More Museum Fun

I dunno, I’m on a DC Museum thing lately.

Yesterday we went to the National Museum of American History. We took Wee One down this time, thinking that it would be all kinds of fun (Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz) and educational (nearly everything else) for her. One of the things that we were able to do is download a page of things for her to find throughout the museum. A treasure hunt! Too cool!

Here’s where I get to whine. I’m so good at it.

I have two suggestions: first, put the stuff in a reasonable order. The list is written specifically for kids aged 6 through 9 (there’s another one for 10-13 year olds); their heads explode, or at least start cracking at the sides, if they don’t find Item #1 first. And they don’t, because (here’s my second complaint) Item #1 is nowhere to be found. We even took the time to ask a passing docent where the thing was, and they didn’t even know. So, Feh. Pfui.

The Smithsonian has a bazillion items in its collection; so many that they have no choice but to rotate stuff in and out. Which is fine, but update the fricken list from time to time.

There are a few sections that everyone enjoys, such as the Pop Culture section, which is (in my opinion) woefully small. There are two cases that never seem to change. In there you see the chairs used by Archie and Edith Bunker on All in the Family, you see Howdy Doody and Charlie McCarthy, there’s Fonzie’s jacket and Mister Rogers’ sweater (I totally miss Fred Rogers), and a few other odds and ends from television.

Across from that, in what could be described as a large alcove, there are a few other cases whose contents change from time to time. The ruby slippers are there (they don’t ever change), plus nowadays there’s a uniform and sneakers from Rebecca Lobo (go look her up if you don’t know who she is), Kermit the Frog is in one case, and there are some sports memorabilia, such as Stan Musial’s bat. Missing this time around (but there on a recent visit) were a uniform and assorted props from Star Trek and some other stuff from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

One of the things I noticed about this stuff is that the overall quality of TV props has increased dramatically over the years. The Star Trek props and uniform insignia look pretty poor when you see them in the case, even though they look good on the screen. In one case you can see the blazer worn by Ted Knight on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and there’s barely enough detail for the camera to pick up the channel number and call letters. In another section of the museum there’s a windbreaker worn by Martin Sheen on The West Wing and the detail on the Presidential Seal is impressive. Why the improvement? I have to guess that it’s the advent of High-Definition TV. If it looks crappy in real life, it’s going to look crappy on the screen as well. You can’t count on the camera to disguise much in HDTV.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. They have a metric boatload of pop culture stuff. Hey, they took Julia Child’s entire kitchen out of Boston and moved it to DC. I totally want that kitchen, by the way. Extra-high counters and workspace everywhere. They’ve got a small exhibition dedicated to the first 50 years of Disneyland. They have a section dedicated to the President of the United States as a fictional character. There’s a 12×12-foot area dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald. It seems that it might actually be time to dedicate an entire building to popular culture, or at least a wing of another building. But that, like so much other stuff here, is my lame-ass opinion.


Other stuff that I liked that didn’t fit into the section above:

A GREAT exhibit about Brown v. Board of Education. Brown was the Supreme Court case that originated in Topeka, Kansas that determined that separate does not mean "equal". It overturned Plessey v. Ferguson from 1896. (Yeah, someone’s been doing the readings in class.)

"Whatever Happened to Polio?" This was a pretty cool exhibit about what it is and how it affected people in the early part of the last century. The only argument I’d have is that it didn’t really convey the absolute fear that even the concept of polio struck into people’s hearts.

"Engines of Change" is an exhibit about the Industrial Revolution. Cool stuff there.

There’s also a pretty neat exhibit about the Information Age, but part of it is blocked off for renovation. Ditto the Musical Instruments exhibit.

"On Time" is about our concepts of time and time-keeping devices. And, best of all (I don’t know why it’s in this section but what the hell), they have the 1927 cartoon Steamboat Willie (the first appearance of Mickey Mouse) running all the way in the back. The cool thing about this is that they’re running it with the synchronized audio. You can go to Walt Disney World and see Steamboat Willie, but it’s without audio. It’s hard to explain why, so just accept it.

