Friday, February 22, 2013

Spending Time With People

Monday, February 18, 2013
We spent the long weekend in Massachusetts in the company of the second and third generation. The more than two feet of snow remaining on the ground from the previous weekend’s storm did not inhibit us. Certainly, the third generation were delighted to plunge over, under, around and through the deep snow piles in their cul-de-sac. One night’s restaurant dinner is worth a mention. Chinese Mirch, 140 Worcester Rd, Framingham, MA, is a franchised extension to the restaurant at 120 Lexington Avenue which I’ve passed dozens of times on the way to the Indian restaurants surrounding it in Curry Hill. Of course, it took a trip to the greater Boston area to get me in the door.

Chinese Mirch offers Chinese food with Indian spices, a very interesting combination. I ate a lot, but it was Saturday night. The good appetizers were duck bao ($5.99), very close to Peking duck in a 1/2" thick pancake, and fried Momos, Tibetan dumplings with chicken filling ($5.99). More memorable were the main courses, five spice roast duck ($19.99) and crispy Szechuan lamb ($16.99). Both were boldly spiced and the better for it. While the Hakka noodles with vegetables ($9.99), essentially lo mein, were advertised as not spicy, they were tasty and a good balance to the vivid flavors of the other dishes. The restaurant was fairly large, decorated with basic geometric shapes in black and red.

Service was friendly, but everything had its price. I think only water came with the food; even tea and rice were extra. My overall observation was that Chinese Mirch was expensive, especially for a suburban, highway, strip-mall location. However, a look on-line at the menu for the Lexington Avenue operation showed the prices to be the same. At least, parking is easier on Worcester Road than Lexington Avenue. If you have enough people to share the many interesting dishes, and divide the check into enough parts, Chinese Mirch deserves a visit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
After a five-day absence from work, I’m back upholding the lamp of justice. Helping me uphold the chopsticks of justice today was Michael Ratner, who was visiting the construction site of the multi-billion dollar Fulton Street transit interchange. For those of you who might have forgotten, Fulton Street is at the center of a complex of subway stations used by 11 different train lines. By the way, an alert New Yorker should be able to identify 9 of the train lines; 10 would mark you as a transit expert and all 11 means that you need to spend more time in daylight. Since the underground interchanges among the lines extended over time, growing with the construction of each new line, connecting from one train to another was often a time-consuming, confusing ritual. Additionally, Ground Zero abuts the Fulton Street transit interchange, and the terrible tragedy destroyed one subway stop entirely and has kept another closed for years.

Michael, who now consults and teaches on construction topics, was viewing the work in progress at the invitation of a participating architect. Had I had enough notice, I would have joined the tour. In any case, Michael met me and, promising him a great scallion pancake, I led us to Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, for their fabulous scallion pancake at a mere $2.25. We didn’t stop there, of course. Shanghai Gourmet (November 9, 2012, October 17, 2012) offers very good lunch specials, rice, hot and sour soup and main dish in the range of $4.75-$5.95. We ordered, to share, chicken with cashew nuts ($4.75) and Hunan beef ($5.50). To round it out, we also had a large plate of Shanghai chow fun, rich with beef, chicken and shrimp, but lacking that curry tang of Singapore chow fun. With the scallion pancake an A+, the hot and sour soup an A, and the other dishes hovering around a B+, we had a large, first-class lunch for $25, including tax and tip. Only in America.

In some ways, the life of Jerry Buss is another American success story, with a melancholic twist in my rarely-humble opinion. Buss, 80-years old, died Monday. His death received wide coverage because he invested millions of dollars into the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team which resulted in many championships and great popularity. He grew up in a small town in Wyoming (as if there are any others), raised by a divorced mother working as a waitress. A scholarship got him into college and he went on to get a doctorate in chemistry. He began investing in real estate in 1959 and eventually owned billions of dollars of property.

