Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Anybody got a light?

Filed under : New York City
On November 1, 2012
At 11:55 pm
Comments :Comments Off on Anybody got a light?

I feel really, really terrible about this. I mean, not enough to change places, but if you downtown people want to punch me in the throat, I totally understand.

Thom Yorke – And It Rained All Night


Yo, I house you!

Filed under : Food,Music,New York City
On May 6, 2012
At 10:00 pm
Comments :Comments Off on Yo, I house you!

Apparently, I only post on Sundays now. Who knew it would come to this?*

*I probably did.

Here are some thrilling, scintillating updates. I’m talking to you, people having trouble falling asleep!

1. How the same half lives: I have been going to open houses and some of the apartments have been empty and some not. The ones that are not all share a similar theme to my current apartment, that is, they are stuffed to the gills. With some of them, you can’t open the closet door without the stateroom scene happening to you. The one I saw this afternoon took the cake, though. This woman had inserted into every available space a piece of furniture meant to hold things. Sometimes, there were shelving units affixed to the smallest empty square of wall space. The brokers always apologized for this in a way that made you feel they hated their clients. “Of course I would have gotten rid of these things…” they say helplessly, voices full of disdain. I am considering leaving a recording device somewhere in my clutter when this inevitably happens to me.

On the other hand, it has really inspired me to declutter somewhat.

2. I made these fabulous things recently.

Lemon-ramp butter – I have been consuming loaves of bread so that I can have something upon which to slather this. Are ramps everywhere? If not, maybe leeks?

Tres leches cake – really improbable as I am not a cookie dunker. I do not like liquid in my baked goods and am not fond of whipped cream. But this is awesome! I call it “Three Lactaid Cake.” It’ll be perfect for Shavuot.

3. School is almost over! The end is in sight. I have been planning my break including some travel, some learning, and probably a lot of house-hunting and/or selling.

4. I was never a big Beastie Boys fan; I think they reminded me of all the immature prankster Jewish guys I knew in my real life. But they outgrew that, mostly. And I forgot until this weekend how many songs of theirs I knew and liked. This song was a big part of my early teen years. They played it late night on my station, WLIR, I guess because of the profanity. When Beastie Boys later came out with License to Ill, I remember thinking, “this cannot be the same people as that Carvel song, can it?” RIP, MCA.

Title comes from Beastie Boys – Cooky Puss:


Sunlight on the lino

Filed under : Life in general,New York City
On April 23, 2012
At 11:30 pm
Comments : 3

Here is my new strategy: stop avoiding the blog because I’m never inspired to write the posts I have on my agenda (and add to that my Blogoversary… I missed that, too) and just write posts as I’m inspired. You know, like I used to. In that spirit…

I’ve talked a lot in the past about the notion of home and even given a tour of places I have lived in two different cities. Last week marked my tenth year as a homeowner and specifically as an owner of this place. And even though my head has always told me to find a place to settle forever, because that’s what made me most happy, I have been really itchy lately to move on. But let me back up a bit.

Have you discovered the 1940 census? You should! Apparently, after 72 years, the census specifics are released and this time, they’ve been put in a searchable (by address) database online. It is awesome, both to find out who your ancestors were and what they did (my grandfather sold hats in Brooklyn but I’m not sharing his salary!) but also to find out the history of your own home, if it’s that old. In the city, mine is. I knew that. It dates from 1898 and it was gutted and renovated in the 60’s, so there’s no telling from this census who lived in my exact space, but only in my building. For whatever reason, the census people put down building numbers, but not apartments or even floors. This is what I knew about my building but had forgotten: it has six floors and when originally built, had six homes (cue the drooling over an apartment that encompassed the entire level). Some time in the 30’s, it was converted to SRO’s, or single room occupancy apartments. I don’t really know what that meant practically in terms of size or amenities. Then in the 60’s, it was completely redone to its present configuration of five 1-bedroom apartments per floor. Sometimes, I look at my window layout, which is a little odd, and try to imagine the original design of the rooms, but I really can’t.

