Friday, December 30, 2011

Carnegie Hall and the Coats

The first time I heard the story about the coats, Madison Square Garden, and the Six-Day Bicycle Race it came from a retired NYPD detective who spent some time each day hanging out in the family flower shop in the1960s. Barney Greene, a retired 3rd grade detective who started on the police force so long ago he told of the era when the patrolmen spent tours of duty that lasted days as they slept in the station house. They weren't called New York's Finest then, but perhaps New York's Most Fragrant.

Barney looked every bit a retired detective. Clean-shaven, pink faced, fedora, three piece suit, white shirt, tie, cuff links, collar pin, NYPD tie clasp, polished black shoes, and overcoat that he never seemed to take off. He was the house dick in the hotel lobby in any movie you ever saw, and that you'd now see on Turner Classic Movies. He lived in the neighborhood, was a bachelor whose brother played with my father as kids. He smoked cigarettes and didn't speak much, but did occasionally tell a story.

At some point in the 60s they renewed the Six-Day Bicycle Race at Madison Square Garden. This was the "old" Garden, on 8th Avenue and 50th Street. Six Day Bike Races were once very popular, but like a lot of things, disappeared.  The Six-Day Bike Race was six days of 24 hours of riding by bicycle teams from all over the world, competing on a banked, indoor track.  In today's lexicon I guess it would be billed as 24/6. Sundays were taken a little more religiously then.

Barney's taciturn story went that when people in the audience stood up and cheered during one of the special sprint portions of the race program, thieves would pop out of the old Garden's stairwells and scoop up the overcoats and minks left on the back railings and head for the exits, loaded down with whatever outerwear looked good enough to steal.

It was these special sprint portions of the program that drew a wider audience and a more flamboyant crowd that liked to bet on the outcomes. Typically mobsters and their girlfriends. Thus, better coats.

I was reminded of Barney's story when I read Jimmy Breslin's coat-grabbing account in "A Life, Damon Runyon."  The book is a biography of the reporter Damon Runyon and is filled with stories and characters from his era, described in Mr. Breslin's own descriptive, wise-cracking, sarcastic style that is as much a part of New York as Times Square.

Mr. Breslin, being a newspaperman himself, and a writer, describes the same scene, but in rich detail. Basically, the same thing happens, as it would repeat itself throughout the six day event. In Mr. Breslin's account, a coat with bullets in it goes accompanied out the exit with a new owner, a coat Damon Runyon was holding for someone.

The other night at intermission at Carnegie Hall I wandered toward the back of the hall on the main level and stood looking at the stage from the back railing. Just inside the railing I was leaning on was an inner railing that ran the width of the seats. Seats were empty for intermission, and several coats were draped over this inner railing. All within easy reach.

I could only think about the story from the flower shop and Jimmy Breslin's description. No one appeared from the shadows and made off with the coats. A colorful selection of North Face puff coats. Not a damn one was worth stealing.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Obits Annual 2012

When you're a media company as large and influential as the New York Times, you can set the standard. You lead, not follow.  There are fiscal years, calendar years, and NYT years.

Take one of their latest publications, "The Obits Annual 2012." It landed wrapped under our Christmas tree with my name on it. I unwrapped it.

Since we haven't yet crossed the divide into 2012, no one has yet passed away in what will be the new year.  Yet the Times uses 'Annual 2012' in their title for a book that contains selected obituaries that appeared in their newspaper from July 2011 back to August 2010. Thus, the Times "obituary year" is August 2010 through July 2011.

No problem really, once you absorb the ground rules. They do present a year, 12 months, and provide a controlled substance for obituary addicts like myself and others. They are providing a drug and a service.

The book is a fairly hefty paperback, arranged by months and trumpeted by some literary celebrity blurb, one of which is so forceful it makes its way onto the cover, above the title. There is a foreward by Pete Hamill, which might be seen as bad news for some of Mr. Hamill's enemies, since his foreward is not being published posthumously. He's not included as an obituary entry. The NYT obituary editor, William McDonald contributes an introduction.

Mr. Hamill leads off as sonorously as he talks: "The cause of death, or course, is always life." My own thoughts run that life, however short, is what always precedes death, and obituaries are about that life. Mr. McDonald gives us the numbers, and the nuts and bolts of the business of delivering the stories of the selected deceased. Neither of these sections are so long that you are tempted to skip them. They are good setups to what follows. Lots of reprinted obituaries, arranged chronologically, with pictures. Not bad at all.

Before I even saw the book, I longed for something like it. There have been compilations before, but it's the inclusion of the photos that add life to stories about someone's passing. I will forever remember when I read Robert McG. Thomas Jr's. 1998 obituary of Charles McCartney, 'The Goat Man,' whose obituary was accompanied by a picture of Mr. McCartney in front of the school bus he had lived in at one point, the day it appeared in the paper.

Reading obituaries was nothing new for me, and reading them in the Times was also nothing new, but reading that one that day, I got so excited I felt I had to tell others there was something they should read. I at least shared the joy with the guy who sat next to me at work. I can't say he became a convert, but he did enjoy what he read.

Robert McG. Thomas is no longer with us, himself getting a nice sendoff in January 2000. But nothing ended there. A lot more passings, and a lot more well-written, witty, ironic, informative pieces by very capable writers await us in the Annual 2012 edition.

Even if we haven't put the new calendar up yet.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sign of the Times

Yesterday's WSJ carried this picture of  France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel having a Euro discussion in sign language, made necessary because their vocal cords had given out after a year's worth of meetings and PowerPoint presentations.

Recovery is expected, that may also include the Euro.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speak Low and Get Ready for Speech Therapy

I'm not at all sure how these things happen, but yesterday, @obitsman Tweeted a link to a story from Scientific America, along with an audio clip, of what is being detected as a rapidly gaining practice among 20-something women to end their sentences with a low guttural vibration sound. This practice has a name, and it's called 'Vocal Fry.'

Of no surprise, it is believed young women are consciously, or unconsciously imitating patterns of speech of Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian. Imitating speech of celebrities is nothing new, and the current trend is seen as a pleasant replacement to the 'uptick' at the end of sentences. The audio clip gives examples of each, but frankly, I can't detect the 'Vocal Fry' sound. The uptick, yes.

Add to this today's WSJ's  'A Hed' piece on capturing a stray cow that came to be known as 'Ninja Cow,' and you have what may be evidence of species regression.

Ogden Nash famously penned two lines that went: "The cow is of the bovine ilk/One end is moo, the other milk." This seems to be the 'moo' story.

In its own right, the cow story is the usual great blend of a unique, funny story, with loads of WSJ puns. Words are played with more often than children.

Where the WSJ finds a reporter who really knows something about cows is unknown, but apparently they know where to look. The story evolves from the inability, over a period of time, to recapture the stray cow who is believed to have gotten loose from a cattle truck in front of the Plattsmouth, Nebraska City Hall.

One effort, unsuccessful, was to bring in another cow, Tasha, a show cow in hopes of luring the Ninja cow to a corral. The story goes that the show cow's handler played cow sounds from a laptop (the latest app in on its way) and got the show cow "to low." Ninja cow responded, but didn't fall completely for the trap, and trotted off.

"To low" apparently means: the action or act of lowing; a bovine animal's deep subdued resonant sound.

