Sushi Friday


Mr J Asian Bistro

This post represents an exception to the rule against eating sashimi at fusion restaurants necessitated by a trip to the Shoreline. The secondary factor is the decline of strictly Japanese restaurants of good quality in favor of show places with winking lights and dishes with lots of crunch that veer in the direction of the dreaded PuPu platter.

What I like: The little chichi plaza offers plenty of free parking and a traffic light to let drivers on to Route 1, which grows more insane as the Shoreline marches toward full summer. Fusion Mr J’s falls on the conservative side in terms of décor with a touch of jade-looking something, Imari replicas, etc. No blaring TV or hardcore rap on Pandora or whatever created a feeling of serenity. The loudest noise aside from the exclamations of a young someone who had left for thirty minutes to find an ATM (there was one across the street) came from the air conditioner kicking on and off. The best feature: value for size and price and general freshness with nine pieces of fish for $11. That landed Mr J’s on the fabulous side. Plus the ginger without dye made my taste buds wish for rice, which is not included. I resisted. The wasabi broke up easily, a sign of freshness.

In between: The service is … serviceable with a bit of difficulty in  communication but no intrusiveness. The miso soup had a good mild savory flavor with modest amounts of tofu and wakame. The massive number of scallion slices overwhelmed everything with the half-inch thick cut and too much of the sharp green stems. The fish, on balance, represented good value. The three pieces of buttery salmon and two of striped bass equaled the best I’ve had. One of the two fluke pieces had rested in the cooler too long while the tuna lacked any flavor or character.

What I didn’t like: At forty-two miles roundtrip Mr J’s represents a commitment I’d be reluctant to make regularly. The sushi bar stools make diners feel like Lily Tomlin’s  Edith Ann. The dining counter reminds me of the places in Denmark that were high enough to help shot drinkers get the booze into their mouths and not all over the bar. Here the arrangement  hinders the consumption of food. The unresponsive  sushi chefs work behind a curtain of refrigerated shelves and set their creations on top so the diners can’t watch art in the making.

Grade: B because of the freshness of the fish

Pablo the Pinto

Pablo the Pinto


When the veterans’ writing group reconvened after delays for blizzards, we warmed up with a seven-minute exercise. There was no concern for grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. The idea was to put on paper as much as possible in the time allotted. The prompt was

My First Car

Here’s my contribution. This is verbatim except for fixing spelling because it became incomprehensible.

Pablo the Pinto, learned to drive stick taught by the owner of the Ford dealer who was a friend of my parents’ Pablo and I traveled all over the lower part of Middlesex County as I covered Essex, Deep River and Chester for the Middletown Press. I put $3 worth of gas in and drove 200 miles a week. Pablo did very well except for one time when I was on a hill in Killingworth and someone cut me off. I stalled out badly.

Pablo also had issues with don’t remember if I baptised him with coffee as I did with subsequent cars. Not sure where his name came from.

Pablo moved me from O.S. to Deep River and then to Middletown.

He met his demise one morning early when I hit blck ice on Route 9 north, skidded and wound up facing south.

That day I went to see Stan Koslowski Youth Services director in Middletown. He kept looking at me funny asked if I was OK. I said yes – that I’d hit my head in a car accident. He called 911 and I spent the rest of the morning in the emergency room. Turned out to be a mild concussion – but Stan may have prevented it from getting worse.

I had the accident at the max trade in time and got enough to put down money on a 1974 Volvo 244 S, which I drove until 1984? or whenever they stopped selling leaded gas. Olaf got me from Connecticut to Pennsylvania and took me all over Philadelphia. He required regular alignments because of the train tracks that stuck up and existed as a barrier between my office and home.

That’s six minutes, but I figure I’m typing and the veterans were writing by hand.

Best Cards Ever


Emily McDowell’s cards actually came across the radar screen a week or so ago. These are things she wished people had said or written while she was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Thanks to Slate I can now read the Empathy Cards and check out her website. My favorite is above. Second favorite: “One more chemo down! Let’s celebrate with whatever doesn’t taste disgusting.”

McDowell has found a unique way to take steps toward overcoming the problem that cancer patients and other severely ill people encounter.

It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without realizing it.


For those friends and family struggling for the right thing to say, may I recommend my friend Betsy McMillan’s A Mystery in the Mailbox.

Like Empathy Cards, the “mysteries” are an ingenious way for friends and family to sense that one is helping without intruding by sending postcards. Betsy sets everything to make it easy. As a family member of one recipient put it, it was “hope in the mail.”

Conflicting Fabrications

Joe Mithcell
Joe Mitchell

Way back at the beginning of the month I set out to write about an A.O. Scott article. As noted in “Tech Hell” Scott seemed to glom two pieces together. One addressed veracity in the movies while the other explored Janet Malcolm’s “The Master Writer of the City” in The New York Review of Books

I gave up on a critique of Scott in favor of an examination of “Master.” That article purported to be a review of Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, though it is more a critique of the man than of the book. Mitchell had at various times elided or “conflated” — to use an au courant term — dialogue, characters, and situations. In some cases he just wrote fiction. I prepared to wax outraged over Mitchell until I arrived at the end of the review and encountered the following:

… after “Joe Gould’s Secret” Mitchell published nothing in The New Yorker, though he came to the office regularly, and colleagues passing his door could hear him typing. I was a colleague and friend, …

That set me off. With all the talented writers in this country, especially in New York, couldn’t Review of Books find someone who wasn’t a colleague and friend of the subject to review the biography?

