Thursday, August 26, 2010

Daisy's Diner

To me, there is nothing like a diner breakfast. One of life's great pleasures is to sit in a real diner (most seem to be run by Greeks) and enjoy all the foods I'm not supposed to eat. There are other breakfast places like Friendly's, Perkins and I-Hop, but they just don't make it for me. They all have standardized, sanitized interiors with no character or homeyness, and the food tastes bland. I just don't walk away with the same satisfied feeling as when I eat in one of my favorite diners.

On Staten Island, Mike the Greek owns all the good diners. He has maybe six places and all are thriving. Mike started small, but he knows what people want and he gives it to them. Most of his places offer specials during the week that include coffee and sometimes a small juice. The specials are reasonably priced and as a result more people come in than if he tried to gouge them. Mike's success also stems from his hands-on management style. He has hand picked his managers, including a couple of his kids, and he trains them to run the place the way he would. When he buys out a diner from someone else, a total renovation usually follows, so the place looks good.

There are a few things I look for in a good diner. First the food must be good and the service prompt and friendly. I like my home fries well done and I always order them just this side of burned. If they arrive boiled and mushy looking, I'm probably not going back. I also like the fat, Italian-style sausages, not the skinny, anemic links some diners serve. I tried to describe these sausages once to a waitress in a Connecticut diner, and she looked at me in total bewilderment. She asked me if I was from the South. The coffee should also be good and I shouldn't have to search for my waiter or waitress for a refill.

As for diner decor, older is better than newer. I like a place with some age on it as if the owner has been around for a few years. I prefer comfortable booths over tables, and natural incandescent lighting rather than the harsh neon glow that makes my eggs look blue. Wait staff should get orders right without having them repeated, and it goes without saying that I expect a mint and a toothpick on the way out. Parking should be reasonably available; meters are OK as long as they work. Many of the newer diners are way too glitzy for me. I feel like I'm having breakfast on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

If you think my demands are impossible to meet, I would encourage you to visit Daisy's Diner on Fifth Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets in Brooklyn. The place is long and narrow, with booths at either end and a counter in the middle. All the requirements I spelled out above are met at Daisy's. The food and service are great. The decor is comfortable and kitchy, with odd but appealing wall hangings and bric-a-brac scattered around. There is a black wrought iron fence along one wall that makes it look like a neighborhood block. A vintage, bright red telephone booth from jolly old England graces the counter area. The overall effect is aesthetically pleasing and very welcoming.

I can't tell you the enjoyment I get eating there. If I know we're going, I'll think about it for days. If ever I was looking for reasons to move back to Brooklyn, Daisy's would be high on the list.

LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ranting Again

This post started out as a forum to vent my frustration about the little things in life that bother me. My wife pointed out the other day that I'm getting too mellow and need to get a good rant going to get back on track.

What idiot decided where in a hotel room bathroom to locate the rolls of toilet paper? Wouldn't it make sense to put them where it does not require the gymnastic ability of Olga Korbut to reach them. While we're in the hotel bathroom, let me question the wisdom of a shower with just two water temperature settings: scald and shiver. And what's with that exhaust fan? It sounds like an SST breaking the sound barrier. If your trips to the potty are so toxic that you need a fan from a Boeing 747 to vent them, they should have to post a warning in the hotel lobby for anyone staying on the same floor.

I have nothing against people who ride bicycles, but what the hell is with these bicycle lanes sprouting up all over the city? There is no room for cars in NYC, much less bicycle lanes that take up needed street space. It's a real treat sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic while that empty bike lane sits there laughing at you. Cyclists are a menace anyhow. They bitch about drivers ignoring them, but they are equally guilty of ignoring traffic regulations and pedestrians. Why should they have their own little safe zones to get around. Let these Nancy-boys man up and take their chances like the rest of us.

