Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Sole Man

It was good to see that now former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich does not have a hole in his right shoe.

This was plain to see from yesterday's NYT front page photo, above the fold, that I'll assume was in most editions. Paper editions. The story was cute because the reporter tied Elvis in because in the background of the photo an Elvis figurine could be seen in the window. Rod and Elvis thus were leaving the building. (The online link doesn't tie into this picture. Sorry, you had to be "there.")

It was a while ago, but there was that senator from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, who was photographed from a stage, clearly showing holes in his shoes. It became so famous a photo that the photographer was awarded a Pulitzer prize for photo journalism. The photographer, William Gallagher, remembers looking up and seeing the 1952 Democratic presidential candidate with his legs crossed, clearly showing off shoes in need of repair. He thought to himself that this man is a millionaire, and he's got holes in his shoes!

Adlai was a millionaire before becoming a politician, so the holes in his shoes were from being forgetful. Or eccentric. It's good to see Rod has made the job pay at least well enough to afford footwear that won't get his feet wet.

I guess the joke can now be that he'll need good shoes for "pounding the pavement" now that they released him from the statehouse and are trying to put him in the Big House. But something tells me suffering will not enter into the picture and he might no longer have to settle for a cut in pay.,0,6752869.photogallery?index=2

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Birds on A Wire

If John Updike wrote as many as 60 books, piles of essays, cricital reviews, commentary and Talk of the Town columns, then he used a lot of words, and quite truthfully, I then didn't read a great deal of them. But the words I did read I still savor.

I first became aware of things he wrote in the 1960s when I would pore over The New Yorker. I became aware first of his poems. I liked light verse, and I liked what he wrote. Whatever I read in the magazine lead me to buy a book of his poems. I no longer have the book, or even any of his poems, but I have the memory of something he wrote.

He compared birds on a wire to punctuation marks in a sentence. Something about their bodies and black dots. I now will try and flesh that poem out. To this day, whenever I look up and see birds on a wire, I think of a sentence. I think of him.

Whenever I see a pair of ratty sneakers draped over the wires I don't know what to think. He didn't write about it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Missing Year

Why does the Paper of Record produce no record of what happened in 1966 in its otherwise hard bound edition of The Complete Front Pages? Come to think of it, I should now rename this blog title The Missing Years, because it seems there are other gaps.

The book is formally titled The Complete Front Pages, 1851-2008. It is true that it is complete if you consider the three CD-ROMs that are enclosed. After all, 54,267 front pages would be a bit to lift. But why skip years entirely in the paper pages? Can't there be at least one representative page for each year? Goodness knows, something happened.

I was first attracted to 1966 because it was a rather seminal year in my own life. I graduated high school and started college. Our high school graduation was supposed to be held in Carnegie Hall, as it had been in successive prior years. But they were renovating Carnegie Hall that year, so instead we were shunted to the Manhattan Center on west 34th Street, a cavernous, dusty, un-airconditioned union hall that is now the Hammerstein Ballroom. The joke of course was: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Get left back. No volunteers.

Clearly, there was an unseen giant who was influencing how 1966 would be celebrated, and later acknowledged.

If you produced at least only one front page from each year, there would be 157 pages. The book contains a lot more pages, since there are multiple dates for some years. Deservedly so.

We know to include is to exclude, but really, 1966, despite being a personal year that I wouldn't expect the NYT to acknowledge was also, on Day One, the start of crippling transit strike that was brought to us by the showdown between first-day-in-office Mayor John V. "Lindslee" and Michael J. Quill, head of the transit union.

We know the Times is always about more than just New York news. I remember a kid in high school home room who was grousing about a suggestion that he read the Times to keep up on current events. He audibly complained that the paper was only about Belgium imports.

But really, omitting the 1966 transit strike? Having now survived three transit strikes and three blackouts, I think my demise should be accorded a DON'T WALK salute that blinks 21 times. At least.

Did I say other gaps?

