Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rules for kindness

Yeah, there needs to be a set of rules. Or at least a set of suggestions. This isn’t one of those vague, passive-aggressive posts that are so popular on social media right now. It’s just that I’ve observed several situations lately where simple kindness could have spared people hurt feelings, second thoughts about their self-worth, and basic humiliation.

I’m not saying I hit it out of the park all the time — nor do I think people should be smiling robot punching bags for others. I just think there are ways to communicate disagreement or amusement without trashing someone else’s belief system or reality. It really is about balance. Aren’t many things in life?

I try to live by these rules. I hope it’s why, in part, a few people think I’m basically a nice person. Feel free to add to the list.

  1. Empathy counts. Put yourself in the other person’s place before you speak.
  2. Look at people when they talk to you; if you can’t be genuinely interested in what they have to say, pretend for a few minutes. Nothing lasts forever.
  3. Never laugh at someone’s dreams, no matter how silly you think they are. For good or ill, people’s feelings are real to them. If you’ve ever shared something very personal and special, only to be greeted with baffled looks and incredulous laughter, you know what I mean.
  4. Resist the temptation to always give advice. Eight times out of ten, it’s not your job. and not what the other person is seeking.
  5. Speak to others as you’d have them speak to you. If it’s not with kindness and *gasp!* occasional deference, they’re hanging with the wrong people.
  6. Do nice things for others without expecting repayment or recognition.
  7. Resist the temptation to be “that guy” — the one whose job it is to pick apart every comment or find fault in every opinion. Don’t get me wrong: you’re entitled. But it makes you look like a jerk.
  8. Learn how to disagree or question without malice. No one has to be a “yes man,” or pretend to agree when he doesn’t. But there’s a way, and there’s a way, feel me? Remember: words can hit harder than any fist.
  9. Actually listen — not just wait your turn to speak. Let stuff sink in before you react.
  10. This is the hardest one for me: When someone hurts you, don’t react like a wounded animal. Striking back is usually our first defense, and most often the least wise. Don’t repay aggression with aggression. If the aggressor doesn’t have a sparring partner, there’s no point in continuing the barrage. If he does continue, it’s your job to remove yourself from the situation. Life’s too short to constantly be in the position of defending yourself. (That gets old really fast, believe me.) If you choose it, that’s fine, but no one should be backed into that corner against his will.

Those are my ten. Any to add?

Je me souviens II

Here comes the Nostalgia Train again. I was feeling particularly melancholy last night, pining for things I can never have (my childhood, a chance to live in the south of France for a year, a simpler life), and I happened on some great memories. I figure some of you might have some stories or memories too, so I thought I’d post some pictures and get the fond recollections going. :-)

Many a lunch -- even into my adulthood -- featured this delicacy.

Many a lunch — even into my adulthood — featured this delicacy.

I hated these! They set my teeth on edge. I have trouble even looking at them. *shudder*

I hated these! They set my teeth on edge. I have trouble even looking at them. *shudder*

Open the door, grab the bottle.

Open the door, grab the bottle.

If you wanted one, you didn't admit it. :-)

If you wanted one, you didn’t admit it. :-)

We rarely got pop to drink, and even less often were allowed to drink from the bottle, but on the rare occasion...heavenly.

We were rarely permitted to drink pop, and even less often allowed to drink from the bottle, but on the rare occasion…heavenly.

Yep, we had one.

Yep, we had one.

Every single night of our childhood, 365 days a year. Make the iced tea, and put ice in the glasses.

Every single night of our childhood, 365 days a year. Make the iced tea, and put ice in the glasses. Then fill the ice trays so you could do it all again tomorrow night.

Every bathroom in our house had one.

Every bathroom in our house had one.

Mother had one that sat on a sleigh-shaped candy dish.

Mother had one that sat on a sleigh-shaped candy dish.

Mother & Dad drank their coffee out of these every morning.

