Friday, July 25, 2014

Customer Disservice

Monday, July 21, 2014
Just hours after buying two tickets to see the Book of Mormon in London in September, at about 1/3 the Broadway price, the (London-resident) Brodies sent me an e-mail that they would like to see it too. I got back on-line to Ticketmaster UK (TUK) to order more tickets and found the two seats next to us still open. However, when I tried to purchase them, the computer wouldn’t allow it, because it would leave one more seat in the cluster vacant. In other words, I could purchase one seat of the three available or all three seats, but not two seats. I repeat, TUK refused to sell me two seats, because a third seat was left over with 54 days before the performance to sell it. I immediately sent an e-mail to their customer service desk and got a form response requesting patience. 

Patient I’m not, so yesterday I called Over There and explained the situation to a TUK rep, who claimed that the theater imposed that policy on them. After several minutes of my eloquence, inspired by Rumpole of the Bailey, he agreed to take my appeal to higher authority, and promised resolution in the indeterminate future, either unlocking the two adjacent seats, or placing us in another array of four seats. With that, the prosecution rested, temporarily.

Today, I e-mailed David Brodie and, with silence from TUK, I urged him to go the theater and buy the available seats, just as any normal human being would without the unholy intervention of irrational microcircuitry. Good thinking, right? Well, the theater, even though named for the Prince of Wales, successor to the Throne, would not sell him the tickets because, they informed him, those seats are allocated to TUK. Checkmate?  We'll see.

I spent much of my senior year at CCNY reworking a paper on the confirmation battle over Clare Boothe Luce’s appointment as ambassador to Brazil in order to submit it simultaneously to several different government courses that I was taking, that is the small portion of my senior year that I actually devoted to academic pursuits. A new biography of Luce was reviewed in the Times yesterday by Maureen Dowd, a woman with an almost equally sharp tongue. Dowd recalled the only time she ever met Luce, who died in 1987, Luce greeted her with "Did you know all the mischief in the world was caused by five Jewish men?" This was coupled with another Luce remark meant to illustrate where she stood on the International Jewish Conspiracy.

However, I found the comment about five Jewish men, which I don’t think originated with Luce, fascinating, and not necessarily unflattering. First, of course, we need to identify the starting lineup. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Marx and Freud, a powerful collection, immediately came to mind.  Although not Jewish, Hitler, Stalin and Mao could surely qualify as mischief-makers. They might be on the second team, though, because they were specific to their time and place, not shaping the future, only destroying it for many in their path.

I am reconsidering Abraham’s place. While his monotheism was radical, I’m not sure of its value today. The monotheistic religions still battle (often literally) over whose God is the one and only God. So, I have a slot open. "Major Male Jewish Mischief-Maker Wanted." Theodore Herzl, Bob Dylan, Baruch Spinoza, Lennie Bruce?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
After numerous e-mail exchanges with TUK, and my suggestion that American Express has proved very cooperative with me in the past when dealing with unreasonable vendors, I received the following message shortly before noon: "Thanks for your reply and I’m sorry to hear of any frustration. However, I can see from the notes on your order that we’ve added 2 tickets to your booking in row S and seats 14 -15 to your order." Indeed, just before 2 PM, I got a telephone call from the Mother Country completing the transaction. Game, set and match.

Wait! Stop the presses! Not two minutes after the telephone call from TUK, David Brodie sent me this e-mail: "I have two tickets just in front of you R14 & R15 bought and paid for." As of now, we have 6 tickets for Book of Mormon, when moments ago we were beseeching TUK to allow us to have four.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Boyz Club ate heartily at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street – fried won tons, spare ribs, duck chow fun, beef chow fun, eggplant with garlic sauce, honey crispy chicken, shrimp egg foo young, string beans with black bean sauce, mushroom fried rice and toothpicks for dessert @ $16 each complete.

Thursday, July 24, 2014
First message in my in-box this morning is from David Brodie telling how theater box office is unwilling to correct our trans-Atlantic communications breakdown. This might be a good time for you to consider a few days in London in early September. I can guarantee good seats to a hit show.

My role as a cutting-edge observer of the passing scene is subject to the vagaries of time, that is, when you get to my cutting edge, it has often been dulled by the inexorable movement of time and tide. But, I have an obligation to report what I see, and I see fruit prices in Chinatown in a very favorable position. Cherries, both Bing and Queen Anne, are at 2 pounds for $4, blueberries, $1.25 a pint, strawberries, $1.25 a pound. Champagne mangoes are running out, and have risen to about $1.25 each for hefty sizes, but juicy sweet when ripe. For one day only earlier in the week, I found white donut peaches at $3 for 20 ounces, a rare treat. While not a bargain, Fairway has been featuring pluots (plum/apricot hybrids) at around $3.99 a pound that are consistently delicious. Indulge.  After all, think of all the money you saved in Chinatown.

