No Bull: Getting Taken for a Ride—and Loving It

A Bovine Hits Madison Square Garden

The 1,715-pound bull Kiss Psycho Circus, in a pen outside Madison Square Garden with the Empire State Building in the background.ENLARGE
The 1,715-pound bull Kiss Psycho Circus, in a pen outside Madison Square Garden with the Empire State Building in the background. PHOTO: CASSANDRA GIRALDO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A bull named Kiss Psycho Circus lumbered off a tractor-trailer into a makeshift corral in front of Madison Square Garden, where he was going to be ridden in the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Monster Energy Buck Off.

The bovine looked around and blinked twice. For all his alleged ferocity, he appeared more dazed and confused by The Big City.

Dazed and confused pretty much sums up my attitude about bull riding, too.

Why would anyone in his or her right mind willingly get on a hostile 2,000-pound animal? Unless, of course, the rider is involved with a death cult.

At 1,715 pounds, Kiss Psycho Circus—OK, if I shorten it to Kiss?—is rather diminutive by riding-bull standards. I know his precise tonnage because the excuse for his appearance was a weigh-in to promote the Buck Off over the weekend; I suppose bulls tip the scales to great fanfare in much the same way heavyweight boxers do before a title bout.

One of the riders, Matt Triplett of Columbia Falls, Mont., also hit the scales and registered at a more modest 165 pounds—fully clothed.

Since the bull wasn’t granting interviews and I didn’t stray too close to his pen, I decided to talk with Mr. Triplett instead.

I had more confidence that the rider wouldn’t fly into a rage, break free and rampage up Eighth Avenue. Indeed the beast, and his humbled circumstances, triggered a troubling association: The shackled King Kong at the moment the giant ape was introduced to the world.

As I said, my main interest was in discovering why someone would volunteer to ride an animal that nature clearly never intended to give rides.

But Mr. Triplett, who is ranked fourth among PBR competitors, questioned my very hypothesis.

Bull riders L.J. Jenkins and Matt Triplett.ENLARGE

“They’re athletes, just like the rider is,” he explained of the bulls. “They’re bred like race horses. It’s bred in their genes to buck just like a racehorse is to run. They love their job just as much as we do.”

I was almost as curious about Mr. Triplett as I was the bull. He told me that he took his first bull ride when he was 12 years old. He’s 23 now.

“He bucked me off,” remembered Mr. Triplett, whose father was also a bull rider and who supervised that session. “I was tired of getting a steer.”

I frankly thought a bull was a steer. Mr. Triplett had to explain everything to me. A steer is castrated, a bull isn’t, the rider told me—in somewhat more colorful language.

“I told my dad he had to load me a bull,” Mr. Triplett recalled, returning to his inaugural ride. “I lasted four seconds. But it was the best adrenaline rush of my life.”

The other cowboy who attended the weigh-in—I’m not sure arena bull riders meet the dictionary definition of cowboys, but the men were, after all, wearing ten-gallon hats—was L.J. Jenkins of Oklahoma City.

Mr. Jenkins explained, contrary to what I assumed, that a ride’s potentially most dangerous time comes before it even begins. (The goal is for the rider to stay aboard the bull for 8 seconds.) That moment is when bull and rider are locked into the “bucking chute,” waiting to go before the crowd.

“They can start bucking with that steel all around us,” Mr. Jenkins explained. “You get guys who get knocked out.”

Mr. Jenkins said a rider will risk a bull prone to mayhem in the chute if he promises a superior ride, one that follows a predictable pattern: “Sometimes bulls who are bad in there, they’re so good outside of there—a bull you can get a good score on.”

The 27-year-old Mr. Jenkins went on: “I’ve broken my ribs, punctured my lung” and something about his liver, “all in one day.”

It happened in 2006 when a bull stepped on him but once. “This sport is getting hurt,” he explained.

Mr. Jenkins added the accident occurred after he couldn’t disentangle himself from his rope and got pulled under the bull. He didn’t blame the bull.

“There is nothing I could have done,” he said. “There is nothing the bull could have done. We’re going to get hurt. It’s just when and how bad.”

Mr. Triplett also has broken body parts and suffered a couple of concussions.

Kiss Psycho Circus outside Madison Square Garden last week.ENLARGE
Kiss Psycho Circus outside Madison Square Garden last week. PHOTO: CASSANDRA GIRALDO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I would have thought the career choice of these young men might make it a challenge for them to find mates. But the competitors say it’s just the opposite.

Indeed, Mr. Jenkins was accompanied by his fiancée, Christen Dye, a model, who compared watching him ride to having a heart attack.

“It was more his personality,” said Ms. Dye, who met her husband-to-be at a PBR event when she was working for Monster Energy. “I thought it was really cool when he had a good personality.”

As Mr. Jenkins put it, modestly: “It’s the cowboy way, I guess.”

Added Mr. Triplett: “We’re getting on the wildest animals in the world. We’re adrenaline junkies. Girls like that.”

Bringing Medicine to Heal

Ralph Gardner Jr. Treks All Over to Find a Cure for His Tendinitis


New York is not a city for the old, or even the young, and decrepit. You need full mobility to sidestep marauding cabs, and to leave the subway as fast as possible, just on general principle.

Hence a troubling condition—tendinitis—that I’ve been dealing with lately, and thus far unsuccessfully. It has also put me at a decided disadvantage against my fellow citizens in that unforgiving marathon that is merely coexisting in this marvelous metropolis.

It began with a temporary ache in the heel about a year ago, perhaps from running, that turned chronic. My limp manifests itself most visibly when I transfer from a sitting to a standing position, whether from a chair, taxicab, or a seat on the subway, if I manage to secure one.

As I said, this is a city where you need to feel, and even more important look, your best at any given moment for the same reason that a gazelle gains no benefit appearing wounded when a hungry pride of lions is circling the herd.

