Archive for July, 2010

A man in West Harlem has been stealing plants and trees from the front steps of peoples’ brownstones and then in a brazen move, is selling them on the street just a few blocks away. Like the Grinch, he waits until late at night and then plucks the plants right off the porch while the homeowner sleeps, possibly in the window just above the stoop.  He usually takes potted plants, though occasionally, he’ll take a tree. In one instance, he stole a beautiful four-foot Bouganvillea that had pink flowers.


One man, who had a plant stolen from his stoop, decided a thief was not going to stop him from beautifying his home so he put out another plant — which was promptly stolen. Refusing to be deterred, he put out yet another plant, only to have that one taken too, effectively feeding the thief’s appetite.

One couple actually saw the thief in his makeshift shop on the street, and they recognized some of their own plants. Having no proof, they decided not to approach him. But another couple on the block who’d had a small tree stolen and had heard about the thief’s street-side store went over to it, recognized their tree and accused the man of stealing it. The man proclaimed his innocence, saying someone had sold it to him. Still, he gave them their tree back, reluctantly.

One Harlem resident, who lives several streets north of the block under seige, says someone has been stealing his plants, too, though he’s not sure it’s the same thief. He went so far as to put a padlock on his planter and attached it to an overhang on his house, like one might put a padlock and chain on a garbage pail or a bicycle. But the man said the thief not only stole the plant, but he yanked it right through the overhang, lock and all, creating a leak in the overhang’s roof.

Apparently, this same thief used to steal plants several years ago, only then, he would actually rip flowers out of the ground from people’s front gardens and from a local park. He terrorized one block so many times, residents met and complained to a group of older women, who had lived on the block for decades and knew the identity of the thief. The old women approached the young man and told him he’d better stop if he valued his well being. He promptly did.

“Sounds like he’s back to his old ways,” said Alan, one of the plant thief’s former victims. “I’m sure if he is given such a communique again, he will go back into remission.”

I, too, have a brownstone in Harlem, and about six months ago, our block was plagued by a thief who would take whatever wasn’t nailed or chained down. Since it was Christmas time, he had his pick of mini Christmas trees in pots, glass baubles and bells, string lights and tinsel. Our thief really was the Grinch. I usually hang two wreaths on my front door, each decorated with a little copper French horn, two glittery red and gold ornaments, and two sleigh bells that would jingle every time someone came into the building. In fact that’s how I knew they were gone. The jingling stopped. I replaced the wreaths with two cheap pre-decorated copies  that I bought at a dollar store, because the front door looked so naked that time of year without any adornment. Within a day, both were gone — an indication the thief was not just mean, he had poor taste.

One day, the thief managed to break into the caged-in area under my front stoop and stole a snow shovel, a weed wacker, a red wheelbarrow and various other tools I’d long forgotten about but know are gone because the storage area is a lot cleaner than it was.  The man had apparently reached his hand around the side of the wrought iron  gate and opened up the lock. I promptly put up thick wire mesh so that no one could stick there hand around again. The cost to install the mesh, spray paint it black, and then apply a small amount of cement near the door’s opening to plug the gap: $600 — about twice what it should have cost. And I had to call the contractor three times to get him to come back and finish the job. I got away a lot cheaper with the thief.

I wonder whether I’ll be able to protect my child against all the mean, scary things that can happen to him. I thought today that having just one child quite literally is “putting all your eggs in one basket.” If something were to ever happen to him, I would be utterly devastated. We heard Rupert Holmes interviewed on the radio the other day — he said people know him as “the guy who wrote the pina colada song” — and he talked about losing his only daughter and how he was almost suicidal. She wasn’t stolen from him by some crazy pedophile or kidnapped by a nut. She died of an undiagnosed brain tumor. But he was flattened. Incapacitated. For now, I’m still preoccupied with trying to sustain the pregnancy, but I imagine once the child leaves my body, I’ll then begin to fear all the goblins and gouls that will have access to her.

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The teller at my bank has a sign in front of her glass window that says, “Please refrain from tapping on the counter. If you were in this bowl with me, you would understand how upsetting it is. But since you aren’t, please take my word for it.”

“Wow, is the tapping that bad?” I asked.

“It’s louder than you think,” she said.

“Really?” I said, lightly tapping my finger on the counter to see how light a tap it would take for her to hear it.

“Everyone does it, and it upsets her,” she said. For a moment I thought she was speaking in the third person, like Bob Dole, until I realized she was referring to the fish in the bowl next to her. “Doesn’t it, Emanon?”


“That’s her name,” she said.

Sure enough, I noticed the note about tapping on the counter was signed, “Emanon.”

