Friday, April 29, 2016

Let My People Eat Again

Monday, April 25, 2016
I wasn't surprised, but I still was delighted by the seder meals that Aunt Judi served us Friday night (17 people) and Saturday night (27 people).  As always, I ignored the hard-boiled egg soup, an aberration that began the meals.  (Just serve hard-boiled eggs as we did in Brooklyn.)  However, I experienced rapture almost immediately when the deep-fried gefilte fish came out.  I have to confess that I have been attributing this marvelous creation to Aunt Judi for years, even though she freely acknowledges that, unlike everything else, it was an outside purchase.  It doesn't matter.  She will always be my deep-fried gefilte fish queen.

After two pieces of fish each night, I moved into the heart of the meal, but I have to explain something first.  Kugel (coo-gull) is a baked pudding or casserole, traditionally made from egg noodles (lukshen) or potatoes, however Aunt Judi pushes the boundaries of kugeldom to new limits.   

Friday night:
Beef brisket cooked with a mixture of cranberry sauce, onion soup mix and beef bullion; herb-marinated chicken breasts; cabbage salad with red peppers, scallions and candied almonds; vegetable kishka; apple kugel muffins; roasted vegetables (butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, onions, red peppers, celery).  Chocolate mousse cake; chocolate fudge cookies; zebra cookies; almond drops; sorbet; fresh fruit.

Saturday night:
Aunt Judi's famous sweet and sour meatballs; chicken Marbella (see "The Silver Palate Cookbook"); Israeli couscous; vegetable kugel; mushroom kugel; cabbage kugel; health salad (I think that means no mayonnaise); cucumber salad; cranberry pineapple relish.  Brownies; frozen strawberry mousse; chocolate chip mandelbrot; almond chocolate chip drop cookies; fresh fruit.

After this head start, 40 years in the desert is no problem.
I skipped an important stage in human development.  I was never a parent.  I went from being a man-about-town, gourmand, free spirit directly to being a grandfather without experiencing that vital, often messy, challenging role as parent.  I was thinking about this Sunday morning when I took my two highly-energetic grandsons (visiting for Passover) to the playground next door for a couple of hours to allow their parents some peace and quiet.  There were other children there, mostly toddlers, 2 or 3 years old, much younger than my boys.  Parents, often two at a time, hovered around their kids.

Which brings me to San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured by a married couple, he an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, she a Pakistani-born lawful permanent resident.  For exact reasons that remain unknown, the couple chose to pursue jihad at a local government facility, where the husband was employed.  They left behind a six-month old daughter.  

It's possible that the couple thought that they could get away safely, although there seems to be no evidence of a thought-out escape plan.  So, I sat in the playground watching kids and their parents and wondering how could the couple avoid the gravitational pull of their child, dependent on them, staring at them with adoration, seeking comfort in their arms, and instead pursue an inevitable path to suicide.  Could it be that a six-month old child, not able to run around or communicate clearly, had not yet registered a presence with her parents, or had the parents found a set of values so potent that they overrode seemingly universal human instincts? 

How to save $161.
1) Buy ticket to game 6 of New York Rangers first round of Stanley Cup playoffs.
2) Watch New York Rangers lose game 5 and exit first round of Stanley Cup playoffs.
3) Return ticket.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Let's get great again, but just when was that?  Both Republicans and Democrats seem to like 2000.  Of course, that was when Hillary Clinton was last in the White House.

Grandpa Alan's Career Advice:  
Go to law school and move to Minnesota.

Prince, the musical star who died last week in Minnesota, apparently died without a will (intestate -- you might as well start learning the lingo).  He was divorced, with no children or surviving parents.  He had one sister, three half-brothers and two half-sisters.  The size of his estate is unknown at present, but is likely to be in the hundreds of millions and growing rapidly as his fans have rushed to buy his music after his death.  Besides physical property, Prince owned a copyright to a large inventory of music. 

Minnesota law applies, as the place of death (that will be on the exam).  But, if you imagine that six adults will come to an easy agreement on the disposition of this huge estate and future revenues, you don't need a lawyer, you need a doctor -- a psychiatrist.  I think that there won't be an unemployed lawyer in Minnesota for decades as each of the six relatives, and maybe more to emerge, go to court to express their unique position in Prince's esteem and the tender loving care they provided him in life, warranting more than an ordinary division of the spoils.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Still Hungry After All These Years

Monday, April 18, 2016
The business section in the Sunday New York Times always contains a Q&A column on work issues, office politics, employment options, performance standards, and the like.  A question appeared yesterday that stirred up some memories for me.

A teacher (gender unspecified) just won a teacher-of-the-year award, in a position that the teacher "loves," although involving a long commute.  Another school, very close by, that previously attracted the teacher, is offering a lateral position.  "[M]y biggest concern is about leaving the only job I’ve had, and people to whom I feel a lot of loyalty, right after being given such an honor."   