The podiatrist I consulted confirmed tendinitis and encouraged wearing a heel lift, and stretching out the tendon approximately two dozen times a day. Apart from the pain involved, until I next find myself unemployed, where am I supposed to find the time to devote myself to a quasi-perpetual workout?

When I failed to follow his instructions and the condition worsened, he prescribed physical therapy.

I enjoy physical therapy. What’s not to like about someone doting on your body, massaging your heel, attacking the problem with advanced ultrasound technology, and cheering on your stretching exercises, especially for the price of a copayment?

I only balked with the arrival of a new year and the presentation, upon signing in for my twice-weekly visits, of a bill representing my $300 medical insurance deductible.

This would seem small change if the therapy had worked. But even at my most self-deluding I can’t say it has.

Hence the next step—acupuncture. This was a rather spur-of-the-moment decision, prompted by the fact that my mother’s acupuncturist was visiting her and I was hoping to piggyback off her appointment.

The acupuncturist appeared somewhat alarmed when she spotted the protrusion just above the left heel that I’ve been advised is a symptom of tendinitis and the body’s unsuccessful attempt to heal itself.

Nonetheless, she got to work sticking me with needles, not all of them in the region that was causing the trouble. Then we sat around for about half an hour. After she extracted the devices, and for a couple of days following, the tendon felt better, though not enough that I wasn’t convinced the improvement wasn’t the power of positive thinking.

In the meantime, I’d run into a friend at an upstate supermarket and had a disturbingly middle-aged conversation regarding our respective maladies. He informed me that he was coming from the gym, part of a new health regimen that began when he visited the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass.

In particular, he swore by Lee Albert, a neuromuscular therapist. One session and my friend’s problems—I can’t recall what they were, but they sounded at least as bad, if not worse, than mine—vanished like magic and he was restored to energetic health.

I was prepared to do the same, even if uncovered by insurance, and even if at a yoga retreat—the occasional practice of which fills me with a self-consciousness even more dolorous than the pains shooting from my heel—in exchange for returning me to the Mad Max urban road warrior I’d once fancied myself.

Mr. Albert, who emanated gentle confidence, diagnosed my problem before I even sat down. He told me my pelvis was crooked.

How he knew this I’m not entirely sure. I also took it personally since I like to think of myself as reasonably symmetrical.

But he compared me to an automobile out of alignment. “When your pelvis is crooked your feet don’t plant the way nature designed them to,” he explained. “If your car is out of alignment your tires wear out quickly. When your pelvis is out of alignment your tires—which is knees and feet—wear out quickly.”

He said doctors focus on the uneven tire wear, without fixing your front end.

Mr. Albert, the author of “Live Pain-Free Without Drugs or Surgery” (Dudley Court Press) proceeded to manipulate my body for the next 50 minutes. He also showed me how to place my arm atop my head to relieve tension; prop up my lower back with a pillow to alleviate neck and back pain; and sit with my feet pigeon-toed to take the strain off my knees.

Finally, he sent me home with a one-page crib sheet filled with exercises.

The only problem is that responsibility now reverts to me. If I couldn’t cure my tendinitis with the help of the entire medical, alternative-medicine and healing-arts communities, how am I supposed to repair a crooked pelvis on my own?

Perhaps the next step is finding a trained professional to help expunge my vanity.


Queen Mary Model Heads Cross-Country to Mother Ship

South Street Seaport Lends Scale Model to Long Beach

A 20-foor model of the Queen Mary sits in its display case at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, before heading for Long Beach, Calif.ENLARGE
A 20-foor model of the Queen Mary sits in its display case at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, before heading for Long Beach, Calif. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The South Street Seaport Museum is lending one of its masterpieces to the ocean liner Queen Mary, these days a floating hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, Calif. It’s a 20-foot-long scale model of the Queen Mary, with hundreds of handcrafted details such as masts, riggings and lifeboats.

On Wednesday morning the vessel—made as a marketing tool in the early 1930s from a single, white-mahogany log—was slid out of its custom-made glass case, into a crate and onto a tractor-trailer.

“The model will overnight in a secure facility,” explained Maria O’Malley, the collections manager for the South Street Seaport Museum. Depending on the weather, “it should be in Long Beach by Sunday morning.”

She added: “I will be there to meet it.”

The piece, built by the model-making firm Bassett-Lowke, will be the centerpiece of a new ship-model gallery aboard the ocean liner, which retired from sailing in 1967.

If it were up to me I’m not sure I would have let the model go, even though I wasn’t previously aware it existed, let alone in New York City, before I visited Tuesday afternoon.

Commodore Everette Hoard, the Queen Mary's historian.ENLARGE
Commodore Everette Hoard, the Queen Mary’s historian. PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ms. O’Malley described the loan as a “one-year renewal,” which I assume means it could be gone longer.

Then again, I’m not entirely rational when it comes to ocean-liner models and the high-seas romance they symbolize. In keeping with my bathroom’s marine motif (by that I simply mean it boasts a sink, bathtub and toilet), a cast-iron miniature of the SS United States enjoys pride of place on the shelf above the john.

If I owned a model of the Queen Mary, there’s no doubt it would harbor there, too.

One of my favorite images from childhood was an illustration in Compton’s Encyclopedia of the Empire State Building and the Queen Mary featured side-by-side. The Empire State was taller, but not by much. However, at 1,019.5 feet, the ship was “taller” than the Eiffel Tower.

My dream, or rather 6-year-old “Yellow Submarine” fantasy, was to hitch a ride aboard the ship. I might have been aware that when my mother’s family arrived in the U.S. for the first time on April 20, 1939, it was on the Queen Mary.

However, I wanted a stateroom underwater, with a porthole where I could sit all day and watch the fish go by.

