Friday, January 24, 2014

Saving For A Rainy Day

Monday, January 20, 2014
Sam Polk and James D. Hoff probably don’t know each other, and I don’t know either one.  Polk is in his mid-30s and Hoff is 42-years old.  I read about them in separate articles in the New York Times Sunday and Monday respectively.  The juxtaposition is sickening, to my mind.  Polk, in an article he wrote himself, said that in his last year on Wall Street, three years ago, “my bonus was $3.6 million – and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough.  I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind.”

Polk is an Ivy League graduate, who had been suspended from Columbia University for burglary, arrested twice and fired from an Internet company for fistfighting.  I can’t say that his employer was influenced by these qualifications, because Polk admits that he kept them off his résumé.

Hoff finished his Ph.D. in English literature, about 18 months ago.  He has been unable to get a fulltime teaching position, so he struggles to earn a living by teaching several courses as an adjunct at different institutions, this semester at Manhattan College and Fashion Institute of Technology.
When he collects four courses during a semester, his annual earnings are about $24,000.  Right now, he is only teaching three courses, and earning closer to $20,000.  Hoff is married, with an infant daughter.  He and his wife recently moved from Manhattan to the Bronx to save money.

I don’t want to see Polk unemployed or uncompensated, although his service to his community, his nation or the world is, by his own account, minimal.  “ I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist.”  Let him and Hoff make $120,000 annually, somewhat more than I do, which should keep them  afloat as middle-class New Yorkers, with tax policy leveling some of their lifestyle differences.

If you would like to grind your teeth more, see bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-en.pdf #sthash.ClRIn1sD.dpuf
which reports today that “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”

The Upper West Side’s Power Couple, having this holiday off, went to a travel agent to discuss an anticipated trip later in the year, details to follow.  Since we were in midtown in the early afternoon, we took advantage of the time and the place and window-shopped along 47th Street, the Diamond District.  This excursion was strictly for aesthetic, not acquisitive, purposes, and we kept our credit cards firmly tucked away.  Every time that we paused in front of a display, a pretty woman inside the store behind the window popped up with a wave and reached for a hand-written sign announcing a sale today only, 50-60% off.  In spite of the singular honor of being welcomed for a sale this day only, we passed by merely exchanging a modest grin for the effusive greeting.

With lunch hour upon us, we took advantage of the locale and went three floors up to Taam Tov, 41 West 47th Street, a strictly Kosher restaurant, serving the large number of Orthodox Jews who work in the Diamond District.  It’s a simple, square room, with windows overlooking 47th Street and a bearded Buddha-like rabbi seated by the cash register to enforce adherence to the sometimes-Byzantine rules of Kosher food preparation and service.  Interestingly enough, Taam Tov offers Chinese food at lunch time, that is a half-dozen beef and chicken dishes variously sauced with vegetables.  Experience has taught me that Jews should only eat Chinese food, not cook it, so I looked elsewhere on the menu, where the Middle East takes over from the Far East.  I ordered Shwarma over Laffa ($14), a 4" round, 11" long tube stuffed with marinated diced chicken, hummus and French fries.  Laffa is bigger than pita and spongier, making an excellent wrapping for the hearty filling.  It was a really good dish (taam tov means tastes good in Hebrew) and well matched to a 2014 vintage Diet Coke.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Elderly Jews from the New York area have been migrating to South Florida for generations.  First our grandparents, then our parents and now our friends and neighbors.  That’s why today’s news from Florida was surprising.  The state has been ordered by a federal judge to provide Kosher food to its prison inmates who request it, based only on a professed belief in Judaism, although suspicions about the quality and contents of normal prison food may have inflated the demand.  It seems that Florida is one of only 15 states who do not ordinarily provide Kosher food in its prisons, citing the much higher cost of the meals prepared and packaged by outside kitchens, reportedly $7 vs. $1.54 daily per person.  However, a 2000 federal law protects inmates’ religious freedom, and Florida, with the nation’s third largest prison system, has been ordered to comply.  As if cantankerous, retired New York Jews needed another excuse to ignore the laws and customs of the Sunshine State.

Speaking of sunshine, snow started falling as I left for work and continued throughout the day, so I went no further than H.K. Wonton Garden, 79 Mott Street, for a big bowl of hot soup with won tons and noodles, served with some mediocre sweet and sour chicken on the side ($7.95).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Justice will be dispensed today at New York County Supreme Court in spite of the 11" of snow officially recorded in Manhattan yesterday and the 9 degree temperature this morning.

