Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Big and the Small of It

Tomorrow is the opening of the PhotoPlus show in NY at the Javits center. (Anyone reading this remember who “Javits” actually was?) It’s the annual tech extravaganza for photo groupies… new cameras and lenses, software, people who cater to printing for the wedding market, lighting and other stuff that I’ve not either considered or wondered about. Yea, people sit around thinking of amazing little devices. Over the years I have actually had a few ideas of groovy little machines (a 1985 idea for an extra “Delete” key on a Mac mouse, and would have thought it was a good idea until I realized that if you “Select” the text in question, and just hit any key, that automatically “deletes” it. Bummer, I was so ready to go into production. You start to have a real appreciation for inventors when you realize the kind of work that goes into making a prototype. I loved that word as a kid. “PROTO” type.. the first, the one you design and make to see if the design actually works. You need all kinds of tools to shape and form whatever it is.. plastic, metal, some kind of fiberglass. It’s different than just cutting 2x4’s and putting a wall extension up on a house. Precision is required. As a kid I made model airplanes (the flying, control line ones) for years with a single Xacto knife a little Stanley hand powered drill, and a couple of screw drivers. It was a grand surprize, frankly, when the damn things actually took to the air. Even though we live in a world where everything is sized downwards – just look inside your computer some day. Itty bitty stuff is everywhere. Today I just looked at my watch to see the time, and was struck by the size of the stem of the hands. It’s a beautiful Baume Mercier watch, using technology (its what we used to call an “automatic”… powered by the movement of your arm) which is decades old. It’s just tiny. Miniscule. How the hell do they get it all attached? I don’t know. I guess I’m ready for a trip to a Swiss watch maker, and marvel once again at how they do it.

I suspect that the photo world will keep amazing me with the stuff they do. My first Mac was a “fat Mac”… aka a 512K Memory beige box with the 9” screen. The storage was on 3.5” floppies which held a whopping 400k of information. Later they were expanded to the “double density” 800k. The big jump was a hard drive. What a concept. Five whole megabytes of storage. As the storage kept jumping, the drives became bigger and bigger. I remember paying over a thousand dollars (ca. 1988 dollars, by the way) for a 60 megabyte drive. Not gigabyte, not terabyte. The price has just consistently dropped as fast as a rock in a pond. Now, for a hundred bucks you can buy a terabyte drive. (That is approximately 256000 times a better deal than my first hard drive.) Today I saw advertised for the first time a 256gig thumb drive. And like most photographers, struggling with a reasonable and affordable back-up of our scanned film and digi images, we hope that the acceleration of the cost/terabyte factor will let us afford some kind of solid state, non-moving parts, rapid storage. About three years ago I suggested to a couple of people I knew at Kodak that since their actual photo business had diminished to about zero, that it would be cool if they would design a big yellow container looking like a box of Tri-x, but in which were an array of drives, self archiving, and for a couple of thousand bucks you could buy a couple of years of confidence that your work wouldn’t go away, into the ethers.

I expect tomorrow will show this years newer developments and they will include one more step closer to that ‘don’t lose any sleep over it’ backup. There is a great moment of tension when “Dave,” the pilot of the space craft in 2001: A Space Odyssey realizes he has to dismantle the HAL9000 computer. The computer has gone rogue, and is trying to bump Dave off, having done so already with his co-pilot. Dave realizes his only chance is to disengage the memory cells, and – at least in Kubricks mind – they looked like big glassy hunks of clear crystal or plastic, a couple of feet across, a couple of feet deep. I was convinced. At that point, with the Apollo program still alive – 1969 – you could assume that the computing power of the whole Apollo module was less than a single iPhone today.

Moore’s law says that every 18 months chips will double their speed, and I suppose there is a corollary which covers the density of storage media. The problem of course is that Parkinson’s law applies to photographers just as it does to programmers: “data will expand to fill the available space…” So instead of shooting, say, a roll of film at a press conference, because 16gig and 32gig cards are so prevalent, the unending roll of film, we shoot way more than we should, because we can. I love my big format (née 35mm) digi cams, but I also appreciate my little point and shoot cameras ( the Ricoh CX4 and GRiii) which have taken minaturization to a new level.
three pix from the Fairleigh Dickinson/Wilkes Univ football game last week (Wilkes won 28-23)

Small enough to put on your belt and take everywhere, big enough to make 11x17 prints. In the age of big big big, and tiny tiny tiny, it wouldn’t be a horrible thing if we could figure out what that magic formula is that lets you live a well moderated life, well moderated. With 8 gigs attached to my belt, We’re just sayin’….. David

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rosie's Ride

On my mother’s 90th birthday, my younger brother (to whom I did not speak until he was eighteen), called to wish my mother a happy birthday. Who else was he going to call who wouldn’t think he was a lunatic? He confessed that the legacy my mother left for him was not exactly what he expected, but that was OK.

For those of you who have wondered what happened to the gold glitter sneakers, I finally have the answer. They were my brother’s legacy, and a man and his legacy, no matter how ridiculous, are not easily parted. But this is kind of starting the conversation in the middle and wandering around searching for a beginning.