Bovine 'Vocal Fry' is not mentioned. But if I were a young female, I think I'd seek some advice about sounding too low.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The 16th Pole

My Saratoga buddy is Irish-American. Both his parents came over from the green isle many, many years ago. This explains his near perfect attendance at wakes. If obituaries and death notices are the Irish sports page, then there is usually a game to go to.

The most recent attendance was at a wake for the 86 year-old brother-in law of his brother-in-law, the fellow married to one of John's sisters. The deceased's name was Harry and he loved betting on the horses. He was genuinely known as 'Harry the Horse.'

He lived in New Jersey in the latter part of his life, but still liked to go to Aqueduct in Queens. He favored Aqueduct over any other track, but in the last two years of his life he favored breathing and rest more than anything, and generally went nowhere.

Harry was of Lebanese descent, who somehow married into an Irish-American family. How this occurred is unknown. There was a mixup somewhere.

My friend John reports it's not many a wake you come away from feeling better than when you went in, but the good feeling generated at Harry's wake was rejuvenating. Harry's son filled in the attending with on the cremation plans. Harry apparently wanted his ashes spread at Aqueduct. No surprise there, but not something encouraged by track management.

The son, perhaps being like his father, advanced the idea of approaching some trainers the family came to know and see who might be willing to distribute the ashes at the track. The son figured the 16th pole would be a great spot, since this is generally where his father's selections stopped running, if not sooner.

So Harry made to the finish line, but his ashes may not, unless there is a good tail wind. No problem. They'll likely figure in the exacta, or the trifecta, or even the superfecta.

Harry will not get shutout.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Left Bank

I don't know if I ever saw an obituary about a person that shows a picture, not of the deceased at any age, but rather what they left behind.

@Obitsman has Twittered the world about what turns out to be just such an obituary. It's an AP piece, appearing online in what looks like the Washington Post, about George Whitman, an American who lived in Paris and owned and operated a legendary bookstore on the Left Bank.

The picture of the bookstore is thoroughly charming, and the good news is that Mr. Whitman's daughter plans to keep it going. Good news indeed.

Anyone who lives to be 98 who was taken to China in 1925 at the age of 12 by his physics professor father on sabbatical probably really did snuggle with a beautiful Eskimo woman in Greenland for a period of time at some point. I don't know if Mr. Whitman was the last of the romantics, but his life does make you think there won't be many more like it.

It sounds like if he slowed down, he did it very gradually.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good British Fun

If the British dryly define good sex as the absence of something going wrong, they do seem to get rather excited about debate. Or heckling. Or heckling during a debate.

There seems to be a British tradition of not listening to the opposition, and instead zinging as many barbs as they can at the speaker, no matter who it is. Here, we call it standup comedy, but over there it passes for government. Sometimes things really are the same, they're just described differently.

Take a very recent picture of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, explaining to Parliament why European Union treaty changes were not signed by Britain. It is nothing short of fantastic. It's not DaVinci's 'Last Supper,' or Rembrandt's 'Dutch Masters,' but it is Britain's version of 'Saturday Night Live,' or, 'Having Fun at Work.'

Four members of the opposing party are seen simultaneously addressing, or heckling, the prime minister. The first guy on the left seems to be saying "Where's the beef?" (Wellington?) The next two are either telling Mr. Cameron his fly is open, or his mind is closed. Something like that. The woman pointing a directional with her left hand most certainly has been a teacher, because she seems to be showing David where the door is that bad boys should go through on the way to the headmaster's office. Why the two at the end seem to be restrained is unknown. They may have been given the wrong seats.

And the prime minister? He seems to be loving it.

Perhaps in Britain, good government is the absence of things going well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Petit

As admitted to recently, when someone passes away whose music I haven't heard of, I generally check out iTunes, listen to a sample, and then decide whether to download it and put it on my iPod. My iPod purchased list really does contain a good deal of music from dead singers and songwriters.

But when Lee Pockriss recently passed away and I learned he had written several songs that became hits in the 50s and 60s I had no need to purchase songs he had written. I already had them on CDs, notably 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.'

While I haven't yet transferred my CD version to the iPod, I have just downloaded the French version and transferred it to the iPod. Pourquoi, you might ask.

Aside from using iTunes for archival research into music of deceased artists, I also use it to flush out sound track music, from movies and television.  This generally works well, and leads me to some new artists that I would have never heard of or listened to. Perhaps they are dead, but that's not the point.

A recently viewed movie, with a very lively soundtrack, was 'A Good Year', the 2006 Russell Crowe movie that finds Russ shedding chain mail, guns, and boxing gloves while getting into a Peter Mayle story set in Southern France about a rich guy inheriting a chateau and vineyard.

It's actually a fun movie, propelled by the lively playlist in the sound track. The movie predates Marion Cotillard's best actress Oscar award for the 2007 movie 'La Vie en Rose'. There's visual candy for everyone in the movie. Landscapes and architecture as well.

The movie ends, for some reason, with the French version of 'Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.' There hasn't been a bikini in sight for the whole movie, but the arrangement is so lively with the French lyrics, that you get a whole new image of the girl embarrassed to come out of the locker room wearing the latest two piece.

The lyrics in French make it seem that the bikini is not only small (petit) it's barely there at all. It sounds even more alluring. Perhaps it's nearly transparent. The song became a hit in 1960, and a bikini then was really a two piece that revealed the navel. It hadn't yet gotten close to being dental floss.

I do remember when the song became a hit. I did have visions of perhaps seeing something really outstanding at the beach, but by then we weren't going to the beach anymore for some reason. It did cause excitement with the male adults as well, our neighbor and my father's best friend in the neighborhood making noise toward the radio that sounded something like "hubba, hubba, hubba." when the song was played. Sound as image.

Come to think of it, we used to go to the beach with that neighbor and his son, going in his truck to Rockaway Beach. Perhaps because of the song, the guys were no longer allowed to take their kids to the beach.

And they weren't even playing the French version in the states.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Good Defined

The British aren't the only witty people in the world. There are witty Americans, and witty everybody else, I'm sure. It's just that English is the only language I'm completely fluent in, so it seems I only get to recognize either American or British wit.

Who's wittier? Who knows? The British do seem to add a bit of scholarly tone to their wit, as if they're quoting it out of the Oxford Dictionary. Perhaps it's the accent, but I don't read with an accent.

Take the recent story that appears as a 'London Journal' piece in yesterday's NYT by Sarah Lyall. With a last name like that, she's got to be British. Bureau Chief, perhaps?

The headline itself is great, and so fits the story: 'A Nod to Willing Flesh Entangled in Dispiriting Words.' Four columns, with a picture of Barbara Windsor and Alexander Waugh in London in an baronial setting announcing the winner of the 'Bad Sex in Fiction Award'.

Ms. Lyall beats us to it and quickly poses the rhetorical question, "Why not a 'Good Sex in Fiction Award'?"  Turns out it's not a rhetorical question, and I don't know if it's being British that allows a columnist at The Independent, John Walsh, to provide a ready answer, but he has one.

"What on earth would you do that for? Good sex is like good driving--it's the absence of things going wrong, and it is an extraordinarily boring thing to write about."

If you really think about it, even a little bit, he's probably right.  A scholarly definition of good sex: no one got hurt, embarrassed, or otherwise suffered any traumatic mental anguish. Certainly it must happen a lot, because we're up to 7 billion people here on earth, and artificial insemination can't account for all those people.

