I write a feature called Your Turn for our community newsletter in which I ask fellow residents their opinion on a topic of general interest. A couple of months ago, the topic was ” Which do you like better… Hamburgers or hot dogs?” As you might expect, the answers were varied and interesting and were split down the middle.

One of those responses was from Tom ( not his real name). He said he preferred hamburgers and told me how he liked them cooked. Then he added” What I really love are venison burgers. I hunt in season and when I bag a deer, I field dress it and grind up the meat to make burgers. Because deer forage for themselves and are constantly on the move, the meat is very lean, so I add a little chopped bacon to the mix to make the burgers moist.” His response was freely volunteered. I took down his words verbatim and readied my article. One day before the issue was sent to the printers, I got a somewhat panicky call from him asking me to delete that part of the interview. He was concerned , he said, that his friends might find his hunting activities objectionable and give him grief about them. I thought of telling him that he was worrying too much, but then decided against it. I didn’t want to talk him into something he wasn’t comfortable with.

I admit that, many years ago, I would have been upset with Tom because he hunted. That is not true any more. I myself have never hunted, never wanted to and never will but I recognize that hunting is a necessary evil. In today’s environment, deer have no natural enemies and their population would increase exponentially if unchecked. I read about an estate owner in France who was staunchly opposed to hunting and posted her fenced in property to forbid it. The deer herds on her grounds quickly  grew unmanageable, ate up all the shrubbery and even the leaves of trees as high as they could reach. Soon, they were starving and the local government tried to get her to allow them to thin the herds on humanitarian grounds. She refused, even when the deer began dying of starvation. Only when she herself died were the local authorities able to bring in professional hunters to cull the herd.

Shooting wild creatures, particularly lovable ones like deer, seems cruel but consider the alternative. As areas get built up. deer habitats get more and more tenuous. In the suburban area where I live, deer are constantly getting hit by automobiles. Almost on a daily basis, I see deer carcasses lying by the roadside and it gives me a pang each time. And what of the deer who manage to avoid being hit by a car? What happens to them? Well, in winter they die of cold and starvation. We don’t see this happen and aren’t aware of it, don’t think about it. Much as we might like to deny it, being a prey of hunters is a better alternative.

This is not to say that I fully endorse hunting and hunters. I have nothing but contempt for those who kill wantonly, for the sake of killing. Back in the late 1800’s, a titled Englishman undertook a train journey across the Great Plains. In the rear of the train was a open sided car which served as his shooting platform. With him was a man servant whose duty it was to re-load and pass the guns to him. In the space of about two months, this sub-human POS shot over 7,000 animals, mostly bison, leaving them to rot where they fell. No condemnation can be too strong for him or for those buffalo hunters who shot bison mainly to harvest their tongues which were considered a delicacy.

I draw the line too at those big game hunters who kill elephants for their tusks or those who hunt rhinos for their horns because powdered rhino horn is considered an aphrodisiac. Nor do I care for those trophy hunters, ” sportsmen” who hunt game on fenced in ranchlands in Texas and elsewhere.

The hunters I respect are those who hunt for food, who follow the rules and who do not kill indiscriminately. Good examples of such hunters are the Lapps for whom reindeer are a large part of their diet, Eskimo seal hunters and the Native Americans who used to hunt buffalo. All of them, after they had downed their prey, said a prayer for the soul of the departed animal and thanked it for its sacrifice. This may sound corny , even silly to some of you but, in acting as they did, these hunters exhibited a reverence for life and Nature that is sadly lacking today.


Long Island Pains

Recently, on Netflix streaming, I watched three episodes of Royal Pains  which ran for 8 seasons on the USA Network. It’s the story of Frank Lawson M.D, a talented and well-respected physician whose career is cut short because of a moral decision… he leaves the bedside of a rich donor to operate on and save the life of another patient. The rich patient dies because of an unusual set of circumstances and Lawson is let go. In the Hamptons to recover from his setback, Lawson saves the life of a partygoer at one of the island’s McMansions and, before he knows it, becomes an on-call physician _a so-called concierge doctor _ to Long Island’s rich and famous. In some ways, the series seemed like Bay Watch: lots of nubile young girls in swim wear, parties , booze and attractive locales, many of them beaches.

