Archive for August, 2016

NOT NEWS – Aunt Aline (Part 1)

08/27/2016

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While I sat in the back of the Uber on my way to my mother’s apartment to find out why she was not answering her phone, I imagined a range of circumstances, none of them good, and I thought about the last time I went out on a similar mission, when my late wife Dorit could not reach her Aunt Aline on the phone. Aline was Dorit’s father’s sister. She was about 80 at the time of this story and lived alone on East 87th Street. When she came over from Poland in the ’30’s she was married to a conductor, Walter Eiger, who went on to build a significant career in Canada, where they both went initially until Aline moved to the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan which was, in the ’40’s, packed with refugees from Poland, Hungary and Germany. She played piano, like her younger brother (who had gone overland from a Russian prison to Palestine), and was able to make a living playing at the many piano bars and social clubs that catered to the sophisticated mittel europe clientele. She also, if Dorit is to be believed, maintained a salon in her small second floor apartment and enjoyed the favors of more than one generous music lover. I have seen a very old nude photo of Aline, a risque move to make in the pre-selfie past. By the time I met Aline she was a frail-seeming little old lady and, I thought, adorable in her well-kept vintage suits. She was, by many criteria, a nasty piece of work. An antisemite notwithstanding her jewishness, she also hated the “darkie” peddlers on 86th Street hawking children’s books which Aline assumed were stolen. She dropped french words into her speech, mon chere. She arrived with a cloud of violet powder trailing her and never went anywhere without a gift which initially might be a book for samara but soon became free discount coupons and used wrapping paper. What Aline loved most of all was opera. “Mon chere, it is the bouquet of all the arts.” She would stand on Lincoln Center Plaza in front of the Met, looking both cute and pathetic, until someone would gift her with a spare ticket, then she would stand in the back of the orchestra for the first act (she was well known to all the ushers) and finally, at intermission, would be ushered to a seat that had been empty up until then and sit in the orchestra for the rest of the performance. Dorit had been visiting Aline every week or so but as Dorit’s cancer came to limit her more and more, the routine devolved into a weekly phone call which was how there came to be a day when Dorit called and Aline didn’t answer the phone. I grabbed a cab to 87th street. I had no keys and so searched for, and located, the super to ask him to drill the lock but lockdrilling was not within his area of competency so he just busted down the door. There, on the floor, was Aline, wearing a nightie and blue bathrobe, eyes wide open and smiling but unable to speak, unable to move in any respect. She had spoken on the phone with Dorit just a week earlier and seemed, perhaps, a little confused but was mostly as she was when we last saw here. She obviously had been worse than she let on. Her toenails were long enough to curl over. The only thing to eat in the apartment was a box of cake mix. While the super called 911, I knelt down beside her and she lifted her arm and grasped my wrist and pulled my hand over her breast, a gesture I remembered my Grandma Bea doing once in the midst of family chaos generated by her husband’s, my grandfather’s, dementia. The EMS team arrived, put her gently on a stretcher and took us to Cornell Medical Center.

NOT NEWS – Hiatus

08/22/2016

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After being unable to reach her by phone all day, I went to my mother’s apartment last Monday and found her in her recliner, television on, dead. The funeral was Thursday and today will be the last day my sister and I sit shiva. I will, in the fullness of time, write about Helen, if I decide I’m equal to the subject. In the meantime, here is a photo of her taken this past fourth of August, her 87th birthday.

NOT NEWS – The Purple Finger

08/13/2016

Trump’s been dishonest about  a lot of things in the course of his campaigning (mostly for the purpose of burnishing his meager record of achievements or denigrate the achievements of others). I’ve posted about some of them here. Now, as he sees the polls coalesce into a consensus he is unable to change our ignore, he’s attacking the very fairness of the voting process (like a kid losing at checkers upsetting the board) and he’s not referring to the vulnerability of the voting machines to hacking or general disarray. “The only way I can lose Pennsylvania is if there’s cheatinggoing on,” he says. What’s the cheat? He’s jumping for a ride on the familiar (and undocumented) Republican craptrain, multiple votes cast by black people (because we know what he means when he dog whistles “in certain areas”).

