Westchester County

Inside Story

Download-1A bit of positive news which makes me feel happy, or if not happy, at least a little proud and a little less helpless.

This week I was asked to draw up guidelines for a program in which incarcerated men and women could start keeping Coronavirus journals. The project, of course, is a remote one, and in a world that does not have Zoom, or Internet for that matter,  we try to connect the old fashion way - through (security vetted) paper.

Writing in a journal is something I feel strongly about. I started keeping a diary when I was 8-years-old.  Even as a little girl I felt a significant disconnect between what I was being told and what I actually saw happening. There was a general sense of "I better write this down."

Looking back, I think I was profoundly lonely and wanted to talk to someone. It was also a way of sorting out my confused emotions, not to mention to develop trust in my own perceptions. Those diaries were lifesavers for me, piling up over the years, with their cloth flower covers, or in my teenage years, black, no-nonsense sketch books.  Of course, prisoners won't have actual journals, but they can write down their thoughts and experiences on whatever paper that may be available to them.

So I was thrilled when asked to do this project. For inmates, keeping a journal right now is important for a couple of reasons. First, I hope it will be therapeutic for them in the same way it's always been for me. They can channel their anxiety, focus their thoughts, and hopefully better manage their stress. Second, they have an important story to tell. Only people who are locked up can tell the story of what it's like to experience the pandemic behind bars, with little way of protecting themselves. Someday the history of Covid-19 will be told. And this will be part of it. Download

There's one other thing I feel VERY strongly about. These men and women will be writing in journals.
They will NOT be "journaling." Journal is not a verb. It is a noun. For instance, we do not say we are  "diary-ing." We keep diaries or we write in them. 

Clearly all these years of writing has turned me into a curmudgeon. But standards must be upheld, even in a pandemic.

How To Hold A Non-profit Gala

ImagesOctober seems to be fundraiser season - one event after another, all of them competing for time, money and attendance, and most of them for great causes.

Last night, I was at a particularly compelling event. Yes, there was the usual "rubber chicken" meal and the usual crush of people around the bar. But here's what made it special:

-The advisory board for the benefit included people who are actually served by the organization.

-The event was attended by people who had benefited from the organization as well as by donors.  Some who have benefited in the past are now donors themselves. 

-The table seating mixed everyone together - those who had been helped, those who give money, those who volunteer, those who are on staff.  It was one of the most diverse events I've ever been to - and I mean diversity in many senses - racially, economically, socially, age-wise, etc. Which of course made it super fun and interesting. 

Why is this important? Because a gala like this celebrates community. It's not "donors" feting themselves; it's everyone coming together as family. Because a great nonprofit realizes that there is not much difference among the people who serve and the people who are served, and that the tables could turn at any time.



Say what? Part 2 - the legal version.

Download-2Awhile back, I wrote a post about using an online transcription service to convert my mp3 interview recordings into text.  That was for this story about opioids, which involved many interviews with police. 

The technology is not yet perfected, and my transcript was full amusing goofs, like translating "some narcotics" into "summer cottage."

Today, I present the legal version. I'm profiling a famous lawyer, and went to hear him speak last week. He referenced some major cases and talked about his practice. Here are a few of my favorite transcription gaffs:

"Bush v Gore": Grocery Store

"It's now constitutionally required to enable anybody to get married, regardless of sex." : "It's now constitutionally required to enable anybody to get at the better car for us, sex."

"There was too much ferment out there." : There was too much for men out there.

"As it might have been." : A vitamin

"Posterity" : "Pasta Veggie."

Despite its limitations, I still am grateful that I no longer have to transcribe a recording word for word. Your honor, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I rest my case.



Your Tax Dollars at Work Again!

Drunk Westchester County press releases are a stream of constant entertainment. I barely refrained myself earlier this week from blogging about the water tasting contest they were promoting. But get this one, which just arrived in my email - the county is now spending our tax dollars to fund a survey on how parents feel about their kids' alcohol and drug use.

