Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Jury Duty Was Fun

Going to the courthouse every day presented the chance to eat lots of good food and to learn a little about the justice system

Centre Street, with its fair share of courthouses and government offices, is often a backdrop for TV crime dramas and celebrity trials.ENLARGE
Centre Street, with its fair share of courthouses and government offices, is often a backdrop for TV crime dramas and celebrity trials. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When I told people I was serving on a grand jury—not for a couple of days but for a month—the typical reaction, besides commiseration, was surprise that I hadn’t managed to avoid it.

Jury duty once signified you didn’t possess the minimal wiles or clout to get yourself exempted for life. These days, it’s much harder to escape from serving, whether you’re just a regular person, a former mayor or a movie star.

But I actually welcomed the experience.

The trip downtown to 80 Centre St. every day offered an excuse to visit a couple of my favorite restaurants in Little Italy and Chinatown. Angelo’s of Mulberry Street makes an excellent plate of fried mozzarella in a special sauce that includes just an insinuation of anchovies.

Then there’s Joe’s Shanghai on Pell Street, where beef with scallions is made the old-fashioned way—unencumbered by extraneous vegetables and sauces.

I was also looking forward to spending time along Centre Street, a part of town most of us know mostly as a backdrop for TV crime dramas, or when celebrity defendants are whisked into waiting Suburbans or town cars with reporters in hot pursuit.

Soon after college, I worked at 100 Centre St. in the public information office of the city’s Department of Correction. Later, as a reporter, I covered a few celebrity trials there or in nearby courthouses—Sean “Puffy” Combs, Martha Stewart and Anthony Marshall, Brooke Astor’s son. So returning to the scene felt like a homecoming of sorts.

Finally, and while it may sound hokey, jury duty is a fundamental responsibility of citizenship. For those who complain that democracy has been pirated by the rich and powerful, here’s an opportunity to stay in the game.

The grand jury I served on met weekdays from 2 to 5 p.m. and heard only narcotics cases.

Some days we had several cases. Other days, only one or no cases were presented.

An assistant district attorney would explain the charges that he or she wanted us to indict on. Then the prosecutor would call undercover police officers to testify, usually describing the primarily buy-and- bust operations that netted the alleged crooks and reading the results of lab tests regarding the pills and powders they discovered.

On several occasions, the alleged perpetrators testified in their own behalf, which sometimes swayed the grand jurors. Without that testimony, we had only the officers’ testimony to go on.

And while a majority of us typically voted to indict, there were occasions when we declined to do so, or reduced the charge.

I’m not sure we bonded. Unlike a trial jury, we didn’t spend long hours or even days deliberating one case. But everybody—a true cross-section of the population, from what I could tell—seemed to get along and take his or her responsibility seriously.

We had no reluctance about peppering the prosecutors with questions about the evidence or the law, having transcripts reread to us or even calling back witnesses if we weren’t unsatisfied that we had enough information to make a reasoned decision.

So what did I learn from my jury service?

That the area around the Port Authority Bus Terminal is a hotbed for drug sales.

That some of the people who get caught up in the drug trade are more hard-luck stories than hardened criminals.

That the police spend a lot of resources catching drug sellers. And that hopefully, with addiction reaching epidemic levels nationwide, all their busts might have something of a deterrent effect.

And finally, after seeing a parade of undercover officers, I’m convinced there’s no way a crook, no matter how seasoned, can confidently distinguish an undercover cop from a potential customer.

Some are as elaborately tattooed and look as unsavory as anybody you’ll find on the streets.

And I mean that as a compliment.

Manhattan’s Wedding Central

As Valentine’s Day nears, a visit to the New York City Marriage Bureau

Seth Kurke and Boni Thompson wait with their daughter Amara, for their turn in the chapel at the City Clerk's Marriage Bureau on Tuesday.
Seth Kurke and Boni Thompson wait with their daughter Amara, for their turn in the chapel at the City Clerk’s Marriage Bureau on Tuesday. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or just looking for a special way to celebrate the spirit of Valentine’s Day, my suggestion is to take a trip to the New York City Marriage Bureau on Worth Street.

Not to get married—though that can also be arranged, in 24 hours or less.

But simply to bask in the timeless atmosphere of the place. You’ll find people of every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and circumstance celebrating that most human of triumphs—having found someone they feel excited about waking up next to in the morning.

And you might even get asked to be a witness.

Because based on my visit there Tuesday afternoon, some couples’ weddings are rather impromptu.

“All my classes were canceled,” explained Seth Kurke, who was about to get married to Boni Thompson.
“ ‘Shall we go to a museum? Should we go to MoMA? Let’s get married!’ ”

He and Ms. Thompson met two years ago at a nearby Belgian bar where he was bartending. The place no longer exists, but the City Hall area still breathes romance for the couple.

Going the unembellished marriage route also made economic sense. “We’d rather go to Europe,” the groom explained. “Do something with that money.”

And for those who believe that procreation is one of matrimony’s blessings, Mr. Kurke and Ms. Thompson already had that covered. Their modest wedding party included the couple’s well-behaved 4-month-old daughter, Amara, resplendent in a burgundy baby dress.

