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olt! is a way station and oasis on the ancient road from Bedlam to Bellevue, dedicated to free and open discussion of topics moving heart and spirit.
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I'm a great fan of Thai food ever since my Service stint in Thailand and weekend visits to a friend's house outside of town, perched on stilts with a deck reaching out over the local klong. Klongs are the waterways of Thailand, a bit like Venice, a bit like the bayous of Louisiana, a river delta framed by verdant growth, brown water filled with creepy crawly things which may be good to eat but you want me to swim there? I didn't bring a swimsuit! The first time around I had to be shown how to securely tie my sarong, had no problems after that jumping off the porch and spending time playing in the waters before cleaning up and picking out a dry wrap for the feasts that followed.
Tonight on St. Marks here in New York we're feasting in a restaurant called Klong, down a few steps into a dimly lit techno cave where the food is sumptuous and inexpensive. Five of us get a table all the way in the back next to the kitchen where an all-Thai crew provides a bit of extra theater as they deal with the usual overflow metromix crowd. Go for chairs when visiting, the bench backrests need fixing, they lean against the wall giving no support, useless, and it's been that way forever all through the restaurant. Someone's design gone bad.
I start with Galanga Coconut Milk Soup to get the spices rolling. We dip Grilled Squid Legs into a chili lime juice sauce and split a plate of Assorted Golden Fritters - chicken, shrimp dumplings, some tofu bits. Five Firecrackers turn out to be crunchy spiced shrimp.
Then there is Klong Pad Thai - a stuffed crepe-like concoction, promoted as an obscure recipe from the Siamese Royal Palace: seafood in tamarind sauce with a touch of coconut milk, wrapped in an eggwhite omelet: mussels and pineapple in a mild red curry sauce rule, a spoonful of rice with that sauce is heaven.
More Shrimp come in a green curry sauce, spicier than the red one, and there are two versions of Thai Noodles, all washed down with a pleasant Cabernet from Chile.
Looking back over that list now I realize we skipped the fabulous duck I've had on earlier visits.
Did I mention this is one of my favorite restaurants?
Did my duty and am I ever so glad it's every four years now instead of the two it used to be. We deliberated for four days on an arson case which wrecked an already-wrecked house in Harlem, set by a disgruntled friend in a Collyr mansion type apartment.
Collyer brothers of New York history, I don't recall them mentioning it during the trial. They were an extreme example of The Hoarders show on tv. Back in the early 1900's they filled their house, also in Harlem, with books and garbage from bottom to top leaving nothing but crawl spaces and booby traps to crush any intruders. One of them was unable to move on his own, dependent on his brother to take care of him until the day the caretaker got crushed by one of those traps leaving the disabled brother ... don't even want to think about it. Hoarding seems to be a common trait in the City. An upstairs neighbor of mine was carted off to Bellevue the other day after eluding his captors for a time in the crawlspaces of his apartment filled with newspapers and what nots up to and through the ceiling into the crawlspace below the roof of our building.
where was I ... the trial ...
We took our duty seriously, hence the long deliberation, the only chuckle coming after a rather detailed description by a firefighter of the effort involved in removing the front door to the apartment what with three feet of burning garbage behind it. He detailed how they had to take the door off its hinges while guarding against fire spreading out into the hallway. After his testimony the officer stepped out of the stand and came to a full stop at the door exiting the court room. He couldn't open it until someone told him to push instead of pull.
The defendant was a young woman, high on crack and cheap wine, found guilty of arson, reckless endangerment (people were in the building) and menacing with a knife.
I had it easy in the Service, the closest I ever came to real combat was in an airplane safely miles over Vietnam. Down below we saw firefights and bombings lighting up the night. As I understand it, we were detoured to fly over Vietnam since that counted as being in a Combat Zone which gave us tax exemption for the year?
I did do a couple of survival training classes where we had rattlesnake for dinner; catching and skinning rattlesnakes seems to be an important survival skill when lost in Florida boondocks.
Most memorable was a night combat training class, a moonless night in the bogs with machine guns rattling overhead, bombs spraying mud, rockets and flares flickering on barbed wire as we stumble single file through the dark, clutching our rifles sans bullets. Luckily I am in the middle of the line, scared as hell. What if one of those bombs lands in the wrong place? The guy behind me taps me on the shoulder, I turn around. A dark figure with blacked-out face points a cocked finger at me: Bang. You're dead. He motions me to be quiet and takes me to meet all the other dead from behind me.
Luckily I never had to remember that lesson.
The dead were assigned to man a week of night shifts.
The Doll on St. Marks advertised a tattoo parlor, showing up every so often over several years, these are from the early 2000s I think.