He liked to be called Dr. Buss throughout the rest of his life. Therein is the sad part. He was obviously very intelligent, maybe brilliant. Undoubtedly, he made decisions that not only enriched himself materially, but brought enjoyment to many sports fans in Los Angeles and throughout much of the world within reach of a television set. But, he died of cancer as have so many of my and your friends. Could his fine mind, high energy and doggedness have produced a cure for cancer, or acne, or multiple sclerosis, or dandruff? I didn’t find any mention of his philanthropy in the obituaries I read, but I’m sure that he had his good causes. And, maybe it’s better that he put money rather than sweat equity into his charitable pursuits. However, I’d rather that we celebrated a life not so consumed by pyramiding wealth and acquiring showpieces. But, I’m funny that way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Last night, I attended my first hockey game of this truncated season, also my first visit to the renovated Madison Square Garden. Generous Jeff G’s seats have been recalibrated, since section 309, his perch for many years past, has been eliminated. The new location is fabulous, even at the stiff new price. We sat just about dead center, one row behind the TV cameras. No one could walk in front of us on the way to take beer in or pass it out. The views were unmatched. Unfortunately, the Rangers forgot to play hockey last night, losing 3-1 to the Montreal Canadiens, in a game the New York Times today described as "tame and listless." Color-coding of the Garden's tiers has been eliminated and all seats are now blue. So were the fans by the end of the evening.

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist has been called to jury duty at 71 Thomas Street, my favorite courthouse. That allowed us to have lunch together at Tre Sorelle, 61 Reade Street, a friendly Italian restaurant that features pizzas from a wood-burning oven. The open room is cube-shaped, with one wall entirely of exposed brick and a tin-covered ceiling. The pizza oven is in the center of the restaurant, facing front, so you get a comforting burst of warm air when entering from the cold, windy street. We shared a large Quattro Formaggi Rossa pizza ($16.95), four cheeses and tomato sauce; other pies ranged from $14.95 to $16.95. Personal-sized pizzas were $5 less. After this pleasant meal, we returned to our respective courthouses. Thanks to the efficiencies introduced by Judith Kaye, when she was Chief Justice of New York State, my young bride’s jury service ended that afternoon, having spent only one day reading the newspaper exhaustively. She is now deferred for six years, although I hope I don’t have to wait that long to have lunch with her again.

Speaking of Judith Kaye, she thinks she knows me. During the High Holy Days in 2011, when America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I were walking home from synagogue services, she came walking down West 69th Street from the other direction. Note that many Jews rediscover walking during the Jewish holidays. I recognized her, having seen her at some functions, and often in the New York Law Journal, and smiled. She stopped and I made the introductions. Actually, these two lovely women have similar senses of style and manner. I sealed my bond to the retired Chief Justice by mentioning the name of a mutual friend who lives nearby. Now, she seemed certain that stopping to chat with us was the proper thing to do. We parted, promising to keep in touch.

Thursday, February 21, 2013
Smithtown Steve came downtown to have lunch with me, without even being called for jury duty. We went to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for, in the words of the late Ruth Gotthelf, real Chinese food. That consisted of shrimps with lobster sauce ($9.95, Monday-Thursday), roast pork fried rice and beef chow fun. While I missed the prices on the last two items, they were about $6.50 each, because the bill was just under $25 with tax . Portions, as always, were large, and the food was real Chinese food. It was an appropriate way to celebrate Smithtown Steve’s latest grandson, born just hours before Michael Jordan's birthday also.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Schvere Arbiter

Monday, February 11, 2013
Colorful confetti was all over the street and sidewalks of Chinatown today, in the aftermath of the weekend’s New Year’s celebrations.  The year of the snake officially began yesterday.  “Those born in the Year of the Snake are said to be intelligent and quick thinking, but they can also be dishonest and prone to show off,” quoting the National Geographic News.  To see if this applies to you, take the difference between your birth year (treating February 1 as the delimiter) and 2013 and divide by 12.  If the result is a whole number, no leftovers, you were born in the Year of the Snake, one of 12 possibilities.  I am a product of the Year of the Horse.  One web site claims that “[i]f you are born in the Year of the Horse then you are amazingly hard working and very independent.  Although you are intelligent and friendly, you can sometimes be a bit selfish. Careerwise you would make a good scientist or poet.”  I prefer an alternate description, from a different web site: “Horse people are active and energetic.  They got plenty of sex-appeal and know how to dress.  Horses love to be in the crowd, maybe that is why they can usually be seen in such occasions like concerts, theaters, meetings, sporting occasions, and of course, parties.”  It pays to shop around.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Traditional Lincoln’s Birthday, which means a day off for state workers.  I spent much of the day coughing and sneezing, unfortunately some of the time in the presence of Rebecca Heller, a masters degree candidate at Columbia University.  At the behest of her father Jeff, a distinguished fighter for human rights, I agreed to be interviewed by Rebecca for her class in abnormal psychology or arrested devolpment or something like that.  We began a bit after 9:30 in the morning, and by 1 in the afternoon, I managed to describe, leaving her to analyze, how I got from there to here.  I began before my Brooklyn boyhood, because I could not resist throwing in some of the genealogical background dug up by Ittai Hershman and tales of the lower East Side that I heard from my mother and her older sister Sophie.  So, it took quite a long time to get me into adulthood and I had to abbreviate my accounts of the last 40 years or so.  In any case, Rebecca seemed satisfied, maybe exhausted, by my autobiographical musings.        