Another child who entertained such visions—though not specifically submerged ones—is Everette Hoard, commodore of the Queen Mary and the ship’s historian.

“What would a ship be without a captain?” asked Mr. Hoard, by way of explaining his “mess dress” with four gold bands on each arm.

Movers work to crate a 20-foot-long model of the Queen Mary for a trip from Manhattan to California.ENLARGE
Movers work to crate a 20-foot-long model of the Queen Mary for a trip from Manhattan to California. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

He wore it to a reception Tuesday evening, appropriately enough at the New York Yacht Club, to promote the ocean liner’s new museum, science center, classrooms and 4-D theater. That’s where the South Street Seaport Museum model is heading.

“I’m not a mariner,” Mr. Hoard conceded, “but the Queen Mary maintains a person for the enjoyment of our guests. I have loved ships since I was a child.”

I suspected that if anyone could relate to my underwater cabin fantasies it would be him. “I think that’s a wonderful idea,” he told me. “That ought to be the next generation. They have just about everything else on cruise ships now.”

Approaching it from a sober, adult perspective, however, there probably wouldn’t be much to see.

“In a liner crossing the Atlantic it would have less value than a cruise ship cruising clear water ports like the Caribbean—where the water is unusually clear and shallow around the islands,” Mr. Hoard said, giving my ideas far more respect than they deserved.

A toy fans out to show diagrams of its 12 decks.ENLARGE
A toy fans out to show diagrams of its 12 decks.PHOTO: RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

It’s probably not the oddest question he’s gotten: the Queen Mary entertains approximately 1.5 million visitors each year.

I shared with him a memory of my mother’s: that when they arrived in New York there were newspaper reporters waiting dockside to interview disembarking first-class passengers.

It was common for socialites’ comings and goings to be printed, Mr. Hoard explained as we stood at a table filled with Queen Mary memorabilia. It included models of the boat and their original boxes, a medallion given to first-class passengers on the boat’s maiden voyage, and a children’s toy that fanned out to reveal diagrams of each of the ship’s 12 decks.

Among the ship’s legions of famous passengers were Bob Hope; Winston Churchill, who traveled under the alias “Col. Warden” during World War II; and Cole Porter, who entertained fellow passengers in the Queen’s Salon.

“I turned 21 in the Churchill Suite,” said Mr. Hoard, who never traveled aboard the Queen Mary when it was in service. “Good these walls can’t talk.”

It’s DIY Time for Chocoholics

Life is sweet indeed at Voilà Chocolat: Anna Urena helps Bailey Chou Almeraz make lollipops.
Life is sweet indeed at Voilà Chocolat: Anna Urena helps Bailey Chou Almeraz make lollipops.                                                          STEVE REMICH

Valentine’s Day remains a month away. But it’s never too soon to start planning, which explains what I was doing last week at Voilà Chocolat, a new chocolatier on West 79th Street.

Unfortunately, the treats from that adventure are now all gone—consumed primarily by myself—so a return visit may be required.

Before I go on about Voilà, though, I have to say that I have trouble comprehending why—in this gender-neutral age—the pressure is still on the guy to come up with candy and flowers. Until my wife and daughters shower me with bonbons and roses, I refuse to believe we live in a post-sexist society.

Now, with that said, Voilà appears a reasonably new twist in the chocolate category, which isn’t typically associated with disruptive, Internet startup-style innovation.

At Voilà, you make your own chocolate; though, buying it is also an option.

The idea came to Voilà’s founder, Peter Moustakerski, when he took his daughter to a store where she could design and make her own pottery, soap and candles. The occasion was her birthday.

“That day I was awakened to this consumer retail concept,” Mr. Moustakerski told me. “If this works for pottery and candles, why wouldn’t it work for chocolate?”

Hayden Chou Almeraz works on his creations.ENLARGE
Hayden Chou Almeraz works on his creations. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I could probably come up with a few reasons, even though I defer to no man, woman or child when it comes to my passion for chocolate.

My brothers and I were terrible eaters. Were it not for chocolate, we probably wouldn’t be alive today. Chocolate wasn’t a snack food at our house. It was the centerpiece of our diets.

Nonetheless, I’d probably put chocolate in the controlled substance category—not the arts-and-crafts one. It’s more like heroin, or at least a good single malt, than soap and candles.

And in the same way I wouldn’t harvest poppies or malt barley, I wouldn’t make my own chocolate. Chocolate, in short, is the quintessential guilty-pleasure impulse item.

A former management consultant, Mr. Moustakerski seems to have considered all that: “I spent 2½ years testing this idea.”

Mr. Moustakerski is also from Bulgaria, having left a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bulgaria doesn’t leap to mind as a traditional hotbed of chocolate connoisseurship; I’ve never heard anyone describe it as the Switzerland of the Balkans.

I got no argument from the new business owner. However, Mr. Moustakerski said because merchandise was limited—and not just of chocolate—the likes of his mother and grandmother learned to make from scratch.

“That connection with food and the time and effort people invested in food is deep in my DNA,” he said.

Valentine Day’s goodies galore, created by master chocolatier Christophe Toury.ENLARGE
Valentine Day’s goodies galore, created by master chocolatier Christophe Toury. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A selection of candies that can be added to customize the chocolate. ENLARGE
A selection of candies that can be added to customize the chocolate. STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Also, Voilà’s chief chocolatier is Christophe Toury, former chocolatier executive pastry chef for Jacques Torres. So it isn’t as if Mr. Moustakerski is slaving away in the kitchen all day sweating cocoa beans, or however chocolate gets made.

Indeed, you’re not so much making your own chocolate at Voilà as molding, squeezing, pouring and dipping melted chocolate made by somebody else. In short, any dolt—I’m thinking of myself—should be able to produce a presentable box of chocolates.

