Archive for February, 2010

Fun Stuff II

February 26, 2010

Posting early because I have a million things to do, and I’m running late (what else is new?). So here’s the rest of “What would we do without newspapers?”

  • “1:14 a.m. – Caller reports hitting an intruder in the head with an axe. Notes that intruder ‘was in the mirror.’”
  • [from a different paper] 1:33 p.m., Sonora – A man came to the Sheriff’s Department to ‘find out how to legally kill’ a person who was harassing him.”
  • “A caller reported at 7:14 p.m. that someone was on a porch yelling ‘help’ from a residence on Bank Street. Officers responded and learned that the person was calling a cat that is named ‘Help.’”
  • “2:58 p.m. –The Learning Center on Hanson Street reports a man across the way stands at his window for hours watching the center, making parents nervous. Police ID the subject as a card-board cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
  • “Dog attack – Lower Duck Pond, Litia Park, Ashland. Police responded to report of two dogs running loose and attacking ducks at about 11:20 a.m. Sunday. The officer cited a resident for loose dogs. The duck refused medical treatment and left the area, according to police records.”
  • “An Edgewood man reported recently that his wife had gone missing some 18 months ago.”
  • “[A separate report] Police checked the area and found an open door in the back of the building. An officer went inside and called out, ‘Marco.’ … Police found the suspect after he responded, ‘Polo.’”
  • “For sale – collection of old people. Call 253 …”
  • “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. [P.O. box in Oakview, California] You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
  • “Human skull, used once only Not plastic. $200 OBO. Dr. Scott Tyler …”
  • “1995 Nissan Maxima, green, leather, loaded, CD, auto start, sunroof, 4-door, good condition $4500. Not for sale.”
  • “Tombstone: Standard ray. A good buy for someone named Grady. 508-375 …”
  • “Debra Jackson says she likes shopping at the Dollar Palace because it is convenient and casual.  ‘I don’t have to get all dressed up like I’m going to Wal-Mart or something,’” she said …”

And one from elsewhere which came as part of a lament to the death of the copy desk. Love it!

Shopping for My Nephew

February 26, 2010

My sister-in-law and I decided that from now on I’m going to be the “book” auntie. She had one and loved it. And I had given Tony a reprint of the original of Where the Wild Things Are for Christmas, along with a coloring book with Spongebob and Squidward and something else that I can’t remember.

So I went shopping for his birthday and had a blast. The clerk in the Barnes & Noble children’s section really knows what she’s doing. I described his reading ability and she gave me a bunch of suggestions for things that he could read right away by himself and things that he’ll grow into.

My first selection was revenge on his mom the teacher, and his dad the former teacher. It’s the “Weird School” series and I got him the first book, Miss Daisy Is Crazy! He took one look and started to laugh. Other great titles, Mr. Granite Is From Another Planet! and Officers Spence Makes No Sense! It looks like there are about 20 books in this line, so I’ll be buying these for him until he finishes college!

The second I-can-read-it-myself was the first of the “Captain Underpants” books. It’s the first book of the first collection – now there’s a second collection, so those may go through college, too.

And then the set that I want to read just because it’s got a terrific format is Diary of Wimpy Kid. Just the back cover is great because it looks like someone taped pieces of paper to the diary.

Looks like I’ve got some good reading ahead.

Saturday Wrap-Up

February 25, 2010

A quick hit today as I’ve got to start cleaning the house and generally getting ready for a busy couple of weeks. Details to follow …

Between seeing the Jane Austen exhibit and hearing Leslie play I looked around for a place to eat dinner. Most of what I saw on the cab ride from the Morgan to the West Village was one Burger King after another McDonald’s. I noted a restaurant called Spice, which I now realize is not the same as the Spice Market, which the NYTimes dining guide listed as super expensive. Otherwise my choices seemed to be a couple of delis that had minimal seating and didn’t look at all comfortable.