Where Every Day is Valentine’s Day

A visit to New York City’s Marriage Bureau

The bride and groom.
Adrian Harrop and Daniel Ridley-Tyson talk to officiant Edwina Townes after their wedding ceremony in the chapel at the City Clerk's Marriage Bureau on Tuesday.
Seth Kurke waits for his turn in the chapel.
A small store in the Marriage Bureau sells flowers, veils, souvenirs and other wedding accouterments.
Mr. Ridley-Tyson, left, and Mr. Harrop exchange rings during their wedding ceremony in the chapel.
Messrs. Ridley-Tyson and Harrop were one of the many couples tying the knot at the Marriage Bureau on Tuesday.
More offerings from the Marriage Bureau store.
Casey Boyle and Lorena Rosales also were married on Tuesday.
The bride and groom.
Adrian Harrop and Daniel Ridley-Tyson talk to officiant Edwina Townes after their wedding ceremony in the chapel at the City Clerk's Marriage Bureau on Tuesday.

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The bride and groom. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Adrian Harrop and Daniel Ridley-Tyson talk to officiant Edwina Townes after their wedding ceremony in the chapel at the City Clerk’s …
Seth Kurke waits for his turn in the chapel. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A small store in the Marriage Bureau sells flowers, veils, souvenirs and other wedding accouterments. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Mr. Ridley-Tyson, left, and Mr. Harrop exchange rings during their wedding ceremony in the chapel. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Messrs. Ridley-Tyson and Harrop were one of the many couples tying the knot at the Marriage Bureau on Tuesday. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
More offerings from the Marriage Bureau store. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Casey Boyle and Lorena Rosales also were married on Tuesday. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The bride and groom. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Adrian Harrop and Daniel Ridley-Tyson talk to officiant Edwina Townes after their wedding ceremony in the chapel at the City Clerk’s Marriage Bureau on Tuesday. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I don’t know whether Amara qualified as a witness. But Ms. Thompson’s sister, who was also present, certainly did.

And my photographer Steve Remich, or I, could have stepped in in a pinch. Mr. Kurke and Ms. Thompson graciously invited us to attend their ceremony in one of the Marriage Bureau’s two chapels.

As they awaited their turn, I also met Dr. Adrian Harrop and Daniel Ridley-Tyson, the couple on line in front of them. Messrs. Harrop and Ridley-Tyson are Brits who live in England. But they decided to tie the knot in New York City.

“I’ve got a lot of family that live on the Jersey Shore,” Mr. Harrop explained. The New York City area “is a very special and important place to me.

“It’s my mom’s 50th birthday,” he added, explaining that they’d broken the news to her only that morning over a brioche French-toast breakfast at Le Parker Meridien hotel.

“I’m just so overwhelmed,” Mr. Harrop’s mother, Alice Atkinson, said as she broke into tears.

They invited us to join their ceremony, too. So we all headed into the marriage chapel whereEdwina Townes, an officiant with the City Clerk’s office, presided.

I know from personal experience that your wedding can be something of a blur. But my hunch is that years from now, Messrs. Harrop and Ridley-Tyson will remember the officiant’s hair, a becoming shade of blue.

They approached the lectern.

“Talk to me,” Ms. Townes said. “Who’s Adrian and who’s Daniel?”

What the ceremony may have lacked in pomp, it more than made up for in the affection that flowed between the couple.

“You’re such a special, special beautiful person,” Mr. Harrop declared when Ms. Townes asked him whether there was anything he wanted to say to his partner. “And you accept me for everything I am and I’m not. I love you so, so much and thank you for giving me the opportunity to spend the rest of our lives together.”

Ms. Townes declared the spouses married by the powers vested in her by the state of New York, and Ms. Atkinson broke afresh into joyful tears.

Mr. Kurke and Ms. Thompson were up next. “How does this work?” Mr. Kurke said, perhaps wanting to add a late sprinkle of majesty to the ceremony, and breaking into “Here Comes The Bride.”

I offered to take Amara so that Ms. Thompson’s sister could use her cellphone to fulfill her obligation as the couple’s wedding photographer.

The ceremony concluded, as these things typically do, with Ms. Townes—who would preside over 26 weddings by 2 p.m. on what she said was a slow day—giving the couple permission to kiss. They took full advantage of the opportunity.

“We don’t need any more babies,” said Mrs. Kurke’s sister as I handed Amara back to her.

Former Ad Man Carves Out a Niche in the Art World

A self-taught wood carver now whittles figures that are sold in galleries and collected by museums

John Cross with one of his creations.
John Cross with one of his creations. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER JR./THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If Don Draper were around today, acknowledging that he’s a fictional character, would his talent for crafting a pitch have transformed him into a wood carver whose whimsical work is collected by museums and sold in galleries?

I throw out the suggestion because that’s what John Cross is doing these days. He started out in advertising during the “Mad Men” era, though he never thought much of the show.

“It didn’t work for me,” he said when we met over the weekend at his studio in Elizaville, N.Y., a couple of hours north of the city. “I was very proud of what we did.”

His clients included Crest and Toyota. “I think we came up with some exciting stuff. I didn’t see that in ‘Mad Men.’ They drank a lot.”

