Ghost in Grand Central

We paid to be a part of a ghost tour at the Grand Central terminal on 42nd street, almost a decade ago.
The tour host welcomed us, maintaining an eerie voice, as he not only briefed us about the haunted areas in New York City but cautioned us; this appeared more gimmicky to market his tours than the possibility that a ghost would reveal itself.
But, every time he said many places in Manhattan, including Wall Street and Canal Street, remained haunted and that people had heard native Indian death chants, about twenty of us thrill-seeking strangers peeked at one another, ticking each one off, ensuring there was no zombie in disguise. Worse, when he blurted that the Grand Central itself was haunted, we braved a quick 360-degree whirl. It didn’t help that it was raining outside in the month of December and we were at the terminal in an off-peak hour. It helped though that in the first fifteen minutes of the tour, we didn’t experience any paranormal kicks or slaps.
The host informed us that the terminal had been constructed for the wealthy; that Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built and owned the station, had once ferried people from Staten Island to Manhattan, charging 18 cents per person; that his ambitious vision had driven him to build railroads.
If one noticed the sloping ramps in the terminal, the system was built to provide an efficient flow of passengers to and from trains.
Twisted yet beautiful

The mural painting in the vaulted ceilings was based on the designs of constellations. History: after the layout image was designed, it was projected onto the ceiling for painting. But it was erroneously projected upwards, reversing the image. Responding to critics, Vanderbilt suggested that the design be looked at as a new concept. Then, at one point, the whole ceiling was black from cigarette smoke; and though it was cleaned, a black spot in a corner was left untouched for souvenir-sake, if you will.

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Archaic and haunted

John Campbell, another rich man, and Vanderbilt’s friend, had requested the latter to rent him a room. Hence, there is a Campbell apartment within the complex where you’d see a locker. Legend has it that Campbell’s ghost lives there. Besides, there’s an oyster bar in the terminal where customers have reported hearing strange voices and sounds of breaking plates.

There’s a safe passage from under Grand Central station to the Astoria hotel, which VVIPs like the President of the USA take in case of emergency.

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Any beautiful city in the world has a mysterious past, or present, to it. How’s New York City an exception?

One World Observatory, The Freedom Tower

I have written two posts earlier about the views from our apartment. Please see Beginning and The Tallest Building.

When we moved into our apartment a decade ago, there was no Freedom Tower. Memories of 9/11 still fresh.

Over the years, One World Trade Center or the Freedom Tower has become what you see below. We have seen it evolve while witnessing our own evolution. And last weekend, we visited One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, fourth tallest in the world. A symbol of resilience, rising from the ashes. The apartment view.
That’s our apartment building. Witnessing the witnesser of the past ten years from the 102nd floor of One World Observatory.
Zoomed-in view from the ground
As expected, there were airport-like security checks.
The tunnel, en route to the Sky Pod elevator, has mock displays of the natural rock foundations of the building. The bedrock of New York City: how an ancient mountain range made its skyscrapers possible.

Sky Pod elevators. We reached the 102nd floor in 47 seconds. Inside, on our rocket ride, we experienced a three-dimensional time-lapse panorama of NYC history unfolding on three walls of the elevator cab. (Warning: The elevator ride you are about to experience utilizes large format media displays to create the illusion of dynamic motion and viewing beyond the elevator cab walls. Individuals who are sensitive to simulation experiences, or suffer from fear of heights or motion sickness are advised to either close their eyes or face the elevator doors to avoid discomfort.)
See Forever Theater. After you disembark the elevator, you walk up to a big rectangular screen where you’ll see a multi-media presentation highlighting the NYC timeline, introducing you to the observatory.

360-degree views:

East River, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge
Financial District, Governors Island, Brooklyn
Midtown and Uptown Manhattan
The iconic Hudson River separating New Jersey from New York City.
The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Staten Island, and Jersey City in New Jersey.
At One Dine, One World, celebrating our son’s birthday.
Exploring the Sky Portal: a real-time perspective from HD cameras affixed to the tower’s spire, projected right at the feet.
The Buzz gives all the information you need about NYC.
Calatrava’s Bird in Flight, the WTC transportation hub that cost $4 billion.
The Oculus, the transportation hub
The West Concourse

It starts with Lines (Photo Challenge). It starts with Rivulet, too (Daily Prompt).

Micro Fiction Competition. Read And Vote.

UPDATE:

Though I didn’t win the challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I thank everyone who voted for me. Much appreciated. Attaching my longlisted entry below for a quick read. Thanks.

________

I am one of the several longlisted to win a very short fiction challenge. Please read and vote.

Since there’s only one URL for all the stories, you’ll have to travel some nonfiction distance.

  1. Click this link: Ad Hoc Fiction: Micro Fiction Competition
  2. Click Tap here to Open under Issue 140: Sage
  3. You’ll see some great stories, but if you want to get to mine, keep clicking top or bottom right until you reach number 24 (or when it says ’23 more’). My story is titled Junk the Clot.
  4. It took me fifty three seconds from here to number 24, thirty seconds to read 82 words, then a decisecond to click on Vote (that is if you like it).
  5. If you love it, please tell others.
  6. If you voted – I’m honored. Really.
  7. Thanks a ton, and loads of love.
Grand Central station

When I See You Smile (Photo Challenge). Luminescent = glowing (Daily Prompt).

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

When we were in Los Angeles, we didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Getty Center.

The J.Paul Getty Museum turned out to be one of the best museums we ever visited: the sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, pre-20th century European paintings, to name a few.