When we were growing up, the climate in which we existed, was not without drama.. The alarm would go off and the household was up and go-go-go. My brother who I now adore (did I mention that), slept in my room from the time he was 3-6. This happened because one night he was afraid and he sat in the middle of the hall and screamed. My parents pretty much ignored it. My mom took care of my dad whose ability to function diminished every day, so she was physically and emotionally exhausted. But I couldn’t stand the noise so I took him into my room. There was no Dr. Spock to say, “let him scream, eventually he will sleep.” And so, he would scream every night until I picked him up and took him into my room. So there I was, young, impatient and sleep deprived.

In the morning I would wake up, put him back in his room and have a fight with my mother. It usually started with her asking me what I wanted for breakfast. “Nothing.” I would say. Having been awake a good part of the night I was sleepy and in a bad mood. The last thing I wanted was one of her hot cereal (Maltex, Cream of Wheat) breakfasts. Mostly, I just wanted to be left alone in peace to get dressed and go to school.

Telling my mother, or any her sisters that you didn’t want to eat was like telling them that you didn’t want to breathe and clearly needed to be hospitalized. What started as a question or two or three or four, always ended in World War Three. When I left the house I was always hysterical or a wreck. Walking the four blocks to school, I would calm down and become Miss Personality. Everyone in school thought I was funny, easy going and smart/cute. This was simply a mask I applied on that four block walk. But inside there was a sadness that never left. And at night, night after night, and morning after morning, it was a veritable Ground Hog Day.

My friends thought my parents walked on water. There was never a time when a friend was in trouble, that my parents didn’t take them in. Sometimes for a night and oft times for a year. They were very good with strangers. I guess they thought we would be OK. and as long as people who did not live in our house thought they were divine, we would do the same. We tried to understand what they were dealing with. But we were too young and selfishly had our own needs.

It’s funny when you think back because after the morning fights, (which never seemed to bother my mother), she would get all dressed up. Put on something much too stylist for Boonton, N.J. and make her way to one of her sister’s homes. They would spend the day shopping or cooking or playing cards. She had no idea that I had gone to school as an emotional wreck or that my brother was traumatized by his nightly abandonment.

When I would tell her that I didn’t want to talk to her, or that I felt that teenage hatred, that young people often feel, she would say, “What kind of an idiot ARE you?”. It never occurred to her that we had any legitimate complaints. Sure, there were arguments, but love and hate were never at issue. You just did what you needed to do to survive.

Over the years we finally understood. The things that embarrassed my brother about my mother (her clothing and perfume), just didn’t matter anymore. We came to treasure her “style” and we learned how to deal with the difficulties she encountered everyday.

Of course she was good with strangers – they saw only the glitter. There was no tarnish. And we came to admire the tarnish and adore the glitter. So, in answer to the question “who got the gold sneakers?” They live in my brother’s antique pick up truck and everywhere it goes, they go with it. The gold sneakers are a constant reminder of her ability to glitter, with or without the gold.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"I've Never Had Duck...."

There is no whining involved in the blob, however… today is Mom’s and Aunt Peppy’s birthday. Aunt Peppy went out to lunch and had a Jack Daniels. Mom wasn’t able to be there. At least not all of her. When she died, you may recall – if you are an avid reader, Aunt Peppy said that the only way she could live with the loss was to believe that half of her was buried with her twin and half of her twin remained a living part of her. Mom drank scotch. Aunt Peppy didn’t care. She said that the half of her who remained above round was going to celebrate their 90th with the drink that she preferred.

That’s what it was always like for them. They loved one another for 89 1/2 years and just couldn’t be together for more than a few days at a time. They were very different characters, and when I say characters I am not kidding. Aunt Peppy was always the head of some committee or organization. She was a life long member of Haddasah, kept a Kosher home, was a serious religious person and tried not to smoke on the Sabbath –sometimes it worked. She always thought she was in charge (as Aunt Sophie would say) , and their other siblings didn’t make a big deal about it. She was neither flashy nor fancy but she was elegant in her demeanor. She didn’t eat in a (non-Kosher) restaurant, except for an occasional salad.
Rose and Peppy... doin' their thing
Mom was neither religious nor an organization person. She worked as a hair dresser (in our basement), and a sales rep for an uncle’s knit company. She drove a peach car and wore feathers and fringe. My brother never wanted her to come to parent-teacher night because he thought her appearance was embarrassing. And yet today he spent a good number of hours with her gold glitter sneakers. No one in Boonton had quite the sparkle that Rosie had.

They were both incredibly funny. And they loved to play cards. They were not great cooks but no one had the guts to tell them. Peppy baked and Rosie defrosted. They made great soup, (chicken, cabbage, and split pea), but hardly ever had a fresh vegetable lurking anywhere on a plate. They graduated from canned peas to frozen because if they were packaged that meant they had government approval. She ate out, mostly in diners, the IHOP and Chinese. And despite her introduction to dim sum and some exotic selections, she insisted she never had duck – every time she ate it. She July, we have replaced our labational toasts of “Cheers” and “Here’s to ya…” with …. “ I’ve never had duck.”

