Friday, August 26, 2016

Where To?

Monday, August 22, 2016
Three headlines from the New York Times (on-line edition) combine to tell a story about current affairs in America.

"Alienated and Angry, Coal Miners See Donald Trump as Their Only Choice"   http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/world/americas/alienated-and-angry-coal-miners-see-donald-trump-as-their-only-choice.html?_r=0


"Reeling From Effects of Climate Change, Alaskan Village Votes to Relocate"

"Know English? For New York Cabdrivers, That’s No Longer Required"

Donald Trump's promise "to bring back coal" has resonated with coal miners, who have seen their jobs disappear continually over decades.  In 2013, just over 80,000 coal miners were employed, down from a high of almost 785,000 in 1920.   
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Coal_and_jobs_in_the_United_States.  Their communities have suffered along with the individuals who have lost their jobs, and the hardships are apparent and easily exploited.  

However, you don't have to be an epidemiologist to conclude that this economic dislocation has saved lives, not just from reducing the environmental damage of mining and burning coal, but of coal miners  themselves.  A 2008 study concluded: "Elevated mortality rates persisted in Appalachian coal mining areas after further statistical adjustment for smoking, poverty, education, rural-urban setting, race/ethnicity, and other variables."   http://www.appvoices.org/images/uploads/2011/07/Mortality-AppCoal_2008.pdf.  
This wasn't news.  A 1963 study stated that "Death rates for [coal] miners are nearly twice those all working men in the United States.  They remain higher, even when deaths due to accidents and other violence are excluded."   https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/156a83410e055907?compose=156a99ebbc013cde&projector=1

So, coal miners, often following ingrained patterns of behavior, seek to maintain and expand jobs without consideration of their own health and probably that of their families, never mind the environmental toll of mining and burning coal.  Unemployment certainly takes its toll and I don't pretend that current and future unemployed miners will move into the 21st century job market at any measurable rate.  Their future is bleak and help is needed from the government, not to support an industry that destroys its workers and the air and water quality of the community at large, but in providing a semblance of financial stability and dignity to this generation of miners while offering their children education and training, a path to bourgeoisification instead of lung cancer, emphysema and a variety of pulmonary diseases.

This is a harsh prescription, but an inevitable one.  The next story describes an even harsher prescription for a community.  "Residents of a small Alaskan village voted this week to relocate their entire community from a barrier island that has been steadily disappearing because of erosion and flooding attributed to climate change."  About 600 people live on the island of Sarichef, about one-quarter mile wide and two-and-a-half miles long, where "more than 200 feet of the shore has been eaten away since 1969."  Yet, "some locals were resistant to uprooting their history and heritage from a place that has been inhabited for 400 years."  Much remains uncertain, including the new location for the community and the funding.  
 
While the population of coal miners vastly exceeds Sarichef, other communities throughout the world are facing or are about to face the same dramatic threat from climate change.  A British study found that "by the middle of the century, 200 million people may become permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods, and more intense droughts."   http://mudancasclimaticas.cptec.inpe.br/~rmclima/pdfs/destaques/sternreview_report_complete.pdf

Finally, I find there is news from New York City about eliminating a language requirement for taxicab drivers, an unfortunate development.  This move is supposed to aid immigrants, although they don't seem to need it. "[O]nly 4 percent [of licensed drivers] are born here, according to the taxi commission, and that figure has been dropping, from about 62 percent in 1980 and 36 percent in 1990."  Are these drivers, 24% from Bangladesh and 10% from Pakistan, taking jobs away from the friends and family of Jared Kushner?  Are taxi garages displaying signs "No Americans need apply"?  Does learning to drive in West Virginia permanently disqualify an applicant for a New York chauffeur's license?  Or, are fleet owners happy to employ presumably docile immigrants, rather than good ol' country boys?

Personally, I oppose the change.  Over the years, I have had to take over navigation of taxicab rides from drivers unfamiliar with the lay of the land.  On one occasion, I recall a driver going over the Triborough Bridge throwing dollar bills into the coin basket for collecting tolls.  Such random episodes may have been the result of inexperience and the low level of geographic competence that New York City already imposes, unlike the famous "Knowledge" demanded of London taxicab drivers.  Even if GPS reduces the need to read and understand signage, which I doubt, understanding the passenger is the first step in a safe and efficient taxicab ride.  If passengers are unable to speak English, they must do as we have done in foreign countries, present our destination in writing.  We never thought twice whether our driver could actually read the French, Spanish, Hebrew, or Czech address that someone has taken the trouble to provide us.   Lowering the communication skills of New York City cab drivers will be a disservice to the public and the mostly foreign-born existing driver population.

Unlike generations of Americans before them, including our local taxicab drivers, who crossed oceans and continents to improve their lot, the prototypical Trump voter seems to be sitting back and waiting for good things to be delivered, a posture usually reserved for trust fund babies.  Ironically, it could only be Big Government that could effect the turnaround these folks desire, a position at odds with conventional Republican policy.  Change isn't easy; ask the inhabitants of Sarichef. 
 
Stony Brook Steve and I went uptown, to the neighborhood of Columbia University to have lunch at Massawa, 1239 Amsterdam Avenue, an Ethiopian restaurant.  It was a simple, boxy space, with an almost featureless interior.  Service was friendly, however.  We shared beef sambusa, deep-fried, beef-filled flaky triangles ($7 for four).  I had tsebhi beghe, lamb cooked with berbere, a chile and spice blend, which produced a nice level of heat ($12).  Lentils and a small salad were served with it, spread on a 12" round of injera, a spongy flat bread.  No utensils are provided (I won't squeal); other pieces of injera are used to scoop up the food, inevitably coating your fingers as well.  I enjoyed the food and the experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2106
At the beginning of this month, the New York State Education Department announced the results of the statewide English and math tests given to students in grades 3-8.  The results for New York City students seemed woeful to me: 38% scored at grade level in English and 36% in math.  On the other hand, this was equal to or slightly less than scores throughout the state.  Or, if the tests are considered fair and representative, the whole system stinks.  

