Desperate Times and Desperate Measures

I can usually stretch to a month or more between haircuts and was already planning to do it again when the NYC lockdown order arrived. Having some room to spare, the issue of haircuts never even occurred to me. Like many others, I was focused on assuring we had enough toilet paper, paper towels and, oh yes, food. Haircuts were simply not on the agenda of lockdown concerns.

As it happened, my hair continued to grow. And grow. While many women and some men are comfortable with long hair on their necks, I am not one of them. As time passed, I became increasingly aware that the “mop” on my head was uncomfortable. It seemed to me that my head was warmer than usual. There is probably science to support that idea, but I was not interested in explanations. I wanted the hair gone.

Life is funny that way. When you don’t have enough of something important, or might not, like toilet paper, you get very serious about searching for sources until you’re sure you “have enough.” Conversely, there are some things, like hair, that when you have more than you need/want, you can’t rest until you get rid of it.

Sooo, I commenced to searching for hair cutting tools for men. I had never imagined I would want to cut my own hair, but each morning, as I looked at myself in the mirror, it became clear that emergency measures were in order.

Having not prepared for this situation, I did what I always do. Research. For more serious and long-term projects, I would normally turn to books but in this case that option seemed “off.” So, to learn what the tools are, where to buy them, how to use them, study, watch videos, process, think, process, prepare and …. go to YouTube.  Done. Somewhat intimidating but not overwhelming. You can do this. Then, of course, turn to …. Amazon.

Now the reality begins to dawn. I am not alone. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions of men who would ordinarily go to a barbershop or salon are now in the hunt for the same tools I need. And I am late to the party.

As usual, Amazon has a vast multitude of options but, in the annoying way that Amazon works in times of trouble, you can put them in your Cart only to find at checkout that the items are either “unavailable and we don’t know when they will become available” or “there is no vendor who can deliver this item to your location.” I waste a staggering amount of time studying the user comments (I will be writing about Amazon user comments in the near future) and ratings, unwittingly falling further and further behind the army of men conducting the same search. I fall back to Google searches for men’s haircutting tools. There are surprisingly few sites selling them. All are out of stock or the reviews/ratings are so despairing that I decline to take chances with my precious hair.

Finally, after many hours of searching, I find a recognizable brand name clipper set at a site whose name seems sufficiently familiar that I can trust it. The predicted delivery day is quite far in the future, but this is the reality of being slow out of the gate in a pandemic. I order.

Two days later, the first email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of “8 to 14 days” from the original estimated time of delivery. I swallow hard but accept that this is the reality into which we have all arrived.

The next day, the next email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of 8 to 14 days from the estimated time of delivery. And so on, every day or other day for a week, at which point I decide that delivery may never occur and demand a refund. Provided with no argument.

Back to …  Amazon, the Jet.com, then …. Finally, it dawns on me that I have been seeing eBay in some of the Google searches. Now desperate, I go to eBay where, after many years’ absence, I have no account. Once that hurdle is overcome, I find a vendor offering exactly what I need. The vendor has great ratings from other buyers. Desperate times, etc. I order.

After only a few days’ time, the package arrives. Clippers (two!), various “combs” that control the length of the cut, hair clips, oil, brush, actual combs. Twenty-three pieces in all. I am “in business.”

Leaping ahead, after more “research” and overnight “processing” time, I line the bathroom floor with the last Sunday New York Times and proceed to cut my hair. Below, I have boldly gone where I have never gone before. The “before” and “after” photos speak for themselves. It is not a perfect haircut, but it will do for a first try. After two more of these, I will be ahead financially and by then, hopefully, the lockdown will be lifted sufficiently for a visit to a real barber.

So, here are the results. Read ’em and weep.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

 

 

No Way to Run a Justice System

Note: The following is more substantive than most of the posts on this site, but since it arose to impact my life in The City, I am posting it here, as well as on shiningseausa.com.