In 1864 Abraham Lincoln was re-elected president. I did read that somewhere.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

When the Babe Hits One

When we read about the passing of a 100 year-old ballplayer--the oldest living former major leaguer, Bill Werber--it's great when we read about it in a bylined news story obituary, like that found in yesterday's NYT.

Richard Goldstein of course does a great job. It's not his first day on it. What makes the news story obit wonderful are the references to the era of the person's fame. This has always been appealing to me. To read of someone who was a teammate of Ruth's, who has now themselves only just passed away, is to reach back in time and be there. It's a time machine.

Think of all the people--family, friends, strangers--who Bill Berber could tell the Ruth home run story to, when Bill runs so fast from first after a Ruth homer that Babe later tells him in the dugout, "Son, you don't have to run when the Babe hits one." It's a treasured story to tell, and had to be a great one to hear directly from the person who was the out-of-breath youngster being grinned at by the Babe.

I didn't see Babe Ruth play. I was born shortly after he died. But my father did see the Babe play, and would tell me that Ruth in right field could almost throw a runner out at first because his arm was so good. Extreme right field at the older Yankee Stadium was not very big to begin with. Stick a cannon out there like Ruth, and I could see a catcher almost getting thrown out after a single.

It's the linkage to the past that the obituary brings when it's about someone who themselves had some mileage on them. There's such a thing as chain-of-custody for maintaining evidence. The same kind of chain exists with memories. I remember reading about Paul Mellon, the financier, philanthropist, thoroughbred race owner who lived into his 90s. His father was Andrew Mellon, a Secretary of Treasury under Harding, I believe. Paul's father was in his early 50s when Paul was born. I think I calculated that his father would have been 10 when Lincoln was assassinated.

Imagine being alive in the1990s and you can tell people your father talked about Lincoln's assassination first hand!

Imagine telling people you and the Babe were teammates.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dearly Paid For

And thinking of Dolly, and self-deprecating humor, I do remember an appearance of her's on the Johnny Carson show. After some unavoidable references to her anatomy by her and of course Carson, she did admit it took a "good hour" to get herself together to go out in the world.

She also said, "it takes a lot of money to look this cheap."

Terry and the Tests

I've always liked Terry Bradshaw. There's something genuine about him. Just like Dolly Parton, once upon a time with shoulder pads, and now with great suits and pocket squares. Terry looks great.

So, it is not at all surprising that on the NHL show Bradshaw recently described a lopsided game as the biggest mismatch to occur ever since he took the SATs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One of A Kind

I think it was October 2006, my younger daughter (now 27) and I went to see Rosanne Cash at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall's "basement," so to speak. The concert was GREAT! My daughter enjoyed it and we became solid fans. One of the best performances I was ever in attendance for. Rosanne sold some CDs that night.

Rosanne did at least two encores, maybe three. And she closed with a story.

She told how she was telling a female friend of hers that she was going to be playing at Zankel Hall. Her friend kept saying, "Well, that's wonderful, you're playing Carnegie." Rosanne kept trying to explain that they weren't really the same hall. Zankel was part of Carnegie, but it wasn't Carnegie Hall.

Her friend it seemed, wouldn't concede, or see a difference. Rosanne told how she finally drove the point home by telling her friend, "Look, you can go to several cities and there's a Saks. But there's only one Bergdorf's."

I love telling some sales people I know at Saks that one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Confession of The Donald

Culled from a January 10-11, 2009 WSJ story by David D'Arcy on the U.N.'s plans to build a temporary building to house their operations and artworks while the permanent buildings are being upgraded.

It seems Donald Trump weighed with a proposal to save the U.N. from exploitation from that most fearsome of people, New York landlords--"there is no worse human being on earth, OK."

Monday, January 19, 2009


Read enough obituaries and you have to wonder how your own might go.

I mean to alarm no one. Despite my recent birthday, I am in excellent health, save for a nagging tendonitis in my left foot. Being treated.

