New Horizons in Snack Food Appreciation

Those who know me – or at least have had a meal with me – might be surprised to learn that I was a rather picky eater as a child. Like many kids, I was extremely reluctant to try new things. My family has still yet to let me live down my infamous statement when one night my mother presented me with something unfamiliar on my dinner plate: “I don’t like it. What is it?”

As an adult, I enjoy consuming all sorts of food: Italian, Indian, Greek, Thai, Mexican, and as a member of the Tribe, it goes without saying that Chinese is frequently in the mix as well. I sometimes get cravings for cold sesame noodles, one of my favorite comfort foods. However, there was one Chinese establishment that I was too afraid to try: despite walking past it nearly every day in the several years since it opened: the Chinese bakery.

Well, it certainly didn’t have that warm, local bakery feeling from the outside – all glass and bright fluorescent lights, with lots of Chinese characters and almost no English. Over time, however, I noticed that all sorts of people of nearly every age and ethnicity were frequenting the place – and it was usually pretty crowded. And yet, for years I dared not venture in. Until today.

After a day of not being terribly productive and feeling anxious about it, I decided to take a mid-afternoon walk around the neighborhood to clear my head and restore my equilibrium. After all, it was a beautiful early autumn day: sunny, about 70 degrees with a cool, crisp breeze.  And my furry paralegals, Earl and Angel, were busy sleeping and sunning themselves. Deciding to seek a post-stroll snack, I remembered the Chinese bakery near the subway stop and decided to head there rather than to one of the more conventional purveyors of confections.

Even though I was wearing my prescription sunglasses, it was still rather bright in there. And the sign near the front of the store saying “please limit your visit to no more than 15 minutes” didn’t exactly give me a warm, fuzzy feeling, either.  But then I started looking around the display cases. Everything was labeled in Chinese and in English and what a selection!

There was as tantalizing an array of typical cakes, cookies, brownies and tarts as you’d find in any bakery. And I noticed the portions were large and the prices were cheap. No wonder the place was packed despite the less than cozy atmosphere. But, there were also all these strange confections that I’d never seen before.

Having become a fan of red bean ice cream many years ago, I decided to dip my toe in the waters of Chinese baked goods (OK, it’s a strange metaphor) and I selected a red bean pastry and ordered a small coffee. The pastry was like a croissant, light and flaky, but with a red bean-flavored center.  Both the pastry and the coffee were quite good and cheap – $2.10 for the pair.

As with food, I try to have similarly eclectic tastes in music. And while I mostly listen to contemporary classical (new music) and jazz these days, I very much enjoy all different types of genres and amalgamations of them  – at least when someone introduces me to them.  Perhaps there’s the moral here: an open mind and some form of introduction  – with music it’s usually friends and in the case of the bakery it was the full house of a heterogeneous clientele beckoning me in – can make one overcome one’s fear of the new and the unknown. And sometimes pleasant surprises await the senses from trying something new!

Of Prayer, Poise and Ping-Pong

My niece is a die-hard Yankees fan. So for her Bat Mitzvah, I got her some Judaica in the form of a yarmulke with the Bronx Bombers’ insignia and a baseball cap that spelled “Yankees” in Hebrew letters — as well as some Bat Mitzvah gelt.  Services were at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, which has been beautifully restored from a devastating fire a few years ago. Friday Night (Shabbat) Lights is the main event there and the house was packed not just with the families of the two Bat Mitzvah girls – my niece, Kayla, and another girl were the stars of a double header the following morning – but with the regulars.

The atmosphere had the sound and feel of a world music rock concert that just happened to have some Jewish prayers mixed in. The two female cantors had lovely voices and ably accompanied themselves on guitar, such strumming being a prerequisite at Reform temples these days.  Their backing band consisted of piano, violin, clarinet, upright bass, percussion and four singers. It was great to hear music in temple that was sung in tune for a change.

Everything went as planned the following morning. No lines were flubbed; no Torahs dropped. They have a lovely tradition at the temple where the Torah is passed from generation to generation. Kayla is fortunate to still have all four grandparents, who passed the sacred scroll to my brother and sister-in-law and then to my niece.  The band was smaller on Saturday — only one cantor — but the mood remained festive as the pianist, at times channeling Vince Guaraldi, made me feel as if I were at “A Charlie Brown Bar Mitzvah.” I somehow refrained from doing my Snoopy dance on the piano.

Now, Kayla is a very bright, diligent student so we all knew that her chanting of the Torah and Haftorah portions, as well as the blessings before and after, along with her commentary on the torah portion, would be technically perfect and error-free. But what was a revelation to me and to her proud papa as well, was the poise and maturity with which she handled these duties.

Many kids  — and adults for that matter — tend to rush, speak in a soft monotone and don’t make eye contact when they’re compelled to do any kind of public speaking. And of my brother’s two girls, the younger one, Amelia, tends to be the more extroverted of the two. However, Kayla turned out to be a polished pro – better than most candidates on the stump. She chanted the Hebrew clearly and in key and she delivered her commentary deliberately, varying her tempo and modulating her voice for emphasis. And she made lots of eye contact! Well done!

However, even the Rabbi conceded that the day’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha  (Genesis, chapter 12) is a troubling one as Abraham, the patriarch of our people, doesn’t come off too well. To save his own hide, he seems to have had no problem pimping out his wife to the Egyptian Pharaoh as long as she said Abraham was her brother, not her husband. In exchange for Sarah’s having to fend off the king’s booty call, Abraham received some nice booty of his own: sheep, oxen, camels asses and servants.

After services, there was a buffet lunch in the basement of the temple. And something akin to a miracle occurred there. Two of my cousins, a brother and sister who hadn’t seen each other in twenty-five years, sat down together and amiably chatted for about an hour as if only a few days had passed since they’d last spoken. Thrilled and amazed, I nonetheless had visions of airborne swine, of small simians soaring from my nether regions and of meteorological impossibilities in the netherworld.

At the reception, the adults and the kids had separate, adjoining rooms — brilliant and highly recommended — and the kids took part in a live-action game of Clue. I found Miss Scarlet most fetching, as many of us alleged adults ventured into the kids’ room to snarf some of their snacks as they had chips, guacamole and salsa — and sushi, too.  The kids were ushered in for the ritual blessings over bread and wine and my brother, whom I’d never seen look happier, delivered a very moving toast.

But the best part of the evening to me was that both the kids and adults had ping-pong tables. Although I played some competitive table tennis when I was a teen, I’m a couple of decades out of practice. Suit and tie isn’t the best athletic wear and wine probably wasn’t the optimum pre-match hydration libation but was more enjoyable than gulping Gatorade. Nonetheless, after warming up a bit, I got my forehand cranking and vanquished all comers not just at ping pong, but at beer pong as well, that staple of college recreation I first encountered in my brother’s Dartmouth days.  His good friend, Steve, an excellent beer-ponger, and I went at it, substituting glasses of red wine for plastic cups of beer – and I emerged victorious by a margin of two games to one!

The Blog Is Back

Dear Readers:

It’s been way too long since I lasted posted anything on my blog. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything interesting to write about in the realm of copyright, music, my cats or any other myriad topics like “why can’t Roger Federer convert two match points?” No, I’ve just been too focused on other things: launching a new business for classical and jazz composers, assisting my clients with their legal issues, teaching college classes on music publishing and the recording industry, losing 20 pounds, doing a gig at Cornelia Street Café, writing new songs in preparation for an October 19 gig and finally learning to hit a one-handed topspin backhand.

However,  my friend and professional butt-kicker, Nancy Tierney, tells me that if I really want my law practice and my new business – which I hope to launch in the beginning of next year –  to soar, I’ve got to keep this blog thing going on a regular basis.  So, I’m going to update the blog by starting with some re-posts of articles that originally appeared on BMI’s site, where I am a member of the “faculty” (check out the site in a month or so for some new articles on Grand Rights and other topics) as well as some new musings written just for you.

So, if you’re interested in music, tennis, copyright and cats, please check back here regularly.  And if you haven’t already done so, please take my Copyright Quiz. Nancy says I should post something once a week and I’m going to try very hard to do it because I really don’t want bruises on my behind.  Comments are always welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.