If you are one of 5000 lucky randomly selected parents, you may get a survey in the mail that includes these thought-provoking questions:

"Do you think any of the following drugs (tobacco/alcohol/drugs, etc.) is harmful to your child's health?"

Hmmmm....that's a tough one. I'm pretty sure I want my kids to smoke cigarettes and pot, and snort cocaine, because those things are safe, but I'm still on the fence about heroin. I better let Andy Spano know.

"During the past year, has your child used cigarettes/marijuana/liquor/etc?"

Well, he did mention the hallucinogens from last night's party, and he is always asking me if I know where he can get a good deal on pot. But he always asks me this stuff when we're doing shots together, which is why it's hard for me to give the county a really accurate sense of his daily use.

Now that the county has a good sense of my parental attitude towards drinking and drug use,will this affect their policy?

PS-(posted the next day) It has come to my attention that some people did not pick up on the tongue-in-cheek tone of this post and took me seriously. This is meant to be dripping with sarcasm, folks. Maybe it's the writing...

Take Two KI Pills, and Pray that There's a Morning

Radiusip More good news out of the Indian Point Nuclear Power plant this morning - now they've found traces of radioactive material in their sewage. The plant operators say that they don't know how it got there, but at the same time they are sure it's nothing to worry about. I feel better, don't you?

Yesterday I did something that I've never done before - stopped by my local town hall to pick up Potassium Iodide (KI) tablets. These pills are free to anyone who lives within a 10 mile radius of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. I got four tablets - one for each member of the family. The nice lady at town hall who gave them to me said, "this should be enough to get you out of town."

Pillsandletter1 KI can help protect you from thyroid cancer in the event of a nuclear accident, becauseIndianpoint it blocks the absorption of radioactive iodine into your thyroid.  It doesn't do a thing to protect you against the other effects from radiation. In order to be effective, you have to take this pill either 24 hours before exposure (I guess we'll know a day ahead of time about an emergency at the plant) or within two to four hours of exposure to radiation. Again, I feel very confident, because the Indian Point Power Plant is known for its cracker jack siren system. By the way, they are testing those sirens again in Croton today. If anyone actually hears them, please let me know.

Westchester Wanderings

Crotondambetter I love Westchester County. I do. But the Weatherman and I often fall into a rut,Crotonreservoir_2 dining at the same restaurants and taking walks in the same parks. But no more! We have resolved to do some Westchester wandering. Yesterday, on a whim, we decided to go visit Croton Gorge Park, in Cortlandt. It was a picture-perfect spring day.

The park is a 97 acre property at the base of the Croton Dam. Not only can you picnic on the extensive grounds at the bottom of the dam, but you can also walk across the top (the road is closed to cars but open to bicycles and pedestrians) and there are spectacular views of the reservoir and the spillway. Look down the other side, and you watch the water cut a beautiful path through the woods.

Damspillover If you like hiking, as we do, you can pick up a trail that leads you to New YorkSteps State's Old Croton Aqueduct.

After all that walking, you deserve a treat of course. And you can do no better than visiting The Blue Pig, in Croton. This small gathering spot, a local favorite, offers hot dogs and chili, but the real deal is the ice cream. I had seen Blue Pig ice cream featured on menus at upscale restaurants (like Peter Pratt's, in Yorktown) but had never been to the mecca. Oh my goodness! I had a flavor called "Pig Slop." I ordered it before I even knew what was in it, based both on the name and that it looked so good. It turned out to be cinnamon ice cream, mixed with pieces of home made oatmeal cookies. It was transcendent.

Downriver So far, I am really enjoying our exploration of our own backyard.Bluepig_2

West Side Story at Sing Sing

Westsidestory Last night, I went to Sing Sing prison to see a performance of "West Side Story." This is the third play I have seen behind the huge stone walls of the prison. A volunteer program, called Rehabilitation Through the Arts, has brought theater to this maximum security facility, with the idea that skills like learning to work together as a team and improving communication skills can be truly rehabilitative.

