New York 2016 (Part 2)

old-brooklyn-bagel-shoppeSaturday brought with it colder temperatures. While such chill might have called for a warmer meal, we decided to begin our day with a traditional N.Y. bagel. Courtesy the recommendation of family friend Kathryn, we stopped at the Old Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe.

Suffice to say, I was not expecting to have the best bagel of my adult life.

It’s difficult to explain exactly why the bread was so good. It was soft, but it also had a kind of heartiness that is difficult to replicate even among master bakers. But when I inquired, I was told it was just a regular New York bagel.

“It’s something about the water,” Cassie said.

I got curious enough to take a quick look around about the secret. According to an article from NPR, the calcium and magnesium in the water is a factor, but the primary reason they’re so good is by boiling the bagel before baking it in the oven. I have doubts however. The quality of these bagels would decimate rival businesses in the south. And although I’ve witnessed the bakers at Einstein Brother’s in D.C. boiling their bagels in a large vat, they still weren’t nearly as good as this.

A change in manufacturing techniques is easy enough to apply. Shipping large quantities of hard water akin to that of New York? Not so much. Geography and economics, man. There’s a reason you don’t grow bananas in the north.

Another subway trip sent us over the East River and into Manhattan. My words, the ones I did not know at the time would initiate this trip, were how much I’ve always wanted to see the city during Christmas. And although I desire to tour more of Brooklyn and the Bronx someday, Manhattan was undoubtedly the place to be for the seasonal festivities.

The nearby department stores held arrays of knick knacks and household items that were oddly unique compared to the wares in Washington. We wandered not one but two separate market spaces, where holiday gifts were acquired and sights beheld. During a search for a restroom, I accidentally blundered into Eataly (pictured above on the right), a vast space of Italian restaurants and stores, where we procured specialty olive oils and salts as presents for the people in our life who usually have everything.

When we returned to the streets, a thought crossed my mind. I couldn’t help but ponder what condition the soil and earth was like, far below the many layers of of cement and asphalt. I don’t know why I considered this. Perhaps it was simply from looking at Manhattan both on a map and the street. While the district is technically an island, the city has developed over the northern bodies of water that make it so. Thus the metropolis itself could be considered a peninsula, while the topographic location is not.

I pondered the economic realities of this. The cost of living here, the price paid for every truck delivering food, medical supplies, clothing. The infrastructure for providing potable water, fuel, electricity and high-speed cable. The every day needs of approximately 1,626,000 people. People divorced from the simple mundanities of grass, hills and fields. Far from forests and greenery, mountains and deserts. And employment. How could they all possibly find jobs here? Could there truly be that many opportunities in this jungle of concrete and steel? With so many occupations being automated more and more often, it seemed… unfathomable.

This line of thought was lost over a later lunch at 5 Napkin Burger on 9th. Cassie had dined at the restaurant some years ago, and since then it has expanded to the cusp of becoming a full chain, with four locations across New York and a fifth in Boston. Sitting down I could see why. The burgers were thick and the ingredients (gruyere and french onions) savory and memorable, satisfying in the way only a fine hamburger can. The service was lightning fast too, a relief for Cassie who was eager to secure our seats at the Westside Theatre.

Seats to see Othello: The Remix, the highlight of the day. If not the entire trip.

Now I freely admit that I’ve never read the tale of Othello, though I did have a basic understanding of its premise. That and the fact it had long given us the phrase, “the beast with two backs.” But the performance dazzled and entertained. The eponymous role was handled by Postell Pringle while Jackson Doran flipped between Cassio and Emilia, all to beats provided by DJ Supernova. And the Q Brothers, who wore many hats as directors, writers and performers; GQ juggling between Rodrigo, Loco Vito and Bianca, while JQ brilliantly portrayed main antagonist Iago.

othello-remixThe timelessness of Shakespeare’s work stems from utterly human themes. You could dial the setting to any time and place and still find the story as meaningful as the day it was written. In this case, Othello is the star of his day: a DJ who rose in the music scene to become the golden man of his record label. But the recruitment of his new best man Cassio enrages front man Iago. And when Othello meets, falls in love and marries off-stage Desdemona, Iago turns his jealousy into an arsenal of lies to undo all Othello has made.

Although the tale is a tragedy, we found ourselves laughing hard and often at the gentle and natural humor. Each performer handled some pinnacle virtue on the stage: if Pringle was the soul and JQ the brains, then Doran and GQ were the humorous heart and swift hands that held the performance high. I could see Disney someday trying to poach this, especially Iago’s villainous musical number which, just like the greatest Disney films, was the best of the performance.

Now when life hits, it hits hardest following triumphs, when we’re on a pillar to knock down. Following the play we ventured to Starbucks for some coffee. And soon after, I realized my wallet was gone.