What the census inspired me to do, because there were so many names listed for my small building, was to look up the occupancy permits online. I found one from the 40’s which declared that my floor, which, if you recall, originally had a home for one family and nowadays for five singles, couples, or tiny families, had thirteen SRO’s. I’m just going to let that sink in for a minute. I cannot even conceive of it. Certainly, some of them had no windows; there just aren’t enough. Some of these what had to be teeny-tiny apartments had several unrelated people in them. The census parlance calls them lodgers but I think that would mean if you were my roommate and not on the lease, you’d be my lodger. Still, how did they all fit? Did these places have kitchens? Was there a common bathroom? One of my projects this summer, which I may or may not get to, is to go to the library and find some of the records that would tell me how my place was set up. But I can tell you that most of these folks were born in NY, unlike in my father’s sprawling building in Brooklyn, and they had all kinds of trades. Then, as now, there was a subway right nearby which would have taken them straight downtown to jobs.

I never found my mother’s family. They were clearly never home to answer the door. Actually, when I recall how utterly persistant the census workers were when they came here two years ago, it’s hard to believe, but they skipped both my grandparents and a couple of the neighbors my aunt remembers in two or three passes at the neighborhood (you can see them circling back with later additions at the end of the book). I know my aunt is not recalling it wrong because I always remember my mother’s utter dismay that her beloved house in Massachusetts was now a convenience store parking lot. When I go to Google Maps, I can see that it still is. That would really haunt me. I totally get her.

After my previous post on my birth house (literally), you can believe that I have never gone back. I did look it up in the census but knew it was a post-war house. It was; it had been a farm which had a railroad station on the old New York, Westchester, and Boston Railway. I knew about this railroad growing up but never that it had been so close and that a station had been pretty much down the street. In fact, the path of the railroad is now some kind of trail through the woods known as “the Greenway.” I wish I could go back and look at it with fresh eyes but Google Maps is as close as I’ll go.

So you can see how sentimental I am on the notion of home. Or see further. This is the longest I have lived anywhere since I was a child. Ten years, wow! The longest between my childhood house and now previously had been four years. I think when you’re single and without children and remaining in the same city, there’s no clear indicators on when you should move. When you can afford a larger place? When your neighborhood changes? When you just get plain tired of it? I have been tired of my place for a little while now. There are issues which have become more irritating. The noise, for one thing. I don’t know how thick the walls were for those folks in the SRO’s but the renovation in the 60’s was done with paper-thin versions and a lack of insulation between floors. I am tired of hearing the thunderous footsteps upstairs…. and the fighting. I am tired of hearing the guy next door’s actions in the kitchen and the guy on the other side flushing the toilet. Most of all, I think it’s the light. I’ve been away a couple of times in the last month and each time, I was in a place with a lot of light. I miss that. I face a wall and get two hours of natural light a day. In the beginning, this did not bother me. I was too enamored of the great location of my place and the storage it had. If I want light, I will have to give up location (my salary has gone up but so have real estate prices), but I think it’s worth it.

So, as you can see, I am looking for a new place. Doesn’t mean I really will move, of course, but I am looking. I have a real estate agent coming next week to look at my place and tell me what he thinks I can get. I was going to do this over the summer but then I remembered how long this took last time when I was only doing half of the process (just buying, not selling). I have summers free but the fall will be busy. Better to get the bulk of the work done over the break, I think. People always ask about my kitchen: how can you move when you put so much work into the kitchen! There are many things that would be hard about moving. For starters, moving itself is such a bear, particularly when you’re as settled in as I am. Last time, my mother stayed with me all night and helped me move. Her method would be to pack little things inside big things and I remember finding hidden things for months afterwards. Oh hey, this empty cookie jar has a box of pasta in it! I’ll miss that. And my pharmacy where everyone knows me. And these built-in bookshelves which are the focal point of my home. And, yes, the kitchen. But if I find a place that needs a new kitchen, I’ll know exactly what I like. And if I find one already done I’ll know I don’t have to go through that awfulness again anytime soon. And whoever buys my place, I’ll try to imagine that they like the kitchen, too, and aren’t going to rip out my creation.