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I returned to work, red of nose and sore of throat.  Last night, I had to divide my time between the State of the Union address and the Rangers/Bruins hockey game.  In summation, the Good Guys won both.  Because I prefer the deep thinking that follows a Rangers game to faux political punditry, I missed Marco Rubio’s Republican response and Rand Paul’s uber-Republican response.  According to summaries that I’ve read this morning, I missed little of interest except for the opportunity to compare both senators’ comments to reality.  While Rubio apparently sounded as if he had heard little of Obama’s speech, Paul sounded like he had been listening carefully, but only to his father, Ron Paul, prominent Republican presidential candidate. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Valentine’s Day, the Feast of St. Valentine, was discontinued as an observance by the Roman Catholic Church in 1969, but sponsorship was immediately assumed by Hallmark Cards.  The Eastern Orthodox Church, more Catholic than the Pope apparently, celebrates two Valentine’s Days, July 6 and July 30, actually for two different Valentines.  News of this has not yet filtered down to the greeting card industry, but it seems much more natural to me have scantily-clad cherubs flitting around in July than February.  Of course, chocolate might not fare as well in the heat of the summer.  Not an easy choice.

I spent the morning in the hands of Dr. Liebmann, unrelated to the Kosher delicatessen in Riverdale, one of the very few of its type left in New York City.  Once every Jewish neighborhood, which meant every other neighborhood in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, one in three in Queens and almost none in Staten Island, had a Kosher delicatessen, where hot dogs and knishes sat on a grill in the front window awaiting their fate.  In my Brooklyn boyhood neighborhood, the nearest Kosher delicatessen was slightly over one block away along Pitkin Avenue (one of the few facts that I forgot to mention to Rebecca Heller).  Today, I can think of four Kosher delicatessens in Manhattan (as opposed to Jewish-style delis such as the Carnegie), only one of which, Fine & Schapiro on West 72nd Street, is a true neighborhood joint.  
Dr. Liebmann is a glaucoma specialist and my everyday opthamologist recommended a serious look at my optic nerves.  I spent over three hours looking at bright flashing lights, reading random letters with one eye and then the other, and wiping fluids off my cheeks that was supposed to stay in my eyes.  When I finished, my retinas (retinae) were as big as potato latkes and I could not enjoy the bright sunshine outside.  I never achieved my normal state of myopia until back home, which I delayed in order to buy Safari, A Phototicular Book, for Boaz's birthday, along with his Superman bank, Captain America costume, Knick Knack magic wand, a particularly imaginative name he gave to a flashing light and sound stick, among other tokens of our affection.  Go look at Safari; it would be an appropriate gift even for a well-adjusted adult.  Trust me, I'm not a Republican.
After all our time together, Dr. Liebmann concluded that he could not reach a conclusion.  I skipped work for the rest of the afternoon, still coughing and sneezing.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Having followed the pharmaceutical advice of Alex Rodriguez, I've returned to my normal state of heartiness, more or less, so we set out to Natick, Massachusetts to spend some time spoiling two  little boys.  In sum, I had a two-day work week, the fulfillment of a Marxist fantasy,

