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Archive for the ‘American Scene’ Category

Notice I said Souper Bowl, not Super Bowl.

Each year, in spring, the Women’s Club at our Active Adult community organizes three or four Souper Bowls to raise funds for charity.  For an eight dollar donation, members and their guests who sign up enjoy salad , bread and butter and desserts. My wife and I had heard of these events for the past four years but had never experienced one until last week, the last such event for this year.

The event was  to begin at 12:30 and we were there a few minutes earlier , only to find that almost every seat was taken. These events are [popular! Luckily, my wife and I and two of our friends found seats together in a corner of the Grand Ballroom where the Souper Bowl was being held. As first time attendees, we were entitled to receive bowls     (repeat guests bring their own), so we picked them up and got back to the table. By that time, the salad bowl at the center of the table was sadly depleted as the ‘early birds’ had been busy. We did manage to get some salad though and it was very good. Nothing fancy; just iceberg lettuce, olives, cranraisins, some slivers of onion and tomato wedges lightly bathed in a vinaigrette. The whole, however, was more than the sum of its parts as the vinaigrette had been dispensed with a master’s touch. The salad bowl was re-filled soon after but the new batch was not near as good. We barely had time to taste the salad and tear off a hunk of bread to eat with a dab of butter when the soups made their appearance. Volunteers had donated  large tureen of their specialties which were carried in and placed on the serving tables at one end of the room. The volunteer cooks then stood proudly behind their creations ready to dish them out. Their were five different soups: chicken soup ( two kinds), minestrone , bean and ( for the vegetarians) lentil soup. Since there were 10 tables with 150 diners in all, we were summoned by table number and to my surprise and delight, our table was the first one to be called. Both my wife and I had the chicken soup but hers was decidedly better. It had been made by a Puerto Rican friend of ours  and it was rich with chicken cubes, a variety of vegetables, noodles  and herbs . Full of sabor. My own was a regulation tomato based variant, thicker and heartier but not as flavorful. I should have taken the minestrone.

The soup was the main item but there were plenty of others. Some local businesses had donated their products: three kinds of pasta, cookies, pastries and bagels. As if this was not enough, one of our members was celebrating his 75th birthday and there were two huge cakes to celebrate the milestone. I had a slice of each  and they were both very good.  I really shouldn’t have but , what can I say… the flesh is weak.

As good as the food was, the most enjoyable part of the afternoon was sitting with a bunch of people whom we did not know earlier and being able to chat with them. In such situations, once the ice is broken there are plenty of things to talk about. The lady next to me had been a teacher in Queens and she was perfectly familiar with Indian names and the Indian- American community. Next to her was a lady who had taught in Edison N.J for many years and had lived there for almost 40 years as we too had done. It turned out that our houses had been within a mile of each other. A third lady, another teacher, happened to have a niece in the U.S Foreign Service and we were able to exchange experiences with each other since our daughter too is a diplomat. We were strangers when we sat down but friends by the time the Souper Bowl was over.

Next year, you can bet we will be attending the Souper Bowl again, perhaps more than once. Not only that, but we’ll be there early to get that yummy salad and, knowing what we do now, I’ll be more expert in picking my soup.

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This past Sunday, I went to the St. Patrick’s Day party at the clubhouse in our Active Adult community and got to be an Irishman for a day. It was great fun and I had a wonderful time.

