The Original Green Lantern

Nothing can extinguish the enchantment of fireflies. For adults like me, they occupy an unshakable niche in the pantheon of the still-magical. Who isn’t speechless at the edge of a dew-dampened meadow when evening makes a galaxy of a thousand tiny insects?

Scientifically, the firefly’s glow is fairly well understood. Simplified, fireflies produce the aptly named compound luciferin, which, oxidized by the enzyme luciferase in the insect’s last abdominal segments, produces the bright green light we love so well.

Very little of this chemical reaction’s energy is expressed as heat; the resulting bioluminescence is a “cool light” and is not unique to fireflies. But fireflies are appealing. They are about as cute as phosphorescent creatures get — just ask anyone who has examined one of those sunken-eyed, deepwater fish, or a glowing, slimy fungus. If nothing else, they are certainly more accessible.

The common eastern firefly, Photinus pyralis, is actually a beetle, and within the confines of New York City, may actually be more common now than a few dozen years ago. Restrictions on the use of pesticides, and greater efforts to protect natural areas citywide, can be thanked for this abundance. Anywhere there are fields or lawns, in any borough, there are probably fireflies.

Fireflies do not glow for enjoyment. Like so many other natural wonders, it is a behavior contrived to attract a mate — each firefly species has a flashing pattern of its own.

In the case of our common eastern fireflies, the males fly at dusk, flashing their signals. The females, though possessing wings (not all female firefly species do), often do not fly but attract mates by returning the flash in the correct sequence. The males land near the females, and if all goes well, eggs are laid in moist ground nearby. An average firefly may live from 5 to 30 days, sufficient to find a mate, but not much more.

Most firefly larvae are predators of snails and slugs, and the adult females of several species are carnivorous as well.

In fact, one of the insect world’s most compelling adaptations is the behavior of the firefly named Photuris pyralis. A female of this species mimics the flash pattern of female Photinus fireflies. An unsuspecting Photinus male is attracted to her flash like an insect Ulysses. He lands, only to be eaten by the deceptive Photuris female.

To see fireflies, follow the footsteps of your inner child. The best container for a firefly hunt remains the mayonnaise jar — with holes dutifully punched in the top. A butterfly net will improve your catch but is hardly necessary. If you fantasize, as my brother and I always did, that enough fireflies could create a reading lamp, my recommendation is to catch other insects. But even given the limited wattage, few things in life are as magical as a child’s face illuminated by the flashing light of a firefly in a bottle, on a rickety old table, at last light, in someone’s yard or a local park.

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They Say It’s a ‘Fountain of Youth.’ The Health Dept. Says Otherwise.

The sun was on a merciful retreat down behind the Manhattan skyline on Thursday evening as the Floating Heads of Douglas Manor dropped their overheated bodies into the glassy waters off a pier jutting into Little Neck Bay, in Queens.

The Floating Heads are a group of devout swimmers who regularly enjoy the waters in this part of Douglaston, an exclusive Queens neighborhood.

One of them, Cindy Strauss, 64, stretched across the water-stained floating dock and sighed.

“It’s the only place to be,” said Ms. Strauss, a retired American Airlines flight attendant, who, like the other members of her group, calls this spot sublime.

New York City health officials do not agree. They have told beach operators to keep the beach closed to swimmers because of high fecal bacteria counts pushing the water quality beyond acceptable standards.

Contamination at this beach is not unusual and, in fact, has been going on like this for years. The city runs weekly tests and often posts an advisory against swimming at a gatehouse, which is then routinely ignored by the Floating Heads, and other local swimmers.

City health officials said the beach was closed because of poor water quality, but declined on Friday to comment directly about the continued swimming at the beach.

Generally, a spokeswoman said, contact with contaminated water may cause illnesses like vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, respiratory illness and infections. Also, children, pregnant women, the elderly and the chronically ill have an increased risk of illness.

The Douglas Manor Association, a homeowners group that runs the beach, requires swimmers to sign a form acknowledging that they recognized the risk and were swimming in spite of it.

The Floating Heads includes veterans who have been swimming here for well over 50 years, in the shadow of the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges, in waters fed by the East River.

Some navigate the pier using canes and walkers. The lore goes that the water is so murky and brown that only their heads can be seen floating around the swimming area; thus, their name.

Swimming off this century-old pier has been a way of life here for decades and the local game is dibble, a swimming contest in which children – and sometimes adults – jump in after a Popsicle stick. The game is said to date back to the 1940s.

Some swimmers call these waters their “fountain of youth,” and say the waters are curative — despite the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regularly identifying the beach as having among the highest levels of pollution in the city.

There are several major sewage points in the Little Neck Bay area, and fecal bacteria counts here spike after heavy rains, when the city’s sewer system can overflow directly into these waters.

