Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Instant Pot: A Love Note to Beans

Let’s talk about the Instant Pot. Or as I call it, the InstaPot mainly because it annoys Tom. He always corrects me. “It’s called the Instant Pot, you know,” he says. 

I reply, “Yes, honey I love my InstaPot.”
Tom got it for me for my birthday, and if I choose to level up the branding, so be it. Did I mention the InstaPot has bluetooth? It seriously is a Tool for a New Lifestyle. You can turn it off while sitting on the sofa. As long as you're within range.

Here's what I like most: You open up the pot and dinner pops out like some kind of genie in a bottle. Except instead of a bottle, you have a kitchen appliance. And instead of a genie, it’s a delicious kidney bean fricassee.

I don’t know how I ever survived without beans in like half an hour. They go from dry in the bag to ready to go with no soaking or anything. It’s kind of like a magic trick. This is practical because beans are a mainstay when it comes to a plant-based lifestyle. 

Plus you can sauté in this thing. And then throw in other things and pressure cook the lot of it. All in one pot. It’s like a 1950s dream, dinner in one pot. I’m reading Sylvia Plath’s journals right now. Probably if she had had an InstaPot she would not have offed herself in the oven. 

(That was terribly off color and insensitive. I apologize.)

Derek does not like the Instapot because he says it’s uncontrollable. He says it does not cook at an even temperature and is impossible to fine tune. Derek would know. He’s a fine-tuner. His stereo, for example, is terrifyingly complex. It has small weights balancing the needle. It’s like some kind of steampunk contraption.

Meanwhile, I go through life in a very pleasant culinary haze. If the lentils are a little askew, I can’t say I notice, especially given the amount of curry I tend to accidentally spill all over the place in a failed attempt at using a tablespoon measurer.

When it comes to the InstaPot, I’m totally in the majority though. Stacie is a big fan of the InstaPot. How I got hooked on it to begin with was all her talk about oatmeal. A little almond milk, toss in some raisins, and bam. Steel cut oats in twenty.

It’s kind of a cult, this InstaPot. There’s whole recipe books, like for example, “The Ultimate Vegan InstaPot Cookbook.” The NYT is onto it. 

(Here's an ad for the InstaPot. If you intend to buy one, click on the link. Allegedly I'm supposed to get a piece of the action, although this has yet to ever materialize, despite all the quality links I put in the Cher post. How could I not be suspicious?)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Two Wished-for Words

We went out to dinner with Stacie, Andy, Stacie's mom and Fred. Fred is Stacie's mom's... boyfriend? It's odd to call a seventy year old a boyfriend. "Partner" also doesn't cut it. Partner sounds too new and hip to refer to a guy on the darker side of grandpa age.

The word "sambo" would be perfect, except it's a Swedish word that sadly means something very different in English. In Swedish, a sambo is an unmarried person of any sex or age who lives with their significant other. Swedes are good like this. They also have the word "särbo" which refers to a person in a long-term relationship who doesn't live with their other half.

Anyway, I wished for the word sambo.

Then I got into a deep conversation with Fred about temporary tattoos. As you do when you meet your friend's mom's gentleman. I recalled my grandma talking about the temporary tattoos she used to get on Coney Island back in the day. There was a name for them. I couldn't recall what it was. Fred scratched his head. He's from Brooklyn and he knew what I was talking about, but he couldn't remember either.

All evening this missing word bothered me. It bothered me the next morning. And then, wham like a burst of heavenly light it came to me: cockamamie.


That's what the gramster calls fake ink. I finally remembered cockamamie mainly because I had a vague sense the word sounded, kind of, like another word gram would occasionally drop -- coney. Coney means rabbit fur dyed to look like leopard skin.

According to grammy, it was uncool to wear coney. If coney ever came up, guaranteed it was not part of a compliment.  Then again, my grandmother is not known for her compliments. She's more known for non-subtle innuendos. I recall that one time in the middle of a party when she told Cindy Barnick that Cindy's family recipe for liver pate wasn't particularly good.

Also, the gram is the daughter of a midtown furrier.

There could be factors at play beyond fashion choices, is my only point.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's a professional courtesy: Notes from the Atlantic City Half Iron Triathalon

Atlantic City Ironman -
map of the run part of the operation
Andy and I look at our watches and wait for Tom, and then Stacie. We stand at the rope separating we spectators from the triathletes running by. At this point in the race, the Ironman competitors already swam 1.2 miles, rode their bikes almost 57 miles and were about half done with a 13.1 mile run. It's hot in the sun. Most of the runners look some greyish shade of completely beat.

