Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Soon after re-reading the pianist Art Ferrante's 2009 obituary and realizing he lived as many years as there are keys on the piano (88), I read a book review on 'Endgame,' a biography of the chess champion and international scold Bobby Fischer, by Frank Brady.

The book reviewer, Janet Maslin, retrieves a passage from Mr. Brady's book: “'Like the number of squares on a chessboard — an irony that nevertheless cannot be pressed too far — he was 64,' Mr. Brady writes of Fischer’s death in 2008."

So, back-to-back, I encountered stories about people whose longevity coincided with a number associated from an object they became well-known from. Famous.

Coincidences, for sure. But they certainly add to the nuances of their life.

One coincidence I've never bought into is that of Charles Schulz, the creator of the 'Peanuts' comic strip. Schulz was terminally ill and passed away on the very day the last new 'Peanuts' cartoon strip appeared in a newspaper. His last day, coincided with his characters' last day.

Whatta way to go.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Still going through those clippings, and here's one I missed commenting on from September 22, 2009.

Art Ferrante, a pop pianist who teamed with Lou Teichner as part of a long-lasting, extremely popular piano duo, passed away at 88.

There are 88 keys on a piano. Art, thus got one year of life for every key. His partner passed away in 2008, not quite making it to 88, but still sailing past 80.

It's a good thing guitar players outlive the number of strings. The turnover would be terrific.

On the Way to Dixie

I save newspaper clippings. This is of no surprise to anyone who has stumbled across some of these blog entries, and certainly not to my wife who just concedes that a certain amount of air space is bound to disappear every year as the stack, trimmed and untrimmed, gets bigger. I haven't had to apply for a zoning variance yet, but life's not over.

Cartoon panels are amongst the items saved. Not all cartoons, and not from all sources. These days these will generally come from the WSJ when the tag line and picture strike a chord. I'm not so far behind, or yet so far around the bend that I can't remember why I cut the cartoon out. It quickly comes to me. And sometimes I pull one out and make make sure it's readily available for some future use. Maybe a presentation. Maybe a blog entry.

Take the 'Pepper and Salt' WSJ cartoon I clipped. It's not dated, but from the drifts of paper around it, I peg it from around 2008 sometime.

There's a bar, with an open front door, a sidewalk, a street, and a window to the right of the door that two guys are looking out of. There are also two guys rolling around on the sidewalk. They are definitely not looking for a contact lens. They are fighting.

One guy in the window says to the other, explaining who the combatants are: "One's from the Brookings Institution, the other's from the Heritage Foundation."

This is droll. New Yorker stuff. WSJ stuff. Funny, but let's keep going. So, why in the world would I save it? I was hoping someone would ask.

I will forever remember one summer morning looking out of the Checker cab's back window in the 1950s, on the way to the Dixie Hotel with my mother to catch a 12 hour Trailways bus ride to Malone, New York, before the New York State Thruway was built, to spend a week with my mother's friend from her WWII Army nursing days. Gracie, from Tennessee, lived on a dairy farm with her husband and daughter, who was just a little younger than I was.

As the cab went up 3rd Avenue and we passed a Blarney Stone bar just north of 42nd Street on the west side of the avenue, two fellows stumbled out of the front door. One removed his jacket and placed it Sir Walter Raleigh-like over the sidewalk cellar door and then proceeded to engage the other fellow in a fistfight. They were quickly rolling around on the sidewalk.

I jumped up on the cab's seat with my knees to get a better look, but the cab kept going. The driver had the lights. It was a great start to a summer vacation.

The cartoon bar looks exactly like the bar the fight was in front of. I don't remember anyone other than the driver being in the cab with us. Perhaps he took up drawing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Miracle

When the Polish-born Karol Jozef Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978 a miracle was quickly attributed to him. This was before the Internet, so there was no world-wide video of it, you just heard about it through radio, television, barbers and bartenders.

It is in today's paper that Pope Benedict XVI attributed a miracle to John Paul II, advancing the case to have his predecessor declared a saint in record time.

So, it's true. After all these years, he really did make the 7-10 split.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Once Again

Every day is someone's birthday. Tomorrow is my birthday.

This of course means I'll be a year older than I was at this time last year, but it also means I'll be a year younger than what I'll be next year. The mortality tables never really end, they just tell you that if you're here, you've got a certain probability of being there. My chances for advancement are still very high.

