Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Luncheon to Remember at El Quijote

Did you see “CBS Sunday Morning” this past Sunday? Specifically, did you catch its profile of the revival underway at the historic 140-year-old Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street in Manhattan? No matter. Here’s a link to the video report: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/inside-nycs-famed-chelsea-hotel/


Once home, or passing residence, to luminaries including Andy Warhol, Mark Twain, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Sarah Bernhardt, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollack, and Leonard Cohen, the Chelsea is a landmark of history.


I never stayed at the Chelsea but I had one of my most memorable meals under its wing, at El Quijote, the Spanish restaurant housed along the hotel’s western street facade. The eatery’s neon red nameplate sign is visible at the beginning of the video. 


The year was 1988. For reasons too painful, too disturbing, to explain at this moment, my employer (Lebhar-Friedman) chose to close down in January the edition of Chain Store Age of which I was the editor and publisher. It would be 10 months before I was reassigned to another edition of Chain Store Age as editor and associate publisher, eventually named publisher until I retired in July 2009.


During those 10 months I was essentially mothballed but kept busy starting and writing a newsletter, Restaurant Personnel Management. Aside from keeping me on the payroll until a suitable executive position opened up, I also had the exquisite task of finding ways to spend $20,000 in American Express credits.


You see, during the last year of my defunct magazine’s existence, we bartered ad space for a line of American Express credit. By the time we closed the books at the end of January we had just over $20,000 in money owed us. 


I wandered over to my business manager and offered the AmEx credit card. Accounting had no way of accounting for this money so I was told to spend it on my newsletter and other corporate expenses, one of which became a luncheon with my art director Milton, production director Stan, and head of maintenance Dominic. 


Milton had recently turned 62, Stan soon to be 57, Dominic of undetermined comparable age, who, like Milt and Stan, had decades-long service with Lebhar-Friedman. I was the youngster of the group, a mere 40 years old, just 11 years with the company. More than just inviting my friendship, they also welcomed the credit card in my wallet. 


We cabbed down to El Quijote around noon. We started with some liquid libation. Having never been to the restaurant we asked our waiter for a recommendation. He suggested a specialty of the house—shrimp in green sauce. Four orders, por favor, señor. 


It might be hyperbole, but never to my memory have I enjoyed a more delicious luncheon meal. Baskets of fresh bread soaked up the garlic-infused green sauce. We kept drinking. We had dessert.


All the while Milt, Stan and Dom regaled me with stories of past and some present L-F employees. Finally, around 3 pm, we determined it would be judicious to return to the office at 425 Park Avenue, not that any of us were in any form or shape to do any work for the rest of the afternoon.


El Quijote no longer serves lunch. I’ve been back just once, with Gilda years ago. The shrimp in green sauce, while good, did not match my memory. 


Milton and I still see each other several times a year, COVID permitting. He’ll be 97, Saturday. Several of his paintings adorn our home. My favorite is a self-portrait hanging in our living room. I tell him and everyone that asks about him that in his black crewneck sweater he looks like a Portuguese fisherman.  


After retirement Stan moved to Lafayette, Calif., to be closer to his son and daughter and their families. He liked nothing more than driving his grandchildren around. He passed away earlier this year. He was 91. 


Dominic died first. Before he retired he gave me some Lebhar-Friedman memorabilia—a chair and bronze pole lamp from Arnold D. Friedman’s office and a 32-inch bronze Chain Store Age nameplate from the old offices at 2 Park Avenue. It is a featured memento on our living room bookshelves. 

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Reactionary Forces at Play, in Israel as Well

Fear of a growing acceptance and embrace of antisemitism is roiling Jews the world over and others who believe in the values of liberal (small “l”) democracy. It is happening on every inhabitable continent. 


Meanwhile, in what has often been described as the sole democracy in the Mideast amid a desert of autocratic rule by potentates and corrupt extremists, Israel is plunging into cultish religious and nationalistic fanaticism that has Jews throughout the world wincing in disbelief. 


Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow comeback return to the prime minister’s office hinged on his links to religious conservatives and militant extremists personified by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a once scorned anti-Arab right wing radical now in line to be the Minister of National Security.


