Senior Citizen Roulette 3: Total Chaos!
Plus! Eric Adams Watch!! Reflections On Peeling Grapes!!!
Welcome to Issue #66 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Several readers commenting on last week’s story about the American Dream mall made an obvious point that I’d failed to recognize. While I expressed disappointment that the nation’s second-largest shopping complex is not very weird, as far as malls go, readers noted that in fact all malls are deeply, inherently weird.
“Just the concept of stuffing a bunch of stores together along with an amusement park and a food court! And no windows,” wrote reader Jillian in Prospect Heights.
I also heard from correspondent Aharon in South Slope who noted that the mishap-prone American Dream just defaulted on another loan payment. So maybe it will get weirder faster than expected!
Reader Mark D. in Minnesota, meanwhile, was still trying to get over the fact that John Catsimatides, the NYC grocery store billionaire profiled in Issue 65, grew up eating grapes peeled by his doting mother.
“Why peel a grape?” Mark wrote. “I have missed out on this and have been eating them my whole life.”
I encouraged Mark to try peeling a few grapes to see for himself. He reported his findings several days later, in another email:
(1) Bought some green grapes
(2) Washed a few of them, put the rest away
(3) Peeled half of them
(4) Ate four each
(5) Peeling them a colossal waste of time, and messy
(6) I don't have 5B$, I must be missing something.
Reader, do you peel any foods that most folks don’t bother peeling? Discuss!
In other news, I got some great ideas for NYC neighborhood names that would make good names for children. “My pretend baby would be Bleecker Bond, named from the cross of those two streets,” wrote reader Chevanne in NJ. “They would be a total badass who’d instinctively know how to mix patterns.”
Christopher in Hyde Park emailed to suggest "Kingston-Throop" as a baby name: “Not a neighborhood, true, but like every other subway stop in NYC, it could be a neighborhood if enough real estate developers decide that it should be.”
Jana in Williamsburg suggested her own neighborhood’s name would be suitable for a baby, “With a ready-made nickname of course! Billyburg.” Ann in Manhattan, meanwhile, emailed to write, “I would consider naming a pet FiDi, similar to Fido.”
I am very excited about this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got a new edition of Eric Adams Watch and the latest round of Senior Citizen Roulette, in which I ask random questions of random NYC oldsters. Thanks to readers Amran G., Brian R., Katy O., Pam C., Frank D., Pennie N. and CGC for submitting your great questions!
And finally, huge CAFÉ ANNE Alligator-in-the-Sewer Shoutouts to new paid subscribers Nick D., Lauren Y. and Ryan N. Your support helps ensure that the newsletter stays free for everyone, always and eternally.
PS No newsletter next week—I’m taking a little break because it’s my BIRTHDAY. CAFÉ ANNE will return April 3 with a great story about a fellow who has visited every independent bookstore in NYC—there’s more than 60!
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Rats, Neighbors and God
I continue to enjoy the exploits of Eric Adams, whom my friend Aharon refers to as “New York City’s first AI-generated Mayor.” As a profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #15 of the mayor’s doings:
February 9: The Mayor, who has declared a city-wide war on rats, appears in court a second time to defend against a fine for a rat infestation at the four-story home he owns in Bed-Stuy. He blames the problem on a neighbor. The judge orders him to pay $300, describing a bag of recycling left in front of the mayor’s home as "harborage conditions that encourage the nesting of rats.”
February 14: The Mayor posts on his Instagram: “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love New York City as much as I hate rats!”
February 28: At an interfaith breakfast, the Mayor’s aide introduces Mr. Adams as “Definitely one of the chosen.” The Mayor couldn’t agree more. “I strongly believe in all of my heart, God said, ‘I’m going to take the most broken person and I’m going to elevate him to the place of being the mayor of the most powerful city on the globe,’” he tells the crowd. “He could have made me the mayor of Topeka, Kansas.”
March 9: Mr. Adams tweets a video of himself reading his favorite calls to the city’s 311 hotline. Among them: “I’d like to report my neighbor for waving to everyone on the block.” “That’s a real New Yorker!” says the Mayor. He is, of course, referring to the caller.
Senior Citizen Roulette (Round Three!)
Last week I set out to play another round of the game I invented last year, Senior Citizen Roulette. For newer subscribers who aren’t familiar with the rules, it works like this:
First, readers write in to suggest questions they’d like me to ask NYC oldsters. I type these questions up, number them and print them out.
Next, I target random seniors found in the wild—in city parks, bus stations and outdoor cafés. When I find an old person who is willing to play, I have them pick a random number, ask the corresponding question and record their response.
The premise: New Yorkers are the best people, and old people are also the best people, so these random seniors will definitely say something worth hearing.
And how does one win Senior Citizen Roulette? It’s just like life. Nobody wins! Ever!!
This time around, things were even more random because I was accompanied by a random person. Reader Ritam in Prospect Heights, who I’ve never met, emailed a few weeks ago to ask if he could accompany me on my next adventure, so I invited him along. He helped me spot likely targets, took notes, asked some great follow-up questions and was also very fun company. Thanks Ritam!
These interviews have been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
Larry, 74, New Brighton, Staten Island
Larry was hanging out in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, chatting with three friends. He did not let me take his photo.
I have 34 questions, and you have to pick a question by choosing a number, one to 34.
Okay. And if you don't like this question, you can pick something else: What is the most difficult situation you've encountered in your life?
