Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome Mat

Monday, October 13, 2014
Tavish McMullen lives in ski country, about one hour outside Denver.  He gets to New York City only about twice a decade, so I was duty bound to show him a good time.  Friday, our first full day together, was our busiest.  In the morning, we went to the Tenement Museum, centered on a tenement built in 1876 at 97 Orchard Street.  The tour was very interesting, but most compelling for me was to spend time in the 325 square foot, one bedroom apartment, nearly identical to the one a couple of blocks away where my mother was born.  These apartments were heated by a coal stove and a fireplace, leaving black dust everywhere.  Only cold water came into the apartment, lit by gas lamps and candles until electrified during or after World War I.  Each floor had two toilets for the four families, with assorted friends, relatives and boarders, living there.  Toilets were mandated by 1904, after the landlords fought the local law up to the United States Supreme Court.  When my mother was born in 1909, she was probably the sixth occupant of the apartment at 13 Essex Street, with her parents, her older brother and sister, and, as I recall, her maternal grandfather, a widower by the time she was born (she was named for her maternal grandmother).  We walked down Orchard Street after leaving the museum as I explained why people came from the suburbs to buy underwear there in my youth.

We went to Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, in Chinatown, a favorite of mine for an upbeat dim sum lunch.  We continued walking to the 9/11 site to see the two waterfalls positioned on the footprint of the destroyed towers, where we had gone to the rooftop on an earlier visit by Tavish.  

We stopped into Century 21, 22 Cortlandt Street, the discount department store, where foreign tourists are directed upon emerging from passport control at JFK Airport.  I went in only to look for one thing, a shower curtain, and mirabile dictu, I found exactly what I wanted at $15.99, half off to $7.99.  But, to show you yet again what a great country we live in, the computerized cash register rang up $1.84 including sales tax, which I paid without complaint.  

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist cooked dinner before we went to the evening performance of the Lion King, the brilliant staging of a fable for early adolescents.  

Saturday was much quieter, partly because we slept so late after Friday’s busy schedule.  Tavish and I visited the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, where the current exhibits include Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (until the 1960s, our history was more the former than the latter), and A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects, based on reporter Sam Roberts’s book, including the first subway token (when the fare rose to 15 cents in 1953), a Spaldeen (the pink rubber ball actually made by Spalding, owned by every boy that I ever met in Brooklyn), and a black-and-white cookie (my father’s favorite).  We walked back to Palazzo di Gotthelf, stopping at Jacques Torres, 285 Amsterdam Avenue, to buy the greatest chocolate chip cookies in the world, saving one for my young bride at home.

Because of the quirks of our schedule (I was attending a funeral midday on Sunday), we ate bagels and lox (from Fairway) for dinner Saturday night, and why not?

Sunday was meant to be the high point of the weekend, opening night at Madison Square Garden for the New York Rangers 2014-2015 season.  I was, of course, appropriately bedecked, although the Rangers T-shirt that I had bought for Tavish was ill-sized.  Our apparel did not seem to make a difference, however, because Our Boys in Blue appeared to be covered in gray, shrouded in an energy-less pall that resulted in a 6-3 loss.  Oh, the horror!

At least, before the game, the three of us ate very well at DB Dhaba, 108 Lexington Avenue, the 2 New Yorker’s favorite Indian restaurant.  Madame then proceeded home, leaving us anticipating the thrill of victory when we only experienced the agony of defeat.  

On Monday, Columbus Day, a holiday for the courts, Tavish and I went to Greenwich Village, where I showed him where I lived for almost 3 years when I was his age.  We looked at (the exterior of) residences dating to the early 1800s, and former warehouses and factories now containing multi-million dollar apartments, and the dump that I lived in on Morton Street, which fit neither category.  We ate lunch at John’s Pizzeria, “No Slices,” 278 Bleecker Street, which I first patronized in the 1960s.  I am pleased to report that it has changed less than I have.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Bobby Bowden is a retired football coach, who holds the best winning record in major college coaching, even after vacating 12 wins for the 2006 and 2007 seasons because of an academic cheating scandal.  Of course, had Penn State’s Joe Paterno not been stripped of 111 wins because of the child sex abuse scandal, Bowden would sit second.  Now, Bowden has coauthored a book, The Wisdom of Faith.  The publisher’s blurb sums it up: “The success . . . the influence . . . the accolades . . . the wins. . . none of it matters if our lives are not rooted in faith.  God trumps our best hand.  He always wins.  Which is how it should be.  That is the wisdom he wants to share.  Let him tell you why faith and happiness are inseparable.”  

I suspect that the average Florida State football fan during Bowden’s long tenure kept the faith only as long as the team had a winning record.  Happiness came from no higher than the scoreboard above the stadium.  Since I believe that faith is ultimately delusion, I have no reason to allow it to guide me in critical moments, if any.  The book I would like to see would be entitled The Faith of Wisdom, but I doubt that it would emerge from any locker room.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
While I eschew faith, I have room in my life for revelation.  A good example arose the other day when my dear friend Lyn Dobrin called me to discuss my comment on the change in rabbinical views of chicken -- not meat to meat -- which was codified in the 15th century (see Shulkan Arukh [Yoreh De'a 87:3] whatever that means).  Lyn suggested, and I heartily agreed, that chicken parmigiana would, therefore, have been Kosher in days of yore.  With that I had a revelation.  

"Chicken parm" was Carmela Soprano's signature dish.  And, the Inquisition scattered Iberian and Mediterranean Jews all over the world.   Aha!  Carmela Soprano was Jewish, descended from a Jewish family expelled from their native land, only to land on the shores of New Jersey, which helps explain how her daughter Meadow got into Columbia University.
Friday, October 17, 2014
We welcome other guests this weekend, America’s Loveliest Nephrologist and her companion from San Francisco.  Because they have an array of friends and family to visit in the vicinity, we will do less entertaining and, regrettably, see them only at random intervals, but we expect to enjoy every moment together. 

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