Friday, July 25, 2014

Customer Disservice

Monday, July 21, 2014
Just hours after buying two tickets to see the Book of Mormon in London in September, at about 1/3 the Broadway price, the (London-resident) Brodies sent me an e-mail that they would like to see it too. I got back on-line to Ticketmaster UK (TUK) to order more tickets and found the two seats next to us still open. However, when I tried to purchase them, the computer wouldn’t allow it, because it would leave one more seat in the cluster vacant. In other words, I could purchase one seat of the three available or all three seats, but not two seats. I repeat, TUK refused to sell me two seats, because a third seat was left over with 54 days before the performance to sell it. I immediately sent an e-mail to their customer service desk and got a form response requesting patience. 

Patient I’m not, so yesterday I called Over There and explained the situation to a TUK rep, who claimed that the theater imposed that policy on them. After several minutes of my eloquence, inspired by Rumpole of the Bailey, he agreed to take my appeal to higher authority, and promised resolution in the indeterminate future, either unlocking the two adjacent seats, or placing us in another array of four seats. With that, the prosecution rested, temporarily.

Today, I e-mailed David Brodie and, with silence from TUK, I urged him to go the theater and buy the available seats, just as any normal human being would without the unholy intervention of irrational microcircuitry. Good thinking, right? Well, the theater, even though named for the Prince of Wales, successor to the Throne, would not sell him the tickets because, they informed him, those seats are allocated to TUK. Checkmate?  We'll see.

I spent much of my senior year at CCNY reworking a paper on the confirmation battle over Clare Boothe Luce’s appointment as ambassador to Brazil in order to submit it simultaneously to several different government courses that I was taking, that is the small portion of my senior year that I actually devoted to academic pursuits. A new biography of Luce was reviewed in the Times yesterday by Maureen Dowd, a woman with an almost equally sharp tongue. Dowd recalled the only time she ever met Luce, who died in 1987, Luce greeted her with "Did you know all the mischief in the world was caused by five Jewish men?" This was coupled with another Luce remark meant to illustrate where she stood on the International Jewish Conspiracy.

However, I found the comment about five Jewish men, which I don’t think originated with Luce, fascinating, and not necessarily unflattering. First, of course, we need to identify the starting lineup. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Marx and Freud, a powerful collection, immediately came to mind.  Although not Jewish, Hitler, Stalin and Mao could surely qualify as mischief-makers. They might be on the second team, though, because they were specific to their time and place, not shaping the future, only destroying it for many in their path.

I am reconsidering Abraham’s place. While his monotheism was radical, I’m not sure of its value today. The monotheistic religions still battle (often literally) over whose God is the one and only God. So, I have a slot open. "Major Male Jewish Mischief-Maker Wanted." Theodore Herzl, Bob Dylan, Baruch Spinoza, Lennie Bruce?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
After numerous e-mail exchanges with TUK, and my suggestion that American Express has proved very cooperative with me in the past when dealing with unreasonable vendors, I received the following message shortly before noon: "Thanks for your reply and I’m sorry to hear of any frustration. However, I can see from the notes on your order that we’ve added 2 tickets to your booking in row S and seats 14 -15 to your order." Indeed, just before 2 PM, I got a telephone call from the Mother Country completing the transaction. Game, set and match.

Wait! Stop the presses! Not two minutes after the telephone call from TUK, David Brodie sent me this e-mail: "I have two tickets just in front of you R14 & R15 bought and paid for." As of now, we have 6 tickets for Book of Mormon, when moments ago we were beseeching TUK to allow us to have four.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Boyz Club ate heartily at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street – fried won tons, spare ribs, duck chow fun, beef chow fun, eggplant with garlic sauce, honey crispy chicken, shrimp egg foo young, string beans with black bean sauce, mushroom fried rice and toothpicks for dessert @ $16 each complete.

Thursday, July 24, 2014
First message in my in-box this morning is from David Brodie telling how theater box office is unwilling to correct our trans-Atlantic communications breakdown. This might be a good time for you to consider a few days in London in early September. I can guarantee good seats to a hit show.

My role as a cutting-edge observer of the passing scene is subject to the vagaries of time, that is, when you get to my cutting edge, it has often been dulled by the inexorable movement of time and tide. But, I have an obligation to report what I see, and I see fruit prices in Chinatown in a very favorable position. Cherries, both Bing and Queen Anne, are at 2 pounds for $4, blueberries, $1.25 a pint, strawberries, $1.25 a pound. Champagne mangoes are running out, and have risen to about $1.25 each for hefty sizes, but juicy sweet when ripe. For one day only earlier in the week, I found white donut peaches at $3 for 20 ounces, a rare treat. While not a bargain, Fairway has been featuring pluots (plum/apricot hybrids) at around $3.99 a pound that are consistently delicious. Indulge.  After all, think of all the money you saved in Chinatown.

Friday, July 25, 2014
These are troubled times, and it’s not easy finding and holding onto manifestations of certainty and reliability. One comforting beacon has been the accuracy of the reporting at the New Yorker magazine. Their fact-checking is legendary. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/02/09/checkpoints
Even their cartoons are reputedly fact-checked.

