Friday, March 28, 2014

Bridge Over Troubled Waters?

Monday, March 24, 2014
There are a couple of things to note since my last publication. First, Dean Alfange, Jr., distinguished United States Supreme Court scholar points out that the WASP-less panel discussing (the uber-WASPy) John Lindsay's tenure as Mayor of New York, while out of line with overall American demographics, is a near-perfect reflection of the current Supreme Court, Jews, Italian-Americans, a Latina, an African-American -- no Protestants of any flavor or color. How interesting.

Secondly, while I devote myself almost entirely to discussing eating lunch in Chinatown, I feel obliged to report on the excellent meal that we (in the company of intrepid traveling companions Jill and Steve) had Friday night at MP Taverna, 31-29 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria. It’s a very busy two-story place, with a long bar, properly equipped with television sets tuned to sports events, on the first floor. Many more tables are upstairs, where, although slightly further from the kitchen, service was prompt and generally efficient.

The menu was slightly off-putting at first. It seemed more Greekish than Greek, with either the chef reinterpreting classic dishes or omitting them altogether. Additionally, prices for the appetizers (mezzes in the local lingo), the first things seen on the top of the menu, were pretty high, $9.50 to $13.95. But, then I saw that main courses, such as roasted lemon chicken ($15.95) and grilled branzino ($20.95) were much more down to earth. I had a lamb burger, nearly a 1/2 pound of meat with bacon, smoked mozzarella and trimmings, with a side of "smashed fries," potatoes that had been smooshed flat before frying, an excellent execution. Two others ordered the branzino, and Jill ventured into a special concoction of orzo, mushrooms, and other vegetables that was pronounced delicious. Hot, thin pita wedges, a plate of three dips -- yoghurt with cucumber & dill, chick peas with sundried tomato & herbs, and eggplant with roasted peppers & garlic -- a glass of sauvignon blanc, and a chocolate halvah brownie for dessert. This meal would certainly soften the blow of moving to Queens, if we were ever pressed to leave the Palazzo di Gotthelf.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
"2 Killed in Shooting at Virginia Naval Base," reads one story this morning, right next to "Georgia Proposes Sweeping Pro-Gun Law." I’m convinced that the gun nuts (distinct from some hunters and competitive shooters) are ultimately afraid of the people (world) around them, and, imagining their inability to cope with the hustle-bustle of modern life, turn to firearms to provide the illusion of safety and control. Of course, the irony (unfortunately, a concept that seems to be totally absent from the gun nuts’ mentality) is that the greatest danger here – not Cairo, not Caracas, not Kiev – comes from other gun nuts. We only have to go to today’s newspaper, and tomorrow’s and tomorrow’s and tomorrow’s, to learn that guns kill people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported for 2011: Number of firearm homicide deaths, 11,101 (out of 15,953 total homicide deaths); number of firearm suicide deaths, 19,766 (out of 38,285 total suicide deaths). Now, do you feel safer?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The Boyz Club ate today at Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street, an excellent Korean restaurant, and apparently the only one nearby, now that Jup She, 171 Grand Street, closed. We riffed on the topic of "If a corporation, enjoying the privileges and immunities of the corporate form, is owned/controlled by people professing ________________ religious beliefs, it should be able to treat its employees like crap."

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Noodle Q Inc., 2 East Broadway, has a bright new sign on both sides of its corner plot. The interior also appears fresh and bright. However, the menu still reads Food Sing 88 Corp., although the prices have been raised from a previous iteration (December 6, 2010). I’m treating this, therefore, as a new restaurant, adding to my count.

Noodles, hand-pulled and otherwise, are the focus here. I had lamb with dry noodles ($6.75) which was accompanied by a bowl of dark, rich (fatty) beef broth, served piping hot. The lamb was in small cubes, sometimes attached to a piece of bone, sometimes with a little gristle, but not cooked beyond recognition or digestion. Eggs, celery, onions, and bok choy were cooked in with the lo-meinish noodles. Quite tasty. I eschewed the waitress’s offer of a fork and made all gone with chop sticks.