What my cousin Eden and I discovered as kids, was that when one of them was sick, the other would feel it. The conversation went something like, “Did your mother hurt her leg?” “Yes, why?” One of us would ask. “Because my mother is limping.”
Iris and Eden in Larry's (another cuz...) '62 Vette
It is hard to imagine how that connection could be broken, because despite how they lived their lives, the arguments, and the differences, they were not only from one mother, they were from the same egg. When you see them in the Gefilte Fish Chronicles, at times they appear to be impatient, almost annoyed at one another. But that was how they expressed affection. Never comfortable with the idea of separation, they simply never said goodbye. Not on the phone, not when they parted, and not even when Rosie died. Nope, they remain one entity in different places and wherever they are tonight, they will light those ninety candles together. We’re just sayin’…..Iris

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What Doth It Mean?

I think we’ve turned a corner. The last decade or so saw the emergence of companies who were focused on building their “brand” (I find that a really annoying concept) and wrapping it all in the ribbon of “customer service.” All the geniuses who teach and graduate from Biz School seem to be locked on this idea of “branding” and all the things which it brings to a company’s perception by the public. I suppose when you think about it, large organizations are really amazing beasts. Coordinating thousands of people, what and how they perform their functions, and making sure the equipment works, is truly a marvel. Imagine that you had to actually be the person in charge of , say American Airlines, and know that in all 100+ stations, the ticket staff, baggage handlers, mechanics, gate agents and crews would always show up where and when they were supposed to. That the planes would work most of the time. That you could count on the airport support to let you move those planes around. I mean, its mind boggling (yea, there are a lot of thing which boggle the mind, but very large arrays of people working in coordinated groups always gets my attention.) So many things to go wrong, so many people to potentially screw up. So when large groups succeed, you really do have to marvel at it a little bit. Whether it’s a heavy group (like an airline) or a light one (like Starbucks) you have to marvel at their ability to get thousands of people to show up for work each day, and perform their team functions in a way that lets the company benefit.

It’s so easy, especially when you see a company dealing with badly or under trained staff (most, but not all cable TV phone reps, for example) to imagine their ability to stay in business is marginal. Generally speaking, I find that the kids (ok, even the 54 year old kids) at Starbucks are somewhat better trained, though not always, than the folks at Dunkin Donuts. The Dunkster has made an enormous investment in the last five years across the country taking their stores to places previously well beyond the DD tradition. (They were started in New England, and it’s not uncommon to find a half dozen DD stores within a dozen square blocks. You wonder how any of them stay in business.) I was so impressed by them five years ago when they began attacking Starbucks by serving espresso drinks for a buck less than the vaunted Starbucks “grrrrrrandé latte” that I really thought they were going to carve out a new, value oriented coffee market. I even bought a few shares of their stock. The problem was, many of the folks working at DD didn’t really GET the espresso thing.. that it isn’t simply a stronger version of “coffee” but a whole other drink requiring a little extra effort to master. On top of that DD wouldn’t provide personal sugar and milk tables, you had to tell them up front how you wanted your coffee, and more often than not they got it not quite right. So, the battle of the coffee flavored beverage drinks continues, each trying to secure their own “brand” as the one of choice amongst millions of coffee flavored beverage drinkers. There was a couple of year period when I actually did the grande latte/cinnamon scone thing at Starbucks on a regular basis. But the ongoing hockeypuckization of those scones finally wore me out. The coffee is still OK, the iced probably the best of all But in their rush to create a branded (green Logo, please) presence everywhere they made a chill sitting area, often upstairs, with tables and power points to keep the laptop crowd happy. People made it a place to keep their offices. A place to conduct business meetings. A place to gather and surf the net. You could pop into a Starbucks on the corner of 8th avenue and 39th street, at 11 in the morning, grab a coffee and run upstairs to the “lounge,” and if you came back a couple of hours later, you’d have seen probably half the tables peopled by the same ones there at 11, plugged in, and paying no rent for their offices.
Upstairs at 39th and 8th, in the old days of 110v
The HQ mavens at Starbucks at some point years ago must have done the math, and figured out that even though some of those sitters might only have a coffee or two, maybe a scone, that it was still worth their while to cater to the ‘connectivity’ crowd. Well,until recently that is. In what I find a far stronger “branding” move that anything I’ve seen there in years, Starbucks at 8th avenue and 39th street has recently done the unthinkable. They have taken all their 110v outlets out of service. The places where the plug ins used to sit happily in pairs, near the chairs, and especially adjacent to the computer table which seems to have been brought in for just this purpose, are now covered with new, freshly painted solid covers. You can walk the whole of the establishment and find nary a power point. So it opens back up the whole discussion about the role of a café (in the French sense, where you pays your Euros and stay as long as you like, or the former American model which made you feel guilty if you stayed longer than 20 minutes) in society. Do we encourage behaviour which seems to minimize conversation in an otherwise social environment? I have gotten those “looks” in some café’s for seeming to break the inviolate rule of quietude. (But, yes, I even speak to strangers on elevators. Go figure.) But for Starbucks, I am assuming this decision came from some place higher than simply the store manager. I can see that part of the new “Branding” effort on the part of the company is going to include “hurry your little sweet selves up.” I don’t blame them I suppose if it comes down to being able to serve people for whom there are no places to sit. Restaurants definitely practice a similar motif, in bringing your check whether you ask for it or not. Success has its price. But to me this is a seachange in so many ways. Starbucks was the incredibly welcoming place where in the new century, yuppy moms would bring their toddlers to have a sixteenadjectiveflavoredsyrupadded Frappacino, one with a calorie count at LEAST as high as the Chocolate Malteds from Fernwoods Ice Cream store which I had as a high schooler. That there is no longer a welcome mat out for those little mini offices and the people who occupy them, is a sign of things to come. I guess I’m just not sure what. I know that Dunkin Donuts will probably not engage the idea of wifi anytime soon. I do see the “free Wifi” signs popping up in the least likely places. Greek diners. Lounges and bars. Wow, there is nothing groovier than a Rum & Tonic a chance to trade stocks on Etrade. Make mine a double. I need that electrical flow as long as I can keep it. We’re just sayin’… David