Which means that I have to report the following with some regret. This week, in a story about a family of young dealers in antique musical instruments, the writer describes a visit to their new apartment/showroom in the Plaza Hotel, which was graced by a table they had just purchased on auction at Christies. The three sibling’s mother "set a plate of pastel macaroons on it." Even if it were Passover, everyone knows that macarOOns, a corrugated, conical-shaped confection made of sugar, egg whites and either ground almonds or coconut, appear in shades of tan, unless mixed with cocoa, or dipped in chocolate. Cf. the good works of http://dannymacaroons.com/.

Given the fancy schmancy setting of the Plaza Hotel, the likelihood of serving macaroons of any hue was remote, at best. What are available in a rainbow of vivid pastel colors (actually ROYGBIV doesn’t leave much room for pastels) are macarOns, a French merengue sandwich cookie. I have fulminated on this subject before (March 21, 2011). How could the New Yorker make such a mistake?  Is there nothing left to hold on to?



Well, apparently not, because I found even the New York Times crossword puzzle today to be fraught with error.  36 Across - Polish rolls (7 letters).  I don't mean to be ethnocentric, but, as my friends at Wikipedia tell us, bialy is "a Yiddish word short for bialystoker kuchen, from Bialystok, a city in Poland."  In Poland, where there are few if any Jews left to speak Yiddish or anything else, the locals say cebularz.  The correct clue for BIALIES is Jewish rolls.  I realize that the current publisher of the New York Times was raised Episcopalian, but even he won't walk into a bakery or coffee shop in New York and ask for a Polish roll.













Friday, July 18, 2014

Ringo, George, Paul and Justin?

Monday, July 14, 2014
More than 20 years later, I can’t bring myself to repeat the stupidest thing that I ever said out loud; it was that stupid.  Not surprisingly, it came during a heated discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  I won’t be surprised if the next time I get involved in that toxic topic I say something stupid again.  I am a Zionist and I support Israel tangibly and emotionally.  However, the legacy of the brilliant strategic and tactical victories of the Six Day War should not be the imprisonment of Israelis, by which I mean that obliging Israeli military and police forces to serve as wardens and keepers of an admittedly hostile Arab population imprisons the Israelis along with those they aim to control.  If Arab-Israeli relations is a zero-sum game, I have no hesitancy about how to tilt the playing field.  My primary concern is the safety, health and sanity of the Jews in Israel.  I simply don’t trust anyone else to protect them, and, by extension, Jews in any other land.  History has taught me, as a Jew, to be quite selfish in this regard.  Yet, our survival should incorporate our values as well as our physical well-being.
 
It is commonplace to speak of a failure of leadership in the Middle East, but let us not absolve the vaunted “man in the street” of responsibility.  It was that building block of democracy who assassinated Anwar Sadat, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, murdered Naftali Fraenkel, murdered Gilad Shaer, murdered Eyal Yifrah, and murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir.  Is it that the current leaders lack the will (or vision) to challenge those that they lead, or, having assessed the likelihood of failure, have retreated to the familiar paths of resentment and revenge?
 
This article examines Stormfront.org, arguably America’s most popular on-line hate web site.  The author, with the telltale name of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, analyzed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles, which get several hundred thousand “hits” each month.  The two most popular subsets for registered members are “Union of National Socialists” and “Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler.”  
 
Just a couple of extracts before you read about it yourself.  Members “often write about crimes committed by African-Americans against whites; they complain about an ‘invasion’ of Mexicans; and they love to mock gays and feminists.  But their main problem appears to be with Jewish people, who are often described as super-powerful and clever — the driving force, generally speaking, behind the societal changes they do not like.”  While the overall highest membership rates are in Montana, Alaska and Idaho, states that are almost as people-free as Jew-free, the author-with-a-very-Jewish-name makes a somewhat attenuated claim that there is otherwise a correlation between membership and Jewish population.  The hardest thing to explain, for him and me, is the high level of participation by young people; “76 percent of Americans on Stormfront.org who identify their age are under 30.”  What’s up with that?   
 
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Here’s a fascinating headline that just came over the wire that will prove incomprehensible to many of you: “Wolves, Warriors Restart Love Talks.”
 
I made a big mistake last week by informing you that Whataburger (one of Consumer Reports’s best hamburger chains) has a local (New York City) presence.  Yes, they are in Manhattan – Manhattan, Kansas.  Forgive me.  However, it further underlines my conviction that one major reason, of many, to visit me here is to be able to eat in a real restaurant, owned by a real person.  At first, it may be scary to walk into a place that’s not the same as the one back home, but you’re here, not there.   
 