One of his campaigns from the late ’60s featured subway posters for Scope mouthwash. They included tag lines such as “Fight Air Pollution” and “Stop Badmouthing New York City.”

It’s something of that sensibility that Mr. Cross brings to bear as a wood carver. His success probably has almost as much to do with the accessibility and easygoing humor of his subject matter as with his way with a chisel.

“What we did in the ad business was try to have a smile on it,” he recalled.

Some of Mr. Cross’s carvings.ENLARGE
Some of Mr. Cross’s carvings. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER JR./THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

His work includes Negro League baseball players; Miss America contestants; Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante and Woody Allen on matching plinths; women doing perfect swan dives; and perhaps my personal favorite, a gentleman in a tux, his jacket removed, sitting in a club chair and enjoying a cigar.

Mr. Cross says it isn’t a self-portrait.

The artist, 80 years old, was born in New Jersey. But his father, a utility executive, moved the family to Montreal when he was a boy.

“When John moved to Montreal he had a yearning for things American,” said his wife, Linda, herself an artist. “He collected sports magazines,” which provided the inspiration for his earliest figures.

I think we came up with some exciting stuff. I didn’t see that in “Mad Men.” They drank a lot.

—John Cross

Mr. Cross attended Middlebury College and received an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. But his natural inclination was toward art rather than business—and whittling in particular.

Self-taught, he’d whittle on the set when he was shooting ads in Los Angeles, where he spent several months a year. He whittled while walking to work down Madison Avenue.

“It’s like texting and walking,” he joked.

His initial recognition came in the early 1970s by creating large geometric pieces made from weathered timber that were shown in public spaces, such as Brooklyn Borough Hall Plaza.

The construction beams, 4 inches by 4 inches, were “salvaged” from New York University, where the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library was rising at the time. “I’d schlep these 10-foot beams up Broadway,” to his studio on 12th Street. “I’d go by policemen. Nobody said anything.”

Mr. Cross in his studio.ENLARGE
Mr. Cross in his studio. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER JR./THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Cross quit advertising in the early 1990s—“I didn’t need the money,” he stated simply—to whittle full time.

He carves using soft sugar pine from the Carolinas, his studio overlooking the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley, filled with neatly arranged Swedish carving knives and files in various shapes and sizes.

If there’s a definition of happiness, perhaps it’s having the good fortune to find something that lets you lose track of time. “Someone came to see us one day,” recalled the artist, who was whittling on his back porch at the time. “Apparently, they stood there for 15 minutes. I had no awareness of anything, which is heavenly. The wood has a nice smell to it. It comes off easily.”

It also doesn’t hurt if you can make some money off your passion. At a show at the David Findlay Jr. Gallery, Mr. Cross’s works sold in the $6,000 to $8,000 range.

The artist is currently working on an ambitious tug of war involving multiple figures. It follows an exquisite collection of circus animals that Mr. Cross started carving in 2002 for his grandson, Will. He stopped adding to the menagerie, not because Will, now a teenager, outgrew the figures, but because he eventually ran out of space on his mantelpiece.

A New Spin on Playing the Hits

Ralph Gardner Jr. gets a lesson in how to be a DJ in today’s music world

 

A DJ controller at Foxgrove in Manhattan.ENLARGE
A DJ controller at Foxgrove in Manhattan. PHOTO: JOHN TAGGART FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Under the assumption that it’s never too late to pick up a new skill to impress friends and family, and perhaps graduate to an entirely different, lucrative career, I attended DJ school recently.

It was held at Foxgrove, an electronic music and DJ academy on West 29th Street.

My daughters had offered anecdotal reporters of high school friends, whose genius had heretofore been disguised, becoming rich and famous spinning records.

So why not me?

And I like to think I impressed Foxgrove’s co-founders, David Mauriceand Natalie Lam, with my passion by being the only one among us old enough to identify the symbol on the Serato Numark controller they use to teach their classes.

“A logo?” somebody guessed.

Not quite.

The design was that of a 45-rmp record adapter, a small piece of plastic that one inserts in the middle of a 45-rpm record, allowing it to be played on LP turntables.

It appeared on the platter, the part of the controller that simulates a turntable and allows a DJ to show off his or her scratching technique, among other skills.

When I think of DJing, and how the world in general has left me behind, scratching, where DJs move a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable and call it music, seems as good a place to start as any.

Except that there’s no vinyl involved these days. The platter probably isn’t even necessary. The magic is accomplished using software displayed on large monitors at Foxgrove’s 12 learning stations. To my ignorant eye, all the blinking colors and wave patterns signifying instruments and sounds appeared approximately as comprehensible as the cockpit of a 747 if the pilot told me to land the plane on my own.

Foxgrove co-founder David Maurice with a DJ controller.ENLARGE
Foxgrove co-founder David Maurice with a DJ controller. PHOTO: JOHN TAGGART FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Maurice used a piece of electronic dance music to show me how to program voices and instruments and remix songs on the controller.

The problem, at least one of them, is that I don’t like electronic dance music.

“It’s an exact tempo,” he explained with saintly patience, “128 beats per minute.”

He was referring to why we would be remixing that genre rather than something more familiar, or even something that I recognized as a song with a beginning, middle and an end.

