The Great Plotnik

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Plotini with Red Sausola and a River of Avos

It's true that pizza from the Bronx is so big you can't fit a round pie into a square box. And it was good, by New York standards, even though we didn't eat it until two hours after it was made, usually a death wish for decent pizza.

Of course, "good" for New York pizza means "spectacular OMG YO MAMA LOL LOL" for California pizza.

But then -- we got home. Home. Daffies blooming all over the yard.

A patch full of broccoli rabe and Tuscan Kale, which can be mixed with Italian sausage and made into Plotini with Red Sausola and enjoyed with a bottle of Duke. Sure we're NorCalians. Sure we're effete. Sure the vandals or the huns or the Republibums could waltz on in here and take us over without firing one assault rifle. But a month later and they'd all be just like us. "Vlog, they don't have jammy zinfandels like this back in Hunland, do they!" 

Doo, doo, doo, looking out my back door --  and what do I see? A full moon over the avocado tree, which is brimming with ripe avocados, hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, no, tens of thousands! After nineteen years of no (0) avocados, this year will be The Year of the Guacamole! (0 + n = G.) An avalanche of avos! We will burn the pits for fuel and go off the grid. Our skins will turn a burnished dark green and our skin will glisten with avo oil.


 Also, the Lakers will make the playoffs and the Dodgers will win the World Series and if I blink my eyes and tap my toes I will run with the big boys again, dribbling behind my back on the way to scoring the winning basket before an adoring grandstand filled with glorious, dark green maidens with glistening (if oily) skin.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Never Forget to Lie"

Saw a wonderful movie last night at the old crumbling Victoria on 16th Street. "Never Forget to Lie" is a life's work film by our friend Steve's associate Marian Marzynski. It's the story of his life as a child of the Warsaw Ghetto, but it's not a holocaust movie per se -- there are no Nazis, for example, no archival jack-boot footage -- it's about the feelings of a child being sent to the ghetto and watching people all around him being hauled away, remembering the sound of the Germans screaming in the streets below.

Marzynski was in the theater and spoke afterwards about the synchronicity between the film maker and the cameraman, and what it's like to do a documentary where there is no script and no professional actors. The man is in his late 70s now and this is a breathtaking film.

He also spoke about who lived and who didn't. It wasn't just luck. His father, for example, when Marian was born in 1937, refused to circumcise him, because he knew this would mark him as a Jew and put him in danger later. Of course, he was a secular, not a religious Jew. More religious Jews tended to die, less religious people could hide and be willing to do what it took to survive. Friendlier people had more friends, outside the ghetto, who would help.

So, if you think about it, many of today's Jews are in this way descendants of friendlier and non-religious Jews. This isn't genetics, but it is the way social engineering works.

And now, this generation of Polish, Italian, even German kids want to know about the Jewish history of their countries. Marzynki's next film will be about the train that takes 200 Italian students, every two years, from Florence to Auschwitz, recreating the route of the Italian death trains on the 1940s. People 'want to know.'

Maybe it's like we 'want to know' about our Navajo, our Sioux, our Cherokee. Maybe they just want to dance the hora in the streets of Warsaw and eat a blintz with sausage. Maybe it's no different than shamans in Sherman Oaks.

Maybe not. Maybe.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dear Desmond

Dear Desmond:

We missed your first month, but we got to Brooklyn for your fourth, fifth and sixth week birthdays. Week four, you weren't doing much, barely opening your eyes, but somewhere between week five and six a switch got flipped on. And yesterday you smiled.

Your mom shouted and we all ran into her bedroom, where you were lying on your back on the bed. "I got a smile!" she shouted. "He smiled! Didn't you! Didn't you! You little widdle woopsy shmloooooo," she added, burying her face in your belly. And then you did it again.

I'll tell you the truth: I've seen huger grins. But you worked so hard to do it. First you straightened out your mouth and then you turned up one corner, followed a few seconds later by the other. Your eyes might have twinkled. Anyway, it's about the smiler, not the smile. We broke into applause.

Your big sister Isabella clapped her hands together and shouted "Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!" Grandma Bobo and I started laughing with delight. You will never know how beautiful your first little smiles were.