Ooh! I almost forgot. This museum also holds the original Star-Spangled Banner. The flag that flew over Fort McHenry, surviving a fierce battle, and inspired Francis Scott Key to write "This Land is Your Land". Or whatever. But the flag itself, which dates back to 1814 and was in pretty poor condition, has finally been restored. It’s still visible in the restoration lab, behind glass, while they’re getting a display zone ready. They used to hang the flag in the main atrium but that’s not considered a good idea anymore (it’d fall apart if you hung it like that now). So in that same place they’re now hanging the Pentagon Flag, the one that hung from that building shortly after September 11, 2001’s events. Go see the Star-Spangled Banner and see if you don’t get a swell of patriotism inside.

More Atrocities, Please

[Stupid "draft" setting. This shoulda been published yesterday.]

Yesterday, GF and I went to the National Museum of the American Indian, located in Washington DC on the mall.

(Sidebar to You Kids: "mall" has more than one meaning.)

We went with her mother, which in this case isn’t a terrible thing because she (and therefore GF) have some Cherokee heritage in them, so they were especially motivated to go and find out what the folks at the Smithsonian know. We parked near the Phoenix Park Hotel, which is a pretty nice place, by the bye. I’ve spent a little time there. From there it was a couple of blocks’ walk to the Capitol and then across the Mall to the museum itself.

Let me tell ya, this stuff looks a lot closer together than it really is.

So we get to the museum, swearing that we’re going to cab it back, and in we go. Now, in our post-9/11 world, when you go to many of the museums along the Mall, you’re put through a pretty extensive search. You have to empty your pockets and put the stuff on a tray, handbags get searched (they use a stick to poke around) and you have to walk through a metal detector. At this museum they did the stick search and the detector, but you didn’t have to do the pockets thing. Okay, whatever.

The building itself is pretty cool (go click on the link and check it out; I’ll wait here). It’s meant to emulate the cliff-dwelling pueblos that some Southwestern Indians lived in (and still do, in many cases). Inside, there’s a lot of empty space, though, since the atrium goes straight to the top.

One thing that I noticed was that there are not a lot of tribes represented by the museum. Some of the Southwest tribes, a few of the Pacific Northwest tribes (including those in Canada, eh), and a bunch of the South American tribes. The Seminoles of Florida got a section. A few others who I’ve forgotten off the top of my head.

But there was no mention of the Powhatan Tribe of Virginia, which was on-hand in Williamsburg and Jamestown. No mention of the Iroquois Indians, composed of five tribes across the Upstate New York region. No mention of the Wampanoag Indians, who greeted the Pilgrims in the 1620s. Very little mention of the Cherokees. Nothing of the Apaches, the Sioux, the Shoshones, the Hopis, the Kickapoos, Chippewas and so many others.

No mention of the Trail of Tears. No Sand Creek Massacre. No Bear River. No Chief Joseph’s "I will fight no more forever." No Crazy Horse. Smallpox got a brief mention, so hurray for that, I guess.

I was disappointed. GFMom was philosophical. GF was furious. She actually went over to the Information Desk looking for a comment card so that she could complain in writing while she still had a mad going on. Apparently she met up with someone inside who told her that participation by the individual tribes is voluntary, so if you don’t see a tribe represented, it’s because they chose not to be represented. Furthermore, the reason that some tribes didn’t participate is because they felt that the museum is a sanitized version of events, that the building is a shrine to what some have called "the lie of Manifest Destiny" and others have referred to as "the American Holocaust." Both of these are correct but the latter is more colorful.

At any rate, what’s there is interesting but the whole thing really falls short. I’ve never been disappointed by a Smithsonian museum before this visit, and it’s a real pity. GF has already stated that, as a teacher, she can’t in good conscience, bring her students there for a field trip.

Not So Unique

So I’m walking down the street in Manhattan several years ago, and as I wait for a traffic light I happen to look down at the ground and I see this in the street (click to embiggen):

Sidewalk I actually spent so much time trying to decipher the text that when the light changed, people started moving around me. That’s when I woke up and moved along. I spotted them in a few other places in Manhattan and was still puzzled by them, but after all life goes on and maybe it’s just an inside joke that I’m not getting. I’m all right with that.