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Museum entrance
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The cable-pulled tram took us from the parking garage at the bottom of the hill to the museum at the top of the hill.  The museum has a 7-story deep underground parking garage.
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One of the outdoor sculptures

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Inner courtyard
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Los Angeles, seen from the top of the Getty Center. 405 San Diego Freeway lines the middle.
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Bust of an African woman (in marble) by Henry Weekes
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Bust of Christ (in bronze) by Constantin Meunier
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Head of Saint John the Baptist (in bronze) by Jean-Baptiste Chatigny
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Self-Portrait as Midas (in patinated plaster) by Jean-Joseph Carries. Midas, the mythological king of Phrygia, was known for his foolishness. Apollo, punishing Midas for having favored the satyr Marsyas over himself in a musical contest, gave the king the ears of an ass.

 

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Mischief and Repose (oil on canvas) by John Godward
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The Ransom (oil on canvas) by John Millais. Millais’ praise of medieval chivalry is at the same time a lament for its absence in contemporary life

 

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A Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros (oil on canvas) by William Bouguereau. A young girl playfully struggles with Eros (Cupid) to avoid love’s arrow.
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The Fright of Astyanax (by pen and brown ink) by Benjamin West. As the Trojan hero Hector bids farewell to his family, his son Astyanax is frightened by his father’s helmet and runs to the nurse.
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The Holy Family (oil on canvas) by Joseph Paelinck. Here the Virgin Mary and her mother, Anne, hold the Christ child, while Mary’s husband, Joseph, and her father Joachim, quietly observe.
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Herm of a Vestal Virgin (in marble) by Antonio Canova
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Apollo Crowning Himself (in marble) by Antonio Canova. Apollo’s idealized body and balanced pose recall ancient representations of nude male figures
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Juno (in marble) by Joseph Nollekens
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Venus (in marble) by Joseph Nollekens

 

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The Elements Paying Tribute to Friendship (in marble) by Louis-Simon Boizot. The four elements (Earth, Water, Fire and Air) in the guise of ancient gods pay homage to Friendship who’s standing on the pedestal. (Love this one!)
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Dancer (in bronze) by Paolo Troubetzkoy. Countess Tamara performed throughout Europe and the United States.

More sculptures:

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This visit made me smile (Photo Challenge). While it was breezy, it wasn’t frigid (Daily Prompt).

Squirrel’s Instant Messaging

I met this squirrel a few years ago in Union Square park on 14th Street, New York City.

I remember that I’d given him the peanut that you see in his nimble hands. He had sniffed it before picking it up and strangely, unlike most squirrels, he hadn’t eaten it yet.

Give the picture a closer look – you might believe he’s looking at you.

Normally, I wouldn’t look at a squirrel with hope that it would deliver me a message. That morning, I hoped.

I’d lost my uncle the previous night in India and that morning, I was to perform in a play at Lee Strasberg. It was the last day of our month-long intensive and expensive acting course.

The tragedy in the family hadn’t stopped me from going to Strasberg, because I knew that if I hadn’t gone, I would’ve upset the departed soul. But I was crestfallen, and unsure if I’d remember my lines from the play.

I’d told my acting teacher about the death. His advice: Give it your best, Mahesh. Let it be a tribute to your uncle.

In the park, the more I’d gazed at the squirrel, the more I’d felt he wanted to tell me something.  And I remember that he hadn’t – until the last glimpse I had of him on my way to the Strasberg building – eaten the peanut.

I performed in the play thinking only about my character. My fellow students applauded the act, and my teacher praised that it was the best tribute I could give.

A few days later, somebody told me that squirrels do come with a message that one should take life a little less seriously. Perhaps the squirrel that morning wanted me to take it easy, demonstrating it by sacrificing his instant urge to eat the peanut.

An actor friend of mine who hadn’t known about my family tragedy linked the squirrel-behavior to indigestion.

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Take life a little less seriously is the Panacea (Daily Prompt). Take a Peek (Photo Challenge).

The Unreluctant Smoker

I usually take stairs from our sixth-floor apartment to go down to the first. I like the walk – it’s healthy – what’s not is the smell of cigarette smoke in the stairwell.

Cigarette smoke might smell different outside as air nudges and splinters the thickness of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. Since the smoke – be it thick or thin – is injurious, most public parks are now no-smoking zones. But, when you smoke in the wrap of a closed structure, the thick white stays, and can commute up and down through the stairwell.

No Smoking is written in faint red – on each floor – on the grainy walls of the stairwells in our high-rise building. Since the faint illegibility might be the excuse for smokers to take their drags, the building management taped a warning on the stairwell doors: It is not permitted to smoke in the stairwells.

There are four stairwell doors on each floor, and 36 floors.

Not permitted? Really?

Some culprits continued to smoke.

Nobody could catch these smokers red-handed for they didn’t know their smoking schedules. And it’s unfortunate, either way, that the odor lingers long after the smoker has stubbed the cigarette butt and left for his abode.

Why don’t they smoke in their abode?

They love their family to death.

Last month, the management issued another warning: It is ILLEGAL to smoke in the building.

ILLEGAL. In caps. A severe step. Two print outs for each door. Double the budget.

Illegal worked. YAY!

Smokers are people, after all. Soon, the smoking zone outside the building swelled. And, there was no smell in the vertical shaft of the building. For a fortnight.

This morning, a strong stench greeted me in the stairwell. The more penetrating the smell, the more probability that the smoker was in action. I slowed my steps down, each foot soft and investigative in its landing. I reached the first floor. At the other end of the corridor was an exit door. I saw him, his back facing me.

He had opened the exit door; his right foot partly out as a door blocker. A cigarette was burning between his fingers; a strong wind rushing the smoke in.

“Excuse me, sir, the stairwell is filled with your smoke,” I said.

