3 Free and Fast Improvements Newburgh Could Make Today

If you have a question about your City of Newburgh sanitation bill and call the number at the top of that bill, 569-7339, and it happens that you’ve dared to call them at 4 p.m. or later, or on weekends, or on holidays, a peculiar thing happens. You hear: “Today is Monday, October 29th and we are closing at 1 p.m. due to the storm. You can drop off your payments on November 1st with no further penalty.” Then: Click.

Early this month, as a public service, i called the Collector’s Office before 4 p.m. and suggested as politely as i could to the woman who answered that, since that greeting is three and a half months out of date, they might want to change it. The woman i spoke to said she’d tell her supervisor about it. When a week went by with no change, i called the mayor, too.

Shortly after that, i misplaced the bill in question. At 12:30 a.m. today (that is to say, just a few minutes ago, in the middle of the night) i went to the city’s website. There, in the listing for the Tax Collector’s Office, it gives the number as 569-7330. When you call that number, you get a message that is less embarrassing than the other one, but also erroneous: “You have reached the Collector’s Office. Our normal hours are 8:30 to 4.  We are sorry we can’t take your call; we are taking care of other customers.” Then: Click.

My suggestions, which would be totally free to implement and would take about one minute to effect:

1. For the 569-7339 answering machine, change the message to indicate that it is no longer Monday, Oct. 29.

2. Change the “away message” for the 569-7330 number to say, “You’ve reached us after hours; our hours are _____ to ____; please leave a message and we’ll get back to you.” And don’t say you’re “taking care of other customers” if it’s after hours. That’s what you say if you’re asking someone to hold. If it’s midnight, you’re not “taking care of other customers”; you’re off duty. By the way: We’re not your “customers”; we’re residents, we’re taxpayers, and we’re your bosses.

3. And then, as the icing on the cake, go ahead and listen to the messages each morning, and actually return the calls. i dare to hope that within my lifetime, city residents will have the chance to leave a message if, like fools, they call the Collector’s Office at 4:01 p.m.

My Own Winter Wren

Don’t know why, but a lovely, tiny winter wren has come to my feeder.  As i understand it from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they usually hop around on the ground looking for insects and avoid the black-oil sunflower seeds. Maybe he just flew in to see what everybody else was having: Dozens of sparrows, titmice, cardinals, chickadees and woodpeckers call my yard their winter home. Anyway, I’m very honored. to be hosting this new guy, and i hope he stays.

I love the way his little tail constantly bobs, as if he’s writing something with a quill pen.

I shall now try to append a photo of your typical winter wren, filched from the Cornell site, to this blog. Wish me luck! And if that doesn’t work, you can just go to the Lab’s winter-wren page: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Winter_Wren/id


How We Drove from Columbus to Newburgh in 10 Hours Without Getting Divorced

i drove the first 4 hrs 15 mins, getting us about 300 miles. Then it was about 5:30 and we stopped for dinner. Tim and i argued over whether it should be purchased in the form of those horrible “snacks” they sell at the Sheetz gas station we’d stopped at for gas, so we could eat in the car while we drove, or whether it should be eaten at a sit-down-and-be-served place; i insisted on the latter, and he sweetly gave in on that. So we went across the street from Sheetz to a “Dutch  Pantry” he’d spotted there in Dubois, Pa., where some cheerleader-lookin’ gals from Penn State were doin’ the servin,’ under the direction of the “real” waitresses, as part of a fundraiser to send their “Blue and White Club” to New York City for a weekend of “networking” with other Penn State alumni and cheerleader-types from around the U.S. There was a big “Blue-and-White tips” jar on each table. We ate big, comfort-food dinners and then i started craving one of their famous desserts, because it seemed that at the Dutch Pantry … well, that’s what you do, that’s all. They had a separate menu for desserts, and photos of various desserts were plastered all over the walls. i hesitate to tell you this, but the one i ordered could easily have served a family of four. In a clear glass dish about the size of a cake plate, there lay a HUGE, gigantic “Apple Fritter Sundae”. It consisted of three extra-extra-large scoops of delicious vanilla ice-cream that were drowning in hot butterscotch sauce. Coming to their rescue from one side of this sweet, sticky ocean, half-buried itself in the sauce, was an apple fritter, which is essentially a cross between a cinnamon doughnut and a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee roll. I mean by that that it was all apple-cinnamon-y, fried crisp on the outside, with no hole in the middle and about the size of a tennis ball. The whole affair was topped with a generous amount of whipped cream and a cherry. i knew, having asked, that it would consists of “3 scoops of ice-cream,” but i thought maybe they’d be apple-flavored ice-cream, and maybe that’s why they called it that, and of course i knew it would have whipped cream and a cherry (“sundae”), but i truly had no idea how genuinely obscene this object would be.