The parents drank their coffee out of these every morning.


So, any memories come to your mind? I love the vintage stuff and the flood of good feelings that accompany it. Those were the days, my friend…

Long-awaited reopening

Even though I’ve seen the place only from the outside, I’ve always thought Tavern on the Green was cool: a place I wanted to visit so I could roost in one of the outlandishly gaudy-but-delightful dining rooms and have lunch. I never got the chance, though, as the Tavern — once the highest-grossing restaurant in the country — filed bankruptcy in 2009, and later closed its doors after a bitter fight with the city government over its lease. The owners also took a huge hit from the Wall Street crisis, as much of the restaurant’s revenue came from corporate dinners and parties. After the sky fell in 2008, all the frivolity dried up, right alongside the profit margin.

But as of this very day, it looks as if my fortunes might change. Tavern on the Green’s renaissance begins at dinnertime tonight, when its doors will open as a restaurant for the first time since the fallout, transfer of ownership, and $20 million renovation.

Gone are the Tiffany chandeliers, linen tablecloths, fanciful lighted trees and bizarre topiary that symbolized the Tavern in its heyday of decades past. Gone is the opulent and charmingly overdone Crystal Room (pictured), and the life-sized deer (deer??) that greeted patrons in the main entranceway.

Tavern Then

The new owners claim that they want Tavern on the Green to be the restaurant that everyday “Upper West Siders choose.” They’re catering less to tourists and more to “regular New Yorkers” — even though the ever-so-slightly pretentious menu seems to indicate otherwise. ($18 salads and $20 cheeseburgers?)

Tavern Now

Tavern Now

Still, I’m glad to see it opening again, in spite of many comments I’ve read from New Yorkers who say that while it’s a restaurant opening under the same name and in the same location, it’s not Tavern on the Green. Without the decadence of the furnishings and the spirit of outlandish excess that gave the place its total Liberace-on-a-lark vibe, it’s not Tavern, they say. It’s just “that new place.” Indeed, the “new place” is different; the opulence has been replaced by earth tones and ultra-hip understatement.

My hope is that it will do well, and eventually draw in the hoi polloi as well as the hoity-toity. It’s a glorious piece of New York history, and should be enjoyed by all. I know it’ll be on my list of places to stop next time I’m in the city.

But I ain’t payin’ no $12 for a bowl of grits, y’all.

Review: 700 Sundays

Since this traveling one-man show has been on and off Broadway for ten years now, you’d think I’d have heard about it. But I was clueless until a couple of nights ago.

While I’m not a lifelong Billy Crystal fan (yes, I enjoyed When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers, but I never followed his stand-up stuff, outside of watching him emcee the Academy Awards), I must say I was surprised and delighted to see a very real, loving (albeit sometimes rambling) portrait of his Eisenhower-era childhood on Long Island, and his larger-than-life father, Jack Crystal, who had a huge influence on his development as an artist and a man.

Jack was a record store owner (Commodore Records in Times Square was his lifelong career) and concert producer, which enabled his young son Billy (youngest of three boys) to meet and rub elbows with the hottest names in jazz at the time. Most entertaining were his stories about cutting up with Billie Holiday, and going to concerts with his dad.

Oftentimes, comedians come from sad, hurtful pasts that drive them towards covering up the pain with humor. Not so with Billy Crystal. He had what many would call a perfect childhood: living in the suburbs with parents who adored and encouraged him, and offered him every available opportunity to be who he wanted to be.

While the tribute is funny, it stalls sometimes, with Crystal obviously wanting to include every obscure story about every obscure jazz player who ever teased him or made him feel like a million bucks. And, obviously, it’s Billy Crystal, so the borscht-belt jokes about passing wind and the male libido were a bit too numerous for my taste, but bottom line: this is a man who adored his parents, and the show is an enormous thank-you card to them for all to see. I had tears more than once, especially when Crystal the actor put Crystal the comedian aside and described the two very dark days when his parents died. It was emotional and real and not contrived in the least. I loved it.

