Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shit Happens--An Update

According to a note I got from Credo, the Delaware River Commission meeting for November 21 has been cancelled, signaling that the plans to allow hydrofracturing in the Delaware Basin did not have the support of President Obama and the Governors of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. 

Thank you to everyone who wrote, called, or clicked on the Credo button to send your public comments to the President and to your Governor. Surely our collective voices were heard, but as always, we must remain vigilant and guard the back door.

For more insight on the plight of Upstate New York residents in the wake of Hurricane Irene, please see my previous post. I still can't believe what I saw in those pictures, and similar scenes of devastation can be found in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

The time for denial about the truth of climate change is over.  It is time to stand up for the environment before things get any worse. Hopefully, it will not be too late to remediate the damage that has already been done.

On a more personal note, I am recovering well from my arm injury, enough to be able to make my acting debut on November 5 as Hannah Townsend Lawrence at the Bayside Historical Society's tour of Lawrence Cemetery. And on November 21, right after my lecture on OB/GYN emergencies for the Emergency Room Nurses  Course at Montefiore, I'll be headed to Manhattan.

Fellow urban fantasy author April Gray and I will be chatting about the genre of urban fantasy and I'll be reading from my novel in progress Boulevard of Bad Spells and Broken Dreams at the Columbus Library.  I will sign copies of anthologies containing excerpts of Someday for your holiday gifts.

Next week, I plan to muse about the Occupy Wall Street movement and another example of  the government  mishandling a situation by not responding to the concerns of We, the People.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Shit Happens

I apologize in advance for the language, and the idioms you are about to endure, but I'm in a morose Brooklyn/Bronx mood these days. The frozen shoulder I woke up with on September 10 turned out to be tendonitis. I'm better since the steroid injection, but am still limited in my range of motion and how long I can type before the pain—from right thumb to my neck—roars back. Physical therapy is a slow process, with some good days interspersed with a few bad ones. Shit happens and, this too, shall pass.

Seems like nothing in comparison to the sights on a recent trip upstate to close our summer cottage: The devastation wrought by Hurricane Irene on the already depressed towns in the Catskills where floods wiped out whole towns, roads, bridges, and a lot of farmland and livestock. At one low lying intersection, at the bottom of a hill, next to a stream between Cobbleskill and Middleburg, remnants of hay bales dangled from treetops, where they were deposited by raging flood waters. I can only imagine what it was like since more than a month has already elapsed with most roads at least passable, but many homes and businesses damaged or in ruin and fields underwater.

This courageous homeowner, somewhere between Potter Hollow and Preston Hollow, has chosen to count his/her blessings and remain positive though the property is a total loss.

The Preston Hollow Little League field, home to a team that once made the Little League World Series, is a mudflat and the playground equipment a tangled ruin, testament to the power of floodwaters in one of those rare weather events that come along once in a lifetime—we hope.

Has over development, acid rain denunding the northern forests, and global warming caused major changes in the ecology, the environment, and weather patterns, which caused this area to suffer more damage from Irene's wind and rain than Coney Island, Brooklyn where the storm made landfall (another cosmic joke, though none of this is really funny)? Yes, I think so.   

( Locust Point, Throggs Neck (Bronx) after tidal surge from Hurricane Irene. This area was under mandatory evacuations but obviously not everyone left. Thanks for the photo Karl, Jr.)

Which might mean that this sort of shit will happen more often in places that it has never happened and no one is prepared for or equipped to handle it. Like the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, Buchanan, New York, which is up for license renewal and advertising like hell, using a female engineer who sounds far too young and naïve (and brainwashed) to reassure me and others in the fall out zone (approximately the surrounding 250 miles, which is just about where Potter and Preston Hollow are) that the plant has been built to withstand hurricanes, floods, is protected from aerial terrorist attacks or airplane accidents at nearby airports, and is "perfectly safe."

