Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lessons from the Crypt and Other Places

I don't know if Bruce Weber is the Dean of The New York Times obituary writers, but he certainly is a workhorse. Bruce is somewhat new to the pages there, but hardly new to writing. He recently completed a book on major league umpires that is informative and entertaining, As They See 'Em. Until now, umpires have been overlooked as subject material.

The other day Bruce got the call from the bullpen twice. Two bylines about two very different people. One was about an AIDS doctor in Africa, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The other about a writer, C.D. B. Bryan, most famously the author of Friendly Fire.

Bruce fools the ump on what might have been an out of the strike zone fastball that gets called a strike anyway when he reports that Mr. Bryan, who was fond of relaxing with gab, smoke and spirits will be cremated in advance of a memorial service, with his remains stored in martini shakers until the event.

As good as the book The Dead Beat is, it is more about obituaries and the art of writing obituaries, than a handbook on the logistics of death and internment itself. We're therefore left to wonder just how many martini shakers might get filled with the remains of a 73 year old male? And, are they shaken, or stirred?

If there are any Alert Readers out there who might be able to authoritatively answer that question, I'd appreciate it. An answer in grams or pounds is acceptable. Conversion tables are standing by.

In other obituaries writings we learn that circus clowns have defined roles.

Stephen Miller, in the WSJ reports of the December 6 death of Michael Polakovs, 86, a legendary circus clown who was quite literally born into the circus.

Along with details of Mr. Polokovs's genetic bonds to clowns we learn that he was of the "auguste" clown faction, as opposed to a white-faced clown. Apparently, this branch of clowndom is the butt of all the silly things other clowns do to them. Like squirt seltzer at them, pull their pants down, throw pies at them, and other circus-like mayhem. Never knew there were assigned roles. I thought opera was the only place where that happened.

I know little, personally, about the opera. I've only seen a few, and liked only half of them. Hardly a regular. But one observation continually sticks in my mind when I recall what someone who is an opera fan said: "Did you ever notice that all the baritones are c--------s?"

(The word is one of George Carlin's seven: lots of c and k sounds.)

So, if there any Alert Readers out there who might he able to tell us if this is true or not, I'll share the answer.

If I can print it.

And finally, from the world of book reviews, we learn from the WSJ book review of Leslie Caron's autobiography, Thank Heaven, that Leslie's mother advised her on coming to America not to marry Mickey Rooney.

It's still not too late to make a mistake.

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