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
If, on the other hand, you want to lose your appetite, read Mark Bittman’s (New York Times food columnist) analysis of what everyone else pays for when you buy a cheeseburger, forgetting the loss of your soul for mixing meat and dairy.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/opinion/the-true-cost-of-a-burger.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region
 
Thursday, July 17, 2014
I mustered the courage to go into Sun In Bloom Takeaway, 165 Church Street, even though it wasn’t lunchtime and there is nothing faintly Asian about it.  Possibly a greater deterrent is its characterization as “Hand-crafted, Gluten-free, Organic, Vegan, Kosher.”  I thought that I might be arrested for just walking in the joint.  However, keeping a low profile, I went in and ordered a cup of coffee ($2.50 plus tax, 12 oz.), which I drank at my Khazak shoemaker’s shop, a few doors north, as he made some minor adjustments to my footwear.  Only the price distinguished the allegedly organic and fair trade coffee, although the server was very bright and cheery at 8:15 AM.  They also serve salads, sandwiches and baked goods, proclaiming that they “specialize in organic, vegan, raw food cuisine and macrobiotic dishes, along with gluten-free vegan baked goods and raw desserts.”  Proceed at your own risk.

Friday, July 18, 2014
My brother sends along an interesting article on technology’s effect on the contemporary spy novel, outlining the difficulties in outwitting digital detection.  Creating a false identity, for instance, now requires more than attention to clothing labels, passport photos and wallet contents in this age of Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/16/has-modern-technology-killed-spy-thrillers

Having recently commended the scallion pancake at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, I made that my destination at lunch.  Besides the ever-reliable scallion pancake ($2.25), I had Singapore rice noodles a/k/a vermicelli, mei fun, angel hair ($7.95).  The very large portion of noodles was cooked with green peppers, red peppers, shrimp, onions, egg, pork and bean sprouts spiced with an assertive curry powder.  The relative airiness of the fine noodles made me feel as if I was eating less than my usual chow fun, the wonderfully dense, wide noodle.  In fact, I could only plow through 2/3 of the dish, even after leaving over one slice of the scallion pancake cut into sixths.  

The British Open Golf Championship is being held in Liverpool, England this week and several of the world’s leading golfers demonstrated shocking ignorance about our life and times.  They could not name all four Beatles, who came from Liverpool, after all.   http://www.espn.co.uk/espn/sport/video_audio/324965.html?genre=14;sport=6
I realize that achieving success in a competitive sport requires preternatural focus and dedication, but, come on now, they weren’t asked to name the Andrews sisters.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Choices

Monday, July 7, 2014
You don’t think of turning to Consumer Reports for excitement. Often, in its attempt to appear sober and authoritative, it seems to regret not printing in black and white. The current issue features "America’s Best & Worst Fast Food." Almost exactly two years ago, July 4, 2012, I commented on its review of chain restaurants, finding that absolutely none of those that "earned especially high marks across the board" could be reached using New York City’s extensive public transportation system. In fact, only one could be reached by traveling less than one hour in an automobile.

Fast food restaurants are found throughout New York City, but again we are denied the better alternatives, in the eyes of Consumer Reports. In the critical category of hamburgers, the top five chains, selected by tens of thousands of readers, are, in order:
.   In-N-Out Burger, headquartered in Irvine, CA, which I patronized when in exile in Los Angeles, operates predominantly in California, with a presence in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Texas.

.   The Habit Burger Grill also is headquartered in Irvine, CA, not exactly cow country. It has dozens of locations entirely in California, Arizona and Utah. However, a Fair Lawn, NJ site is promised soon.

.   Culver’s, based in Wisconsin, does not appear anywhere in New York or New Jersey.

.   Burgerville, never straying far from its Vancouver, Washington home, is only situated in Washington and Oregon.

.   Whataburger, headquartered in Denver, CO, extends nationally, with a modest local presence, 1 store in Brooklyn and 2 in Manhattan.

Note, if we reach down into the next 5 favorites, only Five Guys Burgers and Fries (#7), counter to its highly-rated competitors, has 9 Manhattan locations, 4 in Brooklyn, 7 in Queens and 1 on Staten Island, among its hundreds throughout the country. I know that I ate in one of the Queens locations, which was not far from my mother’s residence, but no closer to home. Also, Steak’n’Shake (#10) has one Manhattan location.

The really big guys (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and the like) appear on the bottom half of Consumer Reports’s list of 21 companies, with McDonald’s last of all. In conclusion, I am sticking to Chinatown for fast and good and interesting and occasionally nutritious food.