I've written about this program several times in the New York Times, so if you're interested, please read more. Usually, the troupe performs for fellow inmates for three nights, and the fourth night people from the "outside" - usually prison volunteers, clergy and sometimes media - can attend. Security takes forever, with hand stamps, x-ray machines, body searches, and the confiscation of pretty much everything but your driver's license. All this after your name has been cleared by New York State weeks before.

Last night's performance was the first musical the program has ever attempted. It was given as a tribute to the former superintendent of Sing Sing, Brian Fisher, who is now the Commissioner of New York State Corrections. It was Mr. Fisher who first allowed the program inside the prison.

Singsing_2 So maybe the dancing wasn't up to Jerome Robbin's standards and perhaps Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics might have winced as a few inmates missed their high notes.  A handful of volunteers - including my wonderful friend Linda - played the women's roles. The rest of the cast, along with most of the production crew, were inmates.

The show was great. Naturally, the fight scenes were extremely believable. But the most poignant scenes came from the softer moments. There was one in which three very large men came on stage and sang, "There's a Place For Us." When they starting singing the lyrics, "peace and quiet and open air wait for us, somewhere..." I almost started crying.  Riff had dreadlocks, Bernardo had just the right combination of menace and vulnerability and the inmate who played Officer Krupke played him as a fool to great laughs.

One of the most moving moments of Sing Sing theater is the end of the show. The inmates are clearly basking in the applause. They are not allowed to leave the stage, but audience members may go up and greet them. Eventually, the audience lines up, to get in the small caged buses that will take them to the prison exit. (You don't just walk out either -there's security in place for leaving, as you can imagine.) The inmates start to come down from the excitement of the evening as they watch the visitors stream out.

And when you walk out into the spring night air, the freedom really is palpable.

Jim Steets' Bad Week

Indianpoint_2 My friend Carin (hi Carin) and I once discussed writing an article on the worst jobs in Westchester. For all I know, with my swiss cheese memory, one of us actually wrote it. But this week, I say Jim Steets has the worst job in the county. Jim is the spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owners of the Indian Point Power Plant.

Jim's week started going badly as early as Monday, when testing revealed that 123 of the 150 new emergencyEntergy sirens were malfunctioning. As Mr. Steets put it in a dry understatement, the tests "indicated a need for additional work." On Tuesday, a water-pump control device developed problems that  shut down Indian Point 3 for a day. Jim's comment: "There were no safety implications or margins diminished in any way." Then the poor pr man had only two full days to rest his silver tongue. By Friday an explosion and fire that sent black smoke spewing from a huge electrical transformer shut the reactor down again. Any cause for worry? Not according to our Mr. Steets: "There was not even a momentary threat to the reactor in any way," he told reporters.

This man must be exhausted. Every few days he has to explain away something else going wrong at the plant. And on top of that, how does he sleep at night?

Gas Pump Blues

Gaspump This was a first for me - filling up my gas tank to the tune of $51. That's 15.9 gallons of "special" (the one between regular and premium) at $3.199 a gallon. I thought that was a shocking figure until both Weatherman and the boy were decidedly unimpressed and told me they've spent that much at the pump.

Since I was ragging on Westchester County yesterday, I will today point out a niftyWestgovcom government service. If you visit www.westchestergov.com, go to the link (it's on the right hand side of the page) for "find best prices oil, gas drugs." Then click on the link "latest gas survey." They have a little tool where you can plug in your address, how far you are willing to drive to get gas - it ranges from  .5 miles  to 10 miles - and it will come up with the three gas stations that have the lowest prices. It lists the prices for all grades of gas. I was willing to drive 2 miles, and it turns out that if I'd gone to my local Shell station the "special" would have been $3.059, and filling up my tank would have only cost $48.64. I know that I would have only saved $2.40, but that still would have been a pretty good down payment on my next gallon of gas.

