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The Law of Conservation of Scaffolding

The Law of Conservation of Scaffolding (TM) is a humorous theory originally conceived in New York City. Its wording is based on The Law of Conservation of Energy, and applies to both scaffolding that runs all the way up an entire building, as well as the covered “sidewalk sheds” that protect pedestrians from falling debris.

Sidewalk Shed

According to The Law, as scaffolding is removed from a building, scaffolding appears somewhere else in the city. People are continually justified in backing the theory due to the number of scaffolds that appear.

Detractors of The Law use statistics showing that scaffolding across the city is constantly being added due to the growing number of buildings in need of repair. There are currently about 3,000 scaffolds and 6,000 sidewalk sheds across the five boroughs. According to the Department of Buildings, the sheds cover about one million feet of city sidewalks, which translates to an astounding 190 miles. The sheds are so pervasive that when it rains, there are people who can actually give their dogs a nice walk without ever getting wet.

Many people in NYC are perplexed not only by the number of scaffolds across the city, but also the length of time they are up. They can be a blight for years, obstructing apartment views, business signs and the overall aesthetic of the area (at least one piece of scaffolding has been up for more than two decades). Why does this happen? The easy answer is that once scaffolding and/or sheds are erected, building owners can buy time before they have to do any actual work. Sure, the repair work is expensive, but so are the scaffolds.

Take the sidewalk sheds as a cost example. Once city inspectors find that a building has a crumbling facade, the owner(s) must take action. The first task is to get an electrical permit for the shed lighting. Once that permit is approved, a construction permit is then required. The shed construction costs between $90 and $110 per linear foot, so let’s say $100. If a 150 foot shed is required, that’s $15,000. After the first three months, there’s a monthly rental fee equal to five percent of the original construction cost. The monthly rental fee for a $15,000 shed is $750. That means keeping the scaffolding up for a year runs $6,750 in rental fees alone.

Oh wait, there’s more. The owner(s) need to keep a daily log of the shed’s condition and have it on-site at all times. No log? That’s a fine. Some shed violations can run into the thousands of dollars. Once the year is up, there’s more money for an extension. To get that, the project engineer or architect must send a letter to the Department of Buildings documenting the condition of the building, the remaining scope of work and the estimated time left to completion.

It’s not uncommon to see sheds up for, let’s say five years. For that length of time, construction and rental of that shed will run the owner(s) about $58,000, not including permits or fines. So the next time you grumble at the nasty sight of scaffolding or sheds, hopefully you can get a laugh from how much money is going right into the toilet.

Source 1. Source 2. Source 3. Source 4.

Extra-Credit Sights in Manhattan

Some good. Some not-so-good. In no particular order:

–So many leaves falling after a fall rain, amid so much concrete and brick.
–Lines of doormen standing at attention along Avenues.
–Massive piles of garbage bags and discarded furniture stacked along the sidewalks.
–People talking to themselves… no phone or earbuds visible.
–Watching the Staten Island Ferry slowly disappear down the Hudson River.
–Tourists petting horses along Central Park West.
–Running into the Naked Cowboy and knowing he’s supremely evil.
–Seeing the shocking amount of dust in the air when the sun hits just right.
–Young people sitting on sidewalks, heads down, with cardboard signs announcing they’re homeless.
–Commuters on platforms screaming at each other across the subway tracks.
–Witnessing rows of bicyclists taking up two lanes down Riverside Drive.
–Seeing the colorful Empire State Building at night while walking south, miles away Uptown.
–The massive number of people sitting on the steps of the main branch of the New York Public Library.
–Witnessing police and EMT’s trying to talk a potential jumper off the ledge of the George Washington Bride.
–The occasional taxi cab driver patiently waiting at an intersection while pedestrians blindly walk against red lights.
–Watching people pay tribute to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields.
–The Guggenheim “toilet bowl” Museum.
–Seeing the tiny, metal sign placed on the highest point of the borough.
–Lines of people sitting on metal chairs playing dominoes, slapping down the tiles with extreme gusto.
–The crazy number of head shops along St. Marks Place.
–Watching tourists who never see the city because they’re too busy taking pictures.
–Walking by a business and seeing more than 20 building permits taped to the window.
–People walking down the street, casually smoking joints.
–The Ramble and North Woods in Central Park.
–Almost getting side-swiped by a delivery guy on a bike.
–Seeing a dog stop dead in its tracks at a sewer cover, then laying down and rolling around on it in sheer bliss.
–Standing on a sidewalk and seeing a Duane Reade down the street, then seeing another Duane Reade looking the other way.
–Plows pushing snow and gradually burying parked cars.
–Lonely tires chained to poles after bike thefts.
–Multiple blocks lined with trailers and trucks for a single movie shoot.
–Desperate people looking along sidewalks for cigarette butts to light back up.
–Walking down the street, hungry, knowing you’ll find a food cart a block away.
–Standing at the highest point of Inwood Hill Park and seeing the northern tip of the island.
–Way too many costumed characters in Times Square.
–Panhandlers begging for change by shouting inside one subway car after another.
–Getting stuck behind a slow-moving line of people with strollers walking side-by-side, taking up the entire sidewalk.
–People outside clubs puking in the street at 3 in the morning.
–The vast number of water towers.
–Subway riders so engrossed with their cell phones that they miss their stop.
–Seeing a Starbucks every six blocks in Midtown.
–Drunk people passed out on the street.
–That half-dressed guy who walks down Broadway on the Upper West Side, yelling at nothing and everything.
–That guy across the street from Madison Square Garden, holding a huge sign, loudly extolling the virtues of God and Jesus.
–Miles and miles of scaffolding.
–Noticing celebrities and proudly ignoring them.
–Drivers constantly honking in a futile attempt to get a long line of traffic moving.
–Turning the corner in Battery Park and seeing the Statue of Liberty.
–Traffic cops putting tickets on cars, just one minute after Alternate Side Parking rules go into effect.

