Saturday, December 26, 2015

Winding Down

Monday, December 21, 2015
Here is a contemporary approach to communications, inspired by the venerable Mad Libs™.

Before Mel Brooks made very funny movies and broke Broadway records with “The Producers,” he had become immortal with his 2000-year-old man routines, recorded with Carl Reiner originally in 1961.  If you have never heard them, beg, borrow or steal copies, conveniently boxed as The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History ( @ $32.99).  Besides getting an archival copy for yourself, consider giving one to a desperately ill person who retains good hearing.

I believe that the 2000-year-old man not only provided us great amusement, but profound insight into human behavior as well.  In many instances, he identified fear as the basis for our conduct.  On transportation: “an animal would growl, you'd go two miles in a minute.  Fear would be the main propulsion.”  
On singing: “Saying ‘a lion is eating my foot off’ didn't get nearly the attention that singing it did.”
On handshaking: Shaking hands began as a way of finding out if a man had a rock or a knife.  
On dancing: By dancing a man kept another person’s hands and feet busy, so he could not get hit or kicked.
On marriage: A man needed a woman to watch out behind him to make sure an animal didn’t creep up on him. 

Today, fear continues to shape our behavior.  I cite:

In Virginia, home of Patrick Henry, a school district shut down because “Students in a world geography class at Riverheads High School in Staunton, Va., had been asked to try their hands at copying a passage known as the Shahada, or declaration of faith in Islam.”  The poor, dumb teacher meant it to “give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy,” not even telling the kids the meaning of the words.  While the teacher should probably have had the students copy a falafel recipe, the fear shown by some parents is notable.  

Mel Brooks proves that we can't go back far enough to find a world not governed by fear.  Today, Syrian refugees are the demons du jour.  Home of the Brave, we ain’t.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015
I was fortunate to be joined at lunch today by the Stanley family, Papa Jay, Momma Meg, Ben, Jack and Lucy, the latter three not yet of voting age, but as sensible as most of the announced presidential candidates, or more so.  We went to Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, that festive dim sum palace, an experience new to the younger guests.  I am pleased to report that no Yucks were heard during the meal, and all of us put away our fair share (adjusted for age and weight) of the food wheeled up to our table.

After lunch, I went to a white elephant party held by the more social segment of my department.  Not only was I able to foist off a totally unwanted, unneeded (although generously offered) gift from an earlier holiday season, but I came away with a box of Godiva chocolates, which may turn out to be my next gift to you.

While many conservative adults continue to fear anything that they don’t understand, “progressive youth” are overreacting in their own narrow-minded way.

Students at this famously liberal college “are accusing the campus dining department and Bon Appétit Management Company, the main dining vendor, of a litany of offenses that range from cultural appropriation to cultural insensitivity.”  Ironically, the student complaints include black students wanting more fried chicken, while others are dissatisfied with the quality of the sushi.  “When you’re cooking a country’s dish for other people, including ones who have never tried the original dish before, you’re also representing the meaning of the dish as well as its culture,” Tomoyo Joshi, a student from Japan [said].  “So if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative.”  I imagine that I might have cause to rail against most bagel sellers in the US.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015
The Upper West Side's Power Couple took off for a visit to the second and third generations in Massachusetts this morning.  Our path allowed us to have lunch at Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe, 540 Plank Road, Waterbury, CT.  I was predictably delighted with a roast beef sandwich, fully loaded with everything except tomatoes ($6.50, supposedly a half, but large enough to satisfy me), and a bag of Herr's Creamy Dill Pickle potato chips, impossible to find in my usual haunts.  A welcome addition to the menu was Nardelli's own brand diet root beer, quite delicious.  This was notable because, just three nights earlier, on the way to a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden with my cousin Michael Goldenberg, we met at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, never to be confused with Ben's Best Kosher Delicatessen, 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park. While I thoroughly enjoyed my corned beef/pastrami combo on rye ($16.99), I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Ben's had no Dr. Brown's diet black cherry soda, in fact no diet Dr. Brown's was on hand.  What kind of doctor is that?  A floor manager, so skinny that I asked him if he ever ate here, told us that Dr. Brown's had not supplied Ben's with diet soda for some time.  Obviously, I'm fated to bring Nardelli's and Ben's together.  

 "The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles From Mom," is a headline to get your attention.  The NewYork Times published this interesting study on mobility, which contradicts the picture of the aggressive American seeking opportunity throughout the land.