A High School Like Weekend

Sunday night used to be the night, as kids, we always went out for Chinese food. It was never easy because my dad was in a wheelchair before anything was handicapped accessible. And we never went with less than 10 people. For years, it as the August Moon and then -- I can’t remember. It was always a trauma or at the least, a drama. Sundays remind me of those family outings. Just FYI, I hate that my mother is dead. I mean, I hate to have lost both parents, but my mother’s scent still lurks in all her clothing. And, because it was not a subtle smell, anything that ever hung in her closet – like my coats, wreaks of it. In addition, the 20th is her birthday and I always buy cards months in advance. So I have the cards, but no mother. Enough whining. And it was not Sunday.

Aside from my mother being dead, it was a terrific weekend. I was feeling a little stressed, and weepy, and so we decided to go to our favorite restaurant. It’s so Jewish to solve all your problems with food – or maybe it’s so ethnic, but we squeezed in the car, called Kerry and headed out to the Reservoir Tavern in Boonton/Parsippany, N.J. The Res, as I may have mentioned at least twenty times, is just a great place for pizza and any other Italian food you may be craving. We all split an extra thin, clam, garlic, and cheese white pizza (move over Pepes in Ct.!) It was absolutely fabulous. And did we smell, and burp. Yes, we did, and enjoyed every moment of every retaste.
dipping at the Res: olive oil, parmesan cheese, red pepper... Heaven...
It was just like a Saturday when we were in high school. We would start the day with a football game. Well, almost. First we would have a piece of toast and then race out of the house so we could all meet, talk about our boyfriends on the football team, and then we would freeze on the bleachers. The most interesting moments were those we had at the food breaks -- during the endless game, which none of us understood. There wasn’t much offered at the one small stand which sold soda, coffee, candy, popcorn and terrible pizza (which always tasted remarkably good). We ate it with gusto -- we were freezing, starving and grateful not to be cheerleaders on the sidelines in short skirts and no breaks – except half time, when they would also try to consume something warm.

After the game, win or lose, we would go to Paul’s Diner (the high school hang out), and have a little something else to eat. My favorite was a grilled cheese with tomato and a vanilla malt. There is nothing quite like a vanilla malt or shake when you want something sweet.

Yesterday, we replicated those old high school days. Although the pizza wasn’t bad (it was extraordinary), and the malt was take-out, it was, all in all, a divine football day feast. After the major food fest, we collapsed, watched college football on TV – which I have mentioned previously that I love—and I now understand. One of my teams lost (Michigan) and one won (Wisconsin), in an upset. Let’s be honest. What could be better than pizza, a shake, college football, and no heartburn.

We completed a lovely weekend with lunch at the Chelsea Grill, (also a favorite) and a half price Broadway musical. It was our original intention to go to see “Million Dollar Quartet”. But the seats were not great and there is no reason to pay even half price for not great seats. So we opted to see “The Scottsboro Boys,” where we had 8th row orchestra center seats. Usually, when you can get those seats half price, it is an indication that the show is about to close or lousy. That was certainly not the case here. It was a cleverly constructed, moving, substantive, and entertaining triumph. (David admitted to being breathless in the final scene and that is rare enough.) It is still in Previews, but once it opens you will not be able to get a seat. Go while it’s still in Previews.

Anyway, as I said, it was a terrific weekend, and I still hate that my mother was not here to enjoy it with us – she couldn’t resist a good vanilla shake. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Here They Come....