I looked into the bowl, and it took me a moment to find the fish among the plant life, but I spotted her: an orange and black striped fish with wispy fins and a tail. She came up to the glass and looked out at me, making that puckering face that fish do.

“She’s looking right at you. She likes you,” the teller said.

I wanted to say it was probably because she could sense I was pregnant, but I figured that would sound silly. The last time I was pregnant (briefly) three years ago, moths seemed to fly right at me as if they were drawn to me. It was frightening, but I attributed it to the pregnancy. I thought maybe I was emitting some pheromone that only moths smell. The pregnancy failed, but about six months later, my period was late and moths were once again flying right at me. I thought for sure I was pregnant again. But the next day I got my period, and I thought, dumb ass moths don’t know shit.

I took my deposit slip from the teller and walked away, wondering who the tapping bothers more, the fish or the teller?

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I thought I was ready for the big people’s table. I was mistaken. After a week of eating saltines, cheddar goldfish and cereal, I moved on to meat. Somewhere along the line, that degenerated into a hankering for White Castle. But something went awry between the idea and the ingestion. I  now feel sick.  

I should have seen it coming. The moment I took the bag from the woman behind the counter and the aroma of the little oniony burgers and the deep fried onion rings hit my nose, I knew I had been overly-ambitious. My stomach rose and fell a bit like a wave swell.  

My reaction wasn’t what I’d expected. I drove 15 minutes through traffic and construction to get there, and now I was unsure how I felt about the fruits of my labor.  



Still, I peeled back the bag on the ride home and dipped into the onion rings, and first had one, then another, then another. And with each one, I kept feeling that little ripple in my stomach one feels in plane turbulence. And yet I persisted.  

Don’t get me wrong. They weren’t all bad. I’ve always liked White Castle’s onion rings. The outside breading is crunchy, a nice contrast with the sweet wet ketchup. My palate was torn with each bite.  

When I arrived home, my neighbor, Trish, saw the White Castle logo on the plastic bag.  

“Oh, gawd. If you tell me you feel sick, I’m not going to feel sorry for you,” she said.  

At that moment, I still felt cavalier. I am pregnant. I had a craving. Yep, that’s me. Pregnant with a  craving. I felt a part of some group I’d always heard about but to which until now, I had not been invited. Unfortunately, I had a craving, but I apparently misheard what it was saying. My stomach called out for spaetzle, and I somehow heard White Castle.  

It reminds me of a conversation my grandparents once had walking down the street.  

“What time is it?” my grandfather asked.  

“I’m fine, Bob,” my grandmother said.  

“What line?” my grandfather said, puzzled.  

“Time? Twenty after,” my grandmother said.  

When I’d finished my meal, I threw the plastic bag filled with empty White Castle hamburger boxes in the garbage. Within seconds, my cat was pawing at the garbage pail wanting to know what she missed. I pulled the plastic bag back out and plucked out the box of onion rings and lay one on the floor in front of her. She smelled the onion ring, turned her head in the opposite direction and then got up and walked away, opting instead for her anti-hairball dry food.

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I asked Bruce last night whether he wanted to come with me for the ultrasound at Cornell. He’s got a hectic and stressful job, and while he seemed to want to go, he‘s currently juggling several projects, all of which need his attention.

“I want to go but…” I don’t remember if he finished or if I didn’t hear the end because I knew what he was going to say. “….next time. Definitely.”

“You don’t have to go, you know,” I said, adding, “I just thought you might want to hear the heartbeat.”

I felt like my mother walked in the room.  I had served Bruce some guilt wrapped in bacon. It’s not always obvious its guilt til you take a bite.

“I do want to hear it,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

We left it at that.

After my morning walk, I caught a ride with Bruce as he drove to work. His office puts me closer to the New York City train lines than leaving from my house by the shore.

“I’m going to be really early for the train,” I said as we got closer to his office.

“It’ll take about eight minutes to walk from the church parking lot to the station,” he said.

“You’re not dropping me off at the station?”

“I’m going with you,” he said.

Elation. And then as often happens, it morphed into fear. The last time I dragged Bruce to an ultrasound was when I was pregnant three years ago, and it was at that ultrasound that we could see a fetal sac had developed, but there was no fetus inside it.

“I hope I haven’t lured you here under false pretenses,” I said.

When we arrived at Cornell, I went to the bathroom. I always do before an ultrasound. I’m always afraid I’ll start peeing when they stick the wand in, like you see little boys whizz all over the place when they’re having their diapers changed. Before I could pull my pants down, Bruce was knocking at the door.

“They called your name,” he said.

I came running out and ran to the front desk.

“Did they call me?”

“No. There are a couple of people in front of you,” the receptionist said.

