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Between You and Me

Author Angela Reich with her book, 'Shipwreck of Hopes'
Leah Dunaief

Today, May 23, is the birthday of Margaret Fuller. She would be 209 years old. I don’t know if you have ever heard of her. I hadn’t really, maybe vaguely. She was actually born Sarah Margaret Fuller, named after both her grandmothers, until she dropped the first name at age 9. She was in other ways a precocious child, too, the oldest of Massachusetts lawyer and Congressman Timothy Fuller’s children, and he taught her to read and write before age 4.

Fuller, a Harvard grad, was such a stern teacher that he forbade her reading sentimental novels and instead gave her what was then, at the beginning of the 19th century, a vigorous classical education — indeed a rarity for a woman at that time.

Margaret Fuller grew up expecting to be exceptional, and she was: as a journalist, editor, literary critic and women’s rights advocate. She strenuously protested slavery, homelessness and other injustices. She advocated for education for women. She also was reputed to be the best read person in all of New England. She was the only woman allowed to use the Harvard library for her research. Her breakthrough book was “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” considered the first major feminist work in the United States, and she was friends and the intellectual equal of such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne — said to have modeled Hester Prynne after her, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and admired by Edgar Allan Poe.

Margaret Fuller

She died in 1850 at age 40 in a shipwreck off Fire Island, with her Italian count husband — if they ever married — and 2-year-old son, within sight of the shoreline. Her ship, the Elizabeth, ran aground on a sandbar as it was being captained by the first mate. The event was in all the metropolitan newspapers four days after the tragedy, once word could get out after the gale passed that had come sweeping up the East Coast, destroying the ship. Fuller had been sent by her publisher, Horace Greeley of the New-York Daily Tribune, to Europe from which she filed dispatches for four years, first from England and then from the 1848 revolutionary wars raging in Italy. In effect, she was this nation’s first female wartime correspondent.

Fuller’s life was honored with a book, “Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli,” a flattering portrait edited jointly by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing, all of whom rushed to get it out in print before, they feared, her reputation would die. In fact, it was the best-selling book in the United States until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Margaret Fuller was a remarkable woman, and I am glad to meet her. How did we happen to meet?

We were introduced by Angela Reich and the Three Village Historical Society. Reich wrote a book called “Shipwreck of Hopes,” about the ship Elizabeth, and although this is fiction, the author spent a great deal of time getting the historic context right. She traveled to Harvard, poured over original letters and manuscripts, and otherwise discovered that there were thousands of shipwrecks off the Fire Island coast. Yes, thousands! This just happened to be one of them, and this one carried a famous passenger.

It is a wonderful thing that we can listen to a writer discuss his or, in this instance, her book and all that went into the writing, dressed in our daytime suburban-casual clothes, enjoying other community members similarly gathered and even a little homemade carrot cake on a given Monday night. In the process we learned some local history and met two worthy women: Margaret Fuller and Angela Reich.

We live in a terrific place where such delights — theater, music, documentaries, political debates and book discussions — frequently happen. All we have to do is get off the sofa after dinner and go to them. It’s often hard but so worth the effort. 

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It’s still the same old story, only 60 years later. When I was an undergraduate at Barnard, the college president, Millicent McIntosh, who was well ahead of her time, urged the women — actually we still called ourselves “girls” then — to prepare themselves for a career and not just for marriage. “Statistics tell us that you will be alone during some parts of your adult life, whether from widowhood, divorce or not finding a mate. You may have to support yourself and your children, should you have them.” We giggled at the message.

The question then became: Who will take care of the children while we are working, and what will be the effect of a working mother on those children? In short, the issue was how to balance a career and motherhood.

Although she didn’t say it, the answer for President McIntosh, our role model who had several children, was to have help in the home. That was made possible by the fact that she and her physician husband made a sufficient living to pay for that help. That meant for women to have a career was a luxury, and we resolved the career/motherhood dilemma by assuring ourselves that it was quality time spent with children, not quantity, that would make the difference in their lives.

How pat an answer. How innocent. How ridiculous.