Built into the DNA of most Jews who follow politics and world events is an alarmist gene. Centuries, nay, millennia, of oppression have infused a healthy skepticism of even the most benevolent regime. The grandeur of Moorish Spain, the drawing rooms of Vienna, the economic pinnacles of Germany were no match for the antisemitism unleashed by kings, queens and dictators. 


So Jews concentrate on the headlines of the day, keeping track of cracks in liberal democracies and deep crevices in totalitarian regimes. 


Only now the inspection has become introspection. Consider the  headlines from one day—November 28—in the online version of Haaretz, a left-wing Israeli news outlet, to realize that reactionary forces are at play in Israel, as well: 


“Netanyahu’s party aims to close Israel’s public broadcaster


“Ben-Gvir wants to change Temple Mount status quo. This time Netanyahu may let him.


“Israeli student attacked by solder in Hebron sent to five days’ house arrest


“Israeli army employs closed military-zones to rein in Palestinians, left-wing activists


“Israel is approaching the gravest constitutional crisis in its history


“‘Most antisemitic police in the world” Ben-Gvir’s chief of staff’s long feud with police


“Gantz accuses Ben-Gvir of establishing a private militia that ‘may cost human lives’


“Ben-Gvir will bring out the worst of Israel’s police


“New Powers in far-right hands: Israel’s national security ministry, explained


“Netanyahu gives unprecedented power to extremist fighting LGBTQ ‘deviants’


“Four Netanyahu supporters charged with harassing witnesses in corruption trial


“Now it’s undeniable. Even for the GOP: Trump is legitimizing antisemitism


“Talk is cheap. So are women’s lives in Arab and Muslim Societies


“Meeting the greatest Turkish director of our time in a tent in the Israeli desert


“Israel believes chance of a new Iran nuclear deal ‘near zero’ due to Russia aid


“‘I’m the first queer rapper in Hebrew’”


“Israeli Druze soldiers arrested for allegedly throwing explosive at Palestinian home


“The Army of Occupation has been occupied


“The night Jewish fanatics tried to bomb the Knesset”


OMG! Is this really the nation that was supposed to be a light unto others? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Escaping Big Oil's Stranglehold

 Filled my new car up with gas today after traveling 311.7 miles since the initial fill-up last Friday. Took 6.9 gallons, which comes to 45.2 miles per gallon.


Not bad, but nothing near the 133.7 MPGe from my first stop at a gas station. You see, my one-month-old car is a Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid. Most days, I drive fewer than 40 miles tooling around town. I almost exclusively rely on battery power for those jaunts.


It was only after traveling to Massachusetts over the Thanksgiving weekend to celebrate the holiday, and more importantly our grandson Finley’s bar-mitzvah, that the gas engine kicked in full time. From the day I drove off the car dealership lot to last Friday, I logged 1,016 miles of battery and gas-engine power before topping off the tank with 7.6 gallons for a whopping 133.7 MPGe (miles per gasoline gallon equivalent). 


Now, the colder it gets the less likely it will be that battery power alone will propel my Escape. Running the heater and other accessories drains the battery. Still, the prospect of fewer donations to Big Oil is comforting.


After each day’s trips around town I plug the Escape into a standard 120 volt socket in the garage. Replenishing the battery can take as long as 11 hours if it is fully discharged, a process during which I am usually asleep.  


Gilda’s car, a 2013 Ford C-Max, is a hybrid and averages 43.7 MPG. In our own small way we are trying to save the planet.



Monday, November 14, 2022

Georgia Dems Battling Election Fatigue; Alaska's Murkowski Poised to Sting Trump, Again

 Election fatigue. 


That’s the challenge Democrats must overcome in Georgia if they are to cement another seat in the Senate, thereby giving them a 51-49 majority free of the need to have Vice President Kamala Harris cast tie-breaking votes for items ranging from federal judge appointments to confirmations for ambassador and executive nominations as she has been forced to do during the last two years of a 50-50 Senate.  


As it was in 2020, when Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock stunned the nation with their twin Senate victories, Georgia commands the attention of political junkies. Can Warnock now secure in a run-off election a full six year term against what even Dave Chappelle in a “Saturday Night Live” monologue called an “observably stupid” Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate promoted by Donald Trump?