He turned around, his big eyes; his foot unmoved. “But I’m smoking outside.” He was wearing a carmine t-shirt.

“The wind’s pushing the smoke in.”

“Not at all.”

“I live on the sixth floor – could smell it there, sir.”

He took a step out, still holding the door. The corridor continued to suck the smoke in. “I’m outside now.”

The last I glimpsed him, he had an awkward posture: right hand on the door, high-strung left fingers holding the cigarette, left foot tapping the concrete, t-shirt ballooning behind him.

The wind was harsh, but for all his hard work, he was still breaking the law.

Superficial life is any addiction (Daily Prompt). Pedestrian sense to use a receptacle (Photo Challenge)

Window To Man’s Soul

There’s something about windows. In the words of Quentin Blake: You see, I don’t draw from life at all, but I do look out of my window a lot.

A window is alluring as it gives us a view. What we access through it may have varied overtones: a life away from life, the blossomings beyond our reach, frightening us as much, the high altitudes.

Here, I captured the little dragons through the window of their Taekwondo class.

 

Racing upwards at 14 miles per hour in a glass-fronted elevator, it took us 59 seconds to reach the observation deck (116th floor) of the CN Tower. For more CN Tower posts, visit CN Tower defies gravity and CN Tower in Toronto.

 

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From atop the CN Tower, and as the sun peeked through the clouds, Billy Bishop Toronto city airport (center-right) looked abandoned.

 

I’ve said this several times, and am saying it again, that we are lucky to be living in this apartment. For almost a decade now. What you see here: Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, Brooklyn, Marina yacht club in Jersey City. -It was early morning Sunday. The Norwegian Cruise Line ship was returning to Manhattan from the Bahamas. We’d taken this ship for our Bahamas and Florida tour some years prior. See Life on board the Norwegian Gem and Great Stirrup Cay in Bahamas.

 

The window that gave us the utmost happiness also worsened our fears during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The effects were severe in NJ and NY: businesses lost billions of dollars, half a million homes were destroyed, around 50 people were killed. I took this picture around 9 pm. Storm surge/strong wind pounded Newport, flooding the walkway up to ten feet. Sustained wind speed: 75 mph. We’d taken this advisory from our building management seriously: “…all windows in the apartment are maintained closed, locked and the blinds in the lowered position…that the wind is not permitted any opening, which if allowed, can potentially result in the further opening of window or, worse yet, ripping out the entire window.” Though we’d lost electricity and the fire alarm beeped all night, we survived unhurt.   -Strange that I remember what Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said: Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?

 

We had fun riding this tramway that spanned the East River and connected the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island. Midway to the island and at the tram’s highest elevation of 250 feet, we saw another tramway journey back to Manhattan. The window overlooked East River, the Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island.

 

As we approached the Toronto-Pearson International airport in Canada, the pilot’s reminder that we fasten our seat belts matched these bumpy clouds we saw through the window.

 

At Mount-Pleasant station in Brampton, Ontario, the windows of this moving bus reflected the not-so-clear activities behind me. Billy Wilder had said: An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.

 

Mail trucks do not use window doors in summer. Here I see the driver’s seat and its blurry ambiguity.

Windows to a soul (Photo Challenge). Witty with attitude (Daily Prompt).

All About Downtown Street Fair At Grove Street

I was not keen on attending the Annual All About Downtown Street Fair, but my wife insisted, and we did. It was a good decision. Wife’s always right?

On September 16, 2017 – between 12 noon and 8 pm – the street fair returned for its seventh year.

Featuring over a hundred vendors, the fair sold all kinds of products: handmade jewelry, exclusive art works, specialty cuisines from more than a dozen top food trucks in the tri-state area; there were band performances and fun rides for children. It was reported that in the year 2015, this event brought over 30,000 into Downtown Jersey City. Hope it has crossed that number this time.

When we entered the fair around the evening, the crowd was beginning to swell.
A mural depicting rough waves, the Statue of Liberty unaffected. Murals and graffiti have come to define Grove Street, bringing the urban city back to life.
Stained glass studio stall – they do stained glass installation, custom fabrication, and restoration. A smiling Bob Marley wants you to know this.
Books, and more books. Do you see Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened
Curious eyes scanning the stalls. No running out of options or varieties here…
Except for this, and how rare. A banana pudding sold-out stall.
Orale Mexican kitchen where…
I bought a corn with cheese and mayonnaise.
Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan waited to be picked.
White Birch Candle offered products that are hand poured, 100% soy wax, and dye free; they burn clean (no soot), have 150+ burn time, and always burn even. Ta-da!
Face painting for kids stall, hosted by Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry.
Time to pause and experience some Latino beat.
The men in white entertained
The best part of the fair owned the biggest ad.
At the crack of dusk, the crowd size increased.
Highlight of the evening: Guatemalan street dance with heavy costumes, drums, and ropes.

Any fair we attend, a plate of funnel cake is a must.
One of the rides we did: the three of us sat in a teacup with a wheel in the middle that we could steer 360 degrees, while the tray carrying all of the cups rotated; whirl within a whirl.
This mural invites your interpretation.
As night approached, this band performed soft melodies.
We ended the fair with a banana boat ice cream with chocolate, strawberry, pineapple, and walnuts.
This was it.

Pamper yourself (Daily Prompt). Layered is the culture (Photo Challenge).

Build A Door

We see doors everywhere, and I’ve seen some interesting doors in my lifetime. For this particular week, I’m uploading door photos that I’ve found in my folder. Going forward, though, I’ll try to capture as many doors as possible. After all, I like what Milton Berle once said If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. And here, I replace ‘build’ with ‘capture.’