Friday, July 25, 2014
These are troubled times, and it’s not easy finding and holding onto manifestations of certainty and reliability. One comforting beacon has been the accuracy of the reporting at the New Yorker magazine. Their fact-checking is legendary.
Even their cartoons are reputedly fact-checked.

Which means that I have to report the following with some regret. This week, in a story about a family of young dealers in antique musical instruments, the writer describes a visit to their new apartment/showroom in the Plaza Hotel, which was graced by a table they had just purchased on auction at Christies. The three sibling’s mother "set a plate of pastel macaroons on it." Even if it were Passover, everyone knows that macarOOns, a corrugated, conical-shaped confection made of sugar, egg whites and either ground almonds or coconut, appear in shades of tan, unless mixed with cocoa, or dipped in chocolate. Cf. the good works of

Given the fancy schmancy setting of the Plaza Hotel, the likelihood of serving macaroons of any hue was remote, at best. What are available in a rainbow of vivid pastel colors (actually ROYGBIV doesn’t leave much room for pastels) are macarOns, a French merengue sandwich cookie. I have fulminated on this subject before (March 21, 2011). How could the New Yorker make such a mistake?  Is there nothing left to hold on to?

Well, apparently not, because I found even the New York Times crossword puzzle today to be fraught with error.  36 Across - Polish rolls (7 letters).  I don't mean to be ethnocentric, but, as my friends at Wikipedia tell us, bialy is "a Yiddish word short for bialystoker kuchen, from Bialystok, a city in Poland."  In Poland, where there are few if any Jews left to speak Yiddish or anything else, the locals say cebularz.  The correct clue for BIALIES is Jewish rolls.  I realize that the current publisher of the New York Times was raised Episcopalian, but even he won't walk into a bakery or coffee shop in New York and ask for a Polish roll.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ringo, George, Paul and Justin?

Monday, July 14, 2014
More than 20 years later, I can’t bring myself to repeat the stupidest thing that I ever said out loud; it was that stupid.  Not surprisingly, it came during a heated discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  I won’t be surprised if the next time I get involved in that toxic topic I say something stupid again.  I am a Zionist and I support Israel tangibly and emotionally.  However, the legacy of the brilliant strategic and tactical victories of the Six Day War should not be the imprisonment of Israelis, by which I mean that obliging Israeli military and police forces to serve as wardens and keepers of an admittedly hostile Arab population imprisons the Israelis along with those they aim to control.  If Arab-Israeli relations is a zero-sum game, I have no hesitancy about how to tilt the playing field.  My primary concern is the safety, health and sanity of the Jews in Israel.  I simply don’t trust anyone else to protect them, and, by extension, Jews in any other land.  History has taught me, as a Jew, to be quite selfish in this regard.  Yet, our survival should incorporate our values as well as our physical well-being.
It is commonplace to speak of a failure of leadership in the Middle East, but let us not absolve the vaunted “man in the street” of responsibility.  It was that building block of democracy who assassinated Anwar Sadat, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, murdered Naftali Fraenkel, murdered Gilad Shaer, murdered Eyal Yifrah, and murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir.  Is it that the current leaders lack the will (or vision) to challenge those that they lead, or, having assessed the likelihood of failure, have retreated to the familiar paths of resentment and revenge?
This article examines, arguably America’s most popular on-line hate web site.  The author, with the telltale name of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, analyzed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles, which get several hundred thousand “hits” each month.  The two most popular subsets for registered members are “Union of National Socialists” and “Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler.”  
Just a couple of extracts before you read about it yourself.  Members “often write about crimes committed by African-Americans against whites; they complain about an ‘invasion’ of Mexicans; and they love to mock gays and feminists.  But their main problem appears to be with Jewish people, who are often described as super-powerful and clever — the driving force, generally speaking, behind the societal changes they do not like.”  While the overall highest membership rates are in Montana, Alaska and Idaho, states that are almost as people-free as Jew-free, the author-with-a-very-Jewish-name makes a somewhat attenuated claim that there is otherwise a correlation between membership and Jewish population.  The hardest thing to explain, for him and me, is the high level of participation by young people; “76 percent of Americans on who identify their age are under 30.”  What’s up with that?   
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Here’s a fascinating headline that just came over the wire that will prove incomprehensible to many of you: “Wolves, Warriors Restart Love Talks.”
I made a big mistake last week by informing you that Whataburger (one of Consumer Reports’s best hamburger chains) has a local (New York City) presence.  Yes, they are in Manhattan – Manhattan, Kansas.  Forgive me.  However, it further underlines my conviction that one major reason, of many, to visit me here is to be able to eat in a real restaurant, owned by a real person.  At first, it may be scary to walk into a place that’s not the same as the one back home, but you’re here, not there.   
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
If, on the other hand, you want to lose your appetite, read Mark Bittman’s (New York Times food columnist) analysis of what everyone else pays for when you buy a cheeseburger, forgetting the loss of your soul for mixing meat and dairy.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
I mustered the courage to go into Sun In Bloom Takeaway, 165 Church Street, even though it wasn’t lunchtime and there is nothing faintly Asian about it.  Possibly a greater deterrent is its characterization as “Hand-crafted, Gluten-free, Organic, Vegan, Kosher.”  I thought that I might be arrested for just walking in the joint.  However, keeping a low profile, I went in and ordered a cup of coffee ($2.50 plus tax, 12 oz.), which I drank at my Khazak shoemaker’s shop, a few doors north, as he made some minor adjustments to my footwear.  Only the price distinguished the allegedly organic and fair trade coffee, although the server was very bright and cheery at 8:15 AM.  They also serve salads, sandwiches and baked goods, proclaiming that they “specialize in organic, vegan, raw food cuisine and macrobiotic dishes, along with gluten-free vegan baked goods and raw desserts.”  Proceed at your own risk.

