Monday, June 28, 2010


Otis is not a common name. You don't really hear it often unless you're actually close to someone with that name, or have something to do with Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Maybe cabaret singers sing the song with the title 'Miss Otis Regrets,' but on a whole, it's fairly obscure.

The family next door brought home a beagle puppy for their young daughters yesterday. Apparently, the name hadn't been decided on before getting home. After overhearing some choices, they landed on 'Otis,' before it was time to eat.

I caught up a bit with my newspapers yesterday and latched onto a WSJ story about Beth Raymer and a book she's written about what's been her life so far. The book is titled, Lay the Favorite and is a story about her association and experience, direct and indirect, with the raffish world of sports gamblers, strippers and boxers. Beth is young and wholesome looking, and apparently took good notes. Hollywood beckons.

Intrigued by the book, I searched for reviews. Found online reviews, and yes, they were helpful. Beth's book will land on the night table and compete for attention. I've wasted $16 on things of far less permanence than a book.

At one point in the book, Beth is apparently struggling and spends nights in a $17 motel (only her book is cheaper) with her dog named Otis.

I cannot believe the people next door already read the book.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Times Square

Once again, a picture in an obituary seems to resuscitate some memories.

Certainly one of the most famous photos of all time is the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, August 14, 1945. WWII is over.

Of course famous is propelled by its appearance in Life magazine, shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt, seen by millions, sold as a historic print, and taken on a momentous date in a crossroads location of an American city.

I’ve seen the photo many, many times. But only now have I paid enough attention to it to realize there are trolley tracks in the left section of the photo. Trolleys had long since stopped in running in NYC by 1945, but the remains of their tracks were still embedded in some streets. I remember seeing left-over tracks in the 1950s when I was a small boy. They took a while to completely disappear.

The photo seems to be taken in front of 1500 Broadway, the Paramount Theater building. It’s still there. Other buildings definitely are not.

The sailor hugging the left margin, walking a bit cross-legged might, have already been celebrating. Certainly can't blame him. Or, he's knocked a bit silly by watching a shipmate doing what he wished he'd been doing. It's a happy scene, no matter how you look at it.

The reason of course the photo was again in the paper was that the woman who is widely recognized as being the nurse in the photo has now passed away. Edith Shain, 91. The sailor has never been reasonably attributed to just one person. Several have said they were him.

There has never been the mystery over the photo like that surrounding the survival of the Czar's daughter, Anastasia. Alfred Eisenstaedt and the Life editors basically felt Edith certainly could be the nurse. There was no grand controversy. Thee was no fortune in a Swiss bank account.

And realistically there doesn't seem to be much more to it than that. And there isn't really. Except for me.

My mother was nurse in the Army and was born in 1918, like Edith. She didn't kiss a sailor that I was ever told, but I had to figure she kissed an Army Tech Sergeant, my father, before the war was over, because they were married before any armistice was reached.

They didn't met in Times Square, but rather in a Nashville hospital where my father had been shipped from Guam to recover from something. He was never too clear about what it was, but a Purple Heart was not involved. A pilonidal cyst (Jeep rider's disease) might have been. I've often wondered how you get sent from Guam to Tennessee to be admitted to an Army hospital, but that, like the certain identities of the sailor and the nurse, will remain a mystery.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Dead Beat

Someone I know forwarded a blogger site to me that was written by an obvious fan of obituaries. Birds of a feather would like to get to link each other, but it was found to be impossible to try and leave a comment. No matter, you can still get to the site.

The writer is obviously from across the pond. They make reference to The Dead Beat in their blog title and content. They reprint in its entirety what has to be a British obituary on "Count Gottfried von Bismarck, 44...a louche of an aristocrat with a history of being a heroin addict, hell-raising of homosexual orgies..." who has passed away.

This type of obituary is exactly what Ms. Marilyn Johnson devotes some time to acknowledging in her book. The blogger posted the piece in July 2007, under something that seems to be in construction under a Great Writing section.

Additional leads of other entertaining obituaries are also included in the posting. Perhaps because the posting dates from July 2007, a comment seems impossible to leave. If it were possible I would like to share how reading about Count Gottfried was as good as reading about

British eccentric
Sebastian Horsley, 47

written about in the Cape Cod Times just the other day.

When away, I always buy the local paper and do what I always do with the local paper when I'm home: I read the front page, then head to the obituaries. I've been reading the Cape Cod Times for many years now whenever we cross one of the bridges, as we did this weekend for a wedding. The paper's wholesomeness hasn't changed. It alerts the world to its residents' achievements in birth, death, engagements and weddings, military service and assignments.

They plainly advertise that funeral notices are free for all residents and former residents of the Cape and islands. Knowing what these things can cost, a quick relocation to a Cape town before the final event could save the estate thousands. Something to think about.

But the art form of obituaries it not reserved only for its own dearly departed. Apparently, it seems on a daily basis they bring in an out-of-town story about a non-resident who seems entertaining enough.

How else to explain the imported AP piece on Sebastian Horsley, who was "a self-styled dandy ...who found fame by having himself nailed to a cross in the Philippines." It apparently was a "bungled" crucifixion because something slipped. By all accounts it still counted, however.

People will sometimes describe themselves, or be described as having gotten "nailed" when they've had too much to drink. William Safire one Sunday memorably pointed out the metaphorical and literal slant to phrases. Sebastian was apparently literal about his.

There's no clear Cape Cod Times link to their story, but there are other links to the fellow. The Washington Post has a piece on his life. He was apparently well-known in his own circle. Despite only being 47, he didn't shuffle off without leaving the world his memoirs, "Dandy in the Underground," which described his adventures in drugs, gambling, alcoholism, prostitution and high fashion."