Andy gives me this weird look when all of a sudden I break out a really spirited whoop and shout, "Go David!"

He wants to know what just happened there and how I knew the random Ironman dude's name was David.

I say I just interviewed David for the podcast like last month. I knew exactly who he was because he had his company name emblazoned across his shirt and he looks exactly like his headshot. I tell Andy I sent David a LinkedIn invite and he never accepted it.

Andy says, "Instead of cheering, you should have yelled, "Why didn't you accept my LinkedIn invite?! IT'S A PROFESSIONAL COURTESY!"

I laughed and laughed.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not Veganing

Andy says to me, "I always worry that you won't be able to find something on the menu that you can eat. But then you manage to order something gigantic." He eyes up the salad I could barely fit on the table. And I know he's thinking of these pretty huge eggplant rolls I put down at dinner yesterday.

"Yep," I say, through a mouthful of broccoli rabe. It's hard to chew broccoli rabe fast. You have to fletcherize."I'm excellent at hunting and gathering." I dig into my beans.

Just a quick sidebar for the uninformed who don't know what fletcherizing means. Your father clearly did not take it upon himself to regularly squawk about its importance. Fletcherizing just means to chew really thoroughly so you appreciate your dinner. I have no idea why or how my pop became so enamored by the idea of it. He's not exactly what I'd consider an epicurean.

Regardless of your capacity to fletcherize, it takes a lot of energy to do this no meat or dairy thing. Much of it involves procuring and preparing vast quantities of plants.

An insanely time-consuming meal I found on the internet.

I fritter away hours adding and subtracting nuts and berries and toting up milligrams of B12. I look up nutritional charts like I'm mining for gold. Or mining for calcium as the case may be. Who knew molasses was a power pack of essential minerals? The vegans knew, that's who. And they can fight all day about whether its high glycemic index outweighs the benefits.

Speaking of fisticuffs: Just so I don't get trolled mercilessly, I will state for the record that I am not a vegan. I'm a plant-based diet person. I recently learned that real vegans are all about the animals. They don't wear leather and they don't wear fur. I hardly qualify. I lasted about 45 seconds on the Vegan Subreddit before realizing that I'm actually a total fraud. But at least not as big a fraud as this guy:

Please note the part where the super vegan writes: "And I just looked at your instagram and see a bunch of disgusting meat. Stop lying."

OMG. Here is some dude posting in the vegan forum WHEN ON HIS INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT THERE ARE PICTURES OF BARBECUED FISH! How did he think he wouldn't be called out? The Vegans are thorough fact-checkers, give 'em that.

I read a business book that talked about a study showing vegans are 3x more prejudiced toward vegetarians as vegetarians are toward vegans. The reason for this is called the "Narcissism of small differences." Click on that link and you'll discover some other vegan who is onto this concept.

Here's the bottom line: I do not wish to join the vegan club, even if they'd have me which they would not. I despise being harassed by the holier than thou. For this exact same reason, if you must know, I've left all the Indivisible groups I was formerly a part of. I'll send money directly to candidates and write my own damn postcards, thank you very much.

Probably the best part about this plant-based thing are the insta-conversations with plant-based strangers. I mean a really zealous totally absorbing kinds of conversations. Topics are intense, for example:

  • things you can make out of cauliflower
  • scobies
  • The instant pot, the most amazing device ever
  • protein bars
  • hot sauce
  • magnesium
As an adorable footnote, I scanned this plant recipe Audrey made for me:

It's nice to get watercolored plant recipes on little cards from friends.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Big Night Out - Taking the water taxi to Brooklyn

First we went to the Crows Nest, that place on the East River behind the hospital. As we approached the restaurant, Tom said, "I see how this went down. They needed more seating and someone thought, 'hey, let's just jam a boat right up against the side here.'"

Very practical, I nodded. Very practical.

You go in the Crow's Nest and feel like you're in the cartoon part of Nantucket or something. The part of Nantucket where the interior designers only have a misty impression of what goes on in Nantucket, but joyfully barrel forward anyway. A checkered napkin, wood paneling, life rafts and ship steering wheels, astroturf, salsa and chips, lots of Russians attending a private cocktail party in spandex.

Astroturf adds a sportsy touch.

It was all good. Darcey and Kent were in town and we met up with Helen and Matt. Ancillary to seeing our awesome friends, I had a little revelation up there atop the Crow's Nest: I'm a raging tonic water snob. Bam, that happened fast. Once you get used to Fever Tree with your Kettle, please be advised that whatever the hell comes out of the squirter on the bar will not do. This constitutes a problem for me. I blame Matt.