I’ve lived in the New Jersey- New York area for almost fifty years but , in all that time, visited Long Island just half a dozen times. I went to Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home, to Nets and Islanders games, to Jones Beach and for a wedding. Jones Beach was nice, but nothing in Long Island was so distinctive as to make the long trip worthwhile. So, I was largely ignorant about Long Island. Seen from New Jersey suburbia, it did not seem attractive. When I was working in NYC, I constantly heard  my Long Island colleagues complain about the difficulties of their commute. They were always complaining about the vagaries of the Long Island Rail road and the bottlenecks on the Long Island Expressway. If it wasn’t the traffic or the railroads, it was the weather they were moaning about. Storms seemed to linger over Long Island; if NYC got three inches of snow, Long Island got twice as much. Likewise, hurricanes saved their worst for Long Island. When I considered that in order to drive anywhere in the tristate area, Long Islanders had to first go through NYC, I wondered why they had chosen to live in L.I. Granted that summertime in  the Hamptons was wonderful, I still didn’t think it made up for all the long winters, the  long commutes and the high taxes.

I knew about the Hamptons, the favored playground of newly rich dot-com millionaires, but I had no idea about the lavishness of their palatial estates until I saw Royal Pains. The size and opulence of the houses shown in the TV series took my breath away. Some of the mansions rivalled those on Newport, R.I, only these were modern. In addition to umpteen bedrooms and bathrooms, they had Great Rooms with huge dance floors, tennis courts, helipads and extensive  gardens. And the lifestyle depicted consisted of nonstop partying with lots of drugs and booze and casual sex.

At one time, the optics of such a series might have made it worth watching. Thirty-five years ago, Baywatch was a hit. Now, however, the aimlessness of the lives that are depicted is a turnoff. Back in the eighties, this was still a middle-class society. Nowadays,  many are living from paycheck to paycheck and several are drifting into poverty and homelessness. In such times, the antics of the rich difficult to watch without a sense of outrage.

Royal pains has its moments and Mark Fuerstein is appealing in the role of Frank Lawson but I won’t be watching it any more.

Sometimes, I read a news article that makes me wonder if we are all living in a madhouse and the inmates are running the show.

Two weeks ago, there was one such article about a group of graffiti artists being awarded $6.7 million when the building on which they had created their works was demolished by its owner. Let me back up a little…

In the mid-nineties, building owner Gerard Wolkoff allowed a non-profit group called Phun Phactory to paint over the outside walls of his Long Island City warehouse. The move appears to have been purely altruistic, its purpose being to keep graffiti artists out of trouble for defacing private property. For a while, Wolkoff even allowed these artists to live and work cheaply in the building. In the following decades, as graffiti artists used the walls for their work, the building became a mecca for tourists and others who wanted to view the graffiti. About 10 years ago, Wolkoff decided to tear down the building to make way for high rise luxury towers and the case wound up in court; the artists did not want their works destroyed with the demolition of the building. They claimed that the works were protected under the VisualArtists Rights Act. In 2013, while the case was still in court, Wolkoff had the walls whitewashed overnight; the buildings were demolished 10 months later and construction of the high rise towers begun.

In November 2017, a jury found in favor of the artists and two weeks ago, the judge awarded them the maximum damages possible: $ 6.7 million. I won’t go into the details of his argument in doing so but I’m appalled by the decision. I don’t care for property developers , in general, but I feel Wolkoff was hard done by. For twenty years he allowed these ” artists” the use of his buildings as a canvas ; yet, they then turned around and sued him when he wanted to demolish them. The buildings were his property and he had a perfect right to do so. That fact should have taken precedence over everything else including the artistic value of the graffiti ” art”.

How could anyone put a value on this graffiti? How was the figure of $6.7 million  arrived at in assessing damages? The artists whose work it was would never have realized a red cent for their works since they could never sell them. Why then should they have been awarded so much? If , indeed, the judge was bound by the letter of the law that declared the graffiti was a protected work of art, he could have found for the plaintiffs and awarded them the token sum of $1.

In my opinion, graffiti is a visual crime. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of 5Pointz and, when considered in its totality, those walls were an eyesore. Graffiti , by its very nature, is temporary , always under threat of being painted over either by the building owner or by other graffiti artists. What happened to 5Pointz was bound to happen one day, and did.

One other consequence of this trial and decision: In the future, no other building owner will allow the walls of his property to be sprayed over in the name of art. Good.