Age is acquired in tiny increments. It only has magnitude when you add up all the increments. And graphically, the right boundary is way out there. In fact, human life can go to about 114-116 years. Then the skin, the largest organ, gives out. I really can't remember a reliable obituary for someone past 116 years old.

In the movie 'Chinatown,' over his lunch, the John Huston public water works titan Noah Cross saltily tells the private detective character J.J. Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson that, "politicians, public buildings and whores all gain respectability if they last long enough."

Turns out, I'm neither one of those three categories, but I don't think they're the only ones that can gain respectability through longevity. Living well is good revenge. And living well and long is even better. Respectable is not impossible.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Put-Down

My friend was right. As much as he is a Giants fan and cannot stand a scintilla of Jets success, he was hoping the Jets would win last Saturday and advace to the next round of the playoffs. This would provide a full week of utterances from Jets coach Rex Ryan and others and be sufficient fodder for sports radio, television AND the print media that you wouldn't need reality TV. You'd have another week of reality sports, coming right at you locally, from New York.

Of course the Jets did win, they are advancing to play the New England Patriots on Sunday and all mouths are open and tongues are going. And as much as this is highly entertaining to some, it is not high quality.

For myself, I find I like the written, composed put-down that is the product of someone spinning phrases and double meanings. The fairly literary put-down.

These can be found anywhere words are written, throughout the ages. I perhaps fell in love with this variety when the high school English teacher pointed out what the opening lines of Othello were implying:

Thou are a villain
You are--a senator.

The obvious, and the implied. Great stuff.

For whatever reason, I seem to have remembered a few of these types lately.

Maureen Dowd, in one of her columns recounts the story of the film director Billy Wilder aiming his anger at the very height-challenged, very famous Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar, by declaring: "That man should go hang himself from a Bonsai tree.''

Book reviews are another source. And the slight is not always aimed at the book or the author, but is worked in there as a zinger from the reviewer.

Take Nick Schulz's book review of 'Prime Movers of Globalization,' by Vaclav Smil. It turns out the book is about diesel engines and gas turbines, and how they move the goods. Mr. Schulz works in the back-of-his-hand to Al Gore, the global warming prophet, when he says that "if the story of these remarkable machines reveals anything, it is that Mr. Gore's vision [the elimination of diesel engines by 2017--made in 1992] is utterly untethered to reality."

We get the contention.

Other types of reviews can offer goodies. Take Joanne's Kaufman's review in the WSJ of 77 year-old Joan Collins's show at Feinstein's.

Ms. Kaufman uses Joan's show as the springboard for commenting on several things, one of which is what she sees as the direction of cabaret entertainment, "becoming the public-access channel of the elder-care industry."

My favorite one however remains one I read recounted by Christopher Buckley in a New Yorker article quite a few years ago where he quoted something Dorothy Parker said about the female student body at Bennington College: "If the girls at Bennington College were laid end-to-end, I wouldn't be at all surprised."

Compile all the encountered put-downs and perhaps rank them? It's possible.

Jimmy Breslin once described a return-match gunfight (the third and final one) between Dutch Schultz and another gangster named Chink Sherman on a night club's dance floor as being won by Schultz by a wide margin.

After first place, there is no other.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

At the Clippings Pile

With a little more time on my hands than I usually have, I've once again taken up the effort to trim, and eventually organize by category, the various newspaper articles I've been saving from the past several years.

I usually do this sometime after Christmas, but before the New Year. I never really spend as much time at it as I should, thus, I never really finish. It's a bit like baling out the ocean. Obituaries and sport stories dominate, but there are others that get the 'archive' treatment. Scotch tape when needed, and scribbled date, when it's not part of what remains after trimming.

For some reason I started thinking about how televised sport stories always seem to work in that whoever the subject is, they've managed to get where they are after enduring catastrophic events in their lives, directly, or indirectly.

What could be a straight story about the event itself is instead encumbered with three-hankie Lifetime movie moments that wail over the good family dog that got run over by the tractor-trailer that showed up in the driveway after the faulty GPS system told the driver I-86 was the next right. And how the athlete got over it and showed up in lane 5 today.