We are making a big fuss about this because, frankly, you've been a little bit of a lump. We are impatient. With us, it's all about speed, faster and faster, warp speed, nano speed, 3G, 4G, 5G. But you -- you're about eating, sleeping, pooping, eating, sleeping, pooping, over and over. Practice makes perfect.

In your defense, you've had a lot of people staring at you. Before yesterday, when you broke out your inaugural smile, you could only screw up your face when you were unhappy. You couldn't tell us why, so we had to guess. "He wants food." "He is tired." "He is pooping."

By contrast, your sister Isabella, by your age, had already learned how to smile and laugh and probably dance and do quadratic equations. We were there the night she was born, and on her very first night on this earth, in the UCLA hospital, she was looking around and taking it all in. Maybe girls just get it faster than boys do. Your Auntie B. hit the ground running too, her little mind already computing possibilities, calculating in which direction the earth would be spinning and where her flight plan might direct her. Right now she's in Singapore.

With you it's been eat, sleep, poop, eat, sleep, poop. You'll get to Singapore too, but you might just take your time, like your daddy did. By kindergarten he still couldn't grip a pencil, but he could take apart his scooter, put it back together again, and set my digital watch.

The truth is, it's about heart, not speed. If you end up with half your daddy's heart you'll have more than enough. He knows how to make other people feel good, no, more than that. He makes them feel treasured. It's nothing for him to drive all the way to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, to pick up a couple pizzas and a box of cannoli for his folks' last night in Brooklyn, just because the other day he heard his dad wondering about it. I hope you get all of that. You've definitely got his chin. 

You've got your mom's eyes. You think you can smile? Guess again. When Anastasia smiles, everyone's lights go on. It is very likely impossible not to be in love with her. Of course, you know that already. You and your mom, you've got this thing going, this smell thing, this touch thing, this nuzzle thing. She is life to you, and you're the same to her. So give her a break. Smile some more. She could also use some sleep. And try to hit your diaper.

Your mom is almost as funny as your big sister, who used to be the Queen of Terrible Jokes, but unfortunately doesn't bother with them anymore, preferring instead to recite the entire plot of any Harry Potter book, in one breath, talking so fast that the only word I ever get is "Voldemar."

Isabella is still funny, but she can be sassy now. Yesterday she had a cold, so she got to stay home and watch as much TV as she wanted until noon, which meant five (5) hour-long episodes of "I, Carly," which stars two (2) sassy thirteen year old girls, so no surprise on the sass.

But her heart's not in it. She's only six. She's got no angst. You can't have sass without angst. And she can't stop smiling when she does something she shouldn't, like throw the cat into the bath water. The cat jumps out and Isabella gives herself away by smiling so much. Like I said, she's only six, which probably seems like a lot to you, but to us, not so much.

Bobo and I got a lot of Isabella Time this trip, walking her to school, picking her up after chorus and at her friend Lucy's house, making her breakfast, packing her lunch. We read Fantastic Mr. Fox. Bobo braided her hair.

A lot of this was necessary because you've got your mom on a tight schedule. You're one hungry li'l dude. You want to eat every two hours. God bless the I-Phone, which must be every nursing mother's new best friend. Your mom can keep in touch with the outside world, talk to her friends, set up real estate photo shoots, coordinate school dropoffs, playdates and sleep overs, shop for diapers and surf the web, all while hoisting you from one side to the other. So three cheers for high tech, on the one hand, and no-tech, on the other, for which another word is "instinct."

Desmond Miles, my boy, you don't know goo from Google but you know how to eat, sleep and poop, eat, sleep and poop, and now you can smile. God knows what you'll be able to do a few weeks or months from now, when we see you next.

I am writing this on an airplane heading home. It was great fun to spend weeks four, five and six of your life with you and your family. You won't remember any of this and I won't either unless I write it down. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Desmond is growing fast...

...but, fortunately, not too fast.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


In the once-bustling town of Ellenville, New York, Cohen's Bakery puts most big-city bakeries to shame.

Raisin pumpernickels, giant chocolate covered almond cookies, braided challahs, sour dough ryes. Rugelach that make you remember what rugelach are supposed to taste like.