Friday, March 28, 2014
"How to Investigate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie," by Randy (Big Shot Lawyer) Mastro: 

1. Ask Governor Christie if he was involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
2. Don’t ask anyone who was likely to have been involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge whether Governor Christie was involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
3. Announce that Governor Christie was not involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Remember When

Monday, March 17, 2014
A federal district judge, sitting in Brooklyn, has been removed from a case involving handicap access to a Subway restaurant. The judge sent staff members to the location to examine its wheelchair-accessibility. The judge was skeptical because the plaintiff commenced eight law suits asserting the same charges in identical language, on the same day, against eight different Subways. The judge’s problem was the absence of the lawyers on the case at the site visit. In fact, the judge had his guys go to all eight restaurants, where they allegedly found conditions that did not comport with plaintiff’s claims. Even though empirical observations were being gathered "for judicial notice," it wasn’t kosher to do so without the benefit of counsel to obfuscate and distort the obvious physical conditions at issue. While there is no question that the Federal Rules of Evidence require notice to the lawyers of what the judge was up to, I can’t help but be sympathetic to the judge in his search for truth.

I was a management consultant for years before I became a lawyer. I saw myself as a problemsolver, trying to find reasonable solutions to business issues dealing with information and financial management. When I became a lawyer, these instincts did not leave me, and, admittedly, have sometimes interfered with the proper conduct of my job. Never have I taken it as far as the Brooklyn federal judge, sending Nancy Drew out to the scene of the crime. Also, when I have taken unauthorized "judicial notice" of some salient factor, I usually confessed it to my supervisor. As a result, the forbidden fruit never, maybe never, got incorporated into the resolution of the legal dispute at hand. Still, I am tempted to peek at information available to the general public, but withheld from the court for any numbers of reasons, ranging from the strategic to the incompetent. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
I have commented before on the eagerness of the Domestic Enemies of Sanity to convert the War on Poverty to a War on the Poor by imposing drug testing on public assistance recipients. I thought that it was all wrong, backwards in fact. Major harm is really threatened by the coked-up top dogs who command vast resources and govern the health and welfare of so many of us, not the field mice scratching for an existence. Case in point – Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts professional football team, arrested late Sunday on suspicion of intoxicated driving, and now facing four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Members of his team, and all other NFL players, are subject to regular drug testing. After all, a pill-popping running back is perceived as a threat to all we hold near and dear. Team owners, and other better members of American society, however, are spared the indignity of aiming for the bottle, so they may concentrate on the management of their non-liquid assets.

I realize that I might seem to be harsh on Irsay and the other vaunted job-creators (who have done a lousy job of creating jobs for several years now, in case anyone didn’t notice). After all, Irsay worked very hard to reach his current position. When his father died in 1997, leaving ownership of the Indianapolis Colts in dispute, Irsay waged a legal battle against his stepmother to gain control of the team. And, that wasn’t a walk in the park. Word has it that Irsay lost several pairs of cufflinks in the struggle.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
As I finished my dim sum at Grand Harmony Restaurant, 98 Mott Street, I looked around at the dozens of tables in the crowded restaurant. I spotted only two other non-Chinese(ish) faces, which is, of course, a powerful endorsement. I enjoyed shrimp dumplings, sticky pork buns, shu mai and something I've never seen before, broad rice noodles wrapped around a crispy middle (fried cotton candy?) with a dab of meat or vegetable in the center. That’s not a very helpful description, but the server spoke a dialect that I haven’t fully mastered. This collection cost $10.50 before tax and tip.

Thursday, March 20, 2014
It may have been unconscious, but I drifted over to Gold River Malaysian Cuisine, 21 Division Street, without thinking about the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The staff was very pleasant and attentive, so I didn’t think to engage them in speculation about the missing airplane. Instead, I merely ordered curried chicken over rice ($6.25) and worked the crossword puzzle. The food was good, the mound of rice much larger than the portion of chicken. The plate also had about half a dozen fresh cucumber spears to balance the spicy curry sauce.

