Letters from the issue of May 1-7, 2003

Invoking Osama bin Laden and remembering George Zirwas

Your Food Critic Has Poor Taste

And I don't mean that he can't tell polenta from bruschetta: For more than seven years I've been reading the wonderful and informative New Times. I always read the restaurant reviews, and have even sent some e-mails voicing my agreement or disagreement. After reading Lee Klein's review of Metro Kitchen & Bar ("Metro Pale," April 24), I felt compelled to comment.

I was disheartened that, at a time like this, Mr. Klein would make reference to Osama bin Laden, as well as saying he was tempted to drop a piece of spaetzle on the floor to see how high it would bounce. This leads me to believe that the professional critic has poor taste (no pun intended) in his choice of words. I completely respect the job Mr. Klein is allowed to do, and I look forward to reading his reviews each week, but these remarks were off-color and left me dismayed.

Within the past two months I have been to Metro Kitchen twice and enjoyed both meals. One was better than the other, but both were enjoyable.

Michael B. Jacobs, executive chef

Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel, P.A.

Miami

We Believe I Was Offended

We also think I am a pillar of the community and we ask that I receive an apology: We just read Lee Klein's review of our restaurant, Metro Kitchen & Bar, and are very disappointed he did not have an entirely pleasant experience. We apologize for that. As we write this letter, we are taking action to address all the problems appropriately addressed in the review.

While we understand that Mr. Klein has the right to highlight his personal dislikes at a particular establishment, such as certain dishes or the service, we find unprofessional and highly offensive the manner in which he wrote the review, particularly some of the references he made. For example, using war references such as the veal cutlet being pounded by a "bunker-buster," and his waiter being "harder to find than Osama bin Laden," are plainly in very bad taste. They are unacceptable, politically incorrect, and blatantly inappropriate. We are frankly surprised that New Times would allow such references to be made in a restaurant review. They could hurt our establishment and have us endure prejudice and, ultimately, economic hardship. Is that what New Times really wants?

A community paper of New Times's caliber should support local businesses. An article of this kind, which is mean-spirited and disrespectful of the hard work and many years of dedication my partner and I have put forth in this community, could turn locals against you. Referencing my hard-earned money is also very inappropriate. Why would Mr. Klein make personal references to my bank account that he knows nothing about? I have been a pillar of this community and helped transform it into the success story it is today. My management team and I have put our blood and sweat into building, maintaining, and now improving this property. We are all locals and have worked with perseverance over the past decade to achieve good rapport with our local community.

The bottom line is this: We are hosting hundreds of Miami locals and tourists each week, dedicated patrons who find our product to be more than satisfactory. If Mr. Klein felt that our establishment did not meet his expectations, then he could have reported so in a professional manner and not attack the core of our business.

We are not opposed to constructive criticism, but we cannot accept sarcastic and vicious commentary that is out of place. Who does Mr. Klein think he is, anyway? Making references to the war and to America's most-wanted terrorist and associating me, my staff, and my establishment with someone who did such horrible things to our country is inconceivable. We suffered from the September 11 attack like everyone else, and it is astonishing that this review is associating the Astor with such negativity. I find it hard to believe that this paper would condone such irresponsible journalism, and I believe we are entitled to an apology.

Karim Masri

Hotel Astor

Miami Beach

We Fondly Remember George

His warmth and generosity were the highlights of our visit to Havana: Because of President Bush's absurd crackdown on travel to Cuba, we are hesitant to attach our names to this letter regarding the wonderful article about George Zirwas, written by Kathy Glasgow and Lissette Corsa ("Murdered in Havana," April 17). Our story, however, is true.

We met George in January 2001 on a flight from Nassau to Havana. It was open seating on an ancient Aeroflot plane so crammed with seats that most people's knees were up against their chins. We ran for the more spacious emergency-exit seats and George asked to sit next to us. We thus had a window into his happy realm, and he in turn warmly assisted us during our stay.

