311 is, of course, the number New Yorkers are advised to dial when they have a not-quite-emergency question and/or a community grievance that needs attention. Less serious than 911 and more New York-centric than your average 411 operator, 311 is one of those services I've never really taken advantage of. Or, for that matter, understood. It offers itself as a government information hotline, but who needs that when you've got Julian Assange? At best guess, and knowing what I know about New Yorkers, I'd say 80% of the 311 queries deal with alternate side of the street parking, a New York obsession. The rest of the time it acts as a Hydra-headed Snow, Garbage, Potholes, Schools, and General Complaints hotline. Of which there are many.
I haven't availed of 311's services, or at least never dialed in a request myself. But it's not because I've never had cause to. Reflecting back on my ten years here as a New Yorker, I'd say I've accumulated my fair share of grievances, queries, and complaints that might have warranted a phone call -- if only I wasn't too demoralized to pick up the phone. A sampling of actual, real life situations to illustrate this point, you say? Glad you asked. A few highlights:
DEAR 311 OPERATOR:
- There is a large flying cockroach on my bookcase. It has just disappeared behind Goethe's Faust and the poems of Paul Celan. I am home alone and deathly afraid. Please advise.
- The current tornado has just caused a portion of my roof to fly off. I can see the sky.
- A family of hornets appears to have built a hive in the skylight of my bathroom. Can you help?
- The drug dealer and/or highly impatient person who sits in a car outside the building and honks the horn repeatedly at various inconvenient hours of the night appears to be working on a site-specific noise piece. I should like to see it stopped, or at the very least, moved elsewhere. Yours, etc. Sleepless in Brooklyn
- What's up with the giant salt pile on the waterfront? Do you realize it's blowing into people's eyes at an alarming rate?
- My landlord sent over Laurel & Hardy to drain the radiators in my apartment. Black, boiling water is being released onto my bedspread, walls, and desk. Does this fall under your jurisdiction?
- The worker currently installing my carbon monoxide detector is talking to me gregariously about his jail sentence. He's been incarceration-free for over 20 years. Ought I worry? P.S. He loves books.
I'm sure there are others, but you get the idea. In the meantime, if you have a city grievance story you'd like to share -- either one that required intervention or one you let slide -- I'd love to hear it. Even if 311 doesn't.