Friday, December 28, 2012

Environmental Disposal

'Nothing We Can Do', Rescuers Say, For Whale Beached on Queens Shore

So goes yesterday's widely reported story about the whale that beached itself at Breezy Point, Queens on Wednesday morning. There's been enough going on at Breezy Point after hurricane Sandy: now there's a whale to deal with. It's rather amazing the number of people that get involved when a whale comes in for a swan song.

Apparently, an emaciated 60' finback whale washed ashore with the incoming tide. The NYT story quoted Kimberly Durham, a biologist with the Riverhead Foundation on Long island, the region's official rescuers of stranded marine animals, "Unfortunately, this animal is so emaciated there's nothing we can do."

The weight of the whale on itself becomes a problem. Being beached, the whale is literally crushing itself. This is bad news for whales and shows how they differ from us, despite that we're both classified as mammals. A whale of a person with shopping bags and a North Face puff coat who plops down next to you on the subway and spreads their legs, as if expecting something good to happen, crushes you, not themselves. Life.

Apparently, disposing of the whale becomes an issue. "It's a logistical nightmare," Ms. Garron, a marine-mammal rescue coordinator with the Natural Marine Fisheries Service reports. "A 1964 whale was towed 35 miles out to sea, fitted with 500 pounds of explosives and blown up." Ms. Garron admits that that method is "off the table."

Only Disney can get away with that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Urban Archaeology

There  is someone who we have become aware of who is writing a book on archaeologists. Not a great deal is known about this endeavor, but suffice to say, interviews have been started and international field work has commenced. No due date is known.

In fact, very little is known, but it is expected that the book will predictably dwell on those archaeologists who work in the blazing sun, gently brushing grains of sand off some completely indistinguishable artifact that will, with more analysis, refute, or confirm a way of life that occurred at least several hundred years ago, but more likely several thousand years ago.

Whoever finds something by leveraging a black crow bar alongside a bathroom medicine chest (c. 1910) and exposing a wall and its studs will probably not be included. This urban archaeologist might be doing a remodeling project in their bathroom, or that of another homeowner who has hired them out to do some work for them.

Thus, when someone doing this work finds a trove of single edge razor blades behind the medicine chest, resting on one of the "cats" between the studs, their discovery will surely not be included in the forthcoming book. Nor will they. Science and mankind is hardly advanced by the discovery of dulled metal that was once applied to someone's face that made them less threatening, and therefore kissable.

Given this expected omission, it will attempted here to theorize about these razor blades. Turns out, theory will have little to do with it. Plumbers, carpenters and electricians who routinely may be the ones popping crows bars into walls alongside medicine chests report that it is common to find used razor blades behind the chests and in the walls. There was a slot in the medicine chest for just this purpose: to dispose of used razor blades.

My own early memory of what my father used to shave with begins with the Gillette Blue Blades, which were double-sided, and came in a dispenser that you held your thumb against to slide the blade out, and into a waiting razor head.  When the blade was felt to be used up, there was a slot on the back of the same dispenser that the blade could be safely guided into. When all the new blades were used and disposed of in the back of the dispenser, the entire dispenser could be discarded safely, with no razor blade edges exposed.

Disposable double edge blue blades were an advance over the prior single edge blades that were  used in what were called "safety razors." It is these single edge blades that could wind up behind medicine chests. Single edge blades now only seem to be good for scraping paint off windows, and perhaps arts and crafts.

My own era of shaving started about the time Yogi Berra could be seen jumping into a pitcher's arms after winning the World Series. Gillette and baseball, and boxing, went hand-in-hand. There was always a World Series "fact" booklet that came out around the time of the World Series. Considering the success of the Yankees in that era, it was really a Yankee highlight book.

Blue Blades, despite their advertised advance of providing a smooth shave, seemed to be anything but. Shaving was no fun when your face seemed to be scraped with broken beer bottle glass. Of course, shaving has advanced, likely due to NASA engineers getting jobs with Gillette. I suspect there might be an entire exhibition in the Smithsonian about shaving. I once saw something there about paint brushes, so it's a good bet.

A recent mixed gender domestic gathering of Home Depot people shared the news about the discovery of the ancient metal lodged in the wall. One woman did know about the slot in the medicine chests. Another person offered that when the bathrooms were redone in their 1923 house in Flushing, there was no memory of blades being found. No slot was ever thought to exist, either.