This article reminds me of a study cited (conducted?) by Andrew Hacker over 50 years ago, which demonstrated that CEO's of Fortune 500 companies lived much further from their birthplaces than US Senators.  Staying close to home was a better base for building a political than a business career, especially when top companies cluster in certain locations, while Senate seats are inherently dispersed.  For whatever it's worth, I now live just under 12 miles from my parent's last residence, although I am, believe it or not, neither a CEO or a US Senator.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

Good, Better, Best?

Monday, December 14, 2015
Normally, I would rush to promote a list of the purported 25 "Best Fine Dining Restaurants" in the world, e.g.,

This list has some interesting contents. Of the 25, only 2 are in the United States, but 3 in the United Kingdom; 3 in France, but also 3 in Spain. Upon examination, however, I found some questionable logic. Bouley, 163 Duane Street, is the only New York restaurant included. This is at least its third location that I recall, all within one city block. The spot that I remember visiting twice is now a bank branch. I don’t fault Bouley its designation, but, in another current Trip Advisor compilation, it does not even rank number 1 in New York City.

Digging deeper, I found that Trip Advisor’s New York City list placed Lincoln Square Steak, 208 West 70th Street, less than 11 months old, third best overall in the whole city of New York with 629 reviews, while the Palm, 837 Second Avenue, my personal favorite steakhouse, open since 1926, placed 1,232 on the list with 314 reviews. Sorry, Charlie. That doesn’t make sense; maybe Lincoln Square (which I have not visited, although I frequently went to the two restaurants that preceded it at that site) has better food than the Palm, but I refuse to believe that it honestly accumulated twice as many reviews although operating 88 fewer years. That means that two customers each day that it has been open wrote a review, and a favorable one at that. Two couples that I know have been there and they differed sharply in their opinion of Lincoln Square, hardly surprising for any restaurant in its early days.

Very important reading:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015
It is 62 degrees at lunch time on December 15th and I found a new joint. AA Noodle, 45 Bayard Street, replaced Hong Kong Station and the cuisine moved much closer to Tokyo. The space is high and bright, with chlorophyl green touches on a creamy white background. There are 20 two tops, at least half of them occupied while I was present. Ramen is featured, along with noodle dishes wet and dry. Two friendly men stand in the window pulling noodles.

All the food was good. I ordered a grilled lamb skewer and a grilled beef skewer, both $1.75. Each had been rubbed with some spices before grilling; I recognized cumin. I also had chicken dumplings; a small order of 6 for $2.49. They had been boiled and then lightly sautéed. 
"Best" lists proliferate at this time of year, and I can’t keep away from them. The New York Times produces three lists for best movies of 2015, one for each of its three staff reviewers.

While none of the reviewers is able to stick to ten selections, their top tens show some similarity. There is almost perfect consistency though between me and them. I have seen only one of the movies that made any of their top ten lists, The Kindergarten Teacher, an interesting but very annoying Israeli film.

For best books of 2015, the New York Times Book Review has one list –

The daily staff reviewers then each have their own list –

In spite of the many works listed, I am even further out of touch with the books than the movies. By the time that I work my way through the daily and Sunday newspapers and each week’s New Yorker magazine, attend a dozen Rangers games and another dozen Mets games each year, watch a far greater number of their televised games, go to 20 or so theatrical performances, eat, sleep and go to work daily, the opportunity to read a book has almost disappeared from my life. I have a plan, though.

If you have lost touch with your inner Che Guevara, read this story about wretched excess and gaming the system in Los Angeles real estate.

Forget for a moment any concerns about taste or judgment in home design and furnishing, and consider the macro-political dimension. These endeavors are conducted behind the shield of shell companies, organized as limited liability corporations (LLCs). Our beloved United States Supreme Court has given corporations almost unfettered access to the political process – money is speech, speak as loud as you can. But, these ersatz "citizens" (Citizens United) abandon their "personality" at the first sign of trouble, or accountability for the trouble they create. Read the story; be disgusted.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Today, the New York Times offers it list of the top 10 new New York restaurants.

The virtue of this list, unlike the typical top top list, is the relative humility of several choices – only 4 out of 10 offer fixed meals. One place is actually a hamburger joint, although BE WARNED, the hamburgers are vegetarian.

Further pushing the modesty agenda, the New York Times also lists the 10 best local cheap joints for the year.