I admit that I am viewing this from afar, with no children in these schools and personally long removed from attendance.  Parents seem much more relaxed at the demonstrated performance levels.  On the just-released New York City Education Department's annual survey, supposedly with over one million responses, "95 percent of parents said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the education their child received during the 2015-16 school year, the same percentage as the year before."  

By my arithmetic, only about 38% of the parents should be satisfied with the education their child received.  Is it possible that many of these respondents are themselves the recent product of the New York City school system and are unable to make sound judgments about the quality of education?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Stony Brook Steve, that intrepid gourmand, had the same idea that I had after reading the review of Bolivian Llama Party, 1000 Eighth Avenue, in this morning's paper.  Please note, before you venture forth, that there is no structure identified as 1000 Eighth Avenue.  It is not an address; it's a notion, like east of the Sun and west of the Moon.  

BLP is located in the Columbus Circle subway station, A, B, C, D and #1 trains.  It it outside the turnstiles, so you don't have to spend money to get there from the street.  Go down any of the staircases at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 57th Street, and you will find a cluster of newly-opened food stands, collectively called TurnStyle, including BLP.  Some high tables and stools provide seating.  In spite of the simplicity of the setting and the noisy African percussionists a few feet away, put BLP on your give-it-a-try list.

It features salteñas, a popular Bolivian street food.  Bigger than an empanada, with a thicker crust, their fillings are between a soup and a stew, so they have to be approached with care to avoid damage to tongue, lips and clothing.  We each had a chimba (chicken) salteña ($6) and shared a beef brisket chola (sandwich) ($12), dressed with pickled carrots and onions marinated in beer, one of the best things that I've eaten in years.  The chola was also a bit messy, but emitted less liquid than the salteñas.    

Thursday, August 25, 2106
I know that you thoroughly trust my judgment and follow my advice on all critical matters, starting with food.  However, if you ever seek a second opinion, you might look at Opinionated About Dining, a web site for deep gullets and even deeper pockets.  It combines the (re)views of 150 people from around the world, none personally known to me, although some are hidden behind noms de Internet.  "Lady in Pink" might in fact be someone near and dear.  Entry to the group requires a certification process, which I've begun.  

While waiting to make the cut, I am looking over OAD's list of Top 100 U.S. Restaurants 2016.   http://www.opinionatedaboutdining.com/2016/us.html  As with other similar elite lists, I find myself on the outside looking in.  The first New York City entry, Chef's Table, comes in at #12, although seven of the next eight are here in the Holy Land, absent my patronage.  I might have a claim at #17, Jean Georges, 1 Central Park West, because I've eaten in its front room, a café bearing its own name, Nougatine.  

While New York City establishments are scattered throughout the rest of the list, I get my only other hit at #84, Gramercy Tavern, 42 East 20th Street, although that was in the last century.  Needless to say, Chinatown never appears on OAD's radar.  I think, therefore, that my chances to be admitted to the club are pretty weak.  Of course, since most of these joints are of the many, many courses of small portions at high prices type, rejection may be a kindness.

Friday, August 26, 2016
Speaking of mobility, here is a very interesting feature on the movement of college students in response to declining support for higher education, apparently finding better deals as out-of-state students away from home.   http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/26/us/college-student-migration.html?_r=0

While the number of students coming to and going from each state is provided, the financial data which supposedly motivates them is missing along with other vital information.  How much of a bargain can the University of Arizona be   when 139 days of the year are over 90 degrees in Tucson and 43 are over 100?   https://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Arizona/Places/tucson-temperatures-by-month-average.php

Finally, if you want to drive the sociologists in your household crazy, ask them to explain why West Virginia, the poster child for the angry and alienated, attracts 4,022 students from out of state to its public colleges, while only 372 of its own leave.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Farewell Fyvush

August 15, 2106
What a weekend.  New York City had "real feel" temperatures of 106 to 110 degrees, with actual temperatures reaching 96 degrees.  Saturday, I ventured three blocks from home, but after that I stayed close to the air conditioning units and the refrigerator.

Please read Joe Berger's affectionate obituary of Fyvush Finkel, who died over the weekend.  

After delighting in his performance as Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors in the early 1980s, I found that we lived in the same neighborhood and I started running into Fyvush regularly on the street or the Second Avenue bus.  I would greet him effusively, lubricating the encounter with a word or two of Yiddish.  This, in turn, evoked a warm, hearty response from him, a dear man.  

In the company of Barbara and Bernie F., cousins of cousins, we ate dinner at Laut, 15 East 17th Street, a Malaysian restaurant that earned a Michelin star in 2011, later removed.  It is an attractive space, with a brown-painted tin ceiling and a long exposed brick wall covered with a vividly-colored mural.  We were on the way to a performance, so we did not indulge in course after course, only having a bit here and a bit there.  