We will find out December 6 if Democratic enthusiasm remains white hot. Or will Republicans rally to save some face, even if that face belongs to a less than perfect, or appropriate, candidate. 


For Democrats, Warnock represents more than just another seat. He could help them counterbalance mavericks Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema who have stymied passage along strict party lines of some of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. 


There’s general consensus that Ossoff and Warnock benefitted from anti-Trump sentiment in 2020. Trump has promise big news Tuesday, November 15. If he announces another run for president, as is widely expected, will he galvanize voters for Walker or Warnock? We won’t know until the December 6 votes are counted. Don’t believe anyone who tells you differently.


Given his polarizing impact, why would Trump declare his candidacy again? Because, as Gilda among others has reasoned, Trump’s ego is so large he needs to be in the spotlight, he needs to be seen as relevant. Without klieg lights shining on his every movement, he would shrivel into if not obscurity, then into insignificance, as the Republican Party shifts to younger, more structured and less offensive candidates.  


Indeed, if Trump jumps into the race, it will be fascinating to observe the reaction of party leaders and potential presidential candidates, many of whom worked in Trump’s administration. Will they assert their independence or their fealty?  


Meanwhile, as most of the focus is on Georgia and Trump, one Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, is in a tight fight to win her fourth full term representing Alaska. Murkowski defied Trump by voting to convict him in his impeachment trial following the January 6 insurrection, opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court and voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the highest court.


Her main opponent in a four person race is a Trump Republican acolyte—Kelly Tshibaka. 


Tshibaka received 94,138 votes (44.2%); Murkowski 91,205 (42.8%); Democrat Pat Chesbro 20,265 (9.5%); Republican Buzz Kelley 6,244 (2.9%); Other 1,050 (0.5%). 


Alaska uses a ranked system of voting. A majority of votes (50% plus 1), is required for victory. If no one achieves that level, ballots for the lowest vote getter are scrutinized to determine if voters indicated a second choice. If after awarding those votes to the remaining candidates still doesn’t get anyone to 50% plus 1, the process of allocating second choice votes is repeated, this time from the remaining lowest vote getter. 


Though Tshibaka leads Murkowski by fewer than 3,000 votes, she wouldn’t secure the required percentage even if she received all of the second choices from Kelley and Other. 


On the other hand, as Democrats would hardly choose a Trump-backed candidate as their second choice, “Murkowski is expected to overtake her on second-choice votes once Democrat Pat Chesbro is eliminated and her 20,000 ballots are reallocated,” according to Alaska Public Media. 


Oh, and in case you missed it, Sarah Palin is projected to lose her bid to unseat Democratic Representative Mary Peltola. Both Palin and Tshibaka are contemplating challenges to the official vote count. 



Friday, November 11, 2022

Veterans Day Marks My Mother's 105th Birthday


Most people think of November 11 as Veterans Day. They’d be right. My brother, sister and I have an association with November 11 that runs deeper than our father’s short time in the army during World War II. Our mother was born on November 11. 1917, in Lodg, Poland.


Sylvia Gerson came to America in 1921 with her mother, brother and two sisters (a third would be born in New York). Technically an immigrant, she was as robust an American as any natural born citizen.


Perhaps even more so, as she was not constrained by then current American strictures that pigeonholed a woman’s role in society.


She had but a high school diploma but she became a full-charge bookkeeper, an anachronistic term often used to describe a woman of exceptional accounting talent who, for a variety of reasons, never earned the title of accountant, much less certified public accountant (Gilda’s mother, as well, was a full-charge bookkeeper).


My parents married in 1942 barely two months after meeting. A mutual friend set them up. Perhaps the story’s apocryphal, but the way she sometimes told it, my father, Kopel, fell off a ladder in his store when he first saw her. It wasn’t from her good looks. Rather, it was her wild and frizzy hair. 


They agreed, nevertheless, to go out that Friday night to a performance of either the Die Fledermaus or The Gypsy Baron, both comic operas (at various times she related both performances). When Kopel came to her family apartment he didn’t recognize her. She was all dolled up and beautiful. They were married six weeks later, Labor Day weekend 1942.


If six weeks seems like a whirlwind courtship, consider this. For several weeks they were apart because Sylvia went on vacation. 


