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September 2007

Oh You Poor Thing

Illness My little girl isn't feeling well. OK, my little girl is 22, a competent, self-reliant young woman with her own job and her own apartment. But when she's under the weather, she goes right back to being my little girl in both of our minds.

This morning we have already had two long chats about what I have diagnosed as a nasty virus. (I have my MD - Mom Degree - and I generally know when I need a consult with a physician. This is not such a case.) I have prescribed Tylenol, liquids and bed rest.

If there was a human fax machine, I would whoosh her to her childhood bed and bring her chamomile tea and soft toast. As it is, I am reduced to long distance care-taking in the form of frequent phone calls and plenty of "Oh, you poor thing"s.

Mom_headache But here's how I know I'm an older Mom. After we were done with her ailments, I spent some time whining about my own, which include an injured rotator cuff for which I got a cortisone shot yesterday, and neck problems, for which I need physical therapy. My little girl, bless her heart, listened patiently and then said, "Oh, you poor thing."

I think I've raised her well.

Nest Empty, A Downsized Mom Reflects


Published: September 23, 2007
THE night before we dropped our son off at college for his freshman year, I dreamed about my obstetrician. Dr. George Feldman retired more than a decade ago, and I hadn’t needed his obstetric services since long before that. But there he was, stethoscope draped jauntily around his shoulders, smiling into my face.

I’m not surprised he showed up in my subconscious that night. After all, he delivered the boy whom we, in turn, were delivering to his dorm room the next morning. Everything has been feeling circular these days. Time, instead of progressing in a straight march, instead seems to be taking all sorts of crazy loops backward before suddenly leaping forward again.

Last summer, when I was starting to get all misty-eyed about the departure of Paul, my younger child, I told him I wasn’t sure if his leaving home signified that, after more than 22 years on the job, I had been promoted or fired as a mom.

My son, who has a sense of humor, responded: “Mom, I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. You’ve made some valuable contributions to this organization, and this decision is no reflection on your performance. It’s just that we are restructuring, and your job is being eliminated.” As an added thought, he noted that I might still be called in for consulting work.

I had to laugh at the concept of being downsized as a mom, not to mention his eerie familiarity with corporate speak for layoffs. The downsized mom is kind of an updated description of an aging cliché — the empty nest.

Until now, I also thought that the empty nest itself was a dated concept. I used to read about women who stood in their children’s deserted bedrooms, mooning about and smelling their sheets. I would roll my eyes over stories about mothers who couldn’t wait to clean out their kids’ rooms, and no sooner were they done than they would sit in the newly pristine space, mourning the very mess and disorder they had just cleared out.

It all seemed very 1950s, these stereotyped mothers who lived for their children and could find no direction or meaning once their last offspring had departed. Arrogantly, I assumed that I would be immune from all this. After all, I had a career that was fulfilling, and was especially looking forward to being able to work guilt-free. For more than two decades I have been torn between children and deadlines, and like most working moms, felt that I was always shortchanging one thing or another along the way.

Sometimes, I’d be half-focused while interviewing someone, wondering if at that very moment, my son was making a great play on the soccer field. Other times, I’d be on the sidelines, worrying that the return call I’d been waiting for from that difficult-to-reach politician was just now landing on my answering machine. (I’ve seen plenty of parents, including doctors and lawyers, diagnose, consult and participate in conference calls, and otherwise conduct business on their cellphones from the bleachers, but this was far beyond the capabilities of my attention span.)

Anyway, the point is that I missed the point, which is about missing the child. I don’t miss the idea of my son, Paul; I miss the specific, tall, funny teenager who was thoughtful enough to call from his cellphone when he was going by the grocery store to ask if I needed anything. My days are full, but I miss taking a break at the end of the afternoon to hear about what happened in American history class.

At Paul’s college, they offered a one-day parent orientation, which was a first for me. In a series of programs, we were gently warned to let our children work out their own problems on campus. Everyone from the college chaplain to the dean of multicultural affairs assured us that our freshman would be well taken care of. We heard about campus security, health services, academic resources and more. It was all very nice, though in my mind, not particularly necessary.

