Dad Really Was There!

COMICS

My kids watched an excellent documentary named Batman & Bill recently, and they came away amazed at the film-maker’s tenacity and attention to detail. In the film, there was mention of the first-ever comic book convention (“comic-con,” for short) and the horrible conditions in which it was held. It was in a dilapidated hotel in New York City, one complete with roaches, filthy walls, drunken individuals roaming about, and dangerously unlit spaces. My kids looked at me, astounded, for the description of the comic-con given in the documentary and that which I earlier gave them matched perfectly, leading my kids to fire many questions my way.

Dad was there. All those years ago, he was there and he still remembers! What did he see? Who did he see? Was Jack Kirby there? What about Stan Lee?

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New York Factoid-O-Rama #3

Here’s another New York City factoid: There is a single block within Midtown Manhattan that, at different points in time, has held a park, a reservoir, an exhibition hall, and a library. It has changed as New York City has changed, with each new element within its borders forming a unique and important facet of the lives of the city’s residents. This is a story of change and rebirth within the heart of New York City. This is the story of Bryant Park.

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Bryant Park.
(The New York Public Library is to the rear.)

Named after abolitionist William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878), Bryant Park is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan, approximately one block from Times Square. The Main Branch of the New York Public Library is currently located within the park and generally forms the park’s Eastern boundary. However, in the mid-1850s, the future site of Bryant Park held the Croton Distributing Reservoir and an ornate exhibition building called the New York Crystal Palace.

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The Croton Distributing Reservoir.

Completed in 1842, the Croton Distributing Reservoir had walls that were purportedly 50 feet high, 25 feet thick, and was built in a vaguely Egyptian style (as “Egyptian style” was understood at the time, of course). In a Manhattan that had the Second Middle Collegiate Church on Lafayette Place as its tallest structure, walking atop the 50-foot walls of the stylish reservoir afforded New Yorkers of the time previously unmatched views of the surrounding area and other points of interest for miles around.

Before continuing, there are a number of notes to make about the Croton Distributing Reservoir. First, while it is often stated that the Second Middle Collegiate Church was lower than the reservoir, it is a challenge to determine if the height comparison was based on the height of the church’s spire against the overall height of the reservoir, or if it was based on the topmost point of the church from which the outside could be seen against the height of the walkways atop the reservoir. Unfortunately, making a concrete determination at this point is difficult—if not impossible—since the Second Middle Collegiate Church (circa 1842) no longer exists. The second point to be made is that the surrounding area gained the name “Reservoir Square” after the Croton Distributing Reservoir was completed. Curiously, a small, unrelated area of the same name exists in the city of Poughkeepsie, NY. (Click here to see it.) Finally, there is an excellent description of the Croton Distributing Reservoir within the pages of The Alienist, author Caleb Carr’s gripping crime novel set in the New York City of the 1890s.

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The New York Crystal Palace

 In 1853, the New York Crystal Palace was constructed within Reservoir Square, in what is now the greenery of today’s Bryant Park. It was an iron and glass marvel fashioned after a Greek cross that featured a dome 100 feet in diameter and was largely inspired by the Crystal Palace that existed in Hyde Park, London. (Click here to learn more about the Crystal Palace in London.) It was in the New York Crystal Palace that inventor Elisha Otis first publicly demonstrated a conveyance that we take for granted today: the safety elevator (so called because it does not plummet to the ground if its cable fails). Unfortunately, the spectacular New York Crystal Palace burned down in 1858, leaving nothing of its shining majesty behind.

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The New York Public Library.
(Bryant Park is seen to its rear.)

New York’s attraction to the Croton Distributing Reservoir was short-lived, and in the following decades there were cries for its demolition as an eyesore. Please note that it is not clear how the reservoir went from “Egyptian style” to unwanted eyesore in the eyes of the public, but the fact that it did is beyond any doubt. Demolition of the reservoir was performed in the 1890s, clearing the way for the construction of the main branch of the New York Public Library, the completion of which was in 1911.