By all mortality tables I have 100% probability of double digit years remaining. Nevertheless, plan ahead.

So, it is my intention to sprinkle clues as to what I'd like included. This of course by no means means anyone is going to pay attention. The reality is most people do go with barely a notice. Period. The family is too afraid of being burglarized if they put out too many details, and, as for a news item, well, you've really got to be someone. The New York Times has about 1,200 waiting to go. And that's for everyone they know in the world. Odds are significantly against your own notoriety being shared with the readership.

Paid notices can be done, but they are EXPENSIVE, and in all great likelihood I won't leave that much money to anyone who will care to express their sentiments in print.

So, clues are what I'm leaving about leaving. All this of course assumes wherever this stuff is stored it outlives me and someone takes note. There go those odds again. Two things happening.

I want to be remembered as the somewhat goofy dad who, when he was with his then ten-year-old daughter, pointed to the two block long General Post Office on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and told her they had to make the building that long, just to get all the words in.

Any less land, and they would have had to use a smaller font.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Sit-Down at Woolworth's

Ever since our folks plopped us in kindergarten we've been finding company with people our own age. This began when we were united with similar other kids who couldn't tie their shoes, got their shirts on backwards (I still look to make sure the label is in the back), or failed to cover their mouths when they sneezed or coughed.

And growing older, we still tend to flock together.

So, it is nice when for just a few hours family custom somewhat corrals us into the same spot and we once again seem to be with more people our age than we usually are.

One such occasion was my grand-daughter’s first birthday party, when, because we are all still here and not mad at each other, we get to be around her other grand-parents.

I love talking to my daughter’s father-in-law, who is a retired NYPD detective whose attitude is so sufficiently submerged that it would take a while to guess his prior occupation. And since neither of us are at too advanced an age, we still remember what day it is and the score from yesterday’s game. We remember the same presidents, mayors, police commissioners, newspapers, and despite my not being Catholic, the same cardinals and popes.

The birthday party was in November 2008, and Tim and I got to talking about Spitzer. I had to recount my memories of cops in Times Square having to take pictures of prostitutes with Polaroids. I knew it might reach a knowing ear and make him tell me about more wacky crime remedies.

Since he worked in the Bronx his whole career, he, believe it or not, was not always paying attention to what was going on in Manhattan. The story though did prime the pump and made him remember when he was just starting out on the force and the older guy he was teamed with told him about his early days.

It seems his mentor had his own picture taking regimen. When he encountered a neighborhood trouble-maker who he wanted to make a crime deterrent impression on, he took the subject to Woolworth’s.

Woolworth’s had everything, including instant photo booths where you could get a wallet-size strip of black and white pictures taken of yourself (or giggling others, depending on who else you hauled into the booth) for maybe a quarter. They weren’t of the greatest quality, but they were good enough likenesses that someone could recognize you. And that was the point.

Tim’s mentor plopped the subject down in front of the camera, extracted the quarter from the subject, and kept the photo strip for his own mug shot collection. He wrote the subject’s name, address, phone number (if any) on the back, and impressed on them that he could now show their picture around if something happened and he thought they might be involved.

The number of laws this broke, then and now, is probably astounding, and would make a 9th grade law student leap out of their classroom chair. How effective it was is not known. Measurements could be challenged. But it does show that all ideas come from somewhere, and the mentor from the 60s might have been incrementally promoted to someone in the 70s who tried to clean up Times Square.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On a Wing and a Text

You have to believe someone was out there on one of the wings from that ditched plane in the Hudson River yesterday checking their e-mail!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Today is my birthday. No details will follow.

But I am the oldest person here at work. Our Managing Director is about eight years younger than I am and likes to remind me, good naturedly, but still in a voice that could scare you if you don't know him, that...

I'm too old and I'm too ugly.

Whenever he does this I look up and tell him I'm just trying to get rich so that the first two don't matter.

Cool in the Sunshine State

January in New York is about as far away from the baseball season as you can get. Throw in that the Super Bowl won't even be played until February, and you've really got a deep freeze month.

