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.


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

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

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.

Mixing It Up With a Granola Maker

Ralph Gardner Jr. goes upstate for a deep dive into the granola game

Augie Granola is made by Nancy Booke in Pine Plains, N.Y.
Augie Granola is made by Nancy Booke in Pine Plains, N.Y.

I sensed a connection between Nancy Booke’s granola and her bird feeders. Both are delightfully excessive.

First the feeders.

They’re hanging—about a half dozen of them—from the tree outside her floor-to-ceiling window in Pine Plains, N.Y., a town a couple of hours north of New York City in the Hudson Valley.

And these aren’t just any feeders, but colorful J Schatz ceramic egg-shaped bird feeders—to my mind the Maseratis of the bird feeder world. I own a couple myself.

Ms. Booke seems similarly to spare no expense when it comes to Augie Granola, her cornucopia of gluten-free rolled oats, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, coconut, dried figs, apricots, bananas…

The list of ingredients goes on, and the results are for sale in the city at Murray’s Cheese and Forager’s.

I was curious to visit a granola maker because my family has been on my case to eat better. Better, I take it, meaning to start the day with yogurt mixed with granola, rather than bacon and eggs; or an Eli’s cheese Danish, or apple turnover, though preferably both.

I’m not prepared to state that Augie Granola—named after Ms. Booke’s 4-year-old, 165-pound Newfoundland—supplants pastry in my pantheon of go-to breakfast choices, but if I were a better, more health-conscious person it surely would.

Indeed, the treat, which also includes maple syrup and sea salt, is so savory that I found myself employing it one cocktail hour as a substitute for salted peanuts (something else I should probably avoid).

I once even reached for a bag of granola instead of dessert.

Though that’s slightly disingenuous. Because the product in question, Augie Dark Chocolate Chunk, includes ingots of Tremezzo BIO 70% dark chocolate.

Indeed, it more closely resembles trail mix than the gruel your mom made you eat for breakfast.

Maybe that’s my aversion to rolled oats. They trigger memories of the oatmeal I was forced to consume every morning as a child—washed down with a tablespoon of cod liver oil.

“My mom loved granola,” said Ms. Booke, whose granola is in part an homage to her late mother, Gail Reiss, a sculptor and her partner in a home-accessories business. “I didn’t love granola at all. No matter what granola I tried it didn’t have enough texture and depth of flavor. It tended to be dusty.”

I’ve been impressed with some of the artisanal granola I’ve tried lately—I daresay we’re in the midst of a granola renaissance—but “dusty” pretty well nails my reservations about muesli, which tastes like the hospital food it was originally intended to be.

My understanding is that the difference between granola and muesli is that the former is baked, the latter not.

Ms. Booke, 51, makes her granola—she mixes and bakes 12 hours a day, four or five days a week—in a brand-new kitchen across the yard (several more bird feeders along the way) from her home, parts of which date from the early 1800s.

Nancy Booke and her dog, Augie.ENLARGE

She grew up in the city and attended the Riverdale Country School, but moved upstate after her mother’s death. Her husband, attorney Nicholas Booke, works in the city during the week.

The kitchen was stocked with industrial-size mixers, Garland convection ovens, tins of Tuscan olive oil, New York state maple syrup and giant plastic bins filled with ingredients such as coconut chips, dried apricots and sour cherries. She makes 800 pounds of granola a week.

“Everything I use is organic and I’ve searched for the best products I can find,” Ms. Booke said. “I’m obsessed with the whole thing.”

But can she make money? Even at $12.99 for a 20-ounce bag at her website, augietreats.com?

“It’s hard to make any money,” she acknowledged, adding that her previous kitchen was too small to store enough of the raw materials to allow her to buy it cheaply in bulk.

“Now I can buy thousands of pounds of oats at a time,” she explained. “The costs of my inventory will reduce by half.”

But there’s still the question of competition. Anybody with an oven and a dream seems to be producing granola, even though Ms. Booke’s is the richest, most complex I’ve tasted so far.