Would you like to know more? If so, please click here to see information about a surviving part of the Croton Distributing Reservoir and its link to the New York Public Library.

All the best,
Keith V.

Sources:
Licensing:
  • All images in this post are in the public domain or are modified to render them unsuitable for the purpose of high-quality reproduction.

April 2017 Entry Delayed

Blog update: This continues to be a not-so-great time for the Viverette family. Not only do we have a beloved household member going in-and-out of intensive care, I have suffered an injury to my rib cage that makes breathing a challenge. My injury has only become worse with time and I can barely move, and that’s despite allowing much time and the use of heating pads to work some magic. It is with great reluctance that I state my expectation to see a doctor no later than tomorrow.

In the meantime, this month’s entry is delayed. It’s not for lack of trying, I assure you. I’m just having a Hell of a time trying to focus from within the recent upheaval that now exists within our family dynamic and from my own painful inability to move and breathe.

On a positive note, please allow me to introduce our new Pit Bull mix. His name is Terry, he has black-and-white fur, he loves to give sloppy dog kisses, he currently weighs north of 70 pounds, he is all muscle and no fat, and he patrols the inside of our home every night. All that, plus he is still a juvenile so the burly pup will become the burly adult. Terry is but the first of many new “gifts” we brought in for any returning push-in robbers. The other gifts have triggers.

Thanks,
Keith V.

Last Night…

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I normally don’t post to this blog more than once a month, but I had to denote an incident that occurred on the night of March 4th.  That night, around 9:15 PM here in New York City, we had an uninvited visitor. That’s “uninvited” as in some miserable piece of street garbage tried to force himself into my house via the side door.

As we sat inside listening to Steve Harvey and the buzzes and laughter of “Family Feud,” as visiting teenagers played whatever insult to the eardrums they call music from booming speakers, the intruder opened my front gates, walked past my front door, proceeded down my driveway, opened the outer door, and began his assault against my steel-reinforced side door. It was a largely silent effort at first, but one-by-one we became aware that something was wrong, that someone was trying to force the largely windowless door open. Those closest to the door heard it first, followed by those who were silently waved over. Fear gripped us all then, for we all knew that only a madman, one who was likely armed, would try to forcibly enter a home that was obviously filled with people.

As we heard the unmistakable sounds of pushing and straining, and as we saw the door handle move, several of us gathered near the door and loudly offered salutations that were quite far from “Have a nice day!” to the intruder. Even as some congregated near the door, others went to ensure that all entrances to the house were secure. And yes, all of us had knives, baseball bats, and machetes at the ready. Gun or no gun, the intruder would be clubbed into submission and sliced to ribbons if he came in.

We heard the outer door fly open and the sound of rapid footsteps retreating into the night. Regardless, we remained alert and ready even as our minds raced. Was the fiend at the side door the only intruder in the yard? Who else could there be? Were they trying to trick us somehow?

Whoever the intruder was, he ran faster than Ben Johnson on steroids. Those persons watching the front windows reported that a human blur raced out of the yard and past the front gates, moving so fast that none could make out who he was or if he was armed. Despite this, there was no sense of relief. The event was too strange, too contrary to normal behavior. We had no answers to earlier questions. We didn’t know how many more there could’ve been, we didn’t know if any were armed, and most disturbingly of all, we didn’t know why they would try to assault what was literally a full house.

Needless to say, most of us remained awake through the night, our frayed nerves causing us to jump at the sound of every passing truck or noise made by our neighbors. In the morning, my wife and I decided to buy a dog that we will love and who will love us in return, and yes, we decided to buy guns. We will get what we need to safeguard our lives despite living in a city that works diligently to keep guns away from the innocent.

It’s odd how lives can change in a moment. For us, that moment came last night. We are determined to never allow such an event to come again.

All the best,
Keith V.

