Father’s Day is Coming

June 14, 2014

Wondering what to do for Father’s Day?

Brooklyn’s Sip Fine Wine offers these words of wisdom.


Sip Fine Wine
New York Magazine: Sip Fine Wine

A Small Protest

March 13, 2013

Graffiti inside a bathroom stall in a Brooklyn grocery store.

Feed all people
Free the wage slaves
Question the system

The response.

And protest by
writing on a bathroom
stall instead of
actually doing something.



The 21st Annual Hot Chocolate Festival

February 21, 2013

The holidays are over. The winter feels as though it will last forever. You long for an escape from the cold but you can’t leave the city.

In Manhattan, City Bakery has the solution. Every February, when the weather is at its bleakest, they host a  Hot Chocolate Festival. Now in its 21st year, the Festival celebrates the rich, creamy drink by featuring a different special flavor every day of the month. This year, the flavors range from Bourbon (February 8) to Vietnamese Cinnamon (February 10) to Creamy Stout (February 15th).

Today, I’m being a bit of a purist, with Darkest Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate (so thick you can eat it with a spoon) topped with one of City Bakery’s home made marshmallows. And suddenly, February doesn’t seem long enough.




The City Bakery
The City Bakery Hot Chocolate Festival

Look, It’s The Misha Fruits Truck!

July 12, 2012

It’s just an old delivery truck that is used to transport fruit to the shops of New York City. But when the Misha Fruits driver is at work, people notice.

That’s because most of the vehicle is covered with an elaborate display of graffiti-style artwork.

The front of the truck is emblazoned with the name of the company, partially hidden by enormous oranges and grapes the size of a man’s head. The right side shows a green monster (perhaps it is a bit of mold) and a colorful, stylized word which is, to me, indecipherable.

The truck’s rear is painted with an humongous, glistening cherry and the word “fruit.” And the left side is shows a panorama of the sun setting behind a bustling city where the houses are shaped like pieces of fruit.

The truck is parked on Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

The writing, and the creature shown, are mysterious.

The cherry looks delicious.

I want to live in an lemon-shaped house.

Another view of the fruity cityscape.

A Windfall

May 26, 2011

For months, I’ve heard friends discussing what they’d do with the income tax refunds they expected to receive.

One announced that his refund was going to be used to fix his leaky roof. Others said that they used the check sent by the IRS to repair a truck, pay off credit card debt, purchase a new refrigerator, television, computer, clothing. Some preferred to use the money on less practical items: a tropical vacation, tickets to a Broadway show, an excursion to a spa.

But now that my tax refund has arrived, and I have my windfall in hand, I’m not sure how to spend it all. Any suggestions?

My windfall

This is a sale?

March 22, 2011

FreshDirect, New York’s premiere online grocery service, made its first deliveries to Roosevelt Island in Manhattan in 2002. Over the years it has expanded into other sections of the city (even New Jersey) and has won legions of detractors and admirers.

While critics have blasted the company for “overpackaging” (FreshDirect responded by reducing the amount of packing materials they use) and branded those who use it as “lazy,” I’ve been a satisfied customer since first they began serving my neighborhood.

While I find myself in local grocery stores nearly every day, I’ve come to rely on the FreshDirect team to deliver those items that — while cost-effective — are simply too heavy to me to schlepp home: cases of beverages, bags of kitty litter and huge containers of laundry detergent. I also scan their weekly newsletter to check out the latest offerings and bargains.

This week, however, some of the items currently featured on their Web site under the heading “Healthy Living For Less” don’t seem like such a bargain to me.

Healthy Living for Less page

Not such a deal

New York Times: FreshDirect Expands Brooklyn Delivery Service

Happy Freecycle Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

All over America, at this very moment, people are peeling, chopping, roasting and baking, busily preparing traditional Thanksgiving meals. But one person in Brooklyn is seeking an alternative to expending all that time, effort and money via a Freecycle Thanksgiving.

Freecycle, if you are not familiar with it, is a simple, rather noble concept: those who have things they can’t use give them freely, as gifts, to those who need them. The object is to reduce waste, save valuable resources and ease the burden on landfills.

Freecycle members contact each other online using message boards operated by the Freecycle Network. While most members post messages describing the items they want to give away, a few request items they want but don’t have.

This “wanted” listing, posted the evening before Thanksgiving, struck me as particularly ambitious and audacious, and I can’t help wondering what type of response it will generate.