With no hotel reservation (we had just found out about the reservation mix-up in Nassau) and pathetically poor Spanish, we had no plan. My wife noticed a kitchen utensil poking out of one of his many plastic shopping bags, figured he wasn't a tourist, and asked for advice. From that moment George was our guardian angel throughout our entire trip to Havana.

After watching us, a bleary-eyed couple, trying to negotiate the Fellini-esque scene at the airport, George not only gave us a lift to the Hotel Colina, but after discovering that they were booked, he invited us to his home and dispatched his boyfriend Ulises to canvas the neighborhood and find other accommodations. We ended up staying with a Cuban family several blocks from George's house, which was a much better deal all the way around. Instead of enriching one of Fidel's hotels, we were able to spend time in a real home.

We would stop by George's house daily and discuss our exploits. His was a happy place, filled with birds, dogs (we remember Taco), Ulises, and whoever else was around -- plus the noise and excitement of the street. One night we were invited to dinner. The conversation was warm as my wife and George reminisced about their days in Pittsburgh's Shadyside.

George had certainly adapted to life in Cuba. He was well known in his neighborhood, and he happily shepherded us to the local market downtown and to a performance-art area nearby. But life in Havana certainly had its difficulties. Once we asked him how he'd spent his day. He said he had taken the entire day to look for a 100-watt light bulb. He had to go to eighteen stores to find one.

Another day he mentioned that there had been a great commotion at his house. The local police had come by, demanding to enter to spray for mosquitoes. George, who had a menagerie of animals, refused. The conversation escalated until the police officer, shouting, said, "I have a proclamation from Fidel Castro stating that we must enter every home, including yours, and Fidel says we must spray for mosquitoes!"

George's response (sarcastically): "Next time you see Fidel, say hello to him for me."

The day before we departed, I longingly eyed the hood ornaments on a rusting hulk of an automobile perched on cement blocks just outside his apartment. I told George we would pay ten dollars each for the two ornaments. George contacted the family and had them ready for us, all polished, the next day.

George even arranged for us to borrow bicycles so we could explore the surrounding suburbs. He also planned our transportation back to the airport. Though we began to panic when we ran out of gas on the way to catch our flight, George's friend calmly went to the trunk and pulled out a can of gasoline and a funnel.

Everything George did for us had a magical quality to it. Through him, any modest remunerations and supplies we brought with us were given to people in need when we were ready to leave. He gave his Spanish teacher at the university $50 at the end of the semester, knowing that her salary was the equivalent of $15 per month.

When we left Havana we talked with George about a rendezvous in Miami, hoping to return in some small way his overwhelming hospitality. We tried to contact him by e-mail several times thereafter, but with no response. Imagine our horror when we saw your article!

Whatever else George did in his life, we have the fondest memories of his unwavering warmth, compassion, and generosity. He was our guardian on our trip to Havana and we will never forget him.

Names Withheld by Request

Miami Beach

George's Murder Explained

Unfortunately New Times tainted the story by failing to give proper credit for a photograph of Zirwas as a young priest. On the morning of April 11, your art director telephoned me to ask for the photo. Within hours we e-mailed it to him with a request that New Times give credit for the photo to my company. Instead they gave credit to a woman named Polly Becker.

I'm glad Glasgow and Corsa got their story. I'm glad they had artwork that helped to tell that story. I just wish New Times had given credit where credit is due.

Jim Parsons, investigative reporter

WTAE-TV

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Editor's note: The photograph of George Zirwas as a young priest was properly credited in the print version of New Times. The error was committed on the Website only and has since been corrected.

Mr. Toothpicks Is Right

Nine out of ten people are obsessed with numbers: I want to tell Rebecca Wakefield how remarkable and how remarkably well-told was her story about Anton Solar, a.k.a. Mr. Toothpicks, and his friend Frank ("Meet Mr. Toothpicks," April 17). The toothpick men make sense to me. There's a big difference between 1,000,000 of something and 999,999 of something, isn't there? Why else would billions of people celebrate New Year's Eve 2000, or even each 10,000-mile flip on the odometer?

But Rebecca's language and perspective sold the piece. This was truly A-hed (Wall Street Journal fourth-column) material. I'll be sure to check out her stuff regularly.