Not two years after moving to New York, the justice system turned its attention, randomly, I’m sure, to me by sending me a notice to report for jury duty. At the time, reporting would have conflicted with a business commitment, so I asked for, and received, an automatic deferral. I chose January 16 as my report date. Fate, of course, would inevitably intervene and an important business meeting was unavoidably scheduled for January 17.

That’s the beginning. When I wrote the first draft of this post, it was all minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow in the same excruciating detail as I experienced a wasted day-and-a-half of my life for no discernible purpose. Upon re-reading the draft, I realized it was boring, even to me, so I decided on another approach.

What was wrong with the process whereby I was called upon by the state to assist in the administration of justice for parties who had demanded a trial by jury, as guaranteed by law in appropriate cases? Just about everything. The process seemed like something from another time, a relic of the days when everything was done manually and the administrative process was a slave to established practice no matter how wasteful.

You are ordered to report, then after arrival in the Jury Assembly Room (452) are told that you may be there between one and three days. If you’ve already had a postponement, you can go down to Room 139 and make a pitch for further relief but if called while there you may be forced to return again for another stint. And the implication is that your chances down there are slim at best. So, I decide to take a chance and stay put. Mistake. I collect my Juror Questionnaire and fill it out. I foolishly think this is good because when the lawyers see it, they will immediately disqualify me and I can leave. Trial lawyers generally are extremely averse to having other lawyers on their juries.

I am eventually called with a group of 35 others to follow some lawyers to a courtroom where 10 are selected for voir dire, the questioning by counsel for the parties to determine if each individual can be “fair and impartial.” It is now apparent that the system is not designed for efficiently dealing with the group of prospective jurors. The lawyers are in charge now and they only collect the questionnaires from the first group of 10 prospects. They don’t know I’m here and they don’t care.

It turns out this is a personal injury case involving disputes about medical records, medical treatments, negligence and related issues. There are, we discover the next day, other lawyers in the group and a doctor as well. None will eventually serve on the jury, but it takes a full day and a half to determine that. The lawyers painstakingly, slowly, repetitively query the jury pool in groups of 10 to pick the final six jurors and two alternates. They are in no hurry and spend hours in the hallway reviewing questionnaires and negotiating over whom to select. The first group of 10 produced only 3 jurors. The second group, another 3, then a third group to get the two alternates.

I confess I was not a trial lawyer by experience, although I did litigate administrative and arbitration cases in my active legal career. Nevertheless, it did not take a lot of imagination to grasp that this process was designed for the benefit of the trial lawyers and gave little to no consideration to the jury pool that was stuck there for, potentially, three days just to settle on 8 people out of the pool of 35. And the trial itself, scheduled to start the following Tuesday, is estimated to take five days but “it could be longer if, for example, the judge has to hear motions in other matters.”

By way of example only, once a group is selected from the pool, the lawyers and all of the pool jurors in that group must return to the clerk’s office for processing out. It seems that every step in the process is calculated to consume more time and that no one, except some members of the jury pool, is an any hurry to move the process to conclusion.

On Day One, we arrive at 3:35 pm and it is finally time to question the second group of 10 prospects.

But, wait, we’d been told earlier that the stop time today was 4 pm. The attorneys inform us that since there is only 25 minutes left before the appointed end time, we’ll just knock off early. Report back tomorrow at 9:45. What? 9:45? What the hell kind of workday do these folks follow? Do they not understand that everyone in the jury pool has another life to pursue outside the jury selection process?

I approached the lawyers and explained who I was and that since I was pretty sure they would never select me, how about you just excuse me now? The answer was “no, we can’t control that and, besides, we might run out of prospects and want you on the jury anyway, but you can go try the clerk.” I rush downstairs and approach the clerk’s desk, only to hear her tell someone else, “once you’re in the pool, there is no way out.” So, no way out, even if the lawyers take three full days to finish selection.