Central Park is an oasis in New York City and the Zoo is its integral part. We saw this glass door entrance to a gift shop. The painted image of a penguin, the door reflections, the patches of shade outside.

 

This black door of Rev. Dr. Ercel F. Webb School in Jersey City has an arch with designs on top. Wide concrete steps, a weary window on the left with tied curtains, and a message on the wall from Tupac Shakur: “The rose that grew from concrete – did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete – proving nature’s law is wrong – it learned to walk without having feet.”

 

The blue majestic door with waffle designs – on 23rd Street/6th Avenue, New York City – appeared to be permanent-shut. The sunlight spared most of the door. The little man totally owned the facade.

Want to see more doors or to join in on the challenge, click here where Manja Mexi Movie is hosting for Norm 2.0.

How A Vaping Tattoo Artist Felt Insulted When He Was Insulting

My first tattoo – Sagittarius the Archer – at Hoboken Body Art. The artist was friendly, dexterous.

My Yelp/Google review points:

1) My wife and I had two tattoos each, done at Hoboken Body Art over the years. We loved the place.

2) Last week, she got her third tattoo, and yesterday, I was to get my third.

3) For our first four tattoos we’d paid $80 each. We had four free touch ups but never used them, saving HBA’s ink and artists’ time.

4) Last week, J – the new/head artist – looked at the design my wife had drawn: her mom and dad’s short signatures, a musical note on either end, and a heartbeat linking them. He said he’d charge $160. Which was double what we’d paid previously for more or less the same work. Also, we’d given him print outs for the design, making his job easier. He was clearly overcharging since my wife’s tattoo was 30% smaller (as requested by her) than originally planned.

5) He said, “I’m a very famous tattoo artist. You know me.” His eyes awash with pride as he let out a squeal of laughter. I smiled without a clue about who he was. I suggested that I too would get a tattoo and we’d pay $125 each ($250 in total). I even said that for my design I was willing to forgo the symbol on either end (like the musical notes my wife had) if the total was $250. He said his final price was $300 ($150 each), and it was clearly understood that if he was charging the extra $50 we both would get the same kind of work. (One tattoo = $160, both = $300; same work.) I was not keen, but my wife had made up her mind to get pricked. It was her birthday week.

6) So, last week, she got her tattoo done. We paid him $160. I told him that I’d get mine within two weeks. He said he’d charge me $140 referring to the $300 package. All was well.

The reception

7) On Saturday, I called HBA twice within a span of 5 minutes for a time with J at 12 pm the next day (yesterday/Sunday). Both times A – the front desk manager – confirmed the appointment.

8) When we arrived at HBA at sharp 12 pm yesterday, A said that J was running late due to a Light Rail commute issue and that we would have to wait for 30 minutes. Now, we have a toddler son who accompanies us and it gets difficult when there’s a waiting period. However, as suggested by A, we went out for a walk, grabbing some coffee at Bwe Kafe, and came back half hour later. But it was not before 1 pm that J arrived. No hint of apology from him.

9) J looked at my design and said he’d charge $160 since it had a symbol on either end of the heartbeat and parents’ short signatures. I reasoned that we’d agreed on a $300 package (not $250 where I was willing to forgo those) and that I was only getting what my wife had got. $150 each. Nothing extra.

10) J didn’t remember the discussion we had seven days prior. Since A was not party to the discussion he had no clue.

11) J didn’t give me a good vibe even the previous week, appearing slightly intoxicated. He was a cry baby who kept bragging about his skills. And yesterday, he was obnoxious, rude, and unprofessional. One, he came an hour late. He said “people have to wait even at doctor’s.” Two, he wanted $320 total. From $250 to $300 to $320.

12) Why weren’t we given the appointment for 1 pm? It turned out that A had tried to reach J on Saturday, but could get hold of him only Sunday morning. If A had informed us Sunday morning not to come before 1 pm, we wouldn’t have wasted an hour.

13) J was smoking indoors in front of our child. A Big No!

14) Forget about an apology, he was accusing us of being amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying. He said he’d come all the way from his house for us and that he was being insulted; that his each hour was worth $160, completely forgetting that all of us value time. My wife and I are professionals and we can’t wait for an hour at a tattoo shop. How are we amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying?

15) A apologized to us three times; he even tried to hand a $20 bill to J for his Uber expenses. Perhaps, J wanted those $20 from us after he’d made us wait? If he hadn’t taken Uber, he wouldn’t have been at the shop before 2 pm. Apparently, A didn’t want to lose us, but J, a greedy and self-centered blockhead, wouldn’t care.

16) It’s unfortunate that our relationship with HBA has ended. They should get rid of artists like J — I say this because HBA used to have professional, well-behaved artists.

17) Appointments should be honored — it’s between HBA and the artists. No apology from J was very discourteous.

18) Such a waste of our time, energy, and the $25 we Uber-paid for commuting from Newport in Jersey City. There are so many tattoo shops nearby, but we paid the price for our HBA loyalty.

19) Three of our friends had been to HBA upon our high recommendation. Not anymore.

Entrance window

Now: it wasn’t that we couldn’t have paid the extra $20. In fact, we were planning to tip him. What enraged us – how odious his behavior was: last week, a trailer; yesterday, a performance.

Establishing a good vibe between a tattoo artist and his customer is crucial. If there’s a lack of respect, a customer might not trust that his artist would do a good job. Imagine, a tattoo is permanent, and nobody wants to be scarred for life. We are required to sign a consent form before the procedure, making us legally vulnerable.

I went to bed thinking everything happened for the best, convincing my wife in the same breath that she need not worry about her tattoo.