I ain't buyin' it—though I'm from Da Bronx, not Brooklyn. Floodwaters with the power of those in the Catskills would surely create another Fukushima Daiitchi scenario and we ain't got the Fukushima Fifty kamikazes around here to go in to try and fix it. Hell, we can't even get home on Friday nights never mind evacuate the tri-state area about to experience nuclear meltdown. And in upstate New York, "you can't get there from here'" right now with many bridges still badly damaged.

Who knows what the proposed hydraulic fracturing (say it isn't so, Governor Cuomo) will do to the topography and environment, exposing this area and our watersheds to pollutants and further degredation and ecological and environmental systems? Big business has paid for a smooth talking, snake oil salesman to sell the idea, but the signs are all over the muddied lawns upstate, and I concur. "No fracking way!" "No drill, no spill!"

Fugetaboudit. Give up those gas guzzlin' cars, turn out the lights, reduce your own carbon footprint, and reuse and recycle. We can do without "alternative energy sources" which could kill us all either the quick and dirty way, or the slow and insidious evolutionary way.

Yeah, shit happens, and we're shoveling, pumping, and mopping enough of it in New Yawk these days.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later-Tread Lightly On Our Memories, The Pain Is Still Great

I knew this weekend would be difficult and it is. I am physically sick today, and do not believe that my (minor) case of PTSD is not to blame for this otherwise unexplainable pain.

View my photo scrapbook: 9/11, Then and Now here

Please go to my other blog for my thoughts on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks

Here is a retrospective on The Twin Towers and The Lowly Parking Meter that I wrote last year.

And here is part of the 9/11/01 chapter of Someday I'm Going to Write a Book:

It was pleasantly busy. A few women in labor, triage was quiet. I got coffee
from the food cart, Starbucks, with a shot of French vanilla. I made sure to get skim milk because I treated myself to a scone.  They have almost my whole day’s allotment of calories. That Starbucks has enough caffeine to jazz me up for 12 hours.
“Wow, you have to see this,” said Janine the unit clerk. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
A few of us went into an empty patient room and saw live footage of the gaping hole and the smoke.
“Someone must have lost control of a small plane, there have been a few helicopter crashes recently,” I said. “I hope not too many people got hurt.”
No sooner were the words out of my mouth when we saw, live and in living color, the second plane crash into the south tower. Flames exploded, debris and what we now know were people were flying out. Even the news commentators were stunned, stumbling over their words like drunkards.
“What the hell just happened?”
“Someone just flew a second plane into the other tower!”
“It’s terrorists!”
I don’t remember who said what. One hand over my mouth to hold back the vomit, I held onto the wall as I walked, my knees like rubber. External disaster codes were activated. Bells clanged and the operator called out instructions.
“Blue team to basement.”
“Red team to lobby.”
“Green team to ER.”
Automatic fire doors slammed shut. Strobe lights flashed.  Footsteps pounded in the hallways. Panic bars clicked on the doors as they smashed open against the walls then slammed shut. People ran around like an uncovered nest of roaches.
 “The phones are down!”
“The pagers aren’t working!”
“Make sure all emergency equipment is plugged into red outlets in case we lose power!”
“My husband is in that building!” screamed someone, falling to her knees.
“My father is down there,” said Janine through tears, trying in vain to get a cell phone, any phone to work.
“Joann, let’s get you into the lounge. Turn the TV’s off in the patient’s rooms!” I tried to help her to her feet and ease her out of the hallway.
“A plane just went down near Philly. It was supposedly headed for the White House. There are 8 planes missing from the flight controllers, they are going to shoot them down, the US is under attack.” Josie read the CNN headlines to us but she spoke like she was the President.
Of course, when planning an attack the enemy knocks out communications first. The World Trade Center is very close to here. We have no phones
The fear, not for myself, but for my country was so profound I was beginning to panic myself. Outbursts and screams from staff that had relatives in lower Manhattan  reminded me that my job was to help others, not to dissolve under pressure.
Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name…
“Joann, just because he’s not answering his phone doesn’t mean anything, they aren’t working.”
 Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…
“Here have a drink of water.”
“Lisa, your husband works blocks away, I’m sure he’s fine.”
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…
 “I know Denise’s husband is a fireman, they know what they’re doing, in 1993 very few people got hurt.”
 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever, Amen.
 “She wants to push? OK, I’m coming Josie.”
“Carole, the south tower just collapsed. It’s gone.” Josie whispered in my ear as she tied my surgical gown for me. The splash guard on her mask fogged up with her warm tears.
“Push mommy, the baby’s coming, don’t be afraid. Everything is alright, nothing bad is happening to you.”
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, Blessed are you amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus…
“You’re doing great, see the baby’s head? I know it feels terrible but really, nothing bad is happening. Just push.”
“One more push, you can do it, you’re strong. The baby’s almost here, soon you’ll be done. Great, here comes the baby! It’s a girl!”
I dried the baby and gave her to her mother. I helped her father cut the umbilical cord. They took pictures. I
delivered the placenta, did some suturing. Josie whispered to me as we cleaned up and got the baby to nurse.
“Carole, both towers are down.”
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene is Just Another Memory--Which Conjures A Lot More