In any case, however you choose to celebrate the day, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

The notice on the Freecycle Web site

A closer view of the post

Freecycle Brooklyn

Canon Expo 2010

September 2, 2010

Canon Expo is held once every five years to showcase the wide range of advanced imaging technologies from the Japan-based corporation’s divisions: Vision, Consumer and Home Office, Office Equipment Print Production and Graphic Arts, Professional Photography, Video and Projection, Broadcast and Communications and Healthcare Technologies.

The exhibit filled 150,000 square feet of the Jacob K. Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side. Sections of the Expo were designed to replicate art galleries, research laboratories, theaters, printing plants, offices, stages, call centers, photographic studios, medical facilities, a football stadium, fashion shows, printing plants, a skating rink, stadiums and tourist attractions — the types of environments in which Canon products are frequently used.

Canon displayed items that are currently for sale as well as models and prototypes of gear that may be available in the future. One of the most interesting gadgets exhibited was the Cross Media Station, a device still in the planning stages. Simply by placing still or video cameras atop the Station, a user could wirelessly download, view and transmit images — even from multiple devices — while simultaneously recharging them. The designers of the Station were present to answer questions (via a translator) and aid with the demonstration.

A fascinating area dubbed the Canon Gallery displayed outstanding photos as well as the work of the Tsuzuri Project, joint effort of Canon and the Kyoto Culture Association. The Tsuzuri Project is designed to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage by employing the most advanced technology to create and print full-sized high-resolution digital images of screens, paintings and other precious fragile cultural artifacts. The near-perfect replicas are donated to the owners of the original works, who put them on display while placing the treasures themselves in a safe, controlled environments where they can be preserved for future generations.

In another section, physicians (yes, real, licensed ophthalmologists) operated equipment that scans the eye and instantly provides information about whether a patient has, or is developing, a range of serious medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

I was delighted by the opportunity to use Canon’s professional-grade cameras and join the pack on mock-ups of a TV stage and a fashion show (first lesson: those professional cameras and lenses weigh a ton!), and I consulted with the product and technical geniuses about my next camera purchase. One of the most important features? It must be lightweight.

Towards the end of the day, a Canon rep who was answering my questions took me aside and, sotto voce, said, “I’m not supposed to talk about this, but …” He then told me about a camera that Canon is currently developing, noting that it will address just about everything on my “most-wanted feature list” and will be (almost) within my budget. I’m going to start putting my pennies aside for the camera that cannot say its name.

The Expo’s slogan displayed on a wall

Entering the Canon Expo

Printing books on demand

Attendees used HDTV cameras on the set

In the Canon Gallery

At the sports stadium

A professional explains his techniques

Model at the fashion show

Model shot with Canon EOS 7D

On the runway

Model shot with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Canon Expo 2010
PC Magazine: Canon Shows Off Concept Cameras at Expo
The Tsuzuri Project (Cultural Heritage Inheritance Project)
Canon Unveils The Future Of Imaging At Canon EXPO 2010 New York
MarketWatch: Canon Unveils the Future of Imaging

I Bought it at Western Beef

July 10, 2010

Western Beef is a New York-based chain of warehouse style supermarkets. Despite the word “Western” in the name, and the cactus in its logo, this store is very much Eastern and urban; the highest concentration of Western Beefs is in the Bronx, with Queens running a close second.

The company, whose origins go back to the early 1900s, uses the slogan “We Know the Neighborhood.” They explain that

Through diligent demographic research and paying close attention to our customers, we have determined each neighborhood’s specific needs, by learning about the local population’s ethnicity and product demands.

In other words, the stores, many of which are located in areas with sizable immigrant populations, sell merchandise selected to appeal to the nearby shoppers. I bought these unusual soup mixes, manufactured by Grace Foods, in the Western Beef store on Brooklyn’s East New York Avenue, a largely Caribbean neighborhood.

Logo on Western Beef shopping bag

Fish Tea Soup Mix

Pumpkin Beef Soup Mix

Cock Soup Mix

Western Beef
Grace Foods

I Had to Notify Homeland Security …

May 25, 2010

You know how they say, “If you see something, say something”? I did it.

Today I saw something – a sign – that made me very suspicious. So I walked over and looked closely at the notice that was posted outside an Au Bon Pain coffee shop. Then I went in and questioned the staff. Yep, they said, it was for real. Free iced coffee, no purchase required.

I poured a cup for myself and I walked out feeling a bit uneasy, even though the man at the cash register assured me that they wouldn’t have me arrested for stealing the drink.

I was enjoying the refreshing drink when I rounded the corner and saw a group of Homeland Security officers who were patrolling the area. I heard one man tell the others that he was about to take a break and go buy a cup of coffee. I had to say something! I ran over and told the Homeland Security officers about the deal.