During one of their times together my mother garnered one of her favorite stories. Kopel took her back to an apartment he shared. Speaking Yiddish, his roommate asked if they would like to be alone, to which my father replied, also in Yiddish, “No, this one I am going to marry.” Unbeknownst to my father, Sylvia was fluent in Yiddish.


Their union was also a work partnership. As a full charge bookkeeper Sylvia ran the one-person office while Kopel ran the factory where they produced half-slips and panties sold mostly to chain stores across the country. 


For a little more than four years Sylvia stayed home to raise their three children. I propelled her back to work with my poor eating and an exasperating habit of flinging peas off of my high chair tray. Today, peas are among my favorite vegetable.


Sylvia taught my brother and me to play ball. She made sure we went to Broadway shows and the opera. She took us to the Catskills. She enrolled us in private Hebrew schools and eight week sleepaway Jewish summer camps. She made our house the center of activity. Friday night poker games with my brother’s friends. Passover seders with as many as 40 participants. Overnight guests that prompted her to call our home Malon Forseter, malon being the Hebrew word for hotel. Her dinette table was never too full. Unexpected guests were met with the standard retort, “I’ll just add another cup of water to the soup.”


She was a self-taught cook. Her mother and older sister’s cooking skills were restricted to knowing they had entered a kitchen, which was not a place they sought to be in. 


Mom, on the other hand, mastered cooking Jewish delicacies including matzo ball soup, kreplach, stuffed cabbage, sweet and sour lamb’s tongues and gefilte fish. I can still visualize her at our dinette table stitching together chicken necks stuffed with flour, bread crumbs or matzo meal, schmaltz (chicken fat) and fried onions. It’s called helzel, a dish that tasted better if one did not observe its preparation. 


Though I wrote earlier that my poor eating sent her back to work, truth is Sylvia was a woman ahead of her time. Not just a homemaker and club woman—head of the PTA and active in temple and social groups—she also was an accomplished businesswoman not content or fulfilled in a stay-at-home mother role. Because of their business my parents could not always vacation together. My mother was confident and independent enough to travel to Israel and Europe by herself in the mid 1950s when she was just 40.


Sylvia instilled independence in her children. She trusted us to do our homework. We knew that trust came with a price—good grades. 


Mom had a ribald sense of humor. If she saw you yawning she would say, “You wouldn’t be so tired if you slept at night instead of fooling around, but then sleep isn’t as much fun.”


On her night table at various times one could find a copy of “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” and “Tropic of Cancer,” risqué reading for the 1950s and 1960s.


These are memories from my youth. As she aged my mother’s joie de vivre deteriorated. She chain smoked. She was diabetic. She suffered bouts of congestive heart failure. A little dementia. She had one leg amputated below the knee because of her diabetes. A few years later on the eve of an amputation of her second leg she died of cardiac arrest.


My brother sister and I don’t dwell on the last decade or so of her life when she no longer was the vibrant source of our family life. It is enough to know that together with our father she molded us into the people we are today. And we are happy with the results.


One more thing worth noting. A few blogs ago I related how the number 11 has been significant in Gilda’s and my life together. It all started with my mother, born on November 11.  

Thursday, November 10, 2022

After Next Two Years of Do-Nothing Congress, Younger Faces of Wannabe Presidents

I couldn’t read or view any political news for the last week.


Too nerve racking. Too stomach churning. Too depressing.


I went to sleep Tuesday night before results for New York, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada were known. I awoke shortly after 3 am unable to resist the temptation to know the extent of the damage.


I was relieved then, and subsequently, by the realization the expected Republican red tsunami was more like a violent thunderstorm—damaging, even scary, but not catastrophic to our democracy or our liberal democratic foundation.


The sooner we are reconciled to Republican control of the House, even by the slightest of margins, the better we will be able to cope.


We know the GOP is coming after Joe Biden via the dark Hunter Biden tunnel.


We also know Republicans will use hearing and subpoena power to try to discredit Democratic programs and officials.


Even if Republicans gain a slim majority in the Senate they will not be able to pass regressive legislation that would withstand a presidential veto. They will try to blackmail Biden into concessions on social welfare benefits in Social Security and Medicare in exchange for increased debt ceiling authorizations. But he won’t give in. 


