Monday, July 21, 2014

More Testimony Re: Why the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex Needs Complete Overhaul

While doing research on Angela Davis for a former professor’s book years ago, I came across documents detailing daily menus from Davis’s inmate days at San Quentin. Baked salmon loaves and coconut pudding. Eggs prepared a number of different ways. Meals sounding so tantalizing and balanced they came as a shock to someone who had been under the impression that prisoners, especially in the ‘70s, were on the bread-and-water plan. Is this for real? I thought. Prisoners eat better than me? Since then, I’ve longed to meet an ex-con who could back this up. One equipped to answer queries about texture, portion sizes, and whether this “coffee” includes unlimited refills.

The other day, I walked past a guy on a bench. He smiled, I smiled. Smiling turned into waving (music, either Tupac or the Dixie Chicks, blasted in my ears at the time), and I eventually pulled out an earbud to hear what he was saying. He was mostly saying that he got out of prison hours earlier, after serving a 10-year sentence, and was in the early stages of enjoying his freedom in the balmy Central Park air, despite having no family or friends. Now, is that for real? The prison system is allowed to just release people out into the open, without confirming they have a place to go? (He said his guards looked the other way during prisoner-on-prisoner rape. A recent New York Times article exposed local correction officers’ brutality against inmates.)

Pulling out the other earbud, I asked what I’ve wanted inside, in-person information on for years: “How was the food? Tell me everything, let’s start with salmon.” Among other descriptions, he said other inmates prepared the food - they spat into it and worms crawled out.

Prisoners eat worse than any recipe I’ve ever ruined.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Malala Day!

Earlier this year I read I Am Malala, a memoir that hugely affected me. Westerners who aren’t intimately familiar with the developing world take lots for granted, such as clean water and not having to worry about getting beheaded on the way out the door in the morning.

Malala Yousafzai is the teenage girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who not only continued going to school after the Taliban forbid girls from doing so, but (along with her feminist father) became known as a girls’ education activist, when it would have been safer and easier to put up and shut up. Like many others (from East to West), the Taliban finds strong women deeply threatening, so one day in 2012 they shot Malala in the head (where the mind is located) while she rode the bus home from school. She survived, now lives in England with her parents and younger brothers, and still speaks out. She turned 17 the day before yesterday, spending her birthday weekend in Nigeria, comforting schoolgirls who escaped from their April 15th kidnappers and the parents of schoolgirls who remain missing.

Today is the second annual Malala Day. How can you celebrate? How about by showing more consideration toward people who don’t live like you; developing more self-awareness; supporting universal preschool and an increased minimum wage; contributing something useful to the society that exists beyond your own insular group; thinking of passivity as your worst enemy but thinking carefully before you act.

Malala Day, Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day, National Ice Cream Month. The true believers uphold the spirit year-round.  

                            Photo source:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Send Me Up the (Hudson) River Anytime

After this weekend, I see why so many creative New Yorkers move upstate to the small town of Hudson once they marry, start having kids, find more mobile means of employment, or simply want to invest in a multi-level piece of property without tempting bankruptcy. It’s roomier, quieter, friendlier, cheaper, only 2 hours from the city, less than 2 hours from the mountains. 
You can walk down the main drag to the sound of Jerry Garcia’s voice drifting out a front door, a few buildings down from some Jamaican patties. Although Hudson’s main drag is (blessedly) named something other than Main Street, it does include a hair salon that could not resist. 
This time of year, the main drag is a flag-happy strip. 
Those low-flying flags look charming until the wind gets gusting and, one by one, they start furling and unfurling, slapping you upside the head as you stroll.

I had the most delicious burger of my life at a farm-to-table diner called Grazin’, the first animal welfare-approved restaurant in the world, not long after standing centimeters away from a man with an intricately tattooed neck, shaved head, throat, and face. Eat your heart out Michelangelo, this icon and the artist(s) who inked him have got you beat.

Hudson, New York: 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Only Wild Horses Could Drag Me Back to Using a Term as Boring as “Decluttering”

So far this month, I’ve feng shui-ed a closet and a shelf in my fridge. I’ve moved on to feng shui-ing the top of my desk.

Good feng shui: fresh flowers
Although the ones displayed above are on their last legs, they’ve stayed alive for 9 days and have really had it good. I’ve run way behind schedule at least 3 times to clean their vases, feed them (homemade flower food: 2 tblps sugar, 2 tblps vinegar, 4 cups water), and tend to their other needs before leaving them on their own for the day. Can’t wait to replace them with sunflowers.

