Friday, September 14, 2012

The Passage of Time

Monday, September 10, 2012
My father Jack L. (Yaacov Leyb) Gotthelf was born 109 years ago today, probably in or around Zuromin or Biezun, Poland, towns roughly 70-75 miles northwest of Warsaw. His mother Yetta (Ita) came from a family called Lato, eventually Latter. As I have noted before, the Latter family is still a formidable presence in New Orleans and vicinity. Remarkably, there is a physical copy of my grandmother Gotthelf’s birth record of June 16, 1878, born in Zuromin to Mordka Lato, a tailor, and his wife Marya. On the other hand, I have not found any physical record of my father’s birth, although there never seemed to be a question about his birthdate.

With the weather so nice, temperature in the low 70s, bright blue skies, a walk to find a new restaurant was warranted. However, the food and beverage industry did not cooperate, because after walking almost 3/4 miles, I found nothing new. But, I discovered something else new and quite surprising. At 5 Allen Street, the name for First Avenue this far downtown, between Division Street and Canal Street, a new Howard Johnson’s hotel is about to open, an entirely new building. That’s just three short blocks from where my mother was born almost 103 years ago, in a less than fashionable neighborhood that drew few tourists. There must have been boarding houses and people taking in boarders back then, but certainly not hotels.

Howard Johnson’s emerged after my mother, as a drugstore in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1925. Its soda fountain proved popular and led to a chain of beachfront concession stands, featuring soda, hot dogs and ice cream, what I call a balanced diet. Restaurants followed up and down East Coast highways, but the first motel did not open until in 1954, leading, in my mind, to the debasement of the brand. Even today struggling to reformulate its identity in hotels and motels, Howard Johnson’s now operates only two restaurants, in Lake Placid, New York, and Bangor, Maine. Inevitably, Howard Johnson’s destroyed its great claim to fame (forget the stupid orange roof), its 28 ice cream flavors, which predated Baskin-Robbins by decades. And, here they are now: Banana, Black Raspberry, Burgundy Cherry, Butter Pecan, Buttercrunch, Butterscotch, Caramel Fudge, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Coffee, Frozen Pudding, Fruit Salad, Fudge Ripple, Lemon Stick, Macaroon, Maple Walnut, Mocha Chip, Orange-Pineapple, Peach, Peanut Brittle, Pecan Brittle, Peppermint Stick, Pineapple, Pistachio, Strawberry, Strawberry Ripple and Vanilla. I was particularly fond of Orange-Pineapple, although, as a young man, I seemed to have lacked the necessary powers of concentration to take me through the entire repertoire. Therefore, I have no personal recollection of Frozen Pudding or Pecan Brittle, I’m sad to say.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
The weather was fine again, but as soon as I walked outside on this haunted day I was sorry that I had not arranged to have company at lunch. Nevertheless, I set about looking for a new restaurant again and again had no success. Having headed north instead of east, I went into Canton Kitchen, 171 Hester Street, where I had, but did not remember, a barely passable meal before (May 20, 2010). This time, things were quite different. I ordered Singapore chow fun ($7.50), not on the menu per se, but easily arrived at when I pointed to listings for beef chow fun and Singapore chow mei fun. The large portion was near perfect, restoring my regard for Singapore chow fun as a hallmark of Chinese cuisine. The broad noodles were stir-fried with green pepper, red pepper, hot pepper (maybe jalapeño), egg, shrimp, two kinds of meat, green onion, yellow onion, and bean sprouts, spiced with curry powder that had some bite to it. My only quibble was too much green pepper, which were easily pushed aside.

Just as I was cleaning my plate except for the green peppers, about 20 Asian teenagers walked into the restaurant. After most of them occupied 2 empty round tables, I invited the 4 leftovers to sit with me. These kids, early college it seems, were from China and Japan, visiting the USA, first stop New York. I never learned the purpose of the trip, but we chatted for several minutes. All 4 had some facility with English, and one young woman was particularly adept. I explained that New York had 3 Chinatowns, but Japanese people tended to live in the suburbs. I told them how to see a baseball game tonight cheap in a very attractive stadium with a very weak team. The most important information they sought from me was how and how much to tip in a restaurant. I told them about doubling the NYC sales tax, which appeared on my bill from Canton Village in a timely fashion.

In sum, this lunch turned out to be special, ending with the kids including me in a group photograph. I could not have planned it better.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
I’m sorry Mitt. I’ve underappreciated you. Until now, I thought that you began your fight to preserve the security of the USA in la guerre du Viêt Nam only in France from 1966 to 1968. According to today’s New York Times, your battle against the international Communist conspiracy began before that, waged on the campus of Stanford University as a freshman. While some might speculate that you sought a student deferment from the draft (kids, ask your grandfather what that means) for selfish purposes, in fact, you stayed behind in Palo Alto to confront the anti-war, anti-draft demonstrators rife on campus. Photographs now available show you wielding placards with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran, standing outside in bright sunshine, possibly unguarded by sunblock. Clearly, no one can say that Mitt Romney was a Johnny-come-lately to putting himself in harm’s way for the good old USA. You didn’t wait until you were shipped overseas to fight the good fight. I just hope that we give you the opportunity to continue taking risks for the good of us all.

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Stanley Feingold is in town and our cohort met for lunch today at a pub in midtown. Since I rushed in and out of the subway station in front of the courthouse in order to get to and from lunch, I had to bypass the festivities sponsored by the International We ❤ U Foundation held on the plaza between Centre Street and Lafayette Street. As much as I wanted to, I was unable to exchange ideas with the large group of young people wearing the foundation’s attractive blue T-shirts. A little research informed me that Zahng Gil-Jah is the chair of the foundation, which is a good thing for them because she is known as God the Mother to the World Mission Society Church of God, a Korean organization, founded by her late husband, who was believed to the second coming of Christ. It’s obviously quite a busy family, and I’m not sure whether Madame Zahng was even present this afternoon.

Friday, September 14, 2012
Reade Street from Church Street to Centre Street is plastered with notices of filming which will deposit lots of vehicles and equipment on the streets and sidewalks for the next few days. The production is Golden Boy, which first aroused my curiosity on April 2, 2012 because of its familiar title. A crew member told me then that it was a police/crime show, not at all related to the Clifford Odets play, first produced on Broadway 75 years ago, the story of Joe Bonaparte, a young, gifted violinist who is torn between pursuing a career in music and earning big money as a prize fighter. By coincidence, Lincoln Center is staging a revival of the play later this Fall. As to the TV show, according to a recent publicity release, this “Golden Boy is a drama about the meteoric rise of an ambitious cop who becomes the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City, and the high personal and professional cost he pays to achieve it.” I was unable to learn whether Commissioner Walter William Clark, Jr., at least plays a musical instrument.

A survey was released today examining average wages, prices and purchasing power in 72 cities around the world. It measured the effort needed by the average worker to purchase 122 goods and services. The news report centered on the Big Mac (a largish creation of McDonald’s) as the unit of measure, and stated that it took 9 minutes of work to purchase a Big Mac in Tokyo, 10 minutes in New York City and Hong Kong, 29 minutes in Shanghai, 42 minutes in Istanbul, and 84 minutes in Nairobi. Needless to say that I have found other ways to use my 10 minutes.

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