So, the next time someone crows that, "the sex was good," "the sex was great," "the sex was fan-tastic!," there is absolutely no need to be the least bit envious, jealous, or sullen.

In Britain, it merely means they got in and out of the parking lot without causing a 12 car pileup.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Angela vs. Angelina

Angelina Jolie was in NYC the other day. You didn't have to be a fan, or a stalker to know this, because she was literally everywhere, photographed in more outfits in a single day than Leslie Stahl wears during one '60 Minutes' segment. Angela was here because of a movie about Bosnia she's directing. She's trying to become the next Robert Redford.

But the truly most photographed woman of all time outdoes her. Once again, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany hits the newspapers, along with her sidekick Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France.  Of course it's about money, and in this case the saving of the Euro. I think.

Once the Euro is saved, I'm wondering how many times Angela will get coverage. She's been photographed with Sarkozy more times than Roy Rogers with Triggger.

There are two things in life that seem to trump all: money and sex. The appearance of Angela Merkel in more publications than Angelina tells you who the ace in the suit is.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Viva Viagra

The man whose 1956 guitar licks to Howlin' Wolf's recording, Smokestack Lightin' that have recently come to be used in an ad for Viagra, Hubert Sumlin, has passed away at 80.

It's just another example of what you can learn from obituaries. Not really being up on blues guitar, I learned more than the Viagra tie-in. We know music of all kinds (Beatles, Beethoven, Carl Orff, Bob Seger) comes to be used in commercials. It's a second wind for someone who has usually already passed away.

But not Hubert. He just passed away, and the commercial is out there. The audience the product is aimed at might well remember Howlin' Jack, Hubert Sumlin and Smokestack Lightin'. Marketing to the demographic.

Imagine the durability of one's music that it's popular in 1956 and comes to be used in a 2011 commercial, and you're around for it.

What I usually do when I read of a musician who has passed is check out iTunes for a sampling of the song, or songs mentioned in the obituary. If I like what I hear, I download it and put it on my iPod. My iPod purchased playlist is filled with dead people. People I never heard of until they passed away and got written up. But I like the music.

When I got to iTunes I easily found Smokestack Lightin'. Hardly an obscure song. There was a premium price of $1.29 attached, and popularity bars that went nearly all the way to the right. Several people were there ahead of me, it seems.

I'm sure I've heard and seen the Viagra commercial that has Hubert playing. It's impossible to watch football of any kind without a Viagra commercial. I really don't remember the music, however. This weekend should fix that.

The only commercial for that type of product I do remember is the one where two people are so relaxed in twin outdoor bathtubs overlooking a meadow, with so little else on their minds that they haven't yet realized the house has blown away. The earth shook, and someone came and hauled away the debris. That's a powerful mood to be in.

A good friend is a singer is a Doo-Wop group called 'The Emotions'. They appear at several venues throughout the year but I always catch their act at a Catholic high school in Flushing in the annual Doo-Wop show. It's a great show, reasonably priced, and quite entertaining. Five to six acts perform for different durations around an intermission, with a live orchestra. A well produced show.

A few of the members of the 'The Emotions,' my friend included, have red, white and blue Medicare cards in their wallets. Nothing stands out there. Most of the audience does as well.

Soon into their act the leader is telling a joke about people in a bathtub and the music, played by the orchestra, is clearly Presley's 'Viva Las Vegas.' But the words have changed. It's now 'Viva Viagra.'

My friend tells me he was always concerned about doing the number at a Catholic high school with the monsignor standing by.  No problem. He's counting the house and happy to have them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Main Reading Room

Once a year, the New York Public Library, the grand pile of marble on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, is open for tours as a thank you to its supporters and contributors. 

This is not an especially select bunch, since everyone needs money, and a $40 contribution from someone like me gets myself and a guest in to join the other several thousand people who show up to sip wine, eat cookies, listen to carols from a military glee club, get their face painted, or picture taken with people dressed as lions, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, the Grinch, and others on stilts, who aren't there to change the light bulbs,

There really isn't anything about this open house that isn't open if you just pop-in on a given day and wander around yourself.  Except for the stacks. There is an opportunity to tour the stacks of books that are beneath the main reading room, that go down seven levels, and extend west under Bryant Park.

The tour doesn't really last long, but it is informative. Our tour guide promised us we'd have the "longer" tour, but afterwards I figured this must have meant we walked more than the other group at the other end.

The first level of stacks, and the only one we went through, was down one flight of stairs from the main reading room. It was nice to go down a flight of stairs in NYC and then not need a MetroCard to keep going.  We entered a very humid, low-ceilined place with fairly narrow aisles, with open metal-slated shelves that held nothing but books.  Not a best seller in sight. These were books for reference, filed in the library's own system by size, that users can request from above that someone will hopefully retrieve and deliver before the lights go out.

Millions of titles are described as being there. The sort is so densely packed that OAP-OAW could be one shelf, or several. The third letter is the break. There is a narrow slot in the floor that runs along the base of the shelves that allows a view of the floor below, almost as if you were looking back down a staircase. This allows ventilation between the levels.

Pipes and wires in steel baskets run overheard. There isn't much height, and there is a submarine feel because of the narrowness of the aisles. If I had bumped into a periscope I wouldn't have been at all surprised. I would just hope the sub was one of ours.

The titles that I passed were obscure. Thick volumes with "Dutch Law" on the spine. I imagined someone trying to figure out how to void the sale of Manhattan from the Indians. Or, maybe New Jersey was also part of the deal, but no one ever bothered to cross the river and claim it to be New York.  New Jersey's Governor Christie could be in for a real surprise. Other books passed were about "German Law" and Irish windows.

Miles of aisles, and I wasn't in Hope Depot. The stacks was described as going under Bryant Park to a western spot that could be entered or exited from a secret spot.  No secret was divulged.

I imagined following an aisle of books and maybe popping up near the bust of Gertrude Stein, or perhaps all the way to the corner of 40th and Sixth and tickling the toe of the nine foot tall statue of  Andrada, the hardly-known Brazilian who was considered a contributor to their independence and who loosely provides a tie-in that has never stuck, as Sixth Avenue is officially known as Avenue of the Americas.  (Get it, North and South America? It is hard.)

But the Main Reading room is the real show, but you gotta look up. All the way up. Over 50 feet. It's one of the highest ceilings you'll ever see that doesn't have a scoreboard attached.  The room itself is nearly a football field long, with the famous parquet, marquetry tables and brass shaded lamps that can intimately provide seating for 600 close, warm personal friends.

Say who you will about Donald Trump, and most will say plenty, he did once identify the library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the two best examples of surviving architecture in New York City.

I told my daughter who accompanied me that the Main Reading Room always reminded me of the passage Thomas Wolfe wrote about the old Pennsylvania Station that was torn down in 1964 for offices and Madison Square Garden.

There are still people who can tell you about the old Penn Station, but we are starting to get ready for co-pay gift cards from Mt. Sinai, or nursing homes, but we haven't completely disappeared. And to prove how things tie in my daughter told me that while she was waiting for me to get out of the freshly completed, unadorned men's room on the Amtrak level of the "new" Penn Station there was someone on their cell phone telling someone else that they were now at Penn Station, and it certainly wasn't Grand Central Terminal. Bring that guy back on the show.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) wrote of the long departed upper level of Penn Station:

"The station...was murmurous with the immense and distant sound of time. Few buildings are vast enough to hold the sound of time.