I try to deal honestly in my everyday affairs, although not claiming sainthood.  Last week, for instance, I told the waitress that she left a bottle of wine off of our restaurant bill.  Now, I’m being put to the test.  Last night, I found it necessary to clean up the pile of papers on the sofa in the den in order to make room to sit and watch television.  In the mess was a month-old check for an interesting amount from my health insurance carrier.  The explanation of benefits page was missing, and, I must admit, I can’t connect the amount (not the typical $37.46 reimbursement) to any particular activity, although the last quarter of 2013 included examinations and/or treatments of eyes, colon, teeth, heart and associated bits and pieces.

It’s possible that this check was not even meant for me and that’s the problem.  In the past, when such an error occurred, I found it impossible to return the check or get it reissued in a corrected, lesser amount, spending hours on the telephone trying to do the right thing.  The system simply doesn’t allow it.  All of us take for granted that any error will be in the insurance company’s favor.  Roomfuls of computer hardware, large software libraries, and legions of programmers are dedicated to keeping the last nickel on the company’s side of the table.  When the unthinkable happens, which may or may not be the case with my check, the system is thrown into disarray.  Reasonable attempts to play Boy Scout will likely be frustrated by hours spent on the telephone trying to effect corrective action.  So, I’ll deposit the check, always alert to refunding the amount in whole or part, if the insurance company tells me its mother’s maiden name, favorite food, and last four digits on its passport.

Thursday, January 23, 2014
The new normal ain’t so normal.  According to Prof. Andrew Schepard of Hofstra Law School, and member of the Feingold Claque, writing in today’s New York Law Journal, about 1 million U.S. children live with parents in the middle of a divorce each year, and about one in four children live in a divorced household.  If you are as old as I am and able to remember anything that happened earlier than breakfast this morning, you can remember not growing up around divorced people.  Maybe you observed couples who should have divorced, but it simply wasn’t done among people you knew – your family and the families of friends.  In the second semester of my freshman year in college, I heard for the first time from a friend that his parents were getting divorced.  I’m not claiming that it wasn’t happening out there, just not along Pitkin Avenue or Woodhaven Boulevard.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Two people come to mind as the Umbrella Man, the teenaged accomplice of the so-called Capeman in the stabbing death of two other teenagers in 1959 in a park on Manhattan’s West Side, and a man standing by the side of the road in Dallas as John Kennedy drove by on that sunny day.  Now, I propose a new Umbrella Man and unlike those other two, he represents kindness and generosity.

Bravo Señor Alvaro Reinoso, manager and part owner of Andanada, 141 West 69th Street, a Spanish restaurant open just over one year.  We’ve eaten there a few times, enjoying the three different types of sangria and the interesting tapas, usually skipping a main course after a bunch of tapas.  However, it’s not the food or drinks, generally quite good, but not cheap, that I wish to pay tribute to.  On Saturday night, January 11th, a very rainy night, we ate at Andanada with friends.  I parked my umbrella in a bucket near the front door.  Now, this wasn’t your ordinary $2, bought-on-the-street, self-destructing umbrella.  It came from Brooks Brothers and its oversize canopy was, appropriately enough, pin-striped.  It was a cherished gift from Nate Persily to replace the umbrella that I had lent him that he lost, which, in fact, was a present from my cousin Michael Goldenberg, who, as marketing manager for a cosmetics firm, had some umbrellas left over after distributing them as premiums with purchases.  I’m sorry, but I don’t recall the name of the product advertised on that sturdy black umbrella.

In any case, after dinner, as we collected our coats, I found that my umbrella was gone, while more modest ones remained in the bucket.  Sr. Reinoso looked for it where it shouldn’t have been, with no luck.  He said that he would call me with any news of the umbrella in the next few days, and promised to make amends (although I knew that he was under no obligation to do so).  I dropped in again about one week later, since Andanada is right across Broadway from the Palazzo di Gotthelf, and gave him the umbrella’s pinstriped sheath which I had removed before going out in the rain, so that he could confirm its return if and when.  So, I was delighted to receive a telephone message on Wednesday from Sr. Reinoso asking me to visit him regarding the umbrella.  Last night, on the way home from seeing Matilda, a delightful musical import from Britain, I stopped into the restaurant where this fine gentleman, apologetic for my loss, handed me a brand-new umbrella from Brooks Brothers.  While the pinstriped version is no longer available, this umbrella has a smart plaid canopy and a firm wooden handle.  How about that!

Now, I want you all to eat and drink at Andanada, give regards to Sr. Reinoso and keep your umbrella to yourself.


  1. Great week Alan….Bravo Sr. Reinoso!

  2. That original black umbrella, given to you by your favorite first cousin, was from Pierre Cardin - probably circa 1985! Amazing that anything lasts almost 30 years, let alone something that was given away as a gift with purchase!

  3. Geri,
    That umbrella disappeared about 15 years ago, but the memory lingers on.