Wednesday, October 29, 2014

night out with Jim

In the over 25 years I’ve known Jim, I don’t think the two of us have ever had dinner alone. 

Jim is married to my sister Jean, lives in the Boston area, and is one of those overall good guys.  He’s a lot of other great things too, but when I think of Jim, I first think calm, reasonable, and kind.

Jim is here on business, and we decide to get together for dinner.  He has suggested sushi, so I spend some time googling around.  I want to try someplace different, and a few months ago I had seen an article in New York Magazine about a place that serves sushi pizza. The restaurant is equally inconvenient for both us.

At seven, Jim and I meet at Mira Sushi in the Flatiron district.  It’s reasonably busy but not overly loud.  Jim is an experimental eater, so nothing is off limits.

We start with four appetizers.  The standouts are the spicy tuna pizza and pork buns.  Both are amazing.  We split three rolls (TNT, Magic Dragon, and Crystal Roll).  I only mention the names so I remember them when I take Alexander.  I might just order the same thing; everything is that good. 

And so is the dessert we think we are too full to eat, but then devour the whole thing.  It’s some kind of waffle-like cookie, covered in whipped cream with raspberries and blueberries.

The only disappointment is the green tea.  We let it seep, then pour it.  It looks like water with a teeny weeny hint of barely-noticeable green.  It tastes like liquid seaweed.

Out two-hour dinner is excellent.  We engage with the diners around us. The service is outstanding; we seem to have about five different wait people. The presentations are artful. And the easy conversation ranges from the serious to the trivial.

If Jim weren’t my brother-in-law, I’d be hoping for a second date.


measuring alexander

I am allowed one free custom shirt from J. Hilburn, so I decide that my son will be the lucky recipient.

There is one small catch.  The order must be placed by tomorrow.  And, my son is not here for me to measure him.

A few days ago I call Alexander and tell him I want to give him a custom shirt.  I explain that he’ll need a tape measure, a friend to measure him, and that we can do it on Skype so I can direct the effort.  “And then after,” I say, we can pick out the fabric and design elements together.  “Sounds great,” he responds.

I actually look forward to this.  I envision spending a fun half hour with my son, laughing together as his friend measures him, and then talking about how he’d like the shirt to fit and look.

As it turns out, the fitting/selection process is nothing like I imagine it.

A few hours before our scheduled meeting last night, Alexander tells me he is not doing this on Skype. 

Next, he wants to know how long it will take.  He asks with an impatience that suggests if it’s more than five minutes, he’s not interested.

Then, he tells me, “I’ll measure myself.  I’m not asking any of my roommates to measure me.”

It takes a lot of convincing to get across the point that he cannot measure himself.

In advance of our call, I email Alexander a short video that shows exactly how to measure the neck, chest, hips, sleeves, and wrist.  I tell him that he can watch the video as we go, each segment is under a minute.  Then he can do the measurement. 

“Okay. Okay, “ he says irritably. “I’ll watch the video then email you the measurements.”  “You can’t do that,” I insist.  “Why not?  It’ll be much faster.”  “Yeah, and wrong. There are things I need to explain,” I say.  “You cannot do this without my guidance.”  He tries to argue and I get angry.  Finally, with great reluctance, he agrees.

This is already agonizing and we haven’t even started.

We begin with the neck.  The measurement doesn’t sound right.  He is almost the size of a guy I just measured who is 50 pounds heavier and shorter.

The shoulders are measured at a width reflective of a small girl.  I ask him to do it again.  He doesn’t want to.  I insist.  He does.  And his measurements are now almost two inches more than they just were.

As for the hips, “I will measure those myself.  I AM NOT GOING TO ASK JADEN TO MEASURE MY HIPS!”

Alexander’s chest is measured three times, and each time the measurement is different.

I am not at all confident that the final measurements for my son are even close to resembling those of a slim, 5’10”, 172-pound male.  I picture a shirt arriving with sleeves ending just below his elbow, and hanging to about an inch below his waist, with a neck big enough for a 250-pound man.

But at least we are done.

I ask Alexander to go online and together we can pick the fabric and design elements.  This should be the fun part.  But by now, my son has totally lost interest and patience.  “You pick it out.  I trust your judgment,” he tells me. 

I have a better idea. 

This morning I call J. Hilburn and ask if they can extend the deadline for getting a free shirt until Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, they agree. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

a memory sparked

Sometimes it's the smallest thing.

A familiar smell.  A song.  Or even a fleeting thought.  Odd things can remind us of people.

I am walking down my street.  It's one of those major crosstown streets heading both east and west.  It is as far as one can metaphorically get from Cape Cod.  And yet I look up and see the strangest thing.  There, among the traffic and noise and taxis and tall buildings, I see what looks like a little birdhouse hanging from a tree.

I use my camera to take a closer look.

It is a birdhouse.  

