Make it with Caro syrup

Citarella, the gourmet meat market, is across the street from the Starbucks I usually sit at until 10:30 or 11:00, when it’s time to go home and rack out in my $60/night bed at Hephzibah House.  My friend Carl, whose apartment I crashed in last night while he was out of town, had a gigantor hunk of cheese that he told me was from Citarella.  It was to go along with the chili he made.  The chili smelled good.  The cheese smelled imported and suspect, not something to be married culinarily with chili.

103007scol22.jpgThis is my last week at HHouse.  It has been a good stay; three or four nights per week for the past six weeks.  You can’t beat $60 per night in Manhattan; heck, it costs that much for a movie ticket that lasts 120 minutes.  HHouse has been peaceful, a respite from the din around.

I went to Citarella when the Lovely K and I lived on West 76th Street and tried to get a flank steak to make chicken fried steak, a subject I will return to directly.  Citarella didn’t have flank steak.  They had rabbit.  But they didn’t have flank steak.  Dadgum retrogrades.  Philistines.  So I can’t remember how exactly we resolved the flank steak situation.  I may have waited until we moved to Massachusetts, where they sell flank steak.  I am sure other states in the Union sell flank steak, but this section of downstate New York, called New York City and, specifically, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, apparently does not sell or claim to even know about the existence of flank steak, from which is made a delectable Texas dish that is disdained by Urbanites that would rather eat Bugs Bunny.

I told you I would return to chicken fried steak, and here I shall.  I ate dinner tonight at Brother Jimmy’s Barbecue, on 80th and Amsterdam, a section of the Upper West Side known for bars and loud people from Brooklyn who drink a lot of alcohol here and then fall asleep on the N train headed back to Bay Ridge or wherever they’re from.  I first went to Brother Jimmy’s years ago when the State-Carolina basketball game was on the restaurant TVs, and I must say it made dining an active experience.  Zagat’s calls the place “one big frat party.”  Tonight it was fairly calm – a Tuesday night after the end of the World Series, not a Monday or Thursday night (football) and no other sports news than Grady Little’s resignation today from the L.A. Dodgers.  (A doctored photo of Joe Torre in a Dodgers cap appeared in yesterday’s NY Post…that’s my guess of where he’ll end up.)  It was also quiet.  I ordered – yes, Dear Reader – chicken fried steak, along with candied yams and black eyed peas.  Sweet tea.  (Yes, Luke, they sell it here.)

But I must tell you, it was not like my mother-in-law’s chicken fried steak.  I don’t think it was attributable to anyone’s mother-in-law.  I think it was attributable to some guy; some guy in a sweaty Marlon Brando “Streetcar Named Desire” t-shirt who probably lives in Bay Ridge and takes the N train in to Manhattan, and who cooks this dish he has no cultural appreciation for.  The coating came off like it was glued on with year-old Elmer’s.  The steak itself was as thin as the tablecloth, and just as hard to cut.  My mother-in-law, Ginger, schooled me that you need to double dip it, etc. (don’t ask me how here…I have it all written down and not with me at Starbucks) and it turns out just fine.  Of course, she makes it far better than I do.  But I make it far better than some guy from Bay Ridge.  Somehow, though, “Brother Howard’s Barbecue” loses something in translation.

The candied yams with walnuts were good, as were the black-eyed peas.  The side of pickle slices, the kind the Lovely K likes, were a nice complement to the brown sugar on the yams.  Cornbread:  ehh.  Sweet tea, pretty good, and the server made a point of asking me if it was okay.  I said, Sure, why?

“I made it,” she said.

Did you make it with Caro syrup?

“No…”  Quizzical look.

Gotta make it with Caro syrup; that’s how they do it in the south.

“Where are you from?”


She smiled and walked off.

photo:  scol22


Sound effects on Amsterdam

Last week I saw an erstwhile bride hunting for a hidden camera or husband, whichever came first.  Today, I was dining with an acquaintance at Utopia Diner in a window booth looking out onto Amsterdam as it dissected Broadway and headed north, and — thwumppp!!!— a lady of about 60 with blonde hair flying fell face forward onto the concrete outside inches from my window seat.

102307topfer.jpgApparently, she had walked over a metal cellar door, one of these double opening deals that sit flat on the ground (which I never like to walk on because I have this statistically irrational fear of falling into a pit as deep as that which Gandolf fell into in Lord of the Rings.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  But she hit the metal loops that were used to put a padlock through and which stuck up maybe two inches, enough to cause her foot to snag and her to tumble.

And, she THWUMPED.  I mean, my omelette jiggled a little.  I joke about it because after running out there, a couple of us found that she was fine, if a little embarrassed, and walked off without any stagger or limp.  I told my acquaintance about the episode on the Acela a few weeks back, when I found an older lady who had fallen in the bathroom and couldn’t get up.  You may laugh at the phrasing, but it was true.  I wonder if so many older people are socially gracious because they know the fragility of life.