Home Depot: Shopping Tips for Do-It-Yourselfers

How to Shop at Home Depot: The Summary
Don’t shop at Home Depot.

Welcome to Your Nightmare
Most of you who do your own home improvement know this: You don’t get far into a job before realizing you need an extra tool or some level of help. It took me years of buying tools before I owned enough to avoid a trip somewhere.

Why do so many people go to Home Depot? 1) There’s likely one nearby. 2) Products are generally affordable. 3) You might be unwittingly drawn in because of its massive size… as if your brain convinces you that more square footage equals more answers. 4) Employees wear aprons. With pockets in them.
But so many times, the answers aren’t there. Or you get frustrated waiting for enlightenment and leave. Pray you don’t end up at the dreaded return counter.

I’ve also had horrific experiences with warranty items, to a point where I had to call Corporate Headquarters. As a bonus, it gave me a chance to tell someone above store level that a new Rigid corded reciprocating saw caught fire and burned my super. I also emailed Corporate when I witnessed a higher-up dressing down/yelling at an underling in front of customers. It was horrifying. But I didn’t give out any names. I’m not that mean.

What Home Depot Really Is
Corporate will disagree, but Home Depot is more set up as a place for people who already have answers, who know what they want and hopefully know where those products are located in the store. In other words… contractors. A lot of employees there know shockingly little and aren’t paid enough to care about learning more (check a site like Glass Door for some eye-opening employee comments). I stopped asking employees for advice unless it was about plumbing, since at the time, I was horrible at it. Even if they do have advice to give, you might have to wait too long because of the number of people accosting the staff. Just take a deep breath and wait a minute. I’ve also noticed way too many employees who refuse to make eye contact. It’s like they believe that not acknowledging your existence will make you disappear.

An Example Shopping Scenario
You want to paint a wall. You either don’t want to hire someone or can’t afford to. You’ll get way more help at Ace Hardware, but it will normally cost you a little more to shop there. You could also go to a paint store like Sherwin Williams, but without a contractor account, you’re going to get ripped off (if you knew how much more people off the street pay for paint there, you’d vomit). So you go to Home Depot. Now you’re inundated with products and choices that leave your head spinning. Do you need flat paint, eggshell, semi-gloss, high gloss, enamel, oil-based, spray paint, a primer-paint combo? What on earth is matte paint? (It’s a fancy word for flat.) What color do you need? Do you need sandpaper? 80 grit, 100 grit, 120, 150? Then there are the paint brushes. “Good,” “better,” “best?” Angled, flat, rollers, sponge-type? Do you use a paint roller? What nap? Do you need an extension pole? And what’s the difference between tapes? What width? Sheeting for the floor? What size and thickness of plastic? Are those canvas ones worth the extra money? Ack! All you want to do is throw some paint on the wall. If you ask the wrong employees, they’ll send you to others. And everyone has a different opinion about what you should do or use. You can be at the store for hours before you figure everything out.

A Solution
You might have to go through a few videos before you find what you’re looking for, but there are videos for everything. Some of the videos are made by pros, so you can watch with confidence. Just understand that you still might get differing opinions. For example, I generally paint without tape, but I’ve been painting a long time. If I do use tape, I use blue; not the expensive green Frog Tape. And I use the expensive brushes.

A Bizarre Shopping Tip
So you’ve YouTube’d information about your project. You know some terminology. Now it’s time to act like a knowledgeable person, even if you have to fake it. Avoid walking in looking meek. Walk in like you know what you’re doing. Ask questions confidently and succinctly. Don’t stand in the aisles blankly staring at items, looking afraid to even touch something.