"Men came and went, they passed and vanished, all were moving through the moments of their lives...but the voice of time remained aloof and unperturbed, a drowsy and eternal murmur below the immense and distant roof."

You won't catch a train out of the library, but you can certainly give your imagination a ride.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Most Quoted

William Shakespeare is certainly a most quoted fellow. Sources in the Bible are probably the most quoted. Presidents, prime ministers, generals, all get quoted during and long after their stint on earth. But mid-20th century writers? Certainly not so much.

But then there's Raymond Chandler, famous mystery writer whose many works were turned into many movies. Hard-boiled, steel-plated characters whose lips never moved when they spoke. A turned up snarl was a smile.

How proud Mr. Chandler would be, and how pleased his many fans have to be, to realize he was quoted, paraphrased twice during the same week, in the same newspaper, by different reporters.  This was surely a toast at his grave, and it wasn't his birthday.

Maureen Dowd earlier in the week used a Chandler intelligence put-down on Rick Perry to convince us that Newt Gingrich was at least smarter than a man whose brains, if they were elastic, couldn't make suspenders for a parakeet. If negative campaigning were this good, we'd want elections all the time. It could have it's own channel. But maybe Comedy Central already is that.

One Chandler utterance is usually enough to keep you from forgetting, but two?  Later in the week is the weather story coming out of Southern California and the damage caused by the Santa Ana winds that blew in, from a different direction this time, and toppled trees, wrecked some buildings, and certainly jangled people's nerves.

Friday's NYT carries a first section story by Jennifer Medina that opens with a Chandler passage about such winds from a short story 'Red Wind.' Near the end of the piece the nature poetry in the story gives way to what we expect from a Chandler story: booze, fights, knives, and women.

He even had a way with the weather.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

To Wit

Say what you will about the NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, I find her at her best when she is requoting someone else. We get two benefits here. We get a great turn of phrase brought back to life that likely never made it into Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, that if it weren't for Ms. Dowd's memory we would never hear the phrase again, and we get it applied to a present day context that the original speaker could hardly have ever imagined.

Take today's screed on Newt Gingrich. Ms Dowd paraphrases Raymond Chandler to say that if brains were elastic, Rick Perry wouldn't have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet.

I'd love to know Chandler's context for that metaphor. One imagines he was referring to a thug, or an LAPD lieutenant. Perhaps both. I myself somewhat collect these kinds of gems when I encounter them in text.  I have preserved one from Chandler that goes to the effect that the playboy character Christopher Lavery was going back to the beach to lie in the sun and show the girls what they didn't necessarily have to go on missing.

Ms. Dowd once blended in someone's quote about their enmity toward Swifty Lazar, a Hollywood power agent who apparently was vertically challenged, when they told Swifty in some restaurant to go hang himself from a Bonsai tree.

One of my favorite ones gets a workout at this time of year and involves fruitcake. Russell Baker once declared that it was "the only food durable enough to become a family heirloom." My wife has a tendency to buy multiple packages of "goodies" then hides half of them in the kitchen or the pantry. When I have plowed my way through the visible ones I seek out the hidden ones.  This usually leads to some discussion that I wasn't supposed to eat whatever it was. It wasn't meant for me.  This of course leads me to leave a note on a half-consumed package of goodies that food was not meant to be a "family heirloom." She still hides food.

But, if points were being awarded, the first place award would go to Christopher Buckley for reminding us that Dorothy Parker, a Smith graduate, said of the girls at Bennington College that if they were laid end-to-end, she wouldn't be at all surprised.

I wonder if Ms. Dowd will ever get to use that one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


It was no surprise this morning to see the obituary for Stalin's daughter occupy three front page columns of today's NYT, below the fold.  When I heard yesterday that Lana Peters, the last name the daughter came to be known as, had passed away, I knew there'd be coverage.

The obituary didn't run anywhere nearly as long as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's, but then again, they were completely different people. But the obituary does what all obituaries do for someone who leaves us at an advanced age, in this case 85.  We get a long look back at their beginnings and a linkage to a world most of the current living can only read about.  The deceased goes so far back that a sepia toned family photo that's likely 75 years old hits the front page showing one of the most despised world leaders lifting and hugging his daughter.  And she came to live among us in the United States.

My own first awareness of her was when she came to the United states and took up residence, publishing an autobiography that became a best-seller in the late 1960s. Her name appeared in the paper with some regularity, and she lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I seem to remember reading of her in connection with writing mysteries as well. Her death was even a bit of a Russian mystery, with no consensus that she died November 22nd, or even several months ago in a remote area of Wisconsin.

A sad, ragged life is described. However, seeing a picture taken of her last year in Wisconsin where she is seen walking outdoors in what looks like a park with a cane, brings to mind a Russian Dr. Ruth Westheimer, moving kind of slow, but ready to tell you something.

Like most good obituaries, there is a final word from the subject. She said her father's name made her a political prisoner. And along that way she expressed a wish that her mother had married a carpenter.

Walt Disney's father was a carpenter who worked on the building of Chicago's World's Fair of 1893. Perhaps if the mother had made that union, she really would have been happier.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It finally happened. A solid proposal to pave NY Harbor, create land, connect to Governors Island, extend subways lines, build buildings, and in general create enough urban debate that would outlive Donald Trump, if not even all his kids.

Years ago I used to work in lower Manhattan from a West Side vantage point that gave me great southerly views, as well as western ones.  I could look up from my 28th floor cubicle and clearly see Governors Island, and with just a small turn to the right view the Hudson River, with New York and New Jersey landfill and piers already extending so far out into the water that I used to ask myself, "Why don't they just get it over with and pave the damn thing?"

Sure, connecting Manhattan's west side with New Jersey could present problems to the Circle Line cruises, but maybe they could go through a canal of sorts. Nothing would be impossible. Except perhaps computing sales tax.

Now comes the bold thought to build landfill that would connect lower Manhattan with Governors Island. The neighborhood could be called LoLo, for Lower, Lower, Manhattan.  This is a serious proposal from serious people who I suspect don't read the tabloids.

Lo Lo of course is shorthand for Lindsay Lohan. J Lo is shorthand for Jennifer Lopez, and depending on what they've done with their lives the night before always dictates what we hear about them the next day, whether we want to or not.

Naming any neighborhood lower anything is dangerous; naming it lower two times is real estate suicide. Years ago I read a story that there was a movement to call the territory just south of Upper Brookville, Lower Brookville. Predictably, people in that very affluent part of Nassau County commented that they weren't going to be known as living in 'lower' anything. The southern portion is just called Brookville, which is still pretty good, and doing better than most of us.

The proposal is so grand that by the time the first landfill was dumped no one would remember Lindsay Lohan. They probably wouldn't even remember Pledge weeks from public television.
So Lo Lo might gain traction, since it would be a new neighborhood, with no one already there getting a new name.

Will some decendents of the Manhattan Indians appear in Federal court and claim that the original deal didn't include building on top of the water? Will the Circle Line cruise charge more for having to go further to get around Manhattan? Will a bridge be named after a mayor?