Not that every Chinatown joint is a winner. Queen Bakery, 150 Mott Street, may be the start of a chain with its sister at 139 Centre Street (December 4, 2013). It is small; 1 table for four and 4 two-tops occupy the space in front of the counter. Prepared baked goods are on the shelves to the left. The menu offers congee and noodle soups, along with a variety of beverages, hot and cold. Hot beverages of any sort were unwelcome today with the temperature in the high 80s, so I asked if I could get noodles without soup. I wound up with shrimp dumplings, mei fun (vermicelli) and vegetables (bean sprouts, mushrooms, pea pods and Chinese broccoli) freshly cooked, but dry ($5.50). I put some hot sauce on it to give it some flavor, which ordinarily might have come from the broth. I also had a sticky roast pork bun (80¢) to round out the meal and my stomach. I won’t bother telling Consumer Reports about this lunch. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
I’m trying to find a comparison for Brazil’s loss to Germany 7-1 in the World Cup. How about the last Super Bowl, when Seattle trounced the favored Denver 43-8? Tired of sports? How about Ted Kennedy’s television interview, on October 12, 1979, when the senator, riding high in the polls to challenge the renomination of Jimmy Carter, answered the question why he wanted to be president in a manner described by the Boston Globe as "at once incoherent and repetitive?" Maybe, Ishtar, a 1987 film written and directed by the very witty Elaine May, starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, considered an extravagant flop, although I found one comment that the "movie is far from being unwatchable?" Eric Cantor?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Pho Pasteur Vietnamese Restaurant, 85 Baxter Street, is Faux Pasteur now. The whole place has been done over and is now called Pasteur Grill and Noodles. The storefront is entirely framed glass panes. The boxy interior holds about 50 customers seated on dark wood furniture. Two walls are entirely mirrored, the other holds two photo murals and a small television set.

The menus are clearly laid out, with many photographs. I ordered stir fried shrimp in tamarind sauce ($12, a small portion of white rice unnecessarily extra at $1.50). The shrimp dish was very good. 14 or so medium-sized shrimp were cooked with onions, cucumber, green peppers, red peppers and lettuce, in a sweet-tangy sauce that did not have the consistency of industrial sludge. It really was worth the money.

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Dose the lack of success of black and Hispanic students on the Stuyvesant High School entrance examination justify closing the school, or changing the role of the examination in the admission process?
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/07/the_case_for_shutting_down_stuyvesant_high_school_the_best_public_school.html
I am unwilling to punish the school because of the limitations of parents, politicians and educators, in that order. 

Friday, July 11, 2014
In response to frequent requests, here is my summary of Chinatown favorites:

Best classic Chinatown food and atmosphere РWo Hop, 17 Mott Street (downstairs). Noodles and fried rice are excellent, as is egg foo young, elevating a clich̩ to fine food. Note, avoid beef dishes where beef is not sliced thin.

Best lunch time deal – Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street. Hot and sour soup, rice and main course around $6. Add a scallion pancake (no worse than second best in Chinatown).

Best dim sum food – Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway. Dignified, no carts. Order assorted platter, each piece (all steamed) different size, shape, color, contents.

Best dim sum experience – Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street. Big, noisy, countless carts; great with a group.

Best Peking duck – Mottzar Kitchen, 70 Mott Street. Don’t bother with anything else. 1 duck for two, $25.95, can’t be beat.

Good alternative – West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery Street, Chinatown Arcade (between Bowery and Elizabeth Street). Order roti canai, pancake with curry dipping sauce; satay chicken or beef (or both) on skewers with peanut sauce.

Another good alternative – Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street (Korean). Order a lunch box, $12-14.

Still another good alternative (with almost no room to sit) – Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich, 369 Broome Street.

Still another good alternative (with a little room to sit) – Banh Mi, Vietnamese Sandwich, 73 West Broadway.

For a "nice" evening meal, Ping's Seafood, 22 Mott Street. Very good food and tablecloths.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Brown Shirts and Black and White Athletes

Monday, June 30, 2014
Fascism is a convenient shorthand description of the US Supreme Court’s gilding of its blend of corporate and state power with a veneer of religious fanaticism. It has followed an agenda of narrowing access to the voting booth while expanding access to lethal firearms. This at a time when the right and the left are expressing increased hostility to established institutions of all stripes, and each other as well.  I guess that's what guns are for.

Shopping tip: The fish department at ShopRite of Englewood, 40 Nathaniel Place, just off Palisade Avenue, has freshly-made salmon burgers, weighing about 1/4 pound each, at 2 for $3. Gently pan fried in olive oil, they are delicious. And, with salmon prices at all-time highs (http://www.cnbc.com/id/101658550), this is an incredible deal. I hope that it stays around for a while for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
It’s hard reading the newspaper this morning. The lead domestic story is the despicable Supreme Court decision elevating the religious beliefs of some people (with power) over the health and safety of other people (without power). More focused cruelty is demonstrated in the death of the three hitchhiking Israeli teenagers. While both sides will try to trace root causes back to the conduct of the other, we should, momentarily at least, announce the simple facts of the event: Three teenage boys were shot to death by one or more strangers. Placing the atrocity in the Arab-Israeli cauldron should not rob it of its human character, but it probably will.

One bright spot for those of us who go to work every day and play by the rules is the $8.9 billion (yes, billion) penalty for BNP Paribas, a French bank, which, for at least 10 years, falsified records on illegal transactions. Now, if prosecutorial zeal can be aimed a little closer to home.

Another cause for hope is the demonstrations in Hong Kong calling for greater democracy. Hundreds of thousands of people marched earlier today (there is a 12-hour time difference), opposing the continued oppression by the Communist regime. This inspired some of the leading capitalist advocates of freedom and justice for all to speak up, to take a stand. According to a column in the Wall Street Journal, "[t]he Hong Kong affiliates of Ernst & Young LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte LLP and KPMG LLP published a half-page Chinese-language advertisement in the local press Friday voicing concerns about the Occupy Central movement [a leading pro-democracy group]." The advertisement said, "We worry that multinational companies and investors might consider moving their regional headquarters from Hong Kong, or even remove their businesses, in the long term shaking Hong Kong from its position as an international financial and commercial center." So, our brave CPA freedom fighters take a bold stand for the supremacy of international finance and commerce. Their mothers must be very proud.