Well, once upon a time, when Grandpa Alan was in the computer business, he received an award as the technical manager of the year for leading a group of about 30 programmers and business analysts, the largest office in the country among 20 locations.  I received the award at the company's annual convention of over-quota salespeople, the only technical person present.  Two weeks later, I was fired.  That's management's view of loyalty for you.

On the way to lunch today, I saw lines out on the street waiting to get into two joints right around the corner from each other.  Levain Bakery, 167 West 74th Street, is known for its extraordinary chocolate chip cookies, almost the size of a Spaldeen, packed with chocolate chips in a tiny amount of flour held together with butter.  They ain't cheap; one cookie is $4, but it can last for two sittings.  People have to stand in the street to get into Levain because it is tiny, basically a counter to order and then out the door.  

Sweetgreen, 311 Amsterdam Avenue, on the other hand, is a large joint, three storefronts wide, at a jinxed location that has seen one failed operation annually throughout this decade.  It is part of a national chain.  It seems to be the place to go to get a bowl of "organic quinoa + farro, swiss chard, pea shoots, roasted mushrooms, red onion, roasted tofu, spicy sunflower seeds, miso sesame ginger dressing."  Or, maybe the people waiting outside thought that it was a side entrance to Levain.

I plowed ahead to the Meatball Shop, 447 Amsterdam Avenue, now with 5 locations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.  It is two storefronts wide, but not particularly deep.  Tin covers the very high ceiling and subway tiles are on most of the vertical surfaces.  The flooring is weathered planks, or a reasonable facsimile.  
I liked the place right away because it is really the meatball shop, focusing on meatballs, without any cutesy diversions.  The menu is built around a choice of meatballs -- beef, pork, chicken, veggie, or lamb (today's special) -- and a choice of sauces -- classic tomato, spicy meat, mushroom gravy, parmesan cream, and pesto -- served up as platters or sandwiches.  I ordered sliders ($3.50), beef with spicy meat, chicken with mushroom gravy, and lamb with pesto. Each meatball was about 1 1/4" inch round, and just fit on a bun that did not dissolve until the second bite.  The flavors of each were distinct and palatable.  

While I was satisfied with the amount (and quality) of food, I noted abstemiously that they offered homemade ice cream sandwiches, assembled to order ($6).  A choice of four or five cookies baked in house hold four or five ice cream flavors also made on the premises, certainly to be enjoyed at a future date.  

I am not an American exceptionalist in many regards, but I believe that professional sports in America, with all of its flaws, generally operate more honestly and transparently than foreign flavors.  Just look at the criminal charges involving international soccer, with many of its most prominent leaders on the way to jail, and the frequent charges of game fixing.  However, one crack in the integrity of American sports is about to be imported from abroad -- advertising on uniforms.  The National Basketball Association has announced that 2.5 x 2.5 inch patches for commercial enterprises will be permitted in the 2017-18 season for a supposed three-year trial program.

It is estimated that this will bring the team owners $100 million in additional revenue a year, which will probably not influence their decision to continue or expand the program after the trial period.  Okay, get off the floor. I was only kidding.

April 20, 2016
I labeled this opus Heaven on Earth when I began it in January 2010, because I viewed Chinatown as the functional equivalent for New York Jews of heaven for Islamic martyrs.  See my introduction.

I was reminded today how appropriate this appellation is when I returned to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, with the Boyz Club.  I don't think that I took Wo Hop for granted when I ate there three times a month or more while I was still working, but entering this temple of culinary delights felt like a pilgrimage to a holy site.  

We enjoyed fried wontons, beef chow fun, spicy eggplant, shrimp fried rice, beef with scallions and   chicken with black bean sauce at a cost of $18 each, generous gratuity included.  While the conversation focused on the presidential campaign, evoking differences in preferred candidates, the food generated a sense of euphoria that furthered our fraternal bond.

Thursday, April 21, 2106
Personally, I would rather share a bathroom with a transgender person than with Ted Cruz.

Friday, April 22, 2016
While I consider myself well versed in American politics and history, I admit to having little understanding of economics as a field of study, an academic discipline.  My checkbook is balanced; I have created and followed budgets.  But, the work of the Federal Reserve and the World Bank, for instance, are mysteries to me.  Still, I have some simple questions about the current state of American economic policy.  What lesson may we learn from the Eisenhower administration's massive public works program -- the interstate highway system?  How was New York City able to operate a world class higher education network for over one hundred years without charging tuition?  Maybe there are elements of a great America to return to.

For the last six years until I retired, I ate lunch in Chinatown about 4 out of every 5 workdays.  To the surprise of some, I never got tired of this.  Now that I operate out of the Palazzo di Gotthelf, proximity does not favor me, so a trip to Chinatown, as on this past Wednesday, is a special treat.  Of course, even staying close to home does not eliminate the need to have lunch, or my desire to enjoy it.  El Mitote Torteria & Cantinita, 208 Columbus Avenue, is a relatively new Mexican restaurant that seems to be thriving.  It's a small space that fits in a lot of people.  There are 4 high tables with 6 stools at each, 6 two tops and a counter with 10 stools.  With the fair weather that we are experiencing, several tables are set out on the sidewalk.  Service was friendly and efficient, even with most seats occupied.