Imagine my surprise when I come down to Baltimore and I start seeing them on the streets here as well.

I did a little research and it turns out that they’re all over the country nowadays, and a few have even been spotted in South America. One guy has taken the time to catalogue the sightings and publicly ask for the originator of this mystery to come out. Check it out at The one I saw the first time around was at 34th Street and 8th Avenue, but that intersection has since been repaved and is not on the list.

And once you see the first one, you’ll be seeing them everywhere.

For Those Of You Who Keep Looking For This Stuff Here

I don’t know why, but a bunch of people come here looking to use the Outerbridge Crossing. So this is an Outerbridge Crossing Primer for you.

If you’re going TO New York: You’re probably on the New Jersey Turnpike, in which case you take Exit 10. Take Route 440 east. Stay to the left, because you’re going to cross the Garden State Parkway soon and that gets to be a bit of a logjam at times. Route 440 will take you directly to the Outerbridge Crossing. If you have the EZ-Pass (and I strongly recommend it), then life is good because the OC now has EZ-Pass express lanes. You can whip through the toll area at 50 miles an hour, assuming the other traffic is moving similarly. For god’s sake, stay on 440. Take that up to I-278 eastbound and that will take you to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. If you’re going to the Belt Parkway from there, my recommendation is to take the lower level of the bridge. The view isn’t as good but the traffic is a little lighter and there aren’t so many panicky idiots trying to merge into the Exit Only lane at the last second as there are up top.

If you’re coming FROM New York and the Belt Parkway…well, I’m cheap and I don’t do that. The westbound toll on the Verrazano is nine fricken’ dollars now. I usually take the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan and then take the Holland Tunnel into New Jersey. Once you emerge you can take The NJ Turnpike (you’re getting on at 14C and paying DOUBLE the toll if you’re going all the way to Exit 1), or you can grab the 1-9 down to Route 440 and then to the Turnpike (enter at Exit 10). It’s a little longer and you do have to deal with some traffic lights, but it’s a lot cheaper.

However, if time is of the essence and you’re willing to spend the nine bucks, then take the Belt to the Verrazano; once over the bridge you can take I-278 to the Goethals Bridge and then to the Turnpike, entering at Exit 13. OR, you can get back onto 440 shortly before the Goethals and take that down to the Outerbridge Crossing. Stay on 440 to the NJ Turnpike and get on at Exit 10. Piece of cake.

Incidentally, the NJ Turnpike tolls are cheaper if you use EZ-Pass, regardless of what time of day it is.

You’re welcome.

Weakened By the Weekend

Friday’s presentation went well. After a slow start (and let’s face it, the material was pretty dry), we actually got into a decent discussion and wound up finishing last out of the four groups at that location. And the Satisfaction Surveys (which they swear get read) that had comments on them were pretty positive. So, good for me, I guess. If this were actually my job, I’d be good at it. Or something.

But the late finish also meant a relatively late departure. Fortunately the place where I did my training session is kinda-sorta close to I-95, so I saved a little travel time by being at the northern end of town. And traffic wasn’t too horrible: no accidents or anything that seriously slowed everyone down. There were a few bottlenecks but nothing that one could righteously complain about.

I knew that my return would be pretty late anyway, so I stopped for dinner at the Flying J in southern New Jersey. It’s a nice midway point for me, the gas is pretty cheap (and full-serve besides–for whatever reason, NJ doesn’t allow self-serve gas), and as it turns out I have a common ancestor with the guy who founded the company. So he’s technically kin to me. Pretty distant kin, but family nonetheless. They have something called a "Frequent Fueler" card that gives you a small discount on the gas, depending on how much non-gas stuff you purchase from them each month. I swear that they treat me differently when they realize what my last name is.