Spano Takes on Fifth Graders

Andyspano I get a lot of amusing press releases from Westchester County.  Some are outstanding for their  breathless announcement of the obvious, like "Holiday Shopping Tips," which included such insightful advice as "Compare prices. Find out all you can about an item before you buy it." Also in this category falls: "Tattoos and Body Piercings - Risky Art," which began  with the startling news that "while everyone has a right to self-expression, people should be aware of the dangers that may lurk in some tattoo and body-piercing parlors."

There are the who-thought-this-one-up types, like "County to Hold Annual Water Tasting Contest." My all-time favorite remains, "It's Show Time for Bee Line Drivers at Bus 'Roadeo'" which announced that local bus drivers would "pit their skills against diverse obstacles." Alrighty. It's always good to see our tax dollars at work.

Children_running The one that came in yesterday looked pretty boring at first - something about a Community Health Challenge. But upon close inspection it was announcing that County Executive Andy Spano, along with some local mayors, were challenging 10 year olds to compete in an obstacle course. What's more, the fitness race was to take place, not at a County Park, but in The Westchester mall, specifically, the release tells us, at "retail level 2(near the horse fountain)."Mall

I would have absolutely loved to cover Andy Spano and assorted mayors giving fifth graders the what-for, leaping over benches or sprinting down the shopping corridors. Unfortunately, this press release landed in my in box about 20 minutes before the event was to take place. Do you think they sent it out so late because they had an inkling that the photo opp might be tad embarrassing?

Party 911

Ambulance Kids are so darn clever. You know those teenagers who volunteer for the local ambulance corps? For most of these adolescents of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with burnishing their college applications, but is driven instead by their love of mankind. Anyway, word on the street is that these teens, at least a handful of them, are providing enhanced assistance and back-up.

Since the ambulances are equipped with police scanners, the kids who ride them get a heads-up when the police are about to bust an under-age drinking party. The volunteer teens then call or text their friends at said parties, and get them out of harm's way, or at least out of the way of the local police. Talk about community service!

Martha and Me

Marthasapron_2 I'm really not into Martha Stewart bashing. I mean, we have so much in common. Did you know that Martha had a kitchen accident, just like mine? Last fall, she was carving a turkey at her 153-acre Bedford estate, when she sliced her hand with the knife. Her mishap landed her in the emergency room at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, where she received eight stitches. Evidently Martha was so pleased with the service that she promptly pledged $1 million to a hospital fund raising campaign.

NwhospitalBut nothing is ever straight forward with the domestic diva, and now there now seems to be a bit of a mystery surrounding the donation. She pledged it in October, adding a provision that her donation had to be matched by an addition $2 million. In November, the hospital president announced that area donors had met the challenge.

Yet the hospital is now mum on whether the money came through, citing "donor confidentiality." Wait, let me get this straight - the hospital sent out a press release announcing Martha's pledge, but now it's a secret whether or not she actually forked over the money? It sounds like another bad thing.

Pedicures Important Police Tool

Pedicure_2 Just as I suspected, pedicures are not just a self-indulgent pampering experience. Soaking your feet in warm water, having someone cut your toe nails, remove your nasty calluses, massage your aching pups and paint your toes a pretty color is actually an important community service.

Witness the critical clue police came across when two human legs washed up (separately) on the Long Island shore this week. Both feet had pretty pink polish on the toes. Now, there could be a lot of random legs afloat around here, and if a third leg comes ashore with pink polish, the whole connection theory is shot. Still,  Mamaroneck detectives feel pretty confident that the two legs came from the same woman.

Look, this is a gruesome story. But I still maintain that we should all be doing what we can and visit the nail salon regularly. If any of us meets such a horrible fate, let's leave not only clues behind,  but also pretty feet.

Dem Bones

Skeleton_2 It's getting scary around here, not to mention disgusting. First, we've got the skeleton that was discovered earlier this week in the woods behind Bloomingdales in White Plains. So far, the police have only established that the person was a woman in her 70s. They are not yet entertaining my theory that she perished while waiting for help during a sale in the shoe department.