I leave the courthouse and return home. I am uncertain whether I really heard that the start time tomorrow is 9:45 rather than the 8:45 the first day. So, I call the number on the yellow card we were instructed to collect that morning. A voice message, at 4:45 pm, says that the number is not part of the answering system and therefore no message can be left. “Goodbye.”

Let me cut to the end now. No point in prolonging the obvious. Suffice to say that I was never selected as a potential juror, never questioned and the lawyers finally chose the six jurors and two alternates. We then had to return to the clerk’s desk for final processing, a final speech by one of the clerks, and then … freedom. I bolt out of the courthouse to catch a cab to a business lunch that is going on without me.

A day and a half of monotonous, repetitious rehashing that could have been accomplished in less than half the time with the judicious use of some documents for prospective jurors to read, perhaps even in advance of coming to the courthouse. Turning over prospects to the control of the litigating lawyers means that the jurors’ interests may be completely disregarded if the lawyers are in no hurry to complete the process.

I well understand the need to assure that citizens do their duty as jurors in order to assure that litigants that want a trial by jury can have one. But I do not understand why the process is under the unsupervised control of the trial lawyers. I do not understand why the process seems to be the same as was used decades before modern technology became available. Much of the factual information painstakingly drawn from the pool members could have been collected in writing beforehand. If the trial lawyers were going to disqualify lawyers, doctors and other people in certain professions or who had experienced injuries similar to the one at issue in the case, all of that could have been ascertained in advance. Doing that would require systematic changes in the way the jury selection process works but it could be done if efficiency were regarded as relevant to the process.

The good news is that the ordeal will not be repeated for me for at least four years. The clerks gave us a piece of paper that we can use to resist being recalled by the state for that period. It even protects against federal court jury calls which may come because “the state and federal systems are not integrated.” No surprise there.

So, fine, I will state for the record now that if called after the four- year period ends, I will not serve again. Lock me up if you want, but at this late stage of my life, I am not going to give the courts any more of my time under a system that provides little or no respect for me as a citizen. They can do better if they try. I, for one, am done.

 

Holiday Lights

Better late than never, I suppose,  the following sample of photos was taken while we were showing a good friend around the city on a cold and not-quite-wet night before Christmas.. The first ten shots are from the holiday fair at Bryant Park and the lion statue at the New York Public Library. The rest are mainly from stores along 5th Avenue, plus, of course, Rockefeller Center where the large tree attracts huge numbers of viewers every night. The sequence of castle-like light displays is from the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue, a spectacular show that also attracts huge crowds.Happy Belated Holidays!

Dinner at DeGrezia

We discovered this marvel of a restaurant in the below-street level at East 50th Street about 15 years ago. We reserve it for very special occasions, most recently for our 13th anniversary last night. It never disappoints.

As the photos below show, DeGrezia is a “traditional” Italian establishment, tastefully decorated with soft music as background so you can have quiet conversation – no need to shout over the music. A lot of Frank Sinatra, Sarah Brightman and Billie Holiday, among others. This creates an atmosphere in which everyone’s conversation is muted. The wait staff wears tuxedos and are attentive without being overbearing. The overall atmosphere is one of muted sophistication, a really nice way to enjoy a special occasion meal. The scale of the main dining area is such that even at full capacity the typical din of a New York restaurant is usually avoided.

Then, there is the food. We started by sharing a “giant shrimp” dish with white beans in a delicious red sauce. Since there were two giant (really) shrimp, it was easy to share and there was no pushback from the waiter. It was so big and tasty that I failed to take a photo.

The main courses were even better. A cream sauce covered my lobster ravioli special with very small shrimp generously added. Even the tiny shrimp had great flavor. My wife ordered gnocchi with Bolognese sauce and had to get a doggy bag (pictured below) to take some home. We completed the meal by sharing a flourless chocolate cake and a surprisingly robust decaf coffee.

With two glasses of wine and a club soda with lime, the total bill for this feast was only $120, an amazingly reasonable price, especially for a fine restaurant in New York City. DeGrezia is a gem that will satisfy anyone looking for fine food in a pleasant atmosphere.

