The daily New York Times crossword puzzle has been a vital part of my weekday lunches since 2002 when I got my first job with a judge. Lunch at the courthouse is usually 1 to 2 PM; I’ve heard that certain unions require this. One might expect a judge to set the courtroom hours, but the weight of authority easily shifts downward when a newly-seated judge attempts to make nice to the unionized courtroom staff.
I found immediately that I had to get out of the courthouse at lunchtime for two reasons, the more obvious one was the need to get away from the contentiousness of the morning session. However, even if the morning was mellow (usually because no lawyers appeared in court), my boss the judge always had a lot of work to do and could rarely spare the time to go out for lunch. In spite of the judge’s busyness, the judge, mistaking me for a good listener, felt the need to chat. Not idle chat, mind you, but judicial chat, legal chat. Today’s cases, yesterday’s cases, tomorrow’s cases, cases in the New York Law Journal, cases in the New York Times. I wouldn’t be bored; the judge was articulate, insightful, intelligent – the perfect companion for the other seven hours of the day that I was being paid for. Lunch was my time and I headed for the door everyday without hesitation.
Once on the street, alone in the Tribeca neighborhood, I had a hard time finding an appropriate joint with reasonable food, room to sit and linger and, in summer, effective airconditioning. The indigestion factor aside, my top choices were any of 3 Indian/Pakistani restaurants on Church Street or West Broadway near Chambers Street. While none of the three were particularly roomy, they met all my criteria except during the summer. Apparently, the owners/operators, to a person, missed the heat and humidity of their native lands. Even if the airconditioner hung over the front door was turned on and set to something above feeble, the door was left open in case Elijah was in the neighborhood. The result, hotter inside than outside and Alan on the way to find another joint.
The space and climate to linger were necessitated by the presence of the weekday New York Times crossword puzzle that I had carried from home. One of the compromises that America ’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I effected to insure a happy marriage is the allocation of the New York Times crossword puzzle. She gets Monday and Tuesday and I get Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The puzzles get harder during the week, so I might finish quickly on Wednesday, but, by Friday, I am spending the entire hour bent over the puzzle only to return to chambers leaving noticeable gaps on the page. I need the the time and comfort to work on the puzzle.
Moving from Tribeca to Chinatown has put my lunch dilemma to rest. There are so many restaurants in Chinatown, unlike Tribeca which has some very good places, but very few places overall to choose from. Most Chinatown restaurants are busy at lunchtime, but few are impenetrable. In the summer, unlike the Indian/Pakistani places, I've found that many Chinatown restaurants are reasonably cool. This might arise from China’s huge geographic spread where much of the country experiences real seasons, not just hot and hotter. So, it’s natural that during hot weather you'll find Chinese people saying, “Hey, how about some cold air in this place.” Also, Chinese waiters have no interest in kibbitzing when I work on the crossword puzzle.