Bad feng shui: 

They’re the parts for a Nikon digital camera I bought 2 years ago and have never used. 
I stared and made flustered faces at the unexpected pile of parts that came with the camera for several weeks before unexpectedly getting my first iphone, which soon became all the camera I need. I now have no use for a Nikon and neither does anyone in my circle - they have iphones too. When people stop me on the street to take a picture of them, they hand me an iphone. I haven’t handled a real camera in years.

Email me if you or anyone you know wants a small, purple, price-negotiable camera and matching carrying case. Opening an Ebay account would mean squeezing another username and password onto the log-in information list I keep in my day planner. Bad feng shui.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why I Might Organize a Senior Social in My Building’s Main Lobby

One afternoon a couple of years ago, I returned home to find a supremely strung-out dude buzzing up the intercom panel on my building’s front porch. He asked if I knew a guy on the sixth floor whose name I didn’t recognize but I’m pretty sure I know who he meant; he’s really nice, possibly around 70 years old. The person pacing the porch worked with this sixth-floor neighbor, who has a heart problem, and said no one in their workplace had seen or heard anything from or about him in a week, so this co-worker came by to check on him. On the elevator ride up, he mentioned how nervous he was about what he might smell when he reached the apartment’s door. I haven’t run into that neighbor since.

I live in a building filled with people, representing every adult age bracket, who live alone. People I’ve only ever seen alone. It’s the sight of the chronically-flying-solo elderly ones that distresses me to distraction.

Last night, I caught up with an elderly one who has survived breast cancer, uterine cancer, horrible seasonal allergies. She’s recovering from a major surgery and has deep relationships with many people, old and young, near and far. When she said she’s tired of them constantly calling and visiting her, in sickness and in health, I couldn’t feel sorry for her.

Monday, June 16, 2014

If You’re on a Low-Carb Diet, This May Not Be the Content For You

I have to be in the mood for a bagel. If I were sentenced to a lifetime of never touching one again, I bet I’d be OK.

Growing up in a bagel-loving household, 460 miles west of New York City, bagels were always around. Friday nights, on her way home from work, my mom brought back a dozen from a stall in Cleveland’s West Side Market that, until last month, I assumed were authentic New York City bagels, considering the degree of glorification they received. Turns out they came from Canada and just “tasted more like New York bagels” than other availabilities in our parts.

As soon as the cream cheese gets spread on, they all taste the same to me. I like doughnuts.

My dad sometimes won’t spread anything onto one. He’ll eat them like apples. One birthday or Father’s Day I sent him a dozen from H&H Bagels, when I lived an avenue away from its Upper West Side location, and he said he’d never chewed better. It’s what most people said when they tried one. Years ago, when that H&H went out of business, I thought it meant the entire H&H empire erupted.

Last week, while thinking about what to send my dad this Father’s Day, I remembered how much he fancied that shipment of New York City bagels. I came close to shipping out a dozen from another place that’s probably not as good, making it through the first steps of an online checkout. Before pulling out my Visa card, something made me google “H&H Bagels,” for inspiration. I found a page for an H&H on the East Side and assumed it was outdated, but when I dialed its out-of-state delivery number someone picked up after two rings, eager to efficiently take my order and personalize a card. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Two Questions You Should Never Ask Most People You Know, Much Less a Stranger

A sightseer from Arizona ambushed me on Sixth Avenue during evening rush hour last week, asking for directions to “the pier.” I asked which one. She didn’t care. Realizing this was someone who mostly wanted to stand around in the hustle and the bustle (and the heat) to chat about anything, I pointed westward and told her to walk in a straight line until she hit the river.

The “walk in a straight line” business could explain why she then confessed she’d just had two glasses of wine. I’m glad she came clean about the drinking (and yes, Virginia, there really are people who get bombed from 2 weak drinks) because it made me more patient. Until she asked how much rent I pay.

Whenever someone I’m not extremely close to asks: (1) how much rent I pay; or (2) how much money I make, I tell myself the next time it happens, I’ll chuckle it off and say, “We don’t talk about money, darling.” But I always end up blurting out the exact dollar amount, forever taken aback by either question when it comes.

She needed to know what I do for a living, which is such a Northeast Corridor thing to ask someone you’ve known for less than 5 minutes. When I said I was an editor, she lit up.

“For who?” she asked, and I told her that too.

“Never heard of it,” she answered, in a tone and with a frown suggesting it was my fault she hasn’t heard of it. Which, given one of my many job duties, it very well might be. Knowing the salary question was up next, I gave her a big smile, wished her luck, and walked a little faster toward my humble (in terms of everything but price) abode.