The latest storm has come and gone, just like the other ones in my life, but the memories will be with me until the end. Having grown up on the Bronx waterfront, high water and high winds were something we dealt with all the time--as a family.

The storms that did the most damage were the ones we never expected--two of them were winter Noreasters with tidal surges augmented as the water flowed down the streets over the snow. But two hurricanes in particular, come to mind every time one takes aim at New York and I immediately go into prep mode.

In 1976,  I was the only one home while the rest of the family vacationed in Cape May, New Jersey. I got up for work at 6:00 a.m. and heard the first warning that Hurricane Belle was on the way later that afternoon (weather forecasting was not as advanced as it is today). I called in 'sick' and got to work securing my Dad's Larsen Lapline, anchored behind the house in Long Island Sound, and 'evacuating' his pigeons from their waterside abode a block away to my cousin Dennis' coop. 

Dennis helped me with that, as well as moving all the patio furniture and my Dad's ten thousand houseplants summering outside to safer haven. Then there was the matter of the shed-moving the lawnmower and other electrical equipment, all the bicycles and loose flower pots. And the cars, which needed to be moved about a half mile away, to higher ground. I had to walk back, twice. God, I wish I still had that picture my high school sweetheart (soon to be first husband)  took of me, sitting in the dining room facing the sound, surrounded by the contents of the backyard and shed, holding an umbrella.

The family arrived home after a harrowing drive home from Cape May in evacuation traffic to find it all done, and honestly, I don't remember anything about the storm except that we came through it with minimal damage from the storm surge, even though the boat had dragged its anchors quite a distance and was beached about 50 feet from the bulkhead in our backyard.

In 1985, I was living a block away when Hurricane Gloria threatened, separated from but trying to reconcile with my first husband. Due to the strength of the storm, the shoreline, including my childhood home was under mandatory evacuation. My parents and younger sister went to stay with my grandmother--the first time they'd ever left for a storm--but I was not under the same advisory and stayed behind. The storm blew by in what seemed like a few minutes, and I waded around the corner through thigh high water to find water lapping at the back door of the house, but no major damage.

My ex stayed with me to help that time, and we celebrated with friends by going out for Mexican food with our good friends Jerry and Liz, at Don Emilio's in Larchmont. I'll never forget the plate glass window in the shop next door, still boarded up and spray painted in red "Gloria, Be Gentle."

I'd called in 'sick' that day too, and unfortunately the reconciliation with my ex was as short lived as Hurricane Gloria.

I was not scheduled on duty in either of my jobs for Hurricane Irene, but after my house was secured and I'd assured that my Mom, spending her first hurricane without my Dad, was tucked away and riding it out with a friend, contemplated calling to see if they needed me.

