Thursday, August 17, 2017

Jack and Ella's first game of Dungeons & Dragons

The twins, my niece and nephew, turned ten last Monday. I decided the big one zero was certainly old enough for Jack and Ella's first game of Dungeons & Dragons. 

We all were upstate for the week. My mom and pop, otherwise known as Grandma and Grandpa, rented a cottage in the woods near Lake Placid. I was full-on prepared to overcome long evenings with only dial-up DSL. We would go OG old school with dice and graph paper and photocopies.

No worries that I had not actually played D&D for something like 30 years. Being Dungeon Master was like riding a bike, right? 

It seemed frivolous to consider that nobody else besides me had ever actually played a game of D&D before. Tom and Grandma were in, and so were Jack and Ella. Grandma grabbed a piece of graph paper and said she’d draw the maps. Ella situated her iPad-mini on the table, at the ready to total up her gold pieces. I was pleased with the adventuring party.

First thing after reaching the Keep, our stalwart adventurers went into a tavern. Jack announced his character wasn’t allowed to sit at the bar because he’s not 18. Ella immediately retained two henchmen. She had rolled a high charisma and the party seriously needed some extra fighters after grandpa and my brother lamely showed zero interest in playing with us.

It took about ten minutes to figure out that being a dungeon master is not a whole lot like riding a bike. 

Mostly I just made shit up. Happily, I have not lost my flair for dramatic dice rolling. And I’m excellent at noisily pretending to consult one of the many manuals my mother recently dropped off at our house after declaring it was high time for all my old boxes of crap to not be in her basement. 

Stash of 1st edition D&D gear

The good news is my fast and loose DM’ing style went completely undetected. Nobody else had ever played D&D before. What did they know from saving throws? Turns out it’s kind of great to play with a party who totally believes you when you say that armor classes can vary from round to round for no particular reason, for example. 

It was magical.

Exploring the Caves of Chaos.
Our intrepid party of adventurers explores a dungeon. 

Pure awesomeness to watch the kids totally get into it. You could practically see their imaginations sizzling as they puzzled out mysteries and decided what to do next to rescue their own sorry asses from the pickle they got themselves in. Occasionally Tom took charge when he “just couldn’t take it anymore” but in general, the kids endeavored to lead the party. 

Grandma contributed a few excellent suggestions and prevented the execution of some very bad ideas. She also was the only one who brought along enough food when the gang headed out to the Caves of Chaos. She cooked dinner at the campsite. Some things don’t change much no matter what world you’re in.

After their first outing to their first dungeon, the party returns to the Keep. 

Ella is too cheap to pay two silver pieces for her henchmen to stay overnight at the inn. She announces "my two henchmen will just sleep with me in my room."

Grandma says, “Absolutely not. No henchmen upstairs in your room.” 

Some things don’t change much no matter what world you’re in. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July at the Furriers

The sun boiled the city in a pot of July humidity. Meanwhile, I decided it would be the perfect morning to lug one of Grammy’s fur coat uptown to get the pockets and lining fixed. I Yelped like a mofo and meticulously determined the finest establishment to perform the fur surgery. 

The furgery, if you will. 

I wrapped the coat in a garment bag and slogged up to a place on 30th, in the heart of what’s left of the fur district.

Both my dad’s grandfathers were furriers who had shops on 28th street. And my grandfather was a furrier manufacturer, whatever that entails exactly. His place was on 23rd. This is what I told the fur store owner after I managed to get inside his establishment. Apparently I really suck at noticing doorbells and signs saying you have to ring to enter, no matter how large they are.

We discussed the coat I’d brought in, made by Louie, my dad’s dad’s dad. For at least the first half of my life, I would have told you it was made of “pushin.” I can hear my grandfather’s voice talking about the “pushins” his father made for the family. 

At some point, I’m sure in an embarrassing incident that I blocked from my memory, I learned that “pushin” is how you say “persian lamb” when you’re in the fur business and your Bronx accent is as thick as a third rail. I can just imagine the moment I learned this factoid: Me, discussing fur coats... “well you have your minks, your foxes, your pushins…”

When Grandpa Louie made a coat for you, he sewed your name in the lining:

Grammy's name embroidered in the lining
of a fur coat made by Grandpa Louie 

I took the coat out of the bag and I showed the fur store owner Grammy’s name in the lining. He said it was a “Persian Stroller” from the late 40’s early 50’s. He said it was beautiful. I think he meant it. He only charged me a crumpled 20 for all the repair work needed. 