I guess I have to thank the cab driver even though he didn’t know east from west and left me at that famous intersection of Fourth (Avenue) and Thirteenth (Street). So I strolled a few blocks, just to make sure I knew where to find the Tenri Center where Leslie was performing. On the way I passed something called City Tavern. It doesn’t have an active web site, so no link. It looked like a bar but had a full menu posted outside. After I’d crossed Fifth Avenue and rejected another deli that seemed for takeout only, I went back to the east side of 13th.

A very nice man with a Spanish accent greeted me. I said I was there for dinner, and he led me upstairs to a smallish dining room, quite warm and comfortable. After I had placed my order one of the young waiters arrived with a basket containing a single piece of focaccia and a huge pile of bread sticks. Instead of butter or olive oil, there was a sort of tapenade. I heard the maitre d’ tell my neighbor, the only other diner when I arrived, that it was made from sundried tomatoes. It was delicious, but I detected a serious amount of garlic and so ate all the parsley on my dinner plate in hopes of combatting garlic breath. The guy sitting next to me apparently didn’t like it and asked for butter which arrived with alacrity.

Except for the appetizers, the menu appeared pretty limited with a couple of pasta dishes, a fish dish. I ordered the perch which came in a tasty sauce that had a bit too much salt. Accompaniments included buttered vegetables, a couple of slices of carrots, ditto zucchini, green beans (with the stems left on), and asparagus tips. A huge mound of potato, which I did not eat, rounded things out.

The place filled up as I was eating, but most people seemed to gobble and run. I had plenty of time so sat and enjoyed one of the six or NYTimes magazines that I had brought.

The maitre d’ seemed genuinely disappointed that I wasn’t ordering dessert – said I had a concert to go to – but that if I had time afterward I’d return. As I didn’t know how easy it would be to catch a cab or how long the ride would be, I didn’t return, though I would defintely eat there again.

Glorious Day II

February 24, 2010

The train arrived at Grand Central about 3:30 on Saturday, so I had a few hours before Leslie’s concert. One of the benefits of receiving The New Yorker is that I now have an up-to-date calendar of events in the city – or would have if I managed to read each issue as it arrived. A couple of weeks ago I discovered that the Morgan Library had exhibit called “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life & Legacy.”

Figuring I’d have a pleasant hour-plus I caught the Times Square Shuttle and transferred to the train for Penn Station then speed walked to the library. Speed-walked by anyone’s standards except the average New Yorker.

Having decided to see the exhibit I wondered how the library intended to illustrate the life of someone who left behind only one known image, a dubious likeness at best. The Morgan has produced not so much a biographical portrait as the portrait of an era. Of course there are letters written to and by Jane, including the phantasmagorical note to her niece with every word spelled backward.

As I walked through the rather small exhibit, my first observation was that the paper and ink of her letters look as though they’d been produced yesterday. They are pristine and have survived in even better condition than my family’s correspondence from 100 years later that I used as the basis for Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters.

My second observation was that Austen practiced even more frugality than my family by writing in the margins and crossways to fill up every crevasse because paper and postage were so expensive, and she wrote a great many letters. Nevertheless her penmanship made for ease of reading. The library provided just enough transcription to convey the sense of each letter.

The third thing that I noticed with great dismay, even though I’d already known it was that her sister had expurgated the letters. What I had not realized was that Cassandra took scissors to paper so that there was no chance anyone could pierce through ink blotches and figure out what she didn’t want the world to know about herself or her sister or their family.

And of course I noted with great joy the manuscript of Susan, though scholars are eager to point out is a “fair copy,” not the original MS. Nevertheless it represents a treasure: the handwritten version of a novel by of one of the world’s most brilliant of novelists.

The library has supplemented this “word” offering with images that I found suitable and beautiful on the one hand and startling and still suitable on the other. The startling consisted of the caricatures by James Gillray. He serves up vicious portraits of middle class and aspiring to be middle-class English country residents. Even more startling, a great many of the people he depicted seemed to be overweight, either a little bit or a great deal. I had an image of middle and upper-class Regency Britain as a place and time where people were rather slim because they walked a great deal and angular they wore tight-fitting suits (men) and items that would balloon about one (women). The idealized portraits always showed those super-slim young ladies in their empire-waist dresses.