Please read the following knowing that I’ve had plenty of low-paying jobs. I understand and empathize.
Before my superintendent and I completely gave up on H.D. and started getting construction items elsewhere, we used to go inside with tape measures attached to our sides. My super would put a carpenter’s pencil on his ear. When I was alone working on my condo, I’d purposely go in with my tape measure AND with painting jeans on over beat-up steel-toed boots. Maybe even a shirt with dried joint compound on it. I really did know more than the $8-an-hour crowd, but now I looked the part. That’s how you get better service. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because when you look and act the part, employees know you’re capable, and they realize you know more than them. Who knows.

One Final Thing
Never buy a Rigid power tool. Ever. Battery-operated or corded. Ever. Please.
Some Rigid hand tools are OK, but buy at your own risk. Stick with the brands that you can also get elsewhere. Milwaukee, 3M, Stanley, etc. You get what you pay for. That’s more important if you’re going to use a tool or other product more than once.

To end on a positive note, Behr paint is actually OK.

NYC’s Food Protection Course: The Numbers

Reader Jessica wanted to know how much she had to study to take NYC’s Food Protection Course. At minimum, you have to study the 15 lessons and tests that you’re forced to complete before the computer system will even allow you to sign up for the final exam. Those lessons are pretty much the entire FPC training manual PDF, but in a less-pretty form.

Yes, there’s a lot of info. Like I mentioned here, there are a mind-numbing amount of numbers included in those 15 lessons. How many? I compiled this list of numbers as I went through. I might have even missed a few, but I think this will give you a good idea.

By the way, if you studied a while ago and need a refresher, you can log in and the system will allow you to review your 15 tests. You can also look over the prettier PDF training manual.

1,500 – cfm for exhaust when tempered makeup air system may be required

212 – degrees of boiling water, used to check thermometers

198E – Food Establishment Inspection Report

190 – degrees that foods should be reheated to in a microwave (then let stand 2 minutes)

180 – degrees that water needs to reach in a hot holding unit before adding food

180 – degrees of water required for mechanical dishwashing machines (for sanitizing)

170 – degrees for hot-water sanitizing (30 seconds)

165 – degrees to cook poultry, stuffed meats and stuffing containing meats for 15 seconds

165 – degrees to rapidly reheat food, within 2 hours, and held at 140 degrees

165 – degrees to reheat refrigerated ready-to-eat food before placing in steam table or warming device

161 – degrees that milk is held (for 15 seconds) during flash pasteurization

158 – degrees to cook ground meats and food containing ground meats

155 – degrees to cook pork products and foods containing pork products for at least 15 seconds

145 – degrees that milk is held (for 30 minutes) during pasteurization

145 – degrees that eggs and seafood should be cooked (also meats like goat and lamb)

140 – degrees on high end of Temperature Danger Zone

140 – degrees (minimum) to hold hot food

140 – minimum degrees required for mechanical dishwashers, up to 165 degrees (for washing)

125 – maximum number of feet a rat will burrow from food source (average low is 25 feet)

115 – degrees required for hot water supply

110 – minimum degrees for water used to hand-wash dishes (up to 120 degrees)

100 – PPM of chlorine solution needed to sanitize thermometers (1 minute)

100 – PPM of bleach needed for swabbing/wiping/spraying/pouring (1 ounce in 1 gallon of water)

100 – average number of times a rat urinates every night

96 – National Fire Protection Association Bulletin number for ventilation hood installation

.91 – Water activity as an acceptable barrier for Reduced Oxygen Packaging for foods

90 – degrees food should be cooled to after 1 hour, to achieve 41-degree cooling in 6 hours

90 – days required to keep shellfish shipper tags, in order of delivery

90 – percent of all food-allergic reactions coming from the eight FPWSTEMS

90 – percentage of grease and extractable matter that should be removed from an interceptor

85 – degrees that American Cockroaches like to live in

.85 – Water activity level (and lower) that keeps food from being potentially hazardous

83 – Local Law number regarding Sales of Tobacco Products to Minors

81 – Health Code article that regulates the operation of food establishments

70 – degrees food should be cooled to after 2 hours, to achieve 41-degree cooling in 6 hours

70 – maximum temperature for dry storage; minimum ideal is 50

70 – percentage of healthy people who carry clostridium perfringens (low range 60 percent)

67 – Local Law number regarding Tobacco Vending Machine Regulations

63 – Local Law number regarding Dangers of Consuming Alcoholic Beverages During Pregnancy

60 – maximum percentage of people with asthma who have allergy to cockroaches (low is 40)

50 – PPM of chemical sanitizing solution to sanitize thermometers (1 minute)

50 – maximum humidity percentage for dry storage

50 – percentage of healthy people who carry staphylococcus bacteria (low range 40 percent)

