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.