Monday, November 26, 2007

Terminal Detail

For over 47 years, he strode through Grand Central Terminal, past this little brass panel on the way to his job on The Magazine. He and my mother had lived in the Village but after I was born, they moved up the Hudson to a stone house in the woods, and Papa-san car-pooled with other commuting Daddies. Many children in my town thought this was actually their fathers' job: commuting. In winter, in the dark, while children were still asleep, all over the little town Daddies were getting into cars to take them to the station, to board their usual car on their usual train to sit in their usual seats for the ride down the Hudson to New York, not to return until six-thirty or seven, well into the winter evening. I wouldn't call it an easy existence.
For the last two weeks, I have walked past this little brass panel on my way to my father's hospital. It's part of the ticket window. It's a little grace note from 1913, when Grand Central was constructed to uplift the spirits of the throngs passing through.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Disasters Lighter Than Air

My father has always loved dirigibles; when they are not bursting into flames over Lakehurst New Jersey, dirigibles are easy to love. They are cuddly, yet purposeful, nosing around the sky like big seacows (O the manatee). The Empire State Building was supposed to have a mooring mast for them, but the winds were not favorable.
Every Christmas I try to find dirigibilia for my father: postcards, tin zeppelins, and, thanks to Ebay, a silver captain's pin, though the airship in question turned out to be a mere blimp. (Blimps lack the discipline of a rigid frame. And they aren't filled with such volatile gases.)
One New Years', my parents went to a costume party. Papa-san went as Dr. Hugo Eckener, the father of the Zeppelin. Unsurprisingly, the other guests were unaware of Dr. Eckener's importance, so my father printed up the above card to distribute. His Dr. Eckener costume was further enhanced by false beard, mustache and pince-nez. He won a prize for most original costume.
I don't remember what Mom wore. Besides a rather miffed expression.
Now he is in a hospital bed, trying to survive his cardiologist's love for "cutting edge" drugs like Crestor. It looks like he will be there for a while--he's not in pain, but recovery is slow, and interrupted by fevers from hospital-acquired infections. The cardiologist comes in and sings hymns to the wonders of Crestor, very safe, this is totally anomalous, and other forms of ass-covering.
Some days Papa-san doesn't care for reading, or TV, and just lies there, alternately dozing and worrying. There is a contraption above the bed for lifting patients into wheelchairs. It is at the right height, just the right height, I believe it could serve as a mooring mast for a very small dirigible.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


  • Four months ago, Papa-san, my 82 year old father, was striding through Grand Central Station, green cloth briefcase over his shoulder.
  • Three months ago, his cardiologist started him on a new cholesterol-lowering drug, Crestor. It worked like a dream; his cholesterol numbers dropped where they should drop, instantly.
  • Two months ago, my husband said, "Your father seems much frailer than the last time we saw him." I didn't want to admit it, but it was obvious; he had trouble lifting his feet up the steps to my brother's house, and he needed to nap frequently.
  • One month ago, my father fell off the bus to the station, hitting his head on the sidewalk. He was rushed to St. Vincent's, where they MRI'd his head and Krazy-glued the wound closed.
  • Three weeks ago, he stayed home from work.
  • Two weeks ago, he had trouble getting up the stairs to bed.
  • A week ago, I finally found all this out and called his internist, who said, "What can I do at my office? Tell him to go to the emergency room."
    He had to be carried to the car. He's been in the hospital ever since.

His doctors were mystified. They ran blood tests, cat scans, MRIs. The blood tests showed elevated levels of muscle enzymes.
It was Crestor. Crestor attacks muscle fiber even better than it attacks cholesterol. The cardiologist finally admitted that my father was "overmedicated."
Doing a search on Crestor turns up warning after warning that it can cause rhabdomyolysis, a terrible assault on skeletal muscle tissue, if given in high doses, or to Asian patients, or to people over 65. There are multiple law firms looking for Crestor victims' business. Consumer Reports, Public Citizen, and Health Canada all have advisories against the use of Crestor.
My neighbor, a 63 year old, had to be taken off it and is now in rehab.
My friend Dr. Dan, an ER doctor, said, "We had a woman in last week in her 50's who had myopathy and it was Crestor. Her doctor said, 'But she's taken it for years, and she never had a problem!' I said, 'Well she's got one now.'"