Friday, February 8, 2013

More Stormy Weather

Monday, February 4, 2013
I don’t know much about growing seasons, and I imagine that everything is growing somewhere in the world.  With modern transportation and global trading, fruits and vegetables are never more than 48 hours from a New York market.  Yet, I was surprised to see the proliferation of Bing cherries in Chinatown on these days with temperature hovering around freezing.  The going price seems to be between 2 pounds for $4 and $5, 2 pounds minimum, no picking, very sweet.  In fact, every fruit on every fruit stand in Chinatown has a cardboard sign saying “Very Sweet” below the price.  
The presence of Bing cherries in Chinatown is particularly appropriate because the breed was supposedly named for Ah Bing, a foreman in an Oregon orchard where the fruit was developed.  His story offers an interesting sidelight on the Home of the Free.  Bing came to the US around 1855 from Manchuria.  He worked for the same family, eventually supervising a large crew of Chinese workers.  He returned to China for a visit after almost 35 years away.  However, he was refused reentry because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which certainly calls a spade a spade.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013
I am about to complete 11 years working for the New York State court system.  The three most interesting years were spent dealing with issues of divorce, child custody, and financial support for children and spouses.  Many lawyers and judges are averse to dealing with these family law issues, and those who do are often looked down upon by their peers.  For whatever reason, I was fascinated by these cases, which often produced stranger-than-fiction tales.  A current case is particularly puzzling, to my mind, and I’d like to run it past you.  

A couple hooked up, as the younger generation might say, in 2010.  He was in his early 50s, a successful business executive.  She was a lawyer with an elite New York firm, in her late 30s.  They did not marry, but wanted to have a child together; both had been previously married.  They used a sperm donor and she gave birth to a boy in July 2012.  In December, however, she took the child and moved out of their residence, after a stay in a psychiatric facility.  On New Year’s Day, she committed suicide.  Now, the man, not having adopted the child, nor even taking early steps to adopt, is asking for custody.  New York law worth knowing: The husband of a woman who gives birth to a child is presumptively that child’s father, even under inconceivable circumstances.  A third-party’s pure biological link to the child does not overcome that presumption where the husband has comported himself as the child’s father.  Here, though, there is neither a marital bond nor a biological link.  The dead mother’s sister, an Illinois resident, is also seeking custody.  You be the judge.

By the way, today the New York Times sent me an e-mail announcing that its weekly feature sections have been redesigned, which I commented on last week.  For some unexplained reason, the changes (much more white space and lines across a page) have not extended to the daily news (certainly not the Daily News).  I’m not sold.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
I was fortunate enough to be joined at lunch today by a group of friendly guys, Tom, Jon, Michael, Mark, Bill, Ken and Cousin Jerry.  We ate at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, that giant dim sum dispensary.  The wagon ladies were delighted to see us and serve us.  We must have had shrimp wrapped up at least 8 different ways.  The only missstep occurred when the baby clams in black bean sauce were delivered cold.  They took them back to be heated, but when returned most of the clams stayed behind, leaving us with baby clam shells in black bean sauce.  That’s a minor quibble, however, and all else went down well.  The plates came so fast that it was impossible to keep count; sometimes we were served double portions, recognizing that avaricious glint in our eyes.  Between 20 and 30 dishes is my best guess; $88 with tax, before tip.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013
Nine movies have been nominated as best picture for the Academy Awards.  We have seen only two, Lincoln and Amour, in a burst of cultural immersion over the New Year’s weekend.  Over time, and certainly with the help of streaming video via Netflix and Roku, we’ll catch up with several others.  However, leading my don’t bother list is Django Unchained, another Quentin Tarantino movie that I will ignore without regrets.  It’s sufficient to quote a favorable commentary from the New York Times: “Mr. Tarantino finds inspiration in what are still frequently seen as less reputable genres and styles: Asian martial arts movies, spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation.”  I believe that I have spent barely minutes of my life watching Asian martial arts movies, spaghetti westerns, or blaxploitation films, and I just cannot muster the interest in what they might have inspired.  Watching the Mets play baseball year in and year out provides me with a more than adequate supply of trashy experiences. 

Another movie I don’t think I’ll see is Life of Pi.  I remember when the book came out and even America’s Favorite Epidemiologist read it.  However, I just did not want to read a book about mathematics.  Yes, yes, that’s true.  Until I saw those ads for the movie with a boy in a boat with a tiger, I had no clue what it was about.  Even now, I don’t know which one is Pi.  