Another offered a bit of incredulity to the whole story, thinking that the practice would seem impractical: wouldn't the spot behind the medicine chest get filled up with blades?

This seems highly unlikely. Given that studs are separated 16" on center and that a "cat" would be positioned far enough down to create an air space of a cubic foot or so, design for "overflow," or emptying would seem unneeded.

After all, it was never going to happen that school bus loads of Hasidic men would pull up to a home and all shave at once and change blades.

Friday, December 21, 2012


The NYT is catching up to the Quebec missing maple syrup story, while at the same time advancing details about it. The story first broke several months ago in the WSJ, and was followed up there as well. There have been three 'Onofframp' blog postings about the caper.

Details now emerging from the story in the NYT is how the thieves gained access to the strategically stored reserve. Valuable for sure, but it could not have been very well guarded. The heist, or continued siphoning off of the product, sounds very Whitey Bulger, or something reminiscent of the workings of a crew from 'Goodfellas.' They got close to it. It makes a good read.

The story gains life because there have now been three arrests, with five more expected. If Hollywood is now looking for non-violent crime to make movies out of, we may have a 2013 Christmas movie about thieves with sticky buns and sweet pears.

The resale network involved in trying to fence 6 million pounds of syrup is not fully disclosed because the investigation is continuing. But, it is conceivable that it drifted so far down the distribution chain that the gallon of syrup (Grade A, Medium Amber) I annually buy at a Mobil gas station in Fair Haven Vermont in August, on a Tuesday, when there is no racing at Saratoga, could be hot stuff.

The good news for me is that, as Lieutenant Guy Lapointe of the Surete du Quebec points out, syrup doesn't have a bar code, so it is very hard to trace if what you have is the stolen stuff. It's good to have the law on your side.

The NYT story ends with the news that this kind of thing has happened before, just not on as grand a scale. It reminds me of the scene at the end of the movie 'Hunt for Red October' when the Soviet Ambassador, Andrei Lysenko, played  by Joss Ackland, goes to the State Department official to sheepishly admit that the Soviets are now missing another submarine.

Quebec wants independence from the rest of Canada, but doesn't seem to adequately guard its maple syrup. Missiles might present a whole other issue for our taciturn, northern neighbors.

"U.N., we have a problem."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Just a Few Words

The events of the Connecticut school shootings are not beyond words. Perhaps beyond understanding, but not beyond description.

Things change, and they don't change. We've been here before. Growing up, my friends and I only had the Soviet Union to worry about. My daughters didn't go to kindergarten with police outside the school. Today, my grand-daughter did.

When Howard Unruh passed away in 2009, at the age of 88, the obituary revealed a slice of history I hadn't heard about. I commented on it in an entry, and even the next day had a little more to add. Mr. Unruh's rampage was in 1949, and took 13 lives, but not his. His weapon was a 9 millimeter German Luger pistol he had bought at a gun shop in 1947. Gun control was mentioned even then.

In the inevitable listing of events, Mr. Unruh's still made the cut. Nothing will change unless those that resist efforts to change things don't stop resisting. Even a little. Hopefully, a lot.

The hope is there aren't quite as many gun enthusiasts today as there might have been on Friday morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Things Come in Threes

When it comes to obituaries, there is a belief that when one noted individual in a particular field passes away, say an entertainer, then another two similarly noted, or nearly as well-noted entertaineres, will shortly follow.

Somewhere, there may be an official record of Obituary Trifectas, but I don't really know where it might be except in someone's memory. The best I can offer however is that there must be something to this linked threesome theory when you realize that in the last three days, three sopranos of noted stature have passed away.

This is not to lead anyone to believe that the cast of the show 'The Sopranos' is now leaving earth because the show is no longer running as an original. No, these were operatic sopranos who sang with renown, and not figures in bad fitting clothing singing to DAs.

In Wednesday's NYT we had Galina Vishnevskaya, a noted soprano and Soviet dissident, who passed away at 86, in Moscow. She was married to the noted conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Accompanying her obituary is a 1961 picture of her performing in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera that bears a striking likeness to my neighbor, who I will pay a little more attention to the next time she drags the garbage cans out to the curb.

On Thursday, the NYT informed us that Lisa Della Casa had passed away at 93, in Switzerland. There is also a picture of Ms. Della Casa, but I have to admit she looks and dresses like no one in the neighborhood, even on Halloween.