Watching the rescue of the miners was truly exhilarating. Not only exciting and amazing but yes, exhilarating. To see the miners breathe the morning/night air (I don’t know if it was clean), was thrilling. Everyone I know was glued to their TV. And the best part, was not only them reuniting with loved ones, but getting welcome hugs from the President of Chile and assorted officials – as well as people involved in the rescue.

The first thing the American media commented on was how important American technology was to the rescue. It was kind of irrelevant, almost ‘we’re number one!’, at the time. American bravado in the midst of a touching moment… it is not surprising but rather a bit insensitive. Here the Chilean people are celebrating an accomplishment – the miners stayed alive underground for 70 days – and there we are stressing how important we were to getting them out of hole. Which, no doubt is true, but unnecessary amidst the hoopla of the Chilean families and friends.

It is hard not to look at this remarkable feat and not reflect a moment on what is important in life. And additionally, how great it is to see people behaving in such a positive way. Many of the TV correspondents compared this positivity to the negativity of the American political scene. It’s apples and oranges. The thing worth comparing is how American leaders demonstrate leadership. As I watched I couldn’t help but wonder if President Obama would have spent an entire day welcoming 33 miners back to earth. Or if any American politician would have considered spending their time that way, if they weren’t only interested in their public image.

We know that Mayor Giuliani was, and remained on the scene for the tragedy of 9/11. We also know President Bush was pretty much missing in action for the first day. Yes, we have all heard that security would not permit him to be anywhere where there is danger – but (here’s one you might not know), the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and whatever other security people butt in, make recommendations to the Commander in Chief but, because they are the Commander in Chief, they get to make the final decision about where they will be.

What was, was, as my mother would have said. But what would this President have done? Probably, he would have been advised by his small circle of advisers that spending a whole day in one place without raising money or awareness about an issue, was a waste of time. Sure it would be OK to drop by at the end, for the celebration or even as person #17 was saved (to slap a few backs and shake a few hands), but beyond that, it was not necessary. It would be wonderful to think he would have told his advisers to stick it, and just done the right thing. But would he have needed to ‘calculate’ the right thing? I hope not.

The TV Networks also commented on the fact that the President of Chile had some political problems so that’s why he was there. Isn’t it just possible that he really wanted to be there because he cared about what had happened, and he, like all Chileans, were pulling for these men. That’s what I want to believe.

Have we become so cynical that we are incapable of experiencing a real moment? That when all those people sang the Chilean National Anthem, they were doing it for show – or they expected some political return. Who knows anymore. If we see what politicians are saying about one another, and we look at the fractured paralysis in our own government, to have a real moment seems impossible. And yet, I think people are going to get good and sick of all the ugly and polarizing rhetoric, and they are going to insist on the truth and repeated real moments that carry the country forward. I hope it happens in my lifetime. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Jimbo's (and an entree to the Hamblogger)

While we are continuing to blob here, I have also taken on an adhoc role in helping find good burger joints around the country, around the world, by my photographer friend Justin Sullivan. He works out of San Francisco, and is, in short, dedicated to hamburgers. So he started a blog called the Hamblogger, and I have signed on as a sometime contributor. Ad hoc, I believe, describes it. You find a good burger, you photograph the hell out of it, and then write something as if you were the lone food writer for the Herald Trib. So, here is my new (today) contribution to the Hamblogger... and I hope you'll check it out too. I'm amazed how much people dig burgers. We're just sayin'..... David

(Correspondent’s note: this, like most postings here, is being written just after returning from the restaurant in question, and follows severe handwashing with smelly disinfectant soap, and a two minute gargle with Listerine to render the writer ready to actually lay fingers ON the keys.)

Jimbo’s Hamburger Place in Manhattan (island, not beach) is the kind of place we all wish we could find more of. Somewhere in the swirling dustbin of the techno/ipod/cellfone/textwhileyouwalk age is a desire to find something less complicated, less reliant on technology, less bound to a future whose life seems bound up in uncontrolled button pushing. Jimbo’s is that kind of place. Starting as a hole in the wall burger joint in the 1950s by an Arkansas imigrée whose moniker stayed with the place long after he departed, this miniscule grill has been serving up burgers, toasted cheese sands, and a small variety of grilled goodies for decades. It is the archetypal “analogue” café in a world of binary. Just 10 counter seats and a couple of small, crowded tables, the place is a microcosm of the sort of intimacy which marked luncheon spots for years. Jimbo got the place going, left his name and over the years the ownership has changed a couple of times. Today the proprietor is Abe Mostafa, a young man whose father came to New York in the 1970s from Egypt, and whose family has been churning out burgers for nearly 30 years. While there are a few other places around the city calling themselves “Jimbo’s” they aren’t a chain. This is the original, and a one of.

I once did a story in Missoula on the search for the most perfect slice of American Pie. In that quest I met two women who each had been making pies for small café’s since the end of World War II. By their count they had made something like 40000 pies each. The mind boggled at imagining the amount of rolled out dough that meant. Standing next to the tiny grill at Jimbo’s, it was difficult to imagine the enormous number of burgers that had been turned out in the last fifty years. Each cooked the special “Jimbo’s” way… with a silver cover steaming meat as it grilled. It looked like an aerial view of a small Eskimo village. The igloo like shiny metallic covers keeping the juicy flavor inside the dome. (Maybe that’s what they hope will happen at the Superdome when the Saints play.)