Although I was initially disappointed in Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street (March 8, 2011), I’ve had greater success on return visits, even proclaiming their egg roll the best in breed (November 20, 2012).  Today, I was only interested in soup, a big bowl of broth with little else, because I think a cold is coming, even as my wife is going.  Nom Wah only offered two kinds of soup, and I chose the House Special soup with dumplings ($5.25), which was very good for the wrong reasons.  The medium-sized bowl was crowded with large won tons, full of shrimp and pork, leaving little room for the soothing broth.  I needed a bigger bowl with more broth, but I enjoyed what I got.  The scallion pancake ($3.50) was excellent, if a few cents too high.  It was as grease-free as possible, crispy, but this side of flaky.  A little trickle of sauce decorated the sliced quarters, and the table held several condiments to concoct a dipping sauce.  I enjoyed my simple meal, although Wilson Tang, the cordial young owner, Mets and Knicks fan, wasn’t on site.  

Friday, February 8, 2012
My wife left town and a blizzard took her place.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fear Itself

Monday, January 28, 2013
Many of you experienced what I did yesterday, when I read the New York Times.  The paper decided on a format change, which caught me by surprise, although it may well have been announced in advance.  The most obvious changes are the use of horizontal lines above and below stories, and, most disturbing to my eyes, literally and figuratively, is the increased amount of white space on the page.  The stories are surrounded by much bigger borders, or so it seems, and the space between lines also seems more expansive.  An alternate explanation may be the use of smaller typeface which leaves more room between lines.  Whichever it is, combined with the wider (whiter) borders, there are fewer words in the paper per page.  The number of pages per issue varies with the season, with advertising accounting for much of the bulk.  But, now, on any given Sunday fewer words mean less news.  Shall we conclude that less is going on in the world than last week at this time?  May we expect that the future will be less event-laden than the past?  If this is true, one can draw comfort from anticipating the simpler times to come (reported in the simpler Times to come), along with the additional time made available to us by finishing the Times sooner.

Part of my regular Sunday reading is the society pages.  That term was abandoned by the Times and other newspapers decades ago, but, in so many ways, I haven’t progressed very far over the years.  Back in the day, the society pages were particularly fascinating to me because they revealed, to some degree, the workings of a foreign world to me.  Ivy League graduates with numbers in their names, descended from Ivy League graduates who often deposited their names on campus buildings, getting engaged or married to similarly-situated persons of the opposite gender.  Engagements were featured as well as weddings; engagement announcements accompanied by soft-focused photographs of the bride-to-be always wearing a string of pearls, while the wedding announcements had a picture of the bride in full uniform.  As I recollect, you got one exposure or the other.  Well, not you or me most likely.  Some things were constant: no pictures of men or dark people.  Few references to the ethnic mobs of Jews and Italians that populated the New York Metropolitan area in the 1950s and 1960s (my baseline).  A notable exception was the engagement announcement and lovely photograph of my dear friend Allison Berkley, sadly lost to us too soon, which must have been run around 1969.  Fortunately, Allison did not marry that guy, although his highly-respectable Jewish pedigree matched her own, qualifying them for space in the society pages.

With that rare exception, I read the society pages as a sociological exercise for many years.  Eventually, things changed, including the standards for inclusion in the Times society pages, which are now confined to Sunday. Only weddings are covered, but you can marry just about anyone and expect to gain some space.  So, now I read about plain folks like you and me, and even plainer folks in some cases.  However, I’ve observed an interesting trend emerging with the democratization of wedding coverage.  While much of the (now diminished) space in the society pages is devoted to wedding notices, headed often by a picture of the transiently-happy couple, the Times usually includes a couple of tales about how he and she, he and he, or she and she met, and the events leading to their special day.  These stories usually include a photograph of the wedding itself, maybe the first dance or walking down the aisle.  What you now often see, when they picture the setting for the exchange of vows, is a chuppah (clear your throat on the first syllable), the traditional open-sided shelter for a Jewish wedding.  However, in the non-Semitic realm, it is labeled a canopy, gazebo or some other polite term far removed from downtown Pinsk.  For instance, look at the pictures with the coverage yesterday of the wedding of David Muehlke and Patricia Choi, a pair “defined by . . . a commitment to service and their evangelical Christian ideals.”  One the three photographs shows the couple approaching a chuppah, which might as well have been left over from the Feinberg-Schwartz ceremony.  Check it out; think of the weddings of all flavors you’ve attended recently and keep your eyes open for pictures in forthcoming society pages, which should stand out even more amid all the white space in the reformatted New York Times.  Consider that white Protestant American children are spouting African-American jargon, eating tacos and getting married in symbolic Jewish houses.  And you wonder why gun sales are up?  

