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.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Rhino

One of the joys of reading news stories rather than viewing them is that the well-written ones might contain a nugget of information that is just plain worth thinking about.

Take a recent story of the theft of rhinoceros horns and skulls.  This nasty business is driven by the price that can be obtained for ground up rhino bones that some attribute aphrodisiac qualities to.  China for instance presents a big market for this.

Never mind that chemically the ground up calcium is equal to eating your fingernails, as one scientist put it.  BIG, big money is in this, with the value of the product exceeding cocaine, gold, or heroin.

The story comes to us from the front page of the August 26, 2011 NYT.  It comes out of Ipswich, England, written by Sarah Lyall, who I think is their bureau chief over there. The market and the theft seems centered in Europe, but the reporter recounts a 2009 burglary in which a rhino skull was taken from a trophy-display wall of a check-cashing place in Albany, NY.

I've been to Albany, NY. I've been to check-cashing places.  It's completely beyond my imagination that the intersection of these two places could produce an opportunity for the theft of a rhino skull.

How does a check-cashing place in Albany, NY stray from the linoleum floor, dropped ceiling tile, fluorescent lighting, floor-to-ceiling bullet-proof Plexiglas decor of a check-cashing business that seems to be the universal design?  They generally look more depressing than NYC's OTBs did. 

Of course, the place could have all these qualities, but they added the trophy case because of the owner's exploits.  Not impossible.  I was once in a diner in Derby Line, Vermont that had a stuffed polar bear, growling in an upright pose near the door. Frank's.

All of this just goes to show you, when there is market for something, someone will find the supply.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Arrival

I always liked this Whitney Darrow cartoon I once saw in The New Yorker.  It's from 1967, long before I ever became terminally employed at an insurance company, and long before ever even thinking about starting a family.

The irony is I came to work for the very company named in the caption, and I always thought it funny that they might have ben pushed to pay for things that fell outside a small standard deviation of the mean.

The cartoon has fresh meaning for me since an offspring has now given birth to her second, and while the scene in the cartoon is not entirely representative of their family size, it does somewhat replicate the gathering that was at bedside the other night.

It's been a while since I've been in a hospital room, but the technology and accomodations are impressive.  The bed looked like something that would be used in the space program, with an at-first confusing digital readout on the side.  It said 61 degrees, and I couldn't imagine there was a need for the outside temperture to be known. And the room didn't feel that cool.

Of course the readout had nothing to do with temperture, but everything to do with the angle the back part of the bed was placed at.  In this case, a comfortable 61 degrees for sitting up and talking to people.  I went home that night trying to get my pillow in that exact setting.  I had to eye-ball it.

There's more, but significantly, the room was a private room: standard for this hospital for maternity, it seems.  Sleep-over couch, chairs, flat panel TV, absolutely full bathroom. The bassinet looked like it came from Ethan Allen, curved, polished wood, and looking nothing like Tupperware.

The meal menu looked like something from a hotel, and it turned out the father could order his dinner from there as well.  The food my daughter was plowing through looked good, and apparently was tasty.

All this of course lead me to ask my daughter and my son-in-law if their helath plan was aware of this, and how were they going to try and wiggle their way of the deductible and co-pay with this one.

I know all about these things.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Willie Nelson likes to tell the story about his birthplace, Abbott, Texas. According to Willie, the town's population never increases: when a baby is born, a man leaves town.

Abbott it seems has some unique population characteristics, somewhat like those of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. In Abbott, everyone is fertile, and there are no multiple births.

Well, there is a Westchester County hamlet that seems to have different characteristics.

Olivia-Rose was added to the population rolls this morning, but no one left town.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Men Will be Boys. Always.

This one firmly comes under the category of "men will be boys." I will admit that personally while I don't spend as much time being a boy as I once did, I've never really fully outgrown it, either.  We're where we are because of where we've been, and sometimes we've never left.

@Obitsman twittered the other day about 'fake puke.'  That's exactly how he put it, and I know he's been taken for being an adult. 

It seems there's a family business that has proved highly successful at making and marketing the stuff.  The link to a news story should prove it.

Knowing a little bit about the Obitsman, I suspect he's disappointed that a prominent person associated with this industry hasn't recently left us.  The next best thing is to at least Twitter the world that there might be an IPO worth looking at.

Of course great delight in such things is taken.  Take Niles Crane, the wispy brother in the sitcom 'Frazier' who becomes beside himself when he learns that his wife's family fortune comes from the manufacture of "urine cakes." These of course are the scented discs that men aim at when at a urinal, usually in a restaurant that has tablecloths.  The better joints use them, or pails of ice to diffuse the smell that can accumulate.  Think cat liter that dissolves.

Well, true to my experiences, reading about fake barf reminded me of the time an insurance executive told me of the era when he flew a lot, the airline attendants were 'stewardesses' and nearly all the passengers were men.  Think Mad Men, and you're mostly there.

There's nothing guys like more than getting attention from attractive females, who because of their job can't tell them at that time to go somewhere the plane's not scheduled to go to, unless of course it crashes.  So Gordo tells about the time he boarded an aircraft with an air sickness bag partially filled with Dinty Moore stew.  He fakes becoming sick while in flight, and when he's got the stewardess's attention and concern he tells her he'll be fine, as he plunges a spoon into the bag and makes sure he watches her expression while he swallows a little of the stew, that of course she thinks is something else.

It's not known if this lead to any further friendship between Gordo and the concerned stewardess, but those were the days.

The Last Word

I like to get to all the obituaries I can in the New York Times. I even scan the paid notices, and particularly the In Memoriams. Sometimes I do skip, or "speed read" through a few if it doesn't look like there's going to be anything that interests me about the subject's work, era, or personality. This happens when it seems there's a banner day for news obituaries, when there literally might be 5 or 6 to read. I know the writer of the obituary doesn't write the headline, but when I read 'Stanley Bosworth, 83 Iconoclastic Head of Brooklyn School' I knew I was going to find the time to read about this guy.

Marilyn Johnson, in her primer on obituaries, The Dead Beat, describes code words that are used by obituary writers to dance around phrases that might not be appropriate to use when publicly writing about the deceased. With imagination, or inside knowledge, the code words, or phrases convey the blunter meaning.

Ms. Johnson offers the British way of doing this when a phrase like "gave colorful accounts of his exploits" is code for "liar."  The list can be quite an entertaining.  Read the book.  Read The Last Word as well, a compilation of obituaries from the NYT, as edited by Marvin Siegel, with a forward by Russell Baker.

There is of course a proper English definition of "iconoclast."  My own version is that it means "a-pain-in-ass."  But since Mr. Bosworth is announced to have been 83, and head of a Brooklyn school that I'll assume is, or was prestigious, I'll add "lovable" and "successful" to my "pain-in-ass" definition.

Reading the obituary, I'd have to say I was right.  He sounds like my kind of guy.  And when an obituary is good it helps when it can close with a quote from the subject, that may or may not be the words they would choose to be remembered by, but certainly in the eyes of the writer help convey a huge chunk of the subject's personality.

Consider Douglas Martin's close of Mr. Bosworth's obituary:

"But when asked if he found anything satisfying about getting older, he was unmistakably straightforward. 'I have the satisfaction of seeing people I hate die!' he said."

I'm not near 83, but I've already had that satisfaction a few times, and look forward to having it again.