The final event for parents was a talk from the president of the college. She talked about sending her own two daughters to college and how different it had been with each. With the first, the president said, she was very anxious about how her daughter would fare at school, balancing academics, college life and being so far from home. But when her younger child left home, this successful college president was far more anxious about how she herself would cope.

Bingo. When my daughter left I spent a lot of time hand-wringing about potential roommate issues, the leap from high school to college and the like. Yet I rarely worried about Paul’s adjustment to college. He has always been independent and competent, but then again, so was his sister. This time, I was my chief concern.

Bold letters on the parent orientation schedule read, “5:30: Family Goodbyes. All following activities are for students only.” It was a stunningly clear afternoon and the sun was glaring into my already wet eyes as I looked up at my son.

“Mom, no scenes please,” he said in his low voice.

Suddenly, time looped again and I remembered something from my days with Dr. Feldman — the transitional breathing technique. Back in Lamaze class, they taught different ways of breathing for each stage of labor. Transition was the very last piece, the most painful, and it occurred just before the baby was born. You panted very rapidly, almost like blowing out a succession of candles.

When my son turned after saying goodbye, I resurrected the technique. Sharp, repeated breaths — whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It worked better than it did 18 years ago. I was distracted from the ache in my chest and held the tears back, even as Paul walked away quickly, to catch up with a new friend.

Congratulations! You have a young man.

What's That In The Sky? A Plane?

Published: September 23, 2007
Pound Ridge

WESTCHESTER needs a new acronym for residents protesting airplane traffic. We might try Nomby (“not over my backyard”) or perhaps Nimas (“not in my airspace”). Whatever the word, it will come in handy as community protests mount over the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to reroute airplanes over the region.

Earlier this month the F.A.A. issued its final decision on airspace redesign for the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia metropolitan area — the first proposed change in the basic structure of air traffic since the 1960s. The F.A.A. argues that the plan will help accommodate a dramatic increase in air traffic while reducing delays, fuel consumption, aircraft emissions and noise.

“The airspace has become much more complex,” the F.A.A. administrator, Marion C. Blakey, said. “We now need to look at creative new ways to avoid delays.”

People who will be affected by the plan, which shifts the entire pattern of flights in the region, are up in arms. Rockland County has filed a lawsuit to stop the plan. Groups in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Connecticut are considering similar action.

Westchester officials are also contemplating a lawsuit. The county executive, Andrew J. Spano, said that the F.A.A. failed to release detailed information on the proposal until two days before the comment period closed — not enough time for the county to do a thorough analysis. Since then noise consultants determined that many communities — among them Pound Ridge, North Salem, Chappaqua, Ossining, Pleasantville, Hawthorne and Thornwood — would get a lot noisier under the redesign.

“Our concern was that once they changed where the airplanes flew without allowing us any way to explain to the public what was happening or allowing any effective participation — there would be hell to pay,” said Robert Funicello, the environmental project manager for the county’s transportation department.

It may not have been hell, but it was pretty heated on Monday when more than 150 residents here met to discuss the issue. The town supervisor, Gary Warshauer, described the F.A.A.’s actions as “unfair if not immoral.” Heather Wolf, chairwoman of a town committee studying the airspace issue, gave a detailed power-point presentation in which she charged that the F.A.A.’s design was deeply flawed.

She said that under the plan the average flight delay would decrease by only three minutes, while shifting flights over parklands, sanctuaries and drinking water supplies — and her neighborhood. “Every day we learn something new,” Ms. Wolf said. “How detrimental will it be? We don’t know, because they haven’t done any local studies.”

The F.A.A. held 120 public meetings in five states. It did not visit Pound Ridge, a town of under 5,000 in the eastern corner of the county known for its quiet country roads, horse farms and sprinkling of celebrity residents.

The redesign plan did not specify the new flight patterns exactly, but the F.A.A. did release a projection of the noise impact. From that, Westchester’s noise consultants deduced where the flights would be shifted and which communities would be affected.

What was not discussed at the Pound Ridge meeting, but what is evident from the analysis produced by the consultants, is that the new headache for Pound Ridge and its neighboring towns may spell relief for other Westchester communities. If the redesign goes through, it looks as if Bedford Hills, Katonah, Yorktown Heights, Elmsford, Valhalla, White Plains, Irvington, Peekskill and Tarrytown may have quieter skies.