I realize that these words of wisdom don’t usually get to you for a week or more after being chiseled in stone, but some guidance, even if temporary, may prove valuable.  In this case, I want you to be aware of some reduced prices at lunch time on weekdays by Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, now solidly positioned as the best classic Chinatown joint, except, as Jon Silverberg points out, for claustrophobes because of its small, cramped underground setting, which, to me, adds to its charm.  It serves what my mother used to call Real Chinese Food, an irrefutable characterization. Wo Hop is offering its soups, won ton, hot and sour, egg drop and an excellent corn chicken chowder, for $1 small and $2 large, instead of the regular prices, $2-3 small, $4-5 large, Monday through Wednesday.  For the normal appetite, a large bowl of soup and a plate of their All-World crispy fried noodles (80¢) will make a tidy lunch for slightly more than the price of a subway ride.  Also, on special, Monday through Thursday in this case, are several of their shrimp dishes at $9.95, notably shrimp with lobster sauce.  Hurry down.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
A new biography of J.D. Salinger was announced today, to be published in September.  The publisher said: “Many of us who read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ have, at some point in our lives, wished we could know the author better.  Now, we finally can.”  I thought about this and decided that I don’t want to know J.D. Salinger better, I want to know Holden Caulfield better, although, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with either one of them.  If Salinger’s fabled reclusiveness extended to social encounters, it might make for an uncomfortable evening, while Caulfield’s spouting about phonies and the ducks in Central Park would be diverting, at least for the first few minutes.  

I wasted some time at lunch today, but I’d like to think that it resulted from a little bit of shame on the part of our financial trainwreckers.  In order to deposit a check, I looked on-line for the closest branch of Smith Barney, my stockbroker.  Note that I am much more concerned about Mott Street than Wall Street these days, but I have not completely divorced myself from the machinations of capitalism.  I found 1 Penn Plaza, immediately adjacent to Madison Square Garden, listed as the nearest location, but I was unsatisfied with this information. 1 Penn Plaza is on 34th Street, about halfway up the 12-mile length of Manhattan Island.  That left such a large empty space from midtown to the southern tip of the island, where the Staten Island ferry is free and affords a great view of the skyline and the harbor on a nice day, I called my broker’s office to express my disbelief in the accuracy of my own research and ask for his geographic assistance.  His secretary told me that 195 Broadway was an available location, which made perfect sense to me, as it sits only four blocks from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.

So, facing mild weather for the first time in about a week, I was pleased to get a chance to stride the 12 blocks or so to 195 Broadway, where I stopped at the desk (as if I had a choice) to ask for the Smith Barney office.  Well, they left the building a long time ago, I was informed.  Out on the sidewalk, I used my smartyphone to tell my broker’s secretary this news (not so new to the guy working the desk in the lobby).  Boing! 1 Penn Plaza it is, she told me after a pause of a couple of minutes to double-check.  To sum up, when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to town, it is one block closer to Wall Street than is Morgan Stanley, with revenue of $7.5 billion in the last quarter of 2012.  Maybe I should invest in cotton candy.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
“You’re not in Chinatown anymore.”  This mosh-up of lines from two great movies came to mind as I ate in Sunny One Restaurant, 94 Chambers Street, today.  It is on a site that was an Indian restaurant when I started working downtown over a decade ago.  The Indian restaurant had a buffet at lunch, all-you-can-eat, music to my ears. However, when they stopped offering tandoori chicken, I stopped going, because it’s hard to get your money’s worth on spinach, rice and naan.  I was not alone in my disenchantment, because the Indian restaurant closed soon after this unfortunate change in menu.  Its successor, a seemingly-ordinary luncheonette, never attracted me and now has  been replaced by Sunny One.