This was just before the world changed, just before Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and the invention of birth control pills. Within the following 20 years, certainly by the early 1980s, women poured out of the kitchen into the workplace, and the two-paycheck family became the norm. Values in America had changed, family income had improved, but the conversation was the same: Who will take care of the children and how will women and men — and the children at home — cope?

So how have we coped?

For starters, women can pursue success in the workplace much more readily, if not yet with pay equality. Women can also support themselves rather than stay in a marriage they may deem difficult. The other side of the coin is that the frustrations of balancing the workplace and motherhood that we imagined early on have indeed come true. And lots of other changes have taken place in society that weren’t imagined.

The relationship between men and women inside marriage has changed. The drive for equal pay in the workplace continues. The rate of divorce has soared in the last half-century. And fewer Americans are even getting married than ever before. 

In 1960, 82 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married, but in 2010 that rate had dropped to 44 percent. By 2018, the reproductive rate in the United States had fallen to a 32-year low, which will of course have all sorts of implications for the future workforce and economic consequences on Social Security, among others. Remaining in the middle class now depends, for most people, on two incomes.

And the work-life balance question? Well, that problem still hangs in the air. Someone has to take care of the children, but who? I can honestly say that almost every career-successful wife I have ever interviewed and asked how she managed the home-workplace situation has expressed frustration with the outcome even as she loves her work. 

Couples today work out their own arrangements. Those fortunate enough to have the funds hire help. Roles in marriage have sometimes reversed, with the husband staying at home for the family. Some corporations have realized the benefit of offering paid family leave, so that infants are not left to third-party care. Grandparents have been pressed into service to care for their grandchildren. 

But the bottom line is that the choice to work has now become the necessity in most cases for both partners to support the family. 

The choice is still a luxury.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Many of us sit through meetings of one kind or another: business meetings, community meetings, even social gatherings. But did you know that the air we breathe in those closed spaces might not be so healthy for us? If you come out of such a gathering and the air around you then feels fresher and cooler, consider this: “Small rooms can build up heat and carbon dioxide from our breath to an extent that might surprise you.”  So explained a recent article in the Science Times section of The New York Times.

When we breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. That gas, which we might characterize as stale air in such a situation, can actually affect decision-making as a result of its impact on the mind. Some eight studies over the past seven years have considered the effects on cognitive function in small, airless rooms over a couple of hours. The results suggest that perhaps we should not entirely trust decisions made there.

Carbon dioxide, when inhaled, dilates blood vessels in the brain and reduces activity among cerebral neurons, thus decreasing communication between brain regions. We know this to be true when a large amount of the gas is inhaled but we don’t know so much about the effect of smaller amounts. If student test results are compared in rooms with 600 parts per million (ppm)  of CO2 and similar rooms with 2,500 ppm, the scores of the test takers with the high concentration are significantly lower. It is interesting to note that carbon dioxide levels can be twice that high in some classrooms.

Such studies were repeated in the workplace, with workers taking problem-solving and strategy tests, and the results were the same. In today’s energy-sensitive world, many office buildings are better sealed, with less fresh air seeping indoors. Another interesting fact was that not every type of test showed that same result.  Less complex test material, like some proofreading, for example, did not show a comparable shift.

So the next time you are in such a situation, open a window or keep the door ajar. Perhaps the intellectual level of the conversation will rise.

Now here is another tip for better living that is also from The Times, although published a different day. For those of you who, like me, love to sit around sometimes and do nothing, here is exoneration from the charge of laziness in an otherwise busy world. The Times tells us that the Dutch call this “niksen.”

What is doing nothing, exactly? A psychologist named Doreen Dodgen-Magee, who studies this matter, likens it to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere. It’s “coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” she writes. She calls that boredom, which she doesn’t intend in a negative way.

But the idea of niksen is to take conscious time to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. I like that, although it flies in the face of our always-be-productive American culture. According to some experts, “the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging.”

Daydreaming, “an inevitable effect of idleness — literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas,” according to Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England, who has done research in this area. “Let the mind search for its own stimulation. That’s when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity,” she explained.

It’s not easy to do nothing and certainly to do so and not feel guilty about it. We have to set time aside deliberately to disconnect — and not just from our devices. The reward is that we can refocus with more energy. I have a chair in my living room that I can sink into and just have my mind go blank. It’s even tempting to fall asleep there, and sometimes I do for a few minutes.