“Novice,” I said to Bruce.

I went back in the bathroom, and just as I was pulling my pants down, I heard my name called. I came flying out of the bathroom again, grabbed Bruce and headed toward the examining room. As I lay on the examining table waiting for the doctor, Bruce sat behind me reading a newspaper article about a hgih school band teacher who was selling the band’s instruments off to a second-hand store in order to make extra cash. He’d only earned $1,300 and was now being charged with theft.

“He probably could have made that in the summer giving kids private lessons,” Bruce said.

Just then, the doctor arrived. I felt like I was about to give Bruce a show. I hoped I could perform. The doctor inserted the ultrasound wand and voila. The brine shrimp growing inside me appeared on the monitor – though it was larger this time, perhaps as large as a gulf or tiger shrimp. It looked like it was riding inside a banana-shaped spaceship. The doctor turned on the sound and I could once again hear the heartbeat. Buh-duh buh-duh buh-duh-buh-duh. I don’t know if it was the sound of the equipment or because the receptor for the sound was stuck inside my uterus but the heartbeat had that muffled sound of things under water.

“Do you see it?” I said to Bruce.

“I see it,” he said.

A shrimp in a banana peel

I asked the doctor if I could finally stop worrying about the pregnancy. Was there not a time when I could breathe a sigh of relief?

“Once we hear the heart beating like that, the probability of a miscarriage is less than 7%,” the doctor said. The crowd breathes a sigh of relief. “Aahhhhhhhhhhh.”

But he added, “I’m reluctant to give you the 7% now, because of the spotting.” The crowd lets out a communal moan of disappointment. “Ooohhhhhhhh.”

The doctor handed us a photo of the ultrasound and we were on our way. As we left the building and emerged into the baking July sun, I felt a mix of relief and uneasiness. The ultrasound had allayed my fears, for the moment, but my doctor gave me one of those moments where you’re about to write off one of your fears as paranoia, and then somebody walks up to you and says, “Actually, your fear is warranted.” One of the last times I felt that was 10 years ago, when my father called all of his children at work to say his doctor was 99% sure he had esophageal cancer. I spent the next 24 hours crying until my eyes swelled, and when I looked at Bruce, I suddenly felt silly. Bruce is a straight-shooter-doesn’t-suffer-fools-lightly kind of guy. When I looked at hm, I said, “I know, I know. They said he has cancer. It’s not like they said he’s dying.” And Bruce looked at me and said, “No, this is serious.”

As we headed toward the subway, Bruce looked at me and said, “Since when did you start walking like Tim Conway?”

“What?” I said and laughed.

Sometimes Bruce knows just what to say.

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I went for a walk on the boardwalk this morning at 6 a.m., and it felt good. Too good. Oh where, oh where had my morning sickness gone? For days, I’ve felt nauseated, living on saltines, soup and cereal. And meat. Lots of meat.  I’ve been flirting with dehydration because I don’t want to drink liquids, given that it gets the hormones swirling around my stomach and makes me feel sick. I’ve been eating a lot of fruit because I’m always thirsty, but after a few minutes, the fruit makes me queasy. Despite all this, if the queasiness subsides even for a moment I worry. It doesn’t help that I continue to spot and that yesterday, I went to the bathroom and found another piece of that brownish red rubber cement-like substance on the toilet paper, the kind of discharge that makes me think I inadvertently expelled my child.

As I got about halfway through my walk, I became weepy. I just want to know that my baby will remain. The word ‘sustainability’ came to mind. I never really understood what they mean when the use it these days — and they use it a lot — but right now, it makes me think of my pregnancy. The sustainability of my pregnancy. I’m frustrated because I want to tell everyone who will listen that I’m pregnant and not have to fear it will all end in tears and that it’s partially my fault because I broke some unsaid rule and told everyone too early. I want to just relax and rejoice about being pregnant.  I was a cheerleader at my high school in Jericho, Long Island, and my most cherished moments on the squad were when I stood in front of the crowd at a basketball game and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Gimme a ‘J!!!’ And the audience would shout back, “J!!!”

Gimme a "B!!!!"

“Gimme an ‘E!!!!’”


“Gimme an ‘R!!!!”


It was cathartic. I was expelling every injustice I’d ever felt at the hands of my fellow classmates, and at the same time, I was feeling utter passion about something, even if it was something as insignificant as the desire to see our terrible little team win. I felt sad this morning as I walked because I wanted to be able to feel that unadulterated passion about my baby.

“Give me a ‘B!!!!’”


“Give me an ‘A!!!!’”


I’ll know soon enough whether the rubber cement I expelled yesterday was my baby. I have another ultrasound later this morning at Cornell.