St. Paddy’s is one of the most popular parties and the Grand Ballroom was packed with one hundred and fifty celebrants seated at tables of ten people each. Most of the attendees were ” temporary” Irishmen like myself but you couldn’t tell by looking at them. Everyone was wearing green: green hats, green vests,  green dresses etc. At the table next to us was a man with a green hat with tiny green lights that blinked on and off. At the same table was a woman, probably his wife, whose earrings also had similar green lights. Green klieg lights focused on the ceiling and walls turned everything green; the Auld Sod itself could not have been any greener. After an hour of socializing, liberally greased by wine and spirits ( It was a BYOB event), dinner was announced. As our table numbers were announced, we trooped into a nearby room and partook of the sumptuous buffet. The fare consisted of corned beef and cabbage, fried chicken, roast salmon, carrots, potatoes, pasta primavera, salad, bread and soda bread. Because there were servers and because there were four lines, service was a snap and we were tucking into our food scant minutes after we had been called to the buffet. The corned beef and cabbage was very good and my wife told me the salmon was excellent. The food was hearty and fulfilling; I did not feel the need to go back for seconds. Dinner finished, we sat back to listen to the live five – man orchestra as they played a series of Irish favorites. There was ” When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, “Abie’s Irish Rose”, ” It’s a Long Long way to Tipperary”, ” Danny Boy” , ” A Bicycle Built for Two” and others I didn’t know. There was also a whiskey drinking song of which I only caught the chorus” ….. Whisky in a Jar’. The music really livened up the party as people really got into it, singing along and keeping time. And, of course, they were dancing. What fun to see every one happy and having a good time. The piece de resistance of the evening was  a hefty blonde haired woman, who marched in playing the  bagpipes and performed several numbers that were enthusiastically received. Towards the end of her performance, partygoers were invited to march with her. As she played yet another favorite, a conga line formed up behind her and they all sashayed round the room in a miniature St. Patrick’s Day parade.  There is something plaintive yet appealing about the sound of bagpipes that makes listeners sentimental. And so it was with us as we watched and listened and sang along.  The final number , in which the band joined in and everyone stood, was America the Beautiful , a fitting end to a most enjoyable evening. BTW, before you ask” Aren’t bagpipes Scottish rather than Irish?, let me repeat what we were all told ” The Irish invented bagpipes, the Scottish perfected them”. So, there.

The Irish are my favorite ethnic group. I get along with everyone but with Irish better than the others. My feelings are no doubt highly colored that for 22 years my boss was an Irish American who took me under his wing and is one of the finest people I know. But it is more than that. I find the Irish highly sentimental, poetic, literate and emotional, less driven and more interested in the finer things of life. Yet, as each St. Patrick’s Day celebration proves, they know how to have a good time. I’ll sign up for the 2019 party as soon as the flyers are out and , next year, I’ll be wearing a green hat too. Perhaps one with blinking green lights.

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Last November, we were in Henderson, Nevada for a wedding. We stayed with a close family friend and one of the pleasures each morning was reading the newspaper, an actual printed newspaper. I get the digital version of the New York Times at home and it is great but, as I realized in Henderson, there is something to be said for the “real” thing, something you can hold in your hands and turn the pages. I love the digitized version of the Times but it has its drawbacks. One of them: you very soon fall into the habit of skimming , reading only the highlights or the headlines. Very rarely do I bother to turn to the sections and read the lesser stories.

When I started reading the Las Vegas Review Journal, I found myself reverting to my earlier habits. I skimmed it from the first page to the last and found myself reading not just the news but the columns and the restaurant reviews and doing the crossword puzzle. Almost immediately, however, I found myself puzzled. The Review Journal is a conservative paper with a conservative platform but I found the inner pages to be decidedly liberal, often taking positions contradicting those on the front pages. Then, I noticed that the inside of the newspaper was titled The Las Vegas Sun. I checked with my host and found that what I was reading was actually two newspapers in one. Back in 2005, the Review Journal and the Sun signed a joint operating agreement and the Sun became a section of ( and an insert in) the Review Journal. The two continued to have independent staffs and operated their own websites.  In doing so, they both saved a bundle in operating and distribution costs and have managed to stay afloat even in these days of declining newspaper readership.

What I find amazing is that the two newspapers have managed to preserve their independence despite being joined at the hip. They had been battering each other for over 50 years and have continued to do so, often attacking each others positions on the issues of the day. Even after the Review Journal was bought by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the Sun has been able to maintain its independence thanks to the joint operating agreement. (It must be an ironclad one!) The Review Journal meanwhile has seen increasing interference from Adelson with several news-stories pertaining to the casino industry having been killed or changed on an almost daily basis.

For readers though, this unique two in one newspaper is a boon. The Sun would definitely not been able to survive on its own and even the Review Journal would have been under financial pressure. The other advantage is that readers get to know both sides of the issue, an important benefit for all but those at the far ends of the political spectrum. Readers like myself who are closer to the middle can pick and choose what they want to read and thus obtain a more balanced viewpoint on the issues. I just wish that it were possible for those who rely on TV for news. Fox News is so far apart from almost everyone else that viewers who watch it  are in a world of their own.

To get back to the Las Vegas newspapers: In addition to the contrasting viewpoints, it was great to see a daily bridge column, an advice column by Ann Landers and two different crossword puzzles. The one in the Review Journal was more difficult than the Sun but both were doable for one with my limited skills. Too bad I can’t have those with the Times but I do have two New York Times books of Sunday puzzles which will keep me occupied until the end of the year.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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