Meanwhile, yesterday a severed human leg washed up on the a beach in the Long Island Sound. Police believe the leg was connected -  or at least once connected - to the torso that was discovered a few weeks ago on a Mamaroneck Beach. The leg landed on the estate of James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision Systems Corp., chairman of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers. I would at this point start speculating about getting a leg up in the play-offs, but that would be in very poor taste, indeed.

Flower Power

Flowerstand_2 I told you the Bedford Planning Board was tough. Now they're cracking down on flowers. The Katonah Village Market has a little flower display in front of the store. Pretty offensive, right? Well, the board sees those flowers as an encroachment on the town right-of-way. Last year, the store was ticketed for "impinging" on town property, a.k.a. the sidewalk. Currently the board is discussing their policy. It is certainly a comfort to know that the town is managing its priorities in these dangerous times and  hard at work keeping those renegade flowers in line.

It's A Bad Thing

Marthastewart Not all of Martha Stewart's neighbors are happy about her plans to trademark the name "Katonah" for her new line of furniture and paints. The Katonah Village Improvement Society voted yesterday to authorize $200 toward legal costs to fight the domestic diva. $200? That ought to buy about 30 minutes of top legal talent. Since revenues for Martha Stewart Living rose to $97.04 million this year, I'm guessing she can fight back.

Last time Martha met with the neighbors over this issue, she brought her signature chocolate chip cookies as a sign of good will. Do you get the sense that she's not taking their opposition too seriously?  She has risen to new heights in pettiness though. She recently canceled her subscription to the Bedford Record-Review, because she didn't like their coverage of the issue. Now that's playing hardball.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Drunk This is one of my favorite headlines ever, which ran in yesterday's (3/23) Journal News: "Officers Train on Actual Drunken People". Actual drunken people? Tell me more! Well, it turns out that County Police Officer Stuart Smith thought it would be a great idea to train police recruits on real drunks. The officers have to learn how to conduct sobriety tests, and where's the fun in asking sober people to walk a straight line?

So starting at around 4:30 in the afternoon, a police officer started pouring cocktails for the brave souls who volunteered for this mission. It's unclear what was served, though there was mention of beer, wine and at least three cranberry-vodka cocktails. Just to add a bit of ambiance, the County Police also pumped in some music for the event. After people started getting loaded, the recruits practiced eye-coordination tests and testing blood alcohol levels.

No word on how much this cost the tax payers, (at least the Journal News reporter didn't seem to ask) but I know what you are really wondering, and the answer is - no, they are not looking for any more volunteers.

Whipping Bedford Into Shape

Chemerodungeon The  Bedford zoning board is notoriously tough. Want to extend your barn to add a few stalls for the horses? No dice. A new deck? Not likely. I remember when Rippowam-Cisqua school wanted to open a new campus in Bedford, and after endless negotiations and sinking millions into the project, they never got approval to lay a brick.

So it shouldn't be surprising that the town intends to inflict some punishment (sorry) on Sandra Chemero, the infamous dominatrix who police say was operating a little business known as "The Sovereign Estate" on her rental property. Whips, chains, leather straps, spanking paddles, scary looking chairs - let's just say they wouldn't be included in neighbor Martha Stewart's "Katonah Collection."

DominatrixMs. Chemero was in Bedford Town Court earlier this month to answer charges of prostitution and criminal possession of a weapon. She pleaded not guilty. But then the town really threw the book at her. Town building inspector Richard Megna told the town justice, "Upon information, Ms. Chemero was found to have a home occupation without a special permit at her property."

Sandra, start packing your bags. You might be able to beat the prostitution and weapons charges, but operating a business in your home is going just a little too far in Bedford. You, however, might not have to go too far. The Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women is in the neighborhood. Believe me, its zoned for business.

Fragging at White Plains PD

Mountedpolice There is nothing lower than fragging - taking a hit from one of your own troops. I'm surprised this story didn't get bigger play, but there was a disgraceful incident of fragging recently in the White Plains Police Force. The victim, Buck, didn't make it. It is unclear who the perpetrator was.