The menu is simple, but offers a comprehensive assortment of casual Mexican dishes -- burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tostadas.  I ordered a chorizo mollete, an open-faced sandwich with chopped tomato, refried beans and melted cheese on top, a nice concoction.  El Motite (an Aztec dance) serves beer, wine and tequila, but, since it was lunchtime, I only asked for a Diet Coke, which they don't have.

Tonight, we begin the historic escape from Egypt and the forty-year trek across the Sinai Desert.  As in the past, we are privileged to attend the seders hosted by Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu.  And, as always, Aunt Judi's kitchen magic makes the journey more than tolerable.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

New York Values

Monday, April 11, 2016
When someone was once extolling the virtues of the Left Coast to Mark Kolber, they asked him, "What does New York have that we don't?"  He quickly replied "The Statue of Liberty."  My own chauvinistic approach to New York also treasures its abundance of memorable people, places and things.  However, I am happy to concede that New York has until now lacked something for decades -- incessant presidential campaign advertising.  

The last time a Republican presidential candidate won New York's popular vote was 1984.  Since then, the margins for the Democrat have been predictably healthy enough to have both parties avoid New York's expensive media market.  And, according to Crain's New York Business, "For the first time since modern White House primaries debuted in 1972, the state [of New York] is hosting competitive presidential races in both major parties this month."  The happy benefit of this has been the absence of annoying campaign ads, at least in the presidential campaigns.  While we have not been spared the stuff and nonsense of local candidates, I suggest that the exaggerations, idle promises, distortions and fabrications of national campaigns notably weaken our confidence in the state of the union.  

An interesting feature in today's paper highlights another distinction for New York, an especially surprising one -- longevity for its residents.

The article identifies several overall population trends, including the connections between wealth and geography on longevity.  Particularly, the "top 1 percent in income among American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent; for women, the gap is 10 years," and "[f]or poor Americans, the place they call home can be a matter of life or death."  However, New York City seems to have partly overcome these trends to the benefit of its residents.  Poor New York men live longer than any comparable group in the country, 79.5 years, while poor women (84.0 years) are second only to Miami.  By comparison, poor men in Gary, Indiana have an average lifespan of 74.2 years, and poor women in Las Vegas, Nevada have an average lifespan of 80.0 years, clearly trailing New York. 

The rich still do measurably better here than the poor.  In Manhattan, for instance, a rich person will live about 6 years longer than a poor person, yet "about 1.5 years smaller than the gap for the United States as a whole."   Given the notorious chasm between our haves and have-nots, does envy fuel the local will to live?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
My neighborhood in Brooklyn was composed of blue collar, pink collar and slightly-soiled white collar families.  Nearly 100% white, we were roughly divided between Eastern European Jews and Italian Americans, with no evident friction.  We lived side by side and sat next to each other in school.  There was no "West Side Story" in our neighborhood, but there were also no ecumenical functions or interfaith services to bring us together.

One tradition that did not emerge from this setting was an early exposure to Italian food.  If our family went out to eat, not often because of economic constraints, we usually headed for Wu Han's, a Chinese restaurant up one flight of stairs on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville, home to Murder Incorporated slightly more than a decade earlier.  At rarer intervals, we went to Lundy's, the gargantuan sea food emporium in Sheepshead Bay.  
There was an Italian restaurant two blocks from our house and I walked by it weekdays on my way to and from Hebrew school after the regular school day.  I remember the red neon sign in the window, PIZZERIA, an unfamiliar word that I mispronounced for years.  I thought that the first syllable rhymed with fizz.  No one that I knew ever entered this joint. I still have no idea what might have transpired behind its walls.

In any case, I only became familiar with pizza and Italian hero sandwiches in high school, a pattern that I've learned is common to other contemporary Jewish friends and relatives.  I've been doing my best to make up for that initial handicap.  

Therefore, today I went to Parm, 235 Columbus Avenue, the second iteration of a restaurant that started in Little Italy.  It occupies a large space, previously occupied by a deservedly failed pseudo-Jewish delicatessen.  Parm has a bar with 12 stools on the left of the front room, a retail counter on the right and its open kitchen beyond the retail counter.  I'm not sure how much of the decor was retained, but there is a nice old-fashioned feel to the tin ceiling and the mosaic tile floor.  However, the wallpaper seemed to have been borrowed from Ralph Kramden's Brooklyn apartment.