On examining Gillray’s work, I realized the denizens of the period were probably more like the middle-class folks that I saw in South America where it is a sign of wealth to be large because it meant having the money to eat large quantities of food, particularly beef.

I also loved Gillray’s take on the head-gear of the period, especially the huge feathers that floated above the women’s heads defying gravity. “And catch the living Manners as they rise,” is my second favorite. The first was a similar image but of two women whose feathers were nearly touching.

Another highlight was Isabel Bishop’s illustrations of the novels, especially “Longbourn,” the estate in Pride and Prejudice. From that same book, “Mr. Darcy holding out a letter.” And of course “I take no leave of you …,” in which the execrable Lady Catherine de Bourgh blows off Elizabeth.

Because my time was short, I decided not to watch the videos, but waited until I came home. They add depth, but there is no substitute to seeing the actual letters written by the actual author. The individual interviews introduced me to Colm Tóibín. I will definitely be reading Brooklyn, which he modeled on Pride and Prejudice. The exhibit stresses how much Austen offers for the twenty-first century, and Tóibín says that she remains popular because “nothing much has changed,”  a sentiment echoed by Fran Lebowitz and in much more complex sentences, Cornel West. Who knew he was such an Austen fan or that we agree that Emma is Austen’s masterpiece?

On the train home, I reflected on what a privilege it was to be part of the world of two geniuses – one musical, one literary.

A Glorious Day

February 23, 2010

Update: A letter arrived today from an examiner at the state Department of Banking indicating that she had received my letter and will be making an inquiry on my behalf.

I went to NYC on Saturday to listen to my dear friend Leslie Spotz perform works of Chopin in honor of his two hundredth birthday celebration. Except for the train ride to the city, which was packed and featured three drunken young women in the front of the car where I was sitting, the day was beyond compare.

Tomorrow’s blog will describe my visit to the Morgan library to view the Jane Austen exhibition, but today I devote to Leslie and her virtuoso performance. She combined expressive imagination, impeccable precision, and a command of her material. Her talent and brilliance created a performance that left me wishing for oh, so much more.

Leslie performed In Celebration of Chopin’s Bicentennial under the auspices of the Leschetizky Association at a venue in the West Village. I learned from the program that she is the most recent in a musical apostolic succession. The association is named for Theodor Leschetizky, who taught in his native Poland, in Vienna, and in Russia, where he gave instruction to royalty. Among his pupils was Mieczyslaw Horszowski, who was Leslie’s teacher at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. She had recently graduated when we met. With that connection, Leslie joined illustrious company, as one of Leschetizky’s teachers was Carl Czerny. I can still see the yellow-covered sheet music of piano exercises with “Czerny” in big black letters on the front. One of Czerny’s teachers was none other than Ludwig van Beethoven. Extending the musical ties, Leslie acknowledged what a privilege it was to be performing on the Steinway concert grand that had been belonged to Leschetizky.

I fell in love with Leslie’s playing years ago when she knocked on the door of my apartment on Forty-Seventh Street in West Philadelphia. She lived next door and explained that she was a classical pianist. She hoped her practicing wouldn’t bother me. I had already heard her, and I didn’t consider her playing as anything that could remotely be called practicing. I felt I was getting full musical performances with an occasional repetition. Whenever I needed inspiration in warm weather, I’d open my windows. It all sounded wonderful. My mother fell in love with the playing, too, and sat, mesmerized, at the table in my tiny kitchen for an entire afternoon. I had no idea until I heard Leslie on Saturday how much she’d improved in technique and in emotion and most of all in confidence.

My favorite piece in Saturday’s concert was “Mazurka in C major, Op. 24, No. 2.” The mazurkas are dances, and according to the program notes, Chopin used his dances to recreate images of his Polish homeland, which he had left just before a protracted conflict with Russia broke out.

Leslie demonstrated such passion and artistry and command that I cried when she was done. I glanced around, and the beautiful young woman next to me was crying, too. I found out after the concert that she was Leslie’s daughter, whom I had last seen as a little girl at my wedding in 2004!

