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25 Sept. 2006
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This Is A Yne

Specifically, it's a complaint about the "92nd Street Y."  That's precisely what it calls itself, by the way.  You can find it at www.92y.org.  I'm not quite sure if there's a lesson in this blog, either for me or for the "Y."  It's just a report about a night when everything went stupidly wrong, and how, despite being a person of equable and generally sunny temperament, I got mad at an organization that is just a dumb letter of the alphabet and unworthy of my disdain.

Sorry.  At least I didn't increase the font size.  Here's what happened:

Freeman Dyson is a famous physicist.  Living as I do in Northern New Jersey, there are no famous physicists in my life.  (If I lived in Princeton I wouldn't have this problem.)  And Dyson isn't just any famous physicist:  He's connected by name and conjecture to the famous Dyson Sphere, which has even more surface area than Niven's Ringworld, and has just as much probability of existing (or, to be sure, just as little).  And, in his youth, Dyson performed some very difficult quantum mechanical calculations that proved that all matter wouldn't simply collapse.  (He is made of matter, so he had a pretty good idea how the calculations should come out.)  You can certainly read more about Dyson in Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I'm telling a story here, OK?  And the story begins with a scheduled talk by Dyson at the 92nd Street Y.  The 92nd Street referred to is in New York City, a short distance from my place of striving, and a drive of only 15-20 minutes under normal circumstances.  It is on the "East Side" of Manhattan island, which in turn is longitudinally transected by a large, central area of park-like vegetation which is called, with stunning originality, "Central Park."  Central park extends from 59th Street at its southern end to 110th Street at its northern terminus.  To allow City dwellers to cross the park by vehicle, it is interrupted by several "transverses" which connect what would be 8th Avenue if it weren't called "Central Park West" to what would be "Central Park East" if it weren't called "Fifth Avenue.*"

Unlike many New Jerseyites, driving in New York City is not a white-knuckle experience for me.  I'm not afraid of taxicabs or others who ignore lane markings.  My equable temperament (see above) generally translates to patience, a lack of cursing and gesturing, and and an adamant insistence on the alternate merge.  Unlike many New York City dwellers, I'm not afraid of snow, either.  Ya' got snow, ya' deal with it, right?  Wrong, or at least so it was declared on the winter evening years ago when the "Y" and I had this run-in.  It seems that, despite what I would characterize as a dusting of snowcertainly less than an inch—the transverses were closed.  Consequence:  I had to drive around Central Park, which, given the substantial traffic caused by everybody else driving around Central Park, caused me to be late for the beginning of Freeman Dyson's talk. 

I was not unduly distressed at being late.  My main goal for the evening was to hear Dyson speak, and I was pretty certain there would be no quiz on the material I missed.  Dyson is not a young man, and I didn't think I'd have a lot of these opportunities.  (I missed Feynman many years ago, before he was Feynman, as the saying goes.)  So, arriving late, I parked, entered the "Y" with dispatch, and proceeded to attempt to attend the talk.  What I didn't count on was that two women, each with the disposition of Cerberus, were there to make sure I did not.  It seems that, to attend the talk, one needed a ticket.  I'm not unaccustomed to this; the procedure is very similar to "shopping."  You give someone currency or a credit card and in return they give you a symbol of entitlement to enter a venue instead of a usable or consumable good.

Initially, I took the need for the "ticket" with good nature.  I said "look!  Money!  Gimme one!" to which they replied that the ticket office was downstairs.  "OK, I'll be right back."  But, since the talk had started, it seems the ticket office was closed, and I couldn't purchase a ticket.  Back to the anti-babes.  "It seems the ticket office is not currently functioning.  Allow me to deposit the appropriate valuta in yon partitioned metal box that I may gain entrance." 

"No" quoth the sadly non-mythical Guardians of the Talk.  (I wouldn't grant credence to the precision of either my putative quote or of theirs.  But you get the gist.)  I mooted the notion that perhaps, since I couldn't get a ticket and there was plenty of room, they might consider letting me in anyway, and payment arrangements could be made at our convenience.  After all this was Freeman Dyson, I would guarantee my demeanor to be satisfactory, and they would be paid later, along with thanks for their flexibility.  (I could also have mentioned that this would allow them to consider themselves "empowered" but in the heat of the moment I lost my jargon.)

"No" yet again.  They remained completely unresponsive to arguments and what blandishments I could offer.  Not only did I miss the talk by Dyson, but I had to wait until it was complete, because I had arranged to meet a friend for the talk, and she was on-time and so got in.  She even took notes!  Alas, since the content of the talk was secondary to the experience, and the notes were hardly comprehensive, my mission to the 92nd St. Y was a failure.  I am still angry about this incident.  Perhaps I'm exhibiting an excess of petulance, but I don't believe so.  I don't necessarily blame the wimps in the NYC traffic department for closing the transverses since they had no personal knowledge that it would make me late for Dyson's talk.  But I give no such credit to the Y workers who could easily have arranged to let me attend the balance of the talk, to positive effect for the Y and certainly for me.  Instead they officiously and churlishly maintained their stance, to nobody's benefit at all.     

Lest you think nothing good comes from whining (or yning), I would like to point out that this one has had a benefit.  In looking up the "92nd Street Y" I have discovered that they seem to be generally unaffiliated with other organizations whose name is typically this or that "Y."  So I shall concentrate my disdain where it will do the most good, and try to remove the tar from all the others.


*Thank you.  I'm aware that I've been inconsistent in my designations of the Avenues.  However, I always see "Fifth Avenue" written out, and "8th Avenue" numbered out.  Feel free to complain to the 92nd St. Y.

© 2006
Richard Factor

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