At two, I'm already thinking three, somewhat like what happens when someone wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Will we have a Triple Crown of occupations who shuffle off?

Yes we will. Today, Friday, the NYT tells us that Gloria Davy, a Brooklyn-born soprano who became the first African-American to sing Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, has passed away at 81, in Switzerland.

So, things do seem to happen in threes, and perhaps even fours if tomorrow's paper brings us more of the same. Operatic sopranos would seem to live longer lives than real Sopranos; they can come from Brooklyn; they have a chance to spend their remaining days in Switzerland by the lake; singing in 'Aida' may promote longevity.

Or, none of this has anything to do with anything.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Better Than the Babe

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was declared the winner after knocking out Manny (Pac Man) Pacquiao in the 6th round of a welterweight fight held in Las Vegas.

For Ms. Merkel, it was her first victory in boxing. A rematch is already being discussed in Brussels, with the fight possibly being held in London.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wheel Rage

The number of permutations of events you can have when a handgun is involved seems truly limitless

The following is transcribed directly from a WSJ U.S. Watch' piece in yesterday's paper,
December 6, 2012.
  • Georgia
Man Fatally Shoots Woman
After Wheelchair Collision

An encounter at a Georgia gas station left a 65-year-old woman dead and a 73-year-old man facing a murder charge after authorities say the woman's car and his motorized wheelchair bumped and he opened fire, police said.

Linda Hunnicutt had just pulled into the gas station in Macon shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday and stepped out of her Buick Lucerne when the man pulled a gun and fatally shot her, a city police spokeswoman said.

Ms. Hunnicutt was shot once in the chest with a .38-caliber handgun, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said. The suspect, Frank Louis Reeves, was apprehended in the gas-station parking lot. He was being held without bond on a murder charge at the Bibb County Jail, the spokeswoman said. She didn't know whether he had an attorney.
-Associated Press

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Meets Uptown Brownstone

There is nothing is this world that cannot be overdone.

The British costume drama 'Downton Abbey' is about to advance one Roman numeral, from II to III, to signify its third season, starting 12 days after Christmas on Epiphany, January 6, 2013. Any significance to this will have to await rumors.

We learn of this because the age-defying Angela Lansbury has just engagingly hosted a 'PBS' highlight presentation to show us key scenes from the first two seasons, and to tease us with some scenes from the third. Mixed into this are a few interviews with the actors discussing their characters. Not to be at all facetious, but when you contrast how these people are when they're not acting you really can appreciate that they do act in the series. It's what makes the series a success. To others, it's of course the hats with feathers.

Thus, we get a teasing glimpse of Ol' Shirl (Shirley MacLaine) carefully alighting from a car that's just pulled up to the medieval pile. It's not a simple taxi from the station that's just finished dropping off the other weary commuters, but a chauffeured car of the era sent by the Grantham clan to fetch Lady Grantham's American mother, who has just arrived from across the pond.

Ol' Shirl really doesn't look good, for whatever reason. Perhaps it's because they've just started Prohibition in the States and she really needs several legal stiff ones. Stay tuned. We'll find out more.

There's likely no threat to the show's challenging us with Roman numerals that extend beyond what we can decipher, like the Super Bowl. It would be impossible for the show to even reach the era of warnings on cigarettes. The guess is that WWII will be reached, because there's nothing the British like more than reminding the world how they had the stuffing bombed out of them, but still prevailed. Churchill's voice has got to come from a radio at some point.

The show is a great piece of fluff to be enjoyed on any of several levels. But, here they go. Excess.

The news is that 'Downton's' producer, Julian Fellowes, is in discussion with NBC to develop an American Age of Innocence-type show, 'The Gilded Age,' centered in New York City in the late 19th century. 

It's not known if scenes will feature electricity, but if they don't then the show is sure to remind New Yorkers of the recent outages from Hurricane Sandy. This may easily spell doom, if other things don't pull it down first.

Start your list now as to why you might believe the endeavor cannot possibly succeed. Those that think it has a chance cannot be following this blog.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eye-e-duh and 'Liz and Dick'

The above picture appeared in yesterday's New York Times and immediately got my attention. Because of all the publicity of Lindsay Lohan playing Liz Taylor in the Lifetime biopic 'Liz and Dick' that was on the night before, I immediately assumed they were still writing about it. I naturally figured the picture was a recreation of the episode in Liz and Dick's life when they were filming the movie 'Cleopatra' and the adults around me were happy because Eddie Fisher had been dumped by Liz after himself dumping America's sweetheart Debbie Reynolds for Liz, who was now hooking up with Richard Burton. Take that, Eddie. You are a cad. I heard it more than once.