I sat down in the owner’s desk chair while he wrote up the ticket. He asked my great-grandfathers’ names. When I said Frimmer, he said, “That’s a very old name.” He mused a little and then said he might have heard of Louie. I said Louie had a heart attack and died on 28th street coming out of the subway in 1970. The owner said he opened up his shop in 1976, originally on 28th street. All the fur stores moved from 28th when they tore down the old buildings to build FIT.

Louie used tinfoil to get as tan as possible.
Once he took a road trip to the south
and was refused service
at white-people counters.
He did other things that might very well have
earned him a reputation still going strong
years after his death.

The owner told me his fur store is like Switzerland. “Everybody comes here,” he said. “We have your CEOs and your rappers and your drug dealers and your mobsters. We never have any trouble. You got Fortune 50 coming in the door and 50 Cent going out the door. And no trouble in here.”

I smiled. That sort of, but not really, explained the thin black man in a beige baseball-ish cap sitting at a round lunch table nearby type type typing on a Mac Titanium laptop. At one point, the man told me I was welcome to take a seat while I waited my turn. Beyond that, the man didn’t say anything to anybody and nobody said anything to him. He had the complexion and lankiness of Snoop Dog. But he was dressed in Burberry. With a beige cap. It looked a lot like those caps that shield your brain from wifi electricity and don’t show up in infrared surveillance. I know all about these from the Hansel and Gretel exhibit we saw on Friday.

“One time,” the fur shop owner told me, “I got taken by a string of bad credit cards. So I called up a customer of mine— he might have run a credit card forging operation. The next day, this customer comes in and he gives me a lesson on how you forge credit cards and what you just can’t duplicate. It was these little indentations. On the real credit cards, the indentations were on both sides. But even the best fakes only had one indentation on one side.”

“No kidding,” I said.

“I kid you not,” replied the owner. “I knew exactly what to look for after that. And when a fraud came in, I’d go, “Gimme a real credit card why don’t you. 

But then, do you believe it, the credit card companies decided to save shekel and they got rid of the two-sided indentations. My customer was overjoyed, he was. Those were salad days for him. But he got caught eventually.”

“That’s some tough luck,” I said. 

The owner asked if I wanted to get the coat cleaned, he recommended it. And then he typed in my address and phone number and I gave him my credit card to pay for the cleaning. He said I didn’t have to sign the credit card slip because he trusted me. He said after all these years he knows a person he can trust with a credit card.

I grinned analytically.

True, he had my Grandmother’s fur coat to hold as ransom should it come to that. Then again, I am the kid of a kid of a 28th Street furrier. If I can’t get some street cred for that in the fur district, this world is surely going to hell in a hand basket.

“The Jews, we weren’t given anything when we came here,” the fur store owner continued. “We never would have come to this country if it was then like it is today. We liked to work with our hands. We liked to make things…. We made furs and clothes and we did carpentry... Now all these jobs are in China and there’s no money in them. Entry level is McDonalds. You don’t learn a skill at McDonalds. You aren’t an apprentice learning a skill at McDonalds.”

After that the fur store owner waxed a little poetic about welfare and gaming the system. I got to use "sechel" in a sentence.

By the time I left, it was way after lunchtime.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

LEBNIN, if you please

Central Pennsylvania

I carpooled to the Women’s March with Casey and Steven and a friend of theirs I had never met before. Turns out, Rhoda's hometown is the town next to my hometown. 

We both grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, I mean the bleeding heart of the place. Rhoda hails from Lancaster— which only tourists pronounce LanCAAAASTER. Like nails on a chalkboard, people. Correct pronunciation is LANcister. 

Me— I’m from outside of Lebanon. Please say that LEBnin. Or if you’re really Dutchie, you’d say LEPnin.

So when Rhoda told me she married a man from LebaNON, I had to sit back in my seat and bluster a little bit. Here was a gal from LANCISTER totally mispronouncing LEBNIN, her hometown’s sister city for Crissake.