50 – PPM for 1-minute bleach soaking/immersion (1/2 ounce bleach to 1 gallon of water)

50 – PPM for bleach solution used to store wiping cloths (1/2 ounce bleach to 1 gallon of water)

47 – Local Law number regarding Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002

45 – maximum calendar days for expiration date for milk products, from date of ultra pasteurization

42 – degrees where food needs to be discarded

43 – Local Law regarding Chocking Poster Requirement / Smoking Restrictions

41 – degrees on low end of Temperature Danger Zone

41 – maximum degrees required for receiving and storing fresh meat and other foods

40 – percentage of total annual gross sales when service of food is considered incidental

38 – maximum degrees required for receiving and storing smoked fish

34 – number for NSF Standard related to installing commercial dishwashing machines

32 – degrees at sea level for 50/50 mix of ice and water, used to check thermometers

31 – degrees that fish should be frozen at for 15 hours before eaten raw to avoid anasakiasis

30 – seconds for hot-water sanitizing at 170 degrees, important when hand-washing dishes

30 – approximate number of minutes it takes for bacteria to double in favorable conditions

30 – minutes that milk is held for (at 145 degrees) for pasteurization

30 – seconds that foods should be immersed in boiling water and flashed cooled for protein salads

30 – maximum number of feet a mouse will travel from nest for food (typical low is 10 feet)

30 – foot candles of light needed at food preparation surfaces and other work levels

25 – degrees to add to final cooking temperature, once proper cooking temperature is reached

25 – number of feet that a tobacco vending machine must be placed from any entrance

25 – percentage of seating in a single outdoor dining area where smoking can occur

21 – percentage of oxygen in air; Reduced Oxygen Packaging results in less oxygen

20 – seconds that hands must be rubbed together during hand washing

20 – foot candles of light needed for cleaning, at 30 inches from the floor and for walk-ins

20 – or more seats in food service establishments require toilet facilities for patrons

18 – percent that alcohol is limited to (without distilling) because yeasts die at that concentration

18 – number for mesh screens used to keep out flies

18 – Age limit for tobacco sales

15 – estimated seconds needed to record temperature with bi-metallic stem thermometer

15 – seconds milk is held at 161 degrees for flash pasteurization

15 – seconds poultry and stuffing should be cooked at 165 degrees, and pork at 155 degrees

15 – hours that fish should be frozen at 31 degrees before eaten raw to avoid anasakiasis

15 – hours that it could take to cool down a 1-gallon container of ground meat to 41 degrees

15 – seconds of water needed for any self-closing or metered faucets

12.5 – PPM of iodine for soaking/immersion in 75-degree water for 1 minute

12 – Local Law number regarding Resuscitation Equipment

9 – maximum calendar days for expiration date for milk products, from date of pasteurization

8 – foods that account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions

7 – steps in HACCP system

7 – NSF Standard number for walk-in shelving

6 – minimum number of inches that foods should be stored from the floor

6 – hours after eating that foodbourne infections start occurring (as long as 48 hours)

6 – approximate maximum number of hours that people show signs of foodbourne intoxication

6 – maximum number of hours it should take to cool foods to 41 degrees

6 – maximum number of pounds to cut pieces of meat after cooking to ensure proper cooling

6 – inches that metal flashing should extend above floors to keep rats away

5.25 – percent of sodium hypochlorite in the correct bleach used for sanitizing

5 – maximum number of feet that German Cockroaches like to live away from food/water

4.6 – pH level (and lower) that keeps food from being potentially hazardous

4 – inch measurement of shallow pans that should be used to cool foods (1-2 inches of food inside)

4 – inches of clearance needed for table-mounted equipment

3 – seams to check on cans (top, bottom and side)

3 – number for NFS Standard related to commercial dishwashing machines

3 – minimum number of inches to pour concrete over earthen cellar floors (maximum 4 inches)

2 – degrees (plus or minus) of accuracy for a bi-metallic stem thermometer

2 – minutes food should stand after reheating in a microwave to 190 degrees

2 – types of cockroaches in NYC (American and German)

2 – percentage of each day a rodent will spend gnawing

2 – measurement in feet that aisles should measure between rows to avoid mass storage

2 – NSF Standard number for ventilation hoods

1 – minute needed to sanitize thermometers with a chemical or chlorine solution

1/2 – minumum average ounces of water a Norway Rat needs daily (up to 1 ounce)

1/2 – fraction of inch that a rat needs to enter a building

1/4 – maximum fraction of inch permitted to avoid rodent harborage

1/8 – inch per foot that drain boards and dish tables should be pitched

1/8 – inch of a typical fruit fly

.5 – grams or more of trans fat per serving may not be stored, used or served

0 – maximum degrees required for receiving and storing frozen meat and other foods

0 – suggested low-degree range of bi-metallic thermometer (high is 220 degrees)

How Do I Write Better?