In all my years, I have been very careful not to lose something so important. And the optimistic half of me, the part that still has faith in humanity, refuses to say it was stolen. Regardless, I took the most prudent measures. After backtracking and confirming we couldn’t find it, I cancelled the credit cards, ordered new ones and had a warning put out. I tried to file a police report on the phone about my license but it proved to be a real pain: you have to go into the precinct station of which the property was lost to fill out a report.

A little research revealed that a lost driver’s license can cause interesting problems. While my credit was fairly secured, the real problem happens if someone presents my driver’s license in case of a ticket or accident. The damages go to my name and the problems compound if ignored. Other than that, the more likely possibility is that some 16 year old is probably making bank buying and reselling liquor to his friends with my ID. If so then kudos to you, you little bastard/entrepreneur.

Anyway, I had done all I could at the time. Back to our travels.

It was getting dark, and was the prime time to go tour the Christmas decorations. Macy’s and other such department stores create wonderful displays in their windows and showcases each year. Although my mood was soured by my misfortune, it was hard not to be moved by the sights. The picture of the mannequin above drew my eye because of its whimsical and creative nature, some mix of innovative madness that I’d expect from Stanley Kubrick in his prime.

I must admit that I lacked foresight regarding one tiny detail of our trip. Perhaps it was all the holiday movies over the years, confusing my sense of how the world really works, but Manhattan’s sidewalks and streets are never so barren and without people. Least of all during what maybe the pinnacle tourist season, and we found ourselves struggling through hundreds of warm bodies just to get a meaningful glimpse of the Rockefeller Center.

treeBut… we succeeded.

We carefully passed the masses, surprised by the number of parents who bothered to bring babies in strollers. But the people there were good-natured and patient, taking moments to gather photos of themselves and loved ones, and then politely moving to allow others to do the same. Or even taking the pictures for them. Below us, crowds whisked across the ice, and we knew better than to entertain the three hour wait to go skating ourselves.

Some clever use of the tunnels allowed us to bypass bustling crosswalks. As we briefly went underground, I quietly wondered just how vertical New York would become in the coming decades. If entire underground plazas would someday be constructed under the surface, making way for more and more people at the cost of sunlight.

I suspect concerns for security would stop such a possibility. If architecture is an enduring physical manifestation of culture, there are those who would turn it against us.

Our final meal for the night was at Oiji in East Village. We managed to sit down earlier than our reservation and pondered the menu for a while. Most of my prior experiences with Korean dishes tended towards the easier lunch affair, especially my favorite: daeji bulgogi, a spicy pulled pork. I would describe Korean food as something between Chinese and Japanese in its main ingredients, but with spice combinations that tend to appeal more to the typical American palette. It can be hot, and many have underestimated the flare of kimchi.

But there’s a lot of familiar flavors under the surface of their dishes.

We began with smoked mackerel and a plate of their signature honey butter chips. The fish was good if a little strong on the nose with the flavors of the sea. I do not normally eat white fish, and dining upon it made me hunger from something tropical and red, such mahi-mahi or ahi tuna. The chips (yes, potato chips) were sweet and I found myself wishing we heeded our waiter and eaten it as a dessert.

We ordered the friend chicken with spicy soy vinaigrette, the jang-jo-rim with buttered rice and a soft boiled egg, and handmade dumplings in white beef broth. With each dish, we found a strange tendency to prefer not the main ingredient, such as the portions of meat, but rather the secondary components. The vinaigrette was more the highlight than the chicken. The buttered rice surpassed the jang-jo-rim’s beef. And while the large dumplings were good it was the broth itself that was great, whose secret ingredient was actually a hint of mussels. I pondered what the chef could do with a vegetarian or pescetarian menu.

As we had one more day ahead of us with a good friend of mine, we decided to call it a night and rest our exhausted feet. Tune in on Monday for the last part.

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The Dark Ages

Infrastructure, whether publically or privately managed, is not as stable as people wish it was.

Take the internet. It’s actually dependent on two things: Electrical power and a stable communication line, such as cable. Without the latter, you still have options. You can continue to work on any stories you have, but won’t have access to online file sharing. The gaming clouds and streaming services would not be available, so all those offline single player games and DVDs you keep at home are suddenly very valuable.

But take away power, and none of it matters. You’re totally unplugged, save for any objects with internal power, such as your vehicle and portable devices. The latter is only as good as you have power for it. You can rave all you want about your Kindle and how superior it is to books. But when you have to plug it in, all the power flows to print.

That’s where I was on Saturday.

I made a lengthy to-do list on Saturday, including edits for several stories as well as writing for my own, and researching some jobs for a buddy in Oregon. Around 4 in the afternoon, a storm rolled through the area. The wind came down, followed by a very light rain. The powered flickered threateningly, before finally cutting out all together.

A critic once described the city as oppressive.  Give enough people the same need, and that’s exactly what it will be.

