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Saturday, January 24, 2015

After the Fire, the Fire Still Burns

Phillips Brooks - Bishop & Preacher (1893)

Those in our area could not miss the headline earlier this week of a five-alarm fire that destroyed much of an apartment complex known as Avalon at Edgewater. If you've been around a while, you may remember that the same complex burned in 2000 as construction neared completion.

I'm not really wild about the trend toward wood frame construction for high-density housing like this.  With over 400 apartments in a city block, that's a lot of stoves, candles, extension cords, heaters, potentially careless smokers, etc., in a small area.  The building is still relatively new, but what happens when wiring and other material is 30, 40, 50 years old?  It is not as if it is cheap to live there, either; I saw mention of rents upwards of $3,000 a month.  We're getting two similar complexes in our town (one by the same developers) and I expressed concern to town officials that we may be exposed to similar risks.

On Thursday the Newark Star Ledger reported that a worker's blowtorch accidentally started the blaze, and that the crew called and spoke to their supervisor for 15 minutes before dialing 9-1-1, thus critically delaying firefighters' response.  This reminded me of another fire, which took place right across the river at Pier 88 in the Passenger Ship Terminal, seventy-three years ago this coming February 8th.

The SS Normandie, luxurious flagship of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, took shelter in New York when World War 2 began. Her crew remained on board until December 1941, when she was seized by the U.S. Navy and renamed the USS Lafayette, vessel AP-53.

Workers using blowtorches to remove iron handrails in the ship's cavernous first-class lounge accidentally ignited a stack of life preservers, which were full of a very flammable substance called Kapok.  They attempted to extinguish the fire, but the ship's sophisticated sprinkler system had been abandoned by the Navy and they quickly discovered that the fittings did not match American hoses.

The fire spread rapidly; the Normandie boasted numerous large public spaces (the First Class restaurant was longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles) which unfortunately acted  like a giant chimney. The FDNY used every means at its disposal to pour water on the ship, and she soon began a dangerous list away from the pier.  Her Russian-born designer Vladimir Yourkevitch arrived at the scene and attempted to provide expertise that would have possibly saved her, but he was ignored.  In the middle of the night, like a suffering whale that beaches itself, the beautiful ship fell on her side in the muck.

Burned-out wreck of the USS Lafayette (ex-Normandie) lies on her side at New York's Pier 88
PHOTO CREDIT: James Vaughan. Used under Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved.

She would remain there for a year, an embarrassing waste.  The Navy considered re-purposing her as an aircraft carrier, but the damage was found to be too extensive and they focused on other priorities.  She was scrapped at Port Newark after the war's end.  Luckily, much of her interior fittings had been removed and stored before the disaster, and can be seen in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Our Lady of Lebanon (the Maronite Catholic Cathedral in Brooklyn), and the Chicago Hilton.

Like the Avalon fire, her loss was ruled an accident, and--also similarly--the response immediately after it began played heavily into the outcome.  The design of passenger ships has changed significantly since then; the SS United States, launched 12 years later, had almost no wood on board, and both she and the SS France employed large amounts of asbestos, which was also subsequently ruled to be hazardous.  Large spaces like those aboard Normandie now have to be subdivided by fire-suppressing bulkheads and doors.

But, on land, are similar precautions being taken?  Hopefully we will not have to wait 73 years for a lesson from the Avalon fire to be learned.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