I get this question quite a bit, so I thought I’d answer it.

How You Write Better
Write a lot. And by “a lot,” I mean more than you think you need to, or think you have time for. Anyone who writes for a living will say the same thing. Write a lot. Turns out, the more you write, the better you get. I used to write only news articles, and it seemed like it took me forever to write anything different. Makes sense. I needed more time. I still don’t think I write well, but after reading some of the garbage on internet sites, I feel a little better. Look, there are styles. My style is different. I don’t know what that style is, but I don’t care. I write a certain way, and I’ve decided that I don’t care what other people think about it. If you’re just writing for your blog, you shouldn’t care either. Just write the best you can, in any style you want. Just don’t publish stupid.

Buy a style guide. Learn correct punctuation and grammar. I’ll give you an example from a previous sentence above… “Anyone who writes…” can also be written as “anyone that writes.” A person is a “who.” Not a “that.” Learn the basics and  you’ll at least have an upper-hand. I know this section says “Tips” (plural), but that’s the only one I have. Style guide. Buy a book or religiously ingest one of the many online ones. Just avoid Grammar G!rl. The site is helpful, but there are too many ads and graphics and it’s too… I don’t know… dumb.

How You Might Write Originally
What I normally tell people to do is write like they talk and then rewrite. It’s so much easier to use your normal phrases than struggle with perfecting original sentences. Just start throwing out words, even if they don’t seem right. Who’s going to see it? So you’re doing a crappy job at writing. So what? Don’t post it yet.

Example: Your Writing
Oh my God, I was in Florida and saw a snake run across a woman’s foot. It was a black snake. Then I walked across the street and was attacked by red ants. And when I complained, the lady said ants are normal and there were also alligators to deal with and more alligators down the street. She was drunk. What kind of place is this? Ack. Barf. Gag.

Improvement: In My Opinion
I unfortunately went to Florida. Cocoa, to be more specific. I might have well been in a jungle. Wow. Florida. Don’t go there unless you’re a discarded python.
My host lived in a place where they had to build by making sure their lot was above the flood line. In their case, they had to build their duplex over six inches of trucked-in sand, adding the normal hurricane-proof accessories.
My first glance at their lifestyle was seeing them drink bottles of vodka. At my count, she drank 10 shots a day and he drank 15. He had that red-nose-thing going on. Plus a little more red-face time. Apparently he was still finding work. So I hung out with her. But it was more like I sat there and watched her watch soap operas. She called them “stories,” which is a term I thought went out of style decades ago.
One morning I was shaving and heard what could only be described as a blood-curdling scream. Well, it was a little more extreme than that, but you get the point. I rushed to the porch and a black snake had crawled across her feet. She was wearing a mumu… something you accessorize with when you’re grossly overweight and watch soap operas all day while drinking vodka. She transferred to the bench they had in front of the house, which I realized was now a fainting chair. She was hyperventilating. Crap.
The guy came home soon after and helped calm her down. This was the day I realized calming down mumu-wearing people was close to impossible without a group-style atmosphere. My internal thought was this: “Girl, you apparently live in a place where animals don’t want you around. And the snake wasn’t poisonous. Please deal.”
He invited me to walk around the neighborhood and explained the building guidelines and history of the area. The history mostly had to do with alligators and giant snakes. I was wearing Tevas because it was freaking hot. Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to mention that Florida is also painfully hot and humid. I will never understand why Disney World is down there, but I guess that’s a different discussion. Anyway, my Teva-wearing self stepped into a nest of some sort of angry ants in an empty lot. Fire ants? I don’t care at this point. The pain was… um… Florida. I decided to leave.

Just write what you can and rewrite it. And maybe rewrite it again. Then write more. A lot more.

Wedding Book Review

I’m taking a rather difficult course from The Association of Bridal Consultants so I can stand out as a guy who does more than officiate and bartend at weddings. I figured if I need to write anything, I can just increase my post count. Here’s one of the projects I have to do:

Read a wedding-related book and write a 150-word report on it. Name three things that you found helpful and describe how you will incorporate them into your business.

Well, I’m taking this goal rather slow, so I’m still not 100% sure I’ll end up with my own business, but I can definitely churn out 150 words.

I read The Wedding Book by Mindy Weiss, who can be easily described as a wedding planner for the stars. You know… those Hollywood types. I got the book for free as a promotional item when it came out it 2008. I didn’t read it until last year. Wildly informative and very well laid out. I’m sure the book from The Knot is good as well, but Mindy’s book is so comprehensive, I didn’t feel the need to purchase another.