Oh, and here’s another little travel secret for those riding the I-95 corridor. If you want to save a little bit on the NJ Turnpike tolls, use I-295. If you’re traveling all the way through the state, 295 runs roughly parallel to the NJ Turnpike from the Delaware Memorial Bridge, all the way up to Exit 7A. And it’s free! Now, if you’re really so inclined, you can take Route 1/9 up into the Hoboken area, but you lose a lot of time that way so I don’t recommend it (even though I often do it when I’m southbound) unless you’re not in much of a hurry. Taking I-295 causes you to lose maybe–maybe–five minutes. (It happens when you transfer from 295 to the Turnpike at 7A, because although they’re together at the south end, they’re a couple of miles apart at the north.) But you save in actual cash and in a lot of aggravation, since it’s usually not nearly as crowded as the Turnpike.

So it’s about 6:30 and I’ve been on the road for a little while following dinner, and my phone rings. It’s Daughter, asking if she can bring a friend along this weekend. I don’t really have a problem with this, although I’d have preferred a little more advance notice. Anyway, I give my blessing and now Daughter’s Friend is coming to Baltimore as well. Pray for me, I’m on the interstate with a pair of thirteen year old girls.

DF is a pleasant enough kid, but ohmygod the way she speaks. It’s not especially nasal or unpleasant, but there’s no modulation at all. The kid just droooonnnnes when she talks. Speech is supposed to have some musical qualities to it when it’s used correctly. This poor girl only knows one note. Now, part of this might be that she recently got her braces off and isn’t used to having a relatively unencumbered mouth, but still. Daughter has braces and can speak high, low and everywhere in-between. What’s more, she’s shown some awareness of her voice register. Not so much with the volume, but she’s a kid. These things will happen. I hope.

I get to West Hempstead and Daughter asks me if I’d take a look at her computer. The printer is acting up. It won’t print. Now, you know how when you have a problem and you call tech support and they ask you all these moron questions? Yeah, I need to learn to do that. After several minutes I open up the printer to make sure that the ink cartridges are seated properly and discover that the color cartridge is altogether gone. HP printers don’t like that sort of thing, so of course it quit. I tell her to put some ink in it and that should clear up the problem.

I go to the bathroom and when I come out, it still won’t print. I take the new cartridge out of the printer and see that she hasn’t removed the plastic jobbie from the head. No contact=no cartridge, as far as the printer can tell. Pull off the tape, re-seat the black cartridge (just in case) and we’re good to go.

Lemme tell you, this is the first trip we’ve made in months where Daughter didn’t fall asleep on the way from NY to Baltimore. Maybe it’s because I let her play whatever she wanted on the radio/CD player, but whatever. DF did doze off a couple of times. Rookie. We got back to Baltimore around 1:30 AM. It’s not often that I come home from a long drive and crawl directly into bed. Usually the ride has me a little bit keyed up.

I was up by 9:30 the next morning, mostly because a dog was in my face. So I dutifully got up (GF was out; having gone first to Weight Watchers and then to the Animal Shelter, where she volunteers for a few hours each week) and padded around the house, keeping the dogs occupied, reading email and munching on a bagel I’d picked up in New York the night before. Gotta love the NY bagels. Yeah, I can be a real food snob sometimes. The best pizza I’ve found in Maryland so far is rated as "It doesn’t completely suck." I will NEVER understand how pizza chains manage to thrive in the NY area. The local places are all superior in every way, without resorting to oddball novelty pizzas.

The girls got up a little after noon. The day was pretty rainy, so we spent some time just hanging out, chitchatting, watching streaming videos from strange websites and so forth. When GF got in she offered to take the girls to the mall; of course they jumped on that one. Me, I want no part of the malls around here on a Saturday night. Especially since they were planning on going to Arundel Mills mall, which is an outlet mall and home to the Muvico Egyptian 24 theater, one of the largest and busiest movie theaters on the east coast. Have fun, ladies: I’m taking a nap.