I ordered nasi lemak, considered the national dish of Malaysia, containing chili shrimp, chicken curry, pickled vegetables, chili anchovies, boiled egg, peanuts and cucumbers surrounding a mound of rice.  It was good, but at $16.50 only the real estate justified the price.  I went back to see how much I paid for nasi lemak at various other Malaysian restaurants, admittedly all in the vicinity of Chinatown.  The earliest serving was the cheapest, $5.95 on July 30, 2010.  The $7.75 highest price came on April 17, 2015.  Almost exactly one year ago, on August 5, 2015, Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen, 11 Mott Street, in its second week of operation, had probably the best at $7.50, where it seems to have remained.  The same discrepancy in pricing appeared with roti canai, the Indian pancake and curry sauce appetizer, which I often start a Malaysian meal with.  Not just our tight schedule, but the $9 Laut asked deterred me.  Wok Wok, again with an excellent version, charges $3.75.  Maybe I need selective amnesia in order to enjoy Laut, probably forced to pay very high rent in the hot Union Square area.  

The show we saw after dinner was "The Golden Bride" (Di Goldene Kale, pronounced calla), a Yiddish operetta that was first produced in 1923.  It was presented with English and Russian supertitles.  It is a lightweight boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl story.  The first act is set in a Russian village, seemingly populated entirely by Jews, and the second in the US.  Nowhere is Czarist oppression, pogroms or anti-Semitism mentioned, a sort of anti-Fiddler on the Roof.  

There was some interesting politics in the second act, however, when Misha follows his beloved Goldele to America.  He sings, to no one in particular, "A grus fun dem nayem rusland" (Greetings from the New Russia), claiming peace and freedom for all, Jew and Christian explicitly, five years after the Revolution.  Before he brings this happy news, Misha recounts his travels throughout the world, Italy, Argentina, Japan and, take a seat, a place called Palestine, so enchanting that he leaves it only to continue his quest for Goldele.       

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Some of my dear readers grew up in New York, but were later removed by force, no doubt.  So this headline in today's paper might leave them confused: "Sympathy for L Train Riders? Not in 'Subway Deserts'"  What's going on with the els (the elevated trains now typically found outside Manhattan)?  However, this does not address els generally, but the L train specifically, the current designation for the historic Canarsie line, in case you have been away for decades.  (For a wonderfully pedantic account of subway line identification, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway_nomenclature
.)  

The L train runs across 14th Street in Manhattan, through a tunnel under the East River into Brooklyn.  About halfway through its Brooklyn route, it goes above ground and indeed becomes an el.  Since 2012, L trains have been equipped with a computer system that would allow fully automated operation, a first in New York City, trying to keep up with its doubling in ridership in the last 20 years.  However, public and union pressures have kept engineers and conductors on board.   

Now, a more potent force is about to stop the trains altogether, the subject of the newspaper story.  Hurricane Sandy (October 22-November 2, 2012) flooded the L train's tunnel, causing substantial damage, just one of the many destructive consequences of this historic storm.  Patchwork repair reopened the tunnel, but the transit authority has decided to effectively rebuild, something that New York's sports teams are unwilling to do.  

For three years, I rode the Canarsie line twice a weekday to go to Stuyvesant High School.  It was usually pretty empty, even during rush hour, because Brooklyn was still far from "cool".  Would I have traded the extra time for rerouting my path (Jamaica train to Canal Street, BMT to Union Square, walk about half a mile, instead of Jamaica train to Broadway Junction, Canarsie line to First Avenue, one block to the school) for not drowning under the East River?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The Upper West Side's Power Couple went for an overnight stay in order to participate in Eastern Massachusetts's leading August social event -- grandson Noam's 6th birthday party, featuring Darth Vader.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Just as bathrooms are being freed of gender specificity, so too are the names of American children.  Quickly: Emerson, boy or girl?  Delta, boy, girl or airline?
Friday, August 19, 2016 
I managed to meet Jerry S. for lunch today, clean shaven without scarring myself further.  We went to Phoenix Garden, 242 East 40th Street.  It's been in midtown for over 20 years, having started in the alley between the Bowery and Elizabeth Street, below Canal Street.  There, it came to be known for its Pepper & Salty Shrimp, which the boldest among us ate without removing the shell.  It also came to public attention for a moment of drama in New York civic history, when Ed Koch, then mayor, a great fan of Chinese food,   experienced nausea, dizziness and slightly slurred speech while eating there in 1987.  "After daylong tests, doctors said he had suffered a mild spasm of a brain artery and had recovered completely."  I have been unable to learn what he was eating at the time.  

We ordered lunch specials, generally $10-12, including a small bowl of hot and sour soup and a spring roll.  Jerry had sliced chicken meat with seasonal vegetables (with a touch of ginger) and I had deep-fried oysters (with two deep-fried   baby eggplants to fill up the plate).  Both dishes rated a B.   We shared a scallion pancake with curry sauce ($7.95), dry and chewy, not ready for the scallion pancake big leagues.  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hot Stuff

Monday, August 8, 2016
A recent book review by Marilyn Stasio, the New York Times crime/mystery specialist, refers to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst as "once considered 'the most violent campus in the country.'"  This caught my attention, because Dean Alfange, Jr., taught there for decades.  Was it possible that his retirement was a factor in pacifying the campus?  Stasio provides no attribution to this comment and my Google search uncovered at least a half dozen lists of campus crime with absolutely no consistency.  According to one source, UCLA was at the top of the list (where obviously the bottom was the desired destination); in another, Tufts University held the unwelcome distinction.  In fact, one publication crowned Amherst as the place to be feared, that is, Amherst College, the elite private institution about one mile south of the far larger public campus.  NB - Google replaced "violent" with "dangerous" and all the lists seemed to rely on that adjective as well.  So, clarification is needed.   Meanwhile, Dean remains at large.

