Flu season


The weather report ended up, unusually, in the business section of today’s New York Times. It says Kabul will be much cooler on Saturday.

Here in New York, we broke the old record-high temperature by two degrees yesterday. And on Monday we might hit a record low. It’s confusing.

In Central Park, there were sunbathers yesterday near trees that had already lost their leaves. Other trees were still green, and yet others offered a riot of colors, especially an ailanthus.

There aren’t very many ailanthuses in Central Park, but they’re pretty common in abandoned lots. I think they’re considered the weeds of the tree world. In New York, they’re sometimes called “tenement palms.” They’ll start growing in concrete cracks or roof dust and seem to be impervious to ice, salt, dog urine, drought, bus exhaust, scorching temperatures, and artificial light. They offer a spectacular range of colors in the fall, from dark green, through brilliant yellow and orange, all the way to deep purplish red. But they never turn blue.

For many years, New York’s police cars have been a very pleasant blue and white. At a toy store I pass most days, small model New York police cars form the blue field of an American flag. Ambulances form the white stripes. Fire trucks form the red. I get pretty emotional each time I see it.

On September 11, emergency vehicles came from all parts of the city to help with the rescue effort at the World Trade Center. Yesterday, they came from the World Trade Center to help with the rescue effort farther uptown, at 215 Park Avenue South, where a 14-story scaffold collapsed. It was on the non-street side of the building, so heavy equipment could not be brought in to help. Ten construction workers were injured and five others died — more dead in a city still mourning.

There was another death reported yesterday in association with the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, but it was not someone in either the buildings or the planes. A woman waiting for a bus on West Street was covered with burning jet fuel. Yesterday, she succumbed to her injuries.

By the official city count, as of 4 pm on Tuesday there were 4,607 missing or dead at the World Trade Center. But the New York Times has come up with only 2,943, based on reports from employers and others. The Associated Press and USA Today have even lower counts. It will probably be a long time before the differences are reduced, and we may never know for sure. In the meantime, 478 are confirmed dead, 425 of those have been identified, and, including those and death certificates issued by New York courts, 1,492 have been declared dead.

Three people, Robert Stevens, Thomas Morris, and Joseph Curseen, are dead of anthrax. Will their families be entitled to share in the funds that have been established for the other victims? They, too, were killed by terrorist attacks.

A non-terrorist accidentally brought a loaded gun onto a Southwest Airlines flight from New Orleans to Phoenix yesterday, and he was not a law-enforcement officer. He’d forgotten he’d had it in his briefcase, and, when he discovered it, he gave it to a flight attendant. A security employee was reportedly suspended; the gun owner was not charged. I like to think that New York’s old Sullivan Law on guns would have made that less likely here, but who knows?

We don’t yet know what caused the deadly falling scaffold yesterday. It’s unlikely to have been what we’d call a terrorist act. There was a citation issued on August 1 for failure to “maintain an exterior building wall.” Perhaps it was a tragic accident associated with the necessary repairs.

The building was leased and operated by companies associated with the brother of one of the New York mayoral candidates. Thus far, it hasn’t become a campaign issue. Joseph Stalin has.

In a book published in 1982, one of the candidates analyzed a comment that Ronald Reagan had made about all Soviet leaders having wanted world revolution. He noted that Stalin “pushed for ‘socialism in one country.'” This was reported by a senior advisor to the other candidate as “his defense of Joseph Stalin.” When the advisee was asked about it, rather than repudiating his aide’s remarks, he said, “I don’t know that he’s a Stalinist,” and followed up with disparaging remarks about his political leanings. I wonder when he stopped beating his wife.

My wife is at the opera right now. Last night and this morning she had a fever, which isn’t the same thing as having a fever before the anthrax letters. Fortunately, it broke, and she now feels fine. The mayor is urging everyone to get flu shots.

The mayor is a Yankees fan. Other New Yorkers are Mets fans. There are many serious rivalries here in New York. As an Upper West Sider, I am almost required by law to disdain those from the Upper East Side. If this were the Wild West, we’d have lost much of our population in disputes over who makes the best bagels or pizza.

So, much more surprising to New Yorkers than the lines of volunteers and blood donors and the billion dollars raised since September 11 were the reports that Mets fans will actually be rooting for the Yankees in this World Series. Will wonders never cease?

TTFN, Mark