Even with the temperature at 88, I didn’t mind the long walk through Chinatown, and its unrivaled collection of smells, to get to Quan Sushi, 375 Broome Street, a really tiny Japanese restaurant, visited for the first time. Quan has 6 two-top tables which have to be bunched together to fit in the floor space. Additionally, there is a two-person sushi bar opposite the chef. Its menu has a bit more variety than you might imagine in the limited room to operate, with bento boxes and other lunch specials. I ordered three rolls ($11.50), spicy tuna, eel cucumber and salmon skin. They all tasted very fresh, made inside out, with a thin layer of rice on the outside. Each was cut into six 1" pieces. They were accompanied by cloudy miso soup and a very predictable small iceberg lettuce salad with a slightly interesting dressing. Most other people would have found the airconditioning adequate.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The temperature hit 90 and I was unwilling to go far afield for lunch. Therefore, it was roast duck chow fun ($6.95) at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, which actually would have been worth a long trip.

Thursday, July 3, 2014
I’ve written of the death of my cousin Allan S. Gotthelf on August 30, 2013. Less than one year apart, but in different grades, we went to the same elementary school and high school simultaneously. Then, for three years, we overlapped in municipal colleges, me City College, him Brooklyn College. In retrospect, the confusion was less than you might imagine, although, whenever I was taken for a leading acolyte of Ayn Rand, I wasn’t pleased.

He and I were both amused, however, when I shared a letter that I received, in 1969, from a former girlfriend of Alan Gotthelf who actually never had the pleasure of the company of either of us. This woman, then living in Kansas, wrote to remind me of her romantic interlude with me, that is Alan Gotthelf, in Colorado a few years earlier. (I still have the letter.)  Cousin Allan insisted that he had never been in Colorado and I was not to get there until a brief business trip in the early 1980s. I called her, of course, to explain who I was and who I wasn’t, also exonerating cousin Allan. I only learned a little bit more about her Alan Gotthelf, but was convinced of her sincerity (and sanity). Now, I’ve found another piece of the puzzle.

[Click for better focus]


This monument is in Sons of Israel Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Internet inquiries show that Mother Martha, now 94, is still alive, living in Denver.  I haven't been able to reach her on the telephone yet. Of course, I have to be very careful of my opening lines when we finally get into conversation, or else it may sound like an old script from the Twilight Zone.

Friday, July 4, 2014
On this day celebrating the good old USA, it's appropriate to celebrate the legacy of the late Strom Thurmond, the long-lived, long-serving Senator from South Carolina.  Watching the World Cup, we see that many of our best players, such as Jermaine Jones, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks and Julian Green, are the products of liaisons between black US soldiers and German women.  It was Thurmond, nominally a segregationist, who advanced the cause of athletic excellence in fathering a daughter by a black domestic in his household.  While our soccer team was eliminated in the round of 16 earlier this week, with Green scoring the only goal for the US, we can only hope that Thurmond's example furthers our competitive position in years to come.

Friday, June 27, 2014

I ❤ Wo Hop

Monday, June 23, 2014
"I was 31 before I got my heart broken," began an essay that I read this weekend. After I read it, I took inventory of my own sad memories. I had my first heart break at 17 and my next at 42, if we are limited to the realm of romance. Additionally, I experienced crushing career disappointments at age 23, 34 and 47. Looking back, two different thoughts arise, although not mutually exclusive. I’ve managed to duck in time for the last several decades, and/or I may be overdue.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Currently, local sports talk radio is spending about as much time on Carmelo Anthony’s contract options as on the World Cup, since New York is not fielding its own team in the international competition. Anthony, the star New York Knicks basketball player, announced that he will exercise the early termination provisions in his contract, and shop himself around to other teams. Because of the baroque terms of professional basketball’s collective bargaining agreement, Anthony can receive as much as $129 million for five years if he re-signs with the Knicks, or $96 million for four years from another team. However, there is no guarantee that either number will actually be on the table. Had he chosen to play out the last year of his current contract, he would have received $23 million for the 2014-2015 season. All of which brings to mind Calvin Trillin’s Eleventh Commandment, "Enough is enough." Of course, those who worship rapacious greed admonish us that money talks, male bovine excrement walks.