Stuff like this just doesn’t seem to happen very often in South Hamilton.  Everyone drives, and if there’s a mis-hap, then it usually involves car bumpers, local police with donuts, and insurance carriers.

In other news, on Thursday I have a personal training session scheduled at the gym with “Alejandro,” a former PanAm Games swimmer from Uruguay who is also a musician.  The sheer diversity of people here, from South American artists who do personal training on the side, to large elderly ladies making body-slamming sounds on the streets, still amaze me…this, only the sixth week back in the City.

photo:  topfer

I do?

Walking across 72nd Street toward Broadway this morning at about 7 a.m. to catch the #2 train to work, I passed an attractive black-haired 20-something woman wearing a wedding dress.  I don’t know whether it was a Vera Wang or not (the only maker I can name).  I didn’t see her spouse, her fiance, her photographer, the Candid Camera, her bride’s maids, any other family members.101707gun.jpg

She was looking up the street, toward Columbus.  She wasn’t finding what she was looking for.  No one stared but me.

photo:  gun

“Did you know I was related to Lafayette?”

As the B-52s punch their words into my inner ear, “down, down, down…skedubidub…hrrrrr…ahhh..ahhhahhh…Rock Lobstah!” I recall a few minutes ago when a 20-something guy with a crew cut, backpack, and wild look in his eyes walks into the Starbucks on 76th and Columbus where I’m doing my evening news catch-up, drinking the requisite decaf, checking out the Red Sox losing to the Cleveland Indians in the bottom of the second inning live on, and he taps my shoulder because, after all, I have these antisocial white iPod earplugs in the side of my head that announce, “Please know that I am occupied with a little Alternative Music R&R,” and he stumbles for words, and I think, Uh, Oh, here we go:  This reminds me of London 1985 when I sat in that hotel lobby with brother Jim and college friend Kim and some dude walks in and convinces me that he lost his trumpet – for real, I tell you, and you thought I wasn’t gullible… – and 101507damo_4701.jpgneeds twenty quid (which then was about only $30) which of course I gave him because he promised to send it back to me later to my US home and he even gave me his name and address, which I am sure now corresponded with some ex-foreman at a women’s girdle factory in Yorkshire.  This is going through my mind.  I am thinking: Get ready for the pitch, Man.

But instead he insists he is lost and needs to get access to his Hotmail account and may he log on to my laptop.  He speaks broken English because he is French.   So I consider the fact of the American Revolution and how his country did all those nice things for us.  (After all, since then, the relationship’s been a little…strained…although now there’s a guy in office who might convince the French Language Puritan Nazis to let in such words as “laptop” and “Starbucks” to the rigid lexicon.  So what if YouTube has a video of Sarkozy drunk at the G8 Conference.  President G.H.W. Bush puked on the Japanese Prime Minister, remember?)  We navigate out of my default Windows Live ID screen and away he goes into French MSN and his email account.  He says it’s hard to get to the “web cafe.”

He finds the street address he’s looking for, on West 107th, and asks how far it is.  Walk?  Train?  Taxi?  I ask.  Taxi, he says.  About ten minutes.  He looks comforted, gathers his things.

He does not ask me for money.  He hasn’t lost a wind instrument of any kind.

I am happy.

photo:  damo 4701

Don’t stare…

On Singing Beach today, apparently there was an eight-year-old boy running around who was … under-clothed.  Grossly under-clothed.  As in, wearing his birthday suit.  The Lovely K, who tonight reported this at dinner, said she saw the father and that he didn’t seem to care.  She said he looked … European.

I declared that any kid over two, or at least three, should wear a bathing suit on the beach.  This was my Puritan Mean Streak coming out and, dadgum it all, I want the beach to be free of all naked third graders.

My brother Jim and I happened upon a beach in Nice in 1985 where we were staying with a family whose matron was in 100607rebeka303.jpgmy college speech class and whose husband had been reassigned to IBM’s Raleigh, North Carolina office for four years.  At the end of the course, the woman invited any and all comers to join her if any of us found ourselves on the Riviera.  One year later, I had graduated, and the gift from my parents for successfully applying their tuition funds against documentable coursework was a trip to Europe for six weeks, where I would join Jim in Rome, where he was for a semester, and we’d take the “Grand Tour” (as WASPs call it) up through Europe, terminating in London.

The beach in Nice was basically every American young man’s dream, with all females over a certain age grossly under-clothed, even partaking in windsurfing while grossly under-clothed.  It was enough to make any Puritan become a French existentialist.  It was at these times when I guess it was okay for Europeans to be Europeans.