Of course, none of this may happen. Maybe I won’t find anything better enough to justify all this. But I do know that my notion of what’s home is really different than I thought. Unless I move to a rowhouse in Baltimore. That would be forever.

Title comes from:
Squeeze – Goodbe Girl


But the fighter still remains

Filed under : New York City
On September 11, 2011
At 8:00 am
Comments : 11

Manhattan in West Side StoryI thought I’d choose today, when people tend to dwell on the negative, to send a love letter to the city that charms, delights, and embraces me, every single day. There is not one day that goes by that I don’t remember how lucky I am to live in this amazing place. So, here are my favorite songs about New York, chosen for how they represent the city, and not because I love them better musically. Although I do love them all.

(Photo is the approach shot in West Side Story)

[youtube width=”280″ height=”230″][/youtube]

West Side Story Cast – America
I like the island, Manhattan! This movie is so New York that when I think of it, the intro graphic of the city map always appears in my head before anything else. This particular song, which is sung on a rooftop, cleverly contrasts the positive and, er, not so positive experiences of the immigrant, all the while underlining the yearning to fit in and be successful.

(The whole scene is great but the song starts about 2:15)

Happyhead – Baby USA
Almost no one here has ever heard this song but it makes me laugh every time I hear the chorus: “Don’t shoot! I love you, Baby USA.” I always imagine the singer who has come over from England to see his love, getting greeted in stereotypical New York fashion. The song never mentions NYC, but it’s clear from the lyrics and sound effects that that’s where the lady lives. If I ever did send an actual mash note to this town, it would say: “Dear NY, Don’t shoot! I love you. xo, Becca”

No video for this, so here’s a stream. It’s the happiest song on this list, so you may want to play it twice.

[youtube width=”280″ height=”230″][/youtube]

Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer
So many good S&G New York songs, but this one, again, tells the story of coming to the city with hope in one’s heart, only to struggle and fall. But as the post title says, still he remains.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling the emotions of this song every time I hear it, it’s that real.

[youtube width=”280″ height=”230″][/youtube]

Billy Joel – Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)
They blew the Bronx away! I really can’t tell you why I love this song. I think in talking about a supposed apocalyptic future for New York, it makes you appreciate what’s here now all the more. And never mind that other song; it’s become a cliche.

[youtube width=”280″ height=”230″][/youtube]

Rolling Stones – Miss You
The Stones aren’t from New York, but when I was young I thought they were. Forget the subject matter, the attitude of this song is pure NYC. It is elegant yet gritty, and full of swagger.

[youtube width=”280″ height=”230″][/youtube]

Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer in the City
Another great sound effects song. I can hear this song in the dead of winter and be brought to a 100 degree/90% humidity subway platform. But in a good way.

Interpol – NYC
More about this song tomorrow, strangely enough. But again, the theme of opportunity and difficulty intermingled are here. Plus, the subway really is a porno.

(The video to this will be in tomorrow’s post.)

[youtube width=”280″ height=”230″][/youtube]

U2 – New York
This is, 100%, my favorite song for representing New York. I think only people who have moved here, maybe, really get it right. It is loud. You are always surrounded by people. Those people are from a hundred different countries and ethnicities. As previously mentioned, it is hot as a hairdryer. There is always something to do. People are always wanting something from you. I used to cry when I heard this song; it came out right around 9/11 and it reminded me of all the things I loved and hoped would still exist. Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics…religious nuts, political fanatics… in the stew, living happily not like me and you.

During my orientation at Fancypants, they had teachers come to speak to us to give us advice about working there. Since many of the new people had just moved here, some of the advice was about living in New York. One teacher said something like, “people here aren’t rude, they are just… efficient. You will think they are rude but you just have to get used to the fact that they are in a rush and time is important to them. They don’t have the time to spend on you. It’s not personal.” I had never considered that before, and maybe it’s why most of the songs I picked are downers. It’s not personal, it can just be a grind to live here. But I love it beyond words, which is why I’ll never, ever let anyone make me afraid to live here.