Something that the ABC course didn’t have a lot of was illustrations. Mindy’s book contained many, especially when it came to 1) attire for the bride and groom, 2) hairstyles for women, 3) makeup.
She also included two insanely comprehensive planning timelines… one for 12 months and one for 6 months. If you’re a bride trying to plan your wedding in 6 months, I feel sorry for you. I’m not trying to get your business, but please understand that planning your own wedding is very difficult. My first bride who didn’t decide to have me officiate their wedding was so freaked out by the first step (the guest list) that she had a meltdown and had to go to the hospital. Get a planner. Or at a minimum, get a day-of planner, which is even more critical. I’ve probably been to more weddings than you. Day-of planner. Please.
Just a few other things I found helpful from the book: It has good processional orders and great lists of questions for vendors. The ABC course had some good questions as well, so I can combine them for a larger list, and add my own questions that I have found important.

Why do I find this concept vague? Every single fact I learn seems like it would be helpful. But OK, I’ll pick a couple.
1. I hate dealing with flowers. This book broke it down to a point where I can deal with them. I’ve even been to two flower shops this month to learn more. Motivation: good. Plus, my wife is helping educate me.
2. This book is more for brides, but I can definitely announce that it confirmed what the ABC course mentioned… one of the hardest parts of planning the average wedding is ironing out the guest list. The horror stories are phenomenal. And as you already know, it sent my client-bride-to-be to the hospital. This is definitely a fact that will help me in my initial meetings.
3. I’m not even sure this concept was touched on in the book, but I didn’t get it from the ABC course. If you’re a groom, please be patient. I say this because brides are normally the ones that do more work. Maybe butch up. Help out. Don’t take her stress personally. I know it’s difficult. I really can’t explain how much your wedding will test you as a couple. The planning and the ceremony and the reception and everything else turns out to be one of the biggest days you’ll ever experience. Go to couple’s therapy. Seriously. The average U.S. wedding is around $30,000. Don’t shy away from a therapist who charges $200 an hour.

600+ words. Win.

The Superintendent Who Digs Through Our Trash

Everyone in our building takes their trash to a specific area of the basement. There are garbage cans everywhere, with so many city-mandated recycling signs, it’s like trying to deal with the visual assault in Times Square. Despite the massive amount of signage, it’s still not clear where the specific bags should go. There are just too many signs. It’s insane. It was a year and a half ago that our drunk superintendent told us which cans are dedicated for which types of trash. The gross trash goes here, the glass and plastic go here, and “just pile up the cardboard next to these cans.” Never a problem. But yesterday was different.

I had just finished tossing the garbage when I heard a new sound in the basement: a wildly barking dog. I looked over to see an angry chihuahua running toward me. Around the corner I heard the drunk superintendent: “Good boy. Good boy!” The super stumbled around the corner, stumbled down the hall and shouted “What are you doing?” I looked at him and felt the resulting confused look cross my face. “Tossing the trash.” The super was panicked and approached the cans. “Where did you put it?” I’ve dealt with the super for a long time, but this was odd behavior even for an alcoholic. I didn’t quite know how to respond to such a stupid question so I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know… in the cans?” The super zipped his head from side to side, scanning the area. His eyes were wide. “What trash did you throw away? What cans did you put them in?” I guessed that I was going to have to placate him. “The garbage went in there, and I put some cardboard over there, in the usual spot.” That wasn’t good enough for him. And the chihuahua was still barking with that shrill, high-pitched yipping that can make your head hurt. The super continued panicking as the dog kept barking. “You know the glass and plastic go over here right? OK, there’s your cardboard. What did you put in here?” He opened a can meant for the gross trash and took out my bag, rolling it around in his hands.

He was massaging the bag. Get a gross visual in your head and magnify it. Did he have a trash fetish? I didn’t want to find out. I quickly turned around to leave and heard him say, “We got fined.” He then started talking to his dog. “Everything’s good. He did good.” Yeah, he was talking to his dog, assuring the barking chihuahua that I had placed my trash in the correct receptacles.

I got one of our doorman to explain. Turns out there are city trash inspectors that can fine owners/landlords if tenants put recyclables in their gross trash. The fine this time was $100. So now the super has to make an increased effort to dig through our trash. An online search helped me understand this behavior. A $100 fine means they’ve been busted before… likely twice. The super’s panic came from the possible next fine: hundreds of dollars for each bag that has gross trash mixed with recyclables. The building can fight the fine, but it’s not easy.

One of our three doormen has been sick for a month. Intestinal issues. Possibly an ulcer. He finally called out. The super had to put on a coat and watch the door. He showed me his phone that had text messages from the sick doorman, who was refusing to see a doctor despite having an awesome medical plan from his union. This doesn’t really matter in relation to the trash story, but sometimes stupidity needs to be acknowledged. The super said the city inspectors walk down the street and tear open bags of gross trash (in the black bags) to make sure there aren’t any recyclables in them. Now here’s the important part: Once the inspector notices recyclables in a black trash bag, (s)he fines the building and then turns into a detective. If there’s any identifiable garbage, they march up to the offender’s apartment and crack the whip. An envelope with your name on it? A letter with your apartment number on it? Your trash turns into an inspector’s dream.

