Friday, July 15, 2016

Equal Time

Monday, July 11, 2016
This weekend, I did what many people might consider impossible, I purchased a smart TV.  Not that my spending money was inconceivable, but rather the near-oxymoronic idea of a "smart TV."  A device gains this label if it adds Internet and video streaming services, such as Netflix, to the basic television system.  I made the purchase, with the able assistance of Mossad Moshe, in order to provide a better picture when I retreat into the den/music room/guest room/study/computer room/library to follow the fortunes of the New York Mets and the New York Rangers. However, I have already come to appreciate having unfettered access to John Oliver, among others, on YouTube. It amounts to one less remote control to fumble with and a single source for all my visual delight, interpersonal activities aside.

I had lunch today with Marjory Fields, retired New York State Supreme Court justice, the person who gave me my first job in the court system, may she be forever blessed.  She retired ten years early to work on domestic violence policy issues that could not be addressed adequately from the bench.  These days, she is as likely to appear at a conference in Tokyo as at a hearing in the Bronx.

We went to Land, Thai Kitchen, 450 Amsterdam Avenue, a long, narrow space, with 10 two-tops inside and another 4 on the sidewalk.  Marjory ordered the lunch special, one of 8 first courses and one of 10 second courses, for $9, choosing green papaya salad and Wok Vegetable Medley with Tofu (but asking them to skip the tofu), a reasonable amount of food for the money.  I was hungry, so I ordered full size portions, satay chicken ($9) and Pad See Ew with Beef ($11).  The latter was a very well prepared Thai version of beef chow fun, broad noodles, in a rich, dark soy sauce.  The satay though was a disappointment, three paper thin rectangular strips of white meat chicken, about 5 inches by 1 inch, accompanied by peanut sauce.  Peanut sauce is always good, like drawn butter with seafood, hot fudge with ice cream or honey mustard with fried chicken, but it didn't make the dish worth more than half the price.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016
I am reading When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson, a book that I should have read 10 years ago when first published.  It's a book that should have been written 50 years ago before the sophistry of the claims of reverse discrimination took hold.  Every paragraph seems to identify policies overtly legislated or administered to disadvantage black Americans, forgetting, if at all possible, legally mandated segregation.  For instance, New Deal wages and hours laws specifically excluded farmworkers and domestics from coverage, categories holding more than a majority of black workers at the time.  Only in 1954, a Republican administration opened the rolls.  Benefits under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Federal Housing Authority, Aid to Dependent Children and the GI Bill, among other programs, were administered locally, without any attempt to avoid disparate racial treatment.   This, of course, was responsive to the critical role of southerners in the Democratic Party.  Ironically, many black men were kept out of harm's way by bigoted local draft boards during World War II, but thereby denied the educational and economic advantages of military service.

Unlike the current Chief Justice of the United States and other newly-minted egalitarians, Katznelson recognizes that generations of economic, political, educational and social repression continue to make a difference.  We are still far removed from leveling the playing field that our white predecessors so effectively tilted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2106
Stony Brook Steve met me for lunch at Bonmi, Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bowls, 150 West 62nd Street, a Frenchified name for Banh Mi, the Vietnamese national sandwich.  It's a bright, clean, airy place, just down the block from several units of Fordham University and across the street from Lincoln Center.  It might be any fast food joint and we agreed that it's unlikely to draw a pre-opera crowd because of its casual seating arrangements (high tables, low tables, a ledge) and ordering procedure.  Also, Steve observed that the layout of Lincoln Center brings almost all foot traffic in through Broadway or West 65th Street, avoiding the public housing project on Amsterdam Avenue, the western boundary of Lincoln Center.  Only those who found cheap parking south and west of the complex are likely to come down West 62nd Street on their way to a performance. 

You go up to Bonmi's counter, pick a base -- sandwich, rice bowl, noodle bowl, salad greens -- then a filling -- chicken, pork, beef, tofu -- and, finally, a sauce -- lemongrass, five spice, BBQ, chili garlic or red curry.  The filling determines the price, $8 to $10.50.  I splurged on the "18 Hour Beef" with red curry on a baguette, dressed with pickled onions, shredded carrots, and cilantro ($10.50).  The shredded beef sandwich was very good and very spicy.  Unfortunately, it was about twice the price of a downtown banh mi, but, on the other hand, we weren't downtown.  Bonmi's pricing reflected the expensive real estate on which it sat.   And, if you are heading to Lincoln Center, it offers an interesting, low cost alternative to the array of restaurants in the immediate vicinity equipped waiters and tablecloths and liquor and menus, as long as you can find it.
Friday, July 15, 2016
The fabled Four Seasons, 99 East 52nd Street, founded in 1959, closes tomorrow.  I first entered the Four Seasons in 1980, shortly after starting work as a management consultant at the Park Avenue headquarters of the massive international accounting firm Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., since poetically renamed KPMG.  I soon benefitted from the firm's custom of taking new employees to lunch and quickly joined a group of marauders who constantly scouted the cubicles filling the 35th floor for new faces to bring to table. 

Partners of the firm regularly used their expense accounts at the tony restaurants found around us in the East 50s, the Le's and the La's, as I used to characterize them -- La Caravelle, La Grenouille, La Côte Basque and Lello's (a personal favorite although it did not properly have an article and a noun). We did our best to follow in the footsteps of our betters in spending the firm's money and closest to our office and best of all to my mind was the Four Seasons. While the other joints flashed wealth and glamour, the Four Seasons reeked of power and influence.

The food was consistently good; I've never had better duck in China, Chinatown or France. The markup on wine was less outrageous than most other places. The setting was elegant; the decor, changed four times a year, couldn't be more tasteful. But, what really grabbed me was the level of haute equality at which it operated. Even if your old school tie was only Stuyvesant High School, as long as you (male) wore a jacket and tie, you were treated professionally and efficiently. No smarmy gestures of familiarity; no frosty postures of formality. When Orson Welles sat at the next table, service at my table proceeded respectfully and evenly.

I came to appreciate the total experience at the Four Seasons enough that I would periodically spend my own money there.  I hope that you also had at least one afternoon or evening there, allowing yourself to enjoy, even briefly, how good life can be.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a brief bit about the close of the Four Season and posted the NYT article on my FB feed on the day it was published. Fun times.