Friday, December 28, 2012

Holiday Notes

Monday, December 24, 2012
At the behest of the taxpayers of the State of New York, I stayed home today using an accrued vacation day. I spent part of the afternoon walking up and down Broadway in our part of the upper West Side. Barnes & Noble was very crowded with last-minute gift shoppers. Zabar’s was very crowded with folks stocking up for holiday celebrations. Fairway, by contrast, was totally manageable when I shopped for some regular groceries, maybe because it would be open on Christmas day. In general, I’ve escaped the combination of panic, elation, frenzy and voraciousness that seem to characterize many people rushing in and out of retail establishments at the time of year. First of all, my holiday, Hanukkah, ended on December 16th. We had our party on December 9th, more than two weeks ago. The shopping, the wrapping, the eating, the drinking, the cleaning up are all fading in memory. Naively, in the last few days, I’ve occasionally wondered why all the fuss now.

Also, my preparation for gift-giving begins long before December rolls around. I take pains to avoid the combination of panic, elation, frenzy and voraciousness attending the late search for the appropriate, if not the near-perfect, gift for the many diverse souls on my hit list. Simply, I shop for gifts all the time. Last week, I bought six of the same item for next Hanukkah, which, by some extraordinary circumstance, begins on Wednesday, November 27, 2013, the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve already discussed the weirdness of the Jewish calendar, with its leap month inserted every few years, but I don’t recall this strange configuration of dates ever in my lifetime.

Of course, this is added incentive to start shopping early for next year, but my obsessiveness in this matter is really independent of anyone’s calendar. While I don’t want to be pressured into last-minute shopping, I really enjoy this perpetual search for the right gift. I always spend time on our trips abroad wending my way through street markets, bazaars and emporia seeking less-than-commonplace items. Favorable prices, especially after a dramatic bargaining interlude, add to my pleasure on these foreign sojourns, as long as I keep my mind free of images of child labor.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012
I’m not going to name any names, but a recent letter to the New York Times by Susan WADLN (with a distinctive last name), a law professor, brought back memories. The writer was not a classmate, nor an instructor of mine. When I met her, about 25 years ago, she had a law degree, but was working in her father’s successful textile business in a pretend role that would fund her privileged lifestyle. The business was a prominent client of the firm where I was a management consultant, and I was assigned to try to extend our range of services to them.

I began a professional courtship of the charmed daughter, and requisitioned a pair of my firm’s tickets to the U.S. Open tennis championship, a major, late summer event in New York City. She agreed to go and offered to drive us out to the site, near LaGuardia Airport, in Queens. I went to her apartment, about one mile from mine in Manhattan. I was not invited upstairs, but the building was a nice one in a particularly nice neighborhood. She pulled her Jaguar sedan out of the underground garage and we drove off. She spoke of some of her interests and inquired of mine, as she drove her Jaguar sedan, I don’t recall whether I spoke of the Mets and the Rangers as I rode in her Jaguar sedan. However, I seem to remember admitting ignorance of or lack of interest in some of the writings, practices, teachings, philosophies, and techniques of self-knowledge and self-improvement that preoccupied her as she drove her Jaguar sedan. Finally, out of frustration with my obvious obtuseness, or, worse, my willingness to play with the cards I was dealt, she said, as she drove her Jaguar sedan through traffic, "You know, you’re not a very spiritual person."

Whoa! Stop the presses! I got it wrong, somewhat. The story is true, and my identification of the young woman is correct. But, and here’s the BIG BUT, Susan WADLN, the Jaguar owner/operator, did not grow up to be Susan WADLN, the law professor. Just before publishing this latest contribution to human understanding, I searched the Internet. It turns out that there are two women, both 50-60 years old, named Susan WADLN in all of the good old USA, one the law professor, a specialist in international human rights law, and the other, who has written a collection of short stories and a novel using her married name. Armed with this information, I am contemplating reaching out to "my" Susan WADLN and asking if she now drives a Prius and would she send me a copy of one of her books.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
I did not expect to find a new place today. The weather was cold and gloomy and I wasn’t eager to wander about except I wanted to escape from the sad case that I’ve been working on for the last few days. So, I headed east, aiming for my mother’s birthplace at 13 Essex Street. Just before I got there, I went into Sunkiss Bakery, 160 East Broadway, a very narrow, but deep space. Only its first five feet are available for customers who come and go quickly with their takeout orders. For those who linger, there is only a 9" L-shaped ledge without any stools. I lingered, probably the first person in the last decade to do so. In any case, the traffic kept four people busy preparing the food.

The menu is quite large, mostly noodle and rice dishes with assorted toppings. I ordered a pan fried scallion cake ($1.50) and corn and fish cakes (3 for $2). Both were prepared (more reheated than created) on the grill right behind the counter, and emerged quite successfully. The scallion cake was a first-rate scallion pancake, not greasy after cooking on the grill with little or no oil. The corn and fish cakes were 3" in diameter and just shy of ½" deep. They too were lightly grilled and almost delicate in taste and texture.

Before I finished, I got into conversation with a letter carrier who stopped in for a bite. He was a Sikh (adorned with a big beard and a turban) and a vegan, so he had to choose his food with care. I didn’t hesitate recommending the scallion pancake, but there was little else that we could find that was free of animal, dairy or fish contents. I’m sure that he is used to this, and, by the size of his corporation (remember when this was a euphemism for potbelly?), he seemed equipped to continue on his appointed rounds.

Thursday, December 27, 2012
The New York Times has an interesting article chasing down the phrase "the whole nine yards." Contrary to the conventional view, I’ve always regarded this phrase as an admission of failure, rather than success. When I first heard it used, some 40 years ago, I immediately connected it to progress on a football field, where it takes ten yards to make a first down, that is to allow the team with the ball to continue its progress towards a score. If you have traversed the whole nine yards, you are still short of a first down. In football, then, you have to turn the ball over to the opposing side without having scored. Upon first hearing the whole nine yards, I thought how wonderfully ironic the phrase was, praising in such robust terms an effort that fell short. When, after some time, I heard the cement-mixer-truck rationale (nine cubic yards is supposedly a truckload), I was unconvinced, and still today I stick to my subversive view of a thwarted effort by mud-encrusted, near-breathless, bone-weary gladiators on any given Sunday. It’s just more real that way.

Friday, December 28, 2012
I read in today’s New York Law Journal that the beds at Riker’s Island, New York City’s main jail complex, "cannot accommodate anyone taller than 5 feet 11, and cause lower back, neck and leg pain" for taller individuals, if a lawsuit against the City can be credited. Thank goodness that I didn’t learn this first hand.

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