This group is all over the ethnic map: Caribbean, Thai, Japanese, Malaysian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Indian, French. In other words, typical New York.

Another typical New York manifestation is honorific street namings. Care to guess the distance between Al Jolson Way and Billie Holiday Place? Or, where is Bob Marley Boulevard? Thanks to Gilbert Tauber, a retired city planner, you can find the location of hundreds of gratuitously labeled New York City locations.

Thursday, December 17, 2015
In the past, I was thrilled to hear lectures by the great scholars Raymond Aron and Isaiah Berlin. Boy, that's smart, I thought. It was so long ago, I can only remember that Berlin spoke about Joseph de Maistre and the origins of fascism, but can't even guess at Aron's topic. More recently, I admired the erudition and delivery of Rabbi Ethan Tucker talking about the shifting views on Jewish lineage. But today's New York Times crossword puzzle is maybe as smart as any one of them.

Picture this -- going down, the parallel answers to two clues side-by-side have adjacent squares containing the letters d-i-e. Going across, the d-i-e d-i-e squares have to be read as dice, as in Pride and Prejudice or Candice Bergen. How about that?

Friday, December 18, 2015
Nearing year end, I was able to find another new restaurant when I went to lunch with Marty the Super Clerk.  Gunbae Tribeca, 67 Murray Street, is a very attractive Korean restaurant with about 20 solid wooden tables holding a grill at the center to prepare "Korean BBQ."  Above each grill is an aluminum tube that stretches down to vacuum the smoke away. 

We made simpler choices, sharing an excellent seafood pancake ($10.95) containing scallop, shrimp, calamari and scallions.  Marty had Dduk Be Gi Bulgogi (marinated rib eye, shitake mushroom, glass noodles served in beef broth) with brown rice for $13.95.  I had Jap Che (stir fried glass noodles with rib eye, yellow squash, onion, carrot, shitake mushroom & spinach) ($11.95).  Quite delicious.  A good ending to the 50th week of the year. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sidewalks Of New York

Monday, December 7, 2015
Open Table is a convenient web site, allowing you to make restaurant reservations filtered by cuisine, location and time. It also has its own reviewing system and it just released the top 100 American restaurants, according to its participants.

Given the geographic breadth of the list (Charleston, South Carolina to Paia, Hawaii), it’s no surprise that I missed the top 10 entirely. As I have noted before, best restaurant lists these days are dominated by joints offering fixed meals, usually in the low three figure price range. Seven of Open Table’s top ten operate that way, whether offering sushi, Italian or French food, or an American "multi-taste Grazing, Rooting, Pecking menu."  Mother Ruth Gotthelf had it right all along. One night it was her divine salmon croquettes with spaghetti; another night lamb chops with mashed potatoes; Friday night chicken. You also did not tip when getting your coat back.

When the top 100 list is examined, we find that 22 states are unrepresented; maybe that might be expected for Alaska, but how about Iowa where all those Republicans have been spending so much time before the caucus scheduled for February 1, 2016. You would think that Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson, after a weary day on the campaign trail, deserves to sit down to a hearty plate of Sea Scallops Ceviche with Persian Cucumber, Radishes, Sea Lettuce, Finger Lime, White Sturgeon Caviar, or Sweet potato and yam gnocchi, bacon, maple, pecan, pomegranate, and brown butter, or even Malted wheat malloreddus with cotechino, as found at some of the top joints.

My diversity initiative has stalled. My calls have gone unanswered by the Patels, the Caseys, the Ramirezes, the Leungs, the Gardinos and the Holmqvists. Therefore, we went with the Schneiders to see Fiddler on the Roof on Saturday night. It was a very good production; Danny Burstein does a fine job as Tevye, on stage much of the time, and the focus of the story. In any case, it's almost impossible to knock Fiddler on the Roof, and I too could barely resist singing along to the familiar tunes. How ethnocentric of me.

In case you did not attend Stuyvesant High School, here is a list of the 99 next best public high schools in the United States:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015
113 over 78. I was surprised that my blood pressure was so low given the state of the world. But, hours spent with the estimable Michael Perskin, M.D., showed that my physical condition, at least, was quite healthy and the ravages of time have not begun to seriously ravage. As a reward, I mostly ate ice cream and potato chips for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Michelle K., a lovely and talented co-worker gave me a holiday gift today, the famous Collin Street Bakery of Corsicana, Texas "Original Deluxe Fruitcake." This outfit sells about 1.5 million fruitcakes a year, mostly by mail order. The business, founded in 1896, is so successful that its former corporate accountant was sentenced to 10 years in prison three months ago for embezzling $16.7 million dollars.