Which brings us to the real problem: what air traffic routing plan is going to make everyone happy? Everyone complains about annoying airline delays. People want convenient flights from nearby airports. They want cheap flights, too, which means low-cost airlines and still more flights.

Don’t misunderstand. I live in a town near here that will get still noisier under the new plan. I’m driven crazy by the number of planes that already fly over my house, especially the low-flying ones, which since 9/11 make my heart, as well as my dishes, tremble.

So, yeah, Nomby. How about yours?


Clean It Up Guys

Hand_washing A study out of Chicago reported that one in three guys fail to wash their hands after using public restrooms. That's pretty gross and I had to wonder how they got this information. Well, it turns out that researchers for the American Society for Microbiology have a kind of secret "hand-washing police" who stake out public bathrooms in various cities and keep track of this kind of thing.

Lord, these pubic restrooms are busy, what with the kind of police stings for gay sex in the stalls that got Senator Larry Craig in such trouble.  I wonder if they do cross studies, like how many guys who have sex in the stalls then wash their hands?

Anyway, here in New York, both Penn Station and Grand Central Station were staked out, and it seems that 81 percent of men and women combined wash their hands. The article didn't break it down by gender for the Big Apple. Still. Yuck.

Football Blues

_41647520_englandfansad_203pa Yesterday, The Boy was distraught. It was badBearsfan enough the Redskins lost to the Giants. It was worse that they lost after they blew multiple opportunities to tie the game. It was still worse that he had to watch the game as the sole Redskin fan up at college amongst New England Patriots fans, who enjoy watching The Boy suffer. (Admittedly, this is because The Boy taunts New England fans, and calls them nasty names.)

Anyway, the Weatherman and I were in the car on a long drive back from upstate New York. The Weatherman was driving so he was listening to the game on the radio and couldn't take The Boy's increasingly upset phone calls. (I don't mean he couldn't take them in the emotional sense - I mean he didn't want to be on the cell while he was driving.)

As I listened to The Boy rant and rave about the team's performance, I was taken back in time to when I was first dating his father. The Weatherman was a hugely passionate Redskin fan back then. He is still a big supporter of the team of course, but a few decades have mellowed him, and he no longer gets as emotionally upset, feels as personally betrayed, lets loose a stream of obscenities, etc. when the team is doing badly. But in the Boy's voice, you can hear that level of deep upset I used to experience with his father.

After we got home, the Weatherman called the Boy, who had calmed down some. They rehashed the game and all that had gone wrong. They bolstered each other. Don't forget, it's still early in the season. They'll talk next Sunday, and probably before.

Small Town Hero

Tappan_see_2 When I met Ernie Feeney, he struck me as a regular guy. Bearded, burly - his orange NYS Thruway Authority t-shirt straining over his belly, he was not a man of many words. But Ernie Feeney was a man of action.

I had interviewed the 51-year-old Cornwall-on-Hudson resident because he had just saved a teenage girl from jumping off the Tappan Zee Bridge. What was remarkable about his story was that it was the second potential suicide on the bridge that he'd come across. Mr. Feeney supervises what he called "the wreckers" and what the NYT calls "tow trucks." That's how he happened to be on site with both two jumpers. ("Jumpers" is another term bridge workers use, as in "We got a jumper on the lower span.")

When the first jumper, an adult man, went over, Mr. Feeney was able to grab him by the back of the shirt. But Mr. Feeney lost his grip when his arm slammed into the railing, and he watched the guy fall to his death. That's why saving the teenage girl felt particularly redemptive.

Well get this - today I pick up the Journal News, and there's a story about a 33 year old woman being pulled to safety. She was hanging on the rail with one hand and one foot. Who was one of the guys who pulled her up? Our man Ernie Feeney. He had been on his way home from work when he spotted her.

Another thing about this guy - he was really modest and wasn't into being interviewed. I'm not going to do another story on him. But he at least deserves a blog.

Baby Football Fans Gotta Pay

Babyfootball Liz Sherman is a huge Florida State University fan, so she didn't hesitate to shell out $61 to go see her beloved Seminoles play against the U. of Colorado. What she didn't bank on, though, was that stadium officials at Folsom Field would also charge her infant daughter Abby, 3 months old, for a ticket.