Friday, July 18, 2014
My brother sends along an interesting article on technology’s effect on the contemporary spy novel, outlining the difficulties in outwitting digital detection.  Creating a false identity, for instance, now requires more than attention to clothing labels, passport photos and wallet contents in this age of Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.

Having recently commended the scallion pancake at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, I made that my destination at lunch.  Besides the ever-reliable scallion pancake ($2.25), I had Singapore rice noodles a/k/a vermicelli, mei fun, angel hair ($7.95).  The very large portion of noodles was cooked with green peppers, red peppers, shrimp, onions, egg, pork and bean sprouts spiced with an assertive curry powder.  The relative airiness of the fine noodles made me feel as if I was eating less than my usual chow fun, the wonderfully dense, wide noodle.  In fact, I could only plow through 2/3 of the dish, even after leaving over one slice of the scallion pancake cut into sixths.  

The British Open Golf Championship is being held in Liverpool, England this week and several of the world’s leading golfers demonstrated shocking ignorance about our life and times.  They could not name all four Beatles, who came from Liverpool, after all.;sport=6
I realize that achieving success in a competitive sport requires preternatural focus and dedication, but, come on now, they weren’t asked to name the Andrews sisters.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Monday, July 7, 2014
You don’t think of turning to Consumer Reports for excitement. Often, in its attempt to appear sober and authoritative, it seems to regret not printing in black and white. The current issue features "America’s Best & Worst Fast Food." Almost exactly two years ago, July 4, 2012, I commented on its review of chain restaurants, finding that absolutely none of those that "earned especially high marks across the board" could be reached using New York City’s extensive public transportation system. In fact, only one could be reached by traveling less than one hour in an automobile.

Fast food restaurants are found throughout New York City, but again we are denied the better alternatives, in the eyes of Consumer Reports. In the critical category of hamburgers, the top five chains, selected by tens of thousands of readers, are, in order:
.   In-N-Out Burger, headquartered in Irvine, CA, which I patronized when in exile in Los Angeles, operates predominantly in California, with a presence in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Texas.

.   The Habit Burger Grill also is headquartered in Irvine, CA, not exactly cow country. It has dozens of locations entirely in California, Arizona and Utah. However, a Fair Lawn, NJ site is promised soon.

.   Culver’s, based in Wisconsin, does not appear anywhere in New York or New Jersey.

.   Burgerville, never straying far from its Vancouver, Washington home, is only situated in Washington and Oregon.

.   Whataburger, headquartered in Denver, CO, extends nationally, with a modest local presence, 1 store in Brooklyn and 2 in Manhattan.

Note, if we reach down into the next 5 favorites, only Five Guys Burgers and Fries (#7), counter to its highly-rated competitors, has 9 Manhattan locations, 4 in Brooklyn, 7 in Queens and 1 on Staten Island, among its hundreds throughout the country. I know that I ate in one of the Queens locations, which was not far from my mother’s residence, but no closer to home. Also, Steak’n’Shake (#10) has one Manhattan location.

The really big guys (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and the like) appear on the bottom half of Consumer Reports’s list of 21 companies, with McDonald’s last of all. In conclusion, I am sticking to Chinatown for fast and good and interesting and occasionally nutritious food.

