Déjà Vu at the Theater

Dear Diary:

Almost 80 years ago, my friend and I found free access to the Winter Garden Theater. It required climbing seven floors on a fire escape to find an open back entry to the theater.

The show was “Life Begins at 8:40″ and a complete sellout, but despite our arduous and breathless entrance, we took our “seats” with the calm and composure typically exhibited by overconfident teenage New Yorkers.

When the proper seat-holders arrived, we claimed naïveté, argued about who “lost” the tickets, faked tears and pleaded with the usherette — who ultimately provided chairs, which she placed behind the mezzanine.

Almost 80 years later we arrived late for “The Book of Mormon.” Now both in our 90s, we rushed up the stairs. Gasping for breath, we both fell, which immediately attracted the house manager. Realizing that we were unable to make the climb to the eighth-row balcony, he happily let history repeat itself and provided chairs, which were placed behind the mezzanine.

More theater experiences to follow, after my 100th.

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Trying to Imagine City Hall After Bloomberg

By the time August arrived, many New Yorkers were despairing of their choices for the next mayor. Despite the reservations many had about the incumbent at City Hall, a consensus had formed that, all in all, he’d done a good job. But the bunch that would follow him? Would you trust any of them to run the city?

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

“None of the guys out there are qualified to do it,” a one-time restaurateur in SoHo said. “Everybody out there is scary.” In the West Village, a woman said she was “a little apprehensive.” She wished she could vote for the incumbent again but, alas, a term-limits law prevented him from seeking re-election.

That was in 2001. The mayor was Rudolph W. Giuliani.

A lot of New Yorkers had wearied of him and his hockey-enforcer style of governance. But plenty of others, pleased with lower crime rates and cleaner streets, fretted about what would happen after he took his final bows. For them, the indispensable-man theory had kicked in, the notion that all would be lost without the familiar ruler on the ramparts. And this was before 9/11 transformed Mr. Giuliani into a heroic figure, at least for a while. He, too, decided he was indispensable, and sought to cling to office beyond the expiration date.

Among the many suspect mayoral candidates that year was a businessman named Michael R. Bloomberg, who was of course very rich but seemed to have no other qualifications.

Somehow, we’ve survived without Mr. Giuliani at the helm, as a few among us knew we would. Yet the indispensable-man theory endures. It’s as if these last 11 Giuliani-free years taught some New Yorkers nothing. They include editorialists and columnists. One hears the same tired question from them as they survey the present field of would-be mayors, only now they ask it in regard to Mr. Bloomberg:

How will we get along without him?

The next mayoral election is 15 months away. But it’s not so distant that people are unable to begin paying attention to it.

Talk of a new savior is especially rife in Republican circles, with speculative articles being written about the possibilities for the party’s finding someone strong enough to take on the eventual Democratic primary winner. Democrats have become remarkably adept at bombing in New York mayoral elections. They’ve lost the last five, a streak that once upon a time was as unimaginable as the American basketball team’s getting blown out of the Olympics in the early rounds.

But who might be this latest Republican savior to follow Messrs. Giuliani and Bloomberg?

Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, whose views on everything other than crime are more of a mystery than Mitt Romney’s taxes? John Catsimatidis, whose billions might impress New Yorkers a bit more if they thought highly of his Red Apple and Gristedes supermarkets? Tom Allon, a publisher of community newspapers who is not exactly a household name?

Such is the speculative state of affairs that in recent days State Senator Malcolm A. Smith of Queens has surfaced in the Republican chatter, an interesting turn considering that his brief tenure as Senate majority leader did not invite comparisons to the Age of Pericles. Oh, and did we mention that he’s a Democrat?

There is no question that New Yorkers want strong mayors, to the point that they can be spellbound by self-styled saviors.

Casting themselves as such worked for Mr. Bloomberg and his henchperson in the City Council, the speaker Christine C. Quinn, when they negated the existing term-limits law to make it possible for them to stay in office an extra four years. That was in 2008, after the economic crisis had hit full force. Their continued leadership was essential, they said, and voters bought that line.

Indeed, without them in charge, who knows what terrible things might have happened to the city’s unemployment rate (an unpalatable 10 percent in June) or to its homeless rolls (18,246 children and 25,279 adults in shelters at the end of last week, among the highest totals in many decades)?

Lost in the political dialogue are those cautionary words offered long ago by Charles de Gaulle, who was president of France before he became a Paris airport. The graveyards, de Gaulle said, are full of indispensable men.

New York leaders are not the only ones who have trouble remembering that. Many New York voters do, too.

E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]

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After 3 Years Lost in Forest, a Camera Reveals Secrets to Its Home

John Noerr and his 5-year-old son were chasing snakes in the Adirondacks last month when they stumbled on a grimy, expensive digital camera sitting in a foot of water in a stream.

Mr. Noerr, a 39-year-old art teacher, took a screwdriver and pried open a flap that concealed the camera’s memory card. He extracted the card, cleaned it off and put it in his computer.

On it he found a mystery.

There were 581 pictures. Many seemed to be from New York City, 250 miles away. There were pictures from Union Square. There were pictures of a sign that said “real estate.” A woman had taken a picture of herself in a mirror. The most recent picture, from June 2009, had been taken very close to the spot Mr. Noerr found the camera, north of Pharaoh Lake.

For three weeks, Mr. Noerr, who lives in Vermont but is spending the summer in the little town of Adirondack, N.Y., searched for the owner of the camera, a Canon Rebel XT that no longer appears to work.