It would have been hard not to know about Lindsay playing Liz. Lindsay's image of being Liz had already been on the sides of buses. And when you're on the side of a bus people get a chance to see the news of the next media event sweeping the nation. New York City buses move so slow anyone can keep up with the print that's passing by. But because Lindsay had obviously completed her obligation of being in the Lifetime production, the fun of anticipating her being under the bus was gone. The film is in the can, and Lindsay can be Lindsay, if she wants to.

When I glanced at the picture and started looking for Liz and Dick I realized it really was a scene from the Metropolitan Opera's production of 'Aida,' that was performed on Saturday. The caption also helped.

I will readily admit my knowledge of opera is slim. I only know slightly more than someone who knows nothing. I've been to two operas, one of which was so long ago Sid Ceasar played the jailer, a talking part in Johann Strauss II's 'Die Fledermaus,' when he inserted shtick about the Texaco refinery having recently blown up in New Jersey and the contribution that was making to global warming.

I also know that the aria 'O Mio Babbino Caro' is not the theme song to the movie 'Moonstruck' but is a treasured chestnut from the Puccini opera 'Gianni Schicchi' that tends to moisten eyes.

Somewhat like Charlie the Tuna, I try to assimilate some added culture to my life by occasionally giving opera another chance. The latest was when I got caught up in watching the 'PBS' story of the Canadian director, Robert Lepage, who conceived and built a stage more complex than an aircraft carrier to be used for Wagner's famous 'Ring' cycle.

I tried. But figures being pulled up while singing did little for me, and any further chance of getting to know more Wagner was dashed when a solo figure with a spear stood at a corner of the set and seemed to sing. Or, was being sung to. And not move. To me, it was Moondog in his Viking outfit on Sixth Avenue. Maybe Moondog was imitating the opera? Since Moondog is long gone, we won't know.

So, I wasn't among the present when the triumphal march from 'Aida' was played. And I completely forgot about Lindsay, 'Liz and Dick' and Lifetime.

The Giants were playing the Packers on 'Sunday Night Football.' And they won.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pigsty and Cleanliness

I do not have a bucket list of any kind. I've never listed all the things I'd like to see, do, or understand before I shuffle off. My life can end without definitively knowing who Carly Simon has been signing about all these years, or knowing what section of concrete holds Jimmy Hoffa's DNA.

But if there was such a list, it would now have one less item on it. I found out what the connection is between Cincinnati and Procter & Gamble.

Every so often I'd find myself checking out the logo on the side of one of their products. There you'll always find the famous man-in-the-moon and star logo that some have equated with the devil. I guess if cleanliness is next to godliness, then P&G is near Satanism because of this depiction.

Not the issue. Cincinnati is, the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. How did this come to be, rather than in a landmark building on Park Avenue in Manhattan?

The things you learn by reading. In this case, a book review on 'The Dawn of Innovation,' by Charles R. Morris, as reviewed by John Steele Gordon in Tuesday's WSJ.

A 368 page book on the pre-Civil War industrialization of the United States would hardly seem to be where you'd expect to read about soap, but there is it. Of course, not only soap, but it's a good start.

The headline writer for the Journal has titled the book review, 'The Days of Porkopolis.' Clever, and it's not about Washington.  It turns out that Cincinnati became known as 'Porkopolis' when it became the center for the slaughter of hogs. The human population of the town grew from 2,500 in 1810 to 160,000 in 1860. Pigs were big.

Lard is pig fat, and farm wives made soap from lard and lye. My grandmother made soap from bacon fat, and she did it in an apartment on 19th Street in NYC in the 1960s. Throughout all these years I've managed to keep clean despite the solid aversion I acquired to bar soap that I saw formed in a cup.

Into this Cincinnati realm of huge numbers of pigs, lard and soap came an Irish soap maker and a candle maker in 1837 that became Procter & Gamble.

So, while a reference to a 'pigsty' might imply sloppiness, or dirt, in Cincinnati it meant that Procter & Gamble were on their way to making us all smell better.

The things you learn.