Delightful! 

As of May 1 James Holzhauer won his 20th game of "Jeopardy!" Wednesday, which means he now ties for the second-longest winning streak in the show's history.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Did you know that the Boston Tea Party, during which colonists boarded British ships anchored in Boston Harbor and pitched their precious cargoes of tea into the sea, was organized by a local chamber of commerce? In 1773, in response to the onerous Tea Act imposed on the North American colonies by the British Parliament, the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce — that’s always been a tough part of town — called its members together and dramatically displayed their displeasure at yet another tax. And the rest is history — our history. 

All of which is to say, chambers of commerce have been around for a long time and, in their own way, can be quite powerful.

How do I know about this? I was watching the television program, “Jeopardy!” the other night, fascinated by the latest contestant who has won well over a million dollars so far and in record time, when the answer to the final question about a group founded in 1599 was, “Who was the chamber of commerce?” Intrigued, I looked up the history of chambers and discovered that in Marseille, France, tradesmen had banded together at that time to protect and promote business. They called themselves “chambre de commerce,”
chartered by King Henri IV.

There are all sorts of chambers today: international, national, national-international, state, regional and particularly local such bodies. They still have the same mission and generally are respectfully regarded by the public. They tend to be a nonpartisan source of information about their towns, especially regarding business, and membership in them suggests a certain authenticity. There are roughly 4,000 local chambers in the United States today, according to the internet, and they often advocate with government on behalf of business. 

Our media group belongs to eight of them in the areas we serve across three townships. Some are larger, like Huntington and Smithtown, some are just getting started, like Rocky Point Sound Beach. Earlier this week I attended the Brookhaven Chambers of Commerce Coalition, usually referred to as the BCCC. Founded in 1992 by Barbara Ransome of Port Jefferson, among others, the BCCC was celebrating the 20th anniversary of its annual gala, honoring a member of the year chosen by each of 16 chambers. Some 230 people filled the room and patiently applauded as the chambers in turn introduced their winners.

The now-famous “Jeopardy!” contestant, James Holzhauer, did have the right answer but only barely squeaked by one of the other two challengers to enlarge his winnings and earn the right to return the next night. Holzhauer is one of the more unforgettable characters that have appeared on the show. He is both “extraordinarily knowledgeable,” as described in The New York Times, but also has brought an unprecedentedly aggressive strategy to the game program. He is, by his own description, a professional sports gambler, and starts with the high value questions first, then bets shrewdly and big on the Daily Double. He thinks nothing of interrupting the amiable chatter from host Alex Trebek and moving the pace of the traditionally polite game faster. Married, with children, he is laser focused most of the time but seems to have relaxed a bit and even joked with the audience, as the days go by and his winnings pile up.

Holzhauer is different from the long line of previous contestants in key ways. By his own admission, he is used to winning and losing large sums of money all the time, so he doesn’t tremble when he bets $60,000 on the Final Jeopardy question. And he knows he is well prepared for the game.

What is the secret to his immense knowledge of trivia? He wasn’t a diligent student in school, he admits, but he prepared for “Jeopardy!” by reading children’s books in libraries where facts are presented in an interesting way. He worked really hard to achieve his longtime goal of getting onto the game show, and he studied to win.

Three cheers then for chambers of commerce and libraries. 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Celebrations are a beautiful thing. Besides being festive, they tell us who we are, where we come from and maybe even where we are going. For example, the Fourth of July reminds us that we are Americans, Thanksgiving Day prompts stories about our history and that we have aspects of our lives to be thankful for. Religious holidays strengthen our beliefs and traditions. And the best part of celebrations can be that they bring us together — as a nation, as sports fans of a winning team, as members of a particular block or just as a family.

My family looks to ceremonialize as much and as often as we can. The month of May has been especially kind to us in that regard this year. For starters, my oldest grandson will be graduating from college in Boston in May. My granddaughter will graduate from high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, later in the month. Both have earned their next stage in life. To continue the party, my youngest son will celebrate a big birthday at the beginning of July. We try to get together for some of the Dunaief birthdays each year. And any other excuse — new job, acceptance to college, a new success at work, an honor bestowed on a member — any occasion serves. A triumph by one can be an opportunity to rejoice by all.

