Never Draw Straws On The N Train


[The Raft of the Medusa, painted by Theodore Gericault. (Source: Google search.)]

This afternoon, my wife and I actually left Manhattan and made a trip to one of the boroughs.  On purpose.  We rode out to Astoria, Queens (where my wife grew up) to visit my son, Brian and his girlfriend, Kristin.  We had a great visit–saw their apartment and ate a superb dinner at a place called Elias Corner for Fish at 24-02 31st St.  With the exception of my wife, I had the feeling that Brian, Kristin and myself were going to be the only three people who weren’t Greek once we arrived at the restaurant.  Before I go any further with this post, I need to explain a few things.

Yes, Mariam and I are still “on the road” to Florida.  But for several very good reasons, we have this lay-over in New York City.  Being away for four or five months is no small undertaking, so we scheduled a few doctor appointments and Mariam needs to attend a meeting or two in connection with her job.  Because of this, we’re leaving the r-Pod back in Jersey City and spending three nights in Manhattan–in a cozy hotel just a few steps from Herald Square (and Macy’s).

Just to prove that we are indeed “camping” in Jersey City, here is a photo of the pod:


It looked a little forlorn and lonely as we drove off to the Holland Tunnel.  I felt like we were leaving a puppy in a pound of Dobermans stricken with distemper, but silent while watching our tiny pod.

To kill a few hours today, I actually found a Barnes & Nobel that was still open for business.  It’s on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks north of the N.Y.Public Library Main Branch in case you’re interested.  I loaded up on books for our trip.  I do have and use a Kindle app on my iPad mini, but I can’t seem to forego the pleasure of a real paper book in my lap while I’m trying to stay warm in our camper.  On the way back down Sixth Avenue, I stopped at one of those souvenir shops that sell models of the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty in about twelve different sizes and NYPD tee shirts for $3.00.  In this particular shop, I located and purchased something that I couldn’t find at Macy’s or any other store–a back scratcher (it telescopes very nicely).  Do you know how hard it is to find a back scratcher?  Especially when your back is still red from the drug reaction you got from the antibiotics you took to get over the respiratory ailment you picked up at your 50th high school reunion over a month ago?

But I digress.

We were sitting in Brian and Kristin’s small but adorable apartment and snacking on crackers and hummus.  The Merlot being served had the label of ‘Help Me’.  I must say, it was full-bodied with a subtle nose and nice legs.  Mariam was having a conversation with my son about the unlikely event that the Mets would actually play the Cubs in the World Series playoffs, when I turned to Kristin and asked how Law School was working out.  She said that she was plugging away and learning a lot about Constitutional Law and is even enjoying a course on Criminal Law.  That last topic piqued my interest and naturally we fell into a discussion of important case studies pertaining to crime on the “high seas”.  I asked her opinion on a ruling that has long interested me.  That, of course, would be the outcome of The Queen vs Dudley & Stevens case.  I’m referring, as I’m sure you are aware, of The Queens Bench Division which handled the trial in 1884 [14Q.B.D.273].  Don’t be confused by the use of the term “Queens”.  We’re talking here of the United Kingdom, not a borough of New York City.

The legalities involved have been the topic of many of my researches.  The case involves the rather sticky question of when is murder justified for the purpose of cannibalism while adrift on the high seas after a maritime disaster.  I don’t want to give away any amusing surprises here, (I’m not a ‘spoiler’) but it seems that killing one’s mate(s) while attempting to stave off starvation and dehydration while drifting in a small life boat with little or no reason to believe another vessel will happen along to rescue you is okay (under specific circumstances, however).  But, and here’s the kicker.  You are more or less allowed to kill someone on board the small boat, for cannibalistic purposes only, as long as you draw straws.  If no straws are used, then the starving mariner who holds the knife and does the deed, can later be tried for murder (assuming a rescue ship comes along–otherwise it becomes a moot point, doesn’t it?).  In this situation, a passing ship did indeed pick up the emaciated survivors–two of whom were then charged with said murder.

I won’t bore you with the outcome–you’ll have to look it up in your law library.

But, it got me thinking.

After dinner, we said our good-nights on the platform of the Manhattan bound stop on the N line.  Their apartment was only half a block away.  As we stood waiting, I felt myself rethinking the case study.  As the front lights of the train approached, I thought of the long run it would make from Ditmars Blvd Astoria to fabled Coney Island.  I knew that after a few stops, we would enter a tunnel under the East River.  I’m not especially claustrophobic unless it involves pre-mature burial (which I think about a lot), but the idea of being under the water for a few minutes had me wondering about criminal law below sea level.  What if the train was stalled or held up by the Command Center (it happened to me once in 1992)?  What if we were truly stuck beneath the East River–unable to move forward at all?  What if it came down to drawing straws to decide which one of the dozens of riders could legally be killed and then eaten?

I ran through a list of concerns.  Whose straw would we use?  Who would conduct the cutting of the straw lengths?  Who would actually take charge of the drawing?  And, most importantly, would anyone really have a straw?