The raisin pumpernickel that Belly is holding below was maybe half of a loaf and had to weigh three or four pounds.

 Ellenville itself saw its last better days decades ago, but a few businesses are still hanging on. The Catskills are far deader than dead -- the mix of Hasids buying businesses and property but not paying any taxes, plus the dying off of the older generation of Jews who supported the great Catskills Mountain resorts, plus jet travel, plus the internet -- you drive past mile after mile of abandoned hotels, glass broken out of windows, basketball courts with sagging and broken rims, concrete cracked, rusting cars.

Not so in Ellenville, or so it seems. And the bungalow colony where the Brooklyn Plotniks rent a cottage for the summer seems homey and comfortable, even with the power turned off until Spring.

Meanwhile, Des is learning how to grab on, and to sit comfortably in the arms of The Great Dance-Nik.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Snow or Mayo?

Only in...well, Brooklyn or Saint Plotniko, could there possibly be a store devoted to only Mayonnaise. These are the mayonnaise flavors for February, posted on the door at Empire Mayonnaise, along with a tribute to the Hellmans, who made the first commercial mayonnaise in 1911.

Liver Mayo, yes, it's real.

Meanwhile...can this really be happening? It's snowing again! Yesterday it was in the 40s and Plotnik could walk around in his Warriors jacket without gloves or a hat. But now, is this for real? What is it, winter? Maybe it's powdery mayo?

Actually, the French Curry Mayo doesn't sound half bad...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Day

The Great P-Dunk brought home cards, flowers and candy for his three Valentines. The one on the left, with the chocolate bar, says Isabella, the one in the middle says Mom and the one on the right says GreatFiveHead. Daffodils, roses and everyone gets to split the chocolate.

Plot and Duck gave each other tickets to The Book of Mormon and a night out on the town, plus all the chocolate they can eat is just lying around the house.

Meanwhile, Baby Des, who Isabella calls Mister Muscles, is starting to play with stuff. He is still in sleep mode most of the time, when he's not insisting on being fed. His eyesight seems to be improving, It's so intriguing to watch an infant and try to figure out what they are figuring out.

Above all, it's still all about mom, first, and then dad. Des must recognize their scent and maybe their tactile closeness. Big Sis, Papa and Bobo have our moments too, but we're not Mom or Dad.

Plottie called his mom on Valentine's Day too. He never forgets this gift he has been given.

And earlier in the day they got a text from The Great BZWZ in Goa, who was preparing for her talk, that is probably over now. After that she stays there for another week, on the tropical coast of India, supposedly working on her dissertation, while drinking organic cocktails out of free-range coconut shells. Then it's off to Singapore, Jakarta and Sulawesi.

Fortunately, Plotnik bought the What? Me Worry? app from the Apple Store. He's not concerned in the least for her safety now. Tropical island a million miles from anywhere? Out on a boat digging holes in the bottom of a lake? Snakes, microbes, terrorists? Is there a Popular Front for the Liberation of Sulawesi?

What? Me worry?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book of Mormon

It certainly is the funniest show we've seen in many years. Act One is good but Act Two is ridiculously hysterical and brilliant. The "Mormon Hell Dream" sequence leaves you gasping for breath. When you spend so much money for two hours of entertainment, you can either 1) ask yourself why you are doing this and then stop to consider all the starving people in Africa, or 2) say to yourself you do this maybe once a decade and get over it. We're going with 2).

Dialogue entering theater:

(Plot) "Excuse me. Where is the men's room, please?"

(Usher, not looking up from his phone, waving arm) "All the way ovuh."

(Plot swivels around in the huge crowd, trying to locate where the usher is pointing to.)

(Usher) "You're welcome."

(Plot) "Huh? Oh, thank you."

(Usher, as sarcastic as it gets): "It's my supreme pleshuh."

(Plot, who just paid one quarter as much for two tickets as he did for his first car): "No, I don't think it is."

(Usher) "Whatevuh."

(Plot) "In fact, I don't think you care at all. In FACT..."

Plot stops, thinks, shakes head, thinks again, considers shutting up, then does. NewYawk.


At a middle eastern restaurant on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, you can get two plates: regular vegetarian platter, or diet platter.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A New Pope

The phone rang in the middle of the night. The voice spoke in Italian.

