When I visited the Center for Family Music, the home of East Side West Side Music Together, a class was just getting started. Danny, one of the program’s talented instructors, was leading a room full of toddlers and adults in a welcome song. Everyone sang “Hello everybody, so glad to see you,” before specifically greeting all the “mamas,” “nannies,” “grandpas,” and then each child by name. The entire group was welcomed and included in each part of the class, from the funny little noises made with mouths and hands between songs to the tunes themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed Danny's accompaniment on his autoharp as the class sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Children were allowed to wander around and dance instead of being forced to sit still, but most of them sat with their eyes riveted on Danny or their parents, slowly catching on with claps and sounds.
Fleur, the Center Manager, took me into the office, which will soon be partly turned into a space for birthday parties, in order to tell me more about what I had seen. Music Together is a worldwide music program for newborns through the age of five. It began in 1985 and is now taught in over forty countries. Fleur excitedly told me that the first Music Together had just opened in Sydney, Australia, thanks to a family that Fleur taught in New York: the mother loved the program so much that she became certified as a teacher and started a group when her family relocated.
Music Together works by having the adults who take the class with the children model certain musical behaviors that the kids eventually copy. Semesters are long – ten to twelve weeks – in order to let the young students fully absorb the material. The program works through different “collections” named for instruments (I witnessed a class in the “Fiddle”). There are so many collections, Fleur told me, that a family can be in the program for three years before they get back to the original one. Even better, the Music Togethers around the world are always on the same collection, so if a family moves away, they can find stability in a new Music Together class, picking up right where they left off.
The caretakers who accompany the toddlers make up a varied demographic (as the song said, from nannies to grandparents!) and during weekend classes, Fleur explained, entire extended families sometimes show up to participate. Often in New York, it is a nanny who introduces Music Together to their families. Fleur went on to tell me that she once had a nanny say to her, “I’ve been doing Music Together for 23 years!” She told me stories of how, in some cases, it is not just the kids who end up learning: For example, one father could not keep a beat, but had managed to teach himself to keep time with the others by the end of a Music Together semester. As Fleur pointed out, the classes are not about being good at music; they are about appreciating music, singing out, and introducing music into a child’s life. For that reason, tone-deaf parents who still sing their hearts out are some of her favorite people.
The goal of Music Together, Fleur informed me, is to give kids “Basic Musical Competence” by the time they start school. This means being able to sing a song, keep a beat, and change the key of that song. Instructors never play an instrument more than three times in a class because, as Fleur pointed out, “You are the music maker.” Music is known to activate more parts of the brain than any other activity, and so Music Together is not only giving kids the gift of music, but also preparing their minds for further learning. One thing Fleur emphasized about the program is that it is research-based and educationally-minded. She reminded me of the funny lip trills that I saw the kids doing. She demonstrated how a simple motion like that can activate the lips and tighten the diaphragm while still keeping it fun and silly for the children. This combination of learning and fun is why, in Fleur’s words, the program has “stood the test of time.”
The staff comes from a variety of backgrounds, but they appear to share two core elements: a love of music and a dedication to teaching. Danny has been teaching for almost twenty years, but has been performing professionally since he was seven years old. Fleur moved to New York City after going to school for acting. Music Together was brought to her attention while she was working as a babysitter, and she immediately decided to get certified. “I didn’t want to wait tables, I wanted to do this!” she said, adding, “Once you’re in, you sort of drink the Kool-aid: You get hugs for a living! You’re around happy people for a living!”
I spoke with Deanna, the director, who started West Side Music Together in 1993 before uniting it with East Side Music Together in 2005. She was first introduced to Music Together as a mother. In 1992, when her oldest child was a baby, the mom’s group that she hung out with in the park suggested she take a class. She told me, “As a mom it made a lot of sense, and as a musician it felt really grounded.” She added, “It was about all of us – not just about a teacher entertaining my kid.” Deanna is a performer, but she took time off from auditioning when she became a mom. She thought Music Together was the perfect way to “keep [her] sense of herself” while taking a break from the theater world. She inquired about training and after getting certified, she decided to offer Music Together on the Upper West Side, where there was no outpost. She opened a little place on Riverside Drive with seven families and has since grown, thanks almost entirely to word of mouth, serving close to 50,000 families since 1993. In the late nineties, Deanna partnered with her acting friend, Sally Woodson, who helped her to rent a space in her apartment building. Sally has sadly since passed away, but the space that she found is now the Center for Family Music.