In a rare television appearance today, Japan's Emperor Akihito suggested that he might step down from the throne because of his age, his physical limitations and his rigorous daily schedule.  By a seemingly unrelated coincidence, Alex Rodriguez, possibly the most controversial baseball player ever, announced yesterday that he was retiring from the New York Yankees at the end of this week.  To protect the tens of millions of dollars owed him under contract, Rodriguez will continue with the team as a "special advisor."  


I smell a rat, however.  Rodriguez was not only a superb athlete, but, not unlike DT, he rarely allowed a publicity opportunity to go unexploited, often without applying a filter of taste or judgment.  On the other hand, Japan is crazy for baseball and has become a major source of baseball players for our major leagues.  By another coincidence, Ichiro Suzuki, who came to American baseball 15 years ago after establishing himself as a star in Japan, got his 3,000th hit in American baseball yesterday, only the 30th person and fourth born outside the USA to accomplish this (third if baseball puts Puerto Rico on the same level as the states of the union, an act Congress is unwilling to countenance).  So, don't be surprised if Rodriguez assumes an imperial role in Japan and Akihito winds up in a Yankees uniform. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016
It might have been my eagerness at having lunch with Jerry S. at a Chinese restaurant in midtown that caused me to dig a new furrow on my upper lip as I was shaving.  Applications of toilet paper, ice and aluminum chloride finally stopped the bleeding, but I feared that during my subway ride to or fro the wound would open and, with red blood coating my lips and teeth, cause a vampire panic on the IRT.  So, I canceled reluctantly.  I later slunk off to Fairway Market and bought kosher tongue and kosher corned beef to make a larger than average sandwich, salvaging the day somewhat.

By the way, America's Favorite Epidemiologist left earlier today for a few days in Southampton, possibly adding to my inability to hold my hand steady.

The mail contained a screening questionnaire from the New York County Clerk for jury service, preliminary to a notice to serve.  I look forward to returning to the courthouse in this capacity.  While I was called for a panel about 10 years ago and dismissed, I haven't actually sat on a jury for much longer (I can't even remember).  Generally, judges get rid of lawyers as jurors to avoid being second guessed.  If and when asked, I'll emphasize my retirement, although that might call attention to my age and make me suspect as a dithering coot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016
I remain alone in the nest, so I invited Mossad Moshe and his nephew Ofer, a lawyer from Israel, for drinks before we went to Boulud Sud, 20 West 64th Street, for dinner.  The food was very good, approaching the quality of the   company.  There were only a few Hebrew asides, so I didn't feel isolated.

And where it counted, the menu, there was no language barrier.  Boulud Sud, one of a three related restaurants in a   cluster opposite Lincoln Center, has a summer dinner special, three courses for $42, not cheap, but the location, the service and the food, of course, justified it.  I had a fig and prosciutto salad, roasted leg of lamb with couscous, Tunisian eggplant, and tzatziki, and what was called Dark Chocolate Biscotti, a thin slice of brownie, chocolate mousse and pistachio-black cherry gelato (worth half the price of dinner right there).  The check did not float entirely off the table, because we had liquored up first, so we passed on alcohol, usually the budget buster.

Thursday, August 11, 2016
Gil Glotzer, semi-retired attorney to the stars, joined me at the Mets game this afternoon, something that we had done so often before he relocated to Dixie.  With that auspicious start, the wretched performance of the Mets, one of the worst that I can recall witnessing in person, was especially deflating.  It was a very hot and humid day and we watched the entire game on a screen indoors in one of the "clubs" scattered around the field, not substantially different than watching the game at home.  

I anticipated retirement because it would allow me to go to the ballpark during the day, sitting in the great outdoors, getting home in time for dinner with my favorite wife.  However, on days like this, really enjoying the game, results aside, avoiding perspiration and sun stroke, may be best accomplished within the walls of the Palazzo di Gotthelf.  I better write a note to myself in case my memory gets fuzzy next year.  "Remember, New York in July and August is hot and steamy, and you don't want to spend money to sit fully exposed to the Sun for three or four hours.   That doesn't make any sense, does it?"

Friday, August 12, 2016 
After yesterday's fiasco at the ballpark, I was pleased that Gil was still willing to spend some more time in my company.  Or, maybe the presence of our respective wives allowed him to give me another chance.  In any case, the four of us had dinner ar Room Service, 690 Ninth Avenue, a Thai restaurant.  A long, narrow restaurant with a dramatic decor, it was very popular, too popular.  Possibly the 90% of the clientele under 30 had no trouble with the noise level, but our collection of Social Security collectors found it hard to hear each other's complaints.  

Noise was the only thing, however, to complain about Room Service.  We shared two salads, green papaya avocado salad ($6.50) and beef green apple salad ($9.90), large portions and good tasting.  Our main courses had those same characteristics.  I had "Peanut Sauce Fried Rice and Big Shrimps Satay" ($16.20), a portion I couldn't even finish.  The half dozen shrimp were not big, but nicely grilled.  The peanut sauce, as I have commented before, is a can't-fail ingredient, just like drawn butter or maple syrup.  If we only could keep the people away.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Gotthelf To Gotthelf

Monday, August 1, 2106
My radar system has apparently failed me. The Museum of Ice Cream, a temporary installation, opened on July 29th and will stay open until August 31st. I was unaware of its existence until I read that all 30,000 admission tickets have been sold. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/30/nyregion/heres-what-youre-missing-at-the-museum-of-ice-cream.html?_r=0

Obviously, I stand no better than 30,001. However, once I read about what one might do, see and taste at the Museum of Ice Cream, I think that staying home, close to my freezer compartment, offers greater satisfaction. The museum seems to focus more on the sight and feel of ice cream (walking into a swimming pool of rainbow sprinkles, actually hard plastic pellets), rather than the taste.