Celebrations can establish traditions, and traditions can provide structure for each year. With such framework can come togetherness and the security of a community. The community can be as small as a family coming for Sunday dinner to eat the tomato sauce that’s been cooking slowly on the stove in grandma’s kitchen much of the day. Or it can be as large as one of the world’s great religions that transcend national and international boundaries. A community can be of one’s sex, or age, or station, or nationality, or village, or school district or neighborhood. There is great power in community — a defining and anchoring identity, a sense of inclusion.

So how do most people celebrate?

The answer is usually with food, but not always or only that way. For my grandson’s graduation, we will all come together in the bleachers of Fenway Park and variously cheer or boo the Red Sox, depending on our individual intelligence. We will stay in the city a couple of days and perhaps visit one of the many terrific museums. Maybe we will even take a duck boat ride on the Charles River or a swan boat ride on the Boston Common or a historic walk through the many hallowed neighborhoods. Any and all of those will make for lifetime memories that will encourage us to further celebrate by making them into traditions and perhaps repeating them or recalling them with amusement whenever we get together. Common stories are part of what unite us, as a people and as a family. Oh, and there will surely be lots of seafood throughout our stay in Beantown.

In Charlotte, we will be newcomers eager to explore the new hometown for one of my sons and his dynamic family. Before they moved, we were already acquainted with how long the flight was from here to there, and which airlines made the trip. It is inherently exciting to explore a new region of the country, with its different festivities, histories and traditions — and regional foods. By now you have surely gotten the correct impression that my family enjoys traveling and celebrating on its stomach.

For my youngest son’s birthday, there is always a baseball game involving us. He gets to stay up at bat as we take turns pitching to him, and he typically knocks the ball out of the park. Other times we get to chase it all over the field. Such is the privilege of the birthday kid.

They are completing one stage and entering the next one, members of my family, and that is so significant as to be noticed and marked with congratulations and optimism. By celebrating together, we are saying, “Well done! And we are with you all the way.”

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

When we want to use a pronoun to refer to a deity, we use a capital letter out of respect, so that even if we’re writing about His will, we use the capital “H” in the middle of a sentence. For some, of course, the capital letter could also represent a female deity, as in, I thought I would get the job, but, apparently, She had other plans for me.

That’s so wonderfully deferential that it shows that only supreme beings merit such grammatical greatness.

But what about all the people we can’t stand, whose ideas are ruining our day or, gasp, our country?

We have long used symbols or faux letters, like an asterisk (*) to take the place of a letter or words we all know, so that we might write, “What the **** was he thinking when he cut me off for a parking spot at the supermarket?”

Nowadays, though, I think the politics of personal animus requires more than a few letter abbreviation or a casual dismissal. We need the equivalent of a literary eye roll, which can show a level of antipathy and disrespect befitting the lack of humanity, the utter depravity or the absolute inanity that defines someone’s actions or words that make us grind our teeth or snarl in frustration.

How about a super lower-case first letter of a pronoun, to make it clear that we don’t just disagree with someone, but we find that person so frustrating, evil, despicable, irritating and/or ridiculous that the person doesn’t merit a customary human pronoun? Perhaps we need a symbol that does the graffiti equivalent of writing that person’s name and spray painting an “X” or a thumbs-down sign over it.

Instead of referring to the person people either love, hate or love to hate, as he or him, we could use a diminutive placeholder for the personal pronoun, like *e seems poised to start another war to satisfy his ego, or *is idea so completely lacked substance that it’s hard to argue with *im when *e hasn’t read any intelligence reports.

On the other side, we might see a nemesis as unworthy of a typical pronoun, arguing that *he is preventing this great country from marching forward or *er ideas seem rooted in the word “no.”

But, of course, this doesn’t have to be limited to the power elite in Washington, D.C. It can refer to anyone, allowing us to alter the personal pronoun in a way that underscores our distaste for the idea, the person, or *is or *er actions.

Let’s say we’re watching a Little League game and a mother, father, grandparent or just random fan comes by and heckles an umpire. That seems so utterly absurd that, in the retelling, we might want to point out how *is words set the wrong example, or *he made me throw up in my mouth.