If you can find it on HBO or elsewhere, definitely watch it, especially if you’re a Crystal fan. I had no idea he was surrounded by all that great jazz his whole life. It was an entertaining look into what — and who — made him who he is.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give 700 Sundays:

NYC Day Two

So sorry to have not updated you on my little story yesterday. As you might imagine, the day just got away from me and that was all she wrote (literally).

So, the tale.

As you may know already, the coach lines were an hour late picking us up from the school, so instead of leaving at 9 p.m., we left at 10. That may not seem like a big deal in the big scheme of things, but oh my…it was.

Being behind schedule in, say, Cincinnati, is one thing. Being behind schedule on New Jersey 495 into the Lincoln Tunnel? That’s another issue.

First off: we totally blew off the Today show because of traffic and time concerns. We were at breakfast at Cucina, and already we were running late getting all the way from 50th St. to 112th, where the cathedral (and the gig) sat. And the logistics of sending 104 people to the bathrooms in the lower level of the Rockefeller building — well, that’s another thing, too. So, by the time we got to St. John, we were already almost an hour behind.

But no worries, right? Our awesome (and I do mean incredibly cool — you’ll see why in a minute here) escort, Cathy, called ahead and talked to someone at the church, who said, “It’s fine — no one is waiting behind them to perform, so they can just go ahead and start when they get here.” Nice.

So we pull up to the church steps, fall out of the buses, get out the robe coffins, and distribute 80 robes like our hair’s on fire. Then, to my complete shock and bewilderment, Cathy appears and starts motioning wildly for the kids to come into the church. Note: we have neither warmed up nor lined up.

So I fly up the steps and go inside. I’m trying to A) find Cathy, and B) line up the choir in the back of the church in some semblance of order before walking up the 600-foot center aisle to the front. Cathy appears and delivers the good news: “They just told me you cannot sing in the church after 11:00.”

It was 10:55.

So — forget the center aisle and any appearance of decorum. I told the kids as quietly as I could to just start walking up the side aisle to the front. Now bear in mind: these poor students had never been here before. They had no clue what was to happen or why they were escaping up a side aisle like thieves, and especially, why they were approaching a performance while standing and walking completely out of order and formation. It was crazy, but they handled it perfectly.

We finally reached the front of the church, and I started motioning them to get on the steps, just willy nilly, as best they could. Everyone was jumbled, and this is a group that is accustomed to standing in their respective sections (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). I could tell by the looks on some of their faces that they were not sure any of this was going to work. Truthfully, I wasn’t too sure, either.

But then, fiends, beautiful things happened. They sang pretty well, and I think the people in the gathered crowd were appreciating them nicely. We got three tunes in, and I feel a presence behind me.

It was the law. The guy said, “You have to leave. Now.”

OK, no problemo…………………………

So that was our “performance” experience at St. John. I still don’t know why they cut us off, other than for some secret reason, likely having to do with making money. But here’s what went on behind the scenes:

Cathy was confused as to why “No problem; they can just sing when they get here” turned into “Nobody sings after 11, so they can’t perform.” So, long story longer, she had a little battle of words with the cathedral manager, to whom she basically said, “These kids have driven 600 miles to do this. Are you going to refund their money? No? Well then, they’re singing. Call the police if you want to, but they’re singing.”

Yep. She’s a rock star. She got us three numbers, when it easily could have been zero. We love her for that (and other things).

So…today’s our last day on tour. I think everyone had a good time, and I hope it continues through this last busy day, when we’ll do the Staten Island Ferry, a tour of Lower Manhattan, Chinatown, the financial district, the 9/11 memorial, Grand Central Terminal, Fino for dinner, and then Top of the Rock before heading home at 10 p.m.

It’s been a real nice cruise. :-)

See you on the flip side, fiends.