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Scientists in Israel have reported a strong link between IVF and mild to moderate cases of autism. In their study, 10.5% of 461 children diagnosed with a disorder on the autism spectrum were conceived using IVF, a significantly higher number than the 3.5% autism rate in the general Israeli population.

Well, now I know what I’ll be obsessing about once I make it through that pivotal first trimester. But then my anxieties have always operated like a soda machine. No sooner does one issue get reconciled, the next one drops down.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the things that can go wrong, particularly because I’ve been too nauseated to take pre-natal vitamins. What if my baby has webbed feet, or an over-sized forehead? What if her legs are turned so far inward, they have to be broken in order for her to walk properly? And what about his spine? That’s a lot of vertebrae to get right. What if one or two don’t grow? Rickets, you say? Damn. I forgot about that.

It’s hard to imagine some parents fret about how well their kid is doing at soccer. I just want her to have five fingers and toes and be able to hold her head upright on her own. Oh, and please god, just don’t make him bucket ugly. I don’t mind if he’s not the most handsome in the pack, but I don’t want people to run down the street screaming when they see him.

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It takes an hour to drive from New York City to my home on the Jersey Shore. It takes nearly two hours on New Jersey Transit. And yesterday, it took more than three. A donkey would take less time and would no doubt be cheaper.

Our train was supposed to leave at 10.38 a.m. After sitting underneath New York’s Pennsylvania Station for about 10 minutes, the conductor told us we were delayed because they had a red signal and that as soon as it changed, we’d be moving. Ten minutes later, we were told the delay was due to mechanical problems, but we were assured it would be fixed shortly. Ten minutes later, we were told to transfer to the other train sitting across the platform.

As we finally exited the train yard at Penn Station, we had to sit for another 10 minutes because they are using only one track between New York City and New Jersey. I watched the workers toiling away on the other track as we went by. A couple of them were working, moving wires and rods this way and that while several others stood over them watching. A little up the track, there was a lone worker who bent down and began banging away at a piece of track with a rubber mallet at a furious pace just as we rode by in what seemed like a show for our benefit.

About halfway through the trip, the train stopped again, and we were told we had to wait for the Eastbound train to go by. We waited there for 15 minutes before the train was back on its way. I used that time to go to the bathroom, which was fortunately in my car, because I figured if the train wasn’t moving, the whole process would be easier. I don’t usually like to go the bathroom on the train because when I’m in a public restroom, I pick and choose what I touch. But if the train jerks you around, you’ll grab onto anything to avoid falling. I went into the bathroom and straddled the toilet, holding onto the metal pole that ran along the wall to keep my balance. With my other hand, I tried to grab some toilet paper but it was made so cheaply, it kept coming off in my hand in tiny little pieces. I wondered how I was going to wipe myself with a handful of confetti. Just then, the train lurched forward and I lurched with it, setting off the automatic hand dryer, which sent the pile of toilet paper pieces in my hand fluttering to the ground like snow. I grabbed a paper towel I’d had in my pocket and used that, ignoring the sign that warned against flushing anything other than toilet paper down the bowl.

I went back to my seat and about 20 minutes later, we were finally approaching my destination. Suddenly, we all heard a crash! It sounded like an explosion on top of our train car.

“What the heck was that?” said the woman seated across the aisle from me.

“Jesus,” said another woman.

The lights went off and the motor stopped — something had obviously happened to the power — but the train continued to coast until we glided into the station.

Just then, a frantic conductor’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Don’t open the doors! Don’t open the doors!” he said.

I turned to the man next to me. “Are they afraid we’re going to get electrocuted?” I asked. In emergency situations, the person nearest you becomes an  expert.

“If we hit a wire, the electricity can ride down the car and through the door,” he said with some authority.

“Should we be standing on the floor or should we go up on the seats?” I asked.

“The floor is fine. Just don’t touch the seats,” he said.

I quickly shut down my computer, imagining that whatever stray electrical current was whipping around our train car would surely find its way to my laptop.

Soon, the doors opened and everyone poured out onto the platform. The conductors were standing on the platform looking at something on top of our car. I got up on a bench to see what they were looking at. It was a piece of broken metal.

“What is that?” I asked one of the conductors.

“It’s a piece of the overhead wire system. But it’s meant to break off if the electrical lines get too taut,” the conductor said. He likened it to parts of an automobile that are apparently made to break because the alternative – having them not break – is somehow worse.

“It’s meant to happen,” he said, almost pleased with what had happened. “If that piece of metal didn’t break, and the power lines broke instead, there would be live electrical wires flying around.”

Sometimes bad news is really good news.

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