Trying to trace a possible relative, I discovered the Gotthelf Art Gallery (GAG), in San Diego, California. It is housed in the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center on the Jacobs Family Campus of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, quite a mouthful, paying tribute to enough Jews to hold a decent seder. For better or worse, worse in my mind, naming rights seem to be a critical element in Jewish fundraising, where hardly a door knob goes unlabeled. 


GAG has been open for over 16 years, funded by Roanne and Henry Gotthelf, Southern Californians who may have once been in the New York metropolitan area. There is evidence that Henry went to Syracuse University at the same time that I was at CCNY, and that the couple later lived in New Rochelle. Nevertheless, I have no idea who they are. While cousin Jerry Latter has done a fabulous job documenting the Latter family, which includes my father's mother, the Gotthelfs remain a black box, a Polish black box at that, even harder to penetrate.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Another baseball game last night and another frustrating loss, to the dreaded Yankees no less. The evening was only partially redeemed by companion Jerry S. (a good guy in spite of his rooting interest) showing up with tickets for section 110, row 5 instead of the tickets that I held for section 514, row 13. That removed about 35,000 people between us and the action on the field.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016
After last week's official heat wave, we have been blessed by mild temperatures and low humidity so far this week. To enjoy this welcome change, I chose to walk the one kilometer to Mee Noodle Shop, 795 9th Avenue, which had proved so satisfying last week (July 26, 2016). This time, I focused on the noodle part of the joint's repertoire and asked for Singapore chow fun, which does not appear on its menu in spite of its great length.

This presented no challenge to the kitchen, which produced an excellent serving of curry-spiced noodles, pork, chicken, carrots, yellow onions, scallions, pea pod and cabbage ($8.25). But, Mee's efforts cannot be pronounced the best of all, because they failed a critical test. When you order noodles of any type at any place you should get a whole lot of noodles. Good or bad, a serving of noodles upon presentation must give you pause, "Can I eat all that?" Mee's noodles tasted great, but there weren't enough of them. Spare no expense (at least for a dollar or two more) and have the noodles fall over the side of the plate.

One virtue of this modest portion of Singapore chow fun was that it left room and incentive to continue eating. So, I walked over to Gotham West Market, 600 11th Avenue (45th Street), a location that once would have been approached on foot only by a New Yorker with a rap sheet. Today, with glossy high-rise residences on almost every corner of this neighborhood, Gotham West has created a food court of eight or nine joints serving variously Mexican food, ramen, tapas, BBQ, sushi, pub food, coffee and more than 100 beers, a good excuse for a song. 

My destination was ice cream, Ample Hills Creamery, a Brooklyn-based operation that mainly provides ice cream to better restaurants, while maintaining a few of its own stands, including one at Gotham West. This was no museum; there was no conceptual piece about the gestalt of ice cream, no contemplation of Eskimo Pie as the cultural expropriation of indigenous peoples' cuisine.

Zagat's has rated Ample Hills best in New York and my limited experience today does not conflict with that determination. I had two scoops in a medium-sized cup for $4.95, a reasonable price these days among the ice cream artisans. From the 12 flavors on hand, I chose Salted Crack[er] Caramel, salted caramel ice cream, with saltines covered in butter, sugar and chocolate (strongly resembling chocolate-covered graham crackers), and Chocolate Milk & Cookies, the most cookie-laden cookies and cream ice cream that I have ever had. Both flavors went to the head of the class.

Thursday, August 4, 2016
Yesterday, I ventured slightly more than one mile from home for lunch, with rewarding results. Today, I drove over 90 miles to Stone Ridge, New York, a hamlet north of Poughkeepsie, in order to have lunch with Susan Gotthelf, my niece, and Emma, her 11-year old daughter, a trip that satisfied more than just my appetite. They are here from Buenos Aires, where Susan has lived for 25 years, visiting her mother. One of Emma's brothers is a college student in California and the other is entering his senior year of high school in Argentina. Mother and daughter, however, are embarking on their own exciting adventure, moving to Shanghai, where Susan will become head librarian of an international high school.

They leave in less than two weeks and will undoubtedly face dramatic contrasts in the way of life in the two countries. After brief visits to both countries, I might characterize (caricature?) Argentines as casually indifferent to efficiency while Chinese manically pursue it in an often clumsy fashion.

By the way, we ate at Lekker's 209, 3928 Main Street, Stone Ridge, a comfortable café that does its own baking and makes its own soda and ice cream. I had one of the day's special sandwiches, shredded duck and melted brie on thick, toasted slices of country white bread. Commendable.

As to the West Coast Art Patron Gotthelfs, I have only encountered a full voice mailbox when trying to communicate with them. I may resort to a real letter.

Friday, August 5, 2016
The Boyz Club met today at Gazala's Place, 709 9th Avenue, a Druze restaurant recommended by Rob T.  Recollecting the excellent meal that I had at Elkheir Druze Cuisine in Haifa in late June, I was eager to try the local version. Gazala's, named for chef/owner Gazala Halabi, is a small, narrow joint with no money wasted on decor. Constantine, the young Russian waiter, was very helpful, although the menu on the whole was typically Middle Eastern. 

We shared a plate of cold and hot appetizers -- hummus, falafel, stuffed grapes leaves, meat cigars, tahini, lebanee (whipped goat cheese), taboule, and babaganoush, with large rounds of a crêpe-like bread. Then, we shared three small "pies," flattened pitas topped with herbs (mankosha), ground meat, and cheese. Lunch came to $15 each, a fair amount we agreed for very good food.

