The feel of Central Park changes after dark, especially when the 1a closing time approaches. The lack of people is almost surreal. You’ll see the random biker or dog walker, maybe the occasional couple sitting close on one of the wooden benches, but that’s about it. The recent addition of fireflies that late at night has made the park visits downright bizarre. Anywhere else in the country, I only remember seeing fireflies just after twilight. So why have there been so many flashing bugs flying around this late?
Entomologist Bonnie McGuire rescued me from my uncontrolled curiosity. McGuire is the Deputy Director of the Urban Park Rangers, which is part of NYC’s Parks and Recreation Department. Over the phone, she told me that the amount of time fireflies stay active depends on factors including their species, the temperature and the humidity. She also mentioned that different species have different colors and flash patterns. Some fireflies can even mimic the flash patterns of other species to attract and eat them. Tiny, bioluminescent cannibals.
So I found myself guilty of unwittingly buying into an old myth… that you have to be outside just after twilight to see fireflies. Nope. You only have to be outside just after twilight to see the MOST fireflies. Firefly Watch from Boston’s Museum of Science set me straight with all the other firefly facts I had wrong. Yes, I realize that attaining accurate knowledge of glowing beetles isn’t nearly as important as busting myths about heftier subjects like my 401k. But I can’t feel guilty about the occasional mental tangent.
Firefly Watch includes a type of epiphany page, where I checked out the infographics and found myself thinking “Oh, I get it.” The page also talks about the granddaddy of all firefly researchers, Dr. James Lloyd. I downloaded a paper he published in 1966, and it contained so much information, I had to close the file after a few minutes because my brain started hurting.
I mentioned all this to one of my friends and her first reaction was, “Even the fireflies work harder in New York.” Out of fairness to the rest of the country, I’m not sure if they work harder. But they sure work later.
Fireflies will be holding public performances in Central Park for a limited time. Central Park is open from 6a-1a every day.
Outrageous amount of spam forced me to shut down the contact page.
UPDATE: I gave up on Tumblr as well.
Reworked stuff is here:
The copy editing document dump is still here, in separate files. January 2012. Link to anything here.
Maybe five months ago, on one of the first days after my training was over, I was scheduled to “work bread.” That means taking the stacks of bread racks from the back room and putting as much product as possible on the shelves.
I checked in to the correct manager and got a thumbs-up that I was indeed working bread. All the bread comes on trays that are normally stacked to a height taller than me. I notice one stack already on the sales floor, and I since I received no specific instruction, I started there. On the previous times I’ve walked by, I noticed that some people took the trays off the stack and walked them over to where the bread is on the shelf. It looked awkward. I noticed other employees just grab a few loaves off the trays and continually walk back and forth to the shelf. It looked inefficient. I chose inefficient because it seemed to be annoying less customers.
Manager: Don’t do this bread first. You should be working the Day Bread first. We donate it at the end of the day so we need to make sure the shelf is always full.
Day Bread is the “artisinal” bread that has less of a shelf life. Whatever doesn’t sell after the day is over gets donated to a food bank. So if it languishes in the back room, there’s no chance of selling it.
Me: Because at least this way, there’s a better chance we sell through more of it. That’s cool.
Manager: Right, right.
I pull a new taller-than-me stack out of the back room and put it near the Day Bread section. Soon after…
Manager: Do all of these have stickers on them?
Me: Oh. I’m not sure.
Manager: State law requires that all the bread we sell has a packed-on date on it. Some of the Day Bread is delivered without stickers. Do you have a gun?
The manager didn’t say “gun,” but that’s the only term I know. It’s a pricing gun. It spits out stickers with a date or a price. And no, I didn’t have a gun. But I was immediately given one. I made sure what I already stocked had stickers. I got back to stocking, consolidating items that couldn’t go on the shelves, putting them onto the trays. They call this extra stuff “dead.” I got through two trays, putting the “dead” stuff on the ground next to the bigger “live” stack, which I was still working through.