Why not the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow,” for example?

I trace my declining interest in music and dancing to the day in the late 1970s that disco displaced rock ‘n’ roll as the dominant party soundtrack. Electronic dance music seems but one more milestone on that slippery downward slope.

“You’re able to revisit a lot of records from the past,” Mr. Maurice explained cheerfully, trying to pique my interest. “You can dive back into your old library and do new things with it.”

That’s precisely the problem: I don’t want to do new things with my old records, which I suppose limits how far I can take this DJ fantasy. I love them just the way they are.

Ralph Gardner Jr. uses a music production device at Foxgrove.ENLARGE
Ralph Gardner Jr. uses a music production device at Foxgrove. PHOTO: JOHN TAGGART FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I’m not quite conceited enough to believe I can improve the Beatles’ “A Day In the Life” or Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

Mr. Maurice’s and Ms. Lam’s larger hope is that their students will become, if not the next Grandmaster Flash, players in the creative process, if only after leaving their corporate jobs for the night.

“A hundred years ago, before recording technology existed, music was 98% in the amateur space,” Mr. Maurice said.

People sang and learned how to play musical instruments and entertained themselves and each other at home. “As soon as you could record music, people became spectators rather than creators,” he went on.

If anything, the problem has gotten worse with music having essentially become free. People aren’t “interacting with music other than just listening to Spotify,” Mr. Maurice added.

Foxgrove’s goal is to do for music what Instagram has done for photography. Releasing everybody’s inner Ansel Adams. “Music is the last frontier to go into the amateur space,” Ms. Lam said.

I applaud them. But I’ll be seeking my bliss elsewhere.

For $80, Throw Caution to the Wind

What it’s like to go sky diving—indoors, in Yonkers

The question on the flight waiver for iFLY, an indoor sky-diving center that opened several weeks ago in Yonkers, gave me pause. It asked whether I’d ever dislocated my shoulder.

I haven’t. But I am scheduled to have shoulder surgery for a different condition this month.

Going sky diving in a vertical wind tunnel, with the wind blowing at hurricane speeds, might not be the most beneficial use of my time.

But consider the rewards! Chances are I’ll never have the opportunity to float weightless in space. And even less so to leap tall buildings at a single bound or fly Lois Lane around Metropolis on a first date.

Judging by a video taken by my colleague Jennifer Weiss, iFLY seemed as close as I’d ever get. And let’s admit it: Every child’s fantasy is to fly like Superman; to be liberated from public transportation. If my shoulder turned out a casualty of the experience, so be it.

Ralph Gardner Jr. takes a turn at iFLY indoor sky diving in Yonkers. Customers are borne aloft on a cushion of air in a wind tunnel.ENLARGE
Ralph Gardner Jr. takes a turn at iFLY indoor sky diving in Yonkers. Customers are borne aloft on a cushion of air in a wind tunnel. PHOTO: IFLY

However, I brought my decrepitude to the attention of Horacio Gutierrez, a public-relations representative for iFLY, when he greeted me at the front door of the flying school’s sparkling facility at the Ridge Hill Mall.

He described the experience as “family friendly” and said he’d recently taken his mother flying. “She’s in her 70s,” he confided. “She’ll kill me for saying that.”

If Mr. Gutierrez’s mom could do it, I suppose so could I.

The flights, which start at $79.95, are said to be great for children’s birthday parties and corporate team-building exercises. But first you have to attend flight school. This includes watching a video and going over hand signals with Andrew Konetchy, lead instructor at iFLY Westchester.

We did that first because, once you’re in the tunnel, you can’t hear much over the roar of the fans that propel your flight. You’re also wearing a flight suit, earplugs and a helmet.

The hand signals were simple—keep your chin up, straighten your legs—because even the smallest changes in attitude (if your legs are bent or your hands cupped) can affect your control with the wind blowing at “terminal velocity.” That is the speed a person would reach in free fall while sky diving.

There is also thumbs down. I suspected that might be the most important hand signal for me to master.

“Because [you’re] generating your own wind speed,” Mr. Konetchy said, comparing the ride to actual sky diving, “you can move all around the tunnel. Jumping out of a plane you’re only going down.”

My primary concern, besides whether my health insurance was up-to-date, wasn’t falling down but flying up, and out of control, to the top of the tunnel.

From the videos it looked as if any errant movement might cause one to soar like Dorothy’s farmhouse to the top of that tornado that took her nonstop to Oz.

But Mr. Konetchy assured me I had nothing to worry about. He’d be with me the whole time, hanging onto me if necessary.

I took two flights of two minutes each. In the first one I just floated about 5 feet over the net that serves as a floor and through which the wind rushes. It was sort of fun. I can’t say I felt fully like Superman. But I felt superior to Batman, who can’t fly at all.

Mr. Konetchy assured me I did well. The proof was that he’d let go of me to fly on my own. That doesn’t happen with all first-time students, he told me.

“You were stable,” he observed. “You weren’t doing any big movements. You had a calm demeanor.”

The line between placidity and paralysis is sometimes a fine one.

During our second session he showed me how to make turns, just by altering the angle of my hands slightly.