Not that every Chinatown joint is a winner. Queen Bakery, 150 Mott Street, may be the start of a chain with its sister at 139 Centre Street (December 4, 2013). It is small; 1 table for four and 4 two-tops occupy the space in front of the counter. Prepared baked goods are on the shelves to the left. The menu offers congee and noodle soups, along with a variety of beverages, hot and cold. Hot beverages of any sort were unwelcome today with the temperature in the high 80s, so I asked if I could get noodles without soup. I wound up with shrimp dumplings, mei fun (vermicelli) and vegetables (bean sprouts, mushrooms, pea pods and Chinese broccoli) freshly cooked, but dry ($5.50). I put some hot sauce on it to give it some flavor, which ordinarily might have come from the broth. I also had a sticky roast pork bun (80¢) to round out the meal and my stomach. I won’t bother telling Consumer Reports about this lunch. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
I’m trying to find a comparison for Brazil’s loss to Germany 7-1 in the World Cup. How about the last Super Bowl, when Seattle trounced the favored Denver 43-8? Tired of sports? How about Ted Kennedy’s television interview, on October 12, 1979, when the senator, riding high in the polls to challenge the renomination of Jimmy Carter, answered the question why he wanted to be president in a manner described by the Boston Globe as "at once incoherent and repetitive?" Maybe, Ishtar, a 1987 film written and directed by the very witty Elaine May, starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, considered an extravagant flop, although I found one comment that the "movie is far from being unwatchable?" Eric Cantor?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Pho Pasteur Vietnamese Restaurant, 85 Baxter Street, is Faux Pasteur now. The whole place has been done over and is now called Pasteur Grill and Noodles. The storefront is entirely framed glass panes. The boxy interior holds about 50 customers seated on dark wood furniture. Two walls are entirely mirrored, the other holds two photo murals and a small television set.

The menus are clearly laid out, with many photographs. I ordered stir fried shrimp in tamarind sauce ($12, a small portion of white rice unnecessarily extra at $1.50). The shrimp dish was very good. 14 or so medium-sized shrimp were cooked with onions, cucumber, green peppers, red peppers and lettuce, in a sweet-tangy sauce that did not have the consistency of industrial sludge. It really was worth the money.

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Dose the lack of success of black and Hispanic students on the Stuyvesant High School entrance examination justify closing the school, or changing the role of the examination in the admission process?
I am unwilling to punish the school because of the limitations of parents, politicians and educators, in that order. 

Friday, July 11, 2014
In response to frequent requests, here is my summary of Chinatown favorites:

Best classic Chinatown food and atmosphere РWo Hop, 17 Mott Street (downstairs). Noodles and fried rice are excellent, as is egg foo young, elevating a clich̩ to fine food. Note, avoid beef dishes where beef is not sliced thin.

Best lunch time deal – Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street. Hot and sour soup, rice and main course around $6. Add a scallion pancake (no worse than second best in Chinatown).

Best dim sum food – Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway. Dignified, no carts. Order assorted platter, each piece (all steamed) different size, shape, color, contents.

Best dim sum experience – Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street. Big, noisy, countless carts; great with a group.

Best Peking duck – Mottzar Kitchen, 70 Mott Street. Don’t bother with anything else. 1 duck for two, $25.95, can’t be beat.

Good alternative – West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery Street, Chinatown Arcade (between Bowery and Elizabeth Street). Order roti canai, pancake with curry dipping sauce; satay chicken or beef (or both) on skewers with peanut sauce.

Another good alternative – Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street (Korean). Order a lunch box, $12-14.

Still another good alternative (with almost no room to sit) – Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich, 369 Broome Street.

Still another good alternative (with a little room to sit) – Banh Mi, Vietnamese Sandwich, 73 West Broadway.

For a "nice" evening meal, Ping's Seafood, 22 Mott Street. Very good food and tablecloths.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Brown Shirts and Black and White Athletes

Monday, June 30, 2014
Fascism is a convenient shorthand description of the US Supreme Court’s gilding of its blend of corporate and state power with a veneer of religious fanaticism. It has followed an agenda of narrowing access to the voting booth while expanding access to lethal firearms. This at a time when the right and the left are expressing increased hostility to established institutions of all stripes, and each other as well.  I guess that's what guns are for.