I ordered a bacon-cheese deluxe, with onion and tomato. The bacon was probably the closest to the “well done” crispiness I have seen in a long time at restaurant. We’re talking crispy. The bun was toasted in the broiler, a good sign. And the mountain of grated cheddar created a kind of orange morass which needed herding back onto the burger once the plate was served. I have never been a fan of McDonalds fries, inspite of all the accolades they get (I prefer nearly anything Dutch or Flemish) but though frozen, these little sticks (done “extra crispy” as asked for) were quite impossible to avoid.

Eating the burger was pretty hopeless by hand: I got one good bite, and the juiciness of the meat (“never frozen”) just erupted, and caused the bun to quite literally bite the dust. But maneuvering my way with knife and fork wasn’t so difficult, and the flavor of the meat/cheese/tomato/mushedupbun was quite satisfying all the way to the end. At the end, there remained only traces of bacon, bun, meat, and cheese, and it required one last fork shoveling to finish the job. The meat is a hearty size: I didn’t weigh it up I suspect about 6 ounces, and perfectly formed. Under the silver dome, it cooks up nicely and remains very juicy. I’m not sure a burger can be too juicy and still be done, but this was close.

Jimbo’s is the kind of neighborhood place which draws returning customers in large numbers. They do a good take-out and delivery business, and Abe told me that a surprising number of former neighborhood residents who have moved away return to Jimbo’s for a nostaligic burger hit when they’re back in town. The place is cozy and welcoming. While I was there one guy came off the street, asked for two orders of whole wheat toast, no butter, and took them away when done. Hey, it’s New York, stuff like that happens. But being New York, you come to expect that a place that’s been in business for almost 50 years must be doing something right (though that’s not always the case) and at Jimbo’s, they just keep on keepin’ on.
the "last bite"
Rating: 4 out of 5

Jimbo’s Hamburger Place
991 First Avenue (at 54th st.)
New York, NY 10022

212 355 6120
6:30am – 9:30pm

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Are You Mad as Hell?

A few days ago I came across an article on the 'net about a 7 yr old boy in the Broward (Ft Lauderdale) school system who was suspended for a year... a 7 year old!, for having accidently brought a toy pistol to school in his back pack. I was angered beyond all reason, looked up the Superintendent's page online.. clicked the "Send a message to the Supt." which I promptly did, but of course I have yet to hear anything back. No Surprize, but typically disappointing. Here is the letter I wrote...... and yes, I'm still Mad as Hell.

Mr Notter, Supt. of Schools
Broward County, FL

Dear Sir:

Having just read the story of 7 year old Samuel Burgos and the toy gun incident on the CNN website, I felt compelled to write. I assume from your picture that you and I are of the same generation ( I am 64) and it is with an absolute sense of exasperation that I implore you to please bring some sense of judgment and common sense to just one more situation where adult judgement has been ceded to the ridiculousness of "Zero tolerance." You were, I assume, put in this position because you have empathey with school age children, a sense of what is right and wrong, and beyond that, a general idea of what was once referred to as "Common Sense." I say once, because laws which embody "zero tolerance," passed in the last decade or so by adults who have given up the concept of individual thought, seem to have completely destroyed whatever feeling of wisdom young people might have thought "adults" possessed. Your position as Supt. of the school district means that you should be able to rise above the self-blinding dictum of "zero tolerance" and show once again to the student/youth population that all adults have not really lost their brains, but are capable of serious, idea-filled thought. At this point, all Zero Tolerance does is prove once again to anyone under the age of 18, that there is no position in this society for anyone who is capable of thought, anyone capable of reasoned deduction, anyone capable of looking at a situation like the Burgos' and saying " this child was a threat to no one. Give him an admonition, perhaps, but do not deprive him of the joy of learning." If you do not think that the mantle of leadership ought to allow you to break the tyranny of "zero tolerance" then perhaps you should go back to working in a job where zero thought is required, zero weighing of what is truly right and wrong, zero reasoning, for that is surely what you will have proved you are capable of.

No child in this society should be given such a horrible learning tool as this. To understand that when a modestly difficult call must be made (by you, to lift the ban on this childs education) adults scurry for the insulting cover of Zero Tolerance. It proves to them once again (as they have too oft already seen in our world) that there is nothing to be gained by having a brain and using it. Just follow some idiotic rules which have no real bearing on the situation at hand, and pretend you didn't want to get involved. Show some gumption, sir. Show you have a brain and are not afraid to use it. Lead by example, sir. You might find that rather than be seen as a gutless bureaucrat only interested in the ongoing life of the bureaucracy, you inspire some children in your area to actually admire an adult who takes a position because it is right. Had Ben Franklin, Geo. Washington and Thos. Jefferson felt a need to hide beyond "Zero Tolerance" at the outset of the American Revolution, I suspect we'd all be yet speaking with Liverpudlian accents, and drinking tea in the afternoon.