As usual, Leslie transported me into other worlds – in this case the enchanted forests and glens of rural Poland during the nineteenth century. Each time I thought she had reached the epitome of lyricism – or speed – or depth – she soared.

During the second part of the program Leslie played four gorgeous pieces. She said that after she had put the program together she discovered that the first three had a thematic connection, so she played them through without a break. Sure enough, even my untrained ear could hear echoes threading their way through “Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1,” “Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47,” and “Fantasie – Impromptu, Op. 66.”

After the concert ended, I was wishing I could hear her play these pieces again and again. Thankfully she has cut a CD and I can at least hear the “Nocturne in C minor” and the “Fantasie-Impromptu,” along with works by Beethoven and Debussy (another of my favorites), among others. It’s going on my iPod and will be first up.

Now I just have to work on getting a copy of the poster. There were a couple left when I came in, but by the time I went back they were all gone. I copied it off the web site but not on heavy stock paper.

What We Have Here Is an Inability to Communicate

February 20, 2010

I’ve encountered two instances in the last week where better communication could have saved a huge amount of misunderstanding, improved business functioning, and probably salvaged more than just money.

The first instance was personal and involved my decision to change banks. Here’s the letter I sent with names removed.

It was with deep regret that I closed all of my accounts with ___ bank last year. I have been a customer since my parents opened an account for me at ___ when I was a little girl.

This decision was reached after a great deal of reflection, but I decided I could no longer do business with a bank where a teller, without my request, changed all my accounts to my married name. I explained to her that I still used my maiden name professionally, but she insisted that I change the signature cards. Everything was fine for several years until the manager at another branch that had regularly processed checks in my maiden name decided that I needed to supply a copy of my marriage license. No one had informed me of such a requirement, though it should have been requested when the teller first made the change.

The bank also continued to allow me to deposit IRS refund checks made out to my husband and me until 2009 when suddenly I was told we needed a joint account. If such an account was always a requirement, why did no one enforce it before?

These actions prompted me to cease my relationship with the bank.

I sent the letter to the president of the bank with a copy to the state banking commissioner. Several days later I received a call from the woman in charge of customer relations. She asked a few questions and then explained that the married name “trumped” the maiden name but the bank could have worked out an alternative to allow me to process checks in my maiden name. She promised further inquiry.

As to the second issue, she said that two years ago the bank had changed its policy to prohibit the deposit of third-party checks by one person unless the bank could identify the second signer. She said most banks in the area preferred a joint account but would allow one person to deposit the check if the other person had an account at the bank. At that point Larry did have a business account at the bank, but no one told us that was an option. And no one bothered to explain the change or the reason for it. Larry and I figured out on our own that the purpose was to cut down on fraud. Anyway, I had a very nice conversation the woman and told her that if someone had explained all this to me before, the bank would still have a customer. Today I received a letter from the president of the bank saying that he had referred my complaint to the woman I talked to earlier in the week.

The second example came up last night in an NPR segment on efficiency. Note: This podcast is much longer and goofier than the broadcast I heard; the salient portion starts at about 10:40. The expert (which I’ve always heard defined as: ex is a “has been” and spurt is a “drip under pressure”) vindicated me because I (used to) keep my spices in alphabetical order for easy retrieval. Now I scramble. But he went a bit over the top when he said he organized his toiletries in order of use. Part of my morning meditation is fumbling around for the toothpaste and locating the moisturizer.

One of the things he said, though, was that a man “came after” him with one change. His comment, “I start getting yelled at. That’s when people start making physical threats … I’ve been physically threatened in a meeting once by someone because I moved their desk from one side of the room to the other.” The “expert” finally acknowledged that he didn’t explain or “sell” his ideas well enough. Duh.

Question: Is it really more efficient for businesses to make changes if the efficiencies produce more resistance and unhappiness and may lower productivity? I do believe the world could operate oh so much better if we just tried to “talk to the animals,” or at least the humans in our lives. Maybe it would even be more efficient.