Anyway, continuing our nautical theme, we went over to the East River water taxi. This is when my shoe fell apart. And when I say "fell apart," I mean "achieved supernova destruction."

This is what a real shoe problem looks like.
I now consider these shoes fully amortized. This pleases me, being a serial obsessive and all.  Ever since I began keeping track of my clothing cost per wear, I've realized the extreme subjectivity of the whole endeavor.  So many variables; so many opportunities for rabid overfitting. I appreciated the mathematical precision of the circumstance. Meanwhile my shoe slowly disintegrated into one of those ergonomic earth shoes.

The water taxi is an option not to be underestimated. You can order beer on the water taxi. I think some people were having a birthday party right there on the boat. I tossed a little piece of shoe up in the air in celebration.

We walked from the water taxi dock past a bespoke abandoned field in Williamsburg over to this Italian restaurant with a lot of cheese on the menu. After dinner and because it was like 1am at that point, we headed to the Bedford L stop. Helen and Matt veered off into this dive bar. Later, they encountered a parrot.

We went home so I could throw out my shoe and make a note in my ledger.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Flavor of Chocolate "Crick" Cookies

Jack on the 1st day of 4th Grade
Jack went with Grandma and Grandpa to the Insectarium in New Orleans. There's a cafeteria at the Insectarium. Jack ate a few chocolate "crick" cookies. As in, cookies made from crickets.

I asked Jack what the cricket cookies tasted like.

He tilted his head to the side and contemplated his answer:

"They tasted like regular cookies. With a hint of meat."

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hence the speed differential

Photo credit:

1 am in Greenwich Village:

On the sidewalk in front of us, the one pudgy short girl in very tight pants motored ahead of the other pudgy short girl in very tight pants. And when I say, "motored ahead" I mean in a relative kind of way. Tom and I just kind of strolled by the two of them.

We might have appeared nonchalant, but make no mistake, we were paying attention. There was drama.

The one in the back squawked at the one in the front, something about slowing down. I couldn't really hear so well. I was totally distracted by the frantic slapping of their strappy sandals on the sidewalk and my disbelief over how it was possible to move one's legs that rapidly and at the same time achieve such low velocity... I was astounded really. It was like watching hummingbirds. Hummingbirds from say Long Island.

The one in the front really started to pull away. But by then they were way behind us.

I asked Tom what was going on back there. He said, "The one in the front had to pee a lot more than the one in the back. Hence the speed differential."

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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Say what? (English Language Conversation Hour, Part 2)

Last week at English Language Conversation Hour, a lovely twenty-something from Puerto Rico was in my group. She said she was having trouble with a word. I said hit me with it.

“Bitch,” she said, enunciating very clearly.
“Mmm, I think you got it,” I replied.
“No, no,” she said kind of frantically. “I don’t mean bitch. I mean like ‘It’s really hot today so I was thinking of grabbing my bathing suit and my sand bucket and heading to the bitch.’”

We spent about ten minutes of me saying “BEEEEEETCH” and her replying “BIIIIIITCH.”

Finally, I suggested she might want to skip 'the bitch' and just go with 'the shore.’ Discretion is the better part of valor and there are worse things than sounding like you’re from jersey. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Tale of Three Rats in the City

So what's new with you, Rat?

At Uncle Bob’s birthday dinner, someone asked what was new with me, and I said I’d just seen a remarkably huge rat galloping down 51st street. The rat swerved out of a garage, covered some quick ground and vanished through a hole under the door to someone’s office. It was the size of a herd animal, this rat. It was big enough to harness up and plow a field, which could have major implications for sustainable micro-farming. 

Because the family is generally okay with inappropriate dinner conversation, Sue remarked with some remorse that she didn’t recall any personal incidents involving a rat. Not to worry, I have plenty. My all-time favorite was the one in the 2nd Avenue F-train stop. 

We looked down the subway tunnel and saw a newspaper billowing in the air, coming toward us. Odd, because there was no wind. At all. It was one of those sultry nights where the still air becomes a Petri dish and the smells of the lower east side blossom into their full glory.

Anyway, this flapping and billowing newspaper got closer and closer. Finally, we saw the rat. A rat had a corner of the newspaper clamped between its tiny jaws. It was hauling ass down the tracks like some kind of zealot charging into battle in the name of the NY Post. 

How interesting, nodded everyone around the dinner table. Mark buttered himself another piece of soda bread.

