Friday, December 21, 2012

The Name Game II

Monday December 17, 2012
I am essentially an evidence-based person. I like to begin with empirical data before applying the inevitable gloss of ideology and delusion. This morning, all the local meteorological readings were no doubt in the moderate range, temperature, humidity, wind speed. However, it was just crummy out as I walked to the courthouse from the subway station four long blocks to the west. Just damp and raw and yucky. So, I was a little surprised to see a film crew at the foot of the courthouse steps shooting an episode of Law & Order: The Rule of Perpetuities. I did not recognize any acting types among the huddled masses handling sound equipment, lighting equipment, props and significant clipboards. They probably were being sheltered until they were called upon to glare into the camera and say, "But, he wasn’t home at the time."

By lunchtime, there was no trace of law, order, crime, punishment, actors, extras or crew in front of the courthouse. It still wasn’t nice out when I walked over to Tribeca to have lunch with Marty the Super Clerk. Befitting the down-to-earth guys that we are, we ate at Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, 146 Chambers Street, a creditable enterprise, though not in the league of Ess-A-Bagel, once my home away from home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The weather improved today, warmer, drier, less wind, although it rained fiercely overnight. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Margarita K., Stuyvesant ‘07, Harvard, ‘11, now living and working in downtown Manhattan. While I lack her knowledge of so many things given my modest background of Stuyvesant ‘58, CCNY ‘62, I have home court advantage in Chinatown. Therefore, we proceeded to Peking Duck House, 28 Mott Street. Since there were only the two of us, we could not order the Peking duck dinner, which includes three appetizers, soup, choice of two main dishes and dessert, in addition to the duck, at $29 per person for four people minimum. Every extra body above four brings on another main course. Instead, we had our own duck for $45. It was a good duck, but, inevitably, a fatty duck, so I have to deny it a place on our moveable feast. I'm beginning to believe that a tea-smoked duck may be a better choice for our notional banquet because its preparation dries out the duck considerably, leaving a pungent flavor though that does not appeal to everyone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
As a native New Yorker and a devoted puzzle fan, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was once (long ago) unable to quickly supply the next number in the sequence 14-18-23-28-34. I had the same feeling of inadequacy this morning as I approached the courthouse from the northwest instead of the southwest, as I usually do. Standing at the corner of Lafayette Street and Leonard Street, I gazed up at the municipal building that covers the entire block from Lafayette Street to Centre Street, Worth Street to Leonard Street. Its proper address is 125 Worth Street, and it is currently occupied by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the Department of Health. But, my interest was not aroused by anything about the building’s current operation. Rather, along the top, just below the roof line, a series of names was deeply engraved in two-foot high letters – FARR, HOWARD, LISTER, NIGHTINGALE, SHATTUCK, LIND, SIMS, MORTON, BARD, SEMMELWEIS, WELCH, SMITH, MOSES, JENNER, RAMAZZINI, HIPPOCRATES, PARACELSUS, PINEL, DALTON, BIGGS, GORGAS, REED.

Who are these people? Since their names circle the building on all four sides, without an obvious beginning or end, we don’t have to supply the next in the sequence, that is if we can find any logical connection among them. I propose that the best way to deal with this conundrum is through rapid response, without external assistance. Who comes to mind when you hear the name? Here’s my contribution: Jamie Farr, Cpl. Klinger on MASH; Ryan Howard, Phillies first baseman; Joseph Lister, British medical neat freak; Florence Nightingale, heroic nurse; pass; Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale (no relation to Florence); Phil Sims, New York Giants quarterback; Thruston Morton, former Republican Senator from Kentucky; Bard, Shakespeare’s nickname; pass; Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society; Maggie Smith, English actress; Moses, big Jew; Bruce Jenner, former Olympian; pass; Hippocrates, oath giver; pass; pass; Timothy Dalton, film actor; pass; pass; Willis Reed, former captain of the New York Knicks. While not everyone of these folks deserves immortalization atop a New York City municipal building, I think it’s a pretty good crowd, on the whole. I welcome your suggestions.

At lunchtime today, my department (or at least some of its more convivial members) held our annual White Elephant Party, a chance to offload some untreasured treasures, at the risk of gaining ownership of some more undesired item. I probably could stock such an endeavor entirely on my own, with a collection of unwantables stretching back over many years. I admit that my collection of hidden ge(r)ms is not merely the result of misguided generosity on the part of others. I am not easy to please – you would never guess. First of all, I was a bachelor for 23 years, between matrimonial adventures, providing for myself. I had to clothe myself, furnish and decorate an apartment myself, and find ways and means to amuse myself. Over 23 years, I was able to satisfy most of my material needs, and many of my whimsical ones as well. Second, for much of that time, I was gainfully employed, earning on the average more than the average. I had no excuse to deny myself reasonably-priced goods. Third, I’m picky. The net result is that many well-intentioned gifts to me were either quickly outplaced, or parked in the deep recesses of some closet. Accordingly, I welcome our annual White Elephant Party and have encouraged more frequent gatherings of the sort. But, you may ask, don’t you emerge from each such event with another space-occupying, dust-collecting, taste-defying eye sore? Aha! Allow Grandpa Alan to tell you his secret: Forget to pick up and carry your selection out of the room after issuing the necessary Oohs and Aahs upon first seeing it.

In any case, I did not go out to lunch.

Thursday, December 20, 2012
I realize that this is very short notice, but Mount Rtanj, in a mountainous region of Serbia, is considered to be a good place to survive the end of the world tomorrow. According to local lore, mystical powers attend to the pyramid-shaped mountain after it swallowed a castle belonging to a well-to-do sorcerer, trapping him inside. However, the local hotel is supposedly fully booked for the weekend.

In case sleeping outdoors during Serbian winter nights is not the way you would like to face the end of the world, there still may be room in or near Bugarach, a village in the French Pyrenees, which also harbors a magic mountain. Of course, while either destination is off the beaten path, just think that you can put all your travel-related charges on a credit card, even fly first class, and not be around to pay the bill.

Friday, December 21, 2012
Is there anybody out there?

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