Every so often we have to redefine 'stupid' to take into account the actions of a rapidly growing population of idiots. Some NYC teachers were caught taking fun and sun vacations while out sick from work. Why did this push the needle into the red on the Stupidmeter you ask? The jaboneys posted pictures of their smiling faces on Facebook for all to see! Even the Inspector Clouseaus at the Department of Education were able to connect the dots on this one. It seems to me that anybody this stupid is in no position to teach kids anything.

The Muslims pushing to build this mosque at Ground Zero are pissing off a lot of people. Why the strident insistence on this particular spot? Muslims are welcome to build their mosque anywhere else, so why push so hard for an area where so many people died at the hands of Muslim extremists? Would their prayers to Allah be heard any less if they moved a short distance away? It would be as if the Japanese wanted to build a Buddhist temple on Pearl Harbor after bombing the hell out of it to start WWII. Sorry but I'm in the ranks of the 'Opposed' on this one. If Muslims want to change their image in America and truly want to fit in, they are certainly going about it in a strange way.

People who should just go away: In Politics: The Obamas, Chuck Schumer, Charlie Rangel, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Al Sharpton, Christine Quinn, Barbara Boxer, Barney Frank, any leftover Kennedys, Pedro Espada and the entire New York State Senate. In Entertainment: Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, Lady Gaga, Brangelina, Alec Baldwin, Barbra Streisand, Katie Couric, all rappers, The Beach Boys (enough already) In Sports: Roger Clemens, Isiah Thomas, Ben Roethlisberger, Serena Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Plaxico Burress.

Sorry to go all 'Alan Alda' on you faithful readers. The rant is back and it's take no prisoners.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Gilded Age

I love a crook who knows his business. That description certainly applies to the so-called Robber Barons of the "Gilded Age" (1870 to 1900) in American History. Men like John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbuilt, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie amassed vast fortunes in such industries as railroads, oil, gas, coal and steel production, banking and commercial shipping, not always caring about the methods they used. They preferred to think of themselves by the more flattering term: "Captains of Industry", and since they made their money in the glorious days before income taxes, they got to keep every dollar...sweet. It's no wonder these men had a little extra spending money to build "summer cottages" in a seaside town off Narraganset Bay called Newport, Rhode Island.

The word "cottages" is misleading based on our current understanding of the term. America was still a relatively new country during the Gilded Age, and looked to Europe for social and cultural enlightenment. Consequently, the palaces and grand homes in Europe became the models for these summer cottages in Newport. No expense was spared as each wealthy family tried to outdo the others. The most renown architects were hired and given unlimited budgets; the best and richest building materials were used; and because the Gilded Age coincided with the first waves of European immigration to America, a plentiful supply of master craftsmen and domestic workers was available as well. In many cases, European castles were simply dismantled, crated and reassembled in Newport. Elaborate fireplaces, marble columns, rare wooden paneling, statuary, Renaissance artwork...nothing was too good for the Robber Barons.

Although these Newport mansions were magnificent, they had their critics who felt that such over-the-top homes were not only vulgar and ostentatious, but had no aesthetic or architectural merit. Architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler said that the style was "...completely classicized and purged of its great Gothic heritage." Another critic moaned about The Breakers that " strikes the observer as a pretentious family hotel rather than an elegant, luxurious family home." Also, such excess was frowned upon by the common man in a time when many Americans were struggling to put food on the table. The term "Gilded Age" came from a book title by Mark Twain, and means covered with gold on the outside, but not really golden on the inside.

Soon after the enactment of the 16th Amendment authorizing a national income tax in America around 1913, even wealthy families had difficulty finding the funds needed to modernize and maintain these vast homes. Many employed domestic staffs of 30-50 people who had to not only be paid, but housed, fed and cared for. Since the mansions were occupied only in the summer, many were allowed to fall into disrepair. Their owners had elaborate homes elsewhere and just stopped coming to Newport for summer vacations. As hard as it is to imagine, the city of Newport thought about buying up these magnificent homes, tearing them down, and building such needed infrastructure as schools, and not-so-needed shopping malls!