Here’s how the concept works: Take a seat at a “chocolating pod,” where the melted or “tempered” chocolate—milk, dark or white—is poured into heated bowls. There’s also a host chocolatier to guide you through the process.

The options include making and decorating chocolate lollipops; truffles—“We premake the ganache, they get a ready-made center they can dip,” Mr. Moustakerski explained; chocolate-dipped treats such as candied pineapple, orange, kiwi, pretzels and biscotti; and chocolate bars, of course.

A session runs from 30 to 60 minutes and costs from $35 to $60, depending on what you’re making. And before you leave, the chocolate is cooled in a refrigerator so your treats don’t melt on the way home.

Chocolate is the quintessential guilty-pleasure impulse item.

Mr. Moustakerski sees his 79th Street location—next door to the venerable Dublin House where you can drop by and perhaps charm the bartender into trading a shot for a truffle—as but the concept’s overture.

“We’re not thinking Starbucks,” he said, “but we’re thinking 50 stores in six years.”

Voilà’s target demographic, as Mr. Moustakerski told me, is…parents with children, office parties, book clubs, people on dates. In short, life on Earth.

As I may have mentioned, I was skeptical. But if chocolate is your vice, making your own feels like minting money. You suddenly need not fear where your next fix is coming from.

And since you’d no sooner discard the remnants of a bowl of rich chocolate than you would a wad of $20 bills, you’re invited to pour any extras onto your tray; sprinkle it with items such as cocoa nibs, caramelized hazelnuts, sprinkles and those tiny candy hearts; let it cool; and then, using a small hammer, break the “bark” into pieces.

Wasting food is a sin. That goes double when the food is chocolate.

Watching Basketball, Beyonce

Ralph Gardner Jr. Watches Basketball, Beyoncé at Nets Game

Beyoncé and Jay-Z at a Nets-Rockets game Monday at Barclays Center.ENLARGE
Beyoncé and Jay-Z at a Nets-Rockets game Monday at Barclays Center. GC IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

The New York Knicks will always be my team—the 1970-1973 Knicks, that is. In light of the current team’s travails I felt I would be doing no cosmic damage to our relationship by switching my allegiance to the Brooklyn Nets, whose record is somewhat better, if only for one night.

Also, my older daughter now lives in Brooklyn, making me a Brooklynite-once-removed. If nothing else, it predisposes me to the borough and its sports teams.

And while I’d have preferred a scenario where the Nets had won in the final riveting seconds of double overtime, the fact that the team essentially lost four minutes into the first quarter meant I could focus on more important things: Barclays Center’s food offerings. And Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s relationship. They were seated courtside.

The early moments of any professional-sports event are typically consumed getting my bearings. Which means locating the closest beer vendor or hot dog stand, and perhaps the men’s room.

Thus, I’m pleased to report that I was totally on top of the incident that effectively ended the contest when Kevin Garnett, who I understand from my daughter is the Nets star player, head-butted the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard and was ejected from the game.

The altercation arose after Messrs. Garnett and Howard appeared to exchange a gentle elbow (Garnett) and a light push (Howard).

I’m not a rabid sports fan. However, if your purpose in life is winning basketball games and justifying your $12 million annual salary, it would seem there are probably more sophisticated ways to seek revenge on an opponent, without arousing the ire of referees, than a head-butt.

At a minimum, it seems an unwise thing to do, particularly in the opening minutes of a basketball game, unless you wanted the night off.

Dwight Howard, left, and Kevin Garnett got into a scuffle.ENLARGE
Dwight Howard, left, and Kevin Garnett got into a scuffle. GETTY IMAGES

At that moment, I could easily have been tracking down a Brooklyn Lager or checking my email (as Beyoncé seemed to be doing for much of the evening). But I saw the incident from start to finish, including the ancillary pushing and shoving and efforts at restraining the combatants by their respective teammates, coaches and officials.

I was also all over the evening’s second highlight-reel moment: that came when center Mason Plumlee found himself in possession of a surefire breakaway dunk, only to pummel the ball against the backboard, the ricocheting projectile going into low Earth orbit rather than the basket.

In my estimation, that should earn you extra points, if only because it makes you so much more relatable to fans whose own lives don’t always go as planned. Even though Mr. Plumlee ended the game with a career-high 24 points, it was hard not to come away with the suspicion that the gods were frowning upon the Nets on this particular evening.

Which was fine. Because that freed up a lot of time to observe Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

I’ve reached an age where, while I’ve heard of the couple, I can’t tell you exactly why they’re famous. But my daughters, my younger daughter, Gracie, in particular, was covering their every move more effectively than the Nets seemed to be the Rockets.

As much as the couple obviously supports Brooklyn basketball, if I were them I think I’d prefer to watch the game at home. There are probably a thousand eyeballs trained on them at any instant, ours among them, dissecting their body language for displays of affection.

I also learned, after the fact, that there were pregnancy rumors swirling around the couple.

The fact they were at a basketball game rather than, say, having a sonogram apparently didn’t dispel them. But it added to the drama of the evening among their social-media followers.

“I really think they’re cute,” Gracie said the next day. “I really loved when he rubbed her shin.”

I caught that move, too. So basically I was 3-for-3 for the evening.

My Cuban sandwich also constituted an occasion, at least compared with typical arena fare. While I was forced to wait a rather long time to be served, the delay came during the interlude after Mr. Garnett was ejected and the referees were attempting to restore order.

So I didn’t miss much of the actual game.

My favorite personality on either team was Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. My affection stems from the days when he played for the Boston Celtics in a Hall of Fame front line with Larry Bird and Robert Parish.

I also felt an affinity based upon our respective ages and relative decrepitude. Gracie pointed out to me, during a moment when she wasn’t focused on Beyoncé and Jay-Z, that the aging basketball legend was limping along the sidelines.

“He looks like he has your same issue with tendinitis,” she said.

