Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Another day, another duck. When I saw that H.K. Wonton Garden, 79 Mulberry Street, was featuring half a Peking duck for $16.95, I sat right down. Instead of the ritual table-side carving that usually attends the serving of a Peking duck, my plate came to me fully prepared with five puffy wrappers (in place of flat pancakes), each with a thick piece of duck, a generous coating of hoisin sauce and only a slight amount of fat. Also, there was one leg and one wing on the plate, but no sign of the rest of the carcass. In all, a successful duck. When I got the check, I questioned the $2.15 that appeared after the entry for sales tax. It was the tip, I was told, probably a buck less than I would have coughed up.
The approach of a New Year contains some ominous portents for the legal profession. In a classical example of Good News/Bad News, today’s New York Law Journal has a front page article entitled “Dip in Bankruptcies Forces Firms to Trim Ranks.” So, we want all of you folks out there to go out on extravagant spending sprees, committing to expensive purchases that drain your funds and exceed your ability to meet your financial obligations. Then, my legal colleagues may continue to enjoy their lavish lifestyle while sniggling at your foolishness.
Even greater than my affection for my fellow attorneys, I feel particularly close to the academic side of the legal profession, law school faculty. However, no less than Barack Obama, formerly an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School, recently suggested that a law school education be reduced to two years from the standard three years. This would make a serious dent in faculty positions, especially since, as far as I know, two courses a semester is the typical law school faculty teaching load. Cutting courses would require cutting jobs, not just reducing teaching loads.
My law school days are not that far behind me, so I still recall the sloth and indolence that characterized many of my fellow 3Ls as either they bided their time until graduation with a job waiting for them, or they frantically sought a position that would help them chisel away at the substantial debt that they accrued. Class work suffered, to say the least. Unfortunately (the scold in me felt), the faculty seemed awfully forgiving of the miserable efforts exerted by many of the 3Ls, even though the classes themselves usually dealt with advanced subjects in the faculty member’s specialty. While eliminating the third year would cut tuition expense by 1/3 and limit the students to the courses essential to prepare for the bar examination, it would reduce the opportunity for academics to think out loud about ideas that concern them and for (maybe a rare few) students a chance to explore topics in some depth. Of course, old-fashioned guy that I am, I would reintroduce some discipline to law school student performance, if not the lash, at least an F.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
This is a very short work week for me, with Labor Day on Monday and the Jewish holidays beginning tonight at sundown. In spite of cruising part of East Broadway, Division Street, Doyers Street, and Pell Street in search of a new restaurant, I wound up at the tried-and-true Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for my last lunch of 5773. I have shamelessly acknowledged that I live to eat, in contrast to those anhedonics who eat to live. And a big plate of Singapore chow fun ($8.50) proved to be appropriately life-affirming, especially after the recent period of loss. The big, wide noodles carried a pungent curry flavor as they were adorned by eggs, shrimp, scallions, chicken, onions and several meats that fell on both sides of the biblical divide. It was as good as it gets.
Maybe better than it gets was dinner tonight at Aunt Judi's and Uncle Stu's to kick off the new year in fine culinary style. While the 14 people present were only about half the number that typically gather around their table for Passover seders, the number, variety and excellence of the dishes offered were commensurate to those annual feasts that begin our symbolic trek across the Sinai Desert. I must take particular note of a new dish in the Poloner repertoire that I'll long remember -- a gefilte fish terrine, that is, a tri-color loaf of spinach, gefilte fish and carrots, served at room temperature accompanied by traditional horseradish sauce, slightly sweetened rather than harshly bitter. This was a treat not a treatment, and a great way to start 5774 with a smile. By accident, an extra serving of this gift from the sea found its way home with me.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
I went to my cousin Allan Gotthelf's memorial service this morning, which was held at the St. Regis Hotel, just off Fifth Avenue. The room was decorated with elaborate moldings on and around the ceiling, crystal chandeliers and sconces, mirrored walls and colorful floral carpeting. About 50 guests occupied some of the 200 chairs set up. Everyone in attendance, except me, seemed to know each other. None of the faces were familiar to me, not even that on the bust, which was newly-sculpted in honor of Allan, that sat on a pedestal at the front of the room .
I sat silently throughout, although there were a couple of things that annoyed me (not that I could spend 90 minutes anywhere without finding a couple of things to annoy me). They all dealt with Allan's origins (which were also mine to some degree). In the back of the room was a table with a dozen or more photographs, all dating from his college days or beyond. Nothing of his family on display. Had I been asked, I certainly could have provided a picture of him at his Bar Mitzvah. This disconnect also applied to an early comment that everyone of importance to him was in the room, although his devoted sister avoided this service because she already had been slighted in its preparation. Finally, one speaker, a friend since graduate school days, now a respected academic, marveled how Allan emerged as an intellectual even though he was the son of a postal worker from East New York, Brooklyn. I resisted temptation and desisted from asking about the elevated state of the speaker's gene pool which obviously qualified him for academic distinction more readily than a blue-collar kid from Brooklyn.
I left as the last speaker sat down, and hurried to West End Synagogue to catch the tail-end of a service celebrating the 80th birthday of Sandy Warshaw. I never planned to go to the cemetery in Westchester County, where Allan was being buried in the immediate vicinity of Ayn Rand. Of course, the fact that lox, whitefish, smoked sable and sushi were on the synagogue's luncheon menu had some influence on where I spent the next few hours.