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Preservation Society of Newport for saving "America's Castles" from the wrecking ball. They worked out agreements with many of the owners to sell the mansions to the Society for a nominal sum on the condition that they be preserved for posterity. Many owners also provided an annual stipend for maintenance which was supplemented when the Society opened the mansions to the public. Some may not like the mansions or the people who built them, but these spectacular homes deserve to stand as a monument to a unique period in American history. In a day when flip flops and tank tops pass for casual attire, the mansions evoke a way of life when elegance, gentility and breeding were greatly valued.

During our visit this week I found the Newport homes to be as beautiful inside and out as I remembered them from our last visit many years ago. One could only imagine what it must have been like living in these palaces. On the guided tour of The Breakers we were told that the Vanderbuilt children would have fun by sitting on silver trays and sliding down the grand marble staircase. Hey, didn't we all! As we walked through the terraced gardens I could almost hear the music of the society orchestra, as impeccably dressed ladies and gentlemen danced away on a warm summer evening.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dear Dad...

Saturday we went to see "Mamma Mia" on Broadway. My wife's been trying to get me to see this show for years, but I resisted. Big mistake on my part (there's a rarity) and I apologized for keeping her from seeing it sooner. Aside from the memorable songs by ABBA so skillfully worked into the story line, the plot fascinated me. If you don't know the story, a young girl (Sophie) is about to get married. She lives with her mother, who owns a small hotel on a Greek island. The girl never knew her father who left before she was born, and her mother refuses to speak of him. Sophie finds her mother's old diary and identifies three men her Mom wrote about with whom she was romantically involved at around the time Sophie would have been conceived. Sophie always wanted to know her Dad and decides to send wedding invitations to all three, hoping to finally meet her father.

As the show progressed, my mind wandered and I began to think of how in real life the three men might react after receiving such an invitation. All they knew initially was that the daughter of a woman they once loved was getting married, and they were invited to the wedding. As the story unfolds, each man learns that he could possibly have fathered Sophie some 21 years ago. The story has a happy ending after many funny and tender plot twists, and the identity of Sophie's father is never revealed. In the end, Sophie realizes that knowing her father is not as important as she once thought. She is the person she is because of the efforts and love of her one parent... her mother. Curtain descends, wipe away tears, big, showy finale number, "Dancing Queen" gets the crowd on their feet clapping and cheering.

I couldn't shake the idea of getting such a surprise announcement in the mail. Although my younger years were quite celibate as I saved myself for Miss Right, the story outlined in the play was not so far fetched. Sohpie was born in the 1970s, an era before STDs like Aids were prevalent and when "free love" was the anthem of the young. Flower children hopped in and out of beds, and contraceptives were hit or miss, if they were used at all. What if, twenty years after sowing his wild oats, some guy were to find out that across the world there lived a young girl who might be his daughter? What would his reaction be? What would my reaction be? As it turns out in the play, none of the three men involved were currently married, a circumstance that more easily allows them to follow their curiosity and show up for the wedding, but what if they were?

We tend to live predictable lives, or at least we try. As much as people complain about being in a rut, the routine is something we know. When we are forced out of our comfort zone, we don't always welcome the change. Getting a letter in the mail that said you might have fathered a daughter 20 years ago would certainly qualify as such a surprise. I honestly don't know what I'd do. Knowing I had a daughter who was searching for would be very hard to just walk away from that. On the other hand it would cause complications in my family life to be sure. I can't imagine what my wife's reaction would be...not unadulterated joy. What would I do if the shoe was on the other foot? I know I would be less than thrilled. Would my kids want to meet their half-sister?

It's a little like the complicated emotions adopted children must feel. On the one hand they are curious about their birth parents, while on the other the parents who raised them are the only family they have known, and they might be hurt if their child began searching for the people who put them up for adoption. Luckily, my life is not that dramatic and I only have to deal with this dilemma hypothetically. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and three great children and that's enough for me. Hold the surprises please.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association