So he did.


A View Only Money Can Buy

The view of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center from 432 Park Ave.ENLARGE
The view of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center from 432 Park Ave.KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I’d been trying to wrangle a visit to the summit of 432 Park Ave. since last summer. So I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email in mid-November from Harry Macklowe, the tower’s developer, inviting me for a tour.

The luxury condominium at Park Avenue and 56th Street dwarfs the surrounding neighborhood—and the surrounding neighborhood isn’t quaint brownstones but skyscrapers in their own right.

The luxury condo at 432 Park Ave.

In fact, 432 Park Ave. became the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere when it reached its peak height in mid-October. At 1,396 feet, the skyscraper is taller than either the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center—minus their antennas.

Still far from completion, the super-slim high-rise has already become a symbol of ostentatious wealth. Its tenants aren’t expected to be primarily extremely rich Americans, but the international plutocracy: Chinese billionaires and absentee Russian oligarchs, though with the plummeting price of oil there may be fewer to pick from.

I say I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Macklowe contacted me because a column I’d written only a month earlier didn’t have the friendliest things to say about his structure, which sticks out like a sore thumb—or an even more emotive finger.

Our visit to 432 Park Ave. was scheduled and canceled several times, though, because of storms. The building is so tall that the weather is sometimes different at the bottom and the top: At this time of year, it may be raining at the base and snowing at the summit.

“It’s roughly a 20 degree differential from the ground floor to the top,” said John Sjölund, the tower’s senior project manager, as we boarded a construction elevator and headed to the 96th floor. “A couple of days, we went through a cloud bank and the hoist went above the clouds.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Macklowe couldn’t join us. I was told he was leaving on vacation the next day.

I was slightly disappointed because I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask him about 432 Park Ave.’s immodest size: “What were you thinking?” and “When you look at the building do you ever fear you went too far?”

Central Park from on high.ENLARGE

However, I wasn’t entirely heartbroken I didn’t get to meet the developer because my main priority was absorbing the view. An observation deck open to the public won’t be among the condo’s amenities. And since I don’t travel in social circles that include a lot of oligarchs, I doubted I’d be invited to any penthouse soirees.

The construction elevator, which runs along the outside of the building, was enclosed. But a couple of peepholes had been cut into its walls, so it was possible to watch the city fall away below me.

I particularly enjoyed the view from above the “Chippendale” top on the Sony Tower, a block away on Madison Avenue.

And we were hardly half way up.

Eventually, even One57, another new luxury condo overlooking Central Park in the tug of war for the affections of the superrich, seemed to shrink to inconsequence in the distance.

I was told we’d be able to detect the curvature of the Earth once we reached the summit of 432 Park Ave. Regrettably, I neglected to verify that claim because I was worried about dying.

432 Park Ave. is the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere.ENLARGE
432 Park Ave. is the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. RALPH GARDNER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The 96th floor—one short of the top floor and being sold as a single apartment—was an open space with nothing to prevent me from taking an unscheduled flying lesson except for a swath of orange plastic netting.

There was also water pooled on the concrete floor, which I assumed was from the storms. Walls and the building’s 10-by-10 windows, each weighing almost a ton, had yet to be installed on the upper floors.

A construction worker pulled back the netting so I could see better.

“This screen messes up the whole beauty,” he told me, taking obvious pride in the vista.

And he was right: The view was quite literally breathtaking.

Park Avenue stretched past the Upper East Side and into Harlem. To the west, Central Park resembled a well-maintained rug.

The facades of the buildings on Central Park West shone in the late morning sun, though only from about 70th Street north.

A construction worker works on the 77th floor at 432 Park Ave.ENLARGE
A construction worker works on the 77th floor at 432 Park Ave. KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I couldn’t tell whether the eclipse stretching across the southern portion of Central Park and the Upper West Side was caused by clouds or the shadows of this new generation of skyscrapers, predicted to plunge the lower portions of Central Park into darkness—particularly in winter.

To the south, the East River, blinding with reflected sunlight, snaked past Roosevelt Island and the United Nations.

Looking down upon the Empire State Building was also a novel experience.

Indeed, there appeared no feature on the skyline or beyond—heading out to sea, across to New Jersey or up the Hudson River and whether man-made or natural—that rivaled our vantage point.

And I’m sure it will be even nicer with windows, walls and furniture installed.

Artist Gets a Leg Up at MoMA

The Wall Street Journal

Ralph Gardner Jr. Remembers Robert Gober From Their College Days

’Untitled,’ one of the pieces in the Robert Gober retrospective, "The Heart is Not a Metaphor."ENLARGE
’Untitled,’ one of the pieces in the Robert Gober retrospective, “The Heart is Not a Metaphor.” STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Sol Rivera, a guard at the Museum of Modern Art, was standing beside “Untitled Leg,” a sculpture in “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,” a Robert Gober retrospective on view through Jan. 18.

“We don’t want anyone to trip over it,” she told me, by way of explaining why she was manning what appeared to be a “fixed post,” in NYPD parlance, rather than wandering around the room admonishing visitors for touching or taking pictures of the art, as museum guards more typically do.

The leg was wearing a trouser, sock and shoe.

“It is real hair,” she added as we admired the 1989–90 work, made of beeswax, cotton, wood, leather and human hair.

“He has a lot of legs around the exhibition,” Ms. Rivera went on.

She launched into a story about how the artist’s mother worked as an emergency room nurse and told her son a story about being handed an amputated leg.

“He got obsessed,” she said. “He did a lot of legs.”

Ms. Rivera said her information came directly from the artist. “He comes around a lot,” she reported. “He gave us the tour.”