"She can barely hold her head up, let alone sit in a seat," Ms. Sherman told CBS4 news in Denver.

Now here are even two more extraordinary things. First, she paid another $61 for a ticket for Abby. And second, when this story was posted in the Chronicle of Education, comments on it mostly criticized the mother for taking a baby to the game in the first place. Here's a sample of some comments:

"Getting kicked in the back of the head by a fussy infant can really ruin a game, even when you’re winning!"

"There is something to be said about TOO much togetherness of parent and child – and this was it."

'I don’t know what rate babysitters charge these days, but it certainly would have been more prudent to hire one for her daughter for this special occasion."

Good grief - even greedy airlines don't charge for infants. And in a huge stadium with hundreds of screaming fans, it's hard to imagine a baby being disruptive. This is one tough crowd!

Pretty But With a Potty Mouth

Katherine_heigl_3 That's it. I'm cleaning up my language. I know I drop a few curses into my everyday speech, but I never realized how unattractive it sounded until I watched Katherine Heigl accept her Emmy Award last night.

First, they showed her reaction when her name was announced, where she very clearly pronounced the word, "S--T!" under the bleep of the censor. When she got up on stage, she told the world, "my own mother didn't think I had a shot in hell at winning tonight." Then she added that she'd "worked my ass off" to get this award. Ah - articulate and modest too!

Katherine Heigl is a beautiful woman and while I find her unbearable in "Grey's Anatomy," I thought she was pretty funny in "Knocked Up," despite the preposterous plot. But she has inspired me, by gosh, by golly. No more potty mouth.

Shrimp, Tomatoes and Lentils

Shrimpandlentils This one-dish dinner started with a mixRicepilafbox_4 - Near East Rice Pilaf Lentil mix, to be specific. While this was cooking - it takes about 35 minutes, according to the box directions - I sauteed a pound of shrimp and two cloves of chopped garlic in a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Once that was cooking, I chopped up one large, ripe tomato and about a third of a cup of fresh cilantro.

Once the rice/lentil mixture was cooked, I stirred in the shrimp (along with the buttery garlic sauce it was cooked with), and added the tomatoes and cilantro. This dish was a big hit with the Weatherman, who really enjoyed the lentils as a change of pace from the usual pasta or rice.

My Personal Stylist

Dressingup When my daughter moved out to begin her own adult life, there were many reasons I missed her. Among my chief issues was the question of how I was going to get dressed in the morning. I could always count on my daughter to tactfully suggest a change in shoes or to point out, as kindly as possible, that the jacket I was wearing had the kind of shoulder pads that could only mean that the garment was a holdover from the 1980s. (I have a little trouble letting go.)

So I was extra pleased that she was home for a visit yesterday, when I had to go cover a wedding for the NYT Society pages. This was a major dressing conundrum. I mean, I wasn't really a guest, so I wouldn't wear what I might otherwise - a silk suit or some equivalent. But I was going to be in the midst of a fancy wedding, so jeans and a nice sweater certainly wouldn't do it.

Anyway, my daughter sat patiently while I hauled various options from the closet, and then helped me choose a tailored top, gray tailored pants and heels that I never would have put together on my own.

She is going back to the city this afternoon, so all bets are off for my wardrobe for the rest of the week.

Blame the Press and Mother Nature

1154121333_renovated_drago n_coast_2 Attendance at Playland took a nose dive, but it wasn't the fault of anyone who manages the aging amusement park. At least that's what folks at the Westchester Parks Department say. First, it's those damn reporters, who kept going on about the death of Gabriela Garin, a 21 year old Playland employee who was killed on a ride at the beginning of the season.

"We do believe that media coverage of the accident had an adverse impact on our sales," Peter Tartaglia, a county spokesman, told the Journal News.

Please note - it wasn't the fact that Garin was the 3rd person in four years killed on a Playland ride, which might make patrons a little uneasy about visiting the park. No, it was those damn headlines.

(Like many other journalists, I wrote a critical column about Playland this summer, though the recent multiple deaths at the park were only part of what I touched on.)

What else contributed to lack of patronage? The weather. Mr. Tartaglia pointed to a string of very hot days, as well as some rainy ones. OK, folks, this just in: in the summer, sometimes it gets hot. Other times it rains. When you are doing budget projections, you might want to factor that in.