Fun Stuff

February 19, 2010

A friend sent me these gaffes under the heading “What Would We Do Without Newspapers” not long after I posted the updates to Regret the Errors in “Redux, Redux III” last week. They are actual headlines or text and they are priceless. Just wish one could identify the sources. As my tenth grade English teacher used to say, “Think!” (P.S. I’m only copying the clean ones, though some of the others are positively hysterical.)

  • “Get 50 percent off or half price, whichever is less.”
  • “Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.”
  • “Question: What constitutes a millionaire? Answer: A millionaire is someone who has $1 million, according to Jerry Beto, branch manager and senior vice president of investments at AG Edwards and Sons.”
  • “One-armed man applauds kindness of strangers.”
  • “A deputy responded to a report of a vehicle stopping at mail boxes. It was the mailman.”
  • “Army vehicle disappears: An Australian Army vehicle worth $74,000 has gone missing after being painted with camouflage.
  • “5:00 p.m. – Police were called to Market Square for a report of ‘suspicious coin.’ Investigating officer reported it was a quarter.”
  • “Blaine [that would probably be Blaine, Washington] – Theft: A woman in the 1900 block of 129th Lane Northeast reported Oct. 15th someone must have stolen her mail, because she did not receive birthday cards from some of her friends.”
  • “Fish need water, Feds say”
  • “Alton attorney accidentally sues himself.” I looked up the details on this one. It came from a 2005 story that contains an almost verbatim deposition of the case in The Record of Madison and St. Clair, Illinois. The story is not a joke, however, because the lawyer filed on behalf of a client against a title company that he owned.
  • “County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds.”
  • “Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum: ‘We had no idea anyone was buried there.’ ”
  • “Utah Poison Control Center reminds everyone not to take poison.”

And my favorite:

  • “Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons.”

To be continued …

They Blew It Again

February 18, 2010

Quick hit today because I have a gazillion things to do.

The “they” in the headline is the weather forecasters. We’ve had two snow events in the last two weeks, and the prognostications have blown up on both counts. Last week we were supposed to get a foot, give or take an inch or two, from the same storm that produced “snowmaggedon” in D.C. It was to start at 3 a.m. in Connecticut and end around noon. I think every public school in the state canceled for the day, and of course all the usual warnings issued forth from the emergency folks.

At 8 a.m. a few flakes had fallen. By 3 p.m. a bit more had accumulated, and the plows appeared. Of course everyone could have had a full day of school. The weather folk were doing a song and dance. They were right about everywhere else on the East Coast except for us. By the time it ended, 12 hours later than forecast, we had maybe 4 inches, max.

And then yesterday they blew it again. We were supposed to start with an inch or two, have a lull and then have another inch during the afternoon. Well, the a.m. was right, but when I looked at the weather map around 10 a.m. I realized we were in for way more than another inch. Sure enough, about noon it started to snow, and it snowed, and it snowed, and it snowed. It ended way later than forecast, too, because the plows were just finishing up when I awoke about 6 this a.m. – and looked out when it got light to find six-plus inches on the ground.  I say if you get twice the predicted amount, it ain’t that great.

From now on I’m stickin’ with forecasts from the astrologers.

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler/But Not That Way

February 17, 2010

The one place I don’t want to be this Mardi Gras is New Orleans. Not that I don’t love the city with its great food and fabulous music. And I would love to hear Dr. John, but he’s on tour.

It’s just that being part of a big drunken, topless party isn’t my idea of fun, even if N.O. has bragging rights as the Super Bowl winner, too. It might be OK this year since the daytime temps were in the 50s.

Larry and I visited the city the year before Katrina. It was January, weeks away from Mardi Gras, and it was still pretty much a drunken mess. We left the hotel one morning just as the city’s super efficient cleaning squad was finishing its work. Boy, was that disgusting! I totally get why the authorities don’t allow glass and metal containers. The discarded plastic overflowing from trash bins and scattered in their general vicinity could have been recycled to supply the city all over again. And that was the cleanest part of the trash.

No N.O. for me during the Mardi Gras party. What I would like to see, though, is a traditional celebration called courir (“to run” in French, but I have no idea how they pronounce it). My relatives on the bayou told me about it ten years ago, and it looks like the smaller towns still follow the practice.