Recycle. And shred everything with your name and address on it.

An Open Letter Regarding “An Open Letter to ‘Never Forget’ Bumper Stickers”

In case Jolly Evil’s site goes down, I’ve pasted her entry at the bottom of this post. Trust me, it’s worth reading.

Dear Ms. Evil:
I’m a little late to the party, but I’d like to comment on an open letter you wrote in 2012 regarding “Never Forget” bumper stickers.

I read your post the day it went online, and I just read it again today. My reaction was the same each time. I was in tears. Part of those tears are from the guilt I feel about having my own emotional response to such a tragic event that I didn’t even witness in person. Just like the “Never Forget” bumper stickers, my emotions seem self-serving.

I’ve heard so many people across the country say they understand what it might have been like being in Lower Manhattan at the time. That’s not possible, and what you wrote makes that clear. Unless you’re pushing through checkpoints and wiping yellow dust from around your windows, you really can’t understand the magnitude. It’s hard to even acknowledge you saw the jumpers.

I was in a television newsroom the day the planes hit. Our executive producer initially rushed out of the control room to say we were going live to New York to cover a fire consuming the top of the North Tower. Some of the staff still thought it was a local news story and didn’t care. But then we saw the video feed of the plane hitting the South Tower. This is going to sound insanely callous, but the only other time I’ve heard a reaction that loud in a newsroom was when Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Please let me assure you, the difference in mood between these two events is as extreme as you’d expect. The plane hit the tower and there was a loud silence.

Despite the magnitude of the attack, the head of our network insisted we go to “alternate programming” and let our sister station cover it. (S)he came into the newsroom to announce it, and the loud silence ceased. There was simply a silence. One of my writers was so incensed, he immediately logged out and left. Our show team was released a short time later. When I got home, the Pentagon was on fire. I cried, just like I cried when I read your open letter. No one knew what was going on. The FAA had grounded flights. I looked outside my condo, and for the first time, I saw no planes or contrails. The skies where empty.

Network higher-ups cracked the whip and got us back on track. We were covering the attacks again. I immediately came back with a go-bag, ready to stay for as long as needed, in an attempt to help give the country an understanding of what was going on. But that was impossible. Rudy Giuliani with a dust mask? The towers collapsing? The video from Shanksville? People walking so many miles to get home? Ms. Evil, I’m so sorry. It did nothing for you. You were living in a world that video and words couldn’t explain. I tried. And failed. Everyone did.

I recently saw a very long documentary about New York City which ended with the attacks and the recovery. That’s why I looked for your post again. Just like the bumper stickers, the documentary seemed hollow, despite the extreme videos they showed. I agree with your opinion. Even for me, I don’t need constant reminders from things plastered on cars. I now live here in NYC, and am constantly forced to see that stupid building. I get uncomfortable when I see or hear airplanes flying over the island. And wow, I should mention again how much I hate seeing the Freedom Tower, not to mention the constant news reports about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

I remember Ronald Reagan getting shot. I remember the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots. And yeah, I remember the buildings collapsing with the insane number of conspiracy theorists later trying to hammer into our heads that the government was involved. Maybe I’d like to forget those things. I’d love to be able to stop dwelling on the attacks. The stickers aren’t helping.

Ms. Evil, you haven’t written in a while. I wish you would continue.


Dear Stickers,

What specifically are you concerned about me forgetting? My roommate waking me up in our dorm on 9th Street after the first plane hit? Seeing ant-sized jumpers, all falling at the same sickening speed? Watching the buildings crumble outside my window, like an action movie without the sound? 

I don’t need you to remind me about the hordes of exhausted, shell-shocked people trudging up Third Avenue, all colored beige, dust piling on the shoulders of men’s suit jackets and hanging from women’s hair in clumps. I lent my against-all-odds functioning cell phone to a woman who worked downtown, and I won’t forget how bizarre it was when she asked me if it was OK to make a long-distance call.

We were inside an emergency zone. Only residents were allowed south of 14th Street. People trying to get downtown all ended up in Union Square Park, including reporters, who were putting people on camera and letting them get hysterical. Going to the grocery store meant crossing a National Guard checkpoint and a mob. I remember showing our Student IDs to a Guardsman on our way back, and I remember his gun, the most threatening weapon I’ve ever seen in person.

Word got out that a theater south of the checkpoint was open for free. I did forget some of the movies we watched that afternoon. We saw at least three – everything that was playing except for Apocalypse Now Redux. When we left, the staff was handing out napkins for us to hold over our mouths. We would all grow accustomed to the thick, choking cloud, with its layers of yellow dust that gathered on our windowsills for months.

