The Department of Sanitation celebrated its 75th anniversary with a reception at Gracie Mansion earlier this week. Mayor Bloomberg and former commissioners mingled with members from all areas of the department, whose founding dates to December 1, 1929.
A surprise guest was actor Tony Danza, whose father was "a garbage man" in Brooklyn. Mr. Danza added, to chuckles, "not a sanitation engineer," rejecting the modern terminology. Mr. Danza said it was was cool being dropped off at school. Whereas other parents might have Cadillacs or whatever, he could brag to friends, "We've got a $100,000 truck."
"Each of you," Mr. Bloomberg told the crowd, "own one eight-millionth" of the mansion, he said.
He praised the Department of Sanitation and called it a "diamond in the rough." The audience laughed when Mr. Bloomberg referred to its billion-dollar budget, and added, in deadpan, "It costs its weight in diamonds, too."
Mr. Bloomberg said the DSNY did a fine job in keeping the city clean. He said when he spots something that needs fixing or to be cleaned up, he simply calls 311 and the next time he looks it's fixed. "I don't use my name, either," the mayor added humorously.
He thanked the members of the department for their hard work. In 1959, for example, DSNY's Sweep magazine reported "a man on his daily refuse collection rounds expends energy equivalent to that used by a person climbing the Empire State Building with a 35-pound sack on his back."
Mr. Bloomberg then asked a series of sanitation-related trivia questions. He asked when the department put its horses to pasture. When a woman shouted the correct answer (1933), the mayor asked how she knew that since she wasn't born then. One person in the crowd answered, "Google!"
Another question the mayor posed was, "How many tons of refuse were picked up in Times Square" after this past New Year's Eve? The answer: 57.
Saying he didn't want to bruise any egos of former sanitation commissioners in the room, Mr. Bloomberg introduced the current commissioner diplomatically. "John Doherty is the best sanitation commissioner since I have become mayor," he said, to more laughter.
The Knickerbocker talked with Joseph DiMasso at the reception and asked him what interesting moments he recalled from his career. He said he picked up a dead dog on 32nd street. The animal's owner spoke to him, and he asked what it was she wanted. "I'd rather," she said, "he be buried at sea."
A distinguished panel gathered at the American Museum of Natural History to discuss the book "Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist" (Pantheon), edited by John Brockman. Speakers included a psychology professor from Harvard University, Marc Hauser, who co-directs the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Program; a neuroscientist and professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, Joseph LeDoux; a physics professor at Barnard College, Janna Levin; another member of Harvard's psychology department, Steven Pinker; and a professor of the social studies of science and technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sherry Turkle.
Ms. Levin recalled from her childhood, "I was not one of these kids with a chemistry set." Rather, "I watched too much TV," she said, and was particularly fond of "I Dream of Jeanie," Abbott and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy. At the dinner table, she would imitate Carl Sagan and Tina Turner. "Those were my two acts." She was a philosophy major who switched to science but still explores large questions.
Mr. LeDoux said he studied marketing in college and stumbled into science when a friend was working in a lab with monkeys. He also said he was in a band in college called the Cerebellum and the Medullas. His subsequent work has focused in part on how fear works in the brain.