I had a "meatball parm" ($15), as they style it, on a six inch oblong roll, heavily coated with sesame seeds.  The bread was fresh, maybe too soft, just managing to contain the meatballs.  There was only a modest amount of sauce on the sandwich, a positive since it allowed you to hold the sandwich while eating, not having to resort to knife and fork to manage a drippy mess.  On the other hand, the sauce was a bit bland, needing a hit of garlic, oregano and rosemary.  

I also had mixed feelings about the Diet Coke that I ordered.  It came in a full can, cold, with a glass of ice and a lemon wedge . . .  for $3.  Now, there are far worse deals on soda around town, often no more than colored carbonated water.  But, $3 is still a tremendous markup, comparable to the price gouging on wine at too many "nice" restaurants.  Parm has a regular menu which I have not sampled, in addition to sandwiches, with moderate prices.  For instance, linguine vongole (clams) is $18 and chicken limone (half chicken in lemon sauce) is $24.  It seems worthy of future exploration.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016   
[Sigh of relief]  I went to my first Mets game of the season and they won.  

Baseball is the nominal focus of an article that I found provocative.  It was annoying and thus provocative.

It's an awful example of identity politics.  The author compares the percentage of black (African-American) baseball players, 8%, to their share of the population, 11%, and decides that baseball, therefore, "has lost its place in American culture."  He contends that this is based on baseball's disdain for "showboats," and how "baseball’s pool of young talent just doesn’t captivate fans like the stars of football and American sports . . . who, in some way, flouted the white, stoic traditions of American sports."  

The author wrestles with placing Latin baseball players, approximately 30% of major leaguers at present, into his binary racial perspective.  Yeah, there are a lot of them, but "baseball's media have mostly ignored them."  Even the best of them, he claims, "have had to go through humiliating acculturations to make them seem more American."  His only two examples, an unwelcome, though not insulting, nickname for a player who died in 1972, and a Latin superstar who "seemed to go through his entire career [1996-2011] without a single memorable interview or profile."  Really?  Memorable interviews of baseball players?     

To me, the preeminent tradition of American sports is winning and I believe, in my white, stoic fashion, that flashiness sometimes interferes with that goal.  That happened at the last Super Bowl, where the gifted, young quarterback seemed to give more thought to the outfits he wore off the field than his performance on the field.  In the author's eyes, the athlete might have been more culturally relevant than his grizzled, old opponent, but the young man went home a loser.  Yes, Cam Newton is black and Peyton Manning, the victor, white.  However, I am not ready to automatically award style points to any athlete solely on the basis of skin color.  I leave that to the author and other racists.

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Try and remember that "regular walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening may substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s."  

Friday, April 8, 2016

Same to You, Fella

Monday, April 4, 2016
"In reality, the anti-abortion movement is grounded on the idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and the only choice a woman should have is between abstinence and the possibility of imminent parenthood. It may be politically unwise to say that the sinner ought to pay, but she should at minimum have to carry an unwanted child to term."
Gail Collins, New York Times columnist. has an interesting feature on police body cameras, an update on the old saw that the camera never lies.
It shows how easily we may be misled by camera angles and perspectives even before software gimmickry is used to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.  It is best viewed on a computer, not a smartyphone.

From the ethnocentricity corner:

Tuesday, April, 5, 2016
I've lived at the intersection of Amsterdam Avenue & West 69th Street for almost 13 years, but, until last week I never approached Old John's Luncheonette, 148 West 67th Street, and only entered it today for the first time.  It looks very modest, befitting its location off the beaten path.  I thought that it would be a good spot to have a quiet rendezvous with Moshe the Mossad Secret Agent, away from celebrity spotters, roving reporters and snoops in general.  Well, it was not to be.  Old John's may have been unknown to me, but its 60 or so seats were almost all occupied during our visit.  It was not possible to exchange microfilms, pass weapons or distribute electronic eavesdropping gear in that crowded setting, even if we wanted to.  Instead, we ordered from the predictable luncheonette menu and discussed completely other-worldly philosophical issues.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2016
69 Bayard Restaurant, 69 Bayard Street, was a reasonable backup for Wo Hop when classic Chinatown Chinese food was your target.  If you were a claustrophobe, it allowed you to stay above ground with the front door steps away.  The food was not quite as good, but a buck cheaper here and there.  Finally, it had the distinction of having every vertical surface, and many of the horizontal surfaces as well, covered with dollar bills, mostly pictures of George Washington, but other currencies, too.  On June 28, 2011, I observed "in one small corner, currency from Bermuda, Brazil, Iceland, Cuba, Fiji, Korea, Trinidad & Tobago, and Colombia pasted on the wall." 

All of this is past tense, because a few weeks ago 69 Bayard closed, the walls stripped, new tables and chairs installed, and WK Restaurant emerged.  I was fortunate to have Stony Brook Steve accompany me to the new establishment today.  The waiters and the menu look very similar to the old regime, prices a little higher, but there was new management along with the new name.  No one was able to tell me where the old money went, which, even as a retired lawyer, got me thinking about the tax treatment of these funds.  Were they capital gains or ordinary income?  Steve sagaciously observed that the government will almost certainly not be given the opportunity to ponder this issue.