Deanna says that she feels especially happy to be offering this opportunity in today’s electronics-driven society. She pointed out that since kids and parents are always “Nose to nose with their electronic devices,” it is easy to get disconnected from one’s own children. Music Together allows families to have “real quality time with their children in a musical setting.” Deanna is also pleased that her own chapter of Music Together has spawned new centers around the country, an obvious sign that she is doing something right. She says that she encourages any curious family to come see what a class is like, because being able to have the musical experience is the best way to see what Music Together is all about. Deanna continues to thrive on her school, even (or especially) after over twenty years. “What more could you ask for from a career than to say you love what you do?”
Coach Jellybean, a man who was only introduced to us by his universally-used nickname, has endless good humor. He told us, "I am world famous on the Upper West Side among kids aged nine to twelve. " He added with a cheeky smile, "I'm a big deal. " He is often spotted on the street or at the zoo by gaping mouthed kids who are shocked to see their coach outside his natural habitat. It is not surprising that he is recognized so frequently, since two to three hundred kids go through the batting cages each week. It is, after all, the only place in Manhattan with an indoor facility. Jellybean took us past the large bank vaults that are a permanent part of the Apple Bank basement and into the Green and Blue rooms chatting enthusiastically. The Center can host six different classes at the same time, thanks to its size and equipment. It has every kind of pitching mechanism one can imagine, from a big ancient beast that is still "one of the best machines in the business" despite its age, to an LED display that lights up to resemble an actual pitcher. There are even simulators that can show where the ball would end up going in Yankee Stadium (with handicaps for younger batters). Not only does it motivate kids with a little firework display for home runs, but it also serves as a helpful statistical tool for older players hoping to improve their technique. One of the most impressive machines was the "pro-hitter" which can shoot out balls at 100mph and can basically mimic any kind of major league pitch. Jellybean also showed us the party room, which was decorated on one side for the Mets and on the other for the Yankees, in an effort to appeal to fans of both teams. As I was admiring the countless photographs of kids that lined the hallways, Jellybean pointed out that the center is not just for children. Far from it: the facilities have been used for bachelor parties, special needs adults, and even "big league guys" who want a place to practice in between seasons. The Center is also popular among foreign tour groups who want to try out America's pastime while visiting New York. Jellybean was particularly proud of the charity events that the Center hosts, where people pledge money for hitting pitches at a certain speed. After our tour, I took the time to speak with Jason, who told me more about the programs that the Center offers. There are tournament teams, after school programs, summer camps, and birthday parties, weekly classes, and, during the warmer months, outdoor leagues. He explained that the space's main purpose is to "Promote the experience of baseball. " When I asked how the Baseball Center accomplishes its mission, he replied without hesitating: "the coaches. " Some of the coaches played in college, some are former professionals, and some are still playing, but what binds them all together is their love of the game and their ability as teachers. "A good player doesn't always make a good coach, " Jason admitted, and assured me that each of his coaches is thoroughly trained as a teacher. With a grin, he told me that a mother had recently said to him, "I don't think I've ever seen so many men who are good with children. " With pride, Jason pointed out the sign that marked the Baseball Center as a designated New York City "safe house. "Though Jason has seen some real baseball stars come through the Center's programs - including Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers - he was pleased to tell me of a child who had been coming for years, and had recently been offered a full ride to Stanford via baseball. He went on to say that he enjoys seeing every child thrive, no matter what level they ultimately achieve. He told me that his favorite part about working at the Baseball Center are those happy moments when he witnesses a child get their very first hit. "It's magic, " he gushed. It is a personal victory not just for the child, but for everyone at the Center. "We are a part of each child's team. "
