Monday, February 10, 2014
I did something yesterday that I had never done before, leaving the list of undone at 87,312. I was a shomer, that is a guardian of a dead body before the funeral. Jewish law (or is it lore?) provides that a body not be left alone until burial. Whether this was always a spiritual exercise or a cautionary practice to ward off animals or other predators is uncertain. Jews of many stripes now maintain the practice at least to honor the deceased. Observant Jews will chant psalms during their guard duty. I, on the other hand, went equipped with the latest copy of the New Yorker, and the book review and magazine sections of the Sunday Times. I didn't know the deceased, a recent member of our congregation, but, as someone drawn to our collection of interesting Jews, she probably would have felt comfortable with how I chose to spend my time with her. I admit that I was nervous as I left the house, but the brown glove on my right hand wasn’t a bad match for the black glove on my left hand.
I sat in a corridor downstairs in the funeral home, behind the casket display room, where a nice piece of wood could run to $13,990. In contrast to the calming decor of the showroom, the corridor’s cinder block walls were painted yellow -- a long time ago. The floor was covered in linoleum trying to look like fitted slate rocks. As I sat at the end of the corridor facing the door that I entered, there were two rooms on my right, maybe 10 x 10, that were fitted with stainless equipment and fixtures, used for ritual washing and other corporal preparations. On my left was the refrigerated room holding bodies; I never looked in to count. In fact, while I was on guard, one body was brought in in a body bag and placed in that room, and, later, an occupied plain pine box, a more typical container than the oak, mahogany or chestnut beauties in the next room, was wheeled out of the refrigerated room and into the elevator to the main floor for a service.
With those rare interruptions, I attempted to concentrate on my reading, trying to forget just where I was. Except, every few minutes, the refrigeration unit cycled on with a clamor that would have evoked calls to the super in almost any nearby Upper West Side apartment house. Even more upsetting was the deodorant/disinfectant spray that visibly shpritzed out of a box on the wall every so often, leaving a lingering odor until the next discharge.
The lovely and talented Ken Klein arrived just before 3 PM to relieve me, and although he is a world-class schmoozer, I left Ken in some haste to regain Amsterdam Avenue and the fresh air outside.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Today’s favorite headline: “Suicide Bomb Trainer in Iraq Accidentally Blows Up His Class”
The very wintery weather that we have been experiencing has resulted in soup for lunch most days recently. Today, it was pho bo kho ($6.25), the signature Vietnamese beef noodle soup at Pho Viet Huong, 73 Mulberry Street. The hot broth had real flavor, picking up the juices of the slices of very rare beef that continued to cook as they sat in the soup. I threw in some bean sprouts and squeezed in the lime that sat on the plate placed next to the soup bowl.
With the good hot soup inside me, I decided to walk the extra half block up to Canal Street in spite of the 24 degree temperature, because I spotted my favorite fruit vendors in operation at the corner. More surprising than their operating on such a cold day was the presence of a small film crew shooting two women, one young, one middle-aged, dressed as Amish women, wearing ankle-length, blue-gray skirts of a heavy fabric, and white bonnets. The very brief scene being filmed had the women buying fruit from one of the Chinese lady peddlers, conducting the transaction almost wordlessly, pointing and grunting to bridge the cultural divide. I’m stymied trying to extract a plot line from this strange scene.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I learned that the fabulous cookie that I had at the last lunch with the Feingold Claque, the very buttery, hand-shaped Milanoesque cookie, partially covered in slivered almonds, comes from Café Trend, 596 Third Avenue at 39th Street, which claims to prepare all of its own food. The location is a bit off my normally beaten path, but this is too important to ignore, and, with the day off for Lincoln’s birthday, still celebrated separately by New York State employees, I headed over to the East Side.
When I got there, the genial manager was pleased that I held his product in such high esteem, but so apparently did others as they were all sold out. He told me to return tomorrow when a new batch would be available.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
While a new batch of cookies might be available today, a new batch of snow came rushing in overnight and stayed through late morning. The high winds whipping the snow around at least gave me a chance to test my new Brooks Brothers umbrella on the way to the subway. It stayed intact and I stayed mostly dry. One train line stopped as I reached the platform, but otherwise the trip went well.
By noon, about one foot of snow had fallen in Manhattan, but it was icy rain that greeted me as I went to lunch. Several shops and restaurants were closed in Chinatown. I was most surprised to find the Chase bank branch at the corner of Mott Street and Canal Street closed when I tried to order a new box of checks. Fortunately, Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, was open, having ended their New Year’s break. Ducts along the low ceiling had been painted, but no other changes were apparent. To their credit, menu prices had not changed even though they had over a week to print up new ones.
The real ugliness set in at the end of the day as I made my way home. All precipitation stopped by mid-afternoon and the temperature rose to the high 30s. That resulted in slop just about anywhere you stepped. Of course, the worst places were the intersections where you had to cross, á la the chicken, to the other side. But, you couldn't, because there weren't puddles in your way, they were ponds. I walked in the gutter on Chambers Street for a one-block stretch until I could find a place to get to the sidewalk safely with slush below my ankles. It was only slightly better when I got off the subway uptown, and I was happy to get into the shelter of the Palazzo di Gotthelf.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Happy Valentine’s Day. I spent the morning at the tender hands of my dearly beloved prosthodontist. The comprehensive renovation of my oral cavity, which began about a year ago, has been a success overall. However, whether my new teeth or my new bite or some combination therein thereof is to blame, I have been regularly chomping on my tongue, trying to turn it into steak tartare, or maybe tongue tartare. This occurs while chewing, no surprise, but when speaking or sneezing? Blood has been drawn. Fortunately, my dental practitioners gave me an appointment on short notice, and, after a couple of hours, sharp edges were smoothed and surfaces polished. Only if my personality were to be repaired in such a short time with so little discomfort.
Wearing the sloppy clothes that matched the sloppy streets, I didn’t want to go to work for the rest of the day. That allowed me to head back to Café Trend to see if there was a Valentine’s Day present for me. Indeed, I was recognized and welcomed. The manager first rummaged through boxes of cookies, but could not find my favorite. Another guy reached for a cellophane-wrapped catering dessert tray, which contained their full repertoire of goodies, and asked me how many cookies I wanted. At first, I demurred, but they insisted that they would break up this package for me. OK, not knowing how they would charge for the cookie under the circumstances, I asked for 10 and pulled out a $20 bill. I’m not going to finish the story, because, if the word gets out how generous they were to me, the New York bakery ecosystem might be irreparably harmed.