Sunday morning was largely taken up with breakfast. In the early afternoon, Daughter asked me for some help with homework, and that took longer than I expected it to. Short answer: this kid is either intellectually lazy, or she’s missing too much school, or the West Hempstead curriculum is sorely lacking, or some combination of all of those. She’s having trouble with terms that she should have learned in fourth grade. But whatever. We didn’t start to head back to NY until 3:00. At 4:30 or so we were at the Flying J again, in search of gas and use of the rest room, and the girls decided that they were hungry. So I got to dine there again. The food there isn’t bad but it’s definitely not in the realm of "health food". The rest of the trip back up was more or less uneventful, although I finally rebelled when we got to the New York City area and changed the radio station. They’re masters of the "scan" button, those two are. After awhile it gets tough to concentrate.

Back in Baltimore somewhere between 1:00 and 1:30. Is it any wonder that I was in bed three hours earlier than usual last night?

Confirmation Fever!

Monday Morning. At this point, I should point out that not everyone is going to the confirmation. There are a limited number of tickets to be given out, and the ex has assured me that she has begged, borrowed and done all kinds of horrible things to get as many as she can, but she still can’t scrape one up for GF. She is invited to the party afterwards, thanks so much. And that’s pretty much it. GF, who has never lived in New York, will have to find a way to amuse herself from roughly noon until about 4:00. In a strange city (we’re not in Manhattan, here; this is essentially Long Island suburbs). With which she is unfamiliar. The ex had no suggestions. No "why don’t you stay at the house here?", no nothing. Just a "Oh well, I guess you’re out of luck" attitude. Not a classy way to behave. But that’s just my lame-ass attitude.

I give GF a couple of ideas for places she can go (Green Acres Mall was one of them). Shortly thereafter my mother comes by to pick me up. And…off everybody goes. Mom did a dry run the day before so she’s pretty sure that she knows where it is: "It’s across from the White Castle, right?" Uh, no, Mom. That’s a liquor store. I forget which church she’d found (there’s one very close to the liquor store), but that wasn’t it.

The place we were looking for was St Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead. It’s quite a lovely church. We got there at 12:15 for a 1:00 service. We were told that the doors wouldn’t be opened until 12:30, but there were already several people inside. Nonetheless, we managed to get seats pretty far forward. There were three of us, so my mother tried to sit waaay down the pew to give it that "taken" feeling. Erm, OK.

12:45 and in comes the ex, along with her parents, her new hub, and her aunt and uncle. Wait, the aunt and uncle got tickets but I had to come alone? Her new hub, who was also supposed to be left out, got a ticket but the person who’s basically lost in the area, couldn’t come? TOTALLY class-less.

A few minutes later a woman comes up to the ex and hands her two tickets. This is nearly 1:00, now. One of the tickets had been available all week, her son was supposed to give it to Daughter, etc. etc. etc., the other ticket belonged to her mother, who for some reason managed to get through the door without having to turn it in. Bottom line is that the ex didn’t really bother trying to get the one more ticket. All it would have taken was a follow up phone call to a couple of people–"Hey, did anything turn up yet?"–and it would have been a done deal. True, this woman could have called the ex, but it’s not really her responsibility. So basically Ex spent plenty of time trying to give me the "Why It’s Not My Fault" bit. My response? "Yuh-huh, yuh-huh, whatever." No point in arguing about it now. You dropped the ball on this one, honey, in several ways. I duck outside and start trying to call GF to get her to the church.

When I finally get through (for whatever reason it took several tries), she’s in the mall, getting a manicure. She can’t leave right away. I give her directions and tell her to call when she’s close by so that I can meet her outside and give her the ticket.

When I return to the pew, the service is about to start and the pew is totally full. Yes, I’ve been bounced from my seat. All of Ex’s relatives have taken up the pew, along with my mom & stepfather. Sigh. This is NOT a stellar ending to the trip, but whatever. I let them know that GF is delayed but enroute (more or less) and go sit down.

The service was rather nice, and St. Thomas is a lovely church; really it is. It was kind of odd that nobody mentioned the Pope passing only two days earlier, there was nothing different about the church, nothing. I thought they’d at least bring it up, but what the heck. Everything managed to stay about the kids and that was pretty cool. At about the 45-minute mark my phone started to vibrate so I ducked outside to answer it. GF was in the immediate area but maybe a little lost. I got her directed and waited for her. She finally showed up and we went inside to sit in the very back pew. (Incidentally, the seating in the back was rather sparse but yeah, OK.)