One of the first things children are taught to say at Silver Music is "I like chocolate ice cream. " While this may seem like a way to enhance a kid's sweet tooth, it is actually a clever method of teaching one of the primary rhythms of the Suzuki method. "We used to have ice cream parties at the end of the year, " the founder, Ellen Silver, told me. "We didn't want to torture the children by just talking about ice cream all year – but now there are just too many students. "Ellen, a cellist who has worked as a teacher with the internationally recognized "Music Together" program, has always been fascinated by the way very young children approach instruments. Every child is different, but she noticed patterns of learning that she believed would help her better prepare toddlers for music lessons. She started out in 2005 with a class of five students in her Upper West Side apartment and began teaching them the beginning stages of piano, cello and violin. This involved singing, holding a bow, improvisation exercises, and learning how to take directions. "Those children are now fourteen or fifteen, and they still come to Silver Music! " Ellen said proudly. Though Silver Music has since expanded by offering programs for all ages, that beginner's class, called "Ready, Set, Play, " is still a major component of the school. There are at most four kids in the class, generally from two to four years old. "Over time they want to learn how to play an instrument the right way, " Ellen explained to me. "And that means they are ready for lessons. " Though the classes still focus on violin, cello, and piano, she is thinking of possibly adding guitar into the mix. With a strong core of instructors, Silver Music is able to offer lessons to well over one hundred students, as well as another seventy who come specifically for "Ready, Set, Play. ""All of our teachers are amazing performers, but they are passionate about teaching, " Ellen shared. She then went on to tell me that she moved the school to 72nd street in 2014 with the help of her husband, who is an architect. Because of what we do at Manhattan Sideways, it was interesting to hear that the two of them walked the side streets in this neighborhood in order to find the perfect location. When they found their home on 72nd street, they redesigned the space and sound-proofed it. Ellen assured me that the residents of the building love them, especially since many of them are musicians, themselves. In addition to the main center, Silver Music has a one-room location on Tiemann Place in Harlem and does outreach programs at two different preschools. I looked in through the window, grinning from ear to ear, at the young children holding their tiny instruments. Ellen told me that kids can be taught to hold a bow at the age of two. "It's just so amazing to see them develop these skills that you may not have known they could have, " she said, and showed me a video of one of her youngest students sliding a small bow along the strings of a Lilliputian violin. I was pleased to discover that many of their small instruments come from David Segal, whom I had met a few weeks prior. Ellen uses a variety of methods to teach the children. She encourages them to love and respect their instruments (often through song – she sang a snippet of the "I love my cello" song for me), but she also inspires them to explore. She lets them see what new sounds they can make, asking them fun questions like, "How do you make a slippery slide on the cello? " She urges them to discover their own way of playing, and then gently introduces a new way. Ellen also uses elements of the Dalcroze method, an approach to music that incorporates movement. It was fascinating to learn that by showing them to how to explore music with their bodies, Ellen can better teach small children how to read and write music. Using strokes for long beats and connected strokes for short beats, she creates a physical and literary code that children can understand. Each long beat is a stomp, whereas the quick beats are running in place. Children often learn to write this beat notation by the age of four, and some even learn it before they know how to write letters. There is no doubt in my mind that Ellen and her team are having a remarkable impact on many little ones who will inevitably grow up with a deep appreciation for music. Silver Music has taken into consideration every aspect of reaching people through music. Their classes continue through the summer, when each week ends in a small concert with the campers. They present concerts throughout the year, either held in a family's home or at the American Academy of Arts and Letters on West 155th Street - a place that Ellen describes as a "hidden Carnegie Hall. " Ellen also offers classes to families who want to learn to play an instrument together, and Chamber Music sessions for adults who are eager to be a part of an ensemble. Although, initially, Silver Music's adult clients were the parents of the children, today Ellen is pleased that her grown-up students are coming from various parts of the city - and some young students come to camp from as far away as Massachusetts and Vermont. Ellen's true devotion will always be with respect to her youngest pupils. "Every kid can benefit from our classes.... and we nurture each little avenue. " Students learn to follow directions, concentrate, and develop language skills. She finds great joy in the children who sing and dance almost before they can walk and talk. Her tireless goal is to foster an environment where these children can continue to receive personal attention to allow their particular skill set to grow.