We know this will change, and they will be Florida having spring training.

And when I think about Florida and baseball and warm weather, I always think about a Yogi Berra story.

Mayors of large cities always go somewhere else once they're elected. After all, they're entitled to a vacation too, right? So, one winter in Florida at the Yankee training camp New York's mayor Robert Wagner stops by for a visit with his wife Phyllis. They meet Yogi Berra on the field, who at the time is not dressed in his Yankee uniform, but is rather in "street" clothes.

This being Florida, and this being winter and warm in Florida, Yogi it turns out is dressed quite appropriately for the weather and the setting: sunglasses, lively patterned shirt and pastel slacks. He looks bright.

Phyllis comments to Yogi that, "Yogi, you look so cooool." Yogi is pleased with the compliment and effortlessly gushes back, "Phyllis, you don't look so hot yourself."

Play ball.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grandma's Gall Bladder

It would be hard to forget Sunday trips to my grandmother's. My father's mother on 18th Street in Manhattan, above the flower shop.

That I remember, my grandmother didn't have a television then. She did have her gall bladder though in a jar of formaldehyde on the hutch in the dining room. I don't know what custom required the surgeon in the 1950s to give her a souvenir, or proof, but I was told it was her gall bladder. The jar smelled, and I would guess it really was formaldehyde, and it really was a gall bladder. But was it hers?

Years later I gave that some thought when I read that at the Perdue chicken processing plant in Delmarva the gizzards were reunited with the chicken, but that they weren't necessarily from that chicken. Until then, I had never given that any thought.

So, I suppose it was my grandmother's gall bladder, because I do remember hearing that she was "going under the knife." This was the phrase I heard adults tell other adults when they were going to have to go into the hospital and they were having surgery for something. And gall bladder surgery was quite common in the 1950s. It didn't matter what the surgery was however, it was always, "I'm going under the knife." This made the listener ask, if they still had the nerve, what was it that was being done? If it was something pertaining to the female reproductive anatomy. and the listener was male, it was answered that it was a "female" procedure. That was code for "none of your goddamn business that I'm losing my uterus and the ability to bear children any further."

The gall bladder looked long, somewhat green, and floated in the solution which didn't look too clear. It may as well have been some kind of plant in an aquarium for what it looked like. I dared a quick smell of the jar, because it was foreign, I guess. Something like a strong alcohol smell, but also something distinctive. Nothing you could imagine as cologne, or anything like that. Not very pleasant. I think as kids we're really cats--we just have to see what something is about.

I definitely didn't inhale.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inger Christensen, 73, Scandinavian Poet

I wrote Margalit Fox a one word review of her piece today on Inger Christensen.


I then felt that perhaps I eliminated too many words, so I added just a few.

I've met Margalit, so I added tongue-in-cheek that I didn't think I'd ever be able to see that bathroom chestnut...

Some come here to sit and think...

quite the same way ever again, now armed with that much knowledge of poetry structure.

Come to think of it, I haven't seen much at all of the above art form. I think people have either stopped carrying pens and knives, or I've ascended to better places. Maybe both.

But, in all seriousness, Margalit tells us more about poetry than I think would be possible, even in a piece about a now deceased practitioner.

And translated poetry makes you think even more. I mean, an alphabetical poem that starts with "apricot" in English can't, I think, start with the Danish word for apricot and still expect to have an "a" lead off, can it? So, it can't be a word-for-word translation, yet it loses nothing.

And this is what makes the more modern obit piece a work of literature, as well as news. Also learning.

My own continuous education stopped during the Johnson (Lyndon) administration. But, with a daily dose of well written obits, I've never left school.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

As the World Turns

The world changes. And it doesn't.

Loved hockey since the first game my father took me to sometime in the late 50s. Rangers vs. Canadians, Old Madison Square Garden, 8th Avenue. Learned then that hockey players do not have teeth. They've all been knocked out. Their teeth are in cups back at their lockers. Distinctly remember the picture of a smiling, nearly toothless Bobby Hull holding up the puck that he scored his 50th goal with--then a landmark achievement.