Some things in life are certain.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Inquest is Scheduled

People who pass away in Britain are no less dead than they are here, but they are remembered quite differently.

Take the headline and story that appears today in the Manchester Evening News, tweeted by @Obitsman, from a Factiva feed.

Happy-go-lucky dad discovered dead at house
18 November 2011

TRIBUTES have been paid to a man who has been found dead.

The body of Alan Heaney, 37, was discovered at a house he had been staying at on Grimshaw Street, Accrington, last month.

Police said they were treating the death as ‘unexplained’ and said they were awaiting toxicology results. A post-mortem examination carried out to determine the cause of his death has proved inconclusive.

Shocked family and friends have paid tribute [to] him calling him a ‘happy-go-lucky guy’. His mum Mary, 62, from Belfast, said: “I still haven’t got over it and the shock of not knowing how he died. You never expect your son to go before you. The last words he said to me were ‘I love you loads mum’. Normally we go over each year at Christmas to visit him but we won’t travel this year. It’s too heartbreaking.”

Joiner Alan was born in Belfast and moved to Accrington 15 years ago with his uncle Billy and worked as a labourer and joiner. He had two daughters, Shannon, 14, and Courtney, 11, with former partner Sharon Fox.

Sharon, 38, of Edleston Street, Accrington, said: “I was very shocked when I found out and the children were heartbroken. “He was my first love. He was a sweet guy and was very charming and had the gift of the gab. He would always try to help his friends and if he couldn’t he’d find someone who could.”

His uncle, Billy Allison, 50, of Cartmel Avenue, Accrington, said: “He was a happy-go-lucky guy and was kind to everybody. He was a caring family man who loved his two daughters.”

He leaves parents Mary and Paul, brothers Stanley and Gary, ex-partner Sharon and their daughters Shannon and Courtney, uncle Billy and cousin Trisha and many friends.

A funeral service and cremation was held on Friday, October 28 at Accrington Crematorium followed by a service in Belfast.

An inquest into his death will be carried out in January.

‘CHARMING’... Alan Heaney, right, was found in the house in Grimshaw Street
[photo not available]
by Jonathan Macpherson
Greater Manchester Newspapers Limited

This tells us several things about the British.

Despite the fact that Alan's funeral service and cremation were at the end of last month, he is still being written about three weeks afterward. His blue-collar occupation, 'joiner,' is noted with respect. It reminds me of my NYC birth certificate that has three occupations pre-printed on the form in the spot for the father's occupation: "spinner, sawyer, bookkeeper, etc." It also allowed a spot for something else to be filled in.

There must be budget cuts in Manchester. Inquests seem to happen a good deal faster in a Miss Marple episode.


Advice to someone who has just turned 40:

Don't let anyone tell you that being 40 is something special, something to worry about, or something to be happy about.

What's really special is being over 60 and getting the government to send you money each month. Direct deposit.

Art Buchwald claimed that being on Medicare was easy. Getting paid by Medicare was the hard part.

When the GIANT sends you money, you will have won. (At least for awhile.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Munchkins Do Lunch

I don't know if the recently deceased Munchkin Karl Slover told the story, or it was another Munchkin, but apparently one time while making the 'Wizard of Oz' the lunch break, or break, got a little extended and all the Munchkins came back to the set loaded.

A scene of utter chaos was described--probably over nearly a 100 little people running around after each other, laughing, shouting, grabbing ass, tripping and bumping into things.  A sound stage of pint-sized people who had too much of a fifth, or a quart.  A shame no YouTube then.

The story in its own way reminds me of a woman who was the General Counsel where I once worked. She was short, but not quite in the Munchkin category. Still, it was hard to tell if she was sitting down, or standing up. 

And like many executives, she had to give presentations. Seated (I'm sure of this), she would drone on so that I thought she would be quite useful in getting a roomful of caffeinated kindergartners to slow down and take a nap.

After a few of her presentations I later thought this might be dangerous. She could induce sleep so soundly that the EMTs would probably be called to the school for fear that the kids had been gassed. They'd have absolutely no respiration.

She was the opposite of an inebriated Munchkin. She was the anesthetized Munchkin.

Friday, November 11, 2011


The unthinkable has happened.  Olli Rehn, of the European Union has managed to steal limelight from Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and appears today on the first page of the Business Day section in the NYT. Big centered photo, above the fold.

I have to wonder if it had anything to do with the quote that is featured as part of the caption.  Mr. Rehn is pictured in front of a projected graph depicting either something financially Europeon, or the fluctuating Las Vegas line on Saturday's Penn State-Nebraska football game.

Mr. Rehn inserts a Latin phrase, 'sine qua non" to describe what is needed for restoring confidence in the Italian economy.  Gracie Allen once quite famously ran for president against FDR on the Surprise Party ticket. Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is just running on Party.

I just missed Latin. My friend George, who lived upstairs and was just a little bit older (think Wally and Beaver) had to take Latin in Catholic school. Not that I was destined for Catholic school, but I always considered myself lucky that declining verbs was not going to ever be something I would be concerned with.

Of course in those days, Catholic masses were said in Latin, just like Greek masses were said in Greek.  Give me Greek any day. It wasn't all Greek to me.

No one other than Bill Buckley and Catholic priests ever really spoke Latin, but people were always inserting phrases like Mr. Rehn's into their conversation. You could hear the italics in their voices. 'Quid pro quo' was another.

I always got a kick out of Robert Stack when he and the other guys in bad suits on "The Untoucables" tried to figure out the 'M.O.' When I learned it stood for 'modus operendi' I felt probably as good as my friend George when he got a passing grade on a Friday Latin test.

Tempus fugit, caveat emptor, e pluribus unun, no problemo. But I do confess, I did have to look up 'sine qua non.'  In a BIG dictionary I found it means: 'without which not.' So, what Mr. Behn was saying is that restoring confidence in the Italian economy won't occur without 'structual changes' in the European Union. 

Mr. Berlusconi's hold on the top political office in Italy might well be as tenuous as it is because he might have been out at the Party and not taking Latin.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Smokin' Joe

The last time I saw Joe Frazier he didn't look good.  My friend and I saw him at an autograph session outside the jockeys' silk room at Saratoga this past August.  He wasn't promoting a book, just signing autographs of anything anyone presented him with. The appearance had been announced at the track during the week that he would be there on Friday.  Some people had boxing gloves, track programs, or just plain paper.

There was decent line that did move. My friend and I didn't get on it, but we did angle around to take a good look at Joe.  He was seated, dressed quite snappy, but didn't look well at all. He looked a little wane. Someone was standing quite close by, seeming to be lending physical, as well as perhaps mental support.

When I looked at the line and who was on it I quipped to my friend that no one who was born after 1960 should be on it. It had been 40 years since the first Ali-Frazier fight, that Smokin' Joe won with a unanimous 15 round decision over Muhammad Ali.  Before the fight both were undefeated heavyweight champions. Never before had undefeated heavyweight champs fought each other. It was a fight for the ages.

As Dave Anderson leads off today, Frazier and Ali, Ali and Frazier are two names that are forever linked.  Even that day at Saratoga, they were linked. Without Ali anywhere in sight, the second race was named the 'Ali vs. Frazier 40th Anniversary Race.'  This, despite the fact that the fight took place in March 1971 and it was now August. Someone knew something was up.