Losing my child.
Losing your child. Wow. I'm sorry. Was that a long time ago?
November. I didn't expect that answer. How are you doing?
I'm doing. One day at a time. He was 40 years old, my son. His name was Larry, too. He died in his sleep. He had a heart attack. He had a son and daughter.
How are they doing?
The daughter is having a hard time, especially. They were kind of close. It was recent. They're still getting over it.
Do they live nearby?
They're in Chicago.
Oh, that's too bad they're not nearby.
I've gone to twice to see them.
Well I hope you get to spend more time with them.
Could I ask another question?
Do you believe in God?
Yes. I was raised in a religious family. Protestant.
What is God like for you?
God is somebody I call to in times of trouble. A higher being.
Has God been helpful, losing your son?
I guess so. They say God comes when you need him, not when you want him.
Susan, 69, Livingston, Staten Island
Susan, a life-long Staten Island resident, was also waiting for the ferry. She picked question #1.
If you could do it all over again, would you?
Would I do what?
It! Life! Your life.
No! Because you learn what you need to learn during that life. There were things in my life I'd probably want to be different, but you can't have a life like that.
What would you like to have been different?
Well, my husband died three years ago, earlier than he should have. I would have liked him to be in my life longer, because he was a lovely man. But we learn from these things. I learned from my husband's death to be more compassionate about other people's problems that they've had, losses that they've had. That's kind of the way I look at it.
What is something that was under your control that you might have done differently?
I didn't go to college right away. I went to secretarial school. I think it would have been good to go to college. I did go after—I never got a degree, I went to night school. I worked as a secretary in Manhattan and they paid well. So I did alright financially. It would have been interesting though, to have a different career. If I'd gone to school maybe it would have gone in a different direction.
Say you went school and had 30 years left. What would you like to study and what career might you choose?
Maybe speech therapy. I don't know why exactly, but I've always listened to the way people talk.
I am also interested in the natural world, but would I be a gardener? A veterinarian, a botanist, a scientist? I don't know.
Do you have any hobbies that incorporate the natural world?
Oh I've got lots of hobbies! I always had these hobbies, but now I can explore them further. I love to garden, I knit regularly, I read, I enjoy cooking or reading about things like herbs. I like to bird. So I have a lot of interests.
Your life sounds awesome to me!
Thank you! I keep busy.
Jay, 81, Midtown
Jay, who lives near Bryant Park in Manhattan, was enjoying the sunny March afternoon. He picked number 24.
Oh, this is a good one: Would you rather stay on Earth, or get a one-way ticket to Mars?
Oh, I'd stay on Earth, that's fine. Going to Mars does not seem to be that attractive to me.
We don't know much about Mars. I assume I'd be going alone. And if I went to Mars, maybe I'd never come back.
Where would you like to go that you haven't been?
I can't think of any place that I haven't gone to. Some places I've enjoyed in the past are Paris, the Riviera, Puerto Rico. I've probably been in 30 different countries, and I've enjoyed that a lot. But New York pretty well has anything anybody would want.
Vick, 65, Murray Hill
Vick, a civil engineer who lives in Manhattan, picked question #17.
Are most people basically good, or bad?
Generally good. That's my experience. They are born like that. Then they adapt to the world and become whatever they become. And people react to however you deal with them. If you deal with everyone nicely, you will see the result. The inner core is beautiful.
That's a nice way to see people.
Well, that's the way they are!
Do you think people tend to be decent around you because you expect them to be decent—because you see them as good?
That's a good point. The outer reflection is what the human being has a tendency to grasp at. Like an animal, it’s an instinct. Even dogs are like that. They know when you like them or not.
Phil, 77, Borough Park, Brooklyn
Phil, a retired banker and a regular at the Bryant Park ping-pong table scene, was waiting with his friend to play a game.
So I have 34 questions; you pick a number one to 34.
Okay, I was born on the 17th, so 17.
Sorry, you can't have that one. The last guy picked that one.
The scum! Okay, seven—because I'm 77.
You might not like this one: How would you like to die?
I once joked around and said, “This is where I want to be when I die,” alright? I played softball most of my life. My whole life. I said, ‘Take me to the pitcher's mound, cross my arms. Have a football in one arm, a softball on the other arm and the racing form in the middle of my chest. I'll be a happy person!’”
When I die, make it nice and quick, but give me thirty seconds. If it’s inevitable that I'm going to go, give me thirty seconds and that's it.
What are you going to do with those 30 seconds?
Just remember what I've done. That's it. See my life in a flash.
Could you tell me, in 30 seconds, what you've done?
Born, went to school, went into the Army, got out of the Army, worked, retired, took the package and relaxed the rest of my life.
That only took 15 seconds. You have 15 more seconds.
15 more seconds? Just enjoy life now!
One of my friends I've known since I was ten years old—I have to watch my language—I said, “You know, I'm retiring.” He said, “What took you so f-ing long?”
I worked for 40 years. And I just take it easy now. I do anything I f-ing want. And that's it.
Just enjoy yourself. It's never as good as it is, and never as bad as it is.
What does that mean?
If you have a problem, it’s never that bad that it won't straighten out. And when things are very good, it will end. Don't get too excited!
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I would read oodles and oodles and oodles of senior citizen roulette. Keep them coming!
Cafe Anne HOF: "They say God comes when you need him, not when you want him" -- your follow up questions are a master class.