"Overmedicated"? Or should he ever have been on this medication at all?

I have found, buried in some literature about Crestor, information which the cardiologist said was outdated Internet stuff. "The problem with the Internet is that old information just sits out there."

The "outdated" information warned that Crestor could cause muscle weakness, inflammation and kidney damage, particularly in the elderly. Papa-san is lying in bed doing an amazing simulacrum of an old man with muscle weakness, inflammation and kidney damage. The "outdated" information also noted that while Crestor does amazing magic tricks with cholesterol numbers, no link has been established between taking Crestor and actual incidence of heart attack. It's like a carnival barker's trick.

The Crestor website proudly boasts that the link between Crestor and reduction of atheroschlerosis (or as Crestor calls it, "athero") has just been established. Fabulous. But it has yet to be proven that Crestor will prevent anyone from actually dying, (morbidity and mortality) and it also confirms that Crestor spent a considerable time on the market before there was any proof that it even worked against "athero."

The cardiologist evinces all the signs of being in love with this medication. "I'm on it, and so is my wife," he told me. He seems a nice man, seems to care about my father ("I live vicariously through Dad's travels"--when he talks to me of my father, he says 'So you're worried about Dad?'), but sees only the magic of the numbers game that Crestor pulls. He might very well have almost killed his own father with it, he loves it so.

The internist has implied that my father was so advanced in years and illness (he is a Cheney-level cardiac patient), that this whopping medical mistake could hardly make much of a difference. He said to my brother, "Oh, by the way, you might want to consider a DNR, just for the future." That's a Do Not Resuscitate order.

The patient was at that moment sitting up in bed reading the New Yorker.

The Crestor website says doctors should warn patients to watch out for any sign of muscle weakness or pain, and report it to the doctor. But my father's doctors didn't warn him. And he, being 82, assumed the weakness was old age at last, and didn't want to let on. He struggled through Grand Central Station as long as he could. He struggled heroically.

We don't know what the future will bring. Papa-san is slowly improving, but when you're knocked to the ground at his age, it takes a long time to get up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Sadly, thanks to search engines, it is no longer possible to spin b.s. assertions without being detected, making it necessary to actually perform research. So I was entirely wrong to tell you that my brother's collection of great big tastebuds made him more of a wine enthusiast than I. Actually, if your tongue is thoroughly tiled in big buds ("fungiform papillae"), you are probably a picky eater, averse to alchohol, peppers, brussel sprouts, and even peppermint.

You can find out if you are well-equipped, tongue-wise: paint a little blue food coloring on the front of your tongue. Your fungiform papillae will stay nice and pink while the rest of your tongue turns blue.

Naturally I had to test my tongue. I ran to the kitchen and dug out the powdered coloring I'd gotten for cake-decorating experiments leading up to my home-made wedding cake (a very bad idea, by the way; the night before my wedding, I was covered in flour, sweat and tears. Raspberry jam seeped through the marshmallow fondant icing, which I tried to cover up by tying a ribbon round it, prompting a guest to ask whether it was a ribbon or a bandage).

Just popping open the bottle of powder caused a cloud of it to settle on my hand, so I licked it, aware that an observer might infer I was ingesting deep blue cocaine. The results of the test itself were inconclusive; the powder was so strong it gave everything a bluish tinge, and my tongue looked like a forest of miniature blue toadstools.

Going by behavior, since I don't find broccoli bitter, do enjoy a glass of wine, and am able to tolerate moderate heat (that's chili pepper heat; when it comes to wasabi, I'm an absolute thrill-seeker, not satisfied until an unholy sensation has crawled through my eye sockets), I think I'm a middling taster, with a middling palate.

This would make my husband the supertaster in the family. His fine palate causes him distress, expressed thusly: "Yick." Green vegetables are yick. Wine is yick. He maintains that nobody really likes wine, but everybody pretends to enjoy it lest they be thought unsophisticated. It's a vast worldwide conspiracy.

He is not the ideal companion for crawling the hot night spots. Nor for savoring the fine tasting menu. But I have affection for him that exceeds my desire to do these things.

I once went to le Bernardin with a voluble artist. He was a raconteur of unrelenting hilarity. Le Bernardin is an exquisite French restaurant, the best in the city. Eric Ripert, the chef, specializes in meditations upon seafood, that should be savored and reflected upon.