Nothing illustrates the schism between my professional and family life better.  I learned, by being part of a family that stayed together and played together, that nothing else matters. But then again, the pull to help with disaster services both in the streets and in the hospitals is very strong.  I feel guilty, for just a little while, that I'm not doing my part.

Maybe when the next hurricane threatens New York, things will be different and I'll ride it out with co-workers instead of cooking dinner, playing Zhu-Zhu pets with my daughter, and helping my (second) husband mop the basement and clean up the downed tree limbs.  And I don't even feel guilty about it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Moving Along and Getting Back in Business

It's been just over a week since my father's funeral and I'm numb and in a fog after being up, up, up for so long. I lapse into these moments where I see or remember some moment I spent with Daddy and either burst into tears (very unlike me) or stare into space for an hour lost in thought.

Going to work for short shifts helps since I get to focus on something and my co-workers give me tea, cookies, and strategically distributed hugs. OMG, Madeleines are just what you need for sinful, buttery comfort.

I don't think those random things are psychosis--rather synchrony. Things happened (and still do) after my grandparents died. On the morning of the funeral, I suddenly remembered my Dad had given me a bracelet when I was little. I'd already found and put on a pair of earrings he'd bought me when I had this really short haircut in my tomboy days and he told me "please wear these so they know you're a girl."

My hands went right to the bracelet buried in my jewelry box. The engraving on the back was June 18, 1971. Forty years to the day before he died. He wanted me to wear it, and it still fits. Synchrony. Some comfort.

Enough, back to work. Thanks for all your kind words of support. I'm looking forward to covering labor and delivery at LIJ this weekend. It's been a long time since I caught a baby.

For more about what I've been up to, writing wise, including another successful pitch for Someday I'm Going to Write a Book, check out my creative writing blog. There is lots of other good news there as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Most Difficult Deadline I've Ever Met

Two seasons have passed since I last posted here, and June 21 was truly the longest day of the year for me as I spent it with my family at a wake for my father who died after a long illness on June 18. And that, my friends, is one of the things that has kept me from posting and updating this blog on a regular basis. I have a host of half written, and some entirely written posts on subjects like the Japanese earthquake, local and national politics, bad boy behavior from the likes of Dominque Strauss-Khan and Anthony Weiner and the attack on reproductive rights.

But alas, there are only so many hours in a day I needed to allocate to being with my Dad in his last days, taking care of my kids, supporting my mom and my sisters, and working with "my kids" in the high school health center in the Bronx. Which is the direction I want to take this post because we all experience the death of loved ones and the best way to commemorate them is to honor what they accomplished and the legacy they left behind.

Many excerpts of Someday I'm Going to Write a Book pay tribute to my great-grandmother Jennie Bruno, a lay midwife in the same neighborhoods in which I now practice. And to my grandfather, her son, Alexander "Al" Bruno, who knew the Bronx like the lifelines on his palm. Coincidentally, or synchronously, whichever you choose to believe, he worked for Montefiore Hospital in the engineering department and somehow, ahem, I wound up there as well.

I inherited a lot from my Dad, and absorbed his love for the Bronx, for nature, for animals (his first name was Francis after all), the outdoors, particularly the beach and ocean, and for activism and community service. While he always told me to stay out of the bad neighborhoods, and harm's way, I know he was proud of the fact I paid no attention to him and waded waist deep through the South Bronx, Harlem and Washington Heights during the worst of times: the 1970s and 1980s when a bankrupt NYC had just about given up on those areas, and on the entire boro of the Bronx it seemed. Okay, that's all in Someday but this is about Frank Moleti.

Here is an short piece I wrote for a local newspaper about my father. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do: distill all his accomplishments, his personality, his passions into a few paragraphs. A feeble attempt but if the lines of mourners who came to pay their respects on Tuesday is any indication, I am not alone in my awe and admiration.

Councilman James Vacca kindly paid a visit and spoke about working with my father on Community Board #10 during those dark days in the Bronx. His tribute was a great comfort to my mother, an inspiration to everyone in the room, and I envisioned my Dad was looking down on the scene, nodding his head, with his typical closed lipped smile of self effacing satisfaction at a life well lived, a battle well fought, and legacy engraved on the hearts of almost everyone he met.