We had beef chow fun ($7.25) and honey crisp chicken ($10.50) and some brown rice.  Sorry to say that the food was mediocre, although the company was excellent.  Stick to Wo Hop for your echte Chinatown experience.

Thursday, April 7, 2016
The Poloner children gathered for dinner tonight at etc. Steakhouse, 1509 Palisade Avenue, Teaneck, New Jersey.  Aside from the price differential, the difference between a New Jersey steakhouse and a New York City steakhouse seems to be the amount of jewelry worn by the customers.  In New Jersey, the women wear more jewelry than the men, in New York the opposite.

Thanks to Paul Hecht for sending along these Yiddish curses for Jewish Republicans, authored by Rabbi Aaron Spiegel:
  • May you sell everything and retire to Florida just as global warming makes it uninhabitable.
  • May you live to a hundred and twenty without Social Security or Medicare.
  • May you make a fortune, and lose it all in one of Sheldon Adelson’s casinos.
  • May you live to a ripe old age, and may the only people who come visit you be Mormon missionaries.
  • May your son be elected President, and may you have no idea what you did with his goddamn birth certificate.
  • May your grandchildren baptize you after you’re dead.
  • May your insurance company decide constipation is a pre-existing condition.
  • May you find yourself insisting to a roomful of skeptics that your great-grandmother was “legitimately” raped by Cossacks.
  • May you feast every day on chopped liver with onions, chicken soup with dumplings, baked carp with horseradish, braised meat with vegetable stew, latkes, and may every bite of it be contaminated with E. Coli, because the government gutted the E.P.A.
  • May you have a rare disease and need an operation that only one surgeon in the world, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is able to perform. And may he be unable to perform it because he doesn’t take your insurance. And may that Nobel Laureate be your son.
  • May the state of Arizona expand their definition of “suspected illegal immigrants” to “anyone who doesn’t hunt.”
  • May you be reunited in the world to come with your ancestors, who were all socialist garment workers.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Is That You, HAL?

Monday, March 28, 2016
Over the weekend, in a discussion, I said that in New York City today, in public, you cannot distinguish rich adults ages 21-50 from poor, with the exception of those people sitting on the sidewalk holding cardboard signs.  The trashy style of dress, bred of poverty, prison, and a faux posture of indifference, has been adopted at all economic levels.  A woman across the table disagreed, claiming that you can tell the difference between rich people's torn jeans and poor people's torn jeans.  In either case, they can expect me to offer needles and thread without inquiring of their financial condition. 

A new study suggests that when children move out of a troubled area they fare better in later life than economists once believed.  That is, they are more likely to be employed and earn more as adults.  Of course, government programs that effect the relocation of children and their families to less troubled surroundings are opposed by some who mistake the accident of birth for the unfolding of a divine plan. 

An article this weekend focusing on women's health has the title "We’re More Honest With Our Phones Than With Our Doctors."

Research has long established this seemingly strange behavior.  "[C]ompared to those who believed they were interacting with a human operator, participants who believed they were interacting with a computer reported lower fear of self-disclosure, lower impression management, displayed their sadness more intensely, and were rated by observers as more willing to disclose."

Clients doing banking also seem to show a preference for bits and bytes over blondes and brunettes, with or without a white coat.  In an American Banking Association survey, customers preferred ATMs, computers on the Internet, and mobile devices (PDAs, tablets, smartphones) to face-to-face transactions with bank tellers, 55% to 21%.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Paul H. forwarded this well-informed overview of ethnic eats in Central Queens.  While it is more than you can accomplish in one day, it offers a very good starting point for expanding your palate and your knowledge of New York geography.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The Boyz Club, that bunch of wild and crazy guys on Social Security, expanded its palate into Brooklyn today.  A favorable review drew us to Yaso Tang Bao, Shanghai Street Foods, 148 Lawrence Street.

It is an informal, hectic joint, where you order at a counter and wait for your number to be called.  The food appeared pretty quickly in spite of the heavy traffic at lunchtime.  Seating is at long, crude wooden tables with heavily lacquered surfaces.

We ordered soup buns ($5.35), pan-fried pork buns ($5.65), vegetable dumplings ($5.35), cold sesame noodles ($6.95), sticky rice dumplings ($5), and chicken sauerkraut spring rolls ($4).  They were all first rate, although the chicken sauerkraut spring rolls were a bit spare.  There were other noodle and rice dishes, and soups which deserve to be sampled on other occasions.  