It's not to late to make a stand for what is right. And think of how well you will sleep, knowing you have inspired, for once, young people to understand the consequences of their own actions.

However you decide in this case, I would be happy to hear from you.

Yours truly

David Burnett

Colorado College '68 Poli Sci
Phd. Hon. Cau. 2007

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Personal Space

And while we are on the subject of space… not outer but personal. (Although I do love SciFi – maybe next blob). Is it me or do you find that people no longer respect personal space. It used to be that when I was walking down the street or even in a hallway, people coming the other way, would not stop, but they would step over, so as not to knock you off your path. It used to be that when you were reading, or trying to hear some kind of announcement at an airport or on a train, people who were sitting near or next to you, did not yell into their cell phones or make enough noise to interfere with what you were trying to do.

There is no question that the growing use of cell phones in public spaces has something to do with the consequences (disturbing your neighbor), but what about the old concept of an using an inside voice and keeping your most intimate conversation, thoughts and feelings to yourself. Or how about the people on Facebook, who use the forum to fight with their children, spouse, and parents, to air their difficulties. It is truly astounding how much I know about people to whom I have never been introduced, and people who were my Facebook friends and I had to take off my list, because their chatter was absolutely boring or exceptionally embarrassing.

Remember last year, when we used a hard line touch tone phone, in the privacy of our own homes or a phone booth if necessary. Remember phone booths? Those were the things that you could find on most street corners in cities and towns across this great nation. Communications were simple. There weren’t twenty ways in which you could reach out and find someone or disseminate information. What’s happened lately is that people no longer talk. We are becoming a society that no longer depends on interpersonal relationships ( defined as looking someone in the eye or hearing their voice), to do anything. In business we e-mail or fax, (you remember the fax—that’s also becoming obsolete as well.) Personally, it’s Facebook, text, or e-mail. We have reached the point where my kids tell me not to leave voice messages when I call because they won’t acknowledge them. “Just text” they say. We’ll get the message – eventually.

Not that being able to communicate with everyone in the whole world, on some Skype like system, is a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Certainly it’s convenient for doing business. It saves corporations a great deal of money, it’s just that it can sometimes intrusive and sometimes too damn easy. Don’t misunderstand, I love being able to see my family and friends when they are great distances away. But the on-line visit is not appreciated in the same way it would be if it were in person. It has different dimensions. My conversations with my grandson, for example. The thing he likes best about them is the hanging up. He likes to make me disappear. He loves me, I know that. But it’s so much more fun to count 3,2,1, and poof – there I go. Very entertaining.

Anyway, new technologies can be time and money savers. But we (and our children and their children) need to be careful not to lose the ability to conduct one on one communication without it being removed by a text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or Skype. We cannot pass on a legacy of pictures or memories that can just be erased with the simple click of a button. And that’s pretty personal. We’re just sayin’... Iris

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Controversy, part Deux

The latest controvery, or should we call it, horror show, took place at Rutgers University, in two dorm rooms, with a web cam and total lack of concern for the right to privacy. As a consequence, one young man is dead and two have ruined their lives.

One of my friends said that the two students who taped their ‘friend’ having homosexual sex, were awful, mean, kids, who knew exactly what they were doing, enjoyed the idea of humiliation, and should be severely punished. Actually what she said was that “something really terrible should happen to them”. That seems to be in agreement with what the school administrators and civil rights activists think.

My feelings about this whole are mixed. It seemed that the kids were all friends. That the perpetrators thought the whole episode was a joke and had no idea what the consequences might be. And the consequences, whether expected or unexpected, were severe. The target of the humiliation, threw himself off the George Washington Bridge and tragically, died.

Another friend was equally adamant about the fact that they were just kids having fun. She thought they could have been her niece and nephew or any college student who had spent their lives expecting to have anything they did, made public – “Facebook”, “My Space”, “Twitter,” “You Tube,” etc. She felt that kids today have no concept of privacy, so why should they respect it.

Another pal felt that the reaction to what happened was pretty much after the fact. That during orientation, students should have to take some classes about the idea of privacy and how it impacts on civil rights, or just the day to day lives of kids today. This idea is a good one, but even this might be after the fact. All you have to do is talk to a high school student who has posted a picture of himself or a friend in a compromising position. Chances are, these kids have no idea of what a picture, a movie, or just an update, can mean to their future, (school, a job, any decisions made about them, or to someone who is the target of whatever the questionable message – be it picture or prose.)

We will all see what happens. My sense it that this, like the overreaction to drugs (like aspirin) in schools, will not make a difference in whether or not kids have a more enlightened perspective on privacy.