I love these photos of Afghans holding up purple fingers after casting their votes in the 2014 elections in Afghanistan, full of pride, I imagine, in themselves, in the process and in their country. It’s a beautiful image, isn’t it? Holding up their fingers like torches. Despite large portions of the country being beyond reach due to Taliban domination, 58% of eligible Afghan voters came out to exercise their franchise. The voting rate in the 2012 USA presidential race was 53.6%. 

So that’s my simple solution in addition to being my proof that Republican-proffered ID laws are completely disingenuous.  If repeat voters are the issue, and not voter suppression, the simple no-fail, low-tech, low cost solution is the purple finger. Also, I think it would improve participation rates, not only by bringing people excluded by ID laws into the process, but also by shaming eligible voters to the polls. “I have a purple finger. Do you have a purple finger? You must have a purple finger.” Once again, a superficially intractable problem has been solved by me. You’re welcome.

I’ve been a little conflicted about writing about this last couple of weeks in Bridgehampton. Looking at someone else’s vacation photos is one of the more excruciating experiences recorded in human history thus far and I’m thinking that adding some text to that is not going to sweeten the deal. Still, that’s my job, isn’t it, relating the quotidian in an interesting, maybe even entertaining, manner? And lots has gone on too, sailing and fishing and guests and such. I guess I’ve been on vacation blogwise but I’ll be back in the city next week and I suppose I’ll do a quick run-through of recent events. Until then dear readers – put on your sunscreen and always swim with a buddy. I may have just saved your life.

NEWS – Splash! (Bridgehampton Adventure Two)

08/04/2016

Jolean’s in pain, all beaten up. Bruised, abrasions, sore legs and shoulders. That’s the result of shooting waves from 8:00 in the morning until 6:00 with hardly a break. Body surfing or, sometimes, with a short board. I envy her. When I was a kid, my grandmother would spend the summer at a kuchalane in Rockaway and we would visit often during the season. It was a kind of heaven. The boardwalk, skee ball, Jerry’s knishes, Takee cups, pinball and the ocean. Trust me, I was a buoyant little fellow. I’d bob like a cork, dive beneath the crashing waves our leap just as they hit to keep my head above water. I shot the waves. There was hardly any activity I liked better than shooting the waves. Now, I’m afraid. I feel so fucking weak and fragile. I’m under 150 pounds and I imagine myself cracking like a twig. I go into the water up to my knees like I remember the alter cockers doing at the beach. Like my mother does. Jolean, meanwhile is a porpoise. She’s a mermaid. 


She walks up the beach, slippy and shining wet in the sun, like Bo Derek. That’s right, like Bo Derek.  


And I’m sitting in a short folding beach chair, brushing sand off of me, admiring. I love the ocean, could spend hours staring at the waves, but the beach? Eh. If there was a nice green lawn up to the water’s edge, that would be fine for me. The sand. Why the sand? It gets into everything, it’s hot, it’s scratchy and uncomfortable against your feet. Beautiful? Sure, kind of. The dunes, the tall grass – love ’em. The nasty looking seaweed, littering the shoreline, like someone was pulling the tape out of a hundred cassettes and leaving it in piles right where you want to put your blanket. Not a fan. Seabirds? Very entertaining. I really enjoy watching them. 


Listening to the family who decided, with a whole empty beach, to put their blanket 20 feet from me? I hate them. Morons. It’s a warm, bright sunny morning. It’s a beach day, for sure. 

NEWS – The Gentry, the Gentiles and the Ganza Mishpucha (Bridgehampton Adventure Part One)