Manager: Hey, we can’t do that. That smaller stack is a Trip Hazard. We can only put stacks on the floor if they’re over knee-high. And we can never put stuff in front of the Fire Door. That’s a safety issue.
I suddenly recalled my first day of training, where I walked through the produce section and saw someone stocking with a box next to their feet. They got scolded for a Trip Hazard. So I could only imagine how serious this is.
The manager walked away again. I realized that stocking food while people are in the store was going to take a lot longer than I anticipated. I was going to have to be OK with stocking slower. More importantly, I had to realize that I had no idea what I was doing. I put the two dead trays back on top of the larger live stack and found the manager in the back room, near all the other live stacks of bread that haven’t been worked yet.
Me: So I seem to be confused about how this bread-thing works. Day Bread first, and then the rest of the bread for the rest of the hour. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to do all of this without creating a Trip Hazard. What do you normally do?
Manager: You can bring a Flat Cart out with you and put the trays on that until the dead stack is high enough.
A Flat Cart is a narrow cart about waist high. I started imagining the process of moving stacks and Flat Carts and juggling the need to keep everything above knee level, while having everything out of the way of customers. I started wondering how we get anything done, especially with the number of customers who ask us for help. This is when I began my gradual process of understanding why so many of the shelves are bare later in the day, even though the store has approximately 200 people on the payroll.
I got a Flat Cart and somehow got through Day Bread. I went back to regular bread.
Manager: Did you work all the Day Bread out of the back?
Me: I sure hope so. I spotted all the blue trays and worked them. The regular bread is on black trays, right?
Manager [walking me to the back room]: No, some of the Day Bread is on black trays. Like this stack.
Apparently a week of training wasn’t enough. I worked the last stack of Day Bread and got back to regular bread. I brought out a Flat Cart and put a tray of “dead” bread on it.
Random Employee: This entire stack is dead. You don’t have to go through it again. And just curious, why do you have a Flat Cart out here?
Me: I was told that’s how to keep everything above knee level.
Random Employee: Who told you that?
Me (lying to keep from having to do any damage control later): I don’t remember. A couple people at this point.
Random Employee: Oh, because I’ve never seen that before.
I kept working, consolidating dead bread and making a higher stack of dead trays.
Manager: When you work bread, you really need to consolidate so we have less backstock.
The manager pulled the trays apart and put more dead bread on each tray. The only reason this story ends is because the hour ended and I had another hour of stupidity to deal with somewhere else in the store.
I guess this is where I have to say something witty or recap something or give you a broad observation about what happened and how I hated it or how it should be fixed. If you need that closure, here it is:
The grocery store is Trader Joe’s. I can finally say that because I just resigned in the lamest of ways… I got really sick and had them wipe me off the schedule so I wouldn’t have to give them notice and work the remainder of the week. Today is my first day of unemployment. I hated working there with a passion. But I’m the biggest fan of their products. Now I have to go through all my writing and post all the stories. They’re all better than this one.
Dear Mr. Oatmeal:
I used to like you a lot. I loved everything you drew and everything you wrote about. Always. But then you did something so absolutely shameful, I was forced to hate you with the hating heat of 10,000 suns. You created a comic about something I care about and made fun of it.
See, I am overflowing with joy and love and happiness. Until it comes to dolphins. Then suddenly, my humor stops and comedy becomes a personal affront to my limited belief system. Why would you punch a dolphin? What kind of monster have you become?
Dolphins never did anything to you. Why would you hit one? Or kick one? Or hit one and draw it smiling as it crash-landed into its miserable sea of pain? I saw that and decided to never go to your site again.
So I was on The Oatmeal this morning and saw that you had been threatened with legal action if you didn’t pay a site $20,000. One of my friends called it “extortion,” but since he doesn’t admit his love for dolphins, I think he’s secretly on your side and blowing this whole thing out of proportion. Maybe you deserved it. You should have never called out the site for taking your stuff without attribution, since you already put it out there for free on the Internet. You obviously have no idea how this web thing works. Advertising? No one clicks on those silly ads.