As much as things changed, Sunny One had nicely refinished wood floors, bright coral-painted walls, 18 two top tables and 4 stools next to a small ledge, the more they stayed the same – a hot/cold food bar ran down the center of the room.  This was salad-bar style, sold by weight ($5.99/lb.), rather than buffet-style, one price all-you-can-eat.  Sunny One also had a very conventional menu, notable only for its $6 lunch specials, including rice, white, brown or fried, and soup or soda.  There were no surprises or cringe-inducing items among the three dozen main dishes.

I navigated the hot food bar, recognizing that some of the dishes may have long outlasted their half-lives.  I accumulated a little more than a pound of curried chicken, teriyaki chicken, General Tso’s chicken, Singapore mei fun, a sticky bun and one-half of a spare rib.  None of it was particularly good, but not particularly bad either.  This visit increases my count of restaurants, but not my appreciation of Chinese food.

Friday, February 1, 2013
It was amusing when that distinguished political philosopher Mel Brooks, in the guise of the 2000-year old man, attributed the origin of many of humankind’s greatest accomplishments to fear, capital F Fear.  However, these days, I believe that he is all too right.  Parts of two major populations that I identify with are strongly influenced by fear; irrational fear because everyday evidence refutes their concerns.  I speak of Americans generally and American Jews particularly, that is, segments within each of these populations.  First we have the NRA-types who require the possession of military-grade weaponry to get out of bed in the morning.  They don’t hesitate to express fear of, alternately, a tyrannical government poised to reduce them to serfdom, or an impotent government that will allow the marauders to capture their streets, their homes, their wealth and their loved ones (credit Jon Stewart with this observation).  Only ownership of incredibly-lethal weapons gives these folks a fighting chance to survive either or both scourges.  There is an interesting view of human nature that underlies this position, a twisted form of humanism – we are all the same; we are all Syria; we are all Rwanda.  Of course, many of us share the basic tenet of a common humanity, but see it manifested differently.  We are all Canada; we are all the Upper West Side.  Maybe the latter group, unlike the NRA-types, are sufficiently confident in their physical and mental attributes so as to be willing to face life’s challenges without putting fear first.

I don’t think that this world, this country, this city is free of anti-Semitism.  I believe that some of the scorn directed at Israel is rooted in simple dislike of Jews, not regard for the rights and welfare of Arabs.  I think that we must remain vigilant to expressions of anti-Semitism, as well as racism of all flavors.  (Note that sometimes support for our team morphs into denigration of their team.)  However, the campus of Brooklyn College should be as fear-free a zone for American Jews as one could find in the good old USA.  Yet, today’s Times has this headline: Appearance by Group Advocating Boycott of Israel Roils Brooklyn College.  An upcoming event that will include speakers from a pro-Arab group has roused the worst instincts of local politicians and, sadly, at least one nationally-renowned law professor.  Because the event is co-sponsored by the college’s political science department, but temporarily falsely advertised by students as “endorsed” by the department, Alan Dershowitz, an alumnus, is in a lather.  “Back in the day, departments did not take official positions on controversial political issues.”  Actually, Alan, back in the day, Brooklyn College’s president, Harry Gideonse, aggressively exercised his official position on behalf of controversial political issues, notoriously shutting down student publications that disagreed with him.  Maybe, that’s why, in retrospect, from the banks of the Charles River, the Brooklyn College campus seemed so pacific.  

The reported story is not without some amusement.  Some pro-Israel students are quoted about the “chilling effect” of the political science department’s involvement with the planned event.  “[T]hepresident of the Israel Club . . . said she did not want to mount a public attack on the department because she was a political science major.”  When a professor in class explained her support of the event to promote “an open marketplace of ideas,” another student did not raise her hand to  argue because it was only the second day of class and she did not want to antagonize the professor so early.”  Back in the day at CCNY (Dershowitz graduated Brooklyn College the same year my brother graduated CCNY), our government (not called political science) classes and student center were the site of fabulous debates on hot issues, so often guided by the saintly Stanley Feingold, without fear of retribution by faculty or administration.  Almost all of my classmates lived at home, had no involvement in organized athletics, and lacked refined social skills, which resulted in a devotion to debate and muckraking without the fear of repression that characterized Brooklyn College then, and apparently now.