The city is limited in its enforcement role, however. It requires the beach operator to post a sign that swimming is prohibited, and posts the information on the health department’s Web site.

Some of the swimmers on Thursday evening criticized the city’s testing methods, claiming that testing once a week and calculating averages cannot measure pollution levels that change drastically every few hours as the tide flushes the bay.

On the floating dock, Ms. Strauss shrugged and said she had been swimming here for decades with no health repercussions.

She begins swimming in April, wearing a wet suit. She sheds it by Memorial Day and swims daily – sometimes twice a day — through October, and sometimes into early November.

“We know the situation, but everything is a risk,” she said. “I swim with ladies who are in their 80s and they’ve never gotten sick from this water. The kids get sick from the swimming pool, not here.”

Irmgard McKeever, 79, said, “I’ve been swimming here for 43 years and never had an ill effect.”

“I understand the city has rules and has to post what they find, but what else are we going to do on a hot day like this?” she said. “The pool is too warm, and I prefer salt water anyway.”

The key, she said, is to keep your mouth closed.

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The Straphangers’ Fold

Dear Diary:

When I came to New York — back in the 20th century — I quickly acquired the straphangers’ technique of reading a newspaper folded vertically in half and held in one hand, the other hand hanging onto the “strap.” Probably 70 percent of subway and bus riders used this technique, although it seemed so more for men than women for some reason.

Recently I was on a No. 6 train and was reading the paper in just this manner. The woman next to me said, “Have you lived in New York a long time?” I wasn’t sure why she was asking. She explained, “I haven’t seen anyone reading a paper like that for many years.”

My feelings were a mix of heightened consciousness of my years and pride in being recognized as a veteran New Yorker.

Read all recent entries and our updated submissions guidelines. Reach us via e-mail [email protected] or follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary.

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New York Today: Derailed

Updated 8:27 a.m. | A messy freight train derailment in the Bronx on Thursday night is snarling the morning commute and is likely to disrupt service for days.

Metro-North’s Hudson commuter line is suspended south of Yonkers. From there, shuttle buses run to the Van Cortlandt Park subway station of the No. 1 line.

We’ll watch for ripple effects on railroads, subways and roadways.

A Metro-North spokeswoman said Friday morning that the derailment of 10 cars of a train hauling trash near the Spuyten Duyvil station “couldn’t have happened in a worse location.”

The line is only two tracks wide there and hemmed by rock walls, making it hard even to remove the derailed cars.

“It’s not like pickup sticks,” said the spokeswoman, Marjorie Anders.

A stretch of track is ruined, too. As for restoring service on the line, which serves 18,000 commuters from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie, Ms. Anders said, “If we’re very lucky, it’ll be done in the next day or two.”

Here’s what else you need to know to start your steamy Friday.


Heat wave? More like heat tsunami: today is the hottest yet with a forecast high of 99 on Friday, and 95 on Saturday with heavy rain. The hot streak should break on Sunday, with highs in the 80s.

By the way, yesterday we asked you where you go to get cold. From the library to the M5 bus, you shared your secret chilly spots.


Mass Transit [8:27] Subways are fine. Click for the current status.

On Metro-North, Hudson Line passengers looking to depart from Grand Central should take the subway shuttle to Times Square and the 1 train to Van Cortlandt Park to catch the bus to Yonkers, where the train line now begins.

Roads [8:27] Delays of 45 minutes on the G.W.B, 30 on the Holland Tunnel inbound and 20 minutes on the Lincoln Tunnel, 1010 WINS reports. Cross-Bronx extra heavy westbound.

Alternate-side parking rules: in effect.


• “Walker Evans American Photographs” opens at the Museum of Modern Art.

• The Classical Theater of Harlem’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. [Free]

• Watch the installation of art by Sol LeWitt in the lobby of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side. [Free]

• On the campaign trail, Anthony D. Weiner greets evening commuters at a Brooklyn subway station. William C. Thompson Jr. gets an endorsement in Queens. Sal Albanese campaigns in the Catskills and Brooklyn.

• “Music in Motion,” a showcase of the region’s up-and-coming musicians, debuts to delight New Jersey Transit customers at Newark Penn Station, Hoboken Terminal and Secaucus Junction.

• Fall Out Boy plays the “Today” show. Watch them at 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza. [Free]

• Arias outdoors at the Metropolitan Opera’s recital tonight in Brooklyn Bridge Park. [Free]

• For more events, see The New York Times’s Arts & Entertainment guide.