We Americans are involved in a major political campaign and are finding ourselves distressed at times by the quality of the rhetoric and appeals being made.  However, we should not forget that others are facing important elections and we might learn from how they approach their voters.  I am thinking specifically of the upcoming local and municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where the incumbent Palestine Liberation Organization a/k/a Fatah is trying to hold off Hamas, the Islamic militant group.  As reported in the New York Times, Fatah claimed "one of its main achievements as having 'killed 11,000 Israelis.'" http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/05/world/middleeast/fatah-makes-incendiary-facebook-claim-of-killing-11000-israelis.html?ref=world&_r=0

Poor DT almost sounds sane by comparison.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Is Michelle A Slovenian Name?

Monday, July 25, 2016What a sense of humor displayed by the editors of the travel section of the New York Times this weekend.  A description of a new hotel in Rome with rooms starting at 400€ (about $441) informs us that the central railway station "is a 20-minute bus ride away."  I imagine that even if I did not arrive in Rome in a private railway car, it is unlikely that I would travel to my 400€ hotel room by bus.

From biblical times, we have enjoyed tales of David against Goliath.  Here's an example of some nerdy scientists uncovering massive fraud by a highly respected multinational company (Naziism aside). 
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/25/business/vw-wvu-diesel-volkswagen-west-virginia.html?_r=1

Americans seem to cherish the image of the underdog, the Davids, so much so that we do little to help them, keeping them as underdogs.  We allow the big guys to become bigger and bigger and hobble the monitors, regulators and enforcers of reasonable public policy. 

While the voices of business laud competition and herald its role in our economy, they go to great lengths to shield themselves from it in practice. Corporate sponsors flock to Goliath vs. Goliath at the Super Bowl or the World Series, but seek to emasculate Davids in their own marketplace.

We met Arthur & Lyn Dobrin (my friendship with him in its seventh decade) for dinner at Rajdhani Indian Restaurant, 206-08 Hillside Avenue, Queens Village, somewhat of a compromise location between their home in Nassau County and the Palazzo di Gotthelf, towering over Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan.  It turned out to be a very good choice.
  
We started with fish pakora (deep-fried little fingers of a white fish, $9.95), vegetable samosa ($3.95) and vegetable samosa (gratis, usually $4). Arthur and I shared chicken kadai (spicy, boneless white meat chicken stir-fried with ginger, coriander, bell pepper and onions, $12.95) and goat biryani (marinated meat, slow-cooked with rice, $13.95).  Les femmes shared palak chana (spinach and spiced chick peas, $11.95).  Naan, raita and mango chutney filled in whatever gaps remained. Rajdhani deserves a visit if you wander far off the beaten path.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016
I skipped Michelle Obama's speech to the Democratic National Convention last night, because I know that I'll hear it again.

Tom Adcock, Stony Brook Steve and I had lunch at Mee Noodle Shop, 795 Ninth Avenue, sister to the joint at the corner of Second Avenue and 49th Street, which I patronized for years when I lived as a wretchedly lonely bachelor.  My first visit to the West Side version was thoroughly satisfying, as we all agreed.  

Mee takes its role as a noodle shop seriously, offering 8 different noodles as the base for dishes: spinach noodle, Mandarin noodle (linguine), lo mein, thin Cantonese noodle, flat Cantonese noodle, hand-pulled noodle, mee fun and chow fun. Without multiplying by eight, the menu lists about 300 dishes, an extraordinary number. Additionally, there are 78 lunch specials, with a choice of soup or egg roll, and white, brown or fried rice.  Even facing this mass of alternatives, almost everything on the menu was familiar or recognizable, seemingly the concatenation of every Cantonese Chinese menu that you have ever seen.

We shared some of our favorite items, cold noodles with sesame sauce ($6.50 large order), pork egg foo young ($10.75 three pieces) and moo shu pork ($10.15 with 2 pancakes, plus $2 for 4 extra pancakes).  This filled up three ganze fressers. Mee may prove to be a credible alternative to Wo Hop, if tragically you can't or won't travel to Chinatown.

I left my two companions and headed to CitiField for an extremely rare event -- a single admission baseball doubleheader. Somewhat to my own surprise, I sat through both games from about 4:10 through 10:40, Mets vs. Cardinals, split decision. My seat was in the shade and high enough up so that a breeze kept me from drowning in perspiration.  Good friend Rob T. scurried from work in time to keep me company for about half the happenings.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Thanks to that eminent historian Bill O'Reilly, author of The Day Pinocchio Died, and other probing page-turners, for qualifying Michelle Obama's racially divisive claim that the White House was built by slave labor.  Bill, fair and balanced, informed us that "Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government."  No guilt.

Thursday, July 28, 2016 
Since it was 38 ½ hours since I last attended a Mets game in person, I hied off to CitiField in the company of the sagacious David Goldfarb for an afternoon game.  We had excellent seats, centered, with an unobstructed view of the entire field. However, on this 93 degree day, the sun also had an unobstructed view of my every pale square inch. Therefore, before even the first pitch, we fled into one of the stadium's indoor lounges, comfortably air conditioned, where the obstructed view of the field requires viewing the game on a television set, just like at home.  Given the disappointing outcome, I swear that I won't ever go to another Mets game until Monday night.

Friday, July 29, 2016
Thanks to Professor David McMullen for the following piece, a 1903 film of the already formidable New York City skyline accompanied by Leadbelly, the legendary folksinger, a blending that had to have taken place decades later.  [NB -- May not load on your phone] 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcDH3Qe4nDQ

I want to give money this year to political campaigns.  I think it is important.  However, the frequent telephone calls soliciting for candidates, the national party, the state party, the congressional campaign committee, and the senatorial campaign committee present me with a dilemma, which none of the cheery people on the other end of line have been able to resolve.  How can I give money and be left alone?  The typical logic of fundraising in almost any cause is to keep going back to the well.  It's the same in sales.  It's cheaper and easier to do business with an existing customer than developing a new one.  