The voluble artist filled the air with verbiage till my head spun. I thought I should have to stop the spinning by plunging a fish fork into my breast or his. I don't remember eating anything after the first course (fluke, 3 variations increasing in complexity) because the artist took it as an insult if I broke eye contact. Somehow, he hoovered up the most glorious culinary offerings set before him and never stopped talking for a nanosecond. And none of it about the food.

Were his tongue to stop long enough to be tinted, I am sure he'd be classified another middling taster. But what of the tongues of the great chefs? What of Eric Ripert? Would he be a sport and let us paint his tongue?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fleur de sell

There are certain verities on the Food Network:
  1. The pans will be heavy, stainless All-Clad. They have obviously struck a product-placement deal, and in every program, TV lights play on their brilliant, polished surfaces. These monsters are seductive and curvilinear, but in use will break first your wrists, then your spirit, then your heart. High heat discolors them, brief encounters with scrubbies mar them, and a bit of burnt garlic will enter their pores to be breathed out forever.
  2. Plain salt is not good enough. It must be Kosher, grey or black, hand-gathered crystal by crystal from the salt flats of a little French seaside town by bent old men in black sweaters, and must be redolent of the sea creatures that lay down and died in it. What it doesn't contain is iodide. That is why Food Network enthusiasts are easy to spot: goiters.
  3. There will be zesting. The very most outer covering , the zest, of your citrus fruits has the highest concentration of citrus oil, and is worth harvesting. The favored zesting device of the F.N. is the Microplane, originally a carpenter's tool. This is actually one item worth having: it is relatively inexpensive (abt 12 bucks), much more effective than its box-grater brother, and multi-purpose. I use mine for grating cheese, nutmegs (whole spices keep better, and work out to be cheaper in the long run--I've been grating the same half-dozen nutmegs for years), and soap, for homemade laundry detergent.

Once I read an article about tastebud size. On some peoples' tongues, there is a concentration of enlarged, sensitive tastebuds called "supertasters". These people may be picky eaters as children, because of this sensitivity. When I inspected my tongue, I didn't see very many "supertasters", which explains a lot. It explains why my brother became a wine enthusiast and I just like the stuff. It explains why I can drink coffee that was not made in a French press, with spring water and fresh roasted, just-ground-that-instant Blue Mountain beans.

It explains why I can consider eating a casserole.

How fine is your palate? If you will not be transported by the multiple overtones of the salt on your cracker, you might be able to save enough to visit the French marsh where that salt was extracted.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


The man who made eponymous a household word has grabbed the ground from under the Lower East Side Pathmark. Manhattanites who want to experience the wide uncrowded aisles and free parking that suburbanites enjoy will have until December 31st to pick up their family packs of chicken parts and admire the underside of the Manhattan Bridge.
Then another of Mr. Trump's massive, "the quality is unbelievable!" condoliths will block out more of the view for unhappy downtown residents. No doubt the views from the units will be almost as breathtaking as the prices, but the location is, frankly, unwonderful.
Having lived right next to a highway (the BQE), I can tell you that it is:

  1. Not restful. The incessant vibration may not be immediately noticeable, but it's ultimately nervewracking. My spider plant trembled constantly, and, I realized, so did I. And that's leaving out the crashes, sirens and helicopters.

  2. Unhealthy. On the softest spring day, or the crispest fall one, I had to keep my windows closed. The Trump location is at the intersection of two great highways, one at ground level to assault the lungs of the lower floors, the other the raised bed of the Manhattan Bridge, the better to get those lead particulates into the lungs of the penthouse units.

  3. Filthy Dirty. As if regular NY air weren't dirty enough. Half the maintenance will go to window-washing. Anyone with a balcony should only get black furniture. And respirators.

In addition, the location is removed from city street life. It's surrounded by projects, the poor residents as usual getting dumped in an outlying region by a highway where they can develop their asthma in peace. There are no shops, no super----oh but wait! Considering the convenience to the highway, visibility, the poor air quality, disturbing vibrations, you know what would be really good there?