08/03/2016

I feel like the Jed Clampett of eastern Long Island. No, I feel like part of an invading force. No, I feel like part of a wave of refugees whose arrival ends up changing the very culture they hope to be absorbed by.  It’s archaic, I know, and, really, I’m very well assimilated, but I still feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack” – a little louder, a little more colorful and a lot more Jewish than the indigents though, upon consideration, it’s not really apropos. The Hamptons are not so Gentile anymore. I know lots of tribe-members who own homes. Besides, I’m not so conspicuous (C’mon, who am I kidding?). Lots of grays, blacks and whites in my duffel. And of my little group of seven (Alex, Nicola, Kelsey, Samara, Grandma Helen, Jolean and me), four of us are born (as opposed to practicing) Christians so what’s the issue? Still, that’s how I feel, a two-week-rental interloper. With a Mercedes. When I was a kid, my family went to a bungalow colony in Suffern then bought a house by a lake in Morris County, New Jersey. I also did some sleepaway camp. As a young adult, I did a few Fire Island weekends but I never did the Hampton share thing (too many strangers. Don’t care for strangers). I don’t think there would have been many of those houses in this area anyway. The houses here are big. We have five bedrooms in this one, and a pool. We all had a blast last year so we’re doing it again. In fact, even though I don’t actually have a job, I feel freer, unburdened, while I’m here. I think it has to do with the large yard, the open space, the unbroken sky, the ribbon of beach rolling out as far as the eye can see. I’ll tell you something else – Maybe I feel so much the outsider because I like being that. I like a little distance. I’m Margaret Mead or Dian Fossey – among but not of. That’ll be my POV as I (if I) recount to you the next two weeks. Pictures next time.

NOT NEWS – Cutting Bills

08/01/2016

Tim Kaine, at a campaign stop yesterday, told the story of a woodworking contractor who completed a job at one of the Trump casinos and, when the job was completed and he delivered his invoice, was told that, if he wanted to be paid anything, he would have to accept a reduced amount in full satisfaction of the debt. Trump was cutting his bill. For Kaine, this was evidence of Trump’s congenital and continuous perfidy. I can only assume he’s not aware, as the woodworker surely was, of the ubiquity of the practice of bill cutting among NYC landlords and real estate operators. Back in my pre-lawyering days I worked as a managing agent for uber-landlord Sol Goldman (nobody in the business believes me but I managed 2,000 units in 40 different buildings) and bill-cutting was a way of life. 

If I had a job to give out, a roof to repaper or a boiler to replace, I’d contact a few contractors in the trade, negotiate the lowest number that I could and then go in to Mr. G to get the job approved. This is where the cutting began. “Please Mr. G,” I would plead, “it’s the best price by far.” “Take $2,000 off the contact. He won’t walk away.” (Understand that, in 1987, when he passed, Mr. G left what was at that time the largest estate in New York State history – he was not short on cash). So back I would go to the contractor with the bad news and, as predicted, he would stay with the job which, of course, made me look foolish since I obviously had not negotiated the best price possible. 

Once the work was completed, the contractor would come in with the bill and I would say “This is too high. I can’t go in to him with this. Believe me, if I bring him this number, he’s going to cut the crap out of it.” So the contractor would reduce the charge and I’d bring it into Mr. G for approval. And again I would advocate for the contractor. “Please Mr. G. Don’t cut it. I’ve already got him down. He’s only making pennies on the job.” And again, he would cut the price saying, “I could lose my shirt paying bills like that.” I would sheepishly return with the bad news and the contractor would whine and scream and cry and moan and eventually would say, “Do you have any other work to give out? You’ve got to give me the next job and give me a chance to make it up.” It was part ritual, part dance and all about the money. How do the landlords justify this behavior (and I assure you, they feel completely justified)?

First of all, the landlord assumes that the contractor anticipates being cut (which he has) and has built a sort of “cut cushion” into the price (which is also true) so, if you don’t cut out that cushion, you’re overpaying and being taken advantage of and nothing galls a real estate guy like being taken advantage of. Second, the landlord feels he’s due a discount to compensate him for flaws in the job. He may not be aware of any flaws but no work is ever done perfectly so the landlord needs to take consideration now for problems that will undoubtedly reveal themselves in time. Third is that the contractor almost always requests the chance to bid on new jobs. If he’s being chopped so badly, why does he keep coming back? That in itself is proof that the reduced payment contains enough profit to incentivise the contractor to keep the dance going (or, conversely, that the contractor was trying to screw him and it’s only through leveraging future work that the landlord was able to avoid being suckered). Now, Trump’s propensity for declaring bankruptcy, where contractors are crammed down by the secured creditors (the lenders) to levels they would never accept in a negotiation, is a special Trumpian twist that distinguishes him from the more run of the mill scumbag. Still, if Kaine wants evidence of exceptionally bad behavior by Trump, he’s going to have to up his game.