There should be a mechanism to contribute once without opening the floodgates to a continuing barrage of appeals.  Worse, aiding one candidate or charity often exposes you to collateral attacks by philosophically related causes.  Do-not-call lists do not apply to non-commercial operations, so one random act of generosity may introduce you to a wide world of neediness.  I only have so much compassion, idealism and dough to go around. 


Friday, July 22, 2016

One Pence Does Not Buy Much

Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Before we go down to Chinatown for lunch, let's take a look at popular culture.  Today's paper refers to "the running squabble between Ms. _____ and Mr. ____, a gripping but unfortunate beef that puts two of the leading pop stars of the day at loggerheads."  If I had not read the article, I would not have any idea how to fill in the blanks.  I don't know about you, but even when the names are revealed to me, I don't give a damn.  My exposure to their work has been fitful, probably a few minutes here and there on "Saturday Night Live."  That gave me no reason to further explore their work; I can only distinguish them by gender and race.  

Am I missing something?  At what point does being an old coot take over your critical faculties and lock you into a negative mindset about anything new or different?  Or, has experience given you an ability to fast forward through the riot of entertainment/cultural offerings available?  How much time and effort should we divert from enjoying Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis or Joan Baez to attend to the latest pop phenom?  And there's my petard, waiting to hoist me.  How did those greats emerge?  Do I have the responsibility to help uncover future greats?  Can I trust someone else to do it?

I went downtown to meet Ilana M., a former colleague from the court system, for lunch at aux Epices, 121 Baxter Street (April 16, 2013, August 22, 2014).  Behind the French name, aux Epices has a pan-Asian menu.  It's a small place with tables close together, close enough to encourage the two women next to us to ask us we recommend what to eat and where to shop nearby.

I ordered three "small plates," crispy anise duck rolls (3 four-inch cylinders, $6), Hijiki fish dumplings (5 boiled dumplings, $6), and a crab cake (served with a small salad, $8).  The crab cake was excellent, with a mustardy aioli sauce.  The other two dishes were well prepared, but nondescript.  The rolls did not taste of duck and dumplings did not taste of fish.  Their flavor came from the sauces accompanying them.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016
I'm still trying to work out the math when someone's third wife, speaking in her second language, only plagiarizes 7% of her speech.

In case you don't want to wait until November, the New York Times tells us that Hillary Clinton has a 75% chance of winning the presidential election. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/upshot/100000004525876.app.html?_r=0#state-by-state
Thursday, July 21, 2016
I was privileged today to have lunch with Joe F., my rabbi.  Joe isn't ordained or anything.  He's a successful lawyer, who has met a lot of people during his career, always honoring his commitments, keeping secrets and promises, and standing up for friends in need.  That's what I mean by a rabbi.  He is nimbly handling a serious medical problem now, as he has handled challenging personal issues for himself and others over the years, myself included.

We ate at Joanne Trattoria, 70 West 68th Street, the family enterprise for Lady Gaga's parents.  While I think that prices reflected a celebrity bonus of a buck or two, little else about the restaurant evoked show biz glitz.  The food was quite good.  We shared a Tuscan bean salad ($18.95), big enough for three hearty eaters.  I had an oven-baked frittata ($19.95), with mushrooms, spinach, mozzarella and hot Italian sausage, chosen from a long list of ingredients.  This was one of four breakfast items served at lunchtime Wednesday through Sunday, in addition to the fairly conventional Italian menu.  No one sang.  

Friday, July 22, 2016
In these stressful days, you sometimes come across some cheerful information.  In this case, it is the high density of libraries in the Czech Republic, about 10 times per capita more than the USA. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/world/what-in-the-world/why-libraries-are-everywhere-in-the-czech-republic.html?_r=0

If you don't want to take the trouble to read the article, at least enjoy the photograph that accompanied it, a little bit of heaven in my eyes.


Since Irwin P., another CCNY grad, was willing to venture forth in the 90+ degree heat, I joined him for lunch at Wa Jeal Sichuan Chili House, 1588 Second Avenue.  Its good reputation attracted me, even though it is far removed from my cherished Chinatown.  The restaurant is not very big, about 20 two tops in different arrangements.  It is decorated in tasteful Chinese restaurant style.  Service was attentive, although only two other tables needed to be attended to while we were there. 

Wa Jeal's regular menu shows prices befitting its Upper East location, but we made a wise and strategic choice by sticking to the lunch menu.  It offers 38 dishes mostly at $8.95, a few at $10.95, soup and rice included.  We ordered 3 lunches to provide variety -- spicy eggplant, chicken with mushrooms and beef chow fun (all $8.95).  We accepted the waitress's offer to substitute spring rolls for the hot soup.  All the dishes were good and generously proportioned for lunch specials.   However, the spicy eggplant was not particularly spicy hot.   The big glass of water that I kept immediately at hand, prompted by the restaurant's name, proved unnecessary.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Equal Time

Monday, July 11, 2016
This weekend, I did what many people might consider impossible, I purchased a smart TV.  Not that my spending money was inconceivable, but rather the near-oxymoronic idea of a "smart TV."  A device gains this label if it adds Internet and video streaming services, such as Netflix, to the basic television system.  I made the purchase, with the able assistance of Mossad Moshe, in order to provide a better picture when I retreat into the den/music room/guest room/study/computer room/library to follow the fortunes of the New York Mets and the New York Rangers. However, I have already come to appreciate having unfettered access to John Oliver, among others, on YouTube. It amounts to one less remote control to fumble with and a single source for all my visual delight, interpersonal activities aside.

