Food, entertainment, and tiger repellent

Due to a monetary crisis, Argentina has had quite a few presidents recently. This week, New Jersey is going through five governors (six in less than a year), but there’s no crisis of any sort — well, nothing NEW anyway.

Normally, in that state, the governor-elect replaces the one in office a week after the succession of state legislators. And, because New Jersey has no lieutenant governor, if anything happens to the governor, the president of the state senate takes over.

That’s what occurred last year, when Governor Christine Whitman resigned to head the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency; New Jersey State Senate President Donald DiFrancesco took over as acting governor. Then, in November, Jim McGreevy was elected to be the governor whose four-year term would start in 2002.

Unfortunately, the composition of the state senate changed with the election, too. Like the rest of the legislators whose terms expired, DiFrancesco left office at 11:59 am on Tuesday. McGreevy wouldn’t assume office for a week, and the new legislators weren’t sworn in for another hour and a half, so, for 90 minutes, John Farmer, Jr., the state’s attorney general, was acting governor.

After that, the president of the state senate should have taken over.

But the newly elected New Jersey senate was split 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans, and they agreed to a co-presidency. So Republican John Bennett became acting governor Tuesday afternoon and delivered the State of the State address soon into his 84-hour term.

Today, Democrat Richard Codey took over, and he will, in turn, be succeeded by McGreevy on Tuesday.

There was another transition in the new year, this time involving former New York state senator James Frawley. Long ago, Frawley appended the title “Sturgeon King” to Barney Greengrass’s appetizing emporium, in business since 1908. On New Year’s Day, Barney’s 84-year-old son Moe died, sending shudders through the New York eating community, which includes pretty much everyone.

Jerry Seinfeld and Brad Pitt eat at Barney Greengrass Sturgeon King.

Irving Berlin, Marilyn Monroe, and Franklin Roosevelt used to.

Fortunately, Moe’s son Gary has been running the place since 1983. Food and entertainment are more important to New Yorkers than the issues that governments usually deal with.

At the end of September, I wrote about how DB Bistro Moderne, a New York restaurant, was offering a hamburger with foie gras, black truffles, root vegetables, and wine-braised beef for $26. The chef, Daniel Boulud, said it was to help people “reconnect with their pasts.”

Yes, there are $26 hamburgers in New York. There is also less-expensive food.

One of the restaurants near me will deliver a complete, tasty Italian meal, including salad and bread, for $3.95. A little farther down the block, one of the southeast-Asian taco joints offers fresh-made burritos (in fresh-made tortillas) for 99 cents each.

On the corner, a restaurant threw our neighborhood into a tizzy last year by raising the prices of its hot dogs by 50% — from 50 cents to 75, in both cases including such condiments as mustard, sauerkraut, and sauteed onions, AND including tax. If that’s not low enough, a few blocks away there’s a pizzeria that offers small sausage, cheese, tomato, and garlic rolls for a quarter each.

Similarly, New York City (where the price of admission to a movie can be free, $30, or something in between) offers a broad range of entertainment options. In musical theater, for example, tickets for “The Producers” are being sold at the box office for $500 (and less).

But, for tomorrow’s final (17,162nd) performance of “The Fantasticks” at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, the highest-priced ticket is $39.

“The Fantasticks,” which has been produced in 69 countries, has been called the world’s longest-running musical. There wasn’t even a PLAN for the World Trade Center when it opened in 1960. When performances restarted after September 11, it was difficult for one of the actors to sing these words, written by Tom Jones, from the show’s most famous

tune: “Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh so mellow.”

Last night, exactly four months after the attack, there was another benefit, this time for The New York Arts Recovery Fund. There were no clergy on stage, but there were plenty of artists: cartoonists, choreographers, composers, hip-hop DJs, musicians, poets, writers, a clown, a painter, a photographer, a storyteller, and more — even Philippe Petit, the tightrope walker who once rigged a wire between the Twin Towers and crossed.

The artist Chuck Close chose to read a piece about Willem de Koonig, whom Close called the greatest American artist of his time. He reminded the audience that de Koonig had been an illegal immigrant.

As we waited to pick up our tickets, we heard great big-band music and saw its performers on what seemed to be a platform. As we got closer, we found that we were mistaken. We were being serenaded by The Bond Street Theater Stilt Band, towering over us, but with their shoes planted firmly on the sidewalk.

We paid $15 each for more than three hours of superb performances.

There’s also plenty of FREE entertainment in New York, and not just the star-studded plays, concerts, and movies in our parks and the INTENTIONAL street and subway performances.

We’re shooting “The Women” in a Broadway theater today. For lunch, some of us decided to go to Zen Palate, a vegetarian restaurant a few blocks away. As we walked down 45th Street, we heard a loud crash. Someone in a residential hotel was throwing furniture from a room on a high floor.

We watched as a refrigerator started out the window, and shouted for passing pedestrians to get out of the way. One didn’t, so two men raced across the street and gestured frantically for her to hurry towards them. She wasn’t in the mood to join strange men with waving arms and paused right under the refrigerator. Finally, our panicked looks got her to move, seconds before the next crash.

A police horse was startled by the noise. The officer dismounted, called for backup, and handed the reins to a pedestrian. A bus from the U.S. Naval Academy joined the fray. We later saw it parked outside a different hotel, next to a trailer carrying a larger-than-life statue of a firefighter. We knew the statue was a donation because of the poster-sized press release accompanying it. Ah, New York!

Zen Palate has Japanese tea ceremonies. Nearby, at a Brazilian churrascaria, other crewmembers were enjoying barbecued meats. It’s no surprise that New York has ethnic restaurants. What may be more interesting is our fusion cuisine.

Our favorite New York restaurant does NOT serve sushi. I think I’ve just exhausted all of the types of cuisine it doesn’t serve. You CAN get teriyaki there — or a Moroccan bastila or a Senegalese cherry soup or Texas barbecue. It also combines cuisines. You can order Burmese humus or an Egyptian burrito.

There have long been Cuban-Chinese restaurants all over New York. The New York Times recently reported on Ukrainian sushi and Yemeni fried chicken. The article described Indian-Chinese, Pakistani-Italian, Norwegian-Cantonese, Irish-Dominican, Greek-Irish, and Dominican-Italian restaurants. A Japanese-Italian restaurant was said to serve spaghetti with flying-fish roe and Japanese basil. Then there’s the place described by Jim Leff of as offering “the sort of meal you’d expect to eat if you’d met a Thai chef cooking spaghetti and steaks in a Peruvian railroad dining car.”

Ettore Products recently threw a grand New York dinner for some people who escaped from the World Trade Center. Each dinner participant was also given a diamond-encrusted gold pin featuring Ettore’s product.

The people had been trapped in an elevator. They managed to get the doors open but found a blank wall facing them. So they used an Ettore tool not intended for the purpose to dig through the wall to effect their escape. The tool was carried by Jan Demczur, a window washer. It was a squeegee.

Mayor Giuliani long ago declared war on New York’s “squeegee-men” (people eking out a living by washing car windows on street corners).

Whether one agreed with the war or not, there’s no denying that it was effective. I haven’t seen a street-corner squeegee person in years.

Mayor Bloomberg’s new police commissioner declared a new war on squeegee-men last week. I was reminded of the joke about the New Yorker wearing a string of garlic around his neck to keep tigers away.

“But there are no tigers within thousands of miles!”




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