Bowlmor Friday Fun At Chelsea Piers

First off, bowling has always been popular. Millions of people have played it for thousands of years, believe it or not.

Way back in 5,200 B.C., bowling balls and pins were found in the tomb of an Egyptian king. In fourth century Germany, where bowling was part of a religious ceremony, those who could knock down the pins were believed to be of good character and those who couldn’t had to do penance.

Popular in America since Colonial days, bowling started the American Bowling Congress in 1895, which is now called the United States Bowling Congress. Martin Luther was a bowler.

Located at Pier 60 – just off the West Side Highway – and with 40 bowling lanes, laneside video walls, the flashing lights and sounds of arcade games, Bowlmor gave us the outing we’d long sought: a ride into a zone that settled us into getting our focus back, decimating the days of distraction.

The entrance is a mix of dark hues, symbolic of a thick colorful interior.
To the right of the entrance is this Golf Club: Manhattan’s only four-tiered outdoor driving range. Practice putting, take lessons from professional golfers, feel free to hit full shots.
Entering the building, the first things you see are ropes and harnesses, which Bowlmar claims is NYC’s only indoor ropes course
Stacked on the shelves behind the front desk are bowling shoes. These shoes have a sole which allows a bowler to slide before releasing the ball.
The length from the foul line to the head pin is 60 feet. On either side of the lane are gutters.
Rolling the ball at the pins
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Thick bright lounge area

Here, in the brief clip, it’s my second roll at the pins. I knock them down. It’s a spare.

We got a few strikes. See the X in the small square.
With reservation comes food. Chicken tenders, french fries, cheese pizza; also, fruit punch and sauces.
His first attempt at an advanced racing game…

Guess what, he did really well.

I don’t know how he managed it but he came first. He thanked me, and I kissed him.

Though our fingers, elbows, and legs were sore, we were all smiles.

Up To My Head

Our child began his swimming lessons last month.

When he’s in the pool, he smiles and splashes water on other children, but when they reciprocate or retaliate, he gazes at me. (His eyebrows shrinking together = he’s complaining.) From the comforts of the lounge chair, I could only gesture him to focus on his lessons.

When he’s out of the pool, he’s shivering, his teeth chattering, legs struggling to move, feet unsure of the wet concrete.

Last week, as part of the drill, all the kids had to wait in line before they jumped in the water. But before he jumped, he said, “Up to my head,” while pointing his finger up and trembling enough to win his master’s empathy. His robust sound, rare in public, echoed off the arched glass ceiling, eliciting laughter.

“Up to your head?” his swim instructor retorted.

We knew he was not ready to put his head in the water yet.

After that session, when he was standing under a hot shower in the locker room, he stressed that I tell the instructor that he should always do, “Up to my head.”

Glancing at his face, I saw that the space between his eyebrows shrank, the shower sound muting us.

Central Park Zoo

On Sunday, we visited the Central Park Zoo in New York City.

This was our second visit in the last year and the tickets were paid for. Reason: Last year, during our first visit, the zoo was closed due to an explosion nearby. It was very unfortunate that a teenager tourist lost his foot in the blast. The visitors who’d purchased the tickets were given complimentary tickets, valid for a year, since most of us couldn’t see all the attractions. I remember we were on our way to watch a 4D movie when the blast had led the zoo authorities to initiate an early shutdown.

The complimentary tickets were to expire in July this year, so the last Sunday had to be the day.

The Central Park Zoo began as a menagerie in the post mid-19th century. The place has since seen several modifications, making it the modern zoological garden, now home to an indoor rainforest.

You enter the zoo with a sizable crowd before disappearing down the trellised walkway. It might look like a conflict zone if you believed the fear-mongering of some, but multiculturalism thrives, and it works toward a peaceful co-existence. The vine-clad purity, the breath of fresh green, the brick trimmed with granite.

Since we missed the 4D movie last time, we began this tour with a movie: Ice Age – No time for Nuts.

How a saber-toothed squirrel on a chase after his acorn, which a time machine dispatches into different time periods, makes for a fun viewing experience.

Our 4D glasses on; son thoroughly enjoyed the film.

We avoid fast food but have to make do with it when options are scarce. The monopoly of a lone restaurant in the zoo can drain your wallet: $14 for a cheeseburger. I ate half of my burger in disapproval. The street vendor right outside the zoo would charge more or less the same, charging $3 for a 700 ml water bottle, for example. In other places, the same bottle costs $1.50. Uniformity in prices kicks competition out. But, french fries tasted better after a while.

Right outside Tisch Children’s Zoo which was to be our next stop, this brilliant musician played Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round on his saxophone.

At the Children’s Zoo, we waited to feed the goats

Alpaca, which resembles Llama, is a domesticated species of South American camelid.

Feeding the Alpaca. (Look out – Alpacas can spit.)

Spider web play area

White-naped Crane needs shallow wetlands and grassy marshes to forage, nest, and raise their chicks. 70% of these cranes breed in Mongolia which provides perfect habitats.

Ducks’ feeding time

 

Cavies come from the same family as guinea pigs. A family of rodents native to South America.

Intelligence garden (in the Temperate zone) is an idea borrowed from a Chinese emperor who believed that the best way to develop intelligence was to observe animals in their natural state. 

Where next?

Walking toward the Tropic zone. Glass-roofed pergolas add to the beauty.

A grizzly bear stands 3 to 4 feet tall on all fours, but can reach 6 to 7 feet tall when standing up straight.

The bear’s private pool

California Sea Lion can dive hundreds of feet deep and stay underwater for up to 10 minutes.