But wait, there’s one more really good one. Last fall, Tom and I were walking up 7th Avenue. Sprawled in the middle of the sidewalk was a rat. The rat was dead. And someone had, with great care, placed a blue baseball cap upon the rat’s head. It was one of those things you stumble upon (literally) and like five blocks later it occurs to you how peculiar it was. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

We make good on Xmas Gifts-- Taking the Niece and Nephews to the Lion King

Ella wasn’t hungry and Jack said he would only eat a hotdog. Only a hotdog. Mark was hungry and so was Tom but Seth and Mary were not hungry. So we canceled our lunch reservation at the place across the street and walked to the closest hotdog joint - Chelsea Papaya. 

In a wild coincidence, Chelsea Papaya occupies the exact former location of my grandfather’s furrier manufacturer business. So we felt right at home, even though the furrier manufacturers lost their lease sometime prior to 1950. We ordered a vat of deep fried nitrates. Turned out, Jack didn’t want a hotdog at Chelsea Papaya. He wanted a dirty dog from a midtown food truck. 

At the bar table by the window, Uncle Tom played a fun game called “talking about the tourists on the sidewalk but not pointing at them.” It’s harder than you’d think. With no need to waste valuate time eating anything, Jack practiced holstering his finger for the duration of our stay. Unfortunately, he takes after Grandma Tan in the finger department, so he needed the extra time.

Holster that finger!
At Chelsea Papaya.

Back out on the sidewalk, it took us something like two hours to walk 20 blocks to the Lion King. We stopped eight or fourteen times for bathroom breaks, water, tea, coffee, a bag of nuts, M&Ms, a small amount of fruit from a fruit bar and a greeting card. I only bought the greeting card because we were waiting for Jack to pee in Whole Foods and I knew we were looking at logistical and distance delays. Finally, Jack got his dirty dog on the corner of 40th and 7th Avenue. I’m sure it was delicious.

The Lion King is a big show. Big. The kids didn’t know what to do with their eyeballs. Red damask wall paper, red carpet, chandeliers, high ceilings, windows overlooking Time Square, a huge huge curtain across a massive stage. An orchestra with a conductor. Drums in alcove in the wall. 

Row H at the Lion King. Great Seats!

Row G at the Lion King. Great Seats!

Despite Jack’s tiny hieny, he took full advantage of his entire seat. Cheeks to the left, to the right, up, down, two bounces. Repeat. 

Ella stuck her face between the seats in front of us. Luckily a little kid was up there so she didn’t breath on anyone’s neck.

Meanwhile, I was at full medical alert. If the lights flashed, I needed to slam my palm across Jack’s face. I hope the people sitting next to us knew Jack had a concussion. Otherwise they probably wondered why every now and then my nephew found himself in a headlock. There were a number of unnecessary pre-emptive strikes. This may or may not have caused my occasional attacks to appear random and very odd.

As we were walking out, I asked Jack what he thought of the show. He was mostly fixated on the standing ovation. Uncle Tom asked Ella what part she would play, if she could play any part in the performance. She said she’d like to be a plant. Mark kept his thoughts to himself. He’s almost a pre-teen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Deep thoughts about why i want a sauna. Or not.

I covet a sauna.

I like a sauna all right. I like the rocks and the earthy smell of your hair smoldering. But then, a couple days ago, I read about the fantastic health benefits of sauna-ing. I began to covet a sauna. 

Our friend Guy has a sauna in his basement. His very own sauna. It is electric powered, but an all-wood and glass real-deal. It kind of looks like a small woodland-style enclosed porch. When Guy's daughter was little, she had a playhouse (aka the box their new washing machine came in) positioned right next to the sauna. It was like father-daughter tiny neighborhood. Seriously, I wanted in.

But the YMCA has a sauna. Any day of the week, I can go over to the YMCA and sit in the sauna. 

So I did. 

I was sitting in the sauna, not staring at my phone. Phones fry in saunas. As do Apple Watches. I stared at the wall thinking deep thoughts.

This whole sitting-in-the-sauna-at-the-YMCA experience was pretty much exactly the same experience I would be having had I purchased a sauna all for myself. I mean, really, how much better could sauna time possibly be just because I owned the damn sauna? 

I had to admit, the sauna experience is the same regardless of sauna ownership. Especially because there's never anyone else in the sauna at the YMCA. Therefore, I should rejoice in the YMCA sauna as much I would rejoice in any at-home sauna solution. 