He thanked me for the tip, entered the shop (without his bomb-sniffing dog) and got a free iced coffee, too.



Au Bon Pain

At Great Wall

April 2, 2010

Great Wall is the largest Asian supermarket chain in the Eastern United States, with branches in Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virgina. Styled after major American food chains, Great Wall offers locally-produced groceries as well as those imported from all over Asia, with an emphasis on freshness, cleanliness and customer service.

These stores combine many of the features of traditional Asian markets (seasonal produce, medicinal herbs, live fish swimming in tanks, butchers ready to cut meat to order) with American tastings, discount cards, weekly circulars and sales.

There are always some things, however, that may seem strange to Westerners. I found this item in a refrigerated case at the Great Wall store on Northern Boulevard in Flushing.

Looking into the refrigerator case

A closer view of the label: Pork Blood

Great Wall

Father’s Kingdom Plates

October 15, 2009

These memorable dishes are for sale in a discount store on Harlem’s 125th Street. Only $9.99 for a set of four. According to the package, they are called Father’s Kingdom plates and they come complete with wall hooks.

No, I didn’t buy them.

Leaning right and left

Assorted designs

If You Are.

August 28, 2009

This sign is posted in the window of Sunset Tattoos in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.


Sunset Tattoos

How About Little Intolerance With Your Breakfast?

May 1, 2009

If you want to survive in New York City, you need to know what’s going on around you. It isn’t easy to keep up with the constant changes that affect our lives, so many of us begin each day by catching up with local news reports on line, in newspapers, on the radio or on television.

To ensure that I hear about the latest street closings, subway delays and traffic jams, I usually turn to the TV morning news. In fact, I was one of the New Yorkers who wasn’t alarmed the other day, when several planes flew around the Statue of Liberty, because I’d heard the flyover announced in advance on the local news.

Today, however, I found the news stories less surprising than a commercial that ran towards the end of the local broadcast. It was 7:50 a.m. and I hadn’t yet swallowed a caffeinated drop, but the ad certainly jolted me awake. It was prompted, I assume, by the governor of New York’s recent introduction of a bill to make marriage legal for same-sex couples.

The commercial, from a group called the National Organization for Marriage, carries a clear message: if all New Yorkers are allowed to equal access to marriage, it will be the end to life as we know it. Heterosexual marriages, happy families and small businesses will be destroyed. Nothing like a little intolerance with breakfast to get the day off to a great start.

Yeah! Let’s make sure them gays don’t get equal rights! And the National Organization for Marriage earns extra points by linking the marriage issue to the current state of the economy!

I expect my local television stations to have some sort of standards, but it appears that Channel 2 (WCBS-TV) is willing to run anything for a buck these days. What’s next? Commercials for the KKK and the American Nazi Party?

Gay Liberation by George Segal in Christopher Park

WCBS TV: Contact Us
Marriage Equality New York
Human Rights Campaign Exposes National Organization for Marriage’s Fake Ad for Fake Problems
End The Lies
NY Times: Paterson on ‘Guilt’ And Gay Marriage

The World is Safe for Another Year

April 11, 2009

Long before the invention of Freecycle, Kijiji, Bookcrossing and Craigslist, Brooklynites created a way to pass useful but unwanted possessions along to those who desired them. The Brooklyn system is simple, direct and low-tech: just place the goods on a stoop where passersby can help themselves to your castoffs. Something left at the curb is likely to be trash, but an item sitting on the stoop in  Brooklyn is nearly always a treasure waiting to be discovered.

This morning I was hurrying through a cold, pouring rainstorm when I noticed a small cardboard carton growing soggy on a brownstone stoop. The top of the box was open and I couldn’t resist peeking inside, where, to my surprise, I saw a colorfully painted wooden egg.

I picked it up and realized that the box, more than half-filled with water, contained a typical assortment of items left out for passersby to claim — broken crockery, the top of a tea pot, a crude, clumsy clay vase, a rusted tin box. But jumbled in and among the dented and cracked castoffs I spotted more painted wooden items. It was raining too hard to look closely, so I just grabbed them all from the box and took them with me.

Hours later I got home, inspected my haul and I realized that I’d snagged six painted eggs, six egg cups painted with strawberries, and a matching tray on which to display them. A bit of googling helped me identify the jewel-toned wooden items as works of Malyovanky, a variation on Psyanka, the traditional Ukranian craft of decorating eggs. According to Wikipedia, residents of the Carpathian Mountains believe that the fate of the entire world depends upon such eggs.