Rejection Piles

Diary_of_anne_frankLolita_3 The book was described as "very dull." The publisher's reader, in his report, described the work as "a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions." So Knopf took a pass on "The Diary of a Young Girl," by Anne Frank, which would go on to sell more than 30 million copies after Doubleday published it in 1952. (The book was rejected by 15 other publishers before it was picked up.)

This story was told in an article last Sunday in the New York Times, which documented some of the major editorial blunders revealed by historians who have been studying the Knopf archive, which is housed at the University of Texas. Among other authors that weren't quite up to snuff were Vladimir Nabokov ("Lolita" was too racy) Pearl Buck ("The Good Earth" wouldn't sell, because Americans were "not interested in anything on China") and George Orwell ("Animal Farm" wasn't commercial because it was "impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.")

We writers eat these stories up (how many times was "Harry Potter" rejected?) but I am still not sure if these anecdotes are comforting or horrifying.

The NFL, Dads, and the Empty Nest

Clintonportis16x20skinsl Sunday was a bittersweet day for The Weatherman. Sweet, because his beloved Washington Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins. Bitter, because for the first time in years, he didn't watch the game with The Boy. When people talk about "empty nest syndrome" they are usually referring to Moms. But Dads suffer too.

Just before the NFL season was about to begin, The Weatherman and I were reviewing our respective calendars, and he wanted to know if I wanted the Redskins schedule.
When I told him that I didn't, he looked so crestfallen that I countered with, "why don't you just tell me when the important games are?" He looked confused. You see, every game is important. (Me: "important football game" is an oxymoron. The Weatherman: "important football game" is a redundancy.)

Anyway, I watched the game with The Weatherman - really watched it, instead of doing what I usually do, which is check my emails, fold the laundry, browse the newspaper, etc., with the game on in the background. I rooted hard for the Redskins. I questioned calls with belligerence. I was trying to make up for The Boy's absence. Of course I couldn't do it, but The Weatherman appreciated the effort.

Right after the Redskins won in over time, the phone rang. The Weatherman's face lit up. "It's the Boy!" he shouted. And it was. They talked over the running game, the quarterback's performance, the coaching decisions and more. They talked about next week's game. As I watched the Weatherman's face when he was doing a post-game analysis with The Boy, I realized that for this Dad, at least, Sunday is the hardest empty nest day of them all.

Troubled, Beloved Playland

Published: September 9, 2007

ANOTHER Playland season had drawn to a close and things had not gone well. Revenues were at a new low, and criticism of how the amusement park was being managed was mounting. But the man responsible for running Playland staunchly defended it.

“Playland has other very important values in its contributions to the health and happiness of the children and adults of the county,” said Gerard Swope, president of the Playland Authority. “With the probability of improved economic conditions, it is expected that Playland’s results will be materially better in 1941.”

Yep, they had high hopes for the 1941 season. Mr. Swope made his comments in 1940, when Playland was only 12 years old and a New York Times article reported on “the dilemma” the county found itself in. “The Federation of Westchester County Taxpayers Associations has asked curtailment of spending at Playland, and there have been demands on the floor of the Board of Supervisors that the park be closed or sold,” the article said.

Two weeks from now, Playland will wrap up its 79th season. The park remains a budgetary nightmare as well as a sentimental favorite. Legislators are still questioning Westchester’s role in owning and running an amusement park. And many county taxpayers object to subsidizing Playland to the tune of $3.5 million to $5 million a year, depending on the weather, attendance and other variables.

The county executive’s office continues to extol Playland as a wonderful family destination. Susan Tolchin, chief adviser to Andrew J. Spano, the county executive, said the park shouldn’t be expected to be self-sufficient, let alone turn a profit, any more than other county parks do.

But Playland isn’t like other county parks, most of which offer passive recreation and limited risk. The amusement park is increasingly plagued by problems, not to mention potential liability. Last month, several riders had to be rescued from a roller coaster that stopped midride. In a far more serious accident in June, a Playland employee was killed on the Mind Scrambler, a ride she had been hired to operate. The worker, Gabriela Garin, 21, was the third person killed on a ride at the amusement park in four years.