True, maybe it would be more convenient if I had a sauna directly underfoot. But the gym is like 10 minutes away. If I can’t manage to roust myself for a 10-minute journey, how much do I really want a sauna? 

Furthermore, if I need to undertake the ritual of getting myself to the sauna location, maybe it’s a more luminous experience worthy of even greater existential appreciation. 

I am no weak-kneed consumer desperate to acquire unnecessary worldly goods that wind up as non-biodegradable rubble polluting the ocean!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Something -> Dinner -> Dessert -> Drinks = A Decent New York City Night Out

Something -> Dinner -> Dessert -> Drinks

Last Friday night, it was Dinner -> Dinner -> Dinner. Mainly because Tom, in a failed attempt to take his cholesterol medicine, popped a sleeping pill by accident at 2:30 PM. He began walking into walls about 3. He drank 2 pots of coffee and a large Dunkin' Donuts Columbia Blend and managed to remain upright. Of course, adult beverages were not an option for him. For safety reasons. Also because if he drank any more fluids he might have exploded his bladder.

But we were starving, so we had an early dinner. And then we went to a cabaret show that had a two item minimum. And Tom could’t drink, so he had another dinner. Then we met up with some friends who hadn’t eaten. So we had another dinner. Each successive dinner got smaller, however. I don’t want you to think we’re complete pigs.

Mostly, we do Something -> Dinner -> Dessert -> Drinks. I’m talking about your average Fridays and Saturdays and occasionally Thursdays. Evenings when I’m not in the helpin’ business anymore. I’m in the sit down and have people bring me things business.

It’s vital that each segment of the night out transpires at a separate and well-qualified establishment. What is the point of ordering gelato, for example, at a restaurant that just panfried your paella? If you want gelato, you go to a place that pours their heart and soul into their gelato. Unless you are overcome with laziness, which I would never disparage. 

It's best when the evening kicks off with "Something." "Something" meaning a dive jazz club or an off-broadway show or maybe stand-up or some museum open late. Then we walk to Dinner. Pay the check and head out to source Dessert. Followed by Drinks, preferably in a place with lounge chairs in a back room and a fireplace. Hot toddies with Tullamore Dew are a nice option.

Ok let me be more upfront. “Something” might be a code word for “Happy Hour.” And “Dessert" could certainly swap out for “That first bar where we were brutalized by B&T's shrieking words like 'Chanel' and wearing sunglasses so we left.”

If I had to select a short list of what I love about New York City, it would be that evenings such as these are possible. And if I had to select a short list of what I love about life in general, it’s that we have friends with whom to share such evenings. 

Last Saturday, we went out with Dave and Linda and in a freakishly all-star twist of fate, ran into Darcey and Kent at Bell Book and Candle, so we finished up the evening as a team.  The next morning, I went somewhere and listened to some people drone on and on about themselves for literally three hours non-stop. It gave me plenty of time to endlessly appreciate our friends, and the soul-freshening times and conversations we've shared.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Marching in the Women's March in Washington, DC: What was it like to be there?

It wasn't so much of a march... more like a mosey, I'd say. Actually it was more like standing around for a hella long time, punctuated by short busts of mosey. And when I say, "standing around," I mean standing as still and straight as a bottle of beer nestled firmly into a 550,000 pack. It was an amazing experience I wouldn't trade for even the most luxuriously non-claustrophobic conditions.

Here's inside the metro subway car on the way into the city:

Inside the metro train.
Picture a medium sized room. Picture 250 people in that room.

I had carpooled to DC with four friends, some of them brand new friends, staying with Casey's cousin and her husband-- two more brand new friends. Casey's cousin had bought a metro card for each of us earlier in the week. Luckily. Because the lines to the ticket machines were an hour long. And that didn't count the line down to the platform and the massive rabble in the station after we arrived downtown:

Metro Platform.
Still on the Metro platform, on the way to the escalator.

Picture of the Metro platform from the escalator.

All in, a 45-minute Metro ride took over two hours. It was uncomfortable to breathe on someone's neck with someone else's arm in your face for a stretch that long. 

The conductor on the train was my favorite train conductor ever. He had that microphone humming with travel-time updates and words of encouragement. Meanwhile, everyone on the train got busy chatting each other up. I have never been squashed together with so many amazing, tolerant, agreeable people. Above ground, all afternoon, exactly the same scene.

What was it like to be there? It was heartwarming and heartening, inspiring, encouraging. It felt like a dragon stirring, with a tail as long as city streets and a heart as big as the mall. I will do my part to keep that dragon lumbering forward.