August 15, 2106
What a weekend. New York City had "real feel" temperatures of 106 to 110 degrees, with actual temperatures reaching 96 degrees. Saturday, I ventured three blocks from home, but after that I stayed close to the air conditioning units and the refrigerator.
Please read Joe Berger's affectionate obituary of Fyvush Finkel, who died over the weekend.
After delighting in his performance as Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors in the early 1980s, I found that we lived in the same neighborhood and I started running into Fyvush regularly on the street or the Second Avenue bus. I would greet him effusively, lubricating the encounter with a word or two of Yiddish. This, in turn, evoked a warm, hearty response from him, a dear man.
In the company of Barbara and Bernie F., cousins of cousins, we ate dinner at Laut, 15 East 17th Street, a Malaysian restaurant that earned a Michelin star in 2011, later removed. It is an attractive space, with a brown-painted tin ceiling and a long exposed brick wall covered with a vividly-colored mural. We were on the way to a performance, so we did not indulge in course after course, only having a bit here and a bit there.
I ordered nasi lemak, considered the national dish of Malaysia, containing chili shrimp, chicken curry, pickled vegetables, chili anchovies, boiled egg, peanuts and cucumbers surrounding a mound of rice. It was good, but at $16.50 only the real estate justified the price. I went back to see how much I paid for nasi lemak at various other Malaysian restaurants, admittedly all in the vicinity of Chinatown. The earliest serving was the cheapest, $5.95 on July 30, 2010. The $7.75 highest price came on April 17, 2015. Almost exactly one year ago, on August 5, 2015, Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen, 11 Mott Street, in its second week of operation, had probably the best at $7.50, where it seems to have remained. The same discrepancy in pricing appeared with roti canai, the Indian pancake and curry sauce appetizer, which I often start a Malaysian meal with. Not just our tight schedule, but the $9 Laut asked deterred me. Wok Wok, again with an excellent version, charges $3.75. Maybe I need selective amnesia in order to enjoy Laut, probably forced to pay very high rent in the hot Union Square area.
The show we saw after dinner was "The Golden Bride" (Di Goldene Kale, pronounced calla), a Yiddish operetta that was first produced in 1923. It was presented with English and Russian supertitles. It is a lightweight boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl story. The first act is set in a Russian village, seemingly populated entirely by Jews, and the second in the US. Nowhere is Czarist oppression, pogroms or anti-Semitism mentioned, a sort of anti-Fiddler on the Roof.
There was some interesting politics in the second act, however, when Misha follows his beloved Goldele to America. He sings, to no one in particular, "A grus fun dem nayem rusland" (Greetings from the New Russia), claiming peace and freedom for all, Jew and Christian explicitly, five years after the Revolution. Before he brings this happy news, Misha recounts his travels throughout the world, Italy, Argentina, Japan and, take a seat, a place called Palestine, so enchanting that he leaves it only to continue his quest for Goldele.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Some of my dear readers grew up in New York, but were later removed by force, no doubt. So this headline in today's paper might leave them confused: "Sympathy for L Train Riders? Not in 'Subway Deserts'" What's going on with the els (the elevated trains now typically found outside Manhattan)? However, this does not address els generally, but the L train specifically, the current designation for the historic Canarsie line, in case you have been away for decades. (For a wonderfully pedantic account of subway line identification, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The L train runs across 14th Street in Manhattan, through a tunnel under the East River into Brooklyn. About halfway through its Brooklyn route, it goes above ground and indeed becomes an el. Since 2012, L trains have been equipped with a computer system that would allow fully automated operation, a first in New York City, trying to keep up with its doubling in ridership in the last 20 years. However, public and union pressures have kept engineers and conductors on board.
Now, a more potent force is about to stop the trains altogether, the subject of the newspaper story. Hurricane Sandy (October 22-November 2, 2012) flooded the L train's tunnel, causing substantial damage, just one of the many destructive consequences of this historic storm. Patchwork repair reopened the tunnel, but the transit authority has decided to effectively rebuild, something that New York's sports teams are unwilling to do.
For three years, I rode the Canarsie line twice a weekday to go to Stuyvesant High School. It was usually pretty empty, even during rush hour, because Brooklyn was still far from "cool". Would I have traded the extra time for rerouting my path (Jamaica train to Canal Street, BMT to Union Square, walk about half a mile, instead of Jamaica train to Broadway Junction, Canarsie line to First Avenue, one block to the school) for not drowning under the East River?
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The Upper West Side's Power Couple went for an overnight stay in order to participate in Eastern Massachusetts's leading August social event -- grandson Noam's 6th birthday party, featuring Darth Vader.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Just as bathrooms are being freed of gender specificity, so too are the names of American children. Quickly: Emerson, boy or girl? Delta, boy, girl or airline?
Friday, August 19, 2016
I managed to meet Jerry S. for lunch today, clean shaven without scarring myself further. We went to Phoenix Garden, 242 East 40th Street. It's been in midtown for over 20 years, having started in the alley between the Bowery and Elizabeth Street, below Canal Street. There, it came to be known for its Pepper & Salty Shrimp, which the boldest among us ate without removing the shell. It also came to public attention for a moment of drama in New York civic history, when Ed Koch, then mayor, a great fan of Chinese food, experienced nausea, dizziness and slightly slurred speech while eating there in 1987. "After daylong tests, doctors said he had suffered a mild spasm of a brain artery and had recovered completely." I have been unable to learn what he was eating at the time.
We ordered lunch specials, generally $10-12, including a small bowl of hot and sour soup and a spring roll. Jerry had sliced chicken meat with seasonal vegetables (with a touch of ginger) and I had deep-fried oysters (with two deep-fried baby eggplants to fill up the plate). Both dishes rated a B. We shared a scallion pancake with curry sauce ($7.95), dry and chewy, not ready for the scallion pancake big leagues.