No, said Rhoda. She married a man from LEBANON. Beirut, to be precise. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Marcy who are these clowns?

It was Rachel, Rafael, Tom and I, minding our own business over at Karin and Ronnie's. Suddenly, Karin's phone beeps. It's her work phone, weird that someone is trying to reach her on a Saturday night. 

Here's the text she got:

The text Karin got on her work phone at 7:13 PM Saturday night.

Karin has no idea who any of these sassy ladies are. What a puzzle. 

We make some deductions. Clearly, the gal pals have gone away for the weekend. And one of them has texted photos to a wrong number.

Tom checks the metadata on the photos, as you do, if you're Tom. We feel our suspicions are confirmed. The photos were taken and sent from a resort in Florida:

The Metadata on the photos reveals the photos
were taken at a resort in Florida.

We are woebegone with envy. Here are these ladies whooping it up poolside, while we are indoors because it's freezing and pounding rain in New York.

Someone has a great idea. We should re-enact the photos. Is it even possible to re-enact poolside photos in an apartment on the Upper West Side? Challenge accepted:

Our re-enactment of the poolside photos,
in an apartment on the Upper West Side.
We send the re-enacted photos back to the wrong-number lady, along with a nice note to enjoy her vacation.

We get a response!!!!

Response to our re-enactment. Rafael translates.

"Marcy, who are these clowns?"

Now the question becomes... when will our wrong-number lady figure out that she is not sending vacation photos to her friend Marcy? What will her facial expression be when she realizes? Can we re-enact?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Very fancy in Carnegie hall

When I go to Carnegie Hall, I like to dress the part. I take my Grammy’s mink from the back of the closet. Sometimes I find a hat. Definitely a vintage velvet handbag. It’s hectic to pull this kind of finery together on such short notice, but you can only get the $4 rush tickets a couple hours before showtime. Also, comfortable footwear is a must, given the endless and dizzying staircase up to the nosebleed section. 

I like it up there. The musicians on stage are several miles away, but you’re really close to the ceiling. Plaster artisans back in the day had some kind of attention to detail. 

The stage at Carnegie Hall from the nosebleed seats.

Most lately, we were up there with Kent and Darcey before they left town. We settled into our red velvet seats, bathed in the cavernous golden glow of the place, occasionally brushed by a crystal from one of the massive chandeliers dangling just overhead. 

The gorgeous chandeliers in Carnegie Hall.
So close, you can practically touch 'em.

The music starts. Soaring orchestral harmonies that slither and braid every air molecule. My favorite musician is always the timpani player. It’s usually a guy with glasses who looks like Kenneth from 30 Rock. He stands back there, counting in his head. The three notes he plays all night are the best of the evening. Boomchackalacka. Whoot whoot! We all clap wildly.

At the intermission, a woman who looks like an artistic quilter approaches. Meanwhile, the four of us are very engaged with the whole idea of being in Carnegie hall under the twinkly lights. The woman beelines for Tom and says, “Just so you know, you don’t clap between the movements. Some might consider it embarrassing.” Tom thanks her. She strides off.

We all look at each other. I wonder why Tom was selected as the target recipient. Does he look like the one most open to constructive criticism? Or was he just the tallest and most obvious? We discuss.

The lights dim. The music begins again. A movement ends. Everyone up in our sky-high section— the families with the six kids, the workers who just got off their 11-7 shifts, the rows and rows of people who paid for their tickets with crumpled dollar bills and shorted their grocery spending to afford it—   

Everyone up there with us in the nosebleeds applauds with great fervor and heart-felt emotion. This is clearly not the right section for those who know how to properly enjoy the symphony.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

On the List of Things Not to Do Again

This weekend I learned a valuable life skill. If your parents give you birthday gift that happens to be compost-pile related, it's the not the best idea to leave it in the car for three days. 

A bag of cow shit tied with a festive ribbon.

But seriously, what girl doesn't love some fresh cow shit to sprinkle on compost? Thanks, Mom and Dad! ❤️

Guest Post by my Pop: The Traffic Stop

My dad was out riding his bicycle and he got pulled over by the cops. Here's his account of the incident:

I was biking south on winding Sandbridge Road in Virginia Beach last week.  The road was being prepared for a much needed repaving and the construction crews had milled about .7 mile section of the road creating a surface a Paris-Roubouix bike racer would find challenging.  