We ate it. We ate the whole fucking thing.
But, back up a moment. While we were waiting to be served dinner, in waddled the very fattest family either of us had ever seen. No adult males; just one HUGE mama, maybe late 30s to early 40s; one almost-as-huge female friend or relative about her same age; and SIX kids ranging from a moderately built, male albino teenaged dullard with a few teeth missing, to a true Honey Boo-Boo of about 7, who was just then being cranky. All the other four girls were very, very large also. The youngest one actually seemed to be salvageable, and i considered kidnapping her; she had a sweet, chubby face and was very blonde and blue-eyed. The fatter of the two ladies hung over her chair by about 50% on either side and she had on jeans with a 30-inch-long zipper, and a sweatshirt  that missed the top of her waistband in the back by about a foot. i was facing their table; Tim was facing away, so he missed a large part of the show. At one point the heaviest lady got up to go to the bathroom and was gone a long, long time, probably mostly spent getting her zipper back up.
The entire family seemed to be good friends with the staff and management of the Dutch Pantry. They all studied their menus intently and finally called a server over and asked about a promotion they were running: In the middle of each table and taped to the door  and the cash register were fliers showing a photo of a large salad bowl filled with some kind of a “sundae.” i don’t want to describe it here; i’d rather you imagined it. I just want to say that in height, it extended far above the top of the bowl. Anyway, the gist of the promotion was, if anyone at your table could eat that whole sundae in one hour or less, his dinner and the sundae both would be free. When Tim and i left, the family seemed to be having probably the most serious discussion of their lives, trying to decide who would give it a go.
From that point on, Tim drove.
It was rainy or misty almost all the way and very, very foggy in sections going over the Pennsylvania mountains. But we made it back home at precisely 11 p.m.; a 10-hour drive including our debauched dinner. We were weary; we were broke; but at least we were not in Pennsylvania any more.

Unemployed Re Porter: L’Chaim!

Many thanks to my old pal Elissa Englund, a great writer and a great person, for leading me to this site. It’s hilarious and made me want to …  well, to tip a few! Here it is:


Apologies to Mr. Allen

Fifty years on, my apologies go out to my 9th-grade math teacher for my tearful outburst in 1963 that left him speechless.

Mr. Allen, early yesterday morning, contrary to my passionate prediction that had held true for all the intervening years up until then, i did indeed use math! What happened was, a pipe going into my radiator had sprung a leak. Now, why that should require the performance of  math on anyone’s part, much less mine, may seem like a mystery. So i shall solve it here: To fix the pipe (a few days ago), the plumber had had to cut a slightly wider circle out of my wooden living room floor than had been there before, for the pipe to come up from. After he fixed the pipe ($620: Don’t ask), you could look down through my living room floor, into the basement! That was because the diameter of the hole he’d made was, oh, a half-inch or so larger than the diameter of the pipe. If i wanted to cover up that gap, he said, i’d need to buy a little object called a “pipe collar” at the hardware store. But, what SIZE pipe collar? As the plumber was looking at the leaky pipe, i remember him saying aloud, “Hmm … Is that a one and a quarter-inch pipe, or a one and a half-inch pipe?” And he had to give it some thought, but after closely inspecting and carefully eyeballing it, he guessed right, and went out to his truck and came back with the pipe he needed.  But i’d forgotten — or, more likely, never asked — which size the pipe was, and now i wanted one of those little, hinged “pipe collars” to  go around it.  And they’re sold, he’d said, by “diameter of the pipe.”

I swear to G-d, the answer came to me in a dream! Two nights ago, i woke up with the distinct memory that there is a formula for the diameter of a circle, if you know its circumference. And in my head i was already using the word “diameter” like a rocket scientist, instead of just saying the “distance across!” G-d must want me to do this.

“Pi-r-squared” equals something. i remembered that. Was that the formula i needed? No; if i knew the “r” (radius), i’d already know the diameter, because it’s always twice that. But wait: What the hell was “Pi-r-squared” the formula for? At 2 a.m., i ran to my computer and googled around for a minute. The area! Pi-r-squared is the area of a circle! But that’s not what i wanted. Out of the black of night, i then also remembered what “pi” equals: 3.14159 and then an infinite number of digits after that. It has no end, that “Pi.” i actually remembered that! Then i drew a few circles on a pad and realized that the circumference is always about three times bigger than the diameter.

Gold! I googled around for another minute and found out that, sure enough, the diameter of a circle (or pipe, in my case)  is its circumference divided by Pi. Whew! But i have no cloth tape-measure, only the bendy, metal kind, so wrapping my tape measure around my pipe wouldn’t give me an accurate measurement. So i went to the kitchen, cut off about six inches of twine, wrapped it once around my pipe, held it tight between two fingernails where the “answer-spot” was, laid it on my metal tape measure and found that my pipe is four and a quarter inches around. Back upstairs i ran to my pocket calculator, and: It’s a one-and-a-quarter-inch-diameter pipe! (The inside of the pipe, that is: the outside measurement, which i made, yielded the result of 1.32 inches, but they can’t fool me. I knew that would count as a one-and-a-quarter-inch pipe.)

The one-and-a-quarter-inch pipe collar i bought fit beautifully. Sorry, Mr. Allen: I did, indeed, need to use math in my “real life.” And now i’m wondering if Stephen Hawking started this way.