A 1992 piece by Mr. Gober with sinks and a forest panoramaENLARGE
A 1992 piece by Mr. Gober with sinks and a forest panorama RUSSELL KAYE/ROBERT GOBER AND MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY

She added that, whatever the show, she tries to learn as much about the art as possible. “My day goes easy if I like my job,” she explained. “Plus, if anybody asks you a question, you have the answer.”

I had one: I wondered whether the hair on the leg was Mr. Gober’s. Ms. Rivera couldn’t say, though she assured me it was real hair. “They had to put it one by one.”

My interest in the leg was slightly more empirical than it might have been for, say, body parts in a Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns retrospective.

The last time I saw Mr. Gober in person—or one of his appendages—was probably 1974 or 1975.

I was visiting the dorm room he shared with a friend of mine at Middlebury College, our alma mater.

I might not have remembered the evening except for a couple of distinguishing characteristics. Neither his roommate nor I were entirely in our right minds.

Indeed, I recall us cracking an egg into a bowl and examining the yolk under a desk lamp as if were the first egg we’d ever seen; as if its humble yolk held the key to the universe.

There is probably nothing that feels quite as alienating as being stone sober when others are discovering God in the contents of the refrigerator. Nonetheless, Mr. Gober suffered us with quiet good grace and I came away with a strong sense of his seriousness. At a minimum he didn’t require stimulants to appreciate an egg.

That’s also the feeling transmitted by the works in “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor.” No matter how familiar or even humorous, they’re imbued with a certain psychological gravity.

There are the deceptively simple, handcrafted sinks from the 1980s that put Mr. Gober on the map as an artist and recall Marcel Duchamp and surrealism.

Playpens that seem all set to do day care duty for museumgoers with infants, except they’re perilously slanted or x-shaped.

And installations, such as one from 1995–97: Visitors can peer into an old trunk to discover a sewer grate whose depths reveal a partially hidden man standing in a pristine tidal pool and clutching a baby. There is another installation whose open door reveals naked legs soaking in a bathtub.

For all their eeriness (Ms. Rivera informed me the running water serves as a metaphor for purity and cleansing oneself, particularly in the wake of the AIDS epidemic) the pieces are inviting in the way the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are.

Except the subjects are people rather than caribou or mountain gorillas. And observing them feels a form of voyeurism, trespassing for the price of a museum admission ticket.

One of the final works was an untitled painting from 1975, and a view I thought I might have recognized: the Middlebury campus behind an easel and open window. It might have been the view from Mr. Gober’s dorm room.

Ms. Rivera couldn’t confirm the location. However, she asked whether I’d seen the gallery filled with sinks of running water and a paint-by-numbers forest panorama.

Somehow I’d missed it.

“It is real peaceful,” she said. “Go check it out.”

She also said the space was stacked with newspapers, some of which bore Mr. Gober’s photograph.

I’d agree the room would have been calming were it not for the prison bars over the windows. And for the newspapers—some fake, some real—whose headlines documented the scars of the AIDS epidemic.

“Vatican Condones Discrimination Against Homosexuals,” one of them read, juxtaposed with a Saks Fifth Avenue New York Times ad of a woman in a wedding dress.

Upon closer inspection, I realized the bride was Robert Gober.

He’d changed a lot since college.

Platforms for Art Under the City

Platforms for Art Under the City (If You Notice)

An Art Tour of the Subway System With the Director of MTA Arts & Design

Roy Lichtenstein's artwork ‘Times Square Mural’ at the Times Square subway station.ENLARGE
Roy Lichtenstein’s artwork ‘Times Square Mural’ at the Times Square subway station.RAMSAY DE GIVE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Sandra Bloodworth, the director of MTA Arts & Design at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, suggested we meet at the 77th Street Lexington Avenue subway station. We were embarking on an art tour of New York City’s subway system.

Ms. Bloodworth is also the co-author, with William Ayres, an independent curator, of “New York’s Underground Art Museum.” It details the 250 works decorating the subway system and the 50 more in progress.

Ms. Bloodworth wanted to show me Robert Kushner’s “4 Seasons Seasoned,” a mosaic from 2004, above the stairs as you descend onto the 77th Street subway platform.

I’m all for art in the subways. If any place on Earth can benefit from beautification, it’s New York City’s system.

But here’s the problem: I consider the 77th Street Lexington Avenue my home station. However, even given my relative affection, and the fact that I patronize it several times a week, I can’t, in utter candor, say I truly noticed Mr. Kushner’s work until Ms. Bloodworth pointed it out to me.

And indeed, the flower mosaic is rather lovely.

“My intention,” the artist explains in “New York’s Underground Art Museum,” “is for people to enter the station, pass through the turnstile, look up and take note, and then go on their day feeling a little lighter, having glimpsed something beautiful for a passing moment.”

Elizabeth Murray's ’Blooming’ at the 59th Street Lexington Avenue station ENLARGE
Elizabeth Murray’s ’Blooming’ at the 59th Street Lexington Avenue station RAMSAY DE GIVE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Pausing is my problem as I join the hordes of fellow commuters. Here, in no particular order, are several concerns that take priority:

Circumventing the person who decided the stairwell descending into the subway from the street was the perfect place to take a phone call.

Wondering if God hates me because everybody else seems able to pass through the turnstiles with a single swipe of their MetroCard while it takes me half a dozen attempts.

Catching myself before I fall and break my nose and several ribs as I try to make it down the stairs and onto a waiting train before the doors close in my face.

Hugging the wall of the station after I miss that train and await the next so that some maniac doesn’t get any bright ideas about shoving me onto the tracks and delaying my journey even further.

Our next stop was the 59th Street Lexington Avenue station and Elizabeth Murray’s whimsical 1996 “Blooming,” described in Ms. Bloodworth’s book as one of the most ambitious works in the MTA system.

Even though it’s unavoidable, I can’t say I’ve paid any attention to it previously, my focus solely on finding the closest exit.

