Further Modesty

A reluctant addendum to my previous post

In light of the Justin Carter debacle, it has been suggested to me that I clarify that my previous post was intended as dry humor, sarcasm, irony, an homage to Jonathan Swift, and other such please-tell-me-we-still-have-first-amendment-protection-in-this-day-and-age purposes.  It was not a serious suggestion for violence; I don’t like guns and do not support their use, even on bad dog owners.

(grumble, grumble)




Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Modest Proposal

How to address Flushing’s malodorous sidewalk mines

When I first moved to New York in February, I was prepared for many aspects of big-city life: higher cost of living, the tremendous quantity of people everywhere you go, and the ubiquitous availability of public transit.  There were a few items, however, that nobody mentioned:  the way New Yorkers never touch handrails on escalators (for good reason!), the profound difference between living in Manhattan and out in “the boroughs,” and the stench of rancid curry trash in the summer sun.

The last of those is hard to describe, and really must be smelled for oneself.  Unlike much of the country, New  Yorkers do not put their garbage into bins or receptacles on trash pick-up day; they leave it in loose bags on the edge of the sidewalk.  Where I live, in Flushing, there is an abundance of Indian cuisine, and consequently many of those black plastic monstrosities are full of curry.

Now, I love curry, but when it has been left out in the sun, it begins to smell, then stink, then present the olfactory equivalent of first-degree assault.  Worse, the trash trucks compress the garbage as they pick it up, and from the sides of those mobile stench-machines flows a steady stream of foul-smelling, green-colored liquid that renders Flushing in need of, well, a flushing.  I apologize for that pun.

In a way, the addition of new, different stinks has the effect of at least varying to some degree the rancid air of the town.  However, the purpose of this proposal is to address a secondary, and most unwelcome, ubiquitous presence on our city streets: dog poop.

It is not a unique feature of New York that so many dog owners simply refuse to pick up after their pets.  In Lexington, I remember a particular zone in our subdivision affectionately-termed “poop island,” since there was a general consensus that this was the place for lazy people to allow their dogs to defecate without incurring the penalty of bending-the-hell-over to clean it up.

But, as they are in many things, New Yorkers are especially audacious.  Large, stinking mounds of dog crap are frequently left in the middle of sidewalks, on jogging trails, and even in crosswalks.    What is especially baffling about this is that Flushing is typically full of people, meaning these owners presumably leave their dog droppings in full sight of onlookers.  The role of social shame has been marginalized to the point of ineffectiveness.

After considerable thought, I believe a common-sense solution to this acute problem is simple, and involves snipers.  Imagine, if you will, a few strategically-placed gunmen on roofs overlooking Kissena park, the residential neighborhoods, and other points of interest in the city.  New York is singularly well-suited for this approach, because of the abundance of tall buildings.

Floating this idea by a few of my friends, one of the surprisingly-few objections I have heard is a general reluctance to kill people for doing something irritating.  Without getting into the distinction between the mild word “irritating” and the more appropriate term “sociopathic,” I would respond that a high body count is not necessary.  It really will only take a handful of casualties before word gets around, and I would imagine the prospect of life-threatening injury might have a more immediate and quantifiable effect than a “fine of up to $100,” which is seldom enforced.

Unfortunately, given the political climate of today’s New York City Council, I doubt they could implement even this common-sense reform to protect our citizens.  However, I find that visualizing this enforcement mechanism is an effective mental exercise, especially when scraping nasty dog crap off one’s jogging shoes.



Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Refusing to Double Down

Railing against quantity-based incentives in the food service industry

With the exception of a piece about a unique vegan restaurant run by a friend of mine, I don’t tend to write about food.  This is for what I believe is a very good reason: food narratives are boring.  While eating forms a pervasive and often crucial part of our individual lives, anyone having spent countless recreational minutes reviewing photos on their Facebook wall can tell you that our interest level in what other people are eating is, at best, moderate to low.

With that disclaimer/apology out of the way…let me tell you about my lunch today.

By way of background, I am attempting to eat healthier things, in an abstract, non-specific way.  I do not struggle with my weight per se, but have issues with its distribution.  My broad chest has an irritating habit of migrating southward, stopping just about my midsection.  I blame gravity, though cheeseburgers are alleged to have played a role.

To combat this unfortunate migration of mass, I am making a token effort to eat healthier things.  With encouragement from my wife, this includes juicing, which I have on strong authority is now a verb, and keeping healthier foodstuffs in the kitchen.

Since much of New York life involves eating on the run, I am also making a concerted effort to make healthier choices for my lunches.  This involved, at my last job, frequenting a fairly terrific salad spot, though for some reason the green stuff is absurdly expensive.  In the more limited surrounds of Bayside, where my current office is located, the healthy choice often comes down to that perennial low-cost, low-fat alternative, Subway.