It’s amazing the difference that a few extra pedestrians can create at the crosswalk, taking their sweet time crossing the road. As you wait in the fifth car of the traffic lane, you know when time it’s your turn to go, the light will have gone through green and yellow again. All because you had to wait for a few laughing teenagers, whose heads are too far up their asses, to pay any attention.

Hundreds can wait on the metro, our version of a public transit train system. As the wait times between trains increases, more people line up on the platform, increasing the time it takes to load the train when it arrives and unload later. Every other person, who has every right to be there like you do, slows it down.

Take a power or cable outtage, and the phone lines for those companies light up. Wait times explode 30 minutes to an hour or more, as everyone rushes to make sure their block, their district or building is the first to receive attention.

On days like the day of the storm, I have trouble seeing how or why the city gained the romantic prestige it is said to possess. This town is relatively small compared to others, and I end up wondering how badly cities like New York and Chicago can step on you. Without meaning to, thousands if not millions have become each other’s oppressor, as the inescapable economic realities of scant resources serving so many are pushed to operational limits.

But try as one might, being a true Robinson Crusoe of economic independence is an unlikely venture. Coming from a farm myself, I am considerably aware of the tremendous amounts of labour that would be necessary to maintain one’s own food, much less other necessities. Often this becomes the rudimentary basis of collective thinking that is a distant theme in much of our political discourse.

I can accept waiting. I can accept being patient as a few teenager stop slapping each other’s asses and get across the road. I can find something to do while the power company figures out which line was severed by which tree branch they were not permitted to cut before. And I’ll dig up a book to read while waiting for the internet company to figure out that something is wrong with the signal.

But don’t tell me the city is beautiful. Sometimes it wears make  up and sprays on cologne, and we’ll pretend it is wonderful. But underneath the colours and the wonders, we pushed the responsibilities onto others, some of whom have neglected their tasks. And because of that there is a rot we must someday clean, or risk something worse.

The Pattern

If they can't smell your nose hairs, you're not close enough.

If they can't smell your nose hairs, you're not close enough.

For the past three years, I’ve been studying politics as a hobby. Reading biographies and history books, studying the combinations of political, economic and sometimes environmental events and how they impacted the world.

I can’t respect anyone who is quick to dismiss the past. And believe me, I know people who have tried. “You can’t change the past,” they would say with some truth, without mentioning that you can at least learn from it. Or, “It’s in the past!” As if it were completely absurd and not worth any consideration.

Of course, I notice that these same people often get into the same personal problems time after time, reoccurring like a techno beat.

When people aren’t even learning from their own personal history and subject themselves to the same misery again and again, I cannot help but wonder if there’s a missing link.

When it comes to politics though, I certainly notice one pattern. And interestingly enough, that same pattern seems to happen both personally and politically. The emphasis that is placed strictly on the now.

Not the past, not the future, just here and now. You try to bring up the failures of the past and they’ll say, “These are different times!” You try to talk about future risks and they’ll assure you, “If things go bad, we’ll change them,” or, “It’s only temporary!”

There’s an amazing biography I once read about Lyndon Baines Johnson, by Unger and Unger. LBJ had a technique that was named “The Treatment.” The picture above is LBJ administering it, and you can see a few more if you like. Just looking at those pictures makes me want to say, “Back off.”

Exactly what “The Treatment” was isn’t easy to define, but can best be described as a kind of emotional overload.

One summarized description was something to the tune of a tempest, powerful and thunderful shouting followed by rainy tears. It would be a whirlwind of dizzying emotional highs and bottom-of-the-sea lows. He would shake his fist violently at you before gently touching your arm like a dear friend. Statistics would pour out of his pockets. Smoke would come from his ears. Threats and compliments, praise and malice would all come from his mouth.

It’s similar to books on applied psychology, akin to business or dating/pick up. But the difference between the businessmen and players against LBJ here is the fact that you could not ignore LBJ. In a business meeting or bar setting, you could always say no and walk away, so often these businessmen and players learn to be more subtle and cautious. But LBJ was always in a position of power, sandwiching Senators and Congressmen between a rock and a hard place.

The purpose of “The Treatment” goes right back to the same pattern I’m talking about. It is an emotional power play to get the “patient” of “The Treatment” to focus strictly on the now.

I’ve heard pundits on both sides explain with a snobbish tone how the facts and reasoning rest on their side. But politics is about a system whose changes hinge on relatively few, key moments. We vote for our leaders but once every few years. Given the difficulty of removing one from established power and the relatively long term gains from short term work, is it any real surprise that the most politically successful seem to be those who can create enough emotional charge to blind us from our reasoning and logic?

I have heard a phrase once that goes, “You can’t fool everyone all the time.” But in politics, you don’t have to fool people all the time. Just any time.