Ditto Christopher Sproat’s “V-Beam” from 2000 on the Grand Central No. 7 subway platform. Actually, I had earlier spotted the work—a combination of florescent lights, stainless steel, signage and a fan system. I just didn’t realize it was art.

Ms. Bloodworth politely declined to speculate on the completion date for the Second Avenue subway. However, when that glorious moment arrives it will be accompanied by eye-catching art. Renderings of which can be found in “New York’s Underground Art Museum.”

Among the artists is Sarah Sze. She’ll be doing a monumental mosaic along the escalators descending into the 96th Street station. Pixilated mosaic portraits by Chuck Close of New York cultural luminaries have been commissioned for the 86th Street station.

Our tour continued on: It included Samm Kunce’s “Under Bryant Park” at the 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue station. I’d noticed and liked it before, but even more so after Ms. Bloodworth explained that it was a slightly fantastical depiction of the root system and geologic strata beneath Bryant Park.

Sandra Bloodworth, director of MTA Arts & Design at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.ENLARGE
Sandra Bloodworth, director of MTA Arts & Design at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. RAMSAY DE GIVE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Times Square station is a veritable underground MoMA. It includes an energetic yellow-and-blue Roy Lichtenstein mural. “I’m sure you know this well,” Ms. Bloodworth stated as we admired the work.

I can’t say I did.

“In ways it became the signature of the system,” the arts administrator added.

And then there were Jane Dickson’s mosaics of New Year’s Eve revelers. As much as I enjoy them, you run the risk of getting plowed under at rush hour if you pause to admire them along the passageway that connects the Times Square and Port Authority bus terminal subway stations where they’re located.

Subtlety seems a losing battle in the New York subway system. The more attention-grabbing the piece the more memorable. Hence the success of Sol LeWitt’s multicolored “Whirls and twirls” from 2009 in the 59th Street–Columbus Avenue station.

And that of our final stop: the brand new Fulton Center subway hub on Fulton Street with its “Sky Reflector-Net,” by James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw Architects and Arup. It’s an arresting oculus, framing the sky and made from perforated aluminum panels and stainless-steel cables.

“I don’t think this is like any station you’ll have seen in New York,” Ms. Bloodworth stated.

She was right. We should pass a law: All subway stations in the future, buried no matter how far underground, must include natural light.

A Political Generation Is Exiting the Stage in New York

Bess Myerson, left, with New York Mayor Ed Koch on Orchard. Street in 1980.
Bess Myerson, left, with New York Mayor Ed Koch on Orchard. Street in 1980.ASSOCIATED PRESS

Here’s some unfashionable advice for college kids and recent graduates, prompted by the passing of Mario Cuomo and Bess Myerson: get involved in politics. You meet the most interesting people.

If I hadn’t in 1977, I’d probably never have encountered either Mr. Cuomo or Ms. Myerson.

I’m not suggesting you become a politician. Only that you join a campaign for a season. You never know where it may lead—and even if it leads nowhere—you’ll have stories to tell your kids.

You’ll also discover that you might find yourself more invested in the political process. If nothing else, you’ll probably turn to the political coverage in the newspaper (or click on your favorite politics app) with an insider’s avidity.

There’s another reason to join a political campaign in your 20s. You’ll probably never possess more naive chutzpah than you have at that age.

If I’d been in my 40s or 50s when I worked as an intern in the Washington office of then-U.S. Rep. Ed Koch, I doubt I’d have had the temerity to invite him to lunch.

A more self-important politician might have told me to get back to work answering his constituent mail (my solemn assignment was to respond to each and every voter’s concern, while promising that their issue—whether profound or screwball—would receive the most “careful consideration.”)

Mario Cuomo in Times Square in 1977.ENLARGE
Mario Cuomo in Times Square in 1977.ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rep. Koch invited me to lunch instead, in the congressional dining room, no less. There he patiently fielded such brazen questions as whether the pursuit of power is ethical. (He told me he preferred to think of it as “ambition.”)

I’ve told that and other stories from my political education previously. But I feel within my rights about recycling them because to many volunteers, they were our primary source of compensation.

My contact with Mario Cuomo included no repast, but was no less memorable. I was campaigning with Louis Koch, Mr. Koch’s father, at the Brighton Beach Baths during the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary runoff campaign when Mr. Cuomo—our opponent–arrived just as we were preparing to leave.

In another example of exquisite youthful chutzpah, I positioned Lou Koch so that he would be there to welcome Mr. Cuomo to the baths. The incident found its way into the following day’s New York Times.

There was no love lost between Messrs. Koch and Cuomo in those days, though they seemed to enjoy a reconciliation of sorts in more recent years. Mr. Cuomo attended one, if not more, of Mr. Koch’s annual Gracie Mansion birthday parties—to which I was also invited as a former lowly campaign staffer.

Veterans of the Koch administration remained a cohesive group—the mayor commanding their loyalty and respect years after he left office. I’m sure the same is true of Mario Cuomo and his supporters.

My temerity, fortunately, didn’t provoke newspaper headlines in the case of an encounter I had with Bess Myerson during that same 1977 mayoral runoff campaign. But it did provide a moment for my private mental campaign scrapbook.

I was chauffeuring the former Miss America, a Koch surrogate, to some campaign event. Just the two of us in the car. And I asked her how she felt about masquerading as the candidate’s girlfriend since they were plainly—at least to me—just friends?

I’m occasionally accused of indiscretion—most prominently by my wife—but I can confidently state that I’d never be so undiplomatic these days.

To Ms. Myerson’s credit—or maybe it was a similar lack of discretion on her part—she didn’t say, “Shut up, kid, and keep driving.” Instead, she acknowledged that the relationship was platonic. And added words to the effect that these are the sort of favors that friends do for each other.