Flora that lends beauty…

It was zero degree Fahrenheit…descending from the pass were the marks of the Snow Leopard; they can venture as high as 19,000 feet. Watch its eyes at your own risk.

Red panda – found in the Himalayan foothills, this flame-colored animal shares both territory and a name with the giant panda, but not genetics. Red panda is actually related to Raccoon.

The Victoria-crowned pigeon is a large, bluish-grey pigeon; has elegant blue lace-like crests, maroon breast, and red irises.

Blue-headed Macaw Parrot. Pointed tail, large bill.

Amazon Tree Boa is non-venomous, found in South America.

Banded Mongoose – females give birth within a few days of each other and everyone cares for the babies.

Texas Tortoise thrives in exposed dry scrub and grasslands; forages on cactuses.

Slender-tail Cloud Rat – one of the largest rats in the world. Guess its weight when fully grown? Around five pounds. Its penetrating look as if it knows what we’re thinking.

Penguins in the Polar zone. Just chill.

Pret A Manger In Newport Center Mall

Pret A Manger has always impressed me with its offering of healthy, fresh, and seasonal food. I have frequented its shops in New York City and was aware that it had opened its first Jersey City location in Newport Center mall. So, when I received a mail from the Newport Center informing that the sandwich chain would not only open today but give away free breakfast/lunch, I was thrilled.

Barnstock brick-tile gives the brand a reclaimed finish

I wanted to make it to their 12 PM lunch giveaway, so had set a reminder for 11.45 am (I was in Starbucks working on a story). At 11.50 am, I was standing outside the shop, perhaps the 50th in line. Glancing behind me, I could see a big crowd. The line snaking down possibly all the way to the entrance of the mall. And since the entrance, which was beyond my view, was perhaps jammed with people queueing up for the freebie, the mall security devised a plan to move the crowd up to line in the opposite direction. This would ease the regular foot traffic entering and exiting the mall.

The clip here shows the constant movement of people as they line up for giveaways.

​The prospect of eating a fresh bowl of salad and cold pressed juice kept me enthused. When my turn came, I picked Chicken and Avocado salad, and cold-pressed Watermelon juice.

Chargrilled chicken (antibiotic-free), avocado, grape tomatoes, lemon juice, mesclun, dried cranberries, and roasted walnut.

A seasonal cold-pressed juice made with sun-ripened watermelons and a touch of strawberry puree.

After consuming the delicious freshness, I did a digestion walk, ending up at the front of the chain again. The lunch giveaways had ended, but two friendly representatives were distributing free fruit cups. I picked a cup each of melon medley and grapes.

Summing up my love for Pret A Manger and its inauguration in Newport Center, I was not expecting to receive a voucher that another representative gave me for a free coffee or tea.

Such a beautiful day! Thank you, Pret A Manger.

 

CN Tower Defies Gravity

My legs shivered. I feared that the glass would break.

But a note that was written on the wall in bold letters THIS GLASS FLOOR CAN WITHSTAND THE WEIGHT OF 14 LARGE HIPPOS redbulled my limbs. A dozen-plus hippos might not be heavy after all, and tragedy could happen – went the thought in my head. My moist palms.

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It was sunny that morning, but Toronto trembled in the December chill. The observation deck of CN Tower with this straight down view could terrify even those without acrophobia. The glass floor was 1,122 feet above the ground.

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I walked baby steps, but some children ran the length of the floor. I stepped on to a side, and squatted, placing my hand on the glass. My sweaty palm left cold trails on the glass.

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You are safe: 256 square feet of solid glass – five times stronger than the standard required weight – should be the only thought in your head.

The Empire State Building

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Clouds may gather, dusk may approach, people may whisper – the Empire stays true to its name.

For Day 4 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I show you the 360-degree views from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Seeking happiness among the concrete?

South view: downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, New Jersey. The Freedom Tower stands tall.IMG_3046

North view: midtown, uptown, Central Park (oasis among the concrete).IMG_3078

East view: East River, Queens, Brooklyn.IMG_3148

West view: New Jersey, the Hudson River (a beautiful river separating Manhattan from New Jersey).IMG_3066

A panoramic view encompassing East River, downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, New Jersey, and a slice of the observation deck itself.IMG_3051

I link Sabiscuit for this challenge. Sabiscuit is an impressive blog.

The Yacht Man

For Day 3 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I present to you the Yacht man. I captured these moments one evening from the living room of our apartment.

He was up on the mast, repairing the halyard. When I was clicking him I wondered: what he’d eaten for lunch, if he’d fought with his family that morning, and weirdly, if he’d added coke or soda to his vodka.

I don’t think he’s checking his phone here. He may want to — the altitude might give him a good reception.DSCN1555

Here, he’s trying to pull a tool out of his repair kit; he’ll have to find it first.DSCN1564

Work has begun, and he’s peering in the direction of Brooklyn.DSCN1553

Is someone calling him from below, or is he gauging the altitude? “Will I survive if I fall, and if I survive, what’ll be left of me?”DSCN1554

He has a good view of downtown Manhattan, and with dusk approaching, the Hudson River traffic will peak.DSCN1562

The full view of the yacht and the man. Way ‘up’ to go.DSCN1545

A wider view.DSCN1559

The widest view the camera could get. Spot the yacht man?DSCN1561

The most zoomed-out click. He looks tired.DSCN1565

I figured by the end of it all that I had forgotten to eat lunch, fought with family in the morning and that, I would’ve added soda to my vodka.

I link Blewbird for this challenge. This blog has several breathtaking pictures.

Love/Hate Snow 2

For Day 2 of my B/W Photo Challenge, let the snow assault continue. But I promise I’ll kindle you with warmth from Day 3 onward.