When I finished, I walked down the block to see how Division 31 Restaurant was faring. It seems that they still insist in offering hot pot only at lunchtime to no customers. This was at least the fourth time that I found the joint empty, but unwilling to serve any other food. The difference this time was the removal of their lunchtime special menu from the window, so that no one might ask for what they were never willing to provide.

Friday, March 21, 2014
Last night, I went to a forum at Hunter College on John Lindsay, held in conjunction with the publication of a new book "Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream," edited by Hunter College Professor Joseph P. Viteritti. About a dozen politicians, staffers, reporters, and historians participated, including the formidable Sid Davidoff, CCNY ‘60, Lindsay’s then young, aggressive street operative. The hall was packed; several hundred people attended, almost all of whom old enough to have voted for Lindsay at the time. It was suggested that a more contemporary audience might benefit from the discussion of the successes and failures of municipal governance nearly 50 years ago.

There was one aspect of the evening that I could not help but observe through the lens of ethnicity, the quintessential New York lens. Lindsay was the perfect WASP. Born into an upper-middle-class family, Episcopalian, educated at St. Paul’s School, Yale and Yale Law School. He was the last white Protestant mayor of New York, maybe forever. The only other white Protestant mayor before him in the last 100 years was Fiorello H. La Guardia, son of a lapsed Roman Catholic father and a Jewish mother, who somehow emerged as an Episcopalian. By no accounts would La Guardia be considered a WASP. In any case, no one on the stage last night was a WASP – Jews, African-Americans, Hispanic, Italian-Americans. How interesting.  How unlike so much of America we are. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cake Walk

Monday, March 10, 2014
“All the News That’s Fit to Print” is the famous motto of the New York Times, but I’m disappointed to say that, at least yesterday, they failed terribly in meeting this goal.  It was not a matter of some rush-rush, breaking story where exactitude had to be sacrificed in order to get out the basic details.  Instead, a small feature piece entitled “Stolen Recipe?  No Little Old Lady?” describes a bustling Brooklyn bakery named Mrs. Maxwell’s Bakery omitted critical information. 

The Times tells us that “a procession of cars and minivans began to stream into the bakery’s parking lot” on a Sunday morning as church services ended.  Later, “the place was packed with boisterous families.”   By now, my antennae were throbbing -- a great bakery operating for about 85 years located in East New York, my boyhood neighborhood, “on Atlantic Avenue on the way home from Kennedy Airport.” 

Let’s turn for a moment away from gastronomy to geography.  Atlantic Avenue starts at the East River, runs the entire width of Brooklyn into Queens, ending at 147th Street in Jamaica.  About 3/4 of the distance of Atlantic Avenue is in Brooklyn, roughly 9 of 12 miles, all of which could be on your way home from Kennedy Airport.  Now, I grew up in East New York, a neighborhood not widely known, on Pitkin Avenue, two long blocks south of Atlantic Avenue.  I never heard of Mrs. Maxwell’s, so I read the article very carefully.  In many column inches, the Times was unable to fit in the address of the bakery.  Where in Hell is Mrs. Maxwell’s?  It’s easy to get confused, especially when West New York is in New Jersey.  Even if you knew the relative location of East New York, it is a designation that extends several miles itself.   

This is where Grandpa Alan comes to your rescue.  A quick inquiry, which should not have been beyond the research skills of the Times, reveals the address of Mrs. Maxwell’s as 2700 Atlantic Avenue, between Vermont Street and Wyona Street, much closer to the Queens County line than the East River.  There are a couple of subway stops nearby, Liberty Avenue on the A and C lines, and Alabama Avenue on the J line.  While it’s not that hard to get there, please note that Mrs. Maxwell’s is situated well off the beaten path, miles from the newly-gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn that have drawn your suburban-raised children.  