When we’re tapping out a text message to our friends, we might share our disgust that *he had the nerve to ask me if *er choice to date my best friend was OK.

We might realize that this person seemed eager to train *er dog to use my lawn as a bathroom or that *e was telling me how to live my life when *e apparently has no idea how to live *is.

These super lower-case pronouns can allow us to vent in code to our family and friends. We might suggest that *e is driving me crazy. If *e actually read the email or text, *e might have no idea that the subject of this diminutive pronoun is, in fact, *im.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five:

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

So begins Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” about the famous midnight gallop that happened 244 years ago. The poem was first published in The Atlantic Monthly on January 1861, and I dutifully learned the first lines as a young student. As a result, every April 18 I think of Paul Revere. 

Who, exactly was Paul Revere?

I know that he was a talented silversmith because I have seen some of his work, starting with teapots and engravings, at antique shows. I also assumed that Revere was an ardent colonialist, hanging out with the likes of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, to whom he rode through the night in Concord to warn them of imminent capture by the British troops. That was about it until I did a little research, and here is what I found.

Revere was born in Boston on either Dec. 21, 1734, or Jan. 1, 1735, depending on different calendar conversions. That still makes him 40 years old that famous night. His father was Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot immigrant who had come on his own at the age of 13 to the New World and eventually married Deborah Hitchborn, the Boston-born daughter of an artisan and wharf-owning family (whose last name was also spelled Hichborn and Hitchbourn). Revere, the third of 12 children, attended school from age 7 through 13 and then learned the silversmithing trade. He was married twice, having been widowed in 1773 and remarried that same year, which means he was little more than a newlywed the night of the ride. 

In addition to his work with silver, Revere did some dentistry to augment his income. He participated in the Boston Tea Party, during which Bostonians threw tea into Boston Harbor from the holds of ships anchored there to protest against parliamentary taxation without representation. 

The colonists were increasingly angered by severe taxes imposed on them by their mother country to help repay the considerable debt Britain had incurred from fighting the French and Indian War. Revere, as a rider for Boston’s Committee on Safety, had devised a system of signals with lanterns to communicate the whereabouts of the British soldiers. Hence that night, the message was, “One, if by land, two, if by sea.” In a sense, Revere was Boston’s first media man.

With others, he was aware that the British troops might shortly be on the move because on April 16, 1775, he rode out to Concord, Massachusetts, to urge the patriots there to move their military stores to a different location.

On the night of April 18, Dr. Joseph Warren told Revere and William Dawes that the king’s troops were about to embark in boats from Boston to go to Cambridge, and from there to Lexington and Concord by road that night. Revere borrowed a swift mare named Brown Beauty, and waited on the far bank of the Charles River for the signal from the steeple of the Old North Church. Revere and Dawes made the ride from different locations should one of them be blocked from leaving Boston.

Revere, however, had the benefit of a distinguished publicist, Longfellow, who honored him accordingly. Also left out of the story was Dr. Samuel Prescott, who rode on to Concord after Revere was captured by a British patrol in Lexington. Revere soon escaped, while Dawes lost his horse and had to walk back to Lexington. But Prescott made it through to carry the warning.

Revere and the others surely did not yell, “The British are coming!” despite tales to the contrary. They were, in the final analysis, all British. They probably said, “The redcoats are coming!” and they surely didn’t yell since British troops were stationed throughout the countryside. Such is the mystique of history. 

But “that famous day and year,” we know from ensuing battles, is true and to be celebrated this day.

The cover of the first issue of The Village Times in 1976 by Pat Windrow

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is a week of celebrations, and it gives me great pleasure to share them with you, our readers. First is the delightful news that Times Beacon Record newspapers won 12 awards for outstanding work over the past year from the New York Press Association this past weekend.

The convention was in Albany, and we loved hearing our names called out before a group of more than 300 attendees from weeklies and dailies, paid papers and free, representing communities throughout New York state. The prizes are listed elsewhere in the paper, and I am particularly pleased that they span the two primary responsibilities we carry: good editorial coverage and attractive advertising. Those are our two masters, and we need to serve both well in order to survive.