As I was putting together my diatribe, NYTimes Public Editor Margaret Sullivan published “For Reviewers, How Close Is Too Close?” The Times’ readers have been objecting to a reviewer who appears in an article by the book’s author, to a failed analysand reviewing a book about psychiatry, to a review by a friend of the author, to a review failing to disclose that the reviewer considered the author “a father figure,” and on and on. The Book Review editor claimed that it was difficult to find writers with enough knowledge of the subject who were not tied to the author, publishing house, etc. I say that problem, presuming it is real, demonstrates the insular, incestuous, and parochial state of books. So sad.

Ms. Sullivan concludes with the question that overrides all her work and that should be top of mind for everyone. “How is the reader best served?” She answers the cases raised in the Times. Apply it to the case of Janet Malcolm. The answer is “not at all.” I remain suspicious.

P.S. Just so you think Ms. Malcolm is sympathetic other writers of nonfiction, consider this:

The idea that reporters are constantly resisting the temptation to invent is a laughable one. Reporters don’t invent because they don’t know how to. This is why they are journalists rather than novelists or short-story writers. They depend on the kindness of the strangers they actually meet for the characters in their stories. There are no fictional characters lurking in their imaginations.

To which I say, maybe not yet. Mark Twain and any number of other reporters turned fiction writers would disagree.

Friday Follies


It’s Friday. It’s the beginning of a long weekend in which I hope people will remember that the memorial part of Memorial Day is to honor the fallen; Veterans Day is for all military. Please remember.

In the meantime, Poynter said NPR published the “Holy Grail” of corrections.

In a previous correction on this post, we corrected something that was actually correct. So we have corrected that correction. It had to do with Celsius temperatures.

The Holy Grail was said to be the chalice from which Jesus drank before he was crucified. In myth, King Arthur’s knights went on a quest to find it. Others have decided the Grail  was a symbol of purity, in some cases a human being. Anyway, does Poynter really want us to go in search of all layers of corrections?

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Here’s a link to gorgeous artwork from the National Geographic traveler photo contest.

The one above  is Allan Gichigi’s photograph from Kit Mikai in West Africa.

‘The Creative Thing’


Toni Morrison does not need the barrage of publicity accompanying the publication of her latest novel God Help the Child. She will sell bookstores full with or without the hype. But the multiple interviews and commentaries offer a portrait of a woman who is still searching for new and varied ways to look at the world – as an African American, as a woman, and most of all as a human being.

Maddie Oatman’s essay “Toni Morrison Knows All About the ‘Little Drop of Poison’ “ in Mother Jones provides insight into how the woman approaches her art. Aspiring writers should most definitely read her discussion of the writing process.

As I was writing this post the NYTimes ran a short piece on one of the two movie versions of Imitation of Life, which portrays mother-daughter relationships, one fraught because the mother is dark skinned and the daughter light enough to pass. I’m wondering if God Help the Child is a reverse version of that same story.

Best quotes from the Mother Jones piece:

My editor suggested that I change a two-book contract to one novel and a memoir. And I said okay, and then I thought, “I don’t think so.” A memoir? What’s interesting is the invention, the creative thing. Writing about myself was a yawn.

Even when you think you’ve had a wonderful childhood, I suspect there’s always some little drop of poison—that you can get rid of, but sometimes it just trails in the blood and it determines how you react to other people and how you think.

Morrison also revealed that she adores One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book that mesmerized me. Knowing her opinion serves as major reinforcement that the greats of the world can include ghosts in their Nobel works.

A much longer piece in the April 12 NYTimes Mag suffered by comparison. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is stumped (her word) that Morrison says, “It is very important to me that my work be African-American.” The interviewer asks her first? And Morrison says, “Oh, yes.” I re-read that paragraph, stumped that someone apparently so familiar with Morrison’s work would be surprised at the response.

The article tries to cover a vast territory without a coherent theme. We go from Morrison doing an audio recording, to a bit of her literary history, to a limited analysis of the canon, to biography, to the lack of diversity in publishing (especially among Pulitzer winners), and on and on. Toni Morrison’s readers don’t need this barrier between them and her wisdom.

RIP, Cousin Gert

Gertrude Thompson
Gertrude Thompson

For Gertrude Carolyn James Thompson 

My Dearest Gert,

Thank you for being a part of my life. We met when I was a little girl, but I didn’t get to know you well until I was researching Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters. You provided much valuable information that led to a greater understanding of our family. You led me to finding my great-grandmother in Springfield and eventually to finding your great-grandmother in Westchester County. You told me that twins run in the family, that our common ancestor smoked a clay pipe. You interviewed our famous pharmacist relative Anna Louise James and provided significant insights into the struggles with ill health and poverty that the earlier generations experienced.