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I, and my shoulder, were starting to feel almost cocky, until he took me for a ride to the top of the tunnel and back again. Three times.

When the flight ended, and I’d remained intact, I was more than happy to watch Mr. Konetchy perform tricks, including one where he scampers up and down the tunnel wall like Spider-Man.

However, I learned something important from the iFLY experience that Superman might want to consider. In real-world conditions, his cape is a hazard.

“It wouldn’t help you fly,” Mr. Konetchy explained. “It would just get in the way. If you were on your belly it would be floating above your head. The only time it would look cool is if you were flying down.”

A Bronx Institution’s Good Works

The nonprofit East Side House Settlement has provided social services to the poor for 125 years

LeAnn Wright, a student, works with a college counselor at East Side House Settlement in the Bronx.ENLARGE
LeAnn Wright, a student, works with a college counselor at East Side House Settlement in the Bronx. PHOTO: SHARP COMMUNICATIONS

The society photos one sees in the newspaper, filled with people having more fun than you or I, at least I, ever will, are typically redeemed by the good cause they’re celebrating—conquering a disease, supporting a favorite dance company, or saving an endangered species.

But putting aside my perhaps unjustifiably jaundiced attitude toward the charity circuit, I paid a visit last week to East Side House Settlement, the beneficiary of proceeds from the Winter Antiques Show and its opening-night gala. It runs at the Park Avenue Armory through Jan. 31.

As its name suggests, East Side House Settlement, a nonprofit social-service and educational organization marking its 125th anniversary this year, started on the Upper East Side when the area east of Third Avenue was a poor neighborhood. Its tenements were filled with immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

ENLARGE
PHOTO: SHARP COMMUNICATIONS

Sensing that the need for its good work had diminished as the area grew increasingly wealthy, in the early 1960s East Side House moved to the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. Its mission, however, remains much the same: to help people gain a foothold in society.

These days it accomplishes that through programs that support individuals and families from early childhood through old age. It serves 10,000 people a year in 28 locations in the South Bronx and surrounding communities—Head Start/day-care centers, schools and community centers for seniors.

The headquarters, next door to a mosque and within easy walking distance of the 6 train, is where the organization’s Youth and Adult Education Services Program is based. In its classrooms, college-age and even older students learn such basics as how to read.

“A lot come from families that are illiterate themselves,” said Daniel Diaz, the organization’s associate executive director. “I challenge you to walk this neighborhood and get a book. It’s very difficult to see literacy as a priority.”

“When they get to our place it’s usually because they’ve fallen through the cracks because of attendance issues,” explained Caitlin Dooley,the department director for adult education and workforce development. “Because they’re young parents, or supporting a parent.”

We visited one of the classrooms where Eric Thomas, the literacy instructor, was helping students grapple with the difference between a fact and an opinion.

“The Steelers are the greatest team in NFL history,” Mr. Thomas said, sharing what is ostensibly an opinion. He was inspired by the sight of Mr. Diaz, a New York Giants fan, standing in his doorway. “If I say, ‘This team has the most Super Bowl championships,’ ” again referring to the Steelers, that would be a fact.

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But deciphering the difference between fact and opinion is relatively simple compared with some of the obstacles the students face. Psychological support is often as important a component of East Side House’s portfolio as classroom instruction, and eventually, if all goes well, of college guidance counseling.

LeAnn Wright, a 25-year-old mother of two living in a shelter with her children, said she came to East Side House Settlement when she failed to get promoted at retail jobs because she didn’t have a high-school diploma, among other reasons.

“East Side House was my last resort,” she explained. “I wasn’t holding myself accountable for my actions.”

She recalled the time Mia Montanez, East Side’s college-retention adviser, called her at home after she’d been absent for several days. “I said, ‘I’m about to go swimming,’ and I’d turn the water on” at her faucet.

Her counselor wasn’t buying it. “If I was not there in 30 minutes it was a problem,” Ms. Wright recalled. “I got used to that kind of encouragement.”

Ms. Wright expects to graduate in Spring 2017 from CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College.

She also has a steady job. “She’s become a peer coach here,” Ms. Dooley boasted.

With Snow, Nature Works Its Magic

For Ralph Gardner, a New York blizzard holds a certain thrill

Ralph Gardner's wife, Debbie, and dog, Wallie, pass the Metropolitan Museum during Saturday morning’s snowfall.ENLARGE
Ralph Gardner’s wife, Debbie, and dog, Wallie, pass the Metropolitan Museum during Saturday morning’s snowfall. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER

The best thing that happened to me all week is that my car broke down. If it hadn’t, I’d have fled the city Friday evening, as I do most weekends, and missed the snowstorm. Because it snowed little, if at all, where we go upstate.

But once I came to peace with braving the blizzard, I realized I must promptly join the crowds that were descending on local supermarkets before their shelves were bare.

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling a thrill at an approaching blizzard. Especially in a place like New York City. Just so long as the power doesn’t go out.

Cities in general, and New York in particular, would seem to stand as civilization’s triumph over brute nature. But we all know that’s a ruse. Nature in the form or floods, hurricanes and snowstorms can assert itself whenever it chooses.

So planning accordingly doubles as a form of respect, even reverence.