I was at the first Ali-Frazier fight. AT the fight, in Madison Square Garden, last row of the blue seats with my father and another friend; $20 tickets that I had gotten IN THE MAIL when the fight was announced and tickets went on sale. Imagine that: face value tickets for that fight, in the mail.

The excitement was more than electric. It was Biblical. As Johnny Addie, the ring announcer intoned at the start, EVERYONE was there. Frank Sinatra in a tux was taking pictures from the ring apron with his Nikon for Life magazine. Burt Lancaster, also in a tux, was nearby. Mayor Lindsay was several rows back. Someone must have still been mad at him for flubbing the city's response to the 1969 snowstorm. Mayors continue to get embarrassed by snow. Lorne Greene could be seen through the compact binoculars we had brought, as well as Colonel Sanders, dressed just like he was on the bucket. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was there.

The next day the paper reported that two people suffered fatal heart attacks at the fight. The build up had been tremendous. It was going on for weeks. The fight that you had to be at, or see in a theater in what was then the nascent pay-per-view days. It wasn't going to be on television a week later. And it wasn't.

Two undefeated heavyweight champions squaring off. $2.5 million dollars apiece. Ali would later exclaim to Joe that they got them cheap. Maybe they did.  The referee, Arthur Mercante, Sr. would later comment that he saw some of the best punches he had ever seen that night, from both fighters.

It was my first fight. I still have several of the $1.50 programs I bought that night.  The results of the preliminaries are unknown to me, I do remember the NYC Sanitation worker from the Bronx in a four rounder, John Clohesy, who would a few years later die of cancer himself.

Ali's brother Rahman Ali was also on the card in a six rounder. Jimmy Elder in a six rounder; Willie (The Worm) Monroe in a four rounder. Ken Norton was on the card in a six rounder. I remember nothing of Ken Norton in 1971, and why would anyone? He would of course become a nemesis for Ali, breaking his jaw in one fight, but his foot-in-the bucket style went unnoticed, uncommented on.

After that fight, I became a BIG boxing fan. Saw many fights at the Garden, Felt Forum, many on pay-per-view, and many at Sunnyside Garden, a local blood pit hard by the elevated Flushing train in Sunnyside Queens, now long gone to a Wendy's and flame broiled burgers.

Seeing Joe at Saratoga was sad, not just for the expired 40 years, but for the diminshment of strength, and invincibility, his and mine.

But before the end, there was the fury, and it was something to see.  There was the night at the Garden when he was tuning up for an Ali fight that he fought Jerry Quarry, a durable heavyweight who took as much as he gave, but usually ended up bleeding so much from cuts that his fights were usually stopped.

That night was no different. Frazier was thoroughly dominating a very good fighter. He was sharp. But almost a Christmas ghost was also in the ring with them. Joe Louis was the referee. THE Joe Louis. But that Joe was glazed-over, never really seeming to be with it. As Quarry was becoming a side of beef that Joe used to chop up in a Philly slaughter house, he didn't react to the danger Quarry was being put in.  Quarry's corner threw the towel in toward a befuddled Joe Louis.  It was over for Quarry. And it was over for Joe Louis. Smokin' Joe went on to meet further opponents.

Dave Anderson today tells you he liked Joe Frazier over Ali as a boxer, and a man. The boxer part is the one I have an opinion on, and I would agree. Joe always came in ready. In shape. Not distracted by his entourage, not needing rope-a-dope. Not giving a flurry of punches 15 seconds before the end of a lackadaisical round in the hope of fooling the judges that the prior 2 minutes and 45 seconds were just like that as well.

Joe was ready that day at Saratoga. He couldn't have been feeling well. He knew more than was publicly known. But he was in that winners' circle, presenting a trophy for the Ali vs. Frazier 40th Anniversary race, shaking his fist in the air. So what if it was holding a cane.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Daisy Ad

Until I read the 2008 obituary for Tony Schwartz, the man credited with creating one of the most powerful political ads of all time, I had never seen the TV ' Daisy' ad.  It apparently was only shown once, prime time, in 1964, and was a political ad for Lyndon Johnson when he was running against Barry Goldwater.

Although I was in high school at the time, I only watched some late night television.  I don't remember anyone at school talking about it, and no one in my family mentioned it.  Sentiment in New York ran heavy against Goldwater. I was aware of these feeling, but didn't really have any of my own.  I still will never forget, however, that a student with a strong streak in chemistry walked around with their own political sticker that went: AuH2O = H2S.  This is chemistry shorthand meaning 'Goldwater' and that he stinks, because he is hydrogen sulfide gas (smell of rotten eggs).  The kid left off the up arrow at the end though, signifying creation of a gas. It was that kind of high school.

When I recently read Steve Jobs's obituary, the singular appearance of the Orwellian ad for Apple computers that ran during the 1984 Super Bowl was mentioned.  And it turns out Ridley Scott ('Aliens') gained early fame for directing it.

But back to Daisy. Without mentioning Goldwater's name, the ad basically pointed out to Americans the danger of voting for Mr. Goldwater, a man who had publicly stated that nuclear warfare, on a small scale, could help gain objectives.  Goldwater was significantly behind in the polls at the time, but didn't slip any further after the ad. He did lose the election by a wide margin, however.

A lot of words and years have rolled by since 1964.  Campaigns and presidents have come and gone, and are still coming.  Now it seems there is even a book about the ad and the political era.

'Daily Petals and Mushroom Clouds,' by Robert Mann either refreshes your memory, or tells you about something you never heard of.  It well may have been the dawn of a political ad that entered the consciousness and sub-consciousness. Others have followed.

Lyndon Johnson won, escalated the war in Viet Nam, and became a very unpopular president, despite many other solid achievements.  He chose not to run to 1968.  A rare event, to have a sitting president choose not to run.

Nuclear weapons have still never been used, by anyone, on a small or large scale. But politicians are people, and sometimes very smart people.

I will never, ever forget Barry Goldwater appearing on the 'Tonight' show with Johnny Carson in 1966, or so, laughing at himself and telling the audience that he never realized how unpopular a president he would have been until President Johnson adopted his policies.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Nation's Loss

It's not often you get to read a British and American obituary on the same person. But such an opportunity presented itself today when @obitsman tweeted about a beloved British TV personality and professional eccentric and the NYT wrote about the same subject, Sir Jimmy Sevile, who passed away at 84.

The NYT obituary is by Margalit Fox, who gives Sir. Savile the full monty. He gets three columns, a photo with Prince Charles and a recap of his life that reads like it's still going on.  It's an entertaining read, even if you never heard of the old boy.

But it's the British obituary that gives you a sense that Great Britain has suffered a great loss.  Without seeing the print edition it's not possible to know if this was Page 1 news, above or below the fold, but you get a sense it should be Page 1. The online version is accompanied by over a hundred comments, that are still pouring in. Sir Jimmy is surely missed.

The British obit treats us to their special way of talking and writing: Jimmy was an 'adorment.' His speech was 'garrulous' through a 'gurning' visage.  He was a character. He was parts of our:

Captain Kangaroo
Dick Clark
Buffalo Bob
Jerry Lewis
Professor Irwin Corey
Henny Youngman
John Gotti, Jr.
Mr. Wizard
Mr. Rogers
Earl Schieb
Paul Popiel

As Ms Fox notes at the close of her piece, it's absolutely no wonder his body will be in repose in a  in a local hotel "in the manner of a dead monarch lying in state," as the Daily Mail of London reports.