Licensing:
  • All images in this post are in the public domain or are modified to render them unsuitable for the purpose of high-quality reproduction.

Common Knowledge

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Columbus discovers…that others beat him to the New World.

Americans tend to know of the extremes of a given type of incident or element of an event, but few are aware of other occurrences that, while not quite as spectacular, devastating, or salacious as the better-known events, are nonetheless possessed of their own elements of courage, triumph, and bitter tragedy. The lack of awareness is the fulcrum that allows truth to pivot toward lesser things. That fulcrum is not only the exact point where the failures of the common body of knowledge become apparent, it is where our own desire and ability to be informed fails us as well, and it’s where true knowledge should not only begin, it’s where so-called “common knowledge” should end. Unfortunately for us all, it does not.

To put it bluntly, I believe that our trusted “common body of knowledge” is a thing of an overwhelmingly ephemeral nature. I see it as a dismal, incomplete collection of dim remembrances, half-truths, and folklore-turned-fact that became inserted into the collective American consciousness through repetition. And when I say repetition, I mean the kind like the “Columbus set sail to America prove the world was round” kind of repeated misinformation. So in retelling that which is incorrect again and again, fable became fact while fact became corrupted or forgotten. Sadly, this situation continues even as I write this post.

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Van Gogh (self-portrait).

There are many instances which illustrate the fallacy that is common knowledge. Let us consider the oft-repeated “fact” about troubled painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890). Popular lore states that he cut off his entire right ear in a fit of madness, but in reality, Van Gogh cut off his right ear lobe, not his entire ear.1 However, common knowledge dictates the acceptance of Van Gogh’s self-portrait of his bandaged head as an accurate reflection of the artist with nothing less than a completely severed ear.

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The MV Dona Paz before tragedy struck.

Now let us consider what we know of the number of lives lost in the worst peacetime sailing disaster and the name of the ill-fated vessel those poor souls were on. According to common knowledge, the answers are, respectively, about 1,500 people who died and the ship was the infamous RMS Titanic. Once again, common knowledge is wrong. In truth, about 4,000 (or more) people died in 1987 when an overloaded ferry named MV Doña Paz—a vessel just a third the size of the Titanic—collided with another ship and sank near the Philippines. As estimated 4,000 people drowned or were burned alive.2

There was no major Hollywood movie about the sinking of the MV Doña Paz. The victims of the sinking largely remain anonymous thanks to a horrible lack of public knowledge about the tragedy and the media’s false reporting about the Titanic disaster as the all-time worst peacetime disaster at sea. By repeatedly making an assertion the general public would have no choice but to accept, the media raised the arms of common knowledge in yet another celebration over truth even as the dead of the MV Doña Paz rested in obscurity.

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President Obama.

There are numerous other cases where the inaccuracy of common knowledge surprises. To wit, the American president who created the greatest number of Executive Orders is not named “Barack Obama.” Instead, the honor (or dishonor) goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Obama issued nearly 300 Executive Orders, but FDR fired off an astounding 3,721 commandments.3 To his credit, FDR was trying to get America out of the Great Depression while trying to navigate through the hostile international politics that would eventually lead to World War II.

My final example is a poignant tale about the failure that is common knowledge as applies to the national zeitgeist. That is, relatively few people are aware that a plane once fell out of the cool skies above my native New York City on Veteran’s Day, 2001. It was Monday, November 12th, and barely two months had passed since hijacked airplanes were used to bring death and tragedy to an unprepared American nation on the day forever commemorated on September 11th.

The country’s wounds were still fresh and raw from that modern day of infamy. The mere sound of an airplane flying overhead or the sight of a person wearing a turban or flowing robes was enough to send masses of people into an immediate panic. While such general sentiment could easily and justifiably be construed as fear, racism, jingoism, or the mass expression of caution, it remains an indisputable fact that the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, New York, reawakened fears of death from above by merciless attackers from the Middle East, and ripped open the wounds of terrorism that had yet to fully heal.