Mario Guerrero, a black belt, has made a name for himself in the martial arts world for helping at-risk kids by giving them training in discipline, fitness, and hand-eye coordination. He now has studios scattered throughout the city, from Tribeca to the Upper East Side, where children and adults alike can learn kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts. Recently, Krav Maga, a form of Israeli street fighting, has been added to the roster. Modern Martial Arts advertises classes for everyone from "casual fitness seekers to trained, professional fighters. " The studio does more than offer classes; however: they also create a community. Mario and his trained teachers offer karate birthday parties, fitness-centered movie nights, and "Parent's Night Out" evening classes for kids. We met with Adam, who was teaching an adult mixed martial arts class. He greeted each of the students who walked in with warmth and humor. Once the class began, the group transitioned from generic fitness exercises to work with punching bags and finally horizontal punching bags where the studio members practiced their "ground pounds. " Watching Adam encourage his students to let out a "pshhh" sound each time they hit, I realized that the class was a terrific way to let off steam.
As Master Teresa Throckmorton guided me through Central Park Taekwondo and invited me to take off my shoes, I was struck by how immaculate everything was. "I make sure it's very clean, " Teresa told me, and took me past a group of women practicing the martial art to a smaller studio separated from her office by a glass wall. There were toys on the floor from the camp program that had just left, as I was visiting during the summer months. "It's a real community, " Teresa said, telling me about the different options for all ages. "People come and they don't want to leave. "Teresa is a typical New Yorker in her impressive use of space. Along with the smaller studio in front of her office, the main room has partitions that can be dragged across to create smaller spaces. She has seven full-time instructors who have been doing taekwondo for most of their lives. She proudly told me that she offers each of them benefits, vacation, and sick leave. The glass that separates her office is covered with words in red: "courtesy, " "integrity, " "perseverance, " "self-control, " and "indomitable spirit. " These are the central tenets of taekwondo, a word that means "the way of the hand and foot" in Korean. Teresa explained to me that taekwondo is not just a physical practice, but also a mental one. As a fifth level black belt, she is a well-qualified teacher (Any degree above fourth indicates someone who has dedicated his or her life to teaching martial arts). She grew up with brothers in an active family on a farm in Virginia, and so she was introduced to a series of sports before landing on taekwondo as her passion. She has also introduced the martial art to her children. I met eleven-year-old Caden, a black belt who has been studying taekwondo since he was two years old, though he now splits his time between martial arts and baseball. Teresa's eight-year-old son is also a black belt and her little girl is a third degree red belt. "It was never a choice for them, " Teresa said with a grin. As for Teresa, she is still training. A certain number of years must pass before you can increase your belt degree, but Teresa proudly told me, "By the time I am seventy-six years old, I will be ninth degree black belt grandmaster. "Teresa makes sure that everyone in Central Park Taekwondo - and in her family - is certified through the Kukkiwon Taekwondo World Headquarters, so that their belt status is recognized everywhere. She also follows the rules of the World Taekwondo Federation School whenever her students compete. However, taekwondo is not just about gaining belts and competing. Teresa believes that taekwondo can be beneficial to anyone, even those who have never participated in sports. "What I love about this place, " she told me, "is that you can come with no experience and end up a black belt one day. " She also told me that taekwondo helps people with challenges such as ADD or ADHD, since it can build mental discipline and self-confidence. "A lot of therapists suggest taekwondo, " Teresa informed me. Teresa especially suggests the martial art for children, since taekwondo helps teach principles of respect and builds a foundation of physical concentration. Teresa is very pleased with the fact that she has gained so many students in such a short amount of time. She opened Central Park Taekwondo in August of 2011 after