So, what do I read?

Senators' Ruutu Penalized 2 Games for Biting - NYT January 7, 2009

The game changes in many ways over the years. But you still have to have it in for the other guy.

Bull Riders Start Trading Their Hats for Helmets - NYT January 10, 2009

Don't know if the image of a guy on the back of a bucking bull with a lacrosse helmet on is going to help the fledgling Professional Bull Riders tour that they're trying to "beef" up.

I remember going to a few rodeos at the same Old Garden as a kid. They used to keep the dirt in vaults under the old West Side Highway.

I don't know at all what it's like to try and ride a bull. But I've been on a few LIRR commuter rides that seemed to be going 60 mph on square wheels. And since those rides lasted more than 8 seconds, I wonder if we earned any points on that tour.

The Ladies and The Cameramen

One of the enduring images I keep in my mind occurred when I was in my 20s. It was the early 1970s, and New York City was once again trying to clean up Times Square. In those days "clean up" meant to get rid of pornography and street walkers, two things Times Square had plenty of. In plain sight.

It was probably Mayor Lindsey, or someone who convinced the mayor, that taking pictures of street walkers in the area would embarrass them enough to keep them off the street. That, or the pictures would serve as some kind of evidence when it came to official proceedings.

Whatever was to be gained by it doesn’t really matter anymore. What it led to was tours of police leaving the West Side precinct with lightweight Polaroid cameras around their necks. With all that they carried on them, Polaroids were added. To me, there wasn’t a much funnier sight than seeing a squadron of blue coming down the station house steps outfitted as police paparazzi. I still laugh.

This all came back to me when the Eliot Spitzer story broke in early 2008 about his use of call girls. Prostitution is not the oldest profession because somebody backdated the options. And the story sells.

My chosen walk to work in Manhattan from Penn Station generally takes me along 26th Street, east from 7th Avenue, west at night. When you work, you go in one direction, then go home in the other one. I’ve been coming in and out of Manhattan for work now for over 40 years. Having done that kind of thing makes you a bit of the street furniture. You get used to seeing the same things.

Well, one night going home, it’s dark, but there appears to be at least a few people in jeans, carrying very professional looking cameras, and with some keen interest on a plain sidestreet doorway that leads into a very new high rise apartment house, "Luxury Rentals." It’s the kind of new apartment house that’s going up everywhere, especially that section of 6th Avenue. These buildings look very much alike, but are distinguished by the use of glass and windows that seem to make every unit have at least one corner view. They do look attractive.

Could not pin this flurry of presence on anything. Not until the next day.

We are a family of newspaper readers. I catch up to the Daily News I buy my wife each morning when I get home. So, that night, there’s the story, with pictures of the apartment that Eliot’s liaison lives in. Looks familiar. It should.

Morning walk east. Yes, definitely photographers. Equipment coming out of the trunk, long hair, scruffy, jeans, and NYP (New York Press) plates on the vehicle.

This gaggle of people is there to catch a glimpse, a shot of Ashley Dupree leaving her building. Or, going in, I guess. Walking home that night a somewhat different looking gaggle is assembled and I catch one asking the another how long have they been there. Calculating the length of time from the answer makes me realize that sleep is the only thing I’d like to be doing that long.

I really start to think to myself, "What do they expect to get a picture of? The woman dressed for work?" Don’t they realize that if they do spot her she’ll have a baseball cap on, sunglasses, jeans, and a baggy sweatshirt? She’ll look like them! (Okay, I do allow myself to think that if that sweatshirt had the fashion logo F C U K on it they might really have the shot of the decade, but do they really...)

I am sorely tempted, and actually stop and almost walk back to tell them that the last time I saw that many people trying to take pictures of a prostitute they were New York’s Finest and they were using Polaroids. And Lindsey was the mayor.