The Cape/AP piece goes on to note that Horsley often complained of being broke, "quipping that he'd invested most of his money on drugs and prostitutes--and squandered the rest."

At least he was not without his priorities.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


It might not be noticed by many, but there is a newspaper war going on in New York City.

Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the WSJ has taken hold and he's firmly taken aim at the NYT. He's introduced a Greater New York section, which is quite good, Add this to the sports, which is not too bad, and Rupert's created a general interest newspaper with pictures, while not fully descending into being a full-fledged tabloid. The winners are people who still like newspapers, and are willing to shell out literally a few bucks for something that usually gets left on the train.

That Mr. Murdoch loves newspapers is no secret. That he is less than a year away from 80 is also no secret. Love on earth doesn't last forever, but while it does, people like myself get to enjoy the addition of some writers and coverage that otherwise would be in blogosphere. Maybe.

Jason Gay on the sports page reminds me of an early Robert Lipsyte. It's like playing handball in the bathroom. You never really know where he's going to be coming from, but it's fun. He's lately pointed out how exciting Mayor Mike's pitch to LeBron James is and how exciting is was watching a vixen watch Met pitches in the form of Lady Gaga in full ga-ga. Bitch watches pitch.

Obituaries have always been of interest, but also anything that's a well-written story that favors a genuine character. Adding to this hybrid category one can add Ralph Gardner, Jr. Mr. Gardner the other day wrote a great piece on a fellow who cleans the few remaining stone water fountains in Central Park. Really cleans them. Stiff brush, Comet.

Turns out the fellow is hardly a kook, but rather someone who seems to be suffering from no mental illnesses. The profile is well worth reading. It's nice to read about someone who you can still have access to if you find them and strike up a conversation, which seems very likely.

Not to give away too much of the story, but Jon Mendes taught John Glenn how to fly combat jets during the Korean War. That's like finding someone 60 years after Kitty Hawk who taught the Wright brothers how to ride a bike.

Get the new WSJ.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mayor Mike

Seeing Mayor Mike with a basketball makes me think that perhaps looking at Sarah Jessica Parker really isn't so bad.

There's A Photograph Taken in New York

In handicapping thoroughbred horses there is something known as a ‘key race.’ A key race is defined as one that sees two or more of its finishers go on to win their next race. It’s a race that subsequent winners can be associated with. It has handicapping meaning because the quality of the finishers is so good that they go on to win other races. Somewhat like a graduating class that produces a president or senator and maybe a Nobel, Pulitzer, or Oscar winner. A lot came out of it. So, talent by association, any other horse that did well in a ‘key race’ might now do well when asked to run again. Look at the winners that were already produced.

The above picture has appeared in obituaries of I think at least three of the people either in the picture, or the one who took it. It has now most recently been freshly displayed because the man second from the left, Donald Windam, has now passed away at 89.

It’s an artistic, literary crowd enjoying a lunch or summer dinner at what looks like a completely charming place that likely no longer exists in Manhattan. Something in an E.B. White story. It looks like the Court of the Two Sisters a bit, in New Orleans. Outdoor dining. Certainly a private party, or a late lunch, because no one else is around other than the server. Someone knows the owner.

People in the photo might be recognizable to some, but just in case, left to right: ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, Donald Windham, artist Buffie Johnson, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. It is well composed, and is evocative of an indolent time when no one looks like they’re in too much of a hurry to do anything, just four years after the end of WWII. Renoir’s 'Luncheon of the Boating Party.'

Each person in the photo seems to be playing either to the camera, or to someone else in the group. It is after all, an artistic New York crowd. It is the kind of picture that I bet most of the people in it had their own copy of, displayed somewhere in their house or office.

The photo reminds me of one that was taken of my father, his uncle, another fellow from the flower market, John Lekas, and two women who have remained unknown to me. The photo was taken when the “new” flower shop was opened in 1956 and the group of five is posed inside by the front door. It’s a good black and white photo, taken by someone I’ve also never known. The photo hung in the front that shop until it closed in the 70s, then disappeared into some relative’s hands who had no business having it. Have never seen it since.

Inclusion in that Café Nicholson group photo seems to have conferred notoriety and longevity on those in it. Somewhat true of the flower shop photo.

One of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s early songs is titled ‘Come On, Come On’, about a photograph taken of her parents in Paris when they were just starting out. She points out that she’s now older than they are in the photo.

Something like a key race.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Best Description Today

There is found poetry everywhere.

One of the best descriptions I've read in a while, and one of the most interesting cellos I've ever seen was in today's WSJ, in a story on Wendy Sutter.

The piece, as written by Corinna Da Fonseca-Wollheim, describes one of the cellos found in Ms. Sutter's apartment.

One of the cases housed a treasure: the "Ex Vatican," a viola da gamba built by Nicolò Amati in 1620 and later adapted as a cello by Stradivari. For 100 years it was played by papal musicians in the Sistine Chapel. In the 19th century, a French violin maker painted two angels on the front, lending the instrument the look of a beauty queen with biker tattoos on her collarbones.

A beauty queen cello with biker tattoos! Corinna's life cannot have been sheltered.

I didn't notice the angels on the cello until I started reading the story. But there they are, unmistakably biker tattoos. They reminded me of the logo on the side of a fleet of Checker cabs in NYC years ago. The owner was Robert Scull, so the cabs had an angel surrounded by the words "Scull's Angels."

Whether the ride was heavenly or not surely depended on who was driving. But anyone who remembers Checker cabs remembers they were the best ones to be in, even if the driver was lost.