I had lunch today with Marjory Fields, retired New York State Supreme Court justice, the person who gave me my first job in the court system, may she be forever blessed.  She retired ten years early to work on domestic violence policy issues that could not be addressed adequately from the bench.  These days, she is as likely to appear at a conference in Tokyo as at a hearing in the Bronx.

We went to Land, Thai Kitchen, 450 Amsterdam Avenue, a long, narrow space, with 10 two-tops inside and another 4 on the sidewalk.  Marjory ordered the lunch special, one of 8 first courses and one of 10 second courses, for $9, choosing green papaya salad and Wok Vegetable Medley with Tofu (but asking them to skip the tofu), a reasonable amount of food for the money.  I was hungry, so I ordered full size portions, satay chicken ($9) and Pad See Ew with Beef ($11).  The latter was a very well prepared Thai version of beef chow fun, broad noodles, in a rich, dark soy sauce.  The satay though was a disappointment, three paper thin rectangular strips of white meat chicken, about 5 inches by 1 inch, accompanied by peanut sauce.  Peanut sauce is always good, like drawn butter with seafood, hot fudge with ice cream or honey mustard with fried chicken, but it didn't make the dish worth more than half the price.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016
I am reading When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson, a book that I should have read 10 years ago when first published.  It's a book that should have been written 50 years ago before the sophistry of the claims of reverse discrimination took hold.  Every paragraph seems to identify policies overtly legislated or administered to disadvantage black Americans, forgetting, if at all possible, legally mandated segregation.  For instance, New Deal wages and hours laws specifically excluded farmworkers and domestics from coverage, categories holding more than a majority of black workers at the time.  Only in 1954, a Republican administration opened the rolls.  Benefits under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Federal Housing Authority, Aid to Dependent Children and the GI Bill, among other programs, were administered locally, without any attempt to avoid disparate racial treatment.   This, of course, was responsive to the critical role of southerners in the Democratic Party.  Ironically, many black men were kept out of harm's way by bigoted local draft boards during World War II, but thereby denied the educational and economic advantages of military service.

Unlike the current Chief Justice of the United States and other newly-minted egalitarians, Katznelson recognizes that generations of economic, political, educational and social repression continue to make a difference.  We are still far removed from leveling the playing field that our white predecessors so effectively tilted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2106
Stony Brook Steve met me for lunch at Bonmi, Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bowls, 150 West 62nd Street, a Frenchified name for Banh Mi, the Vietnamese national sandwich.  It's a bright, clean, airy place, just down the block from several units of Fordham University and across the street from Lincoln Center.  It might be any fast food joint and we agreed that it's unlikely to draw a pre-opera crowd because of its casual seating arrangements (high tables, low tables, a ledge) and ordering procedure.  Also, Steve observed that the layout of Lincoln Center brings almost all foot traffic in through Broadway or West 65th Street, avoiding the public housing project on Amsterdam Avenue, the western boundary of Lincoln Center.  Only those who found cheap parking south and west of the complex are likely to come down West 62nd Street on their way to a performance. 

You go up to Bonmi's counter, pick a base -- sandwich, rice bowl, noodle bowl, salad greens -- then a filling -- chicken, pork, beef, tofu -- and, finally, a sauce -- lemongrass, five spice, BBQ, chili garlic or red curry.  The filling determines the price, $8 to $10.50.  I splurged on the "18 Hour Beef" with red curry on a baguette, dressed with pickled onions, shredded carrots, and cilantro ($10.50).  The shredded beef sandwich was very good and very spicy.  Unfortunately, it was about twice the price of a downtown banh mi, but, on the other hand, we weren't downtown.  Bonmi's pricing reflected the expensive real estate on which it sat.   And, if you are heading to Lincoln Center, it offers an interesting, low cost alternative to the array of restaurants in the immediate vicinity equipped waiters and tablecloths and liquor and menus, as long as you can find it.
       
Friday, July 15, 2016
The fabled Four Seasons, 99 East 52nd Street, founded in 1959, closes tomorrow.  I first entered the Four Seasons in 1980, shortly after starting work as a management consultant at the Park Avenue headquarters of the massive international accounting firm Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., since poetically renamed KPMG.  I soon benefitted from the firm's custom of taking new employees to lunch and quickly joined a group of marauders who constantly scouted the cubicles filling the 35th floor for new faces to bring to table. 

Partners of the firm regularly used their expense accounts at the tony restaurants found around us in the East 50s, the Le's and the La's, as I used to characterize them -- La Caravelle, La Grenouille, La Côte Basque and Lello's (a personal favorite although it did not properly have an article and a noun). We did our best to follow in the footsteps of our betters in spending the firm's money and closest to our office and best of all to my mind was the Four Seasons. While the other joints flashed wealth and glamour, the Four Seasons reeked of power and influence.

The food was consistently good; I've never had better duck in China, Chinatown or France. The markup on wine was less outrageous than most other places. The setting was elegant; the decor, changed four times a year, couldn't be more tasteful. But, what really grabbed me was the level of haute equality at which it operated. Even if your old school tie was only Stuyvesant High School, as long as you (male) wore a jacket and tie, you were treated professionally and efficiently. No smarmy gestures of familiarity; no frosty postures of formality. When Orson Welles sat at the next table, service at my table proceeded respectfully and evenly.

I came to appreciate the total experience at the Four Seasons enough that I would periodically spend my own money there.  I hope that you also had at least one afternoon or evening there, allowing yourself to enjoy, even briefly, how good life can be.