As I was pondering these questions, I became aware that the train was actually slowing down!  Were we stopping?  Yes, we were coming to a full stop!  All this time, I had my eyes closed to better concentrate on the potential and bloody situation we may soon be facing.  After all, I was likely to be the passenger with the most sea-faring experience.  I had ridden the Staten Island Ferry more than four times and I own a kayak.  I had also been on at least two Whale Watches out of Bar Harbor.  In addition, I’ve seen the Queen Mary while it was docked at the Hudson Piers and I have ridden the NY Waterways ferry on at least four occasions.  I’ve been to the South Street Seaport and have visited Mystic Seaport more than once.  I also like to look at sailboats while I eat a Cobb Salad at the 79th Street Boat Basin Cafe.  So I guess that nails my point of being a maritime authority beyond any doubt.

I opened my eyes.  We were in Manhattan–we were approaching the Lexington Avenue/59th St. stop on the Upper East Side.  Five more stops would put us at Herald Square–and the relative safety of street level reality.  Painful decisions in matters of life and death were behind me.  We all know that now the rules of The Walking Dead superseded any maritime legalities.

I vowed, just then, to begin carrying a straw whenever I rode the subway and especially when it went through an underwater tunnel.

I also vowed to carry a small pair of pinking shears.  That way I could, perhaps, control the length of the straw that would be cut into various sizes.

Underwater or on the high seas, controlling the variables is very important.


[Do not use this illustration for navigation!  It is included for entertainment purposes only. I assume the copyright belongs to the MTA.  For full disclosure and transparency purposes, I will proudly mention that the title of this post was suggested by my son, Brian.]


Passports 10: A Letter to My Son Regarding Advertising

gas nozzle

From: Moorcote House, Moretonhampstead, Devon, England

To: Brian, Astoria, Queens, New York

My Dear Boy,

I hope this post finds you well and in good stead.  Has your golf game improved somewhat?  I do hope so, because remember the reward I promised last Christmas?  In case you have forgotten: if your game improves to within ten strokes of my own modest handicap, then I shall allow you to caddy for me at the next tourney.  Is everything else just chipper with you? I hope the package I put in the post ten days ago will reach you in time for the Big Party you often spoke about.  I chose the knickers myself.  I know how you admired the plaid ones that I sport.  And, I think the orange socks will compliment them to a tee.  I bought the box at the Post Office and found it was too large for the knickers and socks, so I included a few bags of Hedgehog flavored chips.  Reminds me of the joke: What can’t the hedgehogs share?  Good one, that.  I must ask after that darling lady friend of yours.  She’s such a dear.  Has she had any success getting the purple/orange dye out of her hair?  And, tell her that a Mohawk ‘do’ will, in time, grow out.  Between you and me, I hope she ditched the dog collar.  Also, she had asked our opinion about her recent purchase of stocks.  We thought about it and have come around to seeing her point.  We also feel that double-bonding silicon caulk is, indeed, a sound investment.  Personally, I think it was a much better choice than variable speed drills and double-basin stainless steel sinks.

Our rent car is a Fiat.  It’s smaller than most American cars…in fact, it is smaller than most cars in general.  Even with the back seat folded down, we could barely fit our two trunks and still have room for the laptop and Irish tweed cap that I so proudly wear when the evening gets a bit nippy.  Actually, it’s a good thing that the car is so small because the roads here in the West Country of England are so narrow, one can barely fit past another car.  When I’m pressed against the hedgerow on the passenger side and a lorry is approaching from the opposite direction, Mariam tightens and cringes.  I, on the other hand, am very relaxed.  I simply close my eyes as the lorry passes and wait for the sound of a side view mirror getting smashed off or the paint on my side of the car getting scraped clean.  Metal against metal has a pleasing sound, once you get used to it.  So, to the point of this letter, my boy.  I know you live in Astoria, Queens and have a nice job in advertising in Manhattan.  Your life sounds like something out of a Doris Day & Rock Hudson movie.  Yes, you went to a chi-chi New York City Business College but I feel, as a father, that I should give you some man-to-man advice on your career path.  You keep insisting that there is money in those massive billboards in and around Times Square that are placed by your company.  Hey, neon has it’s place, but the world doesn’t revolve around mid-town Manhattan (actually, on second thought, it does).  But, because you’re my son, I feel compelled to let you in on a little secret that I have picked up while touring England. I stopped on the M5 Motorway just this afternoon to fill the tank with what these Brits call ‘Petrol’, you know, gas.  Something caught my eye whilst I was pumping and I am now passing it on to you, my boy. On the top part of the pump was a sticker.  It read:

Not only has fuel nozzle advertising brought in new customers, but local awareness has gone through the roof. 

Now, I know a good bit of advice when I see it.  So, for what it’s worth, I’m passing this onto you, my boy.  You can step up to the plate, put the ball on the tee and take the ball and run with it or you can can take the bull by the horns and get caught in mid-stream without a Pope. Write soon and call your mother, Love, Dad