Indeed, it’s so tasty it can’t possibly be good for you. Which is probably why I’ll stick to eggs and bacon and eat it only when my family is looking over my shoulder.

All I Want for 2016 Is More Cookies and Less Texting

More bakeries and bookstores and less time spent looking at phone screens

A New Year’s Eve reveler checking her phone in New York’s Times Square on Dec. 31, 2015.
A New Year’s Eve reveler checking her phone in New York’s Times Square on Dec. 31, 2015. PHOTO: ALBIN LOHR-JONES/ZUMA PRESS

New Year’s resolutions, let alone predictions, have never been my forte.

But just to be on the safe side, as friends are tossing their woes and wishes, penned on pieces of scrap paper, into our bonfire (a Japanese ritual my wife appropriated several decades ago but that I resist), I vow to become a better husband and father and get a book published.

Being a misanthrope also isn’t a particularly productive mind-set when you’re tasked with looking ahead to the coming year in New York City, a place that seems perpetually in the process of reinventing itself—the buildings ever taller, the stores more unaffordable, the restaurants sparkling and packed, no matter the price point and almost no matter the cuisine.

One of the city’s abiding mysteries is where unpaid interns find so much disposable income.

What makes New York truly special, though, is that it achieves—better than almost any other metropolis—an equilibrium between tradition and transformation, between streets that may change little over decades yet hold the promise of a surprise around the next corner.

Was it Dostoyevsky who said you can judge how civilized a society is by entering its prisons?

I’ve always thought bakeries an excellent barometer of a city’s well-being. And bookstores.

By that criteria, I’m not sure we’re doing that swell.

There was a time when you could lead a bakery walking tour up Madison Avenue, picking up a marzipan confection at Rigo, a Hungarian bakery; a Florentine the size of a salad plate at G&M; and a world-class thumbprint cookie at William Greenberg Dessert. Of the three, only Greenberg still exists.

Not long ago, my wife was walking from 57th and Madison to catch a train at Penn Station, hoping to find a bookstore along the way. She didn’t come across a single one.

While a Barnes & Noble still stands at 46th and Fifth, not all that long ago—OK, so it was a while back—there were five bookstores on Fifth between 57th and 48th, by my count.

Her suggestion for reviving literacy: combination raclette restaurants/bookstores.

One thing beyond dispute is that the desire to make a buck in this town burns as brightly as ever. Someone is designing, building, stocking or serving anything that anyone could conceivably want to buy.

Brooklyn and Queens have never been more vital, not tipping quite yet into pretentiousness.

Parts of Manhattan, such as the Far West Side, that were a no-man’s-land only a few years ago, are budding with parks, skyscrapers and a new subway station.

Never underestimate the sublimity of the subway system. And whenever the Second Avenue subway gets completed—the promise is by the end of this year—it will serve as a B12 injection for the entire Upper East Side, those monotonous boulevards east of Lexington Avenue, in particular.

Indeed, the “B12” might be a better name for the coming line than the “Q” train.

But the greatness of a city ultimately turns on how inviting it is to pedestrians. In that respect, the city is prospering. Despite tendinitis, I’m walking more than ever, the health app on my iPhone explaining my ambition only in part.

It’s because, in a city that is becoming increasingly divided between the superrich and the rest of us, all of us can still afford the best show in town.

It isn’t happening on Broadway, or Yankee Stadium, or Barclays Center, or Madison Square Garden. It’s on the streets and in the buses and subways. People watching is the city’s best free entertainment.

Nonetheless, I do have a few concrete New Year wishes, however fantastic:

That citizens, myself included, won’t require checking their mobile devices every 30 seconds to feel important.

That bookstores will make a modest comeback.

And that every bakery that closes will be replaced by two new ones. I’m sorry, but gluten- and dairy-free bakeries don’t count.