training and working at another school in the area for seventeen years. The studio has been expanding ever since, with students traveling from Harlem and Brooklyn. "We're hoping to buy a new building, since we have grown really quickly in four years, " Teresa said. She wants to remain on the Upper West Side, where people can find her. The only advertising she uses is word of mouth and the sandwich board outside, which reads "They say you kick like a girl, you say thank you! " When I expressed my approval, she let me know that the school is split evenly between men and women, which is unusual for a martial arts studio. "I think it's because I'm a female owner, so people feel connected to me, " she said. She is very proud to have created such a tight-knit community. As I was leaving, she told me, "Our intention is to make anyone who walks in feel welcome, empowered, and strong. "
It does not matter what I am looking for, I always stop by Stationery and Toys first, certain that I will find what I need. Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud when I ask either of the owners of this fantastic old world shop, a father and daughter, for the item that I am in search of that day, and they answer "of course we have it. " With its simple name and treasure trove of items for children and adults alike, it is one of the last of its kind, and it makes me happy simply to wander the aisles. "I used to sell wholesale to Hallmark stores, " Larry Gomez, the founder, shared with me one day. "Now there aren't places like this anymore. " On the day that I visited with the Manhattan Sideways team, Larry took the time, in between ringing customers up for paper, pens, puzzles and party supplies, to tell us how the store began. He said that his daughter, Donna Schofield, came home from college to help him in the wholesale business. As Larry tells it, Donna said, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, I don't want to sit in a warehouse anymore. I want to work in retail. " Donna, when I spoke to her, tells it a little differently. She says, "I was talking to the same people every day with very little sight of daylight. I wanted to work in a store. "Either way, the outcome was a positive one. Larry gave Donna her wish in 1988 by opening Stationery and Toys. One day, I asked her what it was like having children while working around toys. She said, "My son thought the warehouse was Santa Claus's section. " The boy, who is now fully grown, knew to stay away. His younger sister, though, needed more convincing not to play with the toys. Donna gave the keys to the store to her brother-in-law for a while in order to spend more time with her family, but in 2009, she returned. "She's the big cheese, now, " Larry declared. Today, during the week, when a customer walks into the store, they will see Donna behind the counter and on the weekends it is Larry who is there, allowing his daughter to remain at home. "I'm the Saturday Sunday man! " he said with a grin. Donna's son, however, has started coming in on weekends to work with his grandfather, while he studies to become an electrician. It is this sense of family that Larry believes has saved their store. Donna and Larry form a friendly pair of faces for neighbors to recognize from year to year. He says that they still see many regulars from when the store first opened, though as Larry put it sadly, "there are many that we've lost. " He brightened, however, when he told me about the men and women who come in with their children. Larry recognizes many as having been frequent shoppers when they were kids themselves. He considers himself quite fortunate to have stayed in business through the years. When he first started, he explained, the area was known as "Needle Park" and in order to stay out of danger, people got out of the neighborhood by six in the evening. Now, Larry embraces the fact that the street is a place where families can safely thrive. When speaking with Gary - a sales assistant who has been with the store "for a long time" - I asked him how they decide what to stock, since the inventory seems to be infinite. He replied, "Donna gets it word of mouth, through the kids. The best thing to do is to listen to them. " Donna agreed, saying "If I get asked for an item three times, I get it. " Just before we were leaving, we witnessed a beautiful yet typical moment when Donna noticed a little boy eying a batman figurine on the counter while his mother was making a purchase. Donna sweetly handed the toy to him and told him that it was now his. Neighborhood kindness and generosity is alive and well at Stationery and Toys.