Monday, November 19, 2012

15 Minutes

Andy Warhol made one of the most durable quotes ever when in 1968 he declared, " the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes." The downtown
pop-artist with the uptown friends was basically saying that everyone's star will glow for 15 minutes for all to see, then die out. Fame is fleeting.

Warhol's fame was anything but fleeting. His paintings still sell for tens of millions of dollars, and his sunglassed image still appears in stories, despite his having passed away in 1987. He made avant-garde movies in downtown Manhattan at his place called "The Factory" and was very unceremoniously shot in the stomach by one of the actresses and dumped out of a cab for medical treatment in front of Columbus Hospital on 19th Street in the 1960s late one night.

His magazine, "Interview," elaborately headquartered in a converted IRT subway sub-station on 33rd Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues, was a nexus for the city's literary and creative types and remained published even after he passed away.

He was a highly visible New York City personality. If you think you see Anna Wintour, the editor of 'Vouge', appear often somewhere with her trademark hairstyle and sunglasses, you haven't seen anything to compare with how often Warhol appeared in the newspapers and magazines. His fame was way beyond 15 minutes.

Even his death was highly visible, as he suffered from surgical complications from gallbladder surgery, and died from a heart attack in the hospital under what became very contentious arguments as to who was responsible for things seemingly going awry.

His quote has proved to be the most concise wording there is to describe the media/information explosion we are in that started building after World War II. But why 15 minutes? A segment of time, sure, but it's a very distinct number. A quarter-of-an-hour.

I never gave it any thought until I was watching a PBS 'American Masters' piece on Woody Guthrie, the nation's balladeer in the 30s, 40s and 50s. After becoming popular enough, Woody was asked to do a radio show in NYC in 1940. He only did it for several weeks because he had a falling out with the producers over song content. He quit, and went back to Texas.

But Woody wrote, and he wrote a lot apparently. The documentary highlights a segment from his writings that serve to explain why he quit. "...15 minutes was a little packed, so I ducked off."

Radio shows and segments of the type Guthrie and others appeared on were 15 minutes long. And radio was the nation's glue in the 40s. Fifteen minutes of fame were achieved when you were broadcasted on the radio. Certainly Warhol, born in 1928, listened to a radio growing up.

Even though I missed that era, I can remember 15 minute segments of early television. The 11 o'clock news was 15 minutes. Even 7 o'clock news was 15 minutes long. I don't remember what programming came after. News segments became expanded when all the NYC newspapers went on strike for 114 days, starting in December 1962. But when newspapers came back, they never rolled anything back to 15 minutes. The dam was broken.

Given the resources that exist to put things in front of us, 15 minutes has long been broken, somewhat like Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile and Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier.

Only last week I sat in a waiting room and completely at random and without looking, I pulled a magazine out of the vertical rack behind me. People magazine. Lots of head shots on the cover. Would I find Jennifer Aniston's photo among them?

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Things That Go Thump

People who live across the street, or down the block from major gas explosions can be counted on to appear on some edition of the televised news giving their description of what it sounded like. Sometimes they make a sound to try and imitate it, or they use words to describe it. Sometimes they use words and sounds, and these are usually the best. Because when they only tell you it sounded like the "end-of-the-world," you're left on your own. The end? What, again?

I settled on my own version of a sound and a feeling when I was asked to tell people what it sounded like when the first of two 767s started to use lower Manhattan for an airstrip on 9/11, with one plowing into our building as I was gazing at my computer screen. It took some thought, but I came up with the abrupt sound a plane makes on the runway when it lands, and the sometimes noticeable bounce you get when those wheels touch down. Almost ironic to think of the sound of a plane landing safely for one that clearly wasn't intended to.

Superstorm Sandy has produced many, many stories. And like 9/11, they are reaching the newspapers weeks after the initial impact. Some are tragic, some are not. But you have to understand New York and the Census tract you might have wandered into when someone describes the sound of an enormous construction crane collapsing in the wind to resembling the way the double basses play as "they're starting to cut off John the Baptist's head in the opera 'Salome.'" Personally, I can't relate to that.

But the quote and the nice story that produced it comes from a thankful tenant at a tenant party in New York's landmark Osborne apartment house. The party was held to thank the building's residence manager who cared for the pets that had to be abandoned when the building needed to be evacuated, and stay evacuated while days passed before the wobbly boom could be made secure.