"Signore Plot-neek. You have heard about the Papa?"

"I am Papa," said Plotnik.

"No, no, il Papa in Roma?"

"Oh, the Pope? Benedict? No, whassup?"

"He quitting. We need new Papa. You already called Papa. You wanta job?"

"Me? Pope?"

"It a little weird, I know."

"Well...can I choose my own name?"

"Of course. What name a-you want?"

"Do I have the job?

"Maybe. But we still talking to Uncle Goopy."

Plotnik said he'd call the man back.

He is considering these three names:


But he's sure he won't get it. They always give it to Uncle Goopy.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Street Corners

The problems are the corners. The snow has been plowed from the streets and piles up on the street corners. Someone has shoveled a pathway through it when it was below freezing, but now that it's warmer and the snow is melting, the cleared-away area is one giant puddle. If you have no waterproof snow boots, or you remembered to put lots of shoe polish on your Ecos but forgot to wear them and walked out of the house with your tennis shoes on, you end up with wet socks and cold feet. Or, you pick your way onto the sidewalks climbing over icy piles of snow, which can be problematic when you're holding a six-year-old's hand.

But we remember all this. It's so nice to walk Isabella to school in the morning that none of it matters. We have had a perfect time so far, filled with bedtime stories and great eats and afternoon wintery walks. Except for the issue of feeling bad about The Great BZWZ's four-day misadventure flying from Providence RI to Goa, India -- that's right, FOUR days, and she's only arriving just now -- there have been nothing but blue skies and green lights in Brooklyn NewYawk.

We Shmalifornians miss the little bit of winter that we miss. Another week will do just fine. 

AND, today Plot and Duck bit the serious bullet and bought two tickets to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway on Wednesday night. Admittedly, it's easy to get spoiled when you get to see so many shows for free, but doesn't it seem a little weird to have to go through the conversation about "what is money good for anyhow?" and "hey, you only live once, right?" just to go see a show and sit in the Mezzanine?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sledding in Fort Greene Park

Sledding in Fort Greene Park with Isabella and her friend Luci is like trying to cross a traffic circle in Bangkok. Sledders careen all across and down the hill, paying no attention to all the kids and parents walking up the same hill, and yet there are no accidents. Kids plow into each other, or into trees, parents get knocked over by sledders, sledders by other sledders, no problem. You just stand up and keep dodging.

There aren't too many mornings like this one. Before too long the snow will lose its pristine appeal, like one kid said at the corner later on in the day: "mommy, this snow looks like poop." But for three hours Saturday morning it couldn't be any nicer.

I want to turn back the clock twenty years, pick up one of these four floor brownstones adjoining the park in Fort Greene, for a pittance, and then swing the clock back to today, after gentrification, fix the place up and move our whole family into it. We're old, we'll take the ground floor, the rest of 'em can divvy up the other floors as they see fit.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Nemo the Blizzard

When the snow is falling parallel to the ground you know you're in trouble. I had forgotten about staring down at your feet as they crunch along the ice, moving one step forward at a time, not able to look straight ahead or you'll get sleetright in the eyeball. The blizzard wasn't supposed to get bad until last night but at five pm it was already nasty, windy, sleety, stormy, wet, cold. Barb's shoes leaked. My gloves kept my hands dry but not warm. We didn't move back to California only to be done with being dumped on in winter, but it counted in the equation.

No matter, I still love New York. I didn't grow up here but it has always felt more or less like home to me. My real home, Los Angeles, feels like someone-that-used-to-be-me's home town, and San Francisco, even after 18 years, just makes me chuckle most of the time. New York's default consumer-hostile attitude makes me laugh too, but I admire it. I love SF's recycling and politics, but I'm like my avocado tree in the backyard, waiting for the fruit that will never arrive without more sun.

Sadly, I'm afraid I may be going on hiatus with my cousin J's sandwich shop. The pastrami I had there today was better than Ed and Mary's in Casper, Wyo. but honestly unacceptable in The Apple. All my friends whom I sent to J's, wildly enthusiastic when I first found out MY cousin made sandwiches near Herald Square, won't eat there anymore.  Only PP, BB and I are left, and after today's overcooked and greasy pastrami came out just about black from being forgotten while being incinerated on the burger grill, we may be down to two.

