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If it's not one thing, it's another: Not tonight, General Tso. I have a headache.

The first in a semi-regular series about observations of New York, If it’s not one thing, it’s another takes a wry, sometimes sardonic, piercing and illuminating (but always modest) look at the snippets of life around us.

Not tonight, General Tso. I have a headache.

Not a train, bus, or airplane runs on time as expertly as the lunch specials in some restaurants in my part of town, which is uptown Inwood. Even the Movado clock across the street from Lincoln Center is off by a few minutes. But you can set your watch by the timing of the 11:30 to 3:30 pm lunch specials at these models of efficiency. Sauntering in at 3:40 at my favorite restaurant is done at your own risk.
            “But my watch says 3:35.”
            “But I’m a regular here.”
“But I was just across the street,” I plead.
“Doesn’t count. 3:30 is 3:30,” says the boss, two telephones and a Styrofoam takeout box in hand.
“Why?” I inquire.
“This is America. Everything runs on time. The bank closes on time. Time is money.”
I can respect that, plus the spotless kitchen and waiting area; the large flatscreen cable tv tuned to heavyset Americans in some part of the country decorated with tattoos and dark sunglasses driving around in pickup trucks looking for something; plump spare ribs tastier and with more meat than fancier places downtown; and exquisite chicken dumplings that I once ordered for eight days in a row and, just found one under my computer.
When the beloved lunch special is missed by minutes, one is sentenced to choosing from items from six different columns, numerous color photos, and charming illustrations of farm animals. A tedious process. My favorite depicts a proud rooster, which is not on the menu but meant to highlight chicken dishes from numbers 71 to 91, including one named after a daring man who never ate the dish that bears his name, the brave and fearless General Tso.
The other day, a teenager rushed in, bills folded in his palm, but 10 minutes late and attempted to argue about the time.
“But I-“.
 “Don’t even try it,” I advised wearily. “He’s heard everything.”
When I returned home with a 10-pound plastic bag groaning with ribs, dumplings, soy sauce and duck sauce packets, and a free soda for ordering more than $11 (a hearty consolation, I might add), I spread this late lunch feast out over my entire kitchen table and cracked open a fortune cookie.
“Someday everything will make perfect sense,” I read.
Yes, someday.


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