Buck was one of the Department's four horses. White Plains has had a mounted unit since 1979. Evidently Buck was kicked by one of his stablemates. At first, vets thought it was a bad bruise, but it seems the vicious attack caused a break, and Buck had to be put down. The force is naturally upset - the officers grow close to the horses, who they take care of daily.

The event is timely, because Westchester County just announced it's own new mounted police force. (I really wanted to go to the press event and see the horsies, but I had to go to the gym.) Let's hope these new recruits - Hudson, Mohawk, Ranger and Zeus - don't develop any bad blood between them.

The John Jay 3 and the V Word

Vaginamonologues Enough already about the John Jay Three and the V word. I can not believe they are being made into martyrs. If you were lucky enough to miss the media saturation on this story, here's the deal: three girls read a brief excerpt from Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" at a John Jay High School event. They read the word "vagina." Initial reports said that the girls had promised the principal not to use the word and then used it anyway. Later they told reporters that they had never made the promise in the first place.

Whatever. They initially each received a one day in-school suspension, but the principal, who is getting hundreds of outraged emails a day on this, yesterday backed off and is not punishing the girls. OK, it was an incredibly stupid move on the part of the principal to censor the word for a body part. And in the name of freedom, let me just add these thoughts to the discussion - earlobe, knee cap, penis, toenail, and bladder.

So he goofed up. But my God, the righteousness of the condemnation! Saviors of the first amendment!  And the amount of press coverage was astounding. Eve Ensler couldn't wait to soak up the publicity and promptly appeared with the girls on the Today Show. (Interestingly though, she canceled an appearance at the school later that week. Not enough TV cameras? Even Stanley Tucci, who is making a documentary about artistic freedom, showed up at the local school board meeting last night.)Eveensler

These girls, as my southern mother would put it, just fell into a tub of butter. They are media darlings, freedom fighters and best of all, they have their college admissions essay topic. Cry for them no more.

Say It Ain't So Jeanine

Jeanineundated Is anyone else upset that the Pirros may be moving out of Westchester? The Journal News reported recently that the couple put both their Harrison and Florida homes on the market. OK, I couldn't care less about their property in West Palm Beach, but it's hard to imagine Westchester without the  Jeanine and Al show.

This goes beyond the "well, we won't have Jeanine Pirro to kick around anymore" school of journalism. Jeanine was interesting. Even people who didn't like her thought she was a good district attorney, at least until recently when stories have emerged about her office refusing to review cases that later were proved to be based on faulty evidence. OK, and there was that business about the illegal wiretapping of her husband, the problematic tax returns, the potbellied pigs and more.

But what fascinated me about Jeanine was her dual role as tireless advocate for crime victims and her position as victim of her husband's flagrant and constant misbehavior. It was like clockwork - every Al_pirro time Jeanine was poised for higher office, Al would get indicted again. And if it wasn't criminal behavior, it was unbelievably personal humiliation - like his fighting the paternity case over a daughter he fathered while involved in an extra-marital affair.Jp2006buggingboat_1

Jeanine once told me that she got up every morning at 5 a.m. to run on the treadmill. And - in one of the few unscripted moments of her dealings with the press - maintained that the secret to her success was under-eye concealer. You have to like that in a woman.

That said, what's with the plastic surgery? I wish I could have found some photos from the 1980s, when Jeanine had long black frizzy hair, a far more prominent nose and a much fuller face. The transformation has been steady but radical, and she now has that taut Jeaninemay2006 alien look seen so often in women who over do it. What is going on in that poor woman's psyche?

I hope she stays around. Martha Stewart, the county's other woman-constantly-in-the-news can't hold a candle to Jeanine, even if when the domestic diva does come up with hare-brained ideas like trademarking the name "Katonah" for a line of furniture. But that's another story.

For anyone interested, the house, which is being offered for just under $4.3 million, is 7,873 square feet. There's a lot of marble, six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a pool and a small guest house. The garage holds four cars. And of course there's that $1800 wrought-iron pig pen.