Dog owners and runners brave heavy snowfall and strong wind gusts in Central Park on Saturday.ENLARGE
Dog owners and runners brave heavy snowfall and strong wind gusts in Central Park on Saturday. PHOTO: ASTRID RIECKEN/GETTY IMAGES

And snow is beautiful to boot. I’m sure other planets in this and other galaxies put on their displays. But you could do worse than crystalline flakes of water that fall softly from the sky.

Also, New York is a place that has a talent for provoking the suspicion that, no matter how hard you work or play, you’re still missing out on something. Someone you know is doing better or having more fun than you are.

But a blizzard is a great equalizer. It demands one slow down, relax and stop chasing the proverbial carrot. Because there’s suddenly nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Whether Donald Trump is leading the polls in Iowa or Bernie Sandersin New Hampshire, this season’s leitmotif loses all urgency. What counts are snow totals: how much of the stuff has fallen in Central Park and whether we’ll beat the old record.

Wallie on a car-free Park Avenue early Saturday evening.ENLARGE
Wallie on a car-free Park Avenue early Saturday evening. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER

And in the same way that one stockpiles snacks for a major sporting event, such as the Super Bowl, so one provisions for the approaching storm.

Though my first stop in search of staples wasn’t Fairway or D’Agostino but a liquor store to score a bottle of single malt scotch.

From there it was onto Eli’s, where I picked up good cheese, prosciutto and dark-chocolate-covered graham crackers. Who knew how many days, especially in this age of global weirding, the storm might last?

My social life doesn’t normally include accompanying my wife, Debbie, and our dog, Wallie, on their daily excursion to Central Park. But it seemed the only place to be, besides bed, on Saturday morning.

In the same way that the Apollo Theater serves as a citadel for soul, or the Fillmore West did for rock ‘n’ roll, so Olmsted and Vaux’s masterpiece was the logical destination to watch nature in action.

Plus dogs, like seasoned skiers, love playing in fresh powder.

We’re fortunate to live near the Metropolitan Museum. And we envisioned having the place to ourselves Saturday afternoon.

Snow blankets Central Park.ENLARGE
Snow blankets Central Park. PHOTO: ASTRID RIECKEN/GETTY IMAGES

It was surprisingly crowded, yet somehow the blizzard raging outside—the Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing was bathed in an ethereal light from all the snow blocking the skylights—made it easier to commune with the paintings.

Whether it was Asher B. Durand’s Catskill Mountain views, Albert Bierstadt’s Rockies, or Winslow Homer’s roiling seascapes, you felt on the artists’ wavelength. The storm imbued you with something like the cadences of 19th century America.

One of the pleasures of the city, also for its rarity, is when streets and avenues, usually the preserve of cars and buses, are turned into pedestrian malls. That happened, more or less, to the entire city, after a travel ban was imposed at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

People realized it was just as safe, and easier, to walk in the middle of plowed streets rather than on haphazardly cleared sidewalks.

Park Avenue, filled with falling snow and free of cars, seemed a gift as evening fell.

I passed a family building a snowman on one of the traffic islands, as Wallie dragged me along behind her down the middle of the avenue.

Even dogs seemed to realize this was an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.

Crazy for Kimchi in the City

Ralph Gardner Jr. helps make a batch of the Korean dish with cookbook author Danielle Chang

Cookbook author Danielle Chang makes kimchi at her home in Soho.ENLARGE
Cookbook author Danielle Chang makes kimchi at her home in Soho. PHOTO: AGATON STROM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Kimchi serves as proof that one can develop a taste for new and arguably off-putting foods well into adulthood. Or expressed another way, I suspect no self-respecting child outside South Korea, where per capita consumption is said to be 40 pounds a year, would voluntarily get within a mile of the pungent stuff.

For those unfamiliar with kimchi, it’s typically made from fermented cabbage, spiced with red chili pepper flakes and loads of garlic, and served as a side dish at Korean restaurants.

As she sat in her SoHo kitchen last week and prepared to make her own kimchi from scratch, Danielle Chang, founder of LuckyRice—culinary events that started in New York in 2010 that celebrate Asian culture—informed me that kimchi can be consumed fresh. Or you can let it sit in your refrigerator for a year and it may taste even better.

“It’s really fun to ferment it,” she said as she followed the kimchi recipe from her new cookbook, Lucky Rice (Potter), “to see how it tastes over time.”

The question is whether you want to take that risk. Because kimchi is so strong that you can sometimes even smell it through a closed container.

When I once brought home a store-bought jar my wife threw it out.

But that hasn’t cured my fascination with the fiery dish. Part of it is a macho thing. My father, who introduced me to Korean food in the 1960s at Arirang, a Korean restaurant on West 56th Street that no longer exists, would dunk kimchi in a bowl of water to dilute the taste.

I take mine straight or not at all.

Kimchi, as made by Danielle Chang.ENLARGE
Kimchi, as made by Danielle Chang. PHOTO:AGATON STROM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ms. Chang, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and attended Barnard College, considers food an “appetizing lens” through which to tell stories about Asian culture. She believes most Korean restaurants make their own kimchi, both because it’s easy and cheap to do, and as a matter of pride.