Speaking of surviving, a major part of the convention and its workshops was concerned with just that. As most of you know, newspapers — and the media across the board — are engaged in a gigantic struggle. Small businesses, long the backbone of community newspapers like ours, are falling by the wayside. Consumers are buying from Amazon and Google. It’s so easy to toddle over to a computer in one’s pajamas and order up Aunt Tillie’s birthday present, have it wrapped and delivered in no time at all, and perhaps even save some money in the transaction. Only small stores with highly specialized product for sale can compete. Or else they offer some sort of fun experience in their shops, making a personal visit necessary. And it’s not only small stores that are disappearing. Stores like Lord & Taylor — “a fortress on Fifth Avenue,” according to The New York Times — are also gone, directly impacting publications like that esteemed paper.

But that is only one existential threat to media. The other is the drumbeat of fake news. The internet and social media have been significantly discredited as news sources. Cable television hasn’t done much better in the public’s regard. Print, which has always been considered the most reliable source of fact-based news, mainly because it takes longer to reach the readers and is vetted by editors and proofers, can be dismissed with a wave of the hand and the accusation, “Fake news!” 

On the other hand, polls show that print is still the most trusted source. And that is particularly true for hometown newspapers, where reporters and editors live among those they write about and have to answer to them in the supermarket and at school concerts.

Which brings me to my next cause for celebration. Monday, April 8, marked the 43rd anniversary of the founding of The Village Times, which began the Times Beacon Record expansion. We were there in 1976, we are here in 2019, and I believe a good measure of success is simply survival. We are still just as committed to the high ideals of a free press — carrying those ideals and passion to our website and any other of our other platforms and products — as we were that day of wild exhilaration when our first issue was mailed to our residents. We will remain so in the future with the support of the communities we serve.

There is one other happy occasion this week. My oldest grandchild, Benji, is celebrating his birthday. When Benji was born, 24 years ago, I became a grandmother. This is, as we know, a club one cannot join on one’s own. One needs a grandchild to be admitted to this lovely existence. And in addition to the joy of watching him grow up into an honorable and talented young man, I have the exceptional pleasure of working with him as he goes about his chosen career of making quality films. It was he who directed and helped write our historical movie, “One Life to Give,” and now its sequel, “Traitor.” It is he who will be the first of our family’s next generation to graduate from college next month.

I am writing this column on the eve of your birthday, Benji. Happy Birthday, Dear Grandson! And I salute your parents for letting you follow your heart. 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

friend mentioned an article he had seen that asked the question, “What’s the best restaurant if you’re over 50?” and proceeded to ask me the same question.

Now he well knows that I am over 50, and he also knows I eat in restaurants, sometimes for business and occasionally as a social event. In fact, as we have gotten older, my friends and I seem to do less cooking each year and more splurging on dinners out when we get together. So it was a relevant question in more ways than one. I don’t know what the article he was referring to concluded, but I can tell you what is important to me when I dine in a restaurant.

First and most critical is the food. It is certainly not the ambience or even the picturesque location. Those last are pleasant enough, but the quality and taste of the meal are most vital. I like food that I would describe as, for lack of a better term, clean. That means the ingredients should be allowed to speak for themselves and should not be buried under cheese or slathered on top with butter. Both of those can make food taste good, but unless the dish particularly calls for those ingredients, they should not drown the main offering.

I also like seasoning but again not with a heavy hand. To my mind, a heavily spiced meal knocks out my taste buds. But I know lots of people, even a couple of my sons, like their food “hot.” For me, it is fun to try and analyze what spice or combination of spices make the food so tasty. Sometimes I can tell; sometimes I have to beg the answer from the chef, and surprisingly the answer is usually forthcoming. And sometimes I bring along a dear friend, who is herself a celebrated chef, to sleuth out the mystery.

I don’t have a large capacity for food at one sitting, so I frequently bring home half the meal to eat the next day. That not only makes me feel economical but also not wasteful, and I especially like a meal that will still be tasty when it is reheated. Not all dishes are up to that challenge, but occasionally one, like chicken, will be even better after it has lolled around in its spices in my fridge for 24 hours.