Francis A. Moleti, a longtime Bronx resident and community leader, died on June 18, 2011 from complications of lymphoma. He was 78.

Frank’s proudest accomplishments included his 1952-56 tour of duty with the United States Navy, serving as a machinist on the Battleship New Jersey during the Korean War. After returning stateside, he joined the Sheet Metal Workers International Association and was a foreman for Brook Sheet Metal, which handled many major New York City construction projects including the building of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center .

He grew up in Castle Hill, lived for a while in Parkchester, then moved to Throggs Neck. He served several terms as president of the Locust Point Civic Association until retiring to Southampton in 1995. An entire generation of local kids will remember Frank for his tireless efforts to bring PAL activities to Throggs Neck, as well as the weekend marathon of Labor Day events sponsored by the LPCA including the costume parade, foot and swimming races, as well as popular adult activities such as dancing under stars, the married vs. single men’s softball game, and the pie eating/throwing contest.

An avid fisherman and sailor, Frank worked tirelessly to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound, as well as the quality of life for Northeast Bronx residents, by serving on Community Planning Board #10 under then District Manager James Vacca. His efforts were instrumental in the closing and remediation of toxic waste leaching from the Pelham Bay Landfill as well as dealing with traffic congestion, noise, and environmental pollution near the Throggs Neck Bridge .

          He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Carole, three daughters, Carole Ann, Christine and Allison, and seven grandchildren. Donations in his memory can be made to The Connecticut Fund for the Environment-Save the Sound Project.

The Moleti, Virzi, Gentile, and Maiello families visit the Battleship New Jersey, Camden, 2002.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why I Should Be The Next New York City Sanitation Commissioner

I know. You're thinking "how could she be qualified for the job just because she throws out the garbage?" And I say to you "like Mayor Bloomberg and Cathy Black think she's the best candidate for the job of Schools Chancellor because she once attended school."

Actually, I could do that job, too. My three kids went through or are currently in a New York City public school, and I run a health center in a New York City public high school. I have put in real life classroom time. But I digress--she hasn't screwed up yet so her job isn't at risk.

So, how would a nurse practitioner and midwife run the NYC Sanitation Department? Why do I not aspire to replace the embattled chief of Emergency Medical Services since I am a health care provider and administrator, trained in provision of disaster services, and have ridden ambulances and done my share of night shifts in NYC public hospitals? Nope, don't want that job. I already have one that holds me responsible for acts of nature and other things totally out of my control.

The sanitation commish didn't see that his people got the streets cleared, and the OEM didn't issue snow emergency orders. How is it his fault the ambulances got stuck and the poor firefighters and EMTs couldn't schlep all their equipment through the drifts and carry the patients on stretchers to the nearest hospital?

You might not know I have a longstanding connection to garbage. My ex-husband's father worked for the Sanitation Department and kept us up to date on all the doings. Three of my neighbors were garbage men. The father of one of my college buddies was in charge of snow removal in the days when Mayor Koch ruled the roost and I heard, first hand, how he figured it all out when the legendary storms of yesteryear threatened.

I live within sniffing distance of the Pelham Bay Landfill, and my father was on the New York City Planning Board trying like hell to get it capped and closed before it leached any more toxins into Long Island Sound. I studied environmental sciences, including solid waste management, while doing my MPH. My then father-in-law was so thrilled that I was studying the Betz Avenue incinerator where he worked. To quote: "Ya see, that here Columbia University is sending their students to learn from me. Who says there's no future in garbage?"

I learned well, which is why I am such a rabid recycler and a member of organizations such as Save the Sound and The Nature Conservancy. I also learned a lot from the sanitation men in my life. They are a hard working bunch of people, albeit a trifle sexist and rough around the edges. But they handle garbage, which most of us really don't want to.