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Site of the Belle Harbor crash.

Sadly, all 260 people aboard the doomed jet and five unfortunate persons on the ground were killed.4 In response, the nation’s media fanned the flames of nationalism and beat the drums of war in the belief that America was once again the victim of those possessed of an unabated hatred against all that the Stars and Stripes represents, but as we know today, the media was then absolutely wrong. The horror in Belle Harbor was the result of an accident in midair that yielded horrific consequences on the ground. Though the truth became known, the American media continued to leverage the fear, ethnic animosity and sheer racial hatred that existed at the time to promote the case for war while largely ignoring facts to the contrary.

So forceful, so vociferous, so unrelenting was the media’s slanted reporting that it largely made it impossible for President George W. Bush to avoid going to war. Blood was demanded for 9-11 and the Government had to respond to the fears of a nervous, jingoistic citizenry. It is through eyes that feared the unwanted perception of helplessness that helped the Bush administration see terrorist training camps, stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, lions and tigers and bears (plus dogs and cats living together) in various surveillance images of Iraq. As the media beat the drums of war, the American people accepted the imaginary rationales for conflict as truth. Thus did complete fiction transform into common knowledge, and the results of that change would be tragic.

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President George W. Bush at Ground Zero.

With the same certainty that Columbus truly discovered the New World and the sinking of the Titanic really was the worst sea disaster of all time, Americans just knew who was responsible for the attacks. Unfortunately, the threats were not real and there was no cause for war. Fostered by misinformation, fear, and a general need to blame someone, the false identification of the nation of Iraq as the culpable party was readily accepted by a grieving America, thus giving the erroneous and pervasive thing that is common knowledge yet another victory over truth. Sadly, a total of 4,491 American military personnel would die even as the American people blindly justified their sacrifice.

I reiterate my belief that common knowledge is not fact or truth, although elements of both could exist within otherwise inaccurate convictions. Instead, it’s what we accept without question, it’s what we believe we know. As such, it is a belief system with flaws that result in misconceptions about various issues, and which permits actions up to and including “rubber stamping” the wholesale slaughter of our fellow Americans. Most of all, common knowledge is something that we, as rational human beings, could—and should—do without.

Thanks,
Keith V.

Sources:
  1. http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/biography.html
  2. http://world.time.com/2012/01/20/unsafe-at-sea-asias-history-of-deadly-ferry-disasters/slide/mv-dona-paz-philippines-1987/
  3. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php
  4. http://www.qchron.com/editions/queenswide/disaster-in-the-rockaways-jet-crashes-into-belle-harbor-dead/article_6add90f8-70b6-5a34-9bbc-590d930b6970.html
Licensing:
  • All images in this post are in the public domain or are modified to render them unsuitable for the purpose of high-quality reproduction.

The Kitten

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It was supposed to be a pleasant summertime Saturday in a time when the Viverette family consisted of just me, my wife, and our two young sons.  We decided to take an all-day trip by car into upstate New York for no other reason than to get out of the city for some decent family time on the road.  My wife tended to the boys’ needs—bathing, clothing, and “Use the bathroom now so we don’t have to use any of those filthy roadside toilets on the way up!”—while I readied drinks and sandwiches for the trip. I was filled with “it’s time to be a good daddy” enthusiasm and walked to the rear of our driveway where the family car, a burgundy Oldsmobile Delta ’88, was parked. Continue reading

New York Factoid-O-Rama #2

Here’s another New York City factoid: NYC holds two international records for building destruction. The tallest completed building ever brought down through planned demolition was the city’s towering (and somewhat phallic looking) Singer Building in 1968.

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Conversely, the tallest buildings ever brought down through officially unplanned demolition were the “Twin Towers” of the city’s World Trade Center due to Islamic terror attacks on September 11th, 2001.

-Keith V.