In 2004, Stephanie Dieudonne, 7, also died on the Mind Scrambler after she wriggled free of the restraining bar and fell from the spinning ride. Ten months later, Jon-Kely Cassara, also 7, was found dead in the waters of Ye Old Mill, an enclosed water ride. An investigation determined that the child had slipped through a 14-inch-wide gap in the ride’s floor and became wedged under its conveyor belt. Both children’s families sued the county.

After Ms. Garin’s death, Mr. Spano and the Board of Legislators each hired consultants to assess park operations. The reports are due this fall.

Meanwhile, the county recently spent $6 million to buy eight rides that had been privately owned, saying it would save taxpayers money.

Criticizing Playland can feel like bashing motherhood and apple pie. William J. Ryan, chairman of the Board of Legislators, has spoken of childhood memories of the park. He echoes Mr. Spano in saying what a great destination it is for young and old. But George Oros, the minority leader, would like to see the park trimmed down, perhaps keeping only the historical rides.

“Recent events have caused people to second-guess whether we should be doing something that is primarily a private venture,” he said. “Government shouldn’t try to do things that business does, because we aren’t equipped to do it and we don’t do a very good job of it.”

The world has changed greatly since 1928, when the Art Deco park opened with its Japanese Tea House, dance hall and boathouse. Rides are fast-spinning, high-flying and potentially more dangerous. People have become progressively more litigious.

Over the decades, numerous master plans have called for investing more money in Playland, so it might become more self-supporting. Another option is scaling back. Managing parkland is one thing, but running a contemporary amusement park is an increasingly risky business.


Lamb with Grilled Squash

My favorite farm stand is White Meadow Farms in Yorktown. Here's their display from the recent Yorktown Grange Fair:

Nice, huh? The other day I bought an odd looking vegetable there.

It looked like a swollen cukecumber, but it turned out to be a squash. I wasn't sure how to prepare it, but as luck would have it, when I was at the farm stand yesterday, I ran into Jonathan Pratt, who owns Peter Pratt's Inn, a wonderful restaurant, also in Yorktown. I asked him what to do with this squash, and he said to slice it thick ("like steaks"), marinate it, and grill it. That's just what I did - I brushed it with olive oil and some herbs. The Weatherman grilled lamb chops (they were brushed with a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic and coarsely ground pepper). He cooked the meat and the vegetables for the same amount of time. Meanwhile I made rice, bean and tomatoes. As you can see, the Empty Nest is still producing meals.

The Grange Fair

Every year, the Weatherman and I go to the Yorktown Grange Fair. It's one of the last remnants of Westchester's agricultural history. This was it's 83rd year, and they still have a tractor parade, watermelon eating contests, blue ribbons for baking, flowers and vegetables, as well as for the 4H Club Kids exhibiting their livestock.

There is also a carnival, which is thrilling to me, not that I have any intention of going on the rides, but because - as my friend Sally well knows - I have a real thing for carnies. Here are some photos from the fair.

First we checked out the animals.
Blackcow_2 Cowinsun_3

Even though the lambs were really cute, I still made lamb for dinner.

Closeuplamb_2 Rooster_2

I checked out all the rides for carnies, and was handsomely rewarded.

Overview_carnival_2 Good_carnie_3

I am also a big fan of the vegetable sculpture contest.

Veggieman_3 Vegetabledog_2

And the watermelon eating contest and the prize winning carrot cake.

Watermeloncontest_2 Prizewinningcarrotcake_2

And the other delicious food options and the flower contest...

Fried_dough_stand_2 Flowercontest_3

I really love the Yorktown Grange Fair.

Grangefairsign_3 Rideinthesky_2

Freshman Roommate Woes

Northeasternpic No, this is not a blog about The Boy. It's a thank-your-lucky-stars-these-aren't-your-kids blog. Two items on freshman college roommates in today's news. First, you've got the two brain trusts at Northeastern University. One leans out his dorm window and shouts to a girl in a dorm opposite his that he and his roommate are selling pot. Or, as the AP reports it, "If you're looking for weed, my roommate Ferrante has some for sale." How did they get this direct quote? Oops - it seems two plainclothes police officers heard them. They promptly went upstairs and arrested the two students, after finding four ounces of marijuana, a scale, alcohol and other signs of very bad behavior.