After the ceremony, everyone lined up in the basement hall to pose for pictures with the Bishop, and we went back to Ex’s house for a little bit to regroup prior to the party, which was at a local restaurant (and wasn’t expecting us till 4:00). I’d just like it on the record that I did NOT ask Ex snottily whether GF was invited. Heh.

The dinner party was at a place in Garden City called The Lucky Duck, which confounds both its name and its location by being rather nice and reasonably priced.  They also take a more traditional approach to meals by giving you a separate pasta course.  Most places nowadays put the pasta next to, or underneath, the main course, but having a pasta course is the way to go. And here was a nice touch: the dinner menu (if you click on the catering link you’ll get an idea how it was structured) has Daughter’s name across the top of it. Sure, it’s an easy thing to do with a computer and inkjet printer, but they didn’t have to do it at all, so it was pretty cool of them. Of course, GF and I were still down in the cheap seats at the far end of the table (along with my mother), but what the hell.

My original plan for getting back home involved going back through Manhattan and hitting the Strand once more, but it turned out that Ex’s aunt and uncle were also ready to leave and planned on taking the train home. This basically entailed taking the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan and then taking a subway out to near the end of the F Line. Or, they could take the LIRR into the Brooklyn terminal and still have to grab the F train to near its end. Either way, it would have taken them forever. So I, in a fit of kindness, offered to take them home, driving down the Belt Parkway to the exit that was quite near their home and continuing on our merry way, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and through Staten Island, then across the Outerbridge Crossing to the NJ Turnpike and on home, probably two hours earlier than we’d originally expected to get in.

Another NY Minute

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve tried to get this post up.

A couple of times it was my fault; other times can be blamed on faulty servers elsewhere. But anyway. Here’s the rest of the New York Tale:

Sunday morning begins with a phone call. It’s a friend of mine from my Helen Keller days, returning my call from Saturday. She’s all excited that I’m in town, she’d love to meet with us, let’s do brunch. We arrange to meet at the Neptune Diner in Astoria. Cool.

Aside: Here’s a little story from Helen Keller. When I was working there, which was right around the turn of the century (heh), the agency was just starting to work on its Web presence. Lemme tell you folks, this is a place that had to be dragged into the 20th century, never mind the 21st. So they spent stupid amounts of money to put together the Official Web Page of Helen Keller Services for the Blind. My principal, who also no longer works there (I think he left shortly after I did, to go work for another agency in NYC), and who is a Web-savvy kind of guy, went up to the top floor to meet with the big shots and explain what this Internet Thing is all about. Yeah, he had to go up and explain the internet to them.

So once he got up there and got the basic idea over to them, he launches a browser and calls up a search engine. He explains to the President of the agency, Fred, that you type your search terms here, and you click on this button here, and the website looks for everything related to those terms. So President Fred sits down in front of the computer and types in "Helen Keller", expecting the HKSB website to be at, or close to, the top of the list.

Boy was he in for a surprise. Only seconds later, he learned that Helen Keller burned her ear answering the iron, that she drove with one hand on the curb, and that he parents punished her by moving the furniture around. The brand-new website wasn’t on the first page of search hits. Nor was it on the second. I don’t know if President Fred has been back to the internet since then.

Anyway. The Neptune Diner is on Queens Boulevard in Astoria, only a few blocks away from the world-famous Kaufman-Astoria studios, which is where they shoot Sesame Street, some of Law & Order and where Imus in the Morning used to broadcast from before they moved him out to the MSNBC Studios in Teaneck, NJ. Whenever the NY Daily News does its Best Diners in NY stories, Neptune is usually a contender for the top spot. It’s almost always first or second on the list. Good stuff, that. We meet, we chat, we get caught up, we have some fabulous breakfast food. Let me tell you, you have not had a breakfast sausage until you’ve had one in a New York diner.