In addition to her general kindness, Michelle gave me the fruitcake because I recognized and enjoyed it last year at an office holiday party, when apparently no one else did. I admit this in spite of the insistence by Calvin Trillin, the greatest philosopher of our time, that there is only one fruitcake, which is shipped from person to person each Christmas so no one has to eat it. He espoused this view at least as far back as 1981. Cf. 

You might be interested in where Katherine Hepburn got her chocolates.

She and I lived only three blocks apart for many years, but I was surprised to learn where she went for chocolates because it was far removed from our neighborhood, Second Avenue and East 49th Street-Turtle Bay vs. West 114th Street and Broadway-Columbia University. New York City, in spite of the size of its population and geographic scope, has really been a collection of neighborhoods, although that may be changing with the onslaught of development (gentrification). I certainly don’t automatically oppose the leveling of nasty old buildings and construction on junk-filled lots, but I am concerned about the disappearance of low-rise, reasonable-rent housing and the small businesses that serviced the residents, rich and poor.

I think that we can be spared the opening of one more macaron café when it becomes very difficult to find a freshly-baked rye bread. And, the very-occasional residents of the luxury housing that has recently sprouted in Manhattan are not the type to go strolling to the corner candy store to pick up their newspaper, or to take their clothes to the dry cleaners. At least, the old rich criminals who populated the better addresses seemed to be part of their neighborhoods, while the new rich criminals (many foreign-born, but not the object of D.T.’s scorn) connect only to a patch of sidewalk between building lobby and curb, where their limousine awaits.

I have to tell you about 11 Fifth Avenue, where my dear friend Andy lived with his father in the late 1960s. It is a lovely building in a fabulous location, between 8th and 9th Streets, in the toniest part of Greenwich Village. At the time, I was living at home, teaching secondary school. Many evenings and weekends, I would drive into Manhattan (believe it or not) to hang out with Andy, and to get away from home and secondary school. Because of the frequent time spent in and around 11 Fifth Avenue, I observed the following ritual: At 9 P.M., Carmine DeSapio, deposed leader of Tammany Hall, the New York County Democratic Party machine, the most powerful politician in New York State at his peak, resident of 11 Fifth Avenue, dressed elegantly in a gray herringbone topcoat with a black velvet collar in cooler weather, came walking out the front door, turned left on 8th Street, and went to the candy store about three doors down, to buy the early edition of the New York Daily News, which had the highest circulation of any American newspaper at the time.

Andy got married and moved out before DeSapio went to federal prison in 1971, there is no longer a candy store or newspaper stand anywhere nearby, and the current owner is trying to sell the Daily News, now the fifth largest US newspaper. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015
Newspaper clipping: "In an appearance on Capitol Hill, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said Wednesday that the [San Bernardino] couple, who met online, had been talking of an attack as far back as two years ago. They were ‘talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and married and were living in the U.S.,’ Mr. Comey said."

Imagined dialogue: "Honey, I was reading Martha Stewart’s Weddings magazine and she says, in America, family and friends give gifts to couples when they get engaged and when they marry. In fact, to make it easier, many couples tell certain merchants what they would like to get to start their life together. They call it registering. You put yourself in a Bridal Registry."

"Dear, that sounds very nice and convenient. What do you think that we should ask for?"

"Well, sweetheart, I think I would like a Cuisinart, bathroom towels in a dusty rose color, and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher."

Friday, December 11, 2015
"Vatican Says Catholics Should Not Try to Convert Jews"
There goes my dream of being an altar boy.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Take A Shot