You wonder if British government offices will be open. Or, at least how will alternate side parking be affected?

The Couple of the Year

They are easily the most famous couple on earth. No, not the tacky Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, but the international duo of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. If there was still Vaudeville, they'd always get top billing.

They are, once again, shown together on the front page of today's WSJ. They have made more editions of more papers than there were guest hosts on the Johnny Carson show years ago.

Dick Schapp, the sportswriter and broadcaster, once quite famously got himself in deepest do-do when he told a TV audience that the thoroughbreds Riva Ridge and Secretariat were the most famous stablemates since Mary and Joseph.  Dick paid for that one, but he did become immortal.

So, maybe Angela and Nick can't quite compare to Dick's metaphor, but there are easily this generation's Euro version of Spencer Tracy and and Katherine Hepburn.

Whether they get to save the Euro and bring the Greeks on board or not, they are the best act since Sonny and Cher.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Study Of

Many, many years ago the high school biology teacher, who was also our home room teacher, Mrs. Demas, zeroed in on me during the second day of class and asked me to explain the entomology of the word 'biology'.  I knew having a Greek name myself, and her having a Greek name, it was going to be a very long term if I didn't this one right. 

I did. 'Bio', life; 'ology', study of. All these science disciplines have branches. But it wasn't until the other day when I read an 'A-Head' WSJ piece about 'hominology', a still-to-be recognized branch of biology that studies hairy, upright, walking creatures, that I realized I might be able to add something to scientific knowledge.

There are no authenticated photos of these animals. In different parts of the world the creatures go by different names and have different looks. The creature is generally known to us as the Abominable Snowman, also being called, Sasquatch, Bigfoot and Yeti.

Imagine, a whole scientific discipline devoted to studying the likes of Donald Trump, who goes around town like Major Strasser in Cacablanca and demands to see people's papers.

Who knew?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Print Trumps Digital

You're going to have to buy the paper itself, or crane your neck at a newsstand to see today's front page NYT picture of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel in her blue velour track suit chewing on a pencil at a meeting in Brussels about saving the Euro.

The picture is most prominently placed. Top line, perfectly centered, four columns wide. Story to the right. Angela is easily the most thoughtful looking person on earth. She might be saving the Euro, but she also might be doing any number of other things.

Figuring out NFL point spreads.
Who to call in from the bullpen.
Where to send the ball in after the timeout in NCAA Division I Women' basketball championship game.
Interrogating a suspect in place of Helen Mirren on 'Prime Suspect'.
Telling Frankie No at Rao's that her table is ready.
Considering an exacta bet at a study carrel during the Breeders' Cup.
Listening to budget cut proposals at a city council meeting regarding libraries.
As a judge, taking no truck with a showboating defense attorney.

She is easily the most important and thoughtful person on earth.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Red On Red

'Red On Red' is the title of the latest book by Edward Conlon, an active duty NYC detective who seems as at home with words as he might with police procedures. The book was published in April and is his second, after 'Blue Blood' of a few years ago.

'Red On Red' is a novel that is filled with delighfully simple poetic descriptions of people and places in NYC. My thoughts were to start to compile a list by highlighting the really good ones that I come across, but there are so many that I feel I would deface the book for someone else, even though I did buy it for myself.  The book is a looked-forward-to page turner before I reset the 3-way bulb to zero and hit the sheets.  Four hundred plus pages will last me a while 

My surprise is that I haven't read a single book review.  I've yet to come across a passage with a car chase, gunfire, or doughnuts.  And I'm still entertained.  I like to think if the sequence of time were different, Frank McCourt would haul the book into his creative writing class at Stuyvesant High School and show the students what writing can be like. 

Given my own familiarity with NYC, and the fact that the story takes place in NYC, I see everything that is described.  And I'm always sensitive to mistakes, typos, and bad facts, even though it's a novel.  None.  In fact, the book straightened out my confusion over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and which one involved bread and bridges.  A Catholic cop cleared it up.

Not all books hew so well to facts and descriptions. Someone in the publishing business fairly recently told an attentive room of people that there is no fact checking done in publishing. If a writer wants fact checking, they have to pay for it themselves. 

This does seem like misplaced trust. It makes you wonder about anything Dick Cheney has written.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just Win, Baby, Win

There's that word again: "iconoclast," being attached to the recently departed Al Davis.

You can start with the obituary that appeared in the NYT by Bruce Weber (pre-written it would seem since Bruce is peddling cross-country on a bike heading toward NY and hopefully kudos from Mayor Mike for shrinking his carbon footprint).

You will find words like "controversial," "renegade," "combative," and "irascible" in the piece.  A quote from Don Schula who called him "devious," and one from Dan Rooney that was much stronger: "a lying creep."

The sportswriter Dave Anderson always kept the adjective "sinister" embedded with nice words so often that Mr. Davis asked Mr. Anderson why did he always use the word "sinister."  Al complained that didn't Dave know his mother read the Times? But he didn't mind the word.

All you need to know about Al Davis can be gleaned from his formative surroundings. Born on the Fourth of July (like George Steinbrenner), 1929 and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School on Flatbush Avenue, in Brooklyn

Al may have found fame, notoriety and fortune on the West Coast, but the East Coast never left him.  He was a Lord of Flatbush, all about egg creams, potato knishes, Coney Island franks and of course leather jackets.  He was Brando on a chopper, not Brando in his ripped underwear.  Tooth picks were meant to be chewed. Maybe even swallowed. 

His favorite symbol might well have been what he saw under his mom's kitchen sink: bottles with a skull and cross bones, signifying poison.  No safety caps in that era.

The theatrical producer Billy Rose was so disliked that when he died it was said no one came to the funeral, there was only the hearse.  A one car funeral.  As short as you can get. Not so for Al. All the adjectives seemed to fit, and he didn't seem to mind.  He induced heart attacks.

When there were court cases surrounding his proposed movement of the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles, the owner of the San Diego Chargers, Eugene Klein, gave testimony against approving the move.  Klein was so infuriated with Davis his anger from the witness box induced a heart attack on the spot. 

Eugene Klein survived, eventually sold the Chargers and became one of the most successful thoroughbred race horse owners of all time, winning multiple Breeders' Cup races and Eclipse awards.  He loved telling people how happy he was owning horses, who didn't demand contracts and negotiations. He recommended horses to anyone who wanted to own something to do with sports.

Owning horses didn't put you in a league with Al Davis.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Eating Disorder

One wouldn't think a pumpkin could mimic a human eating disorder, but there's no other way to describe pumpkins that overeat, then burst. The bulimic pumpkin. Charlie Brown's life can be fraught with enough peril without having a pumpkin go heaving on him in The Great Pumpkin Patch.

The story is really about people who grow outsized pumpkins with the goal of being the first to nurture one to the One Ton mark--2,000 pounds. They're apparently getting close to the gardening version of the sub four-minute mile.

Obsessive gardeners armed with champion seeds, lakes of enriched water, hormones, and plant surgery are well on their way to making something that's big, even bigger. Bragging rights, exclusive leather jackets, and a little prize money are all the incentives these people need to keep at it.