My current garbage men are a lot more dedicated than my current mail carrier, who tosses mail into the bushes when the steps are too icy. By the way, how come I only got two deliveries of mail between December 24 and December 31? What happened to "Neither rain nor sleet, nor snow nor dark of night...?" There I go again, off topic.

Poor John Doherty seems like one of the goodhearted sanitation man giants of my past, boasting on December 26 that his snow removal teams were the envy of those near and far. He steadfastly defended them even though the only plows I saw during the blizzard and weeklong aftermath were either double parked in front of restaurants or running up and down the streets with the plows up. Come to think of it, that could be one of those "men" things, like forgetting to put the seat down and swearing they wiped off the rim of the bowl.

I guess Mayor Bloomberg wasn't out in the storm while he continued with his snotty nosed bluster (ever heard of tissues and decongestant?), blaming us for shoveling snow into the streets (now really), abandoning cars in snowdrifts (because we had nothing better to do after we dutifully shoveled walks so the City didn't issue us summonses), and that we shouldn't call EMS unless it was a real emergency, not because we were sick, trapped, or freezing on a stranded NYC subway train without food, water or a bathroom.

Mother Nature cleared the snow by allowing temperatures to go above freezing. Most of it has melted--at least enough so that cars can park catty corner on top of the mounds, which are now mostly ripe, rotting holiday leftovers, gift wrap, boxes, and Christmas trees.

So, if I were Sanitation Commish here's what I would do:

Immediately reinstate alternate side of the street parking. Send a plow, with the blade LOWERED, to scrape away the icy remnants. Behind it should be a sweeper to collect the schnibles of garbage and recycling blown about in the wind. And behind that, a truck collecting garbage.

I would have to consult about the feasibility of the plow being down while the workers tossed garbage into the back of the same truck to maximize manpower and clean up a two week backlog. There might be technical issues that I, as a non garbage man, am not aware of. That's what my second in command, who should be a veteran sanitation worker who has made his way up the ranks, is for.

But the cynical administrator in me believes that the real rules against doing double duty aren't in place for worker safety or because of the limitations of the trucks themselves, but rather union rules which would insist on double time if the men were doing BOTH garbage collection and snow removal at the same time. Remember, my father-in law and neighbors were garbage men and shared a lot of insights.

Anyway, slapping myself back on track again, on the second round of alternate side of the street cleaning, all the snow will be gone and the recycling, including the Christmas trees, should be collected. In one week it will all be done and there will be no football games at Yankee Stadium and New Year's Eve Times Square Cleanup to distract attention from any other areas in The Bronx or Manhattan and the entire boros of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

But in the event we get another big snowstorm, any remaining garbage will be encased in ice and snow, thus minimizing the stench, rat and raccoon raids, and loose schnibles of paper, plastic and metal being bandied about by gale force winds. The Christmas trees can be propped upright in the drifts, indicating there is indeed garbage under there to be addressed, not some irreverent New Yorker's carelessly abandoned vehicle. A nice touch would be to hang birdfeeders from the branches for the poor pigeons and sparrows.

Plan B would be, after discussion with my second in command, to plow the garbage and snow at the same time and deploy manpower with shovels and brooms to deal with the remainder, before resuming Plan A. Having a background in environmental safety and infection control, I will insist my men be fitted with masks, gloves and the proper personal protective equipment, and get hazardous duty pay.

All hyperbole aside, I think that Mayor Bloomberg should, in the future, get out there with a shovel and ask "How am I doing?" like former Mayor Ed Koch did whenever the City was faced with a crisis. Instead of insisting that we're all just cry babies, using something besides his mouth would enlist all of New Yorkers in a united effort to take care of each other as well as clean up the City.

That would be a lot more effective than blaming the victims and demonizing his commissioners who had lapses in judgment or, like him, over exaggerated their omnipotence, were out of the City or out of touch with the National Weather Service, or caught off guard from all the holiday cheer.

Arrogance and apathy trickles down from above, which is why I really don't want the job. But thanks, anyway.