Chance Encounter

Last week, I was at the lab for a (routine) blood test. There were several people ahead of me; there was a 20 minute wait. I was sitting in the waiting room, listening with half an ear to the TV.  It showed a number of ads for medical treatments and I didn’t really pay attention until the guy sitting across from me said” That’s what I have.”

I looked at him as he jerked a thumb at the TV and continued, ” Rheumatoid arthritis. That’s what I have.” Perhaps my incomprehension showed on my face or perhaps he just wanted to unburden himself, because it all came pouring out.

” Every two weeks I gotta get my meds otherwise the pain is more than I can bear. It costs me $ 386 each time but, luckily, the insurance takes care of it. Then , because the medications are so strong, every four weeks I’ve gotta have a blood test to make sure there ain’t no side effects.”

I really felt for the guy as I wondered how he managed. Since I felt some response was expected of me, I shook my head in commiseration and asked him how long he had had this condition. ” John”( not his real name) then proceeded to tell me his life story.

He has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 21, but it was only after the age of 32 that the disease really worsened. He was now 57 and he had been on medications for 25 years. Without them, he said, he would have to just lie in bed because the pain was too intense. The meds caused their own problems; after taking them he was unable to do much for the next couple of hours. He was on partial disability and he worked part time as a landscape architect. Luckily, he said his boss was understanding and allowed him to set his own schedules , within reason. After the blood test, John said he would be going to work. Since his condition prevented him from driving, he would have to take a Uber to the office. All of this was said in a matter-of-fact voice. He wasn’t looking for sympathy, just making a statement of fact.

I just sat there, wondering at the hand that a cruel fate had dealt him. I didn’t want to ask any questions because that would have been intrusive and besides, I really didn’t want to hear more. What would be the point? Just then, my name was called. I wished John well and went in for my blood test but I kept thinking about him for the rest of the day.

It is a very human tendency to compare oneself to those who are better off , and then to feel bad about what we don’t have. Perhaps it is better to compare oneself to those who are less fortunate and be happy for what we do have.




Cooking With Blue Apron

(Blue Apron is a home delivery service that provides meal kits for people who like to cook but don’t have the time or inclination to shop for the ingredients they need. It promises fresh, perfectly proportioned, good quality ingredients and step-by-step recipe cards delivered to your doorstep. Meals take approximately 30-40 minutes to cook and cost approximately $10 per serving. There are several such services and some of the others are Home Chef, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon.)

My wife and I became aware of Blue Apron because our son, who works long hours, sometimes uses it. We ourselves had never used it until recently, when a friend gifted us a 2 meal subscription. It was a thoughtful gift because we both like to cook. When the Styrofoam Blue Apron box arrived on our doorstep, we opened it with great anticipation. Inside, on a slab of dry ice, were the neatly packed ingredients. The meats were in tightly sealed vacuum packed pouches, the sauces in plastic bags or little bottles and the vegetables separately wrapped in a plastic bag. Our shipment was for two 2-person meals: Ginger – Marinated Steaks with Stir -fried vegetables and Jasmine Rice & Balsamic glazed Chicken w/ Roasted Vegetables. The recipes were on heavy stock paper with an enticing technicolor photograph of the completed dishes and smaller photographs illustrating the different steps in their preparation.

I have to say we enjoyed cooking the dishes and dining on them. We felt the steak dish was the better of the two but both of them were very good. The steak recipe was inspired by an episode from Top Chef Season 15 and we loved the combination of the sliced steak (marinated in an Asian style marinade of ginger, soy sauce and ponzu), sautéed bok choy, sliced red radishes and jasmine rice. I don’t have the Chicken recipe card in front of me and can’t describe it in detail but we enjoyed it too.

There are several features of Blue Apron that I liked. The ingredients are exactly proportioned and they are good quality. It’s easy to unwrap them and prep them all at once before proceeding to cook. Initially, I thought the portions were a little skimpy but I was wrong; they represent healthy servings which are what a dietitian would recommend. When we finished our meal, we were satisfied but not stuffed. The experience showed us that when we eat out, or on our own at home, we tend to over-eat because we have no real idea of how much is enough; the portions are way too large. Using meal kits means that there are no left overs or wastage; you eat everything that you’ve prepared and you don’t have unused vegetables or meats in the refrigerator that have to be used up subsequently. The recipes themselves are good and there is sufficient variety that you will not get bored , ever. They offer a wide range of dishes from a variety of cuisines. Some services also cater to special requirements such as gluten free or low carb. Since our two meals were a gift, I have no idea of the cost but am inclined to accept that they cost the advertised price of $ 10 – $11 per serving. Not sure whether that price takes into account the discount coupons that are widely available, but it probably does. At that price, they work out cheaper than eating out or even take-out. For busy young professionals short on time, they are a good alternative.