An address that I’ll never forget is 17 Mott Street, where Wo Hop thrives below street level.  I had a (large as always) plate of chicken chow fun ($6.50) that held a delight in every bite.  The balance of flavors that Wo Hop manages with its chow fun dishes is remarkable, with the noodles a little Far East of al dente.  I’m again reminded of why I eat there once a week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The e-mail message from Lexus of Manhattan reassured me that fixing our car will cost less than I spent last year fixing my teeth.  Although, as Stony Brook Steve sagely observed, “There goes your Spring vacation.”  Admittedly, our automobile had performed near-flawlessly for over 6 years, although not much was demanded of it as we both take the subway to work every weekday.  However, last week, the vehicle decided to declare its independence from the orderly affairs of the friendly Gotthelf family.  Given the gravity of the indicated problem(s), we had no choice but to fund the Spring vacation of Vito Perremuto, a service department manager at Lexus of Manhattan.  I hope I get a postcard.

Yesterday’s visit to Wo Hop was so satisfying that I returned today with Stony Brook Steve, who ordered the chicken chow fun. 

This week’s New Yorker magazine features an interview with the father of the Sandy Hook school executioner.  The father, who had not seen his son for two years before the terrible events of December 2012, describes his son as “evil,” and expresses the wish that his son, the younger of two boys, had never been born.  

The father’s painful thoughts brought to mind Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, a biblical tale oft examined by clergy and psychotherapists alike.  Conventionally, the story is taken as a test of Abraham’s faith in God.  Abraham, doing God’s bidding, binds Isaac, lifts a knife to him, but is deterred at the last moment by an angel.  My lifetime is too short to begin contemplating whether the angel was rebelling against God, acting under God’s direction, God herself or simply Abraham’s conscience. 

And, what of that voice that guided Abraham to the brink of a terrible crime?  Did the young, alienated Sandy Hook killer hear a compelling voice also?  Abraham stopped in time, while the killer did not.  At a critical juncture, he stopped taking the medications which apparently temporarily substituted for an angel or a conscience.  

The other night, as America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I were watching a string of Homeland episodes, she commented about my antagonism toward the fictional character Carrie Mathison, the brilliant but emotionally unstable CIA agent.  She, my bride that is, pointed out the similar feelings aroused in me by some people we know, as well as other fictional characters and celebrities, who go too far in one fashion or another.  Whether seduced by any of the Seven Deadly Sins or heavenly voices, I hope that those around me can pull back in time, as Abraham did.  If not, don’t expect me to be a source of comfort and understanding.  I know my limitations.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Driver's Test

Monday, March 3, 2014
A bitcoin for your thoughts?

A new month, and a new restaurant.  85 Chinese Restaurant, 85 Chrystie Street, obviously gets straight to the point.  It is medium sized, holding 4 round tables and about a dozen two tops pushed together as needed.  The walls and the furniture are mostly blond wood, giving a bright, airy feel to the joint.  I ordered Singapore chow fun ($7.50), one of my favorite dishes.  As with many restaurants, it does not appear on the menu, but, once you see beef chow fun (the wide noodle) and Singapore chow mei fun (the thin noodle), you know that you can get them combined.  The portion was very large.  In fact, my only complaint is how the dish cooled down as I soldiered through the heap of shrimp, pork, egg, scallions, onions, green pepper, bean sprouts and noodles cooked with curry.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Today is Mardi Gras.  However, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, unlike other parts of the U.S. or the world, you are unlikely to see half-naked drunks throwing jewelry to bystanders, in spite of my urging.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I was reminded of my first car this morning.  It was a 1958 Dodge sedan, purchased used from a Dodge dealer in Queens, during my second year of graduate school.  We were a Dodge family.  The first car in the family that I knew of was a 1937 mouse-gray Dodge.  In 1950, my father traded that in for a pea-soup green Dodge sedan, which we inaugurated by taking a trip more or less around the perimeter of New York state.  I remember stops in Binghamton, Buffalo and Glens Falls where, at a firemen’s carnival, my father and I won consecutive Bingo games on the same card.  My father replaced that car with a blue and white 1957 Dodge, which influenced my purchase about 6 years later.