As long as the egg decorating custom continues, the world will exist. If, for any reason, this custom is abandoned, evil––in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff–– will overrun the world. Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how many pysanky have been created. If the number is low the serpent’s chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If, on the other hand, the number of pysanky has increased, the chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil for yet another year.

And so it was that, the day before Easter, I participated in a serendipitous Easter egg hunt, and — by saving the eggs from a watery fate — have helped ensure that the world will continue to exist for another year. Whew.

Black egg

Red egg

Blue egg

Tan egg

Green egg

Tray painted with strawberries

Strawberry painted egg cup

The full set.

Wikipedia: Pysanky and Malyovanky
Suma Store: Pysanka

What do you read into this?

March 9, 2009

A street vendor in Brooklyn clipped these cardboard signs to his table-top display of hats, gloves, sweaters and scarves. What do you read into them?

What do you read into this?

Beat the recession.

I’m sick of seeing coq au vin

January 24, 2009

Whole Foods is an international chain of upscale supermarkets. Located in affluent areas and focusing on natural and organic items, the stores sell premium goods at premium prices; in fact, wags have dubbed the chain “whole paycheck.”

Whole Foods currently has five stores in New York City, all of them in Manhattan. The store in Union Square includes a message board where management replies to a selection of customer-submitted “rants and raves.” On a recent visit, I was struck by a complaint regarding the prepared foods section.

The board

The card

The rant

Whole Foods
Whole Foods Union Square
New York Daily News: Whole Foods tries to shake ‘whole paycheck’ image
CNN Money: Whole Foods, The Whole Truth

New Year’s Wishes

December 30, 2008

This year, for the first time, the Mars candy company is sponsoring a “New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall” in the Times Square Information Center at Times Square.

They say, “Share your personal goals, dreams and wishes on a piece of confetti on our New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall, presented by 3 Musketeers® Mint. You can [also] submit your wish via our online form … the wishes will be collected at the end of the year, and added to the confetti that will flutter down onto the streets of Times Square at the 12 o’clock hour on New Year’s Eve.”

The lighting inside the Information Center is dim, and I didn’t have a great flash with me, but I thought some of the wishes I read were worth sharing. They range from the silly to the selfless. Here is a sampling the dreams that have been pinned to the wall. As always, click on a photo to see a larger image.

I wish I had roller skates

To adopt my son

My dream is to sing as best I can

World peace


I wish to meet the Jonas Brothers

To fall in love and have someone fall in love with me

I wish that Jordan’s fleshlight isn’t taken in boot camp or he’s gonna be lonely

To be a successful nurse and pursue my college education in New York City

The Wall of Wishes

Wishing Wall

Operation Santa Claus: Looking back

December 19, 2008

I read the article in the New York Times with great dismay.

“Postal Service Tells Gift-Givers Not to Help Santa” said the headline. Reading on, I learned that “The United States Postal Service abruptly shut down public participation in all the Operation Santa programs — in New York and other major cities across the country — at 1 p.m. Wednesday, without offering post offices or letter-seeking citizens any understanding of why.”

The Times reporter discovered that the Postal Service officials in Washington decided to shut Santa down when, “at one of the programs, not New York’s, a man whom a letter carrier recognized as a registered sex offender had “adopted” a letter. When postal officials confronted the man, the official said, he said he was sincerely trying to do a good deed, but postal inspectors nonetheless retrieved the letter and notified the family of the child. The Postal Service, indicating that the closing down of all of Operation Santa might be temporary, said that it felt it was wise to take the precaution.”

Of course, the safety of children is of paramount importance, but it is a pity that the officials thought that shuttering the entire program was the best way to deal with an isolated incident (note, the man in question had not, in any way, contacted the child who wrote the letter).  The losers here are the children who wrote to Santa Claus, expressing their deepest longings, and the thousands of New Yorkers who looked forward to anonymously making the kids’ dreams come true.

Reading the story reminded me that I had, once upon a time, drafted an article about Operation Santa Claus but neglected to post it. Now, here it is — a look back at Operation Santa Claus as it was back in 2005.

Children have long written letters to Santa Claus, but once those Christmas wish letters are dropped into the mailboxes, where do they go? Often, they end up at the main post office in New York City as part of Operation Santa Claus.

Operation Santa Claus began in the New York Post Office nearly 100 years ago, when clerks in what was known as the Money Order Division decided to answer the children whose letters to Santa would otherwise go unanswered. A few decades later, the workers invited the public to help respond to the flood of mail — much of it inspired by the “letters to Santa” scene in the 1947 hit movie, Miracle on 34th Street.