Irwin Pronin, soon-to-be president of the Columbia Law School alumni association, joined me for lunch. We shared an amply-sized Peking duck at Mottzar Kitchen, 70 Mott Street, unsurpassed in the duck department at $25.95, with 10 spongy buns to make tidy bundles.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Last night, I had the pleasure of going to the Mets game with William Franklin Harrison, my friend and fellow congregant. Of all the people that I know, William Franklin Harrison is best prepared to become President of the United States. How can he fail with that name? However, William Franklin Harrison is 13-years old, which presents a problem for me. Article II, section 1 of the Constitution requires that a person be at least 35-years old to "be eligible to that Office [of President]." He will, therefore, be eligible in 2036, which conveniently is the year of a presidential election, if the Tea Party still allows elections. Facing actuarial reality, my chances of voting for William Franklin Harrison for president in 2036 are (how shall I say?) slim. Consequently, I will inaugurate the Draft Harrison campaign a bit early, bringing the horizon of his success within my sight, if not my reach. Cf. Deuteronomy 34:1-4.

Today, ever-reliable Stony Brook Steve was my lunch companion at ever-reliable Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street. We shared Singapore chow fun ($8.50), honey crispy chicken ($10.25) and white rice ($1), and made all gone.

The US Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Utah’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. This was predictable in light of he US Supreme Court’s decision exactly one year ago rejecting the Defense of Marriage Act. What surprised me was the number of people apparently affected by this latest ruling. Not just people, Utah people, Mormon people if you go by the numbers. The US Census Bureau estimates that there were 2,855,287 people in Utah on July 1, 2012, over 62% of them Mormon. In the 17 days after a Federal district court ruled against Utah in December, over 1,000 same sex couples married in Utah, until a stay went into effect pending this appeal. That means that at least a couple of thousand homosexuals were lurking in Utah, waiting for the opportunity to register at Williams-Sonoma. I can only imagine how many more will emerge now that they can proceed down the aisle in more assured fashion. Were 62% of these newlyweds Mormon? Probably not. But, you have to wonder.

Thursday, June 26, 2014
Taiwan Pork Chop House, 3 Doyers Street, was Excellent Pork Chop House on my last visit (May 13, 2010). I found the newer version brighter and cheerier, although still not excellent. I ordered wonton with spicy oil ($3.50) and salt and pepper fried chicken ($4.25). The wonton, the delicate kind in a thin wrapper, were hot, but not hot hot. The chicken was a bit warmed over and greasy, but that never stopped me.

Friday, June 27, 2014
Ending this week by eating at Wo Hop for the third time, I feel it necessary to offer some guidance for those who have not yet enjoyed their quintessential classic Chinatown cuisine, or as Mother Ruth Gotthelf used to say, Real Chinese Food. Do not order any beef dishes. While beef with scallions or tangerine beef are basic components of a well-rounded diet, Wo Hop’s beef, when served in chunks, is tough and stringy. By contrast, however, do order beef as part of another dish, notably beef chow fun (dry), beef fried rice or beef egg foo young. In those instances, Wo Hop serves thin(nish) slices of beef, tender and cooked just right. I don’t know whether they use different cows for different parts of the menu, but, trust me, you might as well be in different restaurants.

Friday, June 20, 2014

To A Tee


Monday, June 16, 2014
Run, don’t walk to the 59E59 Theater for its annual Brits Off Broadway festival. This year, it features three works by Alan Ayckbourn, the brilliant British playwright of contemporary manners and mores. Saturday afternoon, we saw Time of My Life, a sad (but very funny) tale of a family falling apart. As Ayckbourn often does, there is time shifting, before and after the central event, a birthday party for the matriarch. All action occurs in the same place, a restaurant featuring some obscure ethnic cuisine, where the dishes remain unknown to the customers in spite of their regular patronage, even as their duties seem entirely unknown to the serving staff. Two other Ayckbourn plays are scheduled in this series, and we have tickets to them, as well. All three works will be on through June 29th. Go. See. Them.

I was showered with good wishes for Father’s Day, but I missed on the prize gifts identified in T, the hyper-glitzy supplemental Sunday magazine of the New York Times. The story’s sub-heading tells it all: "The humble T-shirt becomes a stylish message board thanks to flashy type and aggressive graphics." Of course, nothing humble remains in the items illustrating the article, T-shirts from Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and the like, priced from $140 to $3,000, and typically available only in sizes for the undernourished. That buys you one T-shirt, mind you. So, you can choose the item immediately below from Calvin Klein for $550, complete with ink stain, or, below that, one of my humble favorites for $21.95 from NHL.com:

 
 




If one wishes to clothe the naked while displaying exemplary good taste, I suggest that you avoid the fashion pages of the New York Times and stick to the sports section. 

Wretched excess was not limited to the price of T-shirts this weekend. The Times had a story about preparation for (high snob appeal) college admission. I was drawn to Application Boot Camp®, "in which roughly 25 to 30 kids will be tucked away for four days in a hotel to work with a team of about eight editors on . . . as many as 10 drafts of each of three to five different essays." The candidates also "develop an application strategy" and "receive advice on their odds at top colleges" during their internment, according to the outfit’s web site. The price for this experience is $14,000, T-shirts extra.

What was a Japanese solar panel company doing filming a television commercial today on the plaza opposite the courthouse where they were situated to leave the iconic courthouse steps out of the picture? I sure couldn’t tell you.

You might want to read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/us/judges-with-daughters-more-often-rule-in-favor-of-womens-rights.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=article
It turns out that judges are human, after all.   