The native Broooklynites among us were impressed by the changes to the downtown Brooklyn neighborhood, big box stores, hotels, small restaurants of almost every non-haut-cuisine, where, in our youth, we only knew government buildings.  Later, we either did not need the public services provided there, or were deterred by the reports of crime.  Now, we come for dumplings. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016
I accompanied Connie and David Goldfarb on a shiva call in Queens.  To make the best of the circumstances, we stopped for lunch at Ben's Best Kosher Delicatessen, 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park.  I've maintained that the name is an appropriate title for this place, and I believe that both Goldfarbs would now agree with me.

There was an added flavor to our corned beef, pastrami and brisket.  A group of twelve sat together, apparently celebrating the birthday of the very dried up, very old man sitting facing me with one empty table in between us.  As they all ordered and started eating, I noticed that the old man seemed to be shutting down, being gently deflated as if he could get any skinnier, his wan color fading further.   Some of his family members observed this as well and started imploring "Gramps" to wake up, snap out of it.  Someone called 911 and were told to stretch him out on the floor until EMS arrived.  

Two cops came first and put him down on some cardboard supplied by deli workers.  Ben's owner, who had been chatting with us, admitted that such scenes kept him out of medical school over 40 years ago and led him into his father's delicatessen business.  Now, 5 EMS personnel came in with oxygen and a gurney.  Several older women from the party hovered around and murmured their concern as the old man was wheeled out.  But, as a tribute to the human spirit, almost all the men kept their seats and ate their thick sandwiches.

Friday, April 1, 2016
Commuting is a term usually associated with suburbanites coming in and out of a central city.  New York covers a fair amount of territory, and, most significantly, is arrayed over 4 land masses, separated by water.  This directs most of us onto mass transit, rather than individual motor vehicles, but moving millions of us around takes some time.  A new study provides the data.

While residents of some neighborhoods commute to work nearly an hour each way where the nearest subway station is far away, the good news is that there are many New Yorkers who regularly walk or bicycle to work, another thing that makes New York so special.

The New York Times crossword puzzle is also special, but you don't have to be clutching the newspaper to enjoy it.  It is syndicated to other English language newspapers here and abroad, and it can be found on-line, although a one-time or subscription fee may be required.  Today, it would be worth it.  I won't be a spoiler, but it contains an eye-opening surprise.  Whether or not you're a solver, I still urge you to read about this particular puzzle and to get a surprise in the article itself.

Once you've read the article, you will appreciate what Tom Adcock wrote to me today after he read it: "I once created a meta message at the NY Law Journal, during the time I and some fellow agitators organized the editorial department as a Communications Workers of America local.  The company was doing all manner of anti-labor nastiness, and we faced a Republican-majority NLRB.  First letter of each sentence on a forgettable straight news article spelled out THIS PAPER SOON TO BE A FULL UNION SHOP."  

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Monday, March 21, 2016
A letter to the New York Times this weekend explains the writer's (and much of the public's) support of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump because of his exposure of "the primary tool that has allowed liberalism and secularism to control the debate for decades: political correctness."  I won't try to explore the causal connection asserted by the writer, but, rather, I challenge his understanding of the phrase itself, and I extend the challenge to the candidate and others who seem to have uncovered an infectious intellectual disease.

I won't rattle off a bunch of definitions, but, as you  may confirm, here is a representative one: "the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people."

In other words, it is not nice to call people niggers, kikes, spics, wops, micks, wetbacks, towel heads, retards, fags, bitches, bimbos, sluts, gimps, gooks, or chinks, at least where you might be overheard.  Within Mr. Trump's lifetime and my own, such language was commonplace in conversation, usually in settings where the referenced group or person was absent or vastly outnumbered.  While most of us learned at an early age the rhyme about sticks and stones, few of us would volunteer to be exposed to gratuitously offensive name calling.  Of course, a healthy, straight, white American male of Northern European origin has probably never been addressed in such a fashion and may be puzzled by the reactions of the rest of us.
I just can't find the reason to regret the absence of insulting language from public, if not private, discourse.  Does American greatness require some of us to marginalize and degrade others?

I find the legal issues surrounding the Hulk Hogan invasion of privacy action challenging.  What privacy is left to someone who has fashioned himself into a cartoon?  Closer to home, I feel particularly challenged by a quote about the case in today's paper.  "'Now that "everyone" has a "sex tape" — and everyone is at risk of having their sex tape published online,' the publication of celebrity sex tapes is less justified in the eyes of readers, said Max Read, a former editor of Gawker."  Guess who doesn't have a sex tape?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
When I was in England 2 months ago, I was not murdered, kidnapped, beaten, blackmailed, robbed or roughed up, nor did I act feloniously in any regard.  Therefore, I had no contact with any British police force, nor have I had on any previous visit.  However, if I am watching television and it's not a sporting event, it is likely that I am watching a British crime show, appearing on public television, BBC America or Netflix.  Only early "Law & Order" reruns, starring the late Jerry Ohrbach, appeal to me as much.  What I find particularly interesting, even though I suspect that it is unrealistic, is the preponderance of female detectives employed, to wit:
"The Fall"
"Happy Valley"
"Prime Suspect"
"Scott & Bailey"
"Above Suspicion"
"New Tricks"

Is this one area where stodgy British institutions have outpaced us?  Or, are they simply more politically correct?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016
The DT campaign for the Republican presidential nomination received a huge boost as Jeb! announced that he will be touring the country campaigning for Ted Cruz.