• It’s so hot that roads are buckling. [NBC New York]

• And the power went out on Thursday in parts of Staten Island. [Staten Island Advance]

• Life expectancy in Manhattan has increased more than in any county in the country. [New York Times]

• A SoHo Citi Bike docking station was smashed by a vandal. [Gothamist]

• A couple commutes from Hoboken to Manhattan. By kayak. [Fox News New York]

• Don’t take a dip in the Hudson River. It’s full of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a new study.



• The annual celebration of local waterways known as “City of Water Day” features activities on all fronts of the waterfront in New York and New Jersey, including rides on historic schooners, tugboat tours, fishing lessons and a cardboard kayak race. [Free]

• The New Museum is having a block party in Sara D. Roosevelt Park from noon to 5 p.m. [Free]

• For the e-reader averse: the 15th annual Harlem Book Fair at the Schomburg Center. [Free]

• A jazz concert in an unusual setting: Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, Queens.

• Every Saturday, join the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York for stargazing — this Saturday at Lincoln Center and Inwood Hill Park. [Free]


• A concert of Civil War music in the garden of the Poppenhusen Institute in College Point, Queens. [Free]

• Early morning Tai Chi in Riverside Park. [Free]

Colombian pride parade and events in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Weekend Subway Headaches: Service interruptions and route changes abound. Click for details.

Street Closings:

Saturday: Eighth Avenue in Chelsea (Democratic Club festival).

Sunday: Northern Boulevard in Queens (Colombian parade). Broadway just above Times Square (Motion Picture Club Movie Day Festival). Click for full list.


Today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. you can request a visit from an ice cream truck anywhere in the five boroughs via a smartphone app. It’s a promotion by Uber, a cab hailing system. Uber warns, though, that “demand for ice cream trucks will be very high and availability very limited.”

Michaelle Bond and Andy Newman contributed reporting.

We’re testing New York Today, which we put together just before dawn and update until noon.

What information would you like to see here when you wake up to help you plan your day? Tell us in the comments, send suggestions to Sarah Maslin Nir or tweet them at @nytmetro using #NYToday. Thanks!

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Plans for a Messy Fight Spur Concern of Harm, to the Battlefield

On Friday, 40,000 pounds of tomatoes will be delivered to Floyd Bennett Field, the old municipal-airport-turned-park by Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. There are no plans for a giant salad or a record-setting pasta sauce; these tomatoes will meet a more violent end, when up to 5,000 people are expected to pay $50 for the chance to hurl the fruit of the Solanum lycopersicum at one another.

Tomato Battle, a mess of a food fight that would make Bluto Blutarsky proud, makes its New York debut on Saturday at an outdoor space at Aviator Sports and Events Center at Floyd Bennett Field, after having played cities including Denver, San Diego and Portland, Ore. The concept was lifted from La Tomatina, a festival in the Spanish town of Buñol that attracts up to 50,000 people.

The biggest challenge for Tomato Battle, said Aaron Saari, chief operating officer of Massivo, the company that runs the events, is finding enough farmers and distributors with damaged and overripe tomatoes — Massivo uses only produce that “is going to be tossed otherwise.”

In New York, however, objections have come because Floyd Bennett Field, whose 1,400 acres include gardens, a nature trail and campgrounds (as well as the hulks of disused airplane hangars), is part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

Complaints arose on a Google group devoted to Jamaica Bay that the food would attract flies or damage the environment. Mr. Saari said that Aviator and Massivo had reviewed any potential environmental impact, adding that the post-event cleanup would leave the area “cleaner than it was before,” with all tomato waste composted.

That doesn’t make swallowing the Tomato Battle easier for critics who believe such events don’t belong in a national park. One writer online called it “an outrage and an insult,” while another said the government had hosted numerous meetings about “historical and recreational uses” for the land but never discussed this sort of event.

“It just seems like a bad public image” for the National Park Service “to allow such frivolity and silliness in a national park,” Don Riepe, the Jamaica Bay guardian for the American Littoral Society, wrote in an e-mail.

But Jaclyn Muns, the marketing manager at Aviator, a concessionaire that runs skating rinks, basketball courts and open-air events at Floyd Bennett, said to expect more silliness. This summer features a mud race and a race in which runners get doused with multicolor cornstarch. There will be perhaps a dozen events total, double last year’s tally. She argues that the whole area is a “hidden gem,” and these events introduce people to the national park.

Not all nature lovers oppose Tomato Battle. Adriann Musson, president of the Floyd Bennett Gardens Association, whose community garden at Floyd Bennett Field is the city’s largest, said she was happy to “let them have a good time and get their aggression out.”

None of the garden’s tomatoes will be tossed on Saturday, though, and not just because they aren’t ripe yet. “We donate our extras to City Harvest,” Ms. Musson said. “We give them 500 pounds of vegetables a year, as opposed to throwing them at each other.”

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