David J. Plotkin

Winter Park, Florida

Miami Bio-Chem Scare Is False Alarm

Evacuation ordered after authorities detect suspicious odor at free weekly's office: It was a busy week for me down at the cancer center where I work, so I didn't have time to read New Times until today. Each week I try to pass my eyes over your Website pages to see what trouble is chasing my old high school photo-bug buddy Steve Satterwhite. I generally enjoy the paper very much, and wish we had something like it here in Lubbock. It can get real dry out on these plains.

But the issue last week contained a home run, an article that is a sure contender in the race to be the silliest bit of nonthinking ever printed in the pencil press: Tristram Korten's proposal to exchange imprisoned Cuban civil-rights activists for Cuban spies caught working against the United States ("Proposals with Punch," April 17). Yeah, right. Did the Castro crowd actually plant that idea with Korten? In this case, are you guys an actual stalking horse for the Red regime?

Let's see. A fair exchange implies a trade of similar things of equal value, right? Well, in America we have in custody a few members of Fidel's espionage service who spent years stomping around the United States collecting military information (and breaking the heart of at least one nice woman). Certainly their intent was to do the United States (and that decent lady) no good. The sneaky bastards were caught, tried, and sentenced -- all fair and square. The lucky fact that they were both incompetent and stupid does not mitigate the malevolent intent of the murderous dictator for whom they worked. These are the bad guys.

On the other hand, in Cuba you have more than 50 writers (aren't they your colleagues?) who have had the courage to say out loud in Havana that people and even newspapers should be free. How long are their sentences? Twenty years? More? These admirable people were sent away for terms longer than your typical homicide suspect on Law & Order. These Cuban nationals are the good guys.

And you say: "Let's exchange these two groups"? Exchange (and thus equate) military spies for people who are evil enough only to own a copy of the Bill of Rights? Let's pay the extortion? Let's set a precedent that in the future would allow bully boy Fidel to get any of his thugs out of prison by simply scooping up innocent civilians and offering them as a swap? The part I really loved was when Señor Korten suggested that "the dissidents could even stay in Cuba" after the swap. God. This brand of low-wattage brain power is usually found in pot-filled college dorm rooms. What are you folks smoking down there in South Florida?

No sane grownup can ever again take seriously the muddle-headed leftist agenda of a pseudo-journalist like Tristram Korten. From a child, Korten's ideas would be regarded as cute juvenile rebellion. From an adult, they are pathetic.

Coke Johnston

Lubbock, Texas

Buju Unveiled

Reggae fans lap it up: As a reggae lover who used to produce the (now defunct) Vermont Reggae Festival, I want to thank Celeste Fraser Delgado for a well-paced article ("Winding and Long," April 17). It provided truly interesting peeks into Buju's private life, fun times on the road, and factual information regarding the VP/Atlantic power on the scene.

Susan De Leon

Hollywood

Are You Guys Amateurs or

Drives people like me crazy when: How about some quality control in your shop? You can begin by at least printing your writers' articles in their entirety. Case in point: Gregory Weinkauf's film review of The Good Thief that began on page 58 of the April 17 issue and then disappeared into oblivion. No jump to another page. No nothing. The article ended without a hint, in midsentence. Most annoying and unprofessional!

Is this any way to run a newspaper? Get your editing, writing, and production people on the same page -- literally. Please show your writers and readers the respect they deserve. Finish what you start!

David Finkelman

Kendall

From Detroit to Kingston

Berry Gordy, meet Glen Washington: Greg Doherty hit the nail on the head ("Hungry Mob," April 10). Reggae is the real soul music of today. I have always said that today's reggae is like the old Motown -- it has quality and is fresh. Overall it maintains a high standard. In my opinion, the crossover hits of Sean Paul and the like are diluted and of poor quality. Music like that is just bland, trying for the mass market. Thank God for singers like Luciano, Sanchez, and Glen Washington, who will most likely never cross over to the American mass market.

Simon McDonough

Miami Beach

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