I immediately think of my dad. He died almost a year ago, at 90. While my father made his living in recycling, he had an artistic side.  He was the one who would always address formal letters.  He knew calligraphy, taught himself.  He created and painted wooden flowers, and clowns and other whimsical pieces of art.  But he was best known for his extraordinary birdhouses.

Not that my father  particularly liked birds, he didn't.  But for whatever reason, he took up the hobby of building birdhouses.  And they were magnificent.  It was a very lucky person who got one of George's birdhouses.  His later ones even included copper roofs.  

Today I see a bird house in a most unusual place.  On a major thoroughfare in Manhattan.  And I feel my dad's presence, as I make my way through another day in the big city.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

what $6.99 can buy in new york city

My mom lives on the Cape.  When I visit, one of the things that takes some adjusting to, is the lack of  fresh, ready-to-eat foods.

I would guess there is no place within a 50-mile radius (maybe more) where you can go in and pick up dinner, all prepared. On the Cape, you pretty much have to plan your meals in advance.  You can't get lost in your day and then decide at 7 that you'll  just pick something up and bring it home. Unless you're talking pizza.  And even then, you'd have to buy a whole pie.  Solitary slices don't exist.

And even if there were a store where freshly made food was available,  there’s a reasonably good chance the store would close by five, six at the latest.  And it certainly wouldn’t be open past Labor Day.

I live right near Agata Valentina, a gourmet grocery store a half block from my apartment.  They are open every day from early morning to 10pm.  I have watched them grow from a smallish store when they opened in 1993, to a much larger one now.  They’ve even opened a second store downtown. I know the owners and managers, and am in the store almost every day.  Their pricing is no more than the local grocery stores, and the shopping experience is so much better.  Why shop at Walmart if you can get better quality clothes for the same price (sometimes even less) at Bergdorf’s?

The other day I was in the store looking for vidalia onions for a squash-apple soup I was making. I ask someone working in produce, “Do you have any vidalia onions?” His name is Miguel.  He walks me over to a bin labeled sweet onions. I explain again that I am looking for vidalias, and Miguel responds, “Vidalia’s are a type of sweet onion.”  And then without my asking, he explains, “Vidalia onions began production in the early 30’s in a town in Georgia actually named Vidalia. They were the first sweet onions to be promoted nationally.”  How can I not love a store where the produce guy knows the history of the vidalia onion?

Today Agata is having a lunch special that is still running when I am in the store close to 5pm.  I buy a decent-sized serving of salmon with a tomato and caper sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, roasted yellow and green zucchini, and a bottle of Snapple, all for $6.99.  There is so much food I don't finish it all.

I think of my mom having to plan her grocery list.  Or decide in advance what to defrost.  Or make eggs for dinner because she’s run out of groceries or forgot to thaw something.  She’d be so jealous.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

the kindness of strangers

It is late afternoon when my phone rings.  I pick up.

“Hello Ms. Fammeeliant?  This is Essence calling from the Webster branch of the NY Public Library.  How'ya  doing today?”

I think how funny it would be if I answered honestly.  Instead I say, in my most business-like voice, “I’m fine.  How can I help you?” expecting a plea for a donation.

But Essence surprises me.

            “Did you recently lose a pair of keys?”

Yes, I did.

But not all that recently.  It was last July or August. I remember being upset by it, mainly because the key ring was one I’d had for a long long time and really liked.  It was from Tiffany’s and I had even called the store because I thought the key ring had said on it, “If found, please return to Tiffany’s.”  Of course, no one did, and I even felt foolish calling and asking.  I only tried them as a last resort, after I had called every place I had been that day.

Essence continues, “Well; we have your keys!”

I am amazed — even ending the call by ridiculously saying, "Essence, I love you."  I walk over to the library to get the keys, and again thank Essence profusely. 

Then I find the manager to thank him too.  “Where we these found?” I ask.  I’m thinking, did they get shoved into some corner and only now discovered? Were they lodged between books that are so arcane no one reads them?  Were they hidden under a rug that no one has bothered to move for cleaning?

“Someone brought them in from the street,” he tells me.  “They saw the library card on it and figured we could trace it.”

And that’s what they did.  Three months after losing my keys, someone finds them on the street, and brings them to the library. The library traces me down, and today I retrieve them.


whoops! sorry

The emails, comments, and posts I got today truly warmed my heart. 

This has been one of the worst weeks I can remember, and I can’t write about any of it.  (though not to worry, none is health-related).  So when this happened today, on top of everything else, I immediately responded.  And perhaps my reaction was too impulsive.

I got so many heartfelt comments from you, including:

A chef doesn't close a restaurant because one unhappy customer sends a meal back as inedible.

Another friend was more blunt; the subject line was:

delete your facebook post

I am humbled by everyone’s kind words.

As long as readers know (and I think you do) that what I write about is often times a single event in a day, and is not meant to represent the totality of my existence, I will continue to write.  I would like to think that most know I am more than the sum of my posts.

That being said, with egg on my face, ignore my previous post.