J. D. Merget, the owner of Oslo Coffee Roasters, a company that began in Williamsburg in 2003, noticed a dearth of independent coffee shops on the Upper East Side and decided to fix the problem. Fortunately, J. D. had a friend who owned a garden store that he was looking to sell. Thus, Oslo Coffee Roasters moved into the cozy space in 2011 in order to provide high quality coffee to the neighborhood. After speaking with J. D., it became clear that he knows a lot about coffee. Originally from Seattle, he had his first introduction into the world of coffee at the age of twenty-one, while working for Starbucks. He explained that the company “got [him] very excited about coffee” and that it fueled his need to find out more about the product and introduce people to better brews. He has been in the coffee business ever since, working for different companies from Seattle to Dallas to New York. It was his wife, Kathy, whom he met while working in New York, who encouraged him to venture out on his own, saying, “You know so much about coffee – you’ve got to open your own store. ” And so he did. The name comes from the fact that Kathy's family is from Norway, where they are still known for drinking more coffee per capita than most other countries in the world. J. D. wanted to steer his customers away from the idea that Italian coffee is the only good coffee and highlighting the Northern European coffee tradition seemed to be the best way to do that. They do not specifically feature Scandinavian coffee, preferring to focus on farmers who use sustainable and fair practices, rather than a specific geographic location. The result is a high quality coffee that can be sipped guilt-free. When I asked if there were plans for more locations, JD says he is happy where he is and that he prefers to focus on connecting with customers and selling a better quality product, rather than expanding. He loves the Upper East Side and is so happy to have been embraced by the neighborhood. “The support from the community is outstanding. ” He is very proud of his staff, and is glad that they have received love and recognition from a community that has been waiting for an independent coffee shop. “You become a rockstar, ” he said, telling a story of how he was recognized by customers as far south as China Town. His general manager, Liz Pasqualo, echoed his sentiments. She even added that some people double-park in order to get their coffee. For many of the children that live in the area, they are often on autopilot as they enter Oslo, assuming that their parents will follow for one of their frequent visits. Liz told me, “I am really proud of the sense of community, ” and how comfortable the place has become. “Strangers sit down and chat together about current events. " I was able to witness this sense of camaraderie when a gentleman named Hugh Fremantle, who has been coming to Oslo for the last four years, sat next to Liz while sipping on his coffee to ask how she was doing. “I’m being interviewed! ” she said gleefully. Hugh turned his attention to me and said with a big smile, “In that case, you are talking to a very happy customer. ”
After visiting many century-old synagogues, it was a refreshing change of pace to tour the modern facilities of Temple Israel of the City of New York. Sun shone through the colorful stained glass throughout the 1960s building and a winding spiral staircase occupied the front hall. The Manhattan Sideways team and I were met by Michele Amaro, the Communications Manager, who took the time to guide us through the eight floors. She led us into the sanctuary, which, as she explained, has “that mod curvy look like the Metropolitan Opera. ” The space is enormous, seating 330 people on the first floor and 500 more in the balcony. The congregation was started in Harlem in 1870 and has since been providing a place of worship for many. Today, on East 75th, it is Rabbi David Gelfand - who joined in 2006 - who continues to keep the traditions alive. According to Michelle, it is he who has helped to revitalize the Temple. Cantor Irena Altshul, Rabbi Melissa Buyer, and Rabbi Jim Stoloff round out the clergy team. Michele mentioned some of the more modern programs that Temple Israel offers, including a “Rockin’ Shabbat” (an interactive worship using modern methodologies and technologies) with Sheldon Low, artist-in-residence, , and a Lunch & Learn talk on “kosher-style sex” by Logan Levkoff, a sex therapist and clergy. on Fridays, which uses multimedia screens in worship, and a talk on “kosher-style sex” by Logan Levkoff, a sex therapist. “This is an extremely, extremely active synagogue. We have things going on all the time. ”Michele continued showing us around, taking us by multiple display cases full of Judaica, including an exquisite menorah donated by Herbert G. Lane, who was one of the chairman of the board of directors for the temple. We also passed multiple pieces of art, photos of smiling congregants, and teaching tools. On one wall, there is a Visual Torah with cartoon-like drawings so that children can better understand the stories. Michele emphasized that education is deeply important to the Temple before taking us to see the religious school, run by Rabbi Melissa Buyer. I was most impressed by the amount of space dedicated to teaching children, including a lounge for the older ones, and “Mitzvah Gardens” where students can plant food that will later be donated to those in need. The preschool rooms, which are color coded, also sport two terraces with playgrounds. We were impressed by their use of the latest technology complete with Macs and smart boards. Though the school plays a significant role in preparing children for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah, Michele stressed that the school is K-12 and covers every stage of religious instruction, creating a foundation of lifelong Jewish learning. Located underneath the sanctuary, we were amazed by the ballroom, an enormous space, that is in continuous use for various celebrations, including Hanukkah concerts, and Passover seders. When we visited, we observed an early childhood program, headed by director Lisa Samick. The space was filled with toys, and very young children were being rocked to sleep by mothers and nannies in an adjoining room. When I commented to Michele that there was no doubt this is a warm and welcoming community, she beamed, and let me know how proud she was to be a part of Temple Israel.