Shopping tip: The fish department at ShopRite of Englewood, 40 Nathaniel Place, just off Palisade Avenue, has freshly-made salmon burgers, weighing about 1/4 pound each, at 2 for $3. Gently pan fried in olive oil, they are delicious. And, with salmon prices at all-time highs (, this is an incredible deal. I hope that it stays around for a while for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
It’s hard reading the newspaper this morning. The lead domestic story is the despicable Supreme Court decision elevating the religious beliefs of some people (with power) over the health and safety of other people (without power). More focused cruelty is demonstrated in the death of the three hitchhiking Israeli teenagers. While both sides will try to trace root causes back to the conduct of the other, we should, momentarily at least, announce the simple facts of the event: Three teenage boys were shot to death by one or more strangers. Placing the atrocity in the Arab-Israeli cauldron should not rob it of its human character, but it probably will.

One bright spot for those of us who go to work every day and play by the rules is the $8.9 billion (yes, billion) penalty for BNP Paribas, a French bank, which, for at least 10 years, falsified records on illegal transactions. Now, if prosecutorial zeal can be aimed a little closer to home.

Another cause for hope is the demonstrations in Hong Kong calling for greater democracy. Hundreds of thousands of people marched earlier today (there is a 12-hour time difference), opposing the continued oppression by the Communist regime. This inspired some of the leading capitalist advocates of freedom and justice for all to speak up, to take a stand. According to a column in the Wall Street Journal, "[t]he Hong Kong affiliates of Ernst & Young LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte LLP and KPMG LLP published a half-page Chinese-language advertisement in the local press Friday voicing concerns about the Occupy Central movement [a leading pro-democracy group]." The advertisement said, "We worry that multinational companies and investors might consider moving their regional headquarters from Hong Kong, or even remove their businesses, in the long term shaking Hong Kong from its position as an international financial and commercial center." So, our brave CPA freedom fighters take a bold stand for the supremacy of international finance and commerce. Their mothers must be very proud.

Even with the temperature at 88, I didn’t mind the long walk through Chinatown, and its unrivaled collection of smells, to get to Quan Sushi, 375 Broome Street, a really tiny Japanese restaurant, visited for the first time. Quan has 6 two-top tables which have to be bunched together to fit in the floor space. Additionally, there is a two-person sushi bar opposite the chef. Its menu has a bit more variety than you might imagine in the limited room to operate, with bento boxes and other lunch specials. I ordered three rolls ($11.50), spicy tuna, eel cucumber and salmon skin. They all tasted very fresh, made inside out, with a thin layer of rice on the outside. Each was cut into six 1" pieces. They were accompanied by cloudy miso soup and a very predictable small iceberg lettuce salad with a slightly interesting dressing. Most other people would have found the airconditioning adequate.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
The temperature hit 90 and I was unwilling to go far afield for lunch. Therefore, it was roast duck chow fun ($6.95) at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, which actually would have been worth a long trip.

Thursday, July 3, 2014
I’ve written of the death of my cousin Allan S. Gotthelf on August 30, 2013. Less than one year apart, but in different grades, we went to the same elementary school and high school simultaneously. Then, for three years, we overlapped in municipal colleges, me City College, him Brooklyn College. In retrospect, the confusion was less than you might imagine, although, whenever I was taken for a leading acolyte of Ayn Rand, I wasn’t pleased.

He and I were both amused, however, when I shared a letter that I received, in 1969, from a former girlfriend of Alan Gotthelf who actually never had the pleasure of the company of either of us. This woman, then living in Kansas, wrote to remind me of her romantic interlude with me, that is Alan Gotthelf, in Colorado a few years earlier. (I still have the letter.)  Cousin Allan insisted that he had never been in Colorado and I was not to get there until a brief business trip in the early 1980s. I called her, of course, to explain who I was and who I wasn’t, also exonerating cousin Allan. I only learned a little bit more about her Alan Gotthelf, but was convinced of her sincerity (and sanity). Now, I’ve found another piece of the puzzle.

[Click for better focus]

This monument is in Sons of Israel Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Internet inquiries show that Mother Martha, now 94, is still alive, living in Denver.  I haven't been able to reach her on the telephone yet. Of course, I have to be very careful of my opening lines when we finally get into conversation, or else it may sound like an old script from the Twilight Zone.

Friday, July 4, 2014
On this day celebrating the good old USA, it's appropriate to celebrate the legacy of the late Strom Thurmond, the long-lived, long-serving Senator from South Carolina.  Watching the World Cup, we see that many of our best players, such as Jermaine Jones, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks and Julian Green, are the products of liaisons between black US soldiers and German women.  It was Thurmond, nominally a segregationist, who advanced the cause of athletic excellence in fathering a daughter by a black domestic in his household.  While our soccer team was eliminated in the round of 16 earlier this week, with Green scoring the only goal for the US, we can only hope that Thurmond's example furthers our competitive position in years to come.