Neptune Diner is third review down on this website.

Here is one of the Daily News reviews.

As we leave, GF realizes that she left her ID and credit cards back at the hotel. It’s not a huge inconvenience, but we do have to backtrack. As we near the hotel, my cellphone rings and it’s my mother. She’s made it to town. So we get to the hotel and visit for awhile. She wants us to join her, my stepfather and Daughter for dinner, but A) I’m anxious to go to Zabar’s, and B) I know she gets precious little time to spend with Daughter, so let them have that. Especially A. Heh. They go their way and we go ours.

Back into the city, over the 59th Street Bridge. Across town via Central Park South. Check out the Plaza Hotel, it’s going condo soon. And uptown to Broadway and 80th Street, home of Zabar’s.

I recently mentioned Zabar’s to someone and they replied, "Oh, that’s a grocery store, right?" Well, yeah. In the same way that you could say "Texas—they have some space, right?" Zabar’s is not a big place, but it’s absolutely packed with some of the best of everything. As soon as you walk through the door, to your immediate left is an assortment of olives, displayed in a small salad-bar-type cart. On the wall behind that is about fifteen feet of refrigerator case, full of assorted cheeses. Across from that, about 8 feet away, is a counter that most places would consider to be large enough for a typical full deli counter, except this one has nothing but cheese in it. Got that? Picture a deli counter that has only cheese in it: behind the glass and on refrigerated shelves on the wall, behind the staff. AND behind you, in the case you just turned your back on.

And that’s just the cheese. There are also sections for pastries and cakes, and for bread, and an actual meat deli, and for various coffees (make up your own blend or not; they’ll grind the beans for you or not). And get this. They have another counter which does nothing but lox. Let me say that again: Nothing. But. Lox. Who knew that there were more than, say, one or two kinds of lox? They’ve got at least a dozen. All of this stuff is located in, I don’t know, about 1500 square feet of space. It’s NOT a big place.

Now, that’s just the first floor. The second floor is all kinds of cookware and gadgets. If you’re a gadget freak, this is the place to go. The bad news is, because it was Sunday and we got there late, I was still on the cheese line when the place closed for the day. No gadget floor for me, this time. But in a fifteen minute span of time, including 7 or 8 minutes on the cheese line, I managed to blow nearly fifty dollars in there. Yeah, I can get crazy fast in that place.

From there we headed uptown. I have a great-aunt with an apartment on West 93rd Street. Well…had, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I called her place the day before to let her know I was in town, but I was told I had a wrong number. So off we went to the building to find out what was going on. The doorman didn’t know anything, but it’s a big building and I guess he can’t know everybody in it. The mailbox still has her name on it (albeit misspelled), the record that the doorman has in his book shows her name & number for the apartment, but the phone line is now constantly busy. He let us go up to look.

Apartment doors in NYC usually have two locks on them as standard equipment. One is the combination doorknob/deadbolt jobbie, and then there’s a second deadbolt which is higher up on the door. For whatever reason, when an apartment is vacant, that second lock is removed and you can peek through the hole into the bare apartment.

The second lock was missing, but something was covering the hole. Nobody answering the door, the phone is still busy. The doorman’s guess is that, if the lock is gone, so is she. But he doesn’t know for sure. So I have no idea where she is, or even whether she’s still alive. She is, after all, in her eighties. She does have relatives in upstate NY who could have moved her to an assisted living facility or even a nursing home, or she could have died. Nobody on this side of the family knows what became of her.

GF and I had Chinese food in a restaurant on 95 & Columbus (I think; if not then it wasn’t far from there) and headed back to the hotel.

Next episode: Confirmation Fever!

In A New York Minute

Honey, I’m ho-oomme!

Not that you knew I was away. I’ve been in The Apple of Bigness, New
York City, since Friday afternoon. Daughter’s Confirmation was
scheduled for Monday, so GF and I decided to make a weekend out of the
trip, since it was all Spring Break anyway and damn but we need a real

So we got ourselves out to the Howard Johnson’s Express on Rockaway
Blvd, not far from Kennedy Airport. $80 a night but you’re not
especially close to anything, so if you’re going to stay there you
really need to know your way around the city a little bit. Our room was
a little on the small side but when you’re basically using it as a
crash pad, who cares?