“Every family has a jar in the refrigerator,” in Korea, she explained as she laid out the ingredients for hers. She does much of her shopping in Chinatown. In addition to napa cabbage, the ingredients included sweet glutinous rice flour, fish sauce, 10 garlic cloves, gochugaru red chili pepper flakes and dried baby shrimp.

“It’s almost a sign of how good a housewife you are,” Ms. Chang said. “It’s something that must be homemade.”

In her cookbook, she claims that Korean wives know whether their kimchi is properly seasoned by touch alone, the heat from the chilies soaking into their hands.

Also, Ms. Chang, who I first met when she hosted a “Ramen Slurpfest” in 2014, contends we’re in the throes of a kimchi renaissance, though I’m not sure what her proof is.

And the news of kimchi’s renaissance hasn’t yet percolated down to Ms. Chang’s 10-year-old daughter, Clarissa. She joined us briefly in the kitchen.

“Do you like kimchi?” I asked as I helped toss the mixture, using the traditional squishy-bare-hands method.

“No,” she stated flatly and left. There seemed little need to elucidate.

Her mother also made “U.S. Army Stew” from her cookbook, a main dish that seemed potentially even more problematic than kimchi. It originates from the rations of luncheon meats given to American soldiers during the Korean War.

The ingredients include instant ramen noodles, shredded mozzarella cheese, one-half can of Spam and two hot dogs.

While the stew is sold as a late-night dish or hangover cure at tented street stalls throughout South Korea, Ms. Chang said she was introduced to it at Pocha 32, a restaurant in Manhattan’s Koreatown.

“A lot of the ideas in the book are about these culinary collusions,” she explained. She also cited her recipe for kimchi tacos, the result of Asians and Hispanics “living side-by-side after the L.A. riots and coming to peace through food.”

As much as I’m a believer in intercultural harmony, I had my reservations about U.S. Army Stew. In particular, the Spam, which I’m ashamed to say I’d never had the courage to try before.

But it was actually rather tasty—cross-cultural comfort food—when included among a host of other ingredients.

I neglected to ask Ms. Chang how long she thought it might survive in my refrigerator.

Playing Pinball, Creating Whiz Kids

Third-graders from Brooklyn’s P.S.145 take a field trip to Modern Pinball NYC, where they learn math and science

P.S. 145 third-grader Joseph Cajamarca showing his pinball prowess on a field trip to Modern Pinball NYC. ENLARGE
P.S. 145 third-grader Joseph Cajamarca showing his pinball prowess on a field trip to Modern Pinball NYC. PHOTO: NATALIE KEYSSAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If you’ve ever been a third-grader, you’d probably agree there’s no better place to further your education than a pinball parlor.

That undoubtedly accounted for the unrepressed anticipation displayed by the students at P.S. 145 in Brooklyn as they marched off their school bus and into Modern Pinball NYC in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood one brisk morning.

“This is listening time,” one teacher informed the awed third-graders, who desired nothing more at that moment than to be let loose on the emporium’s two-dozen machines. “Full body listening.”

Steve Zahler, who owns the arcade with Steve Epstein, addressed the children.

“There are over 2 miles of wire, 2,000 parts in each pinball machine,” he said. “If something goes wrong, it would take a long time to fix.”

One of the many machines at Modern Pinball NYC.ENLARGE
One of the many machines at Modern Pinball NYC. PHOTO: NATALIE KEYSSAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The ostensible purpose of the field trip was to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, through the mysteries of pinball.

“I’m going to tell you a lot of stuff about electricity and magnetism,” explained Steven P. Marsh, a pinball aficionado, patent attorney and former Navy research scientist who leads the classes.

It’s a tribute to Modern Pinball NYC and the fine teachers at P.S. 145 that they didn’t rush into the educational component of the morning too quickly. “After you play for a while, we’re going to see some of the stuff in these pinball machines,” added Dr. Marsh, who holds a doctorate.

With that encouragement, most of us headed to our favorite machines.

I include myself because, while I’m all for preparing our children for the challenges of the future, my main purpose in covering the field trip was to have an excuse to play pinball.

I’d also like to add that no child was denied the opportunity to participate just because I was hogging the classic 1978 machine dedicated to the hard rock band “Kiss.”

Modern Pinball NYC had much newer games to choose from, among them “Black Knight,” which had a disobedient habit of muttering, in a Darth Vader-like growl, “Black Knight will play you,” seemingly whenever the children’s chaperones called for silence.

I was hoping for a lesson from Mr. Zahler, who told me he’s ranked 21st in the world among pinball players. He taught me about catching and cradling the ball with one of the flippers, so you could aim better before you released it. But I already knew that.

Also, as soon as I was behind the pinball launcher, I had no interest in instruction. That’s the thing about pinball. It instantly monopolizes all your senses. It ought to be a controlled substance.

Steven P. Marsh with P.S. 145 third-graders in the multipurpose room behind the arcade. ENLARGE
Steven P. Marsh with P.S. 145 third-graders in the multipurpose room behind the arcade. PHOTO: NATALIE KEYSSAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Though the children, to their infinite credit, obeyed when the time came to report to the multipurpose room behind the arcade, where Dr. Marsh described and displayed a pinball machine’s component parts.