But that story will have a relatively happy ending (up to a maximum of two years in jail for possession of a class D substance with intent to distribute in a school zone) compared to that of two young women at the University of Arizona. The freshman roommates got into a fight and one died of stab wounds. No arrests yet, but what in the name of Heaven could they have been arguing about so passionately? Surely not about who gets the top bunk.

It probably wasn't too long ago that the parents of all these kids helped move them into those dorm rooms, with high hopes for their college education.

Rated for Violence

Flicks_review21 Last night I walked out of a movie. I rarely do that, because I'm not the dramatic type, and on top of that, I'm cheap, so I hate to squander $10. This film was the much-hyped "3:10 to Yuma," a remake of an old Western. It had the three G's - gunfire, guts and gore. The men were tough, the action was violent, and yet - miraculously - the women in them parts were mighty pretty, complete with lip liner and perfect hair.

The movie starred Russell Crowe, who is looking pretty paunchy, and who was blithely shooting everyone in sight, instead of hauling phones at bell boy's faces, as he is wont to do. The film had been billed as a "different kind of Western," but I don't know what was new, except for the not-very-startling concept that sometimes it's not easy to tell who's good and who's bad.

The violence over-stimulated me so much, that I had to come home and read a few chapters of "Jane Eyre" to calm down. Fine, I'm a wuss. But a wuss of refined and delicate sensibilities.


Empty_nest Someone just asked me if I was feeling ok. I'm perfectly healthy, but I think my face must be betraying  something. Look, I am already completely sick of the phrase "Empty Nest." Not only am I dealing with my youngest child having left for college, but I am writing an essay for the NYT on the subject. (If I can come up with anything new on this, I should be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.)

Strangely enough, I once thought I would be immune from feeling bereft. I thought Empty Nest was only experienced by women who didn't work and who had invested their entire life's meaning and ambition into their kids. Arrogant, as usual. I missed the point, and the point is that I miss the kid.  I don't miss the idea of the kid. I miss The Boy himself - tall, funny, easy-going - the one who used to live upstairs.  I promise I will try to stop blogging about this soon.

Empty Nest Pasta

Emptynestpasta OK - there is really no reason for this name, except that it's only the second Empty Nest dinner I've made, and I've already forgotten the first one. (Empty brain.)

I sauteed some onion and garlic in olive oil until they were soft. Then I cut up the meat I had from some leftover chicken thighs. (That was not the forgotten meal - my daughter, who now lives in Brooklyn, came up to dinner on Labor Day, so it didn't count as empty nest dining.) I stirred in the chopped chicken, and added a can of stewed tomatoes and simmered it for awhile. At the last minute, I threw in some fresh basil. I served it over spaghetti and then added freshly ground Parmesan.

The Weatherman seems relieved that the kitchen is still producing meals, even though there are only two place mats at the table.

Why Leona Buried Harry Not Once But Twice

Published: April 23, 2006
LOCATION, location, location: Everyone in real estate knows that's the key, and who would have appreciated the truism more fully than the real estate magnate Harry Helmsley? He is certainly in a position to know, even from his new and, we must hope, final resting place here in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A $1.4-million granite mausoleum bearing the Helmsley name, it stands imposingly on the crest of a hill.

Mr. Helmsley, a self-made billionaire, died in 1997 and was soon afterward entombed at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The Daily News described his mausoleum there as ''A Tomb With a View.'' It was decorated with stained-glass windows depicting a city skyline centered on the Empire State Building, once the crown jewel of his real estate empire. It was far bigger than most such edifices in Woodlawn, as well as being the first large structure to meet the eye on entry. Evidently, however, that view became spoiled, at least in the mind of Leona Helmsley, Mr. Helmsley's widow. She disliked the community mausoleum built right next door in 2004, finding that it intruded on her husband's seclusion, said Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the family. She soon began looking for a more serene resting place.

Things did not proceed smoothly, as has often been the case with Mrs. Helmsley, once known for her starring role in advertisements for the Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue. Featured in the advertisements as an imperious queen guarding the welfare of her hotel guests, she was nicknamed ''the queen of mean'' in the tabloids; she later served four years in prison for tax evasion. (Mr. Helmsley, too, was indicted on tax charges, but in 1989 he was found mentally unfit to stand trial.)