Tried sitting on them? If they are flurries the first five seconds may feel cushy. Then: sit at your own risk.IMG_0359

Workers shoveling snow was a good sight. The sun shone bright; their shadows were big.11053084_10153219093570625_6815545349298158174_n

Insignificant when we don’t have to answer nature’s call? But when we do, this has top significance. There are some who want cleaner options even in the times of crisis.IMG_0329

What tires could do to snow: it becomes muddy, slushy, and lose what, the white.11025163_10153219094380625_8579846165506570706_n

All of us have a long, lone journey. We come and go, alone. The only truth.IMG_0371

I link Maniparna for this challenge. Her posts and photos are interesting.

Love/Hate Snow

This is my B/W post for Day 1 of the 5 Day photo challenge. The wonderful Prior linked me for this challenge.

We all know what happened in Massachusetts when it topped 100 inches of snow in a record breaking winter. Contrary to what the weathermen had predicted, New York, New Jersey, and the other states in the East Coast were spared the assault.

Though it’s been snowing in NY and NJ intermittently, the snow that fell for two consecutive days last week showed aggression:

This gull’s perched on a snow-assaulted railing. When you look into its eyes, you see purpose and no purpose. Contradictory? Well, gulls live a purposeless life, I believe, but are purposeful enough to be purposeless. They’re the spiritual heads of the birds’ fraternity.DSCN1816

Bicycle told snow: “Spare me. Jam Mercedes’ tires instead.” DSCN1838

These are not my footsteps — could’ve been mine. I followed them, some followed mine.DSCN1867

Gravity-defying stunt

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Whose car is it? Mine. What next? What next!IMG_0379

I link the great Kim Gosselin for this challenge. She’s a lovely photographer, too.

Spiritual Dessert At Santo Domingo And Amsterdam

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A calming, bluish dusk at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Labeling a quiet place as serene is interesting, but the one who’s labeling it might be miles away from serenity. The moment we’re out of a serene location, which certainly pumped us up, our psychological dominance if you will, might crush under the weight of life’s routine chaos.

It’s a given that all of us cannot visit serene locations all the time; at best, once a year. We should, therefore, enjoy find-serenity-wherever-you-are spiritual dessert.

This dessert might taste bitter. Our tasks would be uphill. Clock’s ticking.

Hence, we must either develop the will to bludgeon the issues or, seek peace while issues bludgeon us. Playing a victim is weakness and dumb, given life will come at us hard, every time.

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As time approached sunset, Vondel Park in Amsterdam was quieter

 

Breathing Halloween Skeletons

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We met this bunch of suave guitar-holding skeletons at a Halloween party for children, which our toddler son thoroughly enjoyed.

My first reaction looking at them was that although they were barren, their presence was paramount; shrouding the rest of us in the hall. They gave vibes of joy, and were unlike other blood-curdling, spine-tingling skeletons.

Their smile was endearing, but their eyes cautioned that they’d long been dead. Stare at the eyes and you’ll know.

How different are we from them? Are we too dead and insensitive? In flesh and blood we certainly are breathing, but we are worse shadows.

The Spirit House At Royal Ontario

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I captured this image of the Spirit House, which was a hall of intrigue with myriad story possibilities, at Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Freedom Tower in New York City, designed Lee-Chin Crystal; also designing some of the chairs in the Spirit House.

The stainless steel chairs synced well with the crystalline surrounding. From the center of the house, one could see in the arch above an interwoven pattern of concrete, which linked exhibit spaces with elevators, speaking of conflicts in stories.

In The Present At Central Park

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In a Central Park pond, three male mallard ducks circled a female mallard. The reflections of the wispy aquatic plants were hues of green and straw in the quiet pond, which a gentle wind often ruffled to create ripples.

Ripples decimated the trails the moving ducks left, but when breeze stopped and ducks paused, stillness prevailed. That’s when nature offered me a moment to reflect, and I felt my presence.

Kailash Satyarthi, The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Is My Ex-Boss: A Brief Tribute

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I first met him in the fall of 1996 when he, in an ironed kurta-pajama, passed by me, and whooshed the door open to his small office. I was lazing at my desk, waiting for the Director, who I’d been hired to assist. The morning was overcast and light barely filtered through the window at the entrance, but the pure white of his cotton made the day appear brighter. I was young, and it was my first job.

It took a few months before the Director recommended that I work for Kailash Satyarthi – the Chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan/Save The Childhood Movement (BBA) – whom we fondly call “Bhaisahab.”

His costume though it was bright, had an air of intimidation, because we’d witnessed all our lives in India, the white-adorned politicians who would often vanish after they’d won the elections, not delivering on their promises. Though I knew Mr. Satyarthi wasn’t a politician, I’d still braved through, with raised brows and wet palms, the jitteriness of my first formal meeting with him. When a 6-foot man, bespectacled, with black beard and hair neatly parted and slicked to the side, breezed into the room and glanced at me, I stood up, holding out my hand when he did his, to shake, and poor man, he had to wipe his hand with a kerchief, as he advised, “You don’t have to worry at all.”

The softness of his voice belied his domineering posture, and the nicety of his demeanor made it easy for me to want to work with him for next several years. He was a presence of immense hope. If we look at his graph – until the moment he won the Nobel Peace Prize – he had given thousands of voiceless children a smile, touching their hearts and enlightening them with his never-say-die attitude.

In my 9 year stint with him, being responsible for his schedule and travel as well, I’d spent most of my time in the office than at home with my family. And the only reason I could pull that off was that I worked for a man, who I rarely saw in a state of exhaustion. He traveled domestic and international, extensively, with the mission of eliminating child labor; and the success of Global March Against Child Labor, under his leadership, proved that, with partnerships and collaborations, groups and teams, we were cruising along to end the menace.