The tradition involves men wearing costumes and masks to conceal their identity making their way from house to house on horseback. They sing and dance or otherwise entertain the residents. When they are done they beg and perform for an ingredient that will go into the gumbo pot that will feed the town. This site has great courir photos. The outfits are uncomfortably close to Klan robes that fell into a dye vat, but Daddy assured me that the Klan was never active in the bayou because most of the population was Catholic – and because the Knights of Columbus told the Klan “If you show up here, we’ll kick your butts,” or words to that effect. One web site said the hats were meant to make fun of the hats worn by noblewomen during medieval times.

This courir suit is less threatening – looks more like modified harlequin garb.

And here’s a terrific Mardi Gras horse — wonder what he thinks about his punk pink mane.

It’s interesting that the site distinguishes between the “Cajun” courirs in the first eight locations and the ninth, the “Creole” courir in Soileau.

Apparently there are different traditions in more urban Lafayette where the men wore masks but did not beg for food. Rather they followed the practice of New Orleans where the krews stage battles, which are now mock battles but used to involve beaucoup violence. (“Meet me, boys, on the battle front/The Wild Tchopatoulas gonna stomp some rump.”)

The best part must be watching the Mardi Gras as they are called chasing chickens around people’s yards. No, make that the second best part. The best part would be eating the resulting gumbo and watching the dancing afterward.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, old style.

Misled by Miso

February 16, 2010

Quick note: I refuse to acknowledge today as Washington’s birthday. First his actual birthday is February 22, which was also my parents’ wedding anniversary. And second, no matter where I worked I did not get the day off except for one very early job with the state of Pennsylvania. So as far as I’m concerned, today is a normal day.

Now on to today’s topic. Miso soup joined my diet years ago when I lived in Philadelphia. I first discovered it at a Japanese restaurant where I used to eat bento box lunches and had my first encounter with sushi. Then I learned of miso’s health benefits. No one quite knows why but the fermented soy paste seems to promote health. One of those discoveries was made by Tatsuichiro Akizuki, a doctor in Nagasaki whose hospital was near the site of the atomic bomb. He put the patients and staff on a diet consisting mostly of brown rice, miso soup, various kinds of seaweed. People became ill, but no one at his hospital died of radiation poisoning even though they were closer to ground zero than people at other hospitals, who did die from radiation poisoning.

Since then I’ve read of other health claims, which seem well summarized in Body Ecology.

Normally I order miso soup when I go for Sushi Friday, but sometimes I want more than just a once-a-week dose. In fact, I love it so much that but for the large quantity of sodium I would have some every day. With one eight-ounce cup supplying more than a third of a day’s sodium, I pace myself.

Miso-Cup from the grocery store provided a good alternative as I never did quite conquer the right combination of miso paste to water to vegetables for a homemade version. Miso-Cup has just soybeans, rice, salt, scallions, and seaweed, and it’s a snap to make – just add boiling water, and there’s soup.

About a year ago, I couldn’t find Miso-Cup at the local Stop & Shop any more. Looked in the health food section, looked in the soup aisle. It was nowhere to be found. I checked a different S&S, still nothing. So I started buying it at the health food store, where I discovered it cost less than it had at the grocery store.

Then one day I noticed S&S had another brand of powdered miso soup called Sushi Chef. I decided to try it and picked up a white miso and the stronger red miso (the picture is right but the text is for panko). The red version was OK, but I really liked the white miso because the flavor was closer to the more robust restaurant varieties. The little pieces of shiitake mushroom added a bit of variety, too.

I’ve bought both white and red a few more times, but they are more than twice the price of the Miso-Cup, so I saved them for special occasions. Normally I read food labels before I buy a product but in this case I saw miso and just assumed it would have the normal stuff. Then yesterday for whatever reason I looked at the ingredient list and discovered why they taste so good. The second ingredient is sugar! First white or red miso and then dextrose! Funny they don’t mention it in the ads. That’s the end of Sushi Chef brand. I decline miso soup that’s more sugar than seaweed and tofu.