Yesterday, a bit early for wine tasting at Astor Place Wines, I head around the corner to Washington Square to pass the time and do some people watching by the fountain. News was that the Square had been cleaned up yet again, but as usual I try not to make eye contact with dealers. That fails and they need assurance that I'm fine and not in need of opiates of any kind today. Ditto to the pair of young religious Jews, asking if I'm Jewish, ready to ensnare me with their Tefillim for Friday afternoon prayers. Are you Jewish? Not today I reply which always throws them. At least they're not as loud and in your face as the Amish preacher hollering ever-lasting damnation to the motley crowd around the fountain.
Now I'm not Jewish but I've been here long enough to appreciate lox and cream cheese, matzo ball soup and gefilte fish, and I know that Teffilim are small boxes containing scriptures, they get strapped to the forehead and the arm. "And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8).
I watch the two prepare a lone older man for prayer, respectfully removing the first black box from a bag and centering it on the man's biceps, wrapping the leather straps once around the biceps and seven times around the lower arm, then placing the remaining straps into the man's palm. The second box is placed on the man's forehead, fastened behind his head. Then back to the straps from the palm, wrapping them around the fingers just so according to tradition:
Down to the fist.
Down to bottom of fist
Under-around to the middle finger
1 swing around top of middle finger
2 swings around bottom half of middle finger
Jump it around to the 4th finger
Down to the bottom of fist
Then swing vertically around and around of the middle center of the fist.
Tighten a loop knot in the inner part of fist.*
One of them alternates between leafing through a prayer book for instructions and recording the proceedings with his cell. He hands the book to his friend to point at lines for the man to read, slowly at first then picking up speed, recalling a familiar ritual. When it's over the man alternates between beaming and tears, profusely thanking the two as they stow the Teffilim.
I head for the wine-tasting, which was nothing special this time around though a 2002 Rodney Strong Chardonnay shows some appealing character.
* ... the link no longer works - http://www.hanefesh.com/edu/Tefillin.htm
It's never very far to a laundry when you're in Manhattan. At one time, some years ago during another life, I had a pad just off Times Square and regularly crossed the Square with my bag of dirty wash, heading for a laundry on Eighth Avenue. I thought that was the koolest, all those tourists and me with my dirty laundry! Nowadays it's just down the street. Most older apartments here don't have room for washers, the plumbing wouldn't keep up and the landlord is apt to complain, making the laundry a neighborhood thing where you meet your friends and new lovers, catch up on the latest buzz and ask who was picked up by that ambulance in the middle of the night.
My timing is right, a very specific washing machine is free and gets my brights, it's the only one with an extra 3 minute pre-soak cycle - none of the others do that. Darks go into another machine. I've been coming to this laundry since day one ... it may have been day two or three after they opened. Later I was there on the first day the old owner brought his young son who owns the business now. He is cleaning up as I arrive, mopping the floor, polishing the machines. "Why pay someone to do it and I do it better anyway," straightens the magazine rack and drives off in his Lexus to the next laundry.
As soon as he's gone Maria lights a cigarette in the back by the fan. She does the service orders and has a mouth like the proverbial fishwife. When she's talking to friends in English it's fuckin' this and fuckin' that. I don't understand much Puerto Rican, though I hear a frequent maricón. She takes puffs, folding laundry while watching soaps on an old snowy black and white tv, making frequent trips to the corner grocery for scratch offs and coffee.
Juanita drops by with another petition to sign, she's very civic minded, the lunatic left kind. She waves Hi! but won't tell me what it is. "You never sign anything anyway," she complains and goes on to corner a neighbor down the street.
It's a quiet day, folding is done in no time. The socks match. That's critical, makes it a good wash. I shoulder my bag of neatly folded laundry and head back home.
It's a dreary day in New York, but Joyce Wadler cheers things up with As a Sculptor of Nature, the Man Thinks Big in today's New York Times. The Man is a sculptor know as Mihail who had a big idea: casting an elephant!
Mihail sedated and cast a bull elephant in Kenya in 1980, then took 18 years to complete his sculpture. He proudly presented the finished work to the United Nations this week only to learn that "a number of United Nations delegates were offended by the size of the genitalia on his three-and-a-half-ton elephant, and, after considering surgery, were planning to surround the sculpture with tall shrubs."
There were no revealing pictures, though.
I go hoofing north with my camera in search of this fabled beast somewhere on the Promenade of the United Nations. There amongst flapping flags of all the world's countries, across the street from the Swords Turned into Plowshares sculpture, I find the pachyderm hiding in a small stand of trees, barricaded yet. However, a small opening right by a path leads into the jungle. Amazing how a few trees can create a jungle right in the middle of New York City. Obviously if one is not supposed to go on that path, the barricades would be closed, and they were ajar. So I went, saw, and took a couple of pictures.
As the New York Times explains it, "Mihail's elephant looks as if it has an appointment with a lady elephant, and she's just around the corner, with Sinatra on the boom box and a bucket of martinis." According to Hans Janitschek, who heads the fund that raised the money, when the elephant was sedated "he had a sweet dream" while the sculptor known as Mihail did the body cast.
I head south again ...