Thursday, March 24, 2016
In my six years eating lunch in Chinatown daily, I encountered every Asian cuisine with minor exceptions.   There are no Lao, Singaporean, or Cambodian restaurants in Chinatown.  The one joint in the area that claims to be Indonesian, along with Malaysian, shows little evidence of it on its menu.  While one Singaporean restaurant lasted a short time in Curry Hill, I never heard of a Lao place anywhere in Manhattan.  

The New York Times had a mixed review of a new Cambodian restaurant yesterday.

This is a regular restaurant, tables, waiters and the like.  On the other hand, Num Pang Sandwich Shop is a successful small chain of Cambodian restaurants, founded in this century.  I went to 28 East 12th Street, across the street from what had been its original location, until the building was torn down.  It's very small, about 10 feet wide and six feet from the front window to the counter.  Six stools are pressed against an L-shaped ledge; its very busyness is mostly takeout and delivery.

Num Pang offers 11 sandwiches, 5 salads, 3 rice bowls, 3 noodle bowls and 1 soup, all of which sound appetizing.   The sandwiches come on a 7" soft roll, unlike the crunchy baguettes used for a Vietnamese banh mi, with cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro and chili mayo.  These flavors somewhat hid the innate taste of the ginger barbecue brisket sandwich with pickled red cabbage ($9.75) that I ordered, but the hodgepodge was really good, primarily because the tender meat was in 1" thick chunks.  

Num Pang now has 8 locations, the nearest just over 1 mile away.  I'll be able to try more of its menu without much trouble, which may be the only thing about Cambodia that is untroubled.

On-line, the New York Times poses 13 questions to ask before getting married.  I think that it represents a very interesting test of compatibility, but should probably be applied retroactively with great caution.

Friday, March 25, 2016
Yesterday, a jury in San Diego held for the law school defendant being sued by a graduate who failed to get a job as an attorney after graduation.  She argued that the false employment statistics provided by the school lured her into enrolling and rolling up significant debt, ultimately to no avail.  This was the first time that such a case reached a jury; other actions, including one in New York involving New York Law School, were dismissed before trial.  I recall that, while the inaccuracy of the employment data in all instances was never disputed, judges and now a jury "concluded that law students opted for legal education at their own peril and were sophisticated enough to have known that employment as a lawyer was not guaranteed."

About six months after I graduated law school, it published employment statistics for my class that were patently phony.   I could rattle off the names of more unemployed graduates than the percentages indicated, myself included.  The placement director was marched off the premises a few months later.  

Fortunately, I found work, worked and retired.  Now I have time to run around delivering holiday packages for my synagogue  -- not Easter, Purim, one of those frequent Jewish celebrations of "They tried to kill us; they failed; let's eat."  I had the company of Simon G., one of my favorite college students.  After three hours hitting addresses on the Upper West Side, we had lunch at Richie's Burger Joint, 2665 Broadway (100-101 Streets), carved out of Schatzie Prime Meats, an old-time butcher shop.    

Richie's menu (service by Richie himself) is simple: hamburgers and a few other sandwiches, chicken wings in a variety of flavors, two salads, some side dishes, a few desserts.  I had the Prime Blend [Beef] Ground in House ($11) with cheddar cheese, a dollar extra, and fries ($4), which we shared.  The hamburger weighed about 1/2 pound, was cooked to the barely medium-rare that I requested, and came with fresh onion and tomato slices.  In these days of two digit hamburgers, the food was very good.  

Richie's was recommended by Melanie S. née L.  Her trimness would normally disqualify her as a source of food tips, but I have found her reliable in the past in spite of her ability to avoid the appearance of having ingested real food.  She is also a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, as is Simon, so I'll be true to my school.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Reason To Celebrate

Monday, March 14, 2014
The big weekend started slow, in fact, at first it didn't start.  The car service that I reserved to pick us up at 7:45 A.M. Friday to take us to Newark Airport, claimed at 7:55 to have never heard of me.  Fortunately, the Palazzo di Gotthelf sits athwart several major trade routes and we were able to get a taxicab to the airport, still arriving about one hour early for the posted boarding time.  However, as we were preparing to scurry on board, the airline announced that the foul weather in Northern California was substantially delaying in-bound flights, first 1 1/2 hours and then 2 3/4. So, our scheduled 6:30 P.M. P.S.T. dinner reservation with family and friends, based on a 2 P.M.arrival, became unachievable as we landed shortly after 4:30 P.M., had to pick up a rental car and drive from San Francisco's airport up to the Berkeley hills in a fairly constant downpour.   Fortunately, we reached someone already on the ground who was able to change our reservation, notify our fellow diners and, thereby, restore our frame of mind to a semblance of calm, cool and collected.  