So I linked to an ad and found that you were only donating to bears and cancer. Huh? Why not to the poor dolphins? They’re obviously going to need rehab, since everyone will now take tourist vacations to places with dolphins, rent scuba gear and swim around until they find dolphins to start throat-punching.
Everyone’s calling that lawyer a D-bag, but what do they know? He says he’s an Internet attorney, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about. And obviously you don’t. I mean, even Forbes is calling you out for editorializing that Tesla guy. And your defense is that you’re a comedian? There’s no room in comedy for irony or hyberbowly or whatever you called it. Just make me laugh. Not cry.
A dolphin lover
P.S. Do you have any extra t-shirts of laughing kitties you can send me? They’re cute.
I will never bother trying to explain the following to people outside of New York who were critical of my move. They simply won’t bother processing it.
I decreased my square footage but no longer have to pay for upkeep. This has been important, because starting over has forced me to work for less money. The bills now are more consistent, because I don’t have to save up to buy another car or major appliance.
On to convenience. In the following, “Now” is NYC. “Then” is where I used to live. Distances are from my current apartment door and my former condo door.
NOW: 100 feet is the distance to the crosswalk at the nearest avenue, where I can hail a cab in seconds.
THEN: 100 feet is the distance from my condo door to my parking spot.
NOW: 130 feet is the distance I have to walk from my apartment door to the nearest bar stool.
THEN: 1.8 miles was the distance I had to walk to the nearest bar stool.
NOW: 200 feet is the distance to the closest liquor store. (Note: two booze-acquisition places this close to the apartment is a coincidence. Not planned. It actually took me more than two months to realize that liquor store is there. Now, less than 24 hours after I posted this, I find out they’re moving two blocks away… that’s around 500 feet.)
THEN: 2 miles was the distance to the closest liquor store.
NOW: 300 feet is the distance to my pharmacy and my bank.
THEN: It took me twice that distance just to get from my parking spot to the closest street.
NOW: 800 feet is the distance I can walk to hit 3 grocery stores and a fruit cart.
THEN: 800 feet is how far I used to have to walk to my mailbox.
NOW: My current job is 16 blocks away… less than a mile.
THEN: My last job was 25 miles away.
NOW: The farthest I’ve traveled in NYC to buy a necessity: 1 mile.
THEN: How far I had to drive to hit the closest store of any kind: 1 mile.
Did I just write a three-part defense of living here? Yeah, I guess I did. The negative reactions I received were that shocking. Too bad the people who really need to understand this won’t be reading it.
If New York City was a disastrous place to live, there wouldn’t be more than 8 million people living here, and another 14 million in the metro area. People would leave, like they’ve been leaving Detroit. If the city was such a dark pit of crime, despair and lack of opportunity, even people who cling to the New York lifestyle would eventually cave in and bail out.
Yes, you see more crazy people here. But the population density is higher here than every other big city in the country. And there are more people on the streets, so the lunatics are more visible. To me, the crazy and homeless people are entertainment. I am rarely bothered by any of them. The only place I’ve ever been where I was shocked by the constant bother of panhandlers was Washington DC. The only place I’ve been where I was shocked by the number of visible homeless people was Atlanta. Not New York.
No car, no problem. Those mixed-use developments cropping up in major cities and suburbs have been here for decades. I am less than five blocks away from multiple banks, grocery stores, liquor stores, specialty stores, delis, as well as “permanent” food carts and fruit carts. I live next to a parking deck, a restaurant and a coffee shop. Two major parks are less than a half-mile away. I can walk less than 100 feet from my apartment door and get a cab in seconds. The subway entrance is a block down and across the street, and even at 3 a.m., I usually wait less than 10 minutes for a train.