When we were walking by the firehouse of the Fighting Forty Four, founded in 1881, we were thrilled to find the door wide open. Children on their way home from school were gaping wide-mouthed at the fire engines while smiling firefighters looked on. We joined the ogling children and met the men, Wayne, Kenny, and Bobby, who showed us around the house and spoke about the history of the New York Fire Fighters. Over the course of our conversation, an occasional call would come in to the men. Not knowing what it meant, I asked, “Do you need to run? ” “Oh no, ” Wayne replied, “We don’t need to run. If we’re running, it means you should be running, too. ”One of my first questions was about the number “44. ” I learned that it is essentially arbitrary. It refers to when the squad was formed, long before the Brooklyn and Metropolitan fire departments merged. 44, however, is a designated specialty unit, meaning that only men who have a certain level of experience are assigned. This is because they are a Hazmat division. The men showed us the Hazmat truck, which has a big sticker that says “Zombie Outbreak Response Team. ” It matches a sticker on the main truck that imitates the “Ebola Emergency Outbreak Response Team” symbol, only with zombies. Smiling they said that little children often ask, “Is that for real? Do you really fight zombies? ”Although full of good humor, the men became somber when I commented on a memorial for Michael Lyons, a firefighter who was killed while responding during 9/11. Wayne and Bobby began sharing stories about several of their friends who were present at the World Trade Center that day. One survived by diving under a truck, while The 9th Battalion lost all of its men. Many of the firefighters from 6 Truck in Chinatown also responded that day, but not everyone came back. Men who turned one way coming down the stairs lived, and the men who turned the other way did not. As Bobby said, “If they had yin-ed when they had yang-ed, they would've have made it. ”We continued our tour of the house: There is the old hose tower, painted red, as well as the cubbies where the men keep their uniform. I was like a child, gazing at the two traditional firemen’s poles stretching to the upper floor. When I asked if they still slide down them, the answer was a definitive "yes. " I appreciated the fact that they had photos of men who have retired. I never realized that even though there are about thirty men assigned to 44, they are frequently traded around to different houses. As a rule, this firehouse usually has six men present at any given time, and never fewer than five. Another interesting fact that I never stopped to think about, of which Bobby informed us as he showed us a map, is that on the East Side, there is a firehouse right by every subway stop. Irish history is still deeply woven into the culture of the fire department. I noticed that along with the Leprechaun in the logo for the “Fighting Forty Four, ” there were many other references to Irish heritage scattered around the firehouse, including little Irish flags on the fire engine. Historically, there is a huge Irish connection to many service jobs in the city, including police work. As Bobby explained, “No one else would take the shit jobs. So they’d send in the Irish. ” There are no longer any Irish accents in this firehouse - as Wayne stated, “We’re all Bronx guys. ” Coming from uptown, the men told us that they respect the fact that they can keep their firehouse open and wave to smiling children of the Upper East Side. As if to demonstrate this, Wayne’s daughter ran into the firehouse and skipped upstairs to do her homework before heading to a hockey game with her dad. “It’s a good neighborhood, ” Wayne continued, “So we can keep the door open. ”