Dodge, as most other domestic automobile manufacturers, was then in thrall of tail fins, so the chrome trim and the two-tone paint jobs on both the 1957 and 1958 Dodges emphasized the faux aerodynamic lines of the automobile.  I paid $600 for the car, I think, which was painted cream and gold, quite stunning at the time.  It also featured a push-button automatic transmission, another touch of modernity.  My reverie did not last long, however.  On my first trip from Queens to Ithaca, the car blew up or something like that.  Pardon me, but the fine education that I had at Stuyvesant High School and CCNY unfortunately omitted automobile mechanics and repairs.

Time and pain have obscured a lot of the subsequent details, but I managed to get the car fixed at a garage somewhere along Route 17, the major link between New York City and Ithaca.  I paraded about Ithaca for a bit, before heading back to New York.  About halfway, the car blew up again.  I had already reached the area known as the Borscht Belt, because of the density of Jewish summertime visitors, and was able to find my way late at night to the bungalow where the Friedmans, very close friends of my parents, were staying.  I arranged to have the car towed back to the dealer in Queens, and rolled (pushed) it onto his lot, demanding a refund.  Years later, I got $200, although my lawyer, a relative, may have done better than me in the transaction.

All of this comes to mind because of the news that a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider sold at auction for $27.5 million last summer, while, a few days ago, a 1958 Ferrari 335S sold privately for $21.5 million.  Now, if somehow I managed to retain and preserve my father’s 1957 Dodge and my 1958 Dodge, and sold them as a set, which the Ferrari owners were unable to do, I would likely have become a Republican.

Max K., once the Belarus Wonder Boy, now an American real estate investor, came to lunch with me.  We went to Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, which feeds dim sum of the highest quality to enormous crowds  in a wonderfully garish setting.  We ate and ate and ate, and managed to spend just over $20.  The pleasure of Max’s company distracted me from keeping count of the number of dims that we summed, but it seemed to have been about 9 or 10.

Thursday, March 6, 2014
The College Board has announced a major revision of the SAT, the great hurdle to college admissions, because it had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”  The College Board claims that only 20% of classroom teachers see the SAT as a fair measure of the work their students have done.  Or, is it possible, that the work that their students have done is only 20% of what they should have done?

I admit a certain bias in this regard, representing the reverse side of this formula.  Throughout my 20th century school years (law school was mostly a 21st century event), I usually went through an extended period of academic sloth and indolence, only to pull many of my proverbial chestnuts out of the fire by wielding a #2 pencil accurately between those narrow parallel lines.  My test scores, therefore, seemed to demonstrate academic diligence and rigor that had no basis in reality.

I agree with the College Board’s attempt, however, to deflate the SAT prep and tutoring industry, with its distinct flavor of “money talks,” the secular religion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing bloc.  I am all for rewarding practice and concentration, but it seems that test-taking tricks and strategies were often being peddled as keys to SAT success.

The best news concerns the character of the SAT essay section.  Quoth the New York Times: “Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones.  In the future, though, students will receive a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.”  Oh my!  Quite unlike television reporting and commentary, students will be penalized for “incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones.”  Applied to the communications industry, a thrice-married Australian media magnate might have to retire to raising kangaroos.  

Friday, March 7, 2014
Speaking of looking out for your own, the lead article on the front page of today’s New York Law Journal deals with the charges against four big shots of the now-defunct law firm Dewey & LeBouef, all of whom earned more than $1 million annually.  The New York County District Attorney indicted them for “concocting and overseeing a massive effort to cook the books.”  Making it a bit easy for the prosecutors is a trail of e-mails by these perps, which included such gems as “I don’t want to cook the books anymore” and a list of “Accounting Tricks.”  Accompanying the article is a photograph of the four no-goodniks walking down the hall of the Criminal Court building.  The photo caption politely identifies them as “[f]rom left with hands folded: . . .”  Well, their hands are folded out of necessity because they are all wearing handcuffs, a departure from their usual cufflinks.