I know there are plenty of pockets around the boroughs where crime is a problem, but I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of Manhattan where gentrification started taking hold a long time ago. Also, Giuliani apparently took care of some of NYC’s crime problems before I got here. If crime is all you hear about on the news, it’s because most news is negative. You’ll never go to NYTimes.com and read hundreds of thousands of articles a day with headlines such as “Local Pedestrian Not Mugged” or “Midnight Walker in Central Park Not Attacked.” If you believed all the actual articles available online, every single person who pulls out an iPhone on the subway will get it stolen right out of their hands.
Despite what some people might think, the weather here is not horrific. It snows, but it’s not lake-effect snow. It can be stormy, but the odds of seeing a tornado or hurricane are rare. It can get hot, but nowhere near desert-hot. It can get humid, but not I-live-in-the-South-and-I-want-to-die humid.
Want to talk trees? Manhattan has them, and not just in the parks. I understand the tall buildings dwarf them. This is different from places where ranch houses make the puny trees look bigger. Something that always shocks me is when people brag about the trees in their area and find a place to live where all the greenery is clear-cut for the development. Or maybe they move to where trees don’t exist in the first place. Compare one random spot in New York to other random (translation: carefully chosen) spots in Cocoa, FL; Canton, GA; Phoenix, AZ… and as a bonus, Notrees, TX.
Visiting NY can hurt your perception of the city more than it can help. Let’s say I’m from suburban Xxxxx and get a hotel somewhere in Manhattan. It’s expensive and I am practically forced to worry about bedbugs. I walk down an Avenue and new odors hit my nostrils while I see trash bags on the sidewalk and hear some crazy man laugh hysterically while he’s picking his nose and eating what he finds. I get into a cab with a rude driver or get into a packed train by walking through a worn-down subway station. I get to Times Square and shove through the masses of people who are either not interested or can’t help me get to Macy’s. After a full day of sightseeing, I eat at an expensive touristy restaurant, hit a touristy bar, pass out and repeat this process a few more times until I take a flight back home. Flying here for a business meeting is even worse. This is NOT what living here is like. Almost all people who live in New York don’t live in hotels and generally don’t eat/drink/hang out at touristy places. They have local bars and know where to get good food at their nearby restaurants or delis. They know what pizza and bagel places to avoid. They are used to the smells and noises and are better at dealing with little details that might be frustrating or off-putting to a visitor.
I got plenty of comments from the Peanut Gallery before I moved to New York City. I dropped everything when I left, and left quietly, but still had to let some friends know I was leaving. My realtor had to find out, and there were also randoms I told in conversation. Some people thought it was cool that I was completely starting over, but most seemed to believe I was crazy. I got comments in person (“How are you going to manage?”), by phone (“So you’re going to be one of those people who walk everywhere?”), by e-mail (“New York is a dump. Good luck.”) and by text (“Dumb idea. What are you thinking? Don’t you realize you’re taking another step backwards?”) That text was one of several that actually came from a guy who was my best friend during high school and college. He was such an ass about the news, I quit talking to him. My thought is that true friends should be there to offer support and only intervene if someone might be doing great harm to themselves.
There are several reasons why people would not take news like this positively:
I’ll ignore the first four since they’re obvious and off-topic. As for the last two, the following posts are for anyone who has never claimed residence here.
I have been to 45 of our 50 states in the U.S. During my travels, I realized rather quickly that you can pretty much move anywhere and manage. Depending on where you lived previously, the move to a place like New York might require a little more adjustment, but you won’t mentally implode as if you were a Neanderthal dumped in the middle of a stadium during the Super Bowl. I was lucky enough to visit NYC for six weeks before I decided to move, and assimilated quickly. The lack of a car was no problem. The subway was no problem. The massive amounts of people were no problem. Overall, life was… convenient.
My (former) best friend knew so little about me at that point, he should have never had an opinion about my decision to move. He could have easily asked me why I decided to start over, or asked me if I had any understanding of life here. But he even lacked the ability to realize he was NOT knowledgeable enough to have a valid opinion.