NEW YORK TIMES: May 8, 1994

The Legend of Tess

Q. Five or six years ago, there was a mysterious outburst of handposted signs that read, “DJ NO X-MEN TESS.” Recently, they have reappeared. What are they all about? My best theory is that the ex-members of Menudo, forced into retirement when they passed the age of 15, formed a group called the X-Men and hired a vocalist named Tess, and are protesting because disk jockeys won’t play their album. True?

A. A fabulous tale, though totally apocryphal. Calls to record industry know-it-alls proved they didn’t, but finally, one Damien Nesbitt, who answered the phone at the New Music Seminar, said that DJ is the street name of a founder of the X-Men, a group of graffiti writers. Mr. Nesbitt, who is a graffiti guy himself, speculates that Tess is another partner, and said that he doesn’t know why they have come back on the scene. Their heyday was in the 80’s, when they were spraying down subway cars. Mr. Nesbitt said the point is strictly artistic: the signs have no real message (just like those ubiquitous COST REV posters). Proof of Purchase

Q. What is the purpose of the box behind the bus driver’s seat that faces the passengers? It has six variously colored lights that read, “Pass,” “X-fer,” etc. Why would riders need to know how other people pay their fare?

A. Years ago, the old fare boxes were flat trays that collected change and then dumped the coins into a manually operated counter. Because the drivers were too busy to count every fare as it came in, riders would often plop down a stack of dimes that added up to less than the actual fare and move along. Now, the box is electronic and “reads” the fare immediately, and beeps so the driver can snag a dishonest rider right away. The box lights up for riders so they can see that someone who appears to be getting a free ride has actually paid with a transfer, etc. Coming soon: fare boxes that will accept the new Metro Card and will display the readout in front of the driver as well as behind him. Arborist at Large

Q. Feeling only a bit guilty, I plucked this small spray of blossoms from a pretty tree on Broadway and 115th Street and sent it to you, in hopes that you could tell me what kind of tree it came from. I see them everywhere this year. It must be a hardy type. Does it bear fruit?

A. Gee, thanks for the sample. What you have sent are flowers from the Callery pear tree, which because of its beauty is indeed planted throughout the city, said Stephen Tim, the vice president for science and publications at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It does bear teeny pears once the flowers fall off, but they are brown and only about a quarter of an inch long, so they are not often noticed, let alone eaten. But while he agrees that the tree is pretty, it is far from hardy, Mr. Tim said, adding: “The fact is they are very weak. Their limbs sometimes fall off, so they are not very practical.” Recalling the Alamo

Q. When I moved to the city in 1983, one of the ritual arrival activities was getting together with a bunch of friends and rotating the big cube in Astor Place. Just for nostalgia’s sake, I tried it last weekend, and it wouldn’t budge. What happened?

A. Perhaps in your advanced age, you have mythologized your strength. The cube weighs 3,000 pounds; one person can hardly hope to budge it. But with your old pals, you would still be able to turn it, because it is still working just fine, according to Bruce Kayton, who leads tours of the Lower East Side. The tilted black cube, which towers 15 feet over the traffic island at the intersection of Lafayette Street and Astor Place, is called “The Alamo.” The piece was put up in 1966 by Tony Rosenthal. – JENNIFER STEINHAUER