Dead ends were many. He noticed the name “Ziggy Comeau” on the real estate sign in the photo, called the agent and spoke with his wife, who didn’t know anything about the camera.

One photo showed a market in Park Slope, Brooklyn. No leads there, either. Another photo that jumped out showed a bright purple door with address number 322. “I didn’t have street names. I just had house numbers,” Mr. Noerr said.

Exploring Brooklyn on Google Maps, Mr. Noerr spotted a purple door, on Fourth Street in Park Slope.

“Of all the purple doors in the universe I found the right one by accident,” he said. But the purple door turned out to be a dead end, too.

Mr. Noerr, whose quest was first reported by the Glens Falls, N.Y., Post-Star, did not give up. Scanning the time stamps on the photos, he noticed that two that had been taken 88 seconds apart: one of a sunset that showed a street sign for Third Avenue at a traffic light, and one of a gray house with the number 327 on it.

So he began poring through Google Maps along every intersection of a Third Avenue in New York City that had a traffic light. After hours of searching, he found the house: 327 80th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Quickly, he tracked down the names of the residents. Their last name was Comeau. Mr. Noerr reached out to Janine Comeau on Twitter.

“I felt creepy at the very end when I had her name and I was on her Twitter account,” he said. “It was almost 24 hours before she responded.”

Ms. Comeau replied. She hadn’t lost a camera; her brother, Michael, had.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Michael Comeau, 34, a writer for the financial Web site minyanville.com and amateur photographer. Mr. Comeau had tried to detach the camera from a tripod he had set up on a bridge, lost hold of it and watched it fall off the bridge and out of sight.

“There are still good people out there,” he said. “Without that, the whole mechanism of the Internet is useless. There are people with good will willing to go through with these things.” One of the photos on the camera was of his ill mother, who has since died. (Mr. Comeau had photographed the real estate sign because it featured his last name; Ziggy and Michael are unrelated.)

For his part, Mr. Noerr has already moved on to other projects. A neighbor, after hearing about his discovery, passed along another mysterious camera. That riddle didn’t take as long to solve.

“Their son was wearing a Cub Scout outfit and clearly visible was the name of the pack and where they’re from,” Mr. Noerr said. “It literally took five minutes.”

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Below Ground, Blessing a Fresh Tunnel Where Diggers Risk Their Lives

At 7 on Monday morning, a priest in black robes approached a portal on Second Avenue that dropped down into an underground cavern.

Accompanied by about 10 men in safety vests and hard hats, the priest donned similar gear and stepped into a steel mesh cage. As the cage was lowered into the hole, the priest was sweating; he clutched his prayer book to his chest.

He stepped out of the cage onto the wet, gritty dirt and looked at the cavern’s stone walls. A tractor banged loudly at one wall. Several men were boring holes in the rock with heavy drills.

Then the muddy workers stopped drilling and hacking, and they gathered around the priest. Glaring work lights shined on the stone walls, and some daylight streamed down the shaft.

The priest, the Rev. Kazimierz Kowalski of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel on East 90th Street in Manhattan, stepped over rocks into a small clearing away from the shaft to be clear of falling objects. And there he began to pray, blessing the underground cavity where the Second Avenue subway tunnel is taking shape.

“The work we continue today should enliven our faith and make us grateful,” Father Kowalski began. “If the Lord does not build a house, in vain do its builders labor.”

A year into the construction of this section of the Second Avenue tunnel, the cavern has now been “belled out” — excavated enough to accommodate large machines — and prompting the sandhogs, the construction workers who dig beneath the city, to seek divine sanction for their risky work.

“We bring in a priest for each phase of a project, to offer God’s blessing to the project, and also for the safety of our men,” said John C. Donohue, known as Chickie. He has been a sandhog for 40 years and runs what is called the hog house, a trailer parked at Second Avenue and 87th Street where workers change clothes and take breaks.

No one has been killed on the Second Avenue project, Mr. Donohue said, although there have been injuries, including a worker who lost a finger two weeks ago. (Last fall, a sandhog died in an accident during work on another project, in a tunnel beneath Park Avenue.)

Several stories beneath the street, Father Kowalski delivered his prayer that “God will bring this construction to successful completion and that his protection will keep those who work on it safe from injury.”

Reading from a letter of Paul to the Corinthians, he added, “For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely our Lord.”

Then he sprinkled holy water on the ground and invited the sandhogs to sing sometime for his parishioners.

“We may not have the best voices,” a construction supervisor said with a laugh.

One worker, Aaron Profit, wore a necklace with two pendants: one with the sandhogs’ union insignia and the other honoring St. Barbara.

“St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners and airplane pilots,” said Mr. Profit, 32, the son and grandson of Pennsylvania coal miners. “She’s the patron saint of instant death. If something was to happen, that you would die instantly instead of suffering.”

After praying with the sandhogs, Father Kowalski rode the mesh cage back up to the street and walked through the hog house, which is equipped for the heavy-duty cleaning that the workers need after their shifts. It has three hot-water heaters and a bank of washing machines and large lockers.

On this morning, there were about a dozen men “shaping up” — union members without steady work who were looking for a shift. They looked toward the priest as if they could use a good blessing themselves. They stared at the lockers and hoped that the shop steward on site would come out and tell them to suit up.

“If they see you’re steady and sober and can do a day’s work, they put you on,” Mr. Donohue said.

The men waited. Finally, one of them was called down to work and headed for the cage. The rest said they would return in the afternoon and try for a spot on the second shift.

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