(Side note for those not familiar with the James family palm frond: the patriarch, Willis Samuel James, had three wives, all named Anna. Gert was descended from the first, I from the second.)

During the times we met, I came to appreciate what a multi-faceted woman you were. Besides raising four glorious children and working fulltime, you launched a second career as an artist. Your exhibits inspired many and amazed this incompetent. Today’s display at the funeral home was a real testament to your taste and talent. The video came to life with the photos of you posed with your artwork. I hope this part of your legacy will find an appropriate resting place.

You were a gracious hostess on more than one occasion, most recently when you allowed our large family to invade your yard and house for a family reunion. (I THINK I reciprocated by taking you to dinner.)

Today I learned that you were also a dedicated sorority sister, a great tennis player, a ballet dancer, and a devoted friend to many. You touched the lives of young and old and became a mentor to women who, like you,  are working to make the world a better place.

You truly embraced life, and I am proud to be your cousin.



What I’m Reading Now


Gregg Mangan has performed an amazing feat with On This Day in Connecticut History. I’m not just saying so because the entries include the birth of Great-Aunt Anna Louise James on January 19. I learned of the book when I met Gregg at the Connecticut Library Association conference where Connecticut Humanities was giving a presentation across the hall from where Christy and I were talking about the veterans’ writing workshop.

Like Women in Clothes, On This Day is a book to dip into. Unlike the former, it is eminently readable cover to cover. I plan to do both.

The three-hundred-sixty-five entries (no leap year) capture the yin and yang of this tiny state: hostile and friendly relations with Native Americans; conflicted feelings about the Civil War; clean politics (non-resident Abraham Lincoln) and dirty (now twice con ex-gov John Rowland).

This is a book for young people to learn about the big stuff of the Charter Oak and the Amistad incident and for the rest of us to become acquainted or re-acquainted with L’Ambiance Plaza, the orphanage that became a world-class university, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, and Mrs. Connecticut Courant Hannah Watson, one of the first newspaper publishers in the country.

Read on!

What I’m Reading Now


A Man From Ohio once again offers an education. Analyzing the Toni Morrison interviews and various conflicts of interest is keeping my brain sharp. In the meantime, I’m dipping in and out of Women in Clothes. Again, I’m not sure the source of information on this 500-plus page book, written by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, “& 639 Others.”

Though it appears in printed form, Women in Clothes reads more like a Wiki or a blog with random posts, photos, and drawings. The designers made artful use of white space, but the text feels cramped in places. The typeface, especially the plethora of italics, makes for tough going.

Some of it is fascinating. “Ring Cycle” features fourteen pages of photocopied hands (one naked) with stories of rings. The “Collections” include clogs, eye lashes – some of them look like dead millipedes – Catholic jewelry, and best of all safety pins and bobby pins. Never did get how chewing gum becomes an item of apparel. The photos of early- and mid-twentienth century women are more than worth the price of admission, which is an entirely reasonable $30 considering the size of the volume and the number of photos, some on glossy pages.

The content offers some disturbing pieces. Ana Bunčić’s “Wear Areas” reproduces critiques that four men made of her body. “Man 2 wished I wore a deep neckline so he could show my breasts off.” Man 1 kept saying that I should take better care of my nails.” The twenty-four images in Leanne Shapton’s project “Stains” should be combined into a single painting. The double bicycle stains tell me she needs to invest in some Dawn dish soap. The multiple oil stains will disappear with judicious application of baby powder. Mascara on pillowcase? Wash your face before you lie down. But who wants to mess with art?

The best section gives men’s garments almost equal time. Leslie Vosshall and Julavits hired a “smell scientist” to sniff coats hanging in a fancy restaurant’s coat check. The results were fantastic and perceptive: “secret smoker,” “man who is cross-dressing,” “powdery violet scent,” “refined and subtle,” “sweaty,” “cheap airport,” “robot” because of no discernible scent.

Overall impression: these women have way too many clothes and even more time on their hands. Who needs thirteen navy blue blazers? Rent the Runway could render Women in Clothes obsolete or at least send the work to Instagram.

RIP, B.B. King


I normally post uplifting or fun stuff on Friday, but a superstar musician died yesterday. Here’s my tribute, posted originally in seven years ago, reposted four years ago when MySpace began to keep me from access to my blog, then wiped out again in the great Blue implosion. This post followed his September 2008 appearance at the Bushnell in Hartford.

Thrill Still There

Went to go see the real King. Though he no longer plays Lucille and sings at the same time, the man still has it. He tells wonderful stories. His riff on Dr. Viagra is a hoot. And boy can he flirt!

But the music rules all. His band is tighter than a streetwalker’s skirt. Of course it’s mostly blues, that’s the band’s name, after all. They jammed with the New Orleans sound, too. My favorite was B.B. and his guitar players in instrumental mode. He closed with his million-seller, and everyone in the place knew the thrill was still most definitely there, even the people who ran in and out of the auditorium all night for more beer, more beer, more beer.