40 Symptoms of the 40s Gay Man

Used via Creative Commons
Some rights reserved
So, a friend posted this list of forty sucky things that a 40-year-old woman experiences, and it got a chuckle.  I thought it would be funny to compare my own list, much of which overlaps.  It will be funnier if you read that list first, as they sort of line up.  Sort of.
  1. I have no clue what's on MTV. Do we get MTV? I can’t find the remote.
  2. Gay shelf life is a thing.  Bars and parties that seem fun in the constant promos they send... yay Netflix!
  3. My entry in “movember” or any other facial-hair trend will be gray/white and thus put on ten years.  What works for Anderson Cooper makes me look like an aging owl during molting season.
  4. Should we fool around or watch a mo… zzzz
  5. The beer I drank on Super Bowl Sunday is still inside me somewhere.
  6. Wake up with that “but it’s a good hurt” feeling, like you did a heavy workout the day before… but you didn’t.
  7. Doctor’s appointment beginning to resemble a bad encounter with the TSA.
  8. Not that I'd leave my job and family to become a rich guy's houseboy and live on his yacht, but it was nice when that was at least a remote possibility.
  9. Going shirtless in public is seeming more and more like an aggressive act.
  10. The "me" in my head gets hit on by the “me” in the mirror... and shot down
  11. Mark Wahlberg still has that body. I, on the other hand...
  12. If I strolled across a college campus, people would ask I was lost or possibly tell security about the homeless-looking old guy
  13. The only place I get carded is the airport. Bonus: car insurance keeps dropping
  14. The mall, once my place of employment and the social epicenter, is like a visit to another, hostile planet. Any clothing that appeals to me is “too young for you” and doesn’t come in my size. Have actually purchased clothes at Costco. Does it have a drawstring or elastic waist? Take four of them.
  15. Random hairs. Wherever they feel like. Try and stop ‘em.
  16. I still like new music and go see it live, but people assume I’m there to clean up afterwards.
  17. Everything I wore in high school is probably somewhere in the house. If the hipsters want it, they can come find it.
  18. Whole TV series have been created, cancelled and become “classics” and I still haven’t heard of them. Where’s the remote?
  19. My employer will be paying my Medicare Part B someday and I actually understand what that means.
  20. I would not know Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, or any of these people “you’re supposed to like” if I tripped on them. Whatever happened to Cher and Madonna?
  21. Christmas, which used to start after Thanksgiving, now starts before Halloween. I think in our lifetimes, next Christmas will start before this Christmas.
  22. All the Abercrombie & Fitch went to the church thrift shop a while back. “Tell your son thank you for us!” Um, yeah, sure will.
  23. Have you seen my glasses?  $300 designer frames once every two years has morphed into a new $18 pair of readers from the drug store every few weeks because I keep losing or breaking them.
  24. Now that everybody has unlimited talk time, all my phone conversations are conference calls for work.
  25. All the concerts, clubs, and clothes I used to scrimp for are more within the budget, and yet I’m usually home on Saturday night and fine with that… mostly.
  26. If I was to flirt with the cable guy, police would probably be called. I just want the remote.
  27. If a good-looking, 21-year-old guy is friendly to me, he is trying to sell something.
  28. Naked pictures? I’d rather have Stacy’s Naked Pita Chips… with hummus please!
  29. I’m tempted to put tape over the front camera on my phone to avoid an accidental “selfie"
  30. Sagging your pants is not a fashion or political statement, it means your gut is pushing them down! Forget your suspenders again, grandpa?
  31. Touching my toes is easy… I’m already sitting down!
  32. When we go on a date in a classy restaurant, the mood is broken when I use the flashlight on my phone to read the menu. Left my glasses in the car.
  33. Impulsively buy vitamins, take them for three days, find the expired jar a year later.  Can't read the label anyway.
  34. A dog used to be a social accessory, so you could meet guys while walking/running him in a park. That rarely happens when you push him out on the back deck in your sweatpants and slippers.
  35. Every new exercise, eating, or other good behavior is going to happen “starting on Monday”.
  36. Post-bar at the diner, with the attendant flirting and gossip, has morphed into brunch at the diner with everybody looking at their phones.
  37. Instead of open bar, we look for BYOB and show up with Costco wine.
  38. Birthday party went from all-night in the city to … could we just forget about it please?
  39. I have nine pairs of $#@*(#@( glasses, where the #$@*#$@(*#@( are they?
  40. In my head, I am “dude” or “bro”. To the world I am “sir”. Can’t “sir” be my dad for just a little longer, please?