Monday, November 30, 2015
The Godfather part one and two were shown repeatedly during the holiday by a cable television network, which gave me the chance to record these two brilliant movies.  It wasn’t a perfect experience; the shows included a glut of commercials and some language was obviously edited, although quite sanitary by current standards.  I was amused to notice, in that fabulous scene where Michael takes revenge on the five families, that Barzini was shot on the courthouse steps here at 60 Centre Street, an imposing backdrop, often seen in “Law & Order.”  Even after 40 years, that scene and several others still take my breath away, and, unlike some other old favorites when viewed today, do not seem like filmmaking or acting of an earlier day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Last night, I went to a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, offering me the opportunity to see if Jack’s 99 Cent Store, 110 West 32nd Street, has returned real chocolate-covered graham crackers and pretzels to stock.  When they offered these two-to-a-package delights for 99¢, an unimaginably bright glow illuminated West 32nd Street and gave me comfort and joy that more than balanced any sadness accompanying a Rangers loss.  Last night, the Rangers won and there was no need to ingest a mood-elevating substance, which was not available, in any case.  Nothing on the shelves even came close to offering the gustatory delight of real chocolate-covered graham crackers or pretzels.  The chocolates that Jack’s offered, ordinary varieties of Lindt, Guylian and Ghirardelli, were being sold above typical supermarket prices, not likely to get my interest.

Today is Woody Allen’s 80th birthday.  He came to mind when I was considering a couple of recent encounters which illustrate the implacable black/white divide in our society.  A black woman on the subway complained to a white man that his brief case had hit her 4 or 5 times.  He apologized, but asked why she had not told him sooner. She replied that he should have noticed it himself sooner. Then, she added that he hadn’t taken care because she was only a black woman.  A couple of weeks earlier, we were waiting for bus to go home after a musical show in midtown Manhattan.  A young black man approached us and asked for money.  I forget his story, but I turned him down, my customary response to any such appeal.  He did not immediately take No for an answer and asked again without success.  Then, he asked, “Is it because I’m black?”

I am almost certain that there have been circumstances where the woman on the subway and the young man on the street were slighted, ignored or refused because they were black, but not necessarily this time.  As a bleeding-heart liberal, I was disappointed that each reached for a stereotype that may have been absent, and, at the same time, I was sorry that it so easily came to mind for them.  Could either imagine an encounter that did not reflect the racial differences?  Or, am I naive to think that black/white encounters actually occur in a color-blind fashion?

Which brings me to Woody Allen.  In Annie Hall, which he wrote, directed and starred in, a movie that stands next to The Godfather, Allen’s character says, “You know, I was having lunch with some guys from NBC, so I said, ‘Did you eat yet or what?’  And Tom Christie said, ‘No, JEW?’  Not ‘Did you?’  JEW eat?  JEW?  You get it?  JEW eat?”  While Annie Hall appeared in 1977 and was supposed to be a comedy, I think that many Members of the Tribe would react seriously the same way today, as ethnocentric or predisposed to victimhood as the woman on the subway and the young man on the street.   

Wednesday, December 1, 2015 
[NB - This was written hours before the terrible events in San Bernardino, California.]
It’s time that progressive forces adopt some of the operating principles of the Domestic Enemies of Sanity.  First, since the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun, let’s arm all Planned Parenthood employees.  Second, grant armed Planned Parenthood employees amnesty for all acts of gun violence against unaccompanied white males, since the appearance of an unaccompanied white male in or near a Planned Parenthood facility is a reasonable basis for a Planned Parenthood employees to fear bodily harm. 

After a day spent coughing and blowing my nose in private at home, I decided to come to work and share my discomfort.  A lunch date with the Boyz Club was the main incentive to venture forth on this chilly, drizzly day.  We ate at Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen 11 Mott Street, a joint that deserves your patronage.  We had roti wrap with curried chicken and curry dipping sauce, roti wrap with rendang beef and curry dipping sauce, (very spicy) Thai beef salad, crispy Thai veggie spring rolls, KL Hokkian char mee (fat, round noodles in a dark soy sauce, with pork, shrimp, squid), Mee siam (rice vermicelli with egg, tofu, bean sprouts, chives and crushed peanuts - vegetarian), babas chili chicken (cooked with roasted chili and carmelized onions), tangerine beef, young chow fried rice (with everything), and tropical coconut fried rice (vegetarian).  With a generous tip (as always), the bill came to $18 each.  I also got temporary relief from my head cold with a cup of hot lemon juice and honey.    

Thursday, December 3, 2015
“How Often Do Mass Shootings Occur?  On Average, Every Day, Records Show”

And many of our politicians, bold in the face of the undeserving poor, unionized public employees and distant populations, are only able to offer impotent piety in the face of home-grown tragedy.

Friday, December 4, 2015
Tom Adcock called my attention to the obituary of Russia's Favorite Epidemiologist-Spy.