Talking Bach With a Radio Denizen

Teri Noel Towe brings enthusiasm and erudition to Columbia and Princeton university radio stations

Teri Noel Towe at WKCR Columbia University radio station, where he’s been broadcasting since 1977.ENLARGE
Teri Noel Towe at WKCR Columbia University radio station, where he’s been broadcasting since 1977. PHOTO: AGATON STROM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Teri Noel Towe has been broadcasting on Princeton University’s radio station, WPRB, since his undergraduate days there in the late ’60s. And while he didn’t attend Columbia University, he’s been participating in its radio station’s, WKCR, annual 10-day BachFest since 1977.

That might just make him America’s oldest college DJ.

“I didn’t know what it meant to be passionate about a work until running into Teri,” explained Stepan Atamian, a 22-year-old senior at Columbia and Mr. Towe’s BachFest co-host, when I dropped by the station a few days before Christmas.

They were broadcasting a performance of Bach’s “B Minor Mass,” recorded in Moscow by the Robert Shaw Chorale in 1962 during a goodwill tour of the Soviet Union.

I should say at the outset that Teri Towe, 67, isn’t an effortless interview. Not because he’s shy or self-effacing, but because he’s a veritable geyser of enthusiasm and erudition.

The answer to a straightforward question—How did you first come to find yourself in front of Columbia University’s microphones? When did you discover your passion for Johann Sebastian Bach?—might be proceeded by half an hour of stories and anecdotes, all of them excellent and many of them relevant.

For example, as to Mr. Towe’s early exposure to music: As a five year old, Mr. Towe, who was living with his family at the Waldorf Towers, regularly sneaked away from his governess to hear Cole Porter, a 30-year resident of the hotel, on his Steinway.

Classical music records stored at WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station.ENLARGE
Classical music records stored at WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station. PHOTO:AGATON STROM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I slipped the leash to hear Cole Porter play,” he remembered. “Mr. Porter, bless his heart, would see [Mr. Towe’s governess] coming into the room and say, ‘Teri, hide under the piano.’”

Mr. Towe attended Deerfield Academy where, when classmates were getting into whatever mischief teenage preppies are prone to, he was discovering classical music on stations such as WQXR and WNYC.

And, just as important, he was discovering the free form magic of radio in the days when classical music hosts, such as WNCN’s William Watson, had strong, idiosyncratic points of view about their playlists and were unafraid to express them.

Though I don’t want to give the impression that Mr. Towe was, or is, some sort of hothouse flower.

Rabelaisian might better describe him.

At lunch after the broadcast at the Le Veau d’Or, one of his favorite restaurants, he acknowledged a “drinking problem.” Then he paused a couple of beats before continuing: “The price of Tanqueray is going up.”

While he manages admirably to stay within the lines while on the air, much of what he says when his microphone is turned off, particularly regarding the current state of classical music radio programming, is unprintable.

Such as when he launched into a highly amusing diatribe about “the perfect sphincters out in California who developed that tightly programmed type of commercial radio. Originality need not apply.”

Mr. Towe seems never to have stopped broadcasting after college, at least not for long. He continued to do so while in law school at the University of Virginia and then as a young lawyer in Manhattan, landing a gig at WBAI, the progressive radio station. There he adopted the on-air pseudonym of the “Laughing Cavalier,” after a Frans Hals portrait that bears more than a passing resemblance, in both appearance and life-affirming spirit, to the mustachioed and bearded DJ.

While Bach’s “B Minor Mass” played, a call came into the station from a musician who told Mr. Atamian that he’d been scheduled to play on that 1962 goodwill tour but that contractual obligations got in the way.

“Stepan will not only give you the vocal soloists as appeared in the Mass,” Mr. Towe told his audience during a pause. “But also thanks to a telephone call that we received during the performance, we’re going to be able to identify a couple of the instrumentalists.”

Mr. Towe graciously handed off the baton to his co-host, and perhaps also a tradition of classical music broadcasting that, because of Teri Towe, and despite the best efforts of those unmentionable programming corporate suits, may persist among the college students who have worked alongside him for at least one more generation.