There was also the time in 1990 when I was on the Costa del Sol near Fuengirola, Spain, and there was rare surf.  I, anticipating my time with the Europeans would call for a change in beach couture, had packed only a speedo, thinking this was de rigueur.  Wearing this, I got the courage to ask a local surfer – who, with his friends, were all wearing classic, baggy, Californian-style surf trunks – whether I could rent his board for an hour for a few pesetas (this is pre-euro).

I thought I had learned my lesson and from then on wore my speedo only when I swam laps.  Then, two summers ago, I was at the local pool in Texas near my in-laws’ house, and my father-in-law had invited me to go work out with the after-school team.  I was, of course, wearing the speedo.  All the young boys were wearing the knee-length suits, a la Michael Phelps.  They were gathering in small groups, staring at me, and snickering.

Whether it’s Manchester-by-the-Sea, Nice, Fuengirola or Kerrville, I seem to be out of rhythm with beachwear.  I think I will stick to indoor activities when in doubt.

photo:  rebeka303

Round trip to Alpha Centauri

China Fun’s fortune cookie’s fortune said, “Today brings out the performer and humanitarian in you.”  I doubt the first, and my success in relating that fact to you will determine the second.

Between getting up at 4:45 a.m. today to catch the 6:29 train from Boston’s Route 128 station to NYC for my third week at work, and attempting to drag along my very touristy travel suitcase on the sidewalk of Broadway between 36th and 37th, which was narrowed by the hastily built wooden staircases leading to the make-shift eating areas (called Sukkahs) for Jewish people to celebrate Sukkos this week – also known as Sukkot or סֻכּוֹת in Hebrew which I pasted in from Wikipedia just to be fancy and make you think I could type that in on my own – still getting used to the pace of doing yard work for hours on end on Saturdays and kissing my wife good bye for days on end on Mondays at 5:15 a.m., somewhere in there I managed to worsen a stupid question with an even stupider question.

100107woodsy.jpgYou know:  where you say to a coworker about his air travel something like “Did you get a direct flight from Atlanta [to LaGuardia]?”  [Dear Reader who doesn’t travel much:  Trust me, this is a stupid question.]  Puzzled look from my colleague, like, Is the employment contract on this guy in ink yet?  And though you could almost be forgiven for temporarily forgetting that he probably flies Delta which basically goes to Alpha Centauri non-stop, because you fly US Airways, which makes stops just to go pee, yet you answer the puzzled look with the dig-your-grave-deeper question of “Well, I must be thinking of Atlanta to Boston,” which you leave hanging in the air too long without another dependent clause to qualify that you really didn’t intend to insinuate – which you just did – that there are no direct flights from Atlanta to Boston.  You are trying to cover your steps here, and what results is a look of horror on his face.  Mixed with disgust.  Mixed with an emotion that can only be described as disbelief rooted in a quickening desire to call the authorities.  As if you just told him that you are fond of taking small pets and dipping them in hydrochloric acid by the tail first.

“There are PLENTY of direct flights from Atlanta to Boston…like 300 a day!” he snorts, deftly speed-dialing the New York City Police Department with his left forefinger on his cellphone which is attached to his belt.

You laugh it off, claiming that you are still getting adjusted to this Boston-New York-Boston commuting-dichotomized world of living, and you try not to think about how many people he will email, text, or discuss your side of the conversation with later in the afternoon.  Little do you know he has just deftly uploaded your photo, height, weight, and ethnic origin to both the Transportation Security Administration’s watch list and to John Walsh’s personal email InBox to be featured during tonight’s FOX television lineup.

This temporary moment of self-humor, where you tell yourself that, yes, well, at least your wife still loves you after ten years of marriage and your children – 8, 7, and 4 years old – are still young enough to trust that you graduated from college and can wipe the corners of your mouth without assistance from a low-paid technician, and which lasts into the evening and into dinner, comes to a screeching halt when you take too much fresh Chinese mustard on your egg roll and the sensation when you inhale is essentially the same as when you took too big a bong hit when you were a teenager and insane – your chest heaves and your lungs squeeze together like prunes, and you look around to see if the waitress is silently and deftly alerting the manager.  And the feeling of instant and irreparable suffocation reminds you of this morning and how words become watermelons that back up into your throat to cause severe blockage unless someone comes alongside to perform the Heimlich Maneuver.  But no one does, because no one can see that you are on the brink of Instantaneous Social Destruction By Virtue of Stupidity.

You think back to earlier this morning, before the airline comment, when the two of you were meeting in your office, and perhaps it was indeed the 4:45 start to the day that did it, or perhaps it was the overpriced bagel breakfast sandwich on Amtrak that stuck to your front teeth like cheap tooth whitening compound, and you recall that insane things might have escaped your lips even then, during that earlier time, for you noticed that he did in fact comb his fingers through his hair at one of your questions like he was looking for electronic listening devices on his scalp, and he did turn off the lock on his cellphone just in case.

Just in case.

Just in case you asked about his flight.

photo:  woodsy