Even so, I do not see myself being a regular patron of Blue apron or its competitors.

There are a number of reasons, among them cost ( I would think we can eat for about half that price) and variety ( we eat mostly Asian food and like to experiment with exotic dishes and cuisines). The main reason is that cooking with Blue Apron is like ” painting by the numbers”. It is not a personal experience in which I get the pleasure of feeling I have done something on my own ; it is mechanical. Furthermore,I like to go food shopping, checking out unfamiliar foods and dreaming up new dishes ( which sometimes turn out horribly!). That, of course, is no longer available if I utilize Blue apron or some other meal kit.

I have a couple of $30 -off coupons and, at some point in the future, I will use them and try some Blue Apron dishes but, as for being a regular user of meal kits … it is not going to happen. I will leave them to those who are pressed for time. Me, I want to enjoy my cooking.


I was at the gym this morning and, while I was on the treadmill, I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two guys who were using the weight machines. They were talking about the stock market and the stocks they held.

One man said,” Whenever I want to buy a stock, my wife finds reasons why we shouldn’t. When I check six months or a year later, I find the stock has doubled in value. Years ago, when Amazon was just starting out, I wanted to buy but my wife said, ‘ Amazon is a river in South America. Why would you want to buy stock in a company named for it?’

I shouldn’t have listened.”


Sleep Patterns

I was reading an interesting excerpt from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD about how our sleep patterns are the key to a much longer life. According to him, we are not sleeping the way our distant ancestors  did, the way Nature intended us to.

Walker states that in olden times, in hunter-gatherer societies, people enjoyed a biphasic sleep pattern, seven or eight hours in bed at night resulting in about seven hours of sleep , along with a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon. Furthermore, the nightly slumbers usually began 2-3 hours after dusk, around 9pm and lasted until dawn. No doubt, this was because those early cultures did not have the benefit of electric light and even firelight represented a drain on scarce resources.

Nowadays, in the post industrial age, we have been forced into a mono-phasic sleep pattern in which we sleep  for less than seven hours a night. Typically, this begins late at night though we still wake up quite early. And ,of course, modern office hours don’t permit the taking of an afternoon nap.

In support of his argument, that this enforced monophasic pattern is harmful to health, Walker points to a study of people who had to switch from a biphasic to a monophasic sleep pattern. Previously, they had office hours that incorporated an afternoon siesta but  were then forced to fall in line with the rest of the world and work regular 9 to 5 shifts. This study showed that over 6 years, these people suffered a 37% increased risk of death due to heart disease. Another statistic: People on the Greek island of Ikaria were four times as likely  to reach the age of ninety as Americans did.

When I began to read this excerpt, I did so with an open mind, but the more I read the more my doubts began to mount. Firstly, even if a biphasic sleep pattern is ” natural”, most of us never enjoyed it once we started our working lives. So how could we feel deprived of something we never had? Just as some factory workers, medical staff and others  get used to working the night shift, is it not likely that a monophasic pattern is becomes the new standard for us? In any case, what choice do we have? There is no way we will be able to shift back to a biphasic pattern. Even nations that enjoyed a siesta are switching to a 9 to 5 schedule.

As for those people in Ikaria who have a four times greater chance of living to the age of ninety, can this be attributed solely to their biphasic sleep pattern? These people are mostly farmers or shepherds; they work hard, live in an unpolluted environment,  eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and have a less stressful lifestyle. Is it not likely that these factors all contribute to their longevity?

I think so.

I also think that , as long as one gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily, it doesn’t matter if it occurs all at once or in two or more installments. When the mind and body need rest, the person craves sleep. As long as that need is satisfied, you are fine. I find that, with  most of my friends who are retired, an afternoon nap is an imperative, partly because they tire more easily and partly because they no longer get seven hours uninterrupted sleep at night. One of my friends who is in his eighties wrote me to say that the day’s activities are now accomplished ” between naps”.

So… never mind about terms like monophasic or biphasic.  Just listen to your body and all will be well.

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