There are claims by some gardeners that they can even hear the pumkins grow.  And if true, that some of these planted mammouths can gain 50 pounds in a day, then who's to say the unaided ear might not hear something subdividing underneath that orange skin?  Sci-Fi week on Turner Movie Classics.

No weight loss programs for these fruits. Just the opposite: more is better. But, as with most things in life, there's nothing that can't be overdone.

One grower remembers coming back from church to find that his biggest pumpkin had exploded under the force of its own growth.

"There was a footlong crack through the rind. It just blew up."

What would Charlie Brown do?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

History Online

What on line meant just before Prohibition was enacted.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The One and Only

This photo in today's online edition of the NYT should help you with all you need to know about Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and the rest of the world.

She is never in the dark.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ten Left, Thirty-two Right Past Zero...

If you don't learn something everyday, you didn't wake up.

Take today's story in the NYT about a building that is on the southwest corner of 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue. It's been there forever, but only qualifies as a 60 year old modern building.  And since it doesn't look like crumbled aluminum foil it has to be considered an old modern building that somehow achieved landmark status as long ago as 1997.

I never knew it had become a landmark building.  I did know about it being a bank because of the vault that is clearly visible from Fifth Avenue.  I always thought showing the vault in so visible a spot made sense. It reminded me of what we used to do when we locked up the family flower shop at night.

Since the cash register was clearly visible from the street, and there were no gates on the windows in those days, and we didn't want anyone to think that vast riches awaited if only they broke the glass and wandered in and pulled out fistfuls of cash, we used to empty the cash drawer, leave it visibly open, and leave the bill holders in the up position, like an open drawbridge.  We never had a break-in.

When I pass this building I might now think about it having become a landmark building and a new source of New York-style controversy. However, I will definitely always remember the picture that appeared in a newspaper years and years ago that showed the gym-locker combination numbers that someone drew on the dusty outside window.

Even given that, I don't remember ever reading about a break-in.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just Because They're Now Dead...

Finally.  Someone has passed away who left behind family who likely loved him, neutral strangers, and an unknown number who probably still hate him.

Douglas LaChance, a multi-term past president of the newspaper deliverers' union who spent stints in prison on racketeering and extortion convictions, as well as parole violations for testing positive for cocaine, has passed away at 69.

Douglas Martin's obituary in today's New York Times reached all levels of survivors.  Mr Martin includes a 1992 quote of praise from the Times's publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, as well as a belief that there might still be some out there who are surviving enemies. 

Certainly Mr. LaChance himself acknowledged there might be a few people who could be considered enemies when he was once asked by the police if he had any enemies and he replied that the Manhattan phone book was a good place to start.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Years and years ago in our prior house we were having the bathroom redone.  Completely.  To accomplish this we were using our next-door neighbor and his brother who were general contractors and had done prior, good work for us.

Al and Emilio were from Italy, but had been in this country quite a while. They spoke English with heavy Italian accents, but were understandable.  They were two of the best workers you could ever find: each strong as an ox who put in a full day's work.  Doing virtually anything. Even weekends, if needed.

They did many things using simple brute strength.  To break up old sidewalk they pounded away with heavy sledgehammers and iron poles. No pneumatic drills for them.  The general contractor bit was their sideline.  When there was real work, they were bricklayers.

They shoveled out an extension to our cellar by hand.  Cubic yards and yards of dirt came flying up into the driveway, to later be shoveled into a dumpster.  They resupported the sagging porch with a steel I-beam.  There didn't seem to be anything they couldn't do, and do well.

So when we were having the bathroom redone we opted for a whirlpool tub.  A porcelain, cast iron tub that weighed 450 pounds. Empty. Dead weight.

Had Al and Emilio ever installed a whirlpool tub? Could they even get it in the first floor bathroom? Good questions.  All answered.  Not all yes.

The tub was uncrated and Al and Emilio devised something with straps and yokes on their shoulders and hauled the tub up a short flight of front steps, through the living room, down the hall, and gently placed it in its new home.  Perfectly. Nothing was damaged.

I always said they looked like a pair of oxen inching their way along through a very heavy task. In this case, one had the front and one had the back, and they grunted and seemed to be talking to one another, perhaps in Italian.

Several times we heard someone say "Gee."  We also heard someone get very annoyed and start cursing in Italian.  But then "Gee" came through again, and other sounds that I can't remember.

I always love telling the story when I talk about these brothers and how much work they did and how strong they were.  I also love buying the local newspaper whenever I'm away on vacation.

So, imagine the memories that got resuscitated when I bought the Glen Falls Post-Star and read one of the day's stories on the Washington County Fair.  This one was about teams of oxen and the commands that are used to direct them.

Gee: Go right. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One in A Million

There's an expression that goes: "you're one in a million."  This is usually meant as a compliment because your pleasant virtues or talents are considered so unique that they're hardly shared by others.

But, "one in a million," however rare, does give the world 2,000 other people who are just like you if you consider you're being measured from the 2 billion person population of China.  It's just math at that point.

@Obitsman aside from writing obituaries for a major newspaper scans countless newspapers online in search of a story.  Yesterday he gave the world a Tweet on someone in England who grew a particularly large onion--a world record in fact.  There's a world record for everything, and none of this should surprise anyone.

The fact that the man looks like Frank Perdue and appears to be cradling a strange chicken that's all breast proves the mathematical "unique" ratio of things around the world.

Frank and Peter are just part of "one in a million."

Friday, September 16, 2011


September 11, 2001
September 16, 2002
Forever linked by bad people.

The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The World's Finances

Globally, financially, things are probably not good again.  Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is being seen in the news a lot, and this time not with the French guy.

In today's NYT photo on the first page of the second section, she is seen with Finland's Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.  (The picture above is prior to the meeting with Mr. Katainen.)

Her schedule must have worn the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, out.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Containers

As a whole, not many of us truly contribute anything that changes the world in any way.  This doesn't mean that we should give up as soon as it's apparent that whatever we're doing is really only going to prove the certainty of the adage: death and taxes.  Some people might miss us for a while, but we're not likely to crack the obituary plane and get a send-off that alerts the living that what we did in life "revolutionized" something.

Even those that do accomplish something that when added up is worth noticing are not always aware at the time that what they're doing is going to change anything other than their finances.  That's why it's best not to get discouraged.  Our lack of global contribution may not be apparent until it's over.  You just never know.

Take the story of Keith Tantlinger who recently passed away.  Hardware, basically is what he contributed, but what it allowed did change things.  Greatly.

Shipping containers could be stacked because of what he devised, and thus, ships could be filled with them, and the containers filled with cargo.  Like the barrels that fit inside of the barrels that you might have played with as a kid, containerized shipping got its boost from his design for stacking the boxes. Box boy supreme.

I love the containerized shipping stories.  They lead me back to an entry I made September 11, 2009 about the waterfront and one of my favorite stories about pilferage and a deterrent to it, however inconvenient the deterrent was.

Mr. Tantlinger's contribution ensured the lefts could come over with their rights on the same voyage and enjoy a better chance of reaching market legitimately than falling off the backs of trucks. 

Saks Fifth Avenue in New York has a dedicated express elevator that whisks the eager straight to the floor containing women's shoes.

Brought to you by hardware.