 

Streets Belong to the People

One of the things I have been particularly surprised by is the New York City practice of shutting down major roads for street fairs on weekends. I mean “major” as in 15 blocks of Ninth Avenue (from West 42nd to West 57th) on Saturday and Sunday in the most recent experience. The days was unusually warm for a mid-May day but that just meant the crowds were even larger than normal for the 9th Ave. International Food Festival.

Entering at 9th and 57th, we immediately encountered Japan.Fes and spent a good half hour watching their amazing drum show. Nothing I can say will add to it, so just look at the photo gallery below for a sample.

A brief video can be seen at https://bit.ly/31ywfvn.

The rest of the fair was just food booths and some music, including this man whose playing (theme from The Godfather) rivaled anything we’ve heard in the best jazz clubs in the world.

Needless to say, the news of the street fair blocking a major north south avenue did not reach everyone, with the result that enraged drivers forced to change plans at 57th Street felt compelled to let everyone know with their horns. As usual, that didn’t change a thing, but I suppose it made them feel better to express their objection.

The rest of the fair that we saw is here:

 

 

Greenwich Village on a Nice Day

We followed the NY Times suggested walking route that turned out to be a good move because we saw some interesting sights we likely would have missed. There are some pretty famous places in what is also known as the West Village and we saw several. Foremost was the Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of modern gay rights movement..

The Stonewall Inn is famous for an early morning police raid that led to a pitched battle in the streets as the gay/lesbian patrons fought back against a police roust of the bar as was their habit in those days.

A longer  summary of the story may be found at https://bit.ly/2U04IxV

Greenwich Village is also the home of many long-term jazz clubs, including the Village Vangaurd, and these establishments of variable stature::

Many other famous people are memorialized in the Village:

Many other visual delights await the observant visitor.

Home

This weekend I ventured far away from New York City for only the second time since we arrived here in late 2017. The first was a cruise out of Boston in October 2018 that turned into a partial disaster (ship caught in storm, waves crashing through windows, skipping the best port due to high winds and cold and wet almost everywhere we went – enough of that). Maybe it was the close quarters on the ship that made it seem like we were still in New York, but in any case I somehow didn’t feel like we had really left. We were certainly glad to return, from Quebec City by air, but there was little emotional content to the entire event.

This most recent trip was another matter. I made a last minute decision to train down to Washington to join my wife in Alexandria who was there for work. We stayed in Old Town, our former home for many years, the entire time, enjoying meals with old friends, though there was not enough time to see everyone for which failure I feel bad. But, importantly, my wife was able to return to her former hula halau for a practice and see her “hula sisters” with whom she had danced for twelve years. Saturday night we dined alone in an old favorite just down the street. The weather went from unseasonably warm on Friday to cold and blustery on Saturday and Sunday – typical for this time of year here and in New York. We did not see much of Old Town, staying within a few blocks of our hotel the entire time.

Some things struck me as very odd about the trip. The first was the taxi ride from Union Station in DC to the Alexandria hotel. The streets seemed almost deserted, although it was Friday afternoon. Where were all the people? I also noticed that the roadway, at least outside DC, was smooth; no back-wrenching jolts every ten feet like the relief-map profile of Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. It was eerily quiet. Only one driver honked his horn.

The same thing happened on the return trip to the train station Sunday morning. People drove on the GW parkway in two parallel files at the speed limit with virtually no jousting for position. Just silence and moving ahead at a steady, relaxed pace. What was wrong with these people?

On the train back to New York City I realized with sudden clarity that I had actually missed the City. We were returning not just to Manhattan but to our home, in every sense of the word. New York really is now where we’re from and I genuinely missed it. I recalled the old truism that home is where you make it. As counter-intuitive as it might have seemed, I have become attached to Manhattan. I don’t know if I love it, exactly, but it is definitely our home.

Photo below, taken by Dina, is front of our favorite restaurant in Old Town Alexandria.