So, how do we learn a lesson in this dreadful result, and who teaches it. Little bitty kids, 2 and three are now using their parents computers and their iPhones. How do we instill in them a realization that there is a serious difference between what is public and what is private. The only person that gets to decide what should be public is the person for who is messaging, posting, writing, or creating a picture. No one else – no one, is allowed to make that decision for another person. And to take it one step further, no one should be able to invade or steal your personal space and contacts with something you don’t want to read or know. It is appalling how many porn, sales, and medical sites can circumvent the protection of the spam folder to inundate someone with disgusting or useless information.

The question really is, how do we learn and teach our children the sanctity and importance of privacy and personal space. How do we teach people, not only children, respect for every individual to make decisions about what other people can know. The irony is that public figures, who make their living and are important because they are public (like reality show families and contestants), expect what is said and written about them, (especially in a public forum) to be protected.

What we have come to know as “Lindsay Lohan” behavior unfortunately encourages our kids to think that bad behavior and the lack of respect for themselves, as well as the public, is quickly becoming the norm. Yes, I am emerging as one of the world’s colorful old farts. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Another Signal, Missed

The tragic suicide of a freshman Rutgers student this week has been on the front pages of both the written and virtual press. What seems lost in most of the reporting is the issue which is by far the most far-reaching and important. It’s not a question (or shouldn’t be) of whether the two students who contrived to show the victim’s tryst on webcam should be tried at this or that level of Felony. It totally misses the point of what needs to be talked about. New Jersey prosecutors, acting in the obvious role of “this must be my ticket to stardom” are speaking publicly about whether this can be categorized as a “Hate Crime,” and the threat of unimaginably long jail terms for the two students. Once again, my generation, and in this case even X-gen post-boomers, totally miss the key point of what has happened.

We have raised a generation of young people whose entire lives are on display, in public, on webcams, Facebook pages, and other forms which I’m sure I haven’t even heard of yet. These kids grew up with an understanding that because you COULD do something, that perhaps it ought to be tried. In spite of the constant unheeded warnings from the old-fart generation, today’s kids see no real reason NOT to post their lives for all to see. It’s really beyond belief that my generation would ever have thought that wild and raucus video taping at Spring Break - which you know would eventually be seen by the world in general and your folks in particular (Girls Gone Wild) was something that was smart to do. Everyone of the girls and guys in those tapes signed a model release (the producer might be a sleaze, but he’ s no idiot.) I think there must be a feeling that, having seen the promos on television at 3 a.m., there was a veneer of respectability which let their guards down. You see others behaving badly, but with no obvious consequences beyond a really bad headache, you think, “how bad can this be?” So it ends up perpetuating more questionable behaviour.

The kids have had webcams since grade school or Jr. High. It’s their world. That IS their world; they just assume that their lives are meant to be streamed live, that most of what we could consider as “out of bounds” in terms of privacy, are just silly old strictures from the Renaissance or Industrial Revolution (ok, those are a bit far fetched as they have probably never heard of either) which don’t apply to them. It’s as if we inhabit the same places, the same spaces, the same houses, but the essential rules which apply to personal conduct are overlaid, one on the other. We “adults,” and I use the term loosely, tend to have, in spite of our having lived through the “anything goes” 60s and “open book” 70s very different concepts of what ought to be kept to ourselves. If you lack that gene, like our kids do, then it really isn’t such a stretch to assume that a good practical joke, a prank, might be to leave your webcam on while your roommate entertains a visitor.

At the Kappa Sig house at Colorado College, where it was, of course, forbidden to bring girls to your rooms, there was a simple code. (And no, I was never actually lucky enough to try this out personally – so it goes.) If you were bringing a girl to your room you took a wire coat hangar and slid it over the door handle. That way your roommate, even the squarest of the squares, would realize he needed to spend another hour or so at the Tube Room (the sole TV) in the basement, or at the library. However invasive we were of each other during normal daylight hours, and we roamed the halls and rooms in search of essay answers, and chats about hockey, to name a few, there was no getting past that hangar on the door. You just didn’t mess with it.

In a world of co-ed dorms (which began he year after I graduated) and co-ed bathrooms, this all may seem a little antiquated, and perhaps it was. Nothing dispels romantic visions more than over exposure. When Jordan lived at the co-ed Emerson dorms in Boston, I had to admit that I was envious of the fact that living in such close quarters to me seemed to de-mystify the aura of the opposite sex, and made acceptance of each other a much more natural occurrence. Yet, to see the “crime” at Rutgers as a “Hate” crime as some prosecutors and “legal analysts” have done totally misses the point. In a world in which pranksterism lives coequally with self-exposureism, we need to find new ways of speaking to the kids about just what those boundaries ought to be, not have idiotically fanciful discussions about putting two essentially fine young kids in jail for a decade. Once again, my generation responds with the parallel answer of “zero tolerance,” that absolutely thoughtless dictim which proves in a single glance to young people that adults are incapable of sensible thought. No, let’s not worry about jail sentences, but rather, let’s take a minute and talk with our kids about where some of these boundary lines are in a connected web-laced, iChat world, and see if for once, we might be able to share some wisdom than simply stand on the sidelines of life and throw the book. We’re just sayin’…. David