The milled area was far worse on the edges where the grooves were deeper.  Though there were smooth spots where car wheels had worn down portions through the travel lanes.  I escaped the first section of creases by riding a multi-use lane that more or less paralleled Sandbridge Road.  The multi-use lane, as many do, abruptly ended forcing me out on to the milled roadway.  

I now had a choice to ride the side of the road with strewn gravel and deep milled  ridges or take the far smoother, cleaner travel lane flattened surface. The road is heavily traveled and I felt I was far safer in the travel lane than navigating a treacherous, uneven surface on the edges only a few feet from passing vehicles where a slip could be fatal. With only about .2 miles until the milling ended, I opted to ride the travel lane.

It was at that moment a northbound Virginia Beach police cruiser saw me with several cars behind me, all, I might add, being quite patient.

The police seizing the moment made a U-turn with lights flashing came up behind me. I saw the patrol car and thought they wanted to pass me in pursuit of a speeder or a real criminal but to my surprise they were after me!  

I moved off the road on to the grass. At this point, I was passed the milled surface, and had already moved to the right.  The cars behind me had gone on, so as i pulled over the only car i was impeding was the police car who chose to ride directly behind my bicycle. Both car doors swung open and out popped two officers.

Officer#1, who did 99% of the talking, “Do you know why I stopped you?”  

Me, puzzled, “No.”

Officer#1 “You were blocking traffic. You must bike on the right side of the road.”  

And, obviously not block traffic.  The reality is I was blocking traffic for less than a minute (Traveling at 15 mph over .2 miles would take 48 seconds). 

I wondered if everybody else who blocked traffic for 48 seconds was being pulled over— somebody backing out of a driveway?  Any motor vehicle being driven significantly under the speed limit on a winding road?

I was told that I probably didn’t know Virginia law, but it requires all bikers to ride to the far right of the road.  I thought, “I don’t think you know Virginia bicycling law.”  But I kept my mouth shut and remained smilingly polite. I didn’t believe this was going any place beyond a firm fatherly lecture.

Officer#1 proceeded to tell me the road is bad and if I blocked traffic an irate motorist might make my life miserable. He intimated I find another route.  There are no other routes into Sandbridge. 
He patriotically noted this was America and I could ultimately do what I wanted but if I blocked traffic again I would be issued a citation.

I told him I was staying in Sandbridge and had to travel this road. I thought , “It would be nice if during the repaving they added shoulders to make this inhospitable road a bit safer for biking or walking.”

Officer#2 suggested I stick to riding the roads in Sandbridge (about a 15 mile loop); ignorant of how far I wanted to bike or if my bike trip was to get a prescription or to see my ailing mother.

Both officers were polite and professional through the whole road stop and then when I started to cycle away they protected my back for a time before they turned off.  I thought I’d get an escort all the way into Sandbridge. I made it the rest of the way (2-3 miles) on my own without any more police stops or overtly irate drivers.

Giving the police the benefit of the doubt that they were worried about my well-being and not having some fun before their shift ended they still did not know Virginia bike law. Unfortunately, they are not unusual as many officers who know lots of other laws do not have a firm grasp of bicycle laws.  Their ignorance could have caused me to be injured or worse if i would have had to follow their orders.

Virginia Law:
Bicyclists operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under conditions then existing shall ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of roadwayExceptions to this are when bicyclists are overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, preparing for a left turn, avoiding unsafe conditions

Granted I’m not a lawyer or a policeman but the law in my reading and checking with more knowledgeable people  seems clear:  In deciding how far right to go, safety is the main issue.  The VA Beach police never asked why I was where I was.  

The use of  “practicable” in bicycle law does not mean possible, but rather as far as is safe.  As such, bikers’ safety comes up multiple times (note the summary law quote above).  Thus, the question is really who decides how far right a biker could go and be safe?   

