates in the country, a new survey reveals.”

Fifth Avenue steps from the Met Museum

Nevertheless on Friday young people were handing out 2 small bags [photo right, above] on behalf of Deep River Snacks—original sea salt and mesquite BBQ flavored—kettle cooked potato chips. Not bad if you like that style of chip.

A few days later some 50 thousand runners participated in The New York City Marathon and goodness knows how many thousands of spectators cheered them on over the 26.1 miles. Unfortunate timing had me at Columbus Circle where thousands planned to meet their friends [top photo above] with the finish line nearby in Central Park near Tavern on the Green.

While some citizens would never frequent them ever, for quite some time now tourists and New Yorkers have again been buying food from street vendors, some in fancy trucks, others in makeshift setups [photo left, above]. They are all over the place from in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue [photo below] to mid and downtown.

In a headcount of bus passengers on Friday afternoon one of 17 wore a mask. I hardly saw one at a sold-out concert in Alice Tully Hall on Saturday night.

What if any signs have you identified that illustrate the public has turned the page on the Pandemic? Is this a mistake?

On Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Service of Unsung Heroes: Mailmen

Thursday, November 2nd, 2023

Just some of the post boxes for my apartment building.

The post office doesn’t always get top grades but some of the mailmen should. Talk about unsung heroes.

A friend was lugging a package to the post office the other day when her mailman saw her on the street and asked if he could take it for her. Made her day.

We recently had a change of mailman which made me sad because the original one was a living computer. When I’d been here less than a month he knew to direct mail to me even if it had the wrong apartment number or no apartment number–a requirement in NYC. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, there are 510 mailboxes.

He was replaced by Kirk, with the same kind of memory. I entered the mail room one day while he was finishing up and he asked if he could get my mail for me and went to the correct box. I was amazed.

NYC has a mail theft crisis. We’ve read about it in the news. The letters I put in the box in our building always arrive.

A major financial institution sent me the following in a letter in September urging its clients to opt for direct deposit rather than traditional checks. “On February 27, 2023, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network published an alert highlighting the nationwide surge in mail theft-related check fraud. From March 2020 through February 2021 the United States postal inspection service received 299,020 mail theft complaints an increase of 161% compared with the same period an earlier year.

“Check fraud occurs when there is an interception and manipulation of a hard copy check that is meant to defraud the account owner.”

Why did I post the dates? It took the firm I work with seven months–from February to September–to get out this missive. It took the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network a year to alert financial institutions with the alarming statistics reported for March 2020-February 2021.

But I digress.

Years ago I was crossing Lexington Avenue near an office building I’d not worked in for 10 years. The mailman said hello and greeted me by name, and I was one of many employees on just one floor.

Is your mailman or woman terrific? Are there other unsung heroes who make our lives easier who are often overlooked? Do you wonder about how some organizations and institutions interpret the word “alert” as “when we get around to it,” and how they determine the priority of urgency of some information?

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