J. loves Belly though, and she and the rest of us love him. He's such a good guy. Hurricane Sandy didn't help. Maybe he lost his purveyors afterwards. But I think he may not be watching carefully these days -- he wasn't there today. And it was really, really...not good.

After lunch we trudged down Broadway to Union Square, then down into the subway and out again at De Kalb in Brooklyn, to cut upwind again into Fort Greene to pick up Isabella at school.

Snow, slush.
Slip, slide. 
Greasy and fried. 
A doo wah doo wah doo wah ditty 
For Nooyawk Nooyawk Nooyawk City.


Friday, February 08, 2013

MOMA New York: Modern Stops at 1930

There has never been another Picasso. There are many who he influenced and whose styles were similar to one or another of the many phases he went through, but none whose entire body of work, from twelve years old all the way through into his late eighties, can match this extraordinary artist.

MOMA has six floors. Plot and Duck started at the top -- a Japanese post WWII retrospective on just how depressing art can be. Down the escalator to Floor Five and you run into the collection from 1870-1920. You could spend your life on this floor. Just when Plotnik had finally had enough Picasso, Ducknik pointed out this exquisite Matisse.

 The painting is small -- Plot passed it by initially because he didn't see the bather in the middle. After he realized what he was looking at, he couldn't take his eyes off it.

And then they saw "Starry Night," Ducknik's favorite Van Gogh. Someday, somebody's going to write a song about this painting.

They should have just gone home right then, but instead went down to Floor Four and Floor Three, which prove that Minimalism has absolutely nothing to add to man's artistic and emotional life. If MOMA's collection of contemporary art is the best they could do, several of The Great Dance-Nik's ex-companion Tom's paintings deserve to be featured in these rooms.

Plot took this picture in memory of the chief: three blank canvases take up one entire wall. Once he and the Chief had been shanghaied to see an exhibition at MOMA in L.A. There was one enormous canvas which was painted white with nothing else on it. The Chief lost it right there: "This is bullshit, boychik," he said. It may be the only time Plottie ever heard him swear. So Chiefie, this one's for you. Three of 'em this time.

So the bottom line is that as far as The Great Plotnik is concerned, anything decent that the Museum of Modern Art calls "modern" stops around 1930. After that there is little to look at, short of blank canvases and Andy Warhol soup cans. So says Plotnik von Pfingerpaint, famous Art Critic.

It has started to snow. We're supposed to get a foot by tomorrow. Plot is kinda looking forward to it. But today it's just rain, the almost-freezing kind that makes walking uncomfortable. Nonetheless, it is now time to get out on the street to wait for the bus to transfer to the train to meet The Great PD at Cousin Josh's lunch counter in Manhattan for lunch. Pastrami!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Lakers Won and Belly's Getting Rich

The new Barclay's Center where the new Brooklyn Nets play is in the perfect spot - right on Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues where all the subways converge. But it's still too new -- doesn't have that excited feel yet, not like Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, where the Knicks play. Above all, it's missing that undefinable smell -- like the bratwursts grilling at Wrigley Field, or all the dope smoke in the parking lot at Plotzer Stadium. It still feels like a shopping center more than a sports arena. But give it a few decades.

Isabella is piling up tooth money. The Tooth Fairy pays off like a broken slot machine in Brooklyn. She's already got $16 bucks and she's got a mouthful of teeth left. Rumor has it the big dangly one currently in play will bring $5!

$5 bucks for one tooth! Plotnik made his children fill out Tooth Release Forms before they eked out their paltry pennies. And Plottie himself often lost his teeth as they fell out into the snow during his 20 mile trudge to elementary school during the bitter blizzard-prone conditions of mid 20th Century Sherman Oaks.

That was the story he told his kids and he's stickin' to it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

I Have a Dream

These are a few of the postings hanging on the wall in the hall outside Belly Bone's first grade class. Kinda puts everything in perspective, doesn't it?

In case you have trouble reading the first one, it says "I hope black people can have friends who are white people. They can also have a friend who looks like them."