This was not an ordinary vacation trip.  America's Loveliest Nephrologist was getting married at the Claremont Club & Spa, an elegant hotel and resort spread over the hillside not far from Cal-Berkeley, with almost all the guests coming from far afield.  Since a certain wife of mine was also functioning as mother of the bride, my egg-shell-walking exercises were being put to a full test, and, if I say so myself, the cracks that I produced were nearly microscopic.

The nasty weather not only delayed our flight, it caused a relocation of the planned wedding ceremony itself from the large open terrace of the Lawrence Hall of Science, which has an unobstructed view of the Bay and downtown San Francisco on the other side.  However, the bride and groom acted decisively earlier in the week, when the weather forecast bode ill (proving entirely accurate), and moved us indoors to the Claremont, where the reception was to be held in any case.  As disruptive as this was, the need to move people, places and things on short notice, tempers remained in check and crockery remained unhurled, at least as much as I could tell.

All else went superbly; I walked down the aisle and remained upright throughout the ceremony.  The bride was beautiful, the groom handsome.  My roommate was thrilled and delighted.  The two families, somewhat disparate in background, blended almost seamlessly.  Could you ask for anything more?

Most of the guests left the area today, but my still-young bride and I chose to detox for a couple of days.  One familiar couple also stayed over, so we four assumed conventional tourists roles and headed to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner at Scoma's, 1965 Al Scoma Way, set apart physically and qualitatively from the other fish restaurants in the area.  I've been going to Scoma's for 40 years, but I was still surprised that, on a Monday night, it was packed.  Accordingly, the food was first rate and the prices somewhat high.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
It seems that all the wedding guests have now returned home or proceeded to their next stop, but we were undaunted and headed into downtown San Francisco.  First stop, Gump's, 135 Post Street, a luxury retailer, founded in 1861, which may be approached as a museum.  It has beautiful jewelry, women's clothing, decorative items, and home furnishings.  If the rest of capitalism had such good taste, I might reconsider my politics.  Madame purchased a stunning black and gold jacket that you should invite us just to see.

For lunch, we went to E&O Kitchen & Bar, 314 Sutter Street, a large pan-Asian restaurant, not to be confused with anything in Chinatown.  It is deservedly popular and well-reputed.  I had lamb naan ($9), a little light on the lamb, and Tamarind & Hoisin Spare Ribs ($15), four ribs barely holding onto thick chunks of delicious meat.  My date had shiitake mushroom dumplings, which she pronounced excellent.  I did not reach across the table in order to save room for dinner with the recent bride and groom.

We four dined at A16 Rockridge, 5356 College Avenue, Oakland, named for a stretch of the autostrada in Southern Italy.  It is a large restaurant, featuring 40 wines by the glass (this is Northern California, after all), crowded, popular, giving over most of its menu to pizza, cooked in a wood-burning oven. Exactly one pasta dish and one version of gnocchi were offered.  I added prosciutto and anchovies to a conventional margherita pizza as a tribute to the world's cardiologists and salt miners.  The food was very good, but service was ragged, even below California casual.  Management comped our drinks and desserts as a result.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016
With the time difference, our flight home occupied the whole afternoon and evening.  Car service, prompted by a call before we got on the plane, was on time and efficient.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Learning of a vital element in the background of Merrick B. Garland, our next US Supreme Court justice, I was reminded of Calvin Trillin's response to the question at a book signing: Are you Jewish?  He replied, "Calvin Trillin is a very Jewish name in Kansas City."

Friday, March 18, 2016
I recall unpacking and opening the accumulated mail yesterday.  I don't think that I accomplished anything else.

Europe is preoccupied with a refugee crisis and the US focussed upon DT, allowing Israel a blessed few moments outside the scrutiny of zealous friends and foes.  I consider myself an assertive Zionist, who yet is often disappointed by recent Israeli policies.  My point of view resembles that found in the documentary movie "The Gatekeepers," interviews with six retired leaders of Israel's spy agencies, who, in spite of the nature of their work, are more dovish than the current regime.  Today's obituary of Meir Dagan, another retired director of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, quoted him tellingly: “How did it happen that the country, stronger by far than all the countries in the region, is incapable of carrying out a strategic move that will improve our situation?  The answer is simple: We have a leader who is fighting one campaign only, the campaign for his political survival.”

I also find myself dissenting from Open Table's latest list of best local Chinese restaurants.  While Open Table is a very handy web site for locating and booking restaurants, its reviews are somewhat unreliable, often a little too positive and forgiving.  

None cited are in Chinatown or Flushing; several are of the sort patronized by people otherwise distinguished by the cost of their part-time Manhattan residences.  

I expect to be back on the food trail next week when my biorhythms are restored to normal.