Now, I like Subway.  Something about fresh veggies and bread helps me forget about tasty, medium rare patties of deliciousness, covered in cheese.  I often eat there for breakfast, as a flat-bread egg sandwich with a coffee is available for three bucks.  Today, however, I decided to go for lunch, resolved to try something new and under a million calories; when setting goals, the key is to keep them manageable.  My only beef (pun not intended) with East Coast Subway restaurants is the green slime they attempt to pass off as avocados.  Having spent eight years in California, I know avocados, I cooked with avocados, avocados were a friend of mine, and Subway’s green goop is no avocado.

For today’s meal, I settled on an eggplant Parmesan sandwich, which is at least reasonably healthy, provided I skip the white fat-paste in a bottle that tastes so, so delicious.   The problem that led to this erstwhile blog entry arose when I first asked for a six-inch sandwich.

“You know that’s four dollars, and for five you can get a footlong?”  the Sandwich Artist Mo asked me, grabbing a full twelve-inch loaf.

“Can I just have six inches for two-fifty?  Or how about three dollars?” I asked, answered only with a sad, slow head shake.  I assume his detached demeanor was because he is an artist.

Now, I had a difficult decision to make.  I like money, and I do not like wasting it; perhaps we can all agree on the merit of my position in this regard.  However, lunch is a decision based not on dollars alone, but on nutritional content, and a twelve-inch sub sandwich is significantly worse than its six-inch cousin in terms of calories.  One might even infer that it is twice as bad.

So I took a deep breath, swallowed, and went with my gut, over-paying for a six-inch sandwich.

I think it’s terrible for a restaurant chain that at least pays lip service to healthy options to create such a dramatic price incentive for super-sizing one’s entree.  It takes quite enough effort to make healthy choices when eating out without contrived economic penalties for making good nutritional choices.

It would be immensely gratifying to write that I won’t be back to Subway, or at least to THAT Subway, but the reality is that there are woefully few healthier options in the neighborhood, and chances are good that I’ll be back before the week is out.  To paraphrase my favorite Indiana Jones movie, that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

So, thanks for bearing with me on an ill-fated journey through my bygone lunch break, and I’ll try to keep it more interesting next go-round.


Published in: on July 8, 2013 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Slower developing, but Irving on Top of His Game

A brief review of one of my favorite authors, John Irving.  

It has been awhile since I have heard from John Irving.  The author best known for Cider  House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany used to be fairly prolific, releasing an average of one book a year in the late 90’s.  Since that time, his production has slowed to a crawl, and for a few years I was concerned that he might have stopped writing altogether.

Fortunately, after a four-year hiatus Irving began releasing novels again with 2005’s “Until I Find You,” a remarkably well-told story full of familiar Irving subject matter: wrestling, lost parents, abuse, and the fallibility of memory.  It took another four years, but Last Night in Twisted River was worth the wait.  It represents a departure from Irving’s more familiar themes, and its humor and self-awareness propel the novel to among Irving’s best.

The novel begins set in a logging camp, in the first half of the twentieth century.  The story is focused on the cook and his son, Danny, living in the extremely isolated and undeveloped town of Twisted River.  The novel begins by presenting a trilogy of tragedies:  the drowning of a young boy on the river, the remembrance of a similar drowning of Danny’s mother, and the accidental killing of the cook’s love interest, who Danny mistakes for a bear.  This latter event leads to their departure from Twisted River, and a life of hiding from an obsessed former police officer (called “the Cowboy”) who suspects them of the killing.

During the next several decades, the cook and Danny move to Boston, and then to Canada, in an attempt to stay ahead of the Cowboy.  Their only tie to Twisted River is an old logger named Ketchum, a friend who stays in close contact with them over the years.  Danny grows up to be a writer, and several of his novels are described in ways clearly designed to invoke Irving’s own work.  As with many of his novels, there is an autobiographical quality that shines through, only this time, he does not try to conceal it through fiction.

Ultimately, the Cowboy catches up to the cook, and kills him.  Danny comes to the cook’s rescue and kills the Cowboy, but is too late to save his father.  He continues writing despite the tragedies in his life, and his final novel ends up being an account of his escape from Twisted River, with its beginning mimicking the first chapters of this book.

Irving has always been a strong developer of characters, and while his plots tend to strain credulity, they are entertaining and often humorous.  With the exception of his latest release, 2012’s In One Person, I have read all of his novel-length work, and in my opinion, Last Night in Twisted River is his best.  While its characters are not as memorable as Owen Meany, and its political themes do not rival Cider House Rules, this novel represents a strength and cohesion of writing that is a level above Irving’s earlier works.  I strongly recommend it, and am pleased that this author has kept sharpening his skills.  I look forward to reading him again soon.


Published in: on July 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment