A holiday for Everyone East Side Encounters

| 28 Dec 2015 | 11:15

    Chanukah crawl: Seven nights of Chanukah found me celebrating the first night at Chabad Rabbi Levi Baumgarten’s annual festivities, a tradition I’ve enjoyed for the last six or seven years. This year’s was at a venue at 29th and Madison where an entire office floor was dedicated to food, family, fun, live music. First, the lighting of the candles. Then the latkes, lasagna, blintzes, knishes, jelly donuts and more. Everything dairy. And on the last night of Chanukah, my first time at the 8th Annual Hanukkah (different spelling) Celebration hosted each year by State Senator Bill Perkins at the Old Broadway Synagogue. Live music, candle lighting, singing, latkes, Middle Eastern spreads, pita, and those jelly donuts. Joining in the celebration were members of the Ethiopian Jewish community, AISH NY at Columbia’s Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, and Dr. Paul Radensky of the Old Broadway Synagogue which was founded in 1911. Hat’s off to Senator Perkins for his commitment to celebrating and bringing together the multi-ethnic and cultural communities in Manhattan. Not that his hat’s ever off - except it was this night when one of the congregants was having fun wearing it.

    Cell phone vs. headphone: Downtown bus empty, early afternoon, but for maybe eight riders in seats up front. Lady at double window seat talking Chinese on cell phone. Man gets on bus wearing headphone and toting three or four shopping bags. He has an agitated look. Can’t find his Metro card. Having a hard time with bags. Plops his things down on one of the wheelchair three-seaters in the row opposite where the woman was sitting several seats back, sits down, glares at the woman on the cell phone, and calls to her to “get off the phone.” She continues talking and he makes a slash motion with his hands. When that doesn’t end it, he motions for her to tone it down. Unphased, she keeps talking. Whereupon another rider suggests that the man turn up the sound on his headphone so he doesn’t have to hear the cell phone chatter, to which the headphone man responds, “I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my headphone. This is America. I’ll listen to what I want to. I can’t understand a word she’s saying.”

    Newspaper rites and wrongs: I’m a print junkie. Anything newspaper is my passion. Reading newspapers over coffee in various locales - be it at Starbucks, Whole Foods, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, places with Joe in its name, high-end, low-end, and oh so many others - is what I do. Online is for out of town and national papers and zines. Routine is usually iced black coffee, lots of ice, and the NY Post, the Times, Daily News, Wall St Journal, sometimes Newsday and The Observer - and of course, Our Town, on the day it arrives at Kings Pharmacy, 3rd/90-/91 or the corner kiosk. I find a table. Remove the newspapers from my tote. Set them where I’m going to sit. Head for the coffee counter. One afternoon at the cafe space at Food Emporium on 3rd and 68th, I had coffee set in place and newspapers ready to read. A man sitting at a table just ahead of mine eyed the papers, reached over, put his hands on the papers, and asked, “Are you reading ‘it’?” There were several and I was not, at that moment, reading any of them. Even if I were, did this man think he should be able to read one of them because I couldn’t read more than one at a time? Seeing my annoyance at the request, the woman sitting with him, offered, “That’s okay, Ms, we’ll wait.” Now there were two newspapers in play, but she assured me that would they “would wait until” I was “finished, okay?” No lady, no sir, not okay. Buy your own newspapers. Print is dying. Pay for it. And you can’t have my Our Town (which is free) either, not until I’ve read it. While I wasn’t handing over my newspapers before I read them, I wondered about the encounter. Was it not nice to not let strangers read my newspapers before I did? Should I have anyway? Or were they just plain rude? I’ll get a life, sure, but boundaries, how I miss them.

    Big isn’t always better: That’s what came to mind on a November evening when I was on my way to the Cinema Café on 34th and 3rd as I passed the new apartment building at 222 East 34th St on the same street and saw this ginormous sculpture - Jim Rennert (American, born 1958, Think Big, bronze 2013). Think Big Jim is big for sure and stands strong and stout. He’s supposed to be a “towering businessman” gazing at the Manhattan Skyline and aims “to remind us that the American Dream is very alive and available to all who seek it.” Truth to tell - Mr. Big looks more like one of those inflatable rats at construction sites when there are union problems. This sculpture has found its way around town, including Union Square Park. Maybe his message that being big is better should be conveyed against vast unfettered surroundings, not an apartment building, where it only enhances the possibility that Mr. Big’s an inflatable rat. It sure doesn’t inspire visions of aspiration or bigness of vision, spirit or generosity - only visions of union problems and some ego issues.

    Do we really need an emoticon or a sign posted for EVERYTHING? That was the question that came to mind at Panera’s Bread on East 86th on a late Monday afternoon when two 20-somethings stood at the soda dispenser and ran cold water over their hands alternating at least twice, giggling as they did it. NOT.