I suppose it also doesn’t hurt if jaded adults find your curiosity—though in my case it might well be chalked up to stupidity—charming.

On Tuesday morning I was waiting in my car on Park Avenue with the snow falling and the engine idling because Mayor Bill de Blasio , for all his current woes, didn’t have the perspicacity to use the weather as an opportunity to suspend the alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations.

Coincidentally, through my streaked windshield I could watch mourners arriving for, and the media staking out, Mario Cuomo’s funeral at St. Ignatius Loyola Church a couple of block north.

With the passings of Ed Koch in 2013, Koch political consultant David Garth and Bess Myerson within a day of each other shortly before Christmas and now Mario Cuomo, a political generation is exiting the stage.

They leave behind a legacy of public service, a better city and state than the one they found and a cadre of aging campaign volunteers with a few stories left to tell.

Where Mustard is on Tap

Where Mustard Is on Tap

Ralph Gardner Jr. Ventures to the New Maille Mustard Shop

Maille mustard sommelier Pierette Huttner fills a jar from a tap in the company’s new Columbus Avenue shop.ENLARGE
Maille mustard sommelier Pierette Huttner fills a jar from a tap in the company’s new Columbus Avenue shop. KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Most things that I put—or avoid putting—in my body I have strong feelings about. I love cheeseburgers but hate stews. Like ginger ale. Love Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda. Hate diet sodas of any kind.

I like ketchup. Can live without relish. Usually wonder why the spicy smothered onions that hot dog vendors slather on franks are disappointing.

But one common condiment leaves me feeling ambivalent: I’m not sure how I feel about mustard.

I know it’s got to be contributing something when I lay it on a frank. Or add it to salad dressing. I just can’t pinpoint precisely what the effect is.

The world would be a much more solemn place if ketchup wasn’t around to enliven burgers and fries. But how much would we miss mustard if supplies ran out?

I know many don’t share my opinion. There are those who feel as passionate about a sharp Dijon as others do fracking or life in distant galaxies.

Which is why I ventured to the new Maille mustard shop (“Maison Fondée en 1747”) on Columbus Avenue on a recent afternoon in the hope of furthering my education.

I’m familiar with the brand, buying it frequently.

Nonetheless, I was startled by the splendor of the emporium. There’s lots of wood paneling, shelves stocked with mustard in multitudinous variety, even an old master oval portrait of Antoine-Claude Maille under a painting light, albeit a reproduction.

Forty-five dollars! …I was thinking more in the $9 range.

But most impressive of all was a set of black mustard taps. They’re like draft beer taps except they dispense mustard instead of Guinness or Brooklyn Lager.

“We have stoneware jars filled to order,” explained Pierette Huttner, Maille’s U.S. mustard sommelier.

I was curious how one becomes a mustard sommelier.

“You have to be trained by Maille,” said Ms. Huttner, who confessed she actually grew up in the West Village. “I spent part of the summer and fall in Paris, Dijon and London.”

A mustard with truffles is put into a jar at the Maille shop in the Manhattan.ENLARGE
A mustard with truffles is put into a jar at the Maille shop in the Manhattan. KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I didn’t expect my reservations about mustard to resonate with her, and indeed they didn’t. “I always loved Maille,” she stated. “I grew up with Maille. That was my secret ingredient in many of my recipes.”

I always thought of mustard as an acquired, adult-onset taste. “I was the 6-year-old whose parents served her sea scallops,” the sommelier said. “I probably had a different palate than most kids.”

Ms. Huttner offered me a taste of mustard from the rightmost tap. There were four dispensers—all with fancy French lettering.

“Chablis white wine and truffle,” the sommelier announced, as I dipped a breadstick into the free sample.

It did indeed taste delicious. Or at least truffly and cold. Certainly a lot livelier than ballpark mustard.

“It’s one of my favorites with mashed potatoes,” my mustard guide explained. “It’s kept cold to preserve the freshness and potency.”

I asked the price.

Ms. Huttner said, “4.4 ounces for $45.”

Forty-five dollars! I was willing to splurge, but I was thinking more in the $9 range, which is already double what I spend on a jar of mustard, including Maille mustard, at Fairway.

“This is very much an experience you’re having,” the sommelier told me. “It’s very personal. It can’t be more personal than someone filling your jar.”

I didn’t deny that. Still, I asked Ms. Huttner to lead me to more affordable alternatives. Those issuing from the adjoining taps were hardly more so. However, the stoneware jars, she explained brightly, as if to lessen the sticker shock, “are refillable at any Maille boutique around the world.”

“The first day we opened there was a couple who spend half the year in Provence,” Ms. Huttner went on. “They brought their jar they’d bought at our Paris boutique to be refilled.”

I have enough trouble remembering my passport when I travel, let alone my mustard jar.

Nonetheless, the recycling aspect did appeal to me, especially if truffle mustard became my new vice and a refill came at a steep discount.

What sort of savings were we looking at? “It’s a lesser cost,” she acknowledged, explaining that a refill cost a mere $25.

A customer samples different varieties of mustard on display at the Maille shop.ENLARGE
A customer samples different varieties of mustard on display at the Maille shop. KEITH BEDFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNA

While I debated whether I was willing to spend $45 for mustard—no matter how handsome or “eco-friendly” the jar, as Ms. Huttner described it—I looked around the rest of the store.

There were heritage vinegars and gourmet gherkins by the jar, as well as exotic mustards: white wine, gingerbread and chestnut honey; maroon-colored with Dijon blackcurrant liqueur.

And I was happy to see they were in the somewhat more affordable $9 price range for 3.8 ounces.

I eventually decided to splurge on the truffle mustard. So I was mildly chagrined when Ms. Huttner reached for a jar from a refrigerator below the counter.

She assured me it was just as fresh.

But when you’re spending $45, is it too much to expect your personal mustard sommelier to pour it by hand?