Through the years, the program expanded to post offices across the country, but New York’s has remained the largest, drawing thousands of people daily.  They go to the majestic James A. Farley Station and cram into a room decorated with kitschy Christmas ornaments. There, to the tinny sounds of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” they dig through bins labeled with the names of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island, and two others bearing tags that say “New Jersey” and “Everywhere Else.”

Tables and chairs are set up for participants, but there aren’t enough to hold the crowd that surges in daily, perching on every available space and sprawling onto the floor, looking for the letter — or letters — that touch their hearts. The post office staff doesn’t read or screen the letters; they are simply opened and placed into the bins.  Every person in the room has a strategy for selecting the “right” letters.

“You read through them,” explained one woman, “and it is easy to sort the greedy from the needy.” She’s right. Look through a few letters and you’ll quickly begin to see the patterns emerge.

Missives from working and middle class children tend to be charming, sweet, funny and brand conscious. They ask for electronics, name brand sneakers, the toys advertised on television and sports equipment. Some even helpfully include ads from stores with circles drawn around the pictures of the items they crave.

The letters from the poor children are a stark contrast. “Dear Santa,” many of them begin, “I don’t want anything for myself …”

The writers describe sick, shivering grandmothers who need sweaters to keep warm, younger siblings who lack paper and pens to do their schoolwork,  mothers who cry when they think their children are asleep. They don’t dare request toys; the poor kids ask for things that more affluent children would be appalled to receive as Christmas presents: underwear, socks, soap, shampoo, blankets, hats and gloves.

Letters arrive from parents, too, who can’t afford to provide many comforts for their children. The return addresses may be refuges for abused women or homeless shelters. The writers may be disabled, recently released from incarceration, or just out of a drug rehabilitation program. They may be struggling to hold onto or to regain custody of their children, or simply looking for something they can bring on the days they are allowed to see their kids.

“Dear Santa,” wrote one such mother, “please bring shoelaces for my kids and toothbrushes so each boy has his own.”

In order to arrive before Christmas morning, all Operation Santa letter and packages must be mailed no later than December 22. If you’d like to participate this year, go to the James A. Farley Station at Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street. The Operation Santa room is open Monday through Saturday from December 2 to December 23.

Entrance to Operation Santa Claus room Posted by Picasa

Approaching the main letter room Posted by Picasa

All types of New Yorkers respond Posted by Picasa

For some, participating is a family tradition Posted by Picasa

A prized seat at a table Posted by Picasa

Letters to Santa
The “letters to Santa” scene from Miracle on 34th Street

New York Times: Postal Service Tells Gift-Givers Not to Help Santa
Miracle on 34th Street

Where a Girl Can Find a New Best Friend

December 15, 2008

A kiss on the hand
May be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

A kiss may be grand
But it won’t pay the rental
On your humble flat
Or help you at the automat.

Men grow cold
As girls grow old,
And we all lose our charms in the end.

But square-cut or pear-shaped,
These rocks don’t loose their shape.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

–Jule Styne, 1953

Midtown Manhattan is home to the world’s largest shopping district for diamonds and fine jewelry. The quiet, elegant shops of Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpel, Harry Winston, DeBeers, H. Stern, Bulgari, Mikimoto, Dunhill and Piaget are clustered in the area around 5th Avenue and 57th Street.

Ten blocks further south, on West 47th St between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas, is an entirely different type of jewelry shopping experience. Over 90 percent of the diamonds that enter the United States go through New York City, and most of those spend some time on here, in the Diamond District.

The District, confined to a single city block, holds close to 3,000 jewelers, most of them working in booths within the marketplaces known as exchanges. Inside the exchanges, haggling is expected. The deals often involve great displays of emotion with buyers and sellers gesturing wildly and shouting in dozens of languages.

Out on the street, barkers stand outside the shops, urging passersby to enter and offering to buy unwanted gold, silver and platinum. Couriers rush along the sidewalks, briefcases holding fortunes in jewels handcuffed to their wrists. Rich and poor alike stop to gaze at the glittering windows, behind which, it is said, total receipts for a single day’s trade average $400 million.

Banner on a lamppost

Sign outside a diamond exchange

Two diamond-topped pylons mark each end of the District

Diamonds on holiday decorations

Sign for a diamond exchange

Shopper inspects a window

Necklaces hang in a shop window

Jewelry on display

Window at a diamond exchange

Sign at a diamond exchange

Diamonds on an awning

A row of diamond shops

Window shoppers

The Diamond District
Reel Classics: Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend


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