Saturday, we parked the car near Union Square (the same one you may
have seen on The Apprentice not long ago, where one of the teams was
hawking Domino’s Pizza, and don’t get me started on that), and from
there we walked over to Strand Book Store, on Broadway and 12th Street.
They’ve renovated the place, so now there’s a nice upstairs and the
basement isn’t as crowded. It’s not "nicer" by any means but it’s a
little more organized. They’re still in the middle of work, so the far
back of the street-level is still a bit messy, but that’s OK. I picked up a few books on the English Language and on old-time radio (and didn’t buy one other, which I’m still regretting…maybe I’ll order it via Amazon). I’m hoping to use the radio books as background material for a short story, or perhaps several related short stories. We also wanted to go to Zabars but the weather was horrific and the trains weren’t running. So instead we doubled back to Little Italy and had dinner at a place called Paesano’s of Mulberry Street. GF had the Paglia e Fiena ala Paesano (click on the website’s menu link for a description) and I had the Shrimp Fra Diavolo, which also had clams and mussels in it. The menu on the website isn’t complete, by the way. The food is fantastic and it’s reasonably priced.

One of the cool things about this particular block of Little Italy is that there are several restaurants adjacent to one another and across the street from each other. All of them have some person out front trying to entice you inside. So either you have a destination in mind, or someone’s going to charm you through the door. There’s not a whole lot in between. For us it was a combination of Charming Doorway Guy and GF’s perusal of the menu and pronouncement that it looked reasonable.

As good as that Fra Diavolo was, I’m wondering if maybe I should have had the linguini with white clam sauce.

More posting on this to come.

On The Road Again

I like selecting the category for my posts. It’s like being on a game show: "I’ll take Travel for $100, Alex."

Speaking of game shows, I saw The Price is Right for the first time in, like, forever this past week. Bob Barker is in his 80s now and he still looks pretty good. I was thinking what a letdown it would be to get on the show and discover he’s got about nine inches of makeup on and he smells like pee. Heh.

So anyway, I’ll be hitting the road yet again this afternoon so that I can get Daughter back home to Long Island. I was hoping to keep her another day or two so that A) I can get some rest already, and B) she can spend some time with me here in Charm City. Nah, ain’t happening. It turns out that she’s kind of smart, and they need to induct her into the National Junior Honor Society tomorrow. And the part that sucks is that I’d already scheduled meetings for tomorrow which I can’t cancel without creating all kinds of havoc. So I can’t stay for the induction ceremony. Feh.

Honey, I’m Hooooommme!

…and what a fun, exhausting trip it’s been.

Let me say again: Lucky Dill, Lucky Dill, Lucky Dill. Gotta love the place. Gotta go there if you’re anywhere within 50 miles of the Tampa Bay area. I had a corned beef sandwich that you needed two hands to hold half of the thing. Matzoh ball soup and cheesecake or apple strudel round out the meal. Yeah, I ate lightly at dinnertime.

We left Florida on New Year’s Day. Fortunately, despite all the drinking and the consumption of fruit salad (which would be the fruit left over after everyone polished off my sister-in-law’s punch), there were very few hangovers to be had. Nonetheless, we took our time about getting our respective acts together and we didn’t hit the road till about 2:00. We landed in Florence, SC around 11:30 that night, so we didn’t do too badly considering the late start.

The Florence-to-Baltimore leg was going very well, too. Even the Northern Virginia/DC area, which anyone in this part of the country knows is just death to drive, regardless of the time or day, was actually pretty good. However, on the Baltimore/Washington Parkway some guy in an Escalade crossed the median into the oncoming traffic and wound up getting himself killed. So we lost an hour in the ensuing traffic jam but still didn’t get home too horribly late.

Tomorrow? Back to school! A look at the forecast tells me that I shouldn’t expect an extension to my vacation. Ah well.