When I go out to a restaurant with other people, I need to hear them when they speak. I also do not care to shout while I am chewing. That means it has to be reasonably quiet wherever we are eating. And unless the experience is deliberately family style, which can be fun, I don’t care to be stuffed into a crowd of diners. A moderate distance between tables is nice. So is a comfortable chair. I try not to be interested in the conversation at the next table — although there have been a few exceptions to which I will admit — and a little privacy is welcome. That also helps to keep the ambience low key. Ditto for the background music, if there is such. I am not looking to have my large intestine jitterbug during a meal.

Finally, it is pleasant to have a waiter or waitress who is not conspicuously weighed down by the problems of the world. Although I well understand that being a server in a restaurant is one of the hardest jobs, because pleasing so many different people with so many individual tastes has to be challenging, I prefer not having to deal with someone cranky or impatient. It is helpful when servers introduce themselves by name because it facilitates getting their attention and nicely personalizes the service in both directions. And I feel the tip ought not be an automatic percentage. That’s just a minimum. Exceptional service should be acknowledged in the one way that is most meaningful. That person after all is earning his or her bread, even as we are eating ours.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

For those of us who daily or occasionally drive into Manhattan, it looks like congestion pricing is going to happen. New York would be the first such city in the nation to impose this, but other countries have embraced charging vehicles entering the downtowns of their major cities as a solution to overcrowding, accidents and especially air pollution and revenue shortfalls. London, Stockholm and Singapore have congestion pricing, although critics insist that it is an unfair tax that particularly targets the poor who do not otherwise have easy access to public transportation.

Debate on this subject has continued ever since former mayor, Michael Bloomberg (R, I), introduced the idea in 2008. But the state, which has to approve such a move, wasn’t interested then. Now, however, with shortfalls in income tax revenue coupled with the immediate need to upgrade the city’s deteriorating subway system pressing upon them, the legislators seem to be agreeing to approve the move. The Democratic Assembly had been the holdout but at this point is willing to charge for city driving. The Senate has indicated support, as has Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). Suburban legislators are willing to go along with the plan if some of the added revenue will be
designated for commuter railroads.

Once having reached this remarkable consensus, work still remains for most to agree on what exemptions to allow. So far these might include drivers who are poor, have disabilities or are going to medical appointments, according to this week’s articles in The New York Times. The more exemptions, the less revenue, as the legislators well recognize. One pricing plan is projected to raise about $1 billion annually.

So how would we be affected?

Electronic tolls might be imposed on vehicles heading south from 60th Street to the Battery. “That money would, in turn, be used to secure bonds totaling $15 billion for MTA capital projects through 2024,” according to The Times. Some consideration would include a credit for drivers entering the congestion zone through tolled tunnels or the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan’s West Side, as well as for drivers coming over the Brooklyn Bridge to travel north on the East River, or FDR Drive beyond the zone.

One Queens assemblyman, David Weprin (D), insists that all city residents should be exempted, pointing out that many in Queens do not have public transportation. This is the type of detail still being discussed.

In Central London, where congestion pricing has been in effect since 2003, drivers pay about $15 per day to enter the roughly 15-square-mile zone between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Those with disabilities are exempt, while residents living in the zone pay 10 percent of the fee to enter during those hours. The plan has been a success in many ways, earning £122 million (about $160 million) a year net benefit in 2005-06, although some aspects are being updated this year. The number of vehicles in the zone has decreased by some 25 percent in the last decade. However, the private hire vehicles, like Uber, which have not been taxed, have increased by more than 75 percent from 2013-17. City officials are looking to change that
exemption this year.

Further, the number of private cars in Central London has fallen by 39 percent between 2002-14, while cycling has increased by 210 percent from 2000-16. Congestion in London, though, is still a severe problem, the blame now being placed on those same private hire vehicles and more deliveries. The congestion zone there is less than 1.5 percent of the city.

In Stockholm, there is a variable charge in the congestion zone, depending on the time of day, distance and location, with a maximum of about $11.30. Technological advances make such determination possible. The zone covers two-thirds of the city, as opposed to London, but then London is eight times the size of Stockholm. Londoners may soon be subject to all of London falling into the zone, as well as fees applying on weekends and for all road users. London’s changes, after 16 years, may predict where New York’s plan may morph.