“These are what we call drop targets,” he said as he held aloft a metal-and-plastic contraption. “Each target has a spring behind it. When you hit it, it goes down.”

Paying impressively close attention was a young man, and possible future Silicon Valley mogul, named Joseph Cajamarca. “Does the WWE have that?” he demanded. Joseph was referring to his favorite pinball machine, “WrestleMania.” The winner gets crowned world heavyweight champ.

Dr. Marsh went on a bit longer, discussing things such as how springs gain their elasticity from the arrangement of molecules. And while it was all fascinating stuff, what seemed to secure the children’s cooperation was a poorly disguised bribe.

“If you pay really good attention to Dr. Marsh,” one teacher had promised at the start of the talk, “when you guys go back in there you’re going to know what you’re looking at and going to have more fun.”

But how much more fun can a kid possibly have?

“Go ahead and play the games now,” Mr. Zahler shouted, acknowledging the inevitable.

With that, the students dispersed like the projectiles on 1995’s “Apollo 13,” a pinball machine Dr. Marsh had mentioned in his lecture, though it isn’t included in Modern Pinball NYC’s arsenal.

“That has 13 balls at once,” he explained.

“Wow!” Joseph had reacted, even though on WrestleMania a mere four balls can be played simultaneously.

Winning Powerball? Oy, the Problems

Ralph Gardner Jr. considers the headaches that winning the billion-dollar jackpot would cause

A New York vendor’s handwritten sign showed the size of the Powerball lottery.ENLARGE
A New York vendor’s handwritten sign showed the size of the Powerball lottery.PHOTO: JUSTIN LANE/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Satter, who goes by one name, was standing behind the counter at Lexington Avenue News on 84th Street early Monday morning and dispensing Powerball tickets at a brisk pace.

The merchant spoke for me when I asked whether he’d purchased any tickets for himself. He hadn’t.

“I don’t need that much money,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s estimated record $1.5 billion jackpot.

Neither do I. I’d be perfectly satisfied with a meager $10 million payout.

I could erase my debts, buy some new furniture, and perhaps build the glass house in the woods I’ve always wanted.

The approximately $900 million lump sum Powerball prize, before taxes, would probably create more headaches than it’s worth.

I’m not especially worried about going on a spending spree and finding myself bankrupt a few years later, as some previous winners have.

My needs are relatively modest, though on warm spring evenings I sometimes pine for an apartment overlooking Central Park with a wraparound terrace.

But I could purchase that just off the interest.

And all the money in the world couldn’t get me to move from the Hudson Valley, where I spend weekends, to the Hamptons. So I’ll be able to avoid the extortionate price of beachfront property.

I suppose I could buy art. If I relocated to Fifth Avenue or Central Park West I’d probably have more wall space. Though I’d be compelled to buy contemporary art, as much as I dislike it, to keep up with my hedge-fund neighbors.

That’s the other thing: I’d have to trade in my old friends for an entirely new, much richer social circle who could commiserate with me over the burdens of great wealth.

They could advise me on such complicated matters as whether to buy or lease a private jet. And whether I should set up trusts for my kids, or force them to fend for themselves, buying their own Powerball ticket, the way I did.

Andrew Andino, a customer behind me, bought 22 tickets, while taking a fatalistic approach to fortune. “When it’s going to be for you, it’s going to be for you,” he said.

I’d probably have to quit my journalism career. It would be challenging to establish genuine rapport with interview subjects once they discovered how rich I was.

Fortunately, my chances of winning are slim. The odds, as I understand, are 292.2 million to one.

And I bought a single ticket.

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Elizabeth McMaster, another customer, bought 10 tickets. “I’m going to have the winning number,” she boasted. “I feel really lucky.”

However, Ms. McMaster, originally from Northern Ireland, confessed that she wouldn’t know what to do with all that money, either. Though she quickly came up with a plan. “Everyone’s coming to Ireland if I win,” she shouted as she left.

I’m forced to admit that buying a lottery ticket is a somewhat hypocritical exercise on my part. I’m not a big fan of state-sponsored gambling.

That’s for selfish, rather than moral, reasons: I recently spent a quarter-hour at a West Side convenience store behind a woman who bought $150 worth of tickets in tiny denominations, dictating a different lucky number to the merchant for each ticket.

And all I wanted was a beer and a bag of peanuts.

On the other hand, there’s something lovely and even life-affirming about Lady Luck. I suppose lottery tickets, bought in moderation, have a way of momentarily lifting us above the fray, offering a slim chance of bending a random universe to our will.

And I shouldn’t be thinking only of myself. When I returned home with my lottery ticket in hand, my wife, Debbie, seemed to harbor none of my fears about joining the ranks of the fabulously wealthy. “We’ll start the family foundation,” she explained enthusiastically, housing it in the new brownstone of our “family office.”

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind hearing my name announced over the air among philanthropists supporting shows such as “PBS NewsHour” or “Downton Abbey.” “Viewers like you,” my current giving category, doesn’t quite cut it.

“Gracie will support indigenous farmers around the world,” my wife told me, as our younger daughter, who worked on an organic farm in South Africa last semester, nodded in agreement.

We’ll be broke in no time flat.