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Happy Birthday to America’s Favorite Epidemiologist as she grows younger each year. I understand that a manicure will be one of the benchmarks of today’s festivities. I mention that because my first impression upon meeting this scientific lady in 1996 was how nice her fingernails were considering that she must spend all day at a laboratory bench. I soon learned that her work was done primarily at a computer keyboard, but even that can be hard on your nail polish. In any case, she maintains close attention to her fingertips to this day.

For the first 2 ½ years after I relocated to the big courthouse on Centre Street, I sat in the office right next to Cindy’s. She had a niece born on the exact same day as Boaz. Her husband was a big Rangers fan, and I met them at Madison Square Garden a couple of times, although he and I were never able to find a convenient time to go to a game together. I asked her advice when I confessed to her that I can’t dance, but would really like to learn because my wife enjoys it so much. Her suicide shocked me as it must have anyone who knew her. Her postpartum depression evidently rose to psychosis and led to her terrible end. Friends, family, professionals all came to her aid, reassuring her of her qualities as a person and a mother. What else was needed to save her?
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/health/maternal-mental-illness-can-arrive-months-after-baby.html?hp&_r=0

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The hottest day of the year so far, expected to reach 90. This did not deter the cool guys in the Boyz Club meeting for dim sum at 88 Palace, 88 East Broadway, one of the largest and busiest restaurants in Chinatown. I was annoyed at first when I walked in, told them I needed a table for eight and they steered me to the furthest end of the restaurant. I pointed to the big, better decorated center section, that was mostly empty, and moved in that direction. No, No, as I was escorted back to the back. After several Harumphs, I figured out that a party was being held in the coveted area, as a stream of people with red sashes or tunics filed in. Soon, we could all hear drums, cymbals and bagpipes from that part of the restaurant even as my crew began to consume countless plates of familiar and unfamiliar items. Our conversation wandered all over the place, from Eddie Cantor’s family tree to the value of whistleblower law suits. The only subject that all agreed upon was the likelihood that the bill for just under $64 was in error. 

Friday, June 20, 2014
Last night, we saw Farcicals, a second Alan Ayckbourn work at Brits Off Broadway.  True to its title it was broad and bawdy.  That Alan sure is a card.

The World Cup serves to remind us of how civilized the good old USA is compared to so much of the known world, at least in our ability to avoid rioting before, during and after a major sports event.  While Ranger fans were unhappy at the results of the Stanley Cup finals, we left the streets of New York free of burning tires, overturned motor vehicles, broken shop windows and bruised and battered fellow citizens.  Last year's baseball season ended in disappointment for both local teams.  All that resulted, however, were Yankee fans repeating their deeply embedded claims of entitlement, while Mets fans slinked off to dark rooms yet again.  No looting, no arson, no mass arrests.  Do we have a form of attention deficit disorder when it comes to our teams?  Or, as I have suggested recently, do we have too much to pay attention to?  Mets, Rangers, Giants, Knicks to be devoted to, making sure to leave time to disparage the local alternatives, no less the evil spirits in the uniforms of the Atlanta Braves, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Bruins, et alia.  Venceremos!        

A final word on competition, especially the World Cup.  I admit to peeking in every so often, especially when only baseball is available on television right now.  I have to give credit to those guys running back and forth chasing that ball.  I was never a runner, so even if soccer had been invented when I was a boy, it wouldn't have been my sport.  Watching the Ecuador-Honduras match, even as I write these comments, I've gained great insight into the exaggerated, crazed behavior of soccer fans.  Honduras scored a goal towards the end of the first half.  Get this -- It was the first goal that Honduras scored in World Cup competition in 32 years.  Not the first victory (the game is still on at 7:22 Eastern Daylight Time), but the first goal.  It makes the almost 28 years that Mets fans have been waiting to win a World Series seem like a blink of the eye.  At least, we made it to the World Series again in 2000, and some seasons we won more games than we lost.  We have a drought, for sure, but there has been some evidence of our existence in these too many years.  Honduras last scored a goal in Ronald Reagan's first term.  I'd be crazy, too.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Play Ball

Monday, June 9, 2014
Can you do this? Can you earn $141,949,280 running a business while it loses money year after year? Do you have the qualifications to take in $141,949,280 when your company’s total revenue is $267,213,000? That’s what Charif Souki of Cheniere Energy, Inc. is doing, placing him at the top of a list of chief executive’s compensation published in the Times yesterday. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/06/08/business/the-pay-at-the-top.html?hpw&rref=business

It’s not that 2013 was a singular bad year for Cheniere. It hasn’t made money since 2005, the earliest financial report that I was able to find. Of course, the apologists for rapacious greed will claim that you have to pay Souki to keep him from jumping ship. Well, I say let him jump to a competitor’s ship and do for it what he has done for Cheniere.