Way to go. His travel continued for days on end, and yet, one fine morning only a couple of hours after he’d arrived from a trip to the US, he was in the office – fighting jet lag – to meet with a local organization, which had come to him for guidance. He’d welcomed them, and stressed how if everyone involved in the movement displayed the passion the mission demanded, the endeavors would yield results. And he’d also warned that the path to mission’s success faced stiff opposition from more quarters than we could imagine — but so long as we didn’t devalue the power of our collective conscience for the sake of the cause, we were right on course. His philosophy and pragmatism kindled each other in the design of his thoughts, where children became the only focus.

He was running high fever one day, but still wanted to lead a team to raid a factory in North Delhi, where some details earlier had suggested that the brick kiln owner was employing forced child labor. All of us had requested he let somebody else lead the raid so he could recover, but his stubbornness was nonpareil, and he wished to go. I remember I’d handed him some pills of paracetamol for fever. A day later, when he’d returned with his team in a foggy evening, he looked fresh, with dozens of rescued children following him into the conference hall — where he stood in a corner, unattached, smiling at the children, who cheered and celebrated their new-found freedom. His detachment, I thought, was a moment during which he pondered upon the day gone by, when he and his team had conducted another riskier raid, converting its success into the laughter that reverberated in the building. His fever pills were intact, and his fever only worse, and he tossed the first one into his mouth, and informed us that he’d better get rest, and stepped out, into his car and disappeared in the fog.

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I remember he had a couple of meetings in Germany and an important one in London, but his UK visa had expired, and he had to leave within two days. We were not scheduling anything in the UK because we knew we had to renew the visa. I remembered a get-together that BBA had, the previous week, and a senior visa official from the British High Commission had been in attendance, and I remember how he’d admired Mr. Satyarthi and the organization, and had left his visiting card. I called him around 3 pm to check if renewal of the visa was possible at such short notice, and he asked me to meet him in the embassy with Mr. Satyarthi’s passport, and by late evening the same day, his visa was renewed. The next day, I’d written to BBC HARDtalk, a popular show where global leaders are grilled, sending them Mr. Satyarthi and organization’s profile, asking if he could be interviewed – since he had a day to spare in London – and by next morning, I received their confirmation that they’d be pleased to have him.

Later, when I updated Mr. Satyarthi about these two developments, he patted on my back and said that he was proud of me – to which I said that I hadn’t done much, and that he was a known figure fighting for a just cause, and somebody only had to contact the right person at the right time.

Years passed, and his hair and beard turned grey and he began to look weary. One weekend, the entire office went to Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center for rescued child laborers in Jaipur, to spend time with the children. And I remember we were playing volleyball, during a recreational period, and Mr. Satyarthi looked washed-out, but when somebody lifted the ball for him to smash, his strike had so much power that I had to duck my head on the other side. He has always been too mentally strong to allow fatigue to weaken him, and I know that his commitment for child rights will stay alive till his last breath.

Behind the glitter and glamour of the Nobel Prize are his incredible patience in handling complexities, live-in-the-present motto, taking risks to life, seeking truth, and delivering on the promises – the qualities he was born with, and which made his actions for the children languishing in slavery, be counted.

I left the organization in 2004, but I followed its activities online, and I’m so thrilled that 10 years later, Mr. Satyarthi won the prize after being in the running for it for several years, as per the Nobel Committee. But for me he had won it much earlier, when I’d realized that his passion and mission were noble enough.

Imperfect Shadows At White River State Park

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Isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well? At White River State Park in Indianapolis.

Sad folks may not like their shadows though some might seek perspective in them. Happy folks, however, may brag about their shadows, and some may take pictures.

If a shadow, which is immune to being judged, looks imperfect, it’s normal. What is not normal is when imperfection in some makes the rest think they are bigger or stronger than they really are.

The National Pantheon Contrasts

This shot was captured from the inside of the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic. The National Pantheon was originally a church; today it serves as the final resting place for the nation’s honored citizens.

The guards and the flags were in the resting place; colors dim, painfully quiet. The heat of the summer outside painted the walls white; it was loud.

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The Caribbean Sea Conundrum

In the fading twilight, as the Caribbean Sea lends quietude to a noisy park in Malecon, these musicians showcase their skills; their objective is to earn some Dominican Peso so they buy dinner for their family in this poverty-stricken Caribbean nation.

Three ladies, a gentleman, and a child appear to be a family. Though the ladies may love some music, spending pesos is hard given their expenses and there’s a child, too. So the gentleman on the left initiates a look-elsewhere strategy triggering a look-elsewhere response from the rest.

The performer wearing the brim hat looks elsewhere too; he’s begun to understand the futility of their collective tune.

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Sinterklaas In Amsterdam

We were out in the evening and I saw people swarm a corner circling a god-like figure. The figure had white hair and beard, wore a red chasuble and a red miter.

He was Sinterklaas. This was in Amsterdam more than a decade ago.

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Though Sinterklaas looks like Santa Claus, he’s Saint Nicholas: a Dutch character. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally hailed from Turkey and was a well respected and loved man. The feast of Sinterklaas is on December 6, but the evening of December 5 is when loved ones get their gifts.

 

Twists In MIT

It’s odd if there’s no oddity from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): a producer of great minds.

The Intellectuals’ Circle. 16 people can sit here. Half facing in, half facing out. Whose brains will seal the first deal?  

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Pivoting Garden Bench. Who will pivot here? Someone with nothing better to do? Then don’t wait. Image

Backless bench. For minds and spines. No old professors, with due respect. Image