Honoring a neighbor

Behind The News
June 2, 2008 1:01:34 PM PDT
Time seems to pass strangely in Manhattan. Stores open and close, and it's hard to remember when they did. When did the (fill-in-the-blank store) close? -- I ask myself all too often. There are so many businesses, and so many people, it's hard to remember all the details. Businesses shut down.

And sometimes, so do people.

Ms. Jenkins was her name. I don't know how old she was when she died two weeks ago, but I know she was a ray of sunshine on my block, a constant presence when the sun was out; her smile wide as the street and her outstretched hands cradling the faces of the neighborhood kids.

She cradled my kids faces. "How are the little ones?" she asked if they weren't walking with me. Great, I'd always answer, even years later, when they were no longer little. My kids would sometimes roll their eyes at all the attention, as teens and pre-teens are wont to do. Be grateful for her, I'd say. She's one of the rare ones, one of those willing to put herself and her smile out there.

I think they got it. I hope they did.

About a year ago, Ms. Jenkins wasn't around much. When she reappeared, she was thin and frail and was accompanied by an aide and an oxygen tank. But her smile still radiated. I'm fine, she said. But we all knew she wasn't.

Yesterday it dawned on me I hadn't seen her in a while, so I stopped someone next door and asked about her.

"Ms. Jenkins passed two weeks ago," he said. And suddenly several people started gathering around, and talking about her.

I've no idea if she has family, or where she's buried, or who will take charge of closing her affairs. I'm just one of the many people - the lucky ones -- who basked in Ms. Jenkins infectious smile and outgoing personality, who was fortunate to always walk away from our short encounters a tad happier than I was before.

So that's the prelude to today's column, and what's on my mind. Now to our 11 p.m. newscast.

Politics, topic number one. Will tomorrow be the last day of the race for President for Hillary Clinton? I'm not good at predicting the future, so I won't venture to guess the answer.

But we may have gotten a glimpse from the candidate's husband, who told a crowd in South Dakota that today might be "the last day I'm ever involved in a campaign of this kind."

Hard to imagine that Bill Clinton's stunning admission is sitting very well with his wife or her campaign staff. But the numbers appear to remain very much against her. For Sen. Clinton to win the nomination, she'll have to win 84% of the remaining delegates - pledged and super. Seems unlikely.

And tomorrow, the final primaries - in Montana and South Dakota. We'll have the latest on the election, tonight at 11.

We'll also take a look back at the life of Otha Ellis Bates. Unlike Ms. Jenkins, the world knew Mr. Bates, although not under that name. Bo Diddley was one of the pioneers of rock 'n' roll, a man who, according to The New York Times, "invented his own name, his own guitars, his own beat, and, with a handful of other musical pioneers, rock 'n' roll itself."

Diddley was 79. My favorite Bo Diddley story was when he first came on the music scene and was booked on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1955. Sullivan, a small man with a giant ego and a giant influence on the world of entertainment back then, asked Diddley to play "16 Tons," a famous Tennessee Ernie Ford song. Diddley didn't say a word that would have given Sullivan any idea that he had no intention of playing that. Instead, he played the song he had written, "Bo Diddley."

Sullivan, furious, confronted Diddley afterwards and told him he'd never work in television again.

And, indeed, Diddley didn't play on a network show for another 10 years. But his influence was and remains widespread; he influenced the Rolling Stones and Elvis and Bruce Springsteen and U2 and... well, the list is endless. And we mourn him tonight. We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

And finally, thanks to those who chimed in on the deadly crane accident Friday - and the lack of inspectors. There are 250 cranes in New York City, and only seven inspectors to make sure they're safe. It is, many people believe, time to put a stop to the unbridled and runaway construction projects.

Here's a sampling of some of the responses.

From Amy Borodach: "I volunteer at the ASPCA, which is just around the corner from the crane accident. That crane always looked unsafe and not sturdy enough. But as a worker in the downtown area, none of those cranes look safe either. The City really needs to ... crackdown on unsafe conditions and really inspect these cranes before more accidents occur."

From Jean Dilucca: "It's like Steve Mc Queen said in (the movie) "Towering Inferno" -- 'Keep building them higher and we can't fight them.' "

And Debra Greif offers this: "The one thing that makes me nervous is the dangerous conditions around these construction sites. They break up the sidewalks & limit safe access for everyone especially for the elderly and the disabled all the time. When I see the tall cranes I am nervous. It is amazing that all this luxury building is taking place, yet nothing is being built for the disabled community that needs accessible and truly affordable housing. Why can't the New York Dept. of Education have classes that can train students how to inspect buildings & construction sites? It does take a long time to train, why not start in junior high?"

Thanks for all your responses.