Sunday, November 4, 2007


So Jerry Seinfeld loves a pun. BEEEEEEEEEEE Movie, get it get it get it? And knows about as much about bees as most city kids. I once heard a radio interviewer express surprise that bees actually ate honey. "Who did you think they made the honey for?" the beekeeper asked her."I sort of thought they made it for us," she said.
Now Steven Speilberg and Jerry Seinfeld being great friends, they have expanded this single pun into a vehicle for Jerry, who is the central character, a bee who decides to sue humans for honey-stealing. A male bee.
One of the few scenarios in nature which requires a virtually all-female cast, and once again the protagonist is a boy. FYI, movie people, all the bees in the hive are female except for a few boys who are supposed to mate with the queen. The boys lounge around eating honey until their nuptial flight with Her Majesty, and after she’s in the family way, lady bee-bouncers kick the boys out.
After all, Her Majesty’s honeymoon flight is good for two years worth of bee babies.
I hope Mr. Seinfeld’s daughters come home from school and, while sitting on his lap reading the Bee Movie Children’s Book Tie-in, look up into his face with their large dewey eyes and say, "But Daaaaddy, all the best bees are girls! Why didn’t you make the movie about a Girl, Daddy? Why?"

Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Need

Bath towels. Much less bath sheets. An average hand towel will dry an above average size (that's how I like to think of it) woman, with medium-length hair, easily. It's a more easily manipulated size cloth, takes fewer resources to make, purchase, and launder----and you can slip into your cushy bathrobe afterwards.

  • Tea kettles. There are so many handy hints for descaling, deliming, descumming teakettles that it makes one to wonder: why do we drink out of these impossible-to-clean one trick ponies? Because of the whistle? Boil water in a small saucepan. Measure the amount you want first, instead of constantly boiling too much. A wide-bottomed saucepan, with a lid, will allow water to be exposed to more of the heat source. If you miss the whistle, just put your lips together and blow.

  • *********************************************************

    Introducing the concept of focussed spending:
    Nobody is insisting you give up your bath towels, if you really love your bath towels. But do you really love them?

    Amy Dacyzyn, founder of the Tightwad Gazette, was constantly dogged by accusations of extremism. Her experimentation in pennypinching sometimes pushed the envelope of practicality or even comfort, but she did not insist that everyone adopt her way of life wholesale, you should pardon the expression. She opened up possibilities for people, some of whom couldn't imagine how to make ends meet. What do you really love? What do you really want? What you have, do you use it? Do you enjoy it?

    I had a friend who rose very quickly in his company, and suffered from sudden onset overcompensation-induced delerium. In other words, he was paid too much. He could buy almost anything! His restless eye swept every establishment he entered for spending possibilities. In the window of the corner liquor store was a dusty bottle of vintage port, with a seven-hundred dollar price tag. "You know, I could buy that," said my friend, "I have the money. I'm thinking about it." He was all of twenty-seven at the time. He'd had port twice before in his life, but he was a fan of nineteenth-century novels in which country squires were always saying to their dinner guests, "A glass of port with you sir!"
    I was able to coax him away from the port, only because I persuaded him that the corner store's window wasn't temperature-controlled. But if he had bought the port, he would have had to pretend to enjoy the faded, raisiny syrup.

    For the health of the planet, for the health of your wallet, it would be good not to buy more than you need, than you really, really need. But if that sounds too difficult and spartan, how about starting with not having more than you can enjoy? Is that too radical?

    Saturday, November 3, 2007

    Look out, Country! a New Yorker Warns Part One, in a Zillion-Part Series

    Our mayor-that-was, Rudy Giuliani, was speaking either about torture, on the definition of which he's uncharacteristically fuzzy, or his prostate cancer, and how dead he might be if we had British-style Socialized medicine. (I don't remember; it was a day or two ago) He performed this hand-washing gesture as he spoke. As the campaign continues, look for him to wash his hands of a lot of his shiny new conservatism.

    the Perfect Isn't Nearly as Good as the Good

    What if you are living in an extraordinary place, in extraordinary times, your soul is bursting at the seams with unsolicited passions, enthusiasms and opinions, and you're completely underqualified to express them in print?
    You start a blog, of course!
    Welcome to my blog. I toyed with the idea of starting one for simply hours. I was bothered by my underqualifiedness at first, but after a moment's reflection I have come to terms with it. You can either forgive me any errors because I'm so well meaning, or flame the daylights out of me (but please don't; I get weepy), or skip away to one of those talking-cat videos. Hilarity!