State laws vary, but one fact remains  important—bikers have the right to the road, and with that comes the right to make decisions about their safety.  So who decides how close to the edge is safe? The bicycle riders do, after all it is their well being.  Although their decision needs to be reasonable.  Avoiding deeply cut grooves, an uneven surface and large gravel pieces seems to be reasonable to avoid .   I would have hoped my safety is worth 48 seconds of someone’s time.

As for the police, giving them all the benefits of doubt as to why the stop was made, their ignorance might well have jeopardized my life.  Perhaps the Virginia Beach Police Department needs an in-service on bicycle law.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Our Trip to Havana - Jenna Style

Just got back from dodging babies on the streets of Havana. It's not a sight I'm accustomed to, toddlers striding purposefully down the sidewalk that close to midnight. Some are off to the ice cream shop. You have to hold the door because these shorties can't reach the handle. It's easy though. You just pull open the door and they saunter right under your arm. 

Don't get me wrong, it's not like munchkin city. But once you say "excuse me" to a member of the under-5 set like you'd say "excuse me" to any fellow pedestrian you almost tripped over, your worldview scrambles just a little bit.

We were very busy in Cuba, and I mean even beyond Mission Mojito, which I think we won.

Upon arrival at our Air BnB, I spotted a thick packet of papers tucked between some magazines on an end table. It was a print-out of a Powerpoint presentation, clearly left by someone who stayed in our room before us. The Powerpoint detailed a very, very, very comprehensive Havana itinerary. Upon further contemplation, it struck me as odd that the print-out had no business-class report cover or binding-- only one sad staple, upper left. 

I mean, seriously. Check out this cover art:

The Cover of the Cuba Deck left in our Air BnB

Realization: This must be the back-up copy. No way the serial obsessive who pulled together this caliber of a powerpoint masterpiece would forget to pack up something this pivotal and accidentally leave it behind. She'd have picked up the oversight in her ten-point departure checklist.

Generally, persons exhibiting this kind of thoroughness cause me to pass out from lack of oxygen, but I grew to love this person, we'll call her Jenna because that's actually her name. When stalking someone's itinerary with the diligence that we ultimately applied to the effort, there's a great chance you'll run across a name. Or you can pump Claudia, the walking tour guide, for the info.

Hot Tip: If you show up in Cuba with no real plan, be sure that Jenna has stayed in your room just prior to you and left behind the back-up copy of her 20-page Cuba Power Point Deck, complete with maps, phone numbers and instructions for what to do in case of emergency.

It was nice to recall what our Air BnB looked like before
Tom hung his running underpants up to dry.

These maps were an excellent add, Thanks Jenna!

Another geo-location angle. Air BnB is spelled wrong though.
Two points to Tom for noticing and HA HA HA gotcha on that detail, Jenna.

We were not on this flight.

Jenna had planned a busy first day with a walking tour, salsa lessons and dinner at a fancy restaurant. I could only get the restaurant reservations a few days later and the walking tour guide could only fit us in the next day.
We decided against the salsa lessons in favor of more mojitos.

If only we'd gotten our hands on Jenna's itinerary before we left stateside, we could have saved ourselves $3 a minute making arrangements. We also might have learned ahead of time that you can't bargain with the taxi driver after you're already in the taxi.

Each day's itinerary was followed by several pages of handy maps.
I love a handy map.

We were unable to get a reservation at El Coccinero. What a pisser.
We did not take the *potential car ride* because we were unclear as to the purpose or destination.
Luckily, there were mojitos.

Google driving directions are a nice touch.

Close up of the destination, the intriguing Factory of Art.
If I understood Spanish, I would have had a fighting chance of understanding
the performance with the men in leprechaun masks. But I kind of doubt it.

We did a few things on our own because we're not total stalkers who can't be left to our devices for one afternoon. We went to Hotel Nacional and attempted to get onto the roof deck, for example. We took the elevator the whole way to the top floor and wandered down a corridor of guest rooms asking the maids how to get on the roof.

Turns out, there is no roof deck at the Hotel Nacional.

I sort of blame Jenna for not going there and printing out a map of the available amenities. I mean, everybody knows the place is a landmark, for chrissake.

I felt more secure knowing where the embassy was located.

We were not on this flight.

We debated possibly heading over to Jenna's college friend Dave's place in Miami.