And, why can’t he take a few centimes off the top and hire some folks who might know how to make money. If this is the market at work, to Hell with the market. It’s clearly not efficient; it only serves rapacious greedsters, not the public, not members of the company (with one notable exception). Talk about job creation? How about Souki earning a mere $5 million annually, and use the other $136,949,280 to hire 1,369 engineers, geologists, secretaries and computer geeks, averaging $100,000 a year, leaving almost $50,000 for a nice company picnic.

I’m just a sentimental slob at times. So, I was moved when I read about the upcoming wedding of L. P., a Broadway assistant director, and J. R., an actor who most recently appeared in a film entitled 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011), playing the part of Suicide, listed in the credits just above Woman with Coat. The bride-to-be told the New York Times, "It was about tradition." Mind you, she was not talking about wearing some cherished heirloom as part of her bridal outfit, or carrying a family bible, or holding the ceremony in a symbolic location. It’s the cake, the $3,000 wedding cake, five tiers, incorporating the wedding’s white and pink colors. I could not think of anything more traditional to symbolize the marriage of these two marginal show business figures than a $3,000 wedding cake. I imagine that the plan is to keep a lot of leftover cake in the freezer in case their dreams of stardom somehow go unrealized.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Happy 30th anniversary to Burt and Geri, a statistically-improbable but long-thriving couple.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I had one bright sports light last night when I saw the Mets neatly beat the second best team in the National League. The Mets were particularly efficient with solid pitching, excellent fielding and clutch hitting, finishing the game in less than three hours, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Where once a normal baseball game could be completed in a bit over two hours, today, with the demands of television, and the seeming inability of pitchers and batters to conquer jock itch, games are stretching towards four hours, which, as a Mets fan, means extended agony.

I had another bright light today, when Stony Brook Steve came downtown for lunch. We went to West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery, in the arcade connecting to Elizabeth Street. We shared a particularly good beef with orange flavor, pricey at $13.95, but worth it when matched with Indonesian fried rice ($7.95), spicier than the usual versions.

Thursday, June 12, 2014
While unconfirmed at present, it seems that Eric Cantor, Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, upset in the Republican primary Tuesday, will likely follow in his grandfather Eddie Cantor’s footsteps and pursue a career in show business. Eric, not heretofore known to be as animated as his performing grandfather, is apparently poised to reach out to humorists, choreographers and song writers, with an eye to offering an act with updated versions of some of Eddie’s hit songs, such as "Makin’ Whoopee," "If You Knew Susie," "Ma! He’s Makin’ Eyes at Me," and "How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)". Cantor is expected to sign a contract with the William Morris Agency in the next few days.

Cold sesame noodles. I knew that’s what I wanted for lunch, although I haven’t been delighted by it too often in Chinatown. I entered 456 Shanghai Cuisine, 69 Mott Street, when I saw cold sesame noodles on the menu hung outside, usually having been pleased by 456 previously (October 15, 2010, September 19, 2011, October 10, 2012, July 11, 2013). This time, however, I can only muster an adequate for the very generous portion served for $3.75. Some noodles were stuck together and the sesame sauce was weak and sparse. The tea, at no extra charge, was very good, and the airconditioning was refreshing on this muggy day.

Friday, June 13, 2014
We know that Republicans have been so concerned about the quality of American democracy that they have been promoting and enacting legislation to protect access to the electoral process, guarding against voter fraud. I suggest that they take it a step further and control access to elections by candidates as vigorously as they control access by voters. After all, the potential harm of one bad candidate far outweighs the potential harm of possibly numerous bad voters. And, the Republicans can take on this campaign without requiring the assistance of obstructionist Democrats, you know the type who pledged themselves to limiting Barack Obama to a two-term presidency. The Republicans, ever frugal, don’t even have to invest in developing a test for their own candidates’ competency; they can use the test applied to Donald Sterling, controversial owner of basketball’s Los Angeles Clippers. According to reports, the test asks the subject to spell "world" backwards, count down from 100 by 7s, and draw a clock. Some Republican strategists are recommending a less time-consuming test, focussing on some of the same tested elements: "God created the _ _ _ _ _ in _ days."

I went to New Mandarin Court, 61 Mott Street, knowing it to be a reliable source of both a limited dim sum selection and regular dishes at lunchtime (April 12, 2010, July 13, 2010, November 16, 2010, July 7, 2011, May 11, 2012, April 29, 2013).  After I ate shu mei, shrimp dumplings, vegetable dumplings ($2.50 per plate) and two banana leaf-wrapped lumps of sticky rice ($3.50), I found that I was in a new restaurant, Golden Mandarin Court, the third iteration at this address.  Not all the signage has changed, and, admittedly, there were few differences, if any, that I noticed.  But, add one to the count.  

A case is now proceeding upstate New York concerning a male teacher and soccer coach who was fired after admitting having sex with two former female students many years earlier, several years apart. There are some interesting wrinkles to the case; each girl had graduated and was 18 years old at the time of the incidents, when the teacher was 28 and 31 respectively. I found particularly fascinating the New York Law Journal’s report that he had sex with two former team members "after taking them to New York Mets games in 1989 and 1993." I simply never recognized the aphrodisiacal qualities of my favorite baseball team.  What have I been missing?