Mrs. Helmsley's problems in Sleepy Hollow began last summer, when officials from the local building department noticed unauthorized construction in the cemetery.

''It didn't start off very well with the village,'' said Mayor Philip Zegarelli of Sleepy Hollow. ''Basically they came in and clear-cut an area, and they had no permits for either the cemetery or the village.''

A stop-work order was issued, and over the next few months, officials representing Mrs. Helmsley appeared before the local planning board and the tree commission. They were ultimately granted approval for the project, though they paid fines.

''Let's put it this way,'' Mr. Zegarelli said. ''They made various donations to offset some of the things that were done.''

The new monument was only recently completed; the landscaping isn't finished. It is a block of granite, 36 feet by 37 feet, built in the classical style, with six Doric columns on each side. Its stained-glass windows match those on the Woodlawn edifice, with their city skyline motif. The floors inside are of inlaid marble. Two large stones stand next to each other. One is engraved with the words, ''I wait for the time we can soar together again, both aware of each other. -- Harry.'' The other reads, ''I never knew a day I did not love you. -- Leona.''

(The interior of the mausoleum is not actually open to the public, by the way. It was observed only through the openings in the carved brass double doors.)

As far as neighborhood is concerned, Mr. Helmsley has landed in a good one, among fellow titans of industry like Carnegie, Chrysler and Rockefeller. In such company the Helmsley tomb is no outsize McMausoleum. And Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is also home to the beauty tycoon Elizabeth Arden, the labor icon Samuel Gompers, Thomas J. Watson of I.B.M. fame and -- of course -- Washington Irving, author of ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.''

Mr. Zegarelli, for one, welcomes Mr. Helmsley. Zegarelli kinfolk are buried in the cemetery, and the mayor believes that variety is the spice of life -- or death, in this case. Having graves of the rich and famous near to those of his striving immigrant ancestors, he said, only emphasizes ''the great equalizing effect'' of this final human transition.

''I think she picked well,'' Mr. Zegarelli said, referring to Mrs. Helmsley. ''By moving up to Sleepy Hollow, you can't get a better area.''

The mausoleum is on a pretty spot, overlooking the Pocantico River, with flowering trees nearby. Now maybe the poor man can rest in peace.

$12 Million Won't Do It

Whelmsley130 Poor little Trouble. Leona Helmsley's pampered pooch was left a cool $12 million in her will, but he will not be able to nuzzle up to the Queen of Mean for eternity once his time comes. It was Mrs. Helmsley's wish that Trouble be laid to rest next to her in the family's $1.4 million granite Mausoleum in Westchester's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

I have actually been to this mausoleum - ok, I peeked inside the windows - for an article I wrote when Leona had her husband, the late real estate magnate Harrry Helmsley, disinterred from his original resting place in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and moved to Westchester. Evidently, Mrs. Helmsley felt the Bronx neighborhood had gotten too crowded, and had the poor old guy dug up and deposited upon a quieter, more exclusive shelf.

Needless to say, the Helmsley mausoleum is fancy, with six Doric columns on each side and stained glass windows depicting the New York City skyline. There are marble floors and carved, brass double doors. The thing is, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is only for humans. Westchester does have a famous pet cemetery in Hartsdale, but New York State law does not allow people and canines to mix in death.

Given her reputation for cruelty, vengeance and an absolute devotion to her dog, we can only be relieved Leona didn't live to find out about his legal technicality.

Safe, Secure...Silent

Indian_pont_energy_center Amazing as it may seen, Entergy, the owner of the Indian Point Power Plant, missed its THIRD deadline to get its warning sirens up and running. I wrote about this issue in a recent column, although at that time, they had only twice been unable to activate the system that is to alert residents within 10 miles of the nuclear facility of an emergency. Needless to say, if they can't even get sirens to work, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the plant is running safely.

But great news - there's another way to hear the sirens. Just visit the company's website at Click on the icon and you will hear what you are meant to hear in the event of an emergency. I think it sounds like an angry mosquito, but someone else I know thought it sounded more like her Ikea teapot. What do you think?