Human athletes aren't the only ones who get the triumph-over-adversity treatment. Being a horse racing fan, I collect a fair number of stories about the equine athlete. And there are plenty of those animals who have survived what for us would be a cough, or a rash, but for them is escaping an ailment that would have surely put them in the slaughterhouse rather than the winner's circle they're now standing in.

Russell Baker retired from writing his NYT 'Observer' column on Christmas Day, 1998. I'm not that far behind, so I won't be trimming any of his columns in the stacks that face me, but I never stop thinking about things I've read.

Digital research saves me from spending the hours it would take to find (if even successful) the two columns I'm sure I saved where Mr. Baker mentions a fellow reporter on The Baltimore Sun, John L. Carr, who he credits with writing the best words about weather that were never published.

Mr. Carr, when asked to produce a story about the weather turned in one sentence: "Every day we have some weather, and yesterday was no exception."

My own take on the triumph-over-adversity angle (humans and horses) would go like this: "Once they survived being born, they went on to do great things."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Wild One

Friday's obituaries told us Ryne Duren, the late 1950s, early 1960s reliever for the Yankees, with a 100 mph fastball and purposeful bad location that intimidated batters into believing he couldn't even hit the barn, passed away at 81 in Lake Wales, Florida.

In the late 1950s I was still collecting baseball cards, and I had several Ryne Durens. Not that he commanded any great trade value, but any Yankee baseball card was a welcome one to my collection. A collection that of course found its way to landfill and the future site of multi-dwelling homes on Staten Island when Mom cleaned the room and I wasn't looking.

Even though I lived in a NYC borough, getting a Yankee baseball card was somewhat rare. I'm sure I bought way more wads of pink silly putty bubble gum that I didn't want just to try and get a Yankee card. Looking back at that now, I firmly believe the forces at work were just getting the population ready for state sponsored lottery tickets.

The Daily News obituary works in a great quote from Casey Stengel about Ryan's intimidation techniques and how it struck the most fear in batters who were family men.

One story I remember reading about Duren was as much about him as it was Luis Arroyo, another reliever for the Yankees at the time. Arroyo was the first Puerto Rican to play for the Yankees. Apparently, when he took a pre-game nap in the locker room he snored. Enough that the playful Ryne teased Arroyo about snoring. Arroyo denied he snored, so Duren took to creating a tape recoding of Arroyo snoring.

Arroyo listened to the tape and denied it was him. After all, he explained, if he snored it would be with a Spanish accent.

Which of course means you can throw 100 mph fastballs at people, but convincing someone they snore is nearly impossible.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Saint Revisited

On October 29, 2010 this blog reacted to a story that appeared in the NYT regarding a man who had taken out a public notice that was published in the Paper of Record on August 30, 2010, on page B7.

In that notice, Anthony Carpentier announced that he was now entering "49 years of "sainthood". The reporter assigned to the story wrote a great piece that chronicled the visit he paid the man, at what was partially divulged to be his address: West 108th Street, New York, NY. The notice was a fair-sized rectangle that appeared in the lower right corner of the page, underneath a three-plus column inch abandoned property notice for the Windsor Bank of New Britain, CT.

The blog entry thought it was thoughtful not to print the man's full address, inasmuch as Mr. Carpentier might start attracting a crowd who had thoughts on how to help him distribute the $535,000 he was said to have been paid as a holdout tenant to move.

In fact, it wasn't even known or disclosed if the full address was part of the newspaper notice. Digital research of the databases can be done online by accessing NYPL's Web site. It does not however help you retrieve ads or notices. Full microfilm research needs to be done to accomplish this, at the library itself.

I'm happy to report I know how to do this. And yes, the full address was printed in the notice. Available at the library.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Posthumous Sales

I've noticed a new routine setting in, made possible by obituaries, cable television, and downloadable music.

When I read about someone musical who has just passed away, I check out iTunes for the songs mentioned in the obituary. Some of the songs mentioned are familiar, some are not. Nevertheless, if I like what I hear, and I don't already have it, I spend a little to download the music.

Posthumous sales.

This can explain most recently downloading two from Gerry Rafferty, who just passed away. As for past downloads like Cab Calloway and Marlene Dietrich, I have to credit Turner Movie Classics for those choices.

I am still shaking my head however at downloading Sophie Tucker. Maybe she just reminds me of Ed Sullivan.