June in January

Heavy fog rolling through NYC. 11:20 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, January 14, 2013. It’s June in January. Or something like that. It’s not cold at 50 degrees at 10:30 pm on a Sunday night in mid-January.
The night before, it was even warmer. And there was a heavy fog -- or what in LA they call a marine layer -- over the city. Made your eyes water with the slightest slightest sting. I had just read that morning about the dangerous air pollution the day before in Beijing.
The corner of East 83rd Street and East End Avenue in the fog on Saturday night about 10 o'clock and then again last night (Sunday) at the same hour.
Cloud cover on the Upper West from JH's aerie.
It was a very quiet weekend. I have nearly finished Antony Beevor’s “The Second World War," and so now it’s a race to the wrap-up, much of which is at least vaguely familiar to me because I had uncles and brothers-in-law who served in WWII. Although my awareness was limited. Viet Nam was the war that etched itself into the consciousness of my generation (although for many of us, how soon we forget).

Several of the books I’ve read over the past year were the history of the West leading up to this war. “The Hare With Amber Eyes,” “In the Garden of Beasts,” “Citizens of London.” This wasn’t a conscious choice on my part as much as chance. The interest of one led to another. Even at this late age, I’m like a child still in the process of learning.

However, wars and history aside, it is apparent that despite our being equipped for it, many notice very little that doesn’t directly apply to them at the moment. All of the aforementioned books demonstrate what that leads to, over and over.

Watch out. On Friday afternoon, I ran some errands and picked up some food for the weekend. Leaving Eli’s on Third Avenue and 80th, I hailed cab on avenue and directed him with my hand to turn east on 80th. Which he did. As I reached for the door handle and opened the car door, a young woman on a bicycle (I’d guess in her 20s) came suddenly from behind and to an abrupt stop. She narrowly avoided hitting me and/or, the car, and narrowly avoided getting hurt herself.

Surprised by her sudden presence, I instinctively half-shut the opened car door, and directed her to pass. “No, you go ahead,” she said, waiting. 

I motioned her to go first. She did. Then I got into the cab. Before I closed the door, the driver said: “Can you believe that !!??”

He told me that the week before on Lexington Avenue in the 20s, he witnessed some bicyclist (also a young woman) doing the same thing. Darting from out of nowhere, she was turning a corner at the same time a dump truck was slowly turning also. In her misjudgment of time and space, she cut off the dump truck and made a dash to get ahead of him. In her misjudgment, she left no space for driver of the eight ton vehicle to stop for her: she disappeared under the truck. And died.

Many New Yorkers these days are taking such risks with themselves and often at the expense of others. It’s another version of the “noticing very little” that I was referring to above. People get hit by these bicyclists all the time.  The bicyclists get hit too.

The same goes for pedestrians. Walking into traffic without looking to see if any car (or bicycle) is coming, walking against the light, standing far out into the roadway while looking for a cab, driving a bicycle into an opening door of a car that has obviously stopped.

These are all fairly new forms of public behavior in the city that are taking on epidemic proportions. Not brand new, but developing into major patterns that are dangerous to our safety and our health, public and private.

Most of it is unconscious and unintended – people looking at their cell phones, focused on something else, bicyclists in a hurry, late for an appointment or just plain old romancing one’s ego. When the matter is pointed out, they often reject it with “pedestrians have the right of way.” That evidently includes bicycles.

Both Mayor Bloomberg and former Mayor Giuliani (“Mayor Bloomberg said ..., Mayor Giuliani said ...") have been credited with that notion, alleged to have publicly stated such. I don’t know; I never heard or read of either man stating it. But I’ve been told that more than once. While I don’t know them personally, I am certain they both look both ways before crossing any city street or walking into traffic. It is, after all, one of the first lessons in nature for all creatures great and small, taught by the parent. At least, it used to be.

The matter today implies negligence of responsibility, not only to oneself but to everyone else. Many who are aware of this social phenomenon attribute it to “Entitlement.” It is becoming a plague on our social conduct with each other that can only get worse. It is epidemic like some bizarre latent anarchy developing.

Moving on.
Last night I watched the second episode. I missed a couple. I see that Matthew Crawley married the Earl’s daughter. I missed that one.

Last night’s show opened with the family dealing with father’s recent financial disaster. They were going to lose Downton Abbey. And have to move.

I knew that wasn’t possible if for no other reason than it’s only the second show of the season, and the family will not be nearly as interesting in some small house with no (or very few) servants. And wotta we care about some family dealing with humongous  bring-down financial problems? Everybody already knows about that.
It’s pure soap opera set in a private palace and jumps from plot point to plot point like a honeybee in a bed of roses. The aristos, all attractively turned out, speak with British accents and treat their social inferiors (servants) with a humanity, however restrained, that is not the way Dickens would have written it. But then, that was Dickens.

Now in its third season, it is very popular, having got the biggest audience PBS ever got for a Sunday night Masterpiece serial. Last night Susan Fales-Hill, Peter Lyden and Joel Freyberg hosted a Downton Abbey Viewing Party in the Lambs Club Mezzanine level of the Chatwal on 130 West 44th Street. Dress code was Sunday Casual or Downton Chic.

After cocktails and dinner the guests moved to the Stanford White Studio in the hotel, to watch the show. I missed the evening, uncertain if I wanted to watch (since I hadn’t developed the habit). Although watching it in a room designed by Stanford White, a man of that previous age, must have been an interesting slant to witnessing the show.
 

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