If the government is forced into a shutdown, or if the world economy tanks because Republicans won’t increase the debt ceiling, Republicans will be blamed, just as they were for previous shut downs.


In effect, we will have to endure two years of a do-nothing, rancorous Legislature. Biden will govern by executive orders, sure to be challenged in court.


In 2024, we will be faced with the following election alternatives: 


If Donald Trump runs and gets the Republican nomination, Biden will seek a second term based on a platform of Democratic programs passed during his first two years in office vs. Republican stagnation and an atmosphere of mendacity, meanness and miasma. He will ask voters to re-elect him with Democratic House and Senate majorities to implement positive progress.


If Trump’s days as GOP leader are over, a contest between the likes of Larry Hogan, former governor or Maryland, representing Old Guard Republicans, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, representing a more confrontational and polished Trump, will end with DeSantis being chosen by party members more bloodthirsty and opposed to political compromise than Hogan’s supporters.  


Biden will be persuaded that his then 80-year-old image next to a 46-year-old DeSantis will not be a winning graphic. The torch of leadership will pass to younger Democrats, specifically to either then 57-year-old Gavin Newsom, governor of California, or 55-year-old New Jersey senator Cory Booker.  

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Values Mean More Than Profits

Like many writers I make notes of topics and quotes to be used in future prose. (On “60 Minutes” last Sunday the writer David Sedaris displayed a pad he uses for quick notetaking. I quickly pointed out to Gilda my companionship with Sedaris, though our similarities ended when it was revealed his writing success has enabled him to own multiple homes around the world and a Picasso.)


Sometimes I inscribe my notes on my iPhone. Usually I jot them down on a piece of paper I carry in my shirt pocket next to a pen (a journalist hardly ever goes anywhere, even inside his home, without a pen or pencil at the ready).


The paper fills up over the course of a month, not just with story ideas but also with errands and tasks I need to perform as I cannot rely on memory alone to fulfill my obligations or desires.


When there’s no more room on the page I transcribe the notations still to be accomplished on a new sheet, often with great difficulty as my scribble is difficult to read even by me. For the last several months I’ve had the following on my “to do” list: “Values mean more than profits.”


I’ve forgotten the context of where, who and what prompted me to write down the aphorism, but with less than a week before Tuesday’s elections, it seemed particularly relevant.


It appears, according to many polls and prognosticators, that monetary issues and crass political calculations will supersede social issues when voters cast their ballots.


Many voters complain Washington does nothing useful, forgetting or not realizing that under the first two years of the Biden presidency 10 million jobs were created; unemployment has been at historically low levels; a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package was passed; 500 million COVID-19 shots were administered; stronger gun control measures were enacted; Congress passed a $369 billion bill to combat climate change; college debt relief was initiated; child poverty was cut in half; prescription drug prices were capped at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare; a 15% minimum corporate tax on some of the largest corporations in the country was imposed; Medicare was given the power to negotiate prescription drug prices; and healthcare premiums under the Affordable Care Act were reduced by $800 a year. 


On a more global scale, Biden recommitted to the Paris Accords on climate change; ended U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan; strengthened NATO; aided Ukraine in its war with Russia; authorized the assassination of al-Queda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (https://www.upworthy.com/amp/joe-biden-s-23-greatest-achievements-as-president-of-the-united-states-so-far-2658343604). 


However, as Biden himself would say, “I get it.” Voters don’t see the big picture. They just see high gas prices and high food bills. 


They don’t see how voting in Republicans will accelerate statewide and perhaps national efforts to eliminate and even criminalize abortions, perhaps even conferring personhood status to fetuses. 


They don’t see how arch conservative judges will become even more dominant in state and federal courts, granting more power to corporations and fewer avenues of redress to ordinary citizens, especially minorities. 


They don’t see how electing Republicans will invigorate Trumpism and honest election deniers and further stalemate Congress as the GOP seeks to tit-for-tat impeach Biden. 


They don’t see how Republicans want to cut back or even eliminate Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 


Yes, I cannot recall how I came to believe that values mean more than profits. But I can clearly see the outcome of an election that could set the country on a course from which it could take decades to recover.