The Story of the Chair

Filed under : Judaism,Life in general,New York City
On September 17, 2010
At 3:30 pm
Comments : 5

I didn’t have the holiest of Rosh Hashanahs but I have spent some time in this week of repentance in contemplation of myself as a person and thinking about things I could improve. I’ve made a lot of changes in my lifetime, but somehow, I think, we all encounter the same issues whenever we think about changing ourselves. It’s the same each year: I won’t be so judgey! I won’t be so irritable! I’ll be nicer to people! And then, somehow, you’re just the same. I wondered what it does take to make change in one’s life and then, strangely, I was presented with a huge example.

Last week, when my team was here, folks sat in this one chair I have, and I meant to tell them the Story of the Chair, which I always do when someone sits in it. I think I do this, even though it happened over twenty years ago, because it still baffles and amazes me that it happened at all. At my college (the original one, not my grad school), you were kicked out of university housing after your freshman year and mostly left to your own devices to secure a place to live for the next three years. My friends and I arranged to rent a rowhouse near campus, but our lease didn’t start until late summer which left the matter of where to store some of our belongings until we moved in. One of the libraries, a grand old “reading room” was being redone and they sold all their furniture to students on the cheap. It was a fun sight watching the frat guys walk away with the long tables previously used for study – presumably to a new and different future. I bought one chair, a deep dark wood with black leather padding at the back and seat, to use as my future desk chair. But I couldn’t take it home to NY for the summer and my future roommates had things of this nature as well. Another friend, I’ll call him J., was moving into his new place immediately and offered to hold all our things until then.

I should talk a minute about my connection with J. here. We were extremely close. We came from the same county and had mutual friends from high school. We lived across the hall from each other and occasionally when my roommate had a gentleman caller and his roommate was with his significant other, I’d sleep over completely platonically. We even shared the same birthday, which we celebrated together. And he was a real confidant to me. So it was completely natural for him to make this nice offer and we stuck our library purchases and a few other things in J’s new basement.

Fast forward to the day I went to pick up my stuff and I went down with J. to the basement to get my chair and the other things. Except, J. insisted that the chair was his. At first I thought he was kidding. It’s hard to remember exactly, but I think there was another slightly different chair that he claimed was mine. “Mine has scratches on the back right leg,” I remember saying and sure enough, the one I claimed was mine did have that. But he insisted I was mistaken. There was a certain point in the argument where I think he knew he had made a mistake originally but did not want to admit it so just kept going. It was surreal. Why the hell would anyone lie about a $10 chair? Especially between two good friends? Finally, he grandly said that it was his but I could have it. I didn’t bother to fight this and just took it and left. But our friendship was really over. We barely spoke for a year and it was only probably the last year of school where we had friendly, superficial conversations.

As I’ve said, I still have that chair, even though it matches nothing in my home and is, of course, ancient. I keep it both to remind me of that library where I spent so much time and because I fought so hard for it – how could I let it go? But I think it’s that I also never understood what really happened or why. Last year, I friended him on Facebook. We had so many mutual friends and I had photos of my college years that I wanted to post which included him. We exchanged a couple of polite notes about our lives and then our Facebook relationship proceeded on like many: we never communicate but stay updated.

Last weekend, I was busy with my team but afterwards, when I checked Facebook, I saw that many people had written sympathetic things on his wall on 9/11 and that he had thanked them. It also linked to a page for a foundation. When I checked that out and Googled, I found that his brother had died in the Towers. I was stunned that in nine years I had never known that, but more than that was the fact that his entire family had transformed their lives to be dedicated to their son’s memory. That they had set up a foundation which I won’t identify here but that does amazing work. His parents who would probably be retired now, spend their lives in good deeds, done in their son’s name. Their message is simple: out of great evil can come great good. The message to me was, we are not who we were twenty years ago or even last year or last month. We constantly change and learn and grow. We always have the capability of making change in ourselves and in the world.

So as I go into Yom Kippur which begins tonight at sunset, I am inspired by my friend’s family. It is time to not just let change happen but to consciously take action and make positive change. May you have a meaningful Yom Kippur and a wonderful, happy, and healthy year.