Stickers, I’ll be honest, I’d forget more if I could. Just enough to lose the worst of the feelings that come back sometimes. I’d like it if my chest didn’t seize up when planes fly overhead, or when I pass an officer with a semi-automatic rifle, or see one of you, who want so badly for me to remember the worst day of so many people’s lives.

It’s been 11 years, but you’re still surprisingly pervasive, with your block lettering and flag motifs. People are still buying you, sticking you on their cars and trucks so that everyone behind them gets the all-important reminder. But I promise, I will never forget lying in bed with my eyes wide open, thinking about the people buried alive two miles away. We’re good. You can all peel off now.

The original post is here.


Verizon Wireless and Network Extenders

[Imagine a logo of Verizon Wireless. I don't want another Cease and Desist order.]

This is a paraphrase of my lastest call to Verizon Wireless.

[Ring.] [Autobot maze.] Hello, this is Verizon Wireless. My name is Xxxxxx, how may I assist you this evening?”

“Hi. I just moved across the hall and now can’t get cell phone reception. I have to go five floors down to the lobby to make calls or receive messages. Can you help?”

“Certainly, Mr. Zim. I have your new address as Xxxxx Xxxxx Drive, Apt. Xxx. Is that correct?”


“It looks like you’ll need a Network Extender. That will cost you $200. But before we sell that to you, we’ll have to confirm with the FCC that there are a limited number of Network Extenders in your area.”

[My brain melts and I recover.] “OK, I’d like to make sure I understand you, but I don’t you to feel that I’m lashing out at you personally. Are you saying that I’m a Verizon Wireless customer living in the most densely populated area of the United States, but I still can’t get reception? Even with a new-generation phone and higher-end cell phone plan? And now I have to pay an extra $200 for the privilege of using the service?”


“And I can’t fix this any other way?”


[My brain melts again. I recover again.] “OK, so I’m assuming Verizon doesn’t have enough cell phone repeaters in my area or that I’m blocked from getting signal from one. Does that sound about right?”

“Yes. The good news is that we can ship this to you immediately and you won’t have rental fees on the unit. It’s yours to keep.”


If you haven’t heard of Network Extenders before, let me introduce you to Network Extenders. They’re needed even in Manhattan. I paid the $200, knowing I was powerless to do anything else. I realize there’s going to be some “life hacker” who professes to know a cheap solution, but please don’t bother telling me about it. I just didn’t have the time to gather $100 worth of garbage and solder it all together to make it work. I plugged the Extender into an outlet and our router, and got a signal instantly. The only difference is that when we make a call, there’s a beep before the phone dials the number. We even hear the beep when we’re across the street or behind the building. Apparently this thing works. I want to hate the fact this is a necessary purchase, but it’s just easier to give in and move on. My current assumption is that there are no other Network Extenders in the area (how is that possible?) or that they found a way to link our Network Extender only to our phone numbers, so they can sell as many as possible in our area.


Dear Spammer (part 2)

Spammer Number Two

–Never bother to create an original avatar.
–Create a screen name that obviously points out you’re trying to sell a product or service.
–Use an IP address already linked to spammers.
–Create an email address from Germany, such as “”
–Add a URL linked to the product or service you’re selling. Add malware and spyware to the site.
–Never, ever have your comment make sense.

–”Web site” is actually one word… “website.”
–I don’t know what “quality depending articles” are, but if that’s an actual, logical phrase on the planet where you live (and your planet adheres to the same grammar rules), it should be written like this: “quality-depending articles.” I know you don’t want an explanation, but I’ll give you one anyway. “Quality” and “depending” are both modifying the noun “articles.” That makes “quality depending” a compound modifier. All compound modifiers require a hyphen. The hyphen turns both words into a single adjective, which helps people more efficiently follow along while they’re reading.
–Since you’re obviously a fan of brevity, I question the logic of starting this run-on statement/question with “I know.” It’s not really needed, although I get why you added it.
–I would also like to suggest deleting “and additional material.” The articles themselves are the material, which makes your additional words redundant. It’s like saying “I know your restaurant offers delicious food and additional food…”
–Your comma makes me hang my head in shame. Honestly, I’m embarrassed for you. Use a period instead, then start your question with the initial letter capitalized: “Is…”
–Knowing the massive amount of websites available to humans, it would make more sense to ask “Are there any other web pages…”
–”Which” is a word that typically introduces a nonessential clause. Use “that” instead.
–You wrote “offers” twice. I’m certain you can find a replacement for one of them if you thought for a second or two.
–The word “things” is an abstraction. Try to avoid abstractions if you desire stronger writing.

“Your website is fascinating. Do you know of any others that include such quality articles?”



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