The Osborne is no single-room occupancy place. It so resembled the fabled Dakota that significant parts of the movie 'Rosemary's Baby' were shot inside the Osborne. I've been telling people that for years whenever I think there's chance they've heard of, or seen 'Rosemary's Baby.' Time marches on.

That the apartment house sits diagonally across from Carnegie Hall perhaps has something to do with someone being able to channel a musical beheading into their description of the sound of crashing steel.

But, like I say, it's a nice story and has a good ending. And whatever happened to John the Baptist, well, it was a long time ago.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The First App

Been diving back into 'McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' by Joseph Mitchell as much to re-read some of the pieces as to also take advantage of something to read by flashlight that I can finish before going to sleep and dreaming of electricity. But we're back. We think.

The pieces are so old now that I can understand how it might be hard to believe that the people he's written about even existed. Or, that prices and rents were ever really as described. But I entered my early teen-age years at the start of the 1960s in Manhattan, and caught the cusp of Mr. Mitchell's atmosphere at street level through the windows of the family flower shop.

Another of Mr. Mitchell's portraits is of a street preacher, the Reverend Mr. James Jefferson Davis Hall, residing at 360 West 45th Street in a $30 a month cold water flat, reachable by telephone at CIrcle 6-6483. Reverend Hall pays $3.54 for the monthly phone service, a 25% discount from New York Telephone because he's a member of the clergy.

At the point Mr. Mitchell chronicles the Reverend' s life, he's up there in age. But still someone who can tell you that his father was a physician for the Confederate Army, and that he, James, was born in 1864, before the surrender to the Union Army in the War of Northern Aggression.

The profile was written in 1943 under the title, 'A Spism and a Spasm.' I can remember people who fit the behavior of Reverend Hall, even if I didn't observe them from the doorway of a saloon, dispensing their 'halleluiah hypodermics' to the seated and those leaning in on the brass rail. There was no shortage of them and very left-leaning socialists who filled up a section of 14th Street's Union Square Park. But how do I find someone who knew the Reverend? Everyone's dead.

Well, archaeologists never feel inhibited from recreating what life was like when they dig through dirt and sand and find what likely wouldn't get a second glance from any of us. Junk. So, how do I get in "touch" with Reverend Hall and make sure he prowled the streets and gave out his card to have people call him with their troubles--in what might have been perhaps the first religious app?

Mr. Mitchell has certainly provided enough clues. Very full name, address and telephone number. Go to the phone book.

Like the clever lawyer in 'Miracle on 34th Street' who proves to the court that there really is a Santa Claus if the post office delivers his mail to him, there surely there was a Reverend James Jefferson Davis Hall if he can found in the phone book.

Just so happens the New York Public Library has digitized the 1940 phone books for New York City's five boroughs, or counties. Easy to find, easy to use.

Hall J J D Rev  360W45 CIrcle 6-6483.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kills Bugs Dead

I've always liked cartoons, and I've always liked most of those single panel cartoons found in The New Yorker and other publications. I sometimes think I wish I could have been a cartoonist.

If I were one, I would draw one that shows a pair of Ratso Rizzo bugs, dressed as thugs in dark glasses, dark clothing and fedoras, sporting beard stubble and smoking ash-heavy cigarettes dangling from their mouths, standing in front of my daughter's house and bragging that it was going to be easy to get in there. "They've even got kids, it's a cinch."  Oh boy, bugs, quit while you're still alive.

Nothing is immediately obvious as you enter. There is a scent, or a hint of scent. Nothing I can identify, but it's not what my house smells like, if it smells at all. As you keep going, it occurs to you that as you enter each room there is another scent that has just been discharged from a secret location. You can faintly hear the scent, but you can't identify the odor, or the source.

It's nothing to make you grab your throat or start to gag, like what happens to the assembled bad guys in the movie Goldfinger after old Auric there decides a little old fashioned outplacement is the best policy to go along with dishonesty. But you realize that your movements into and out of rooms are setting the scent off. This is almost fun, trying to guess what garden path you're entering as you go from garage, to living room, to dining room, to kitchen, to family room. The novelty does wear off, however, and eventually you just sit still.

I tease my daughter that if she had a dog, a fire hydrant scent might have bad results. She doesn't always laugh at things I say. I do compliment her that a bug or a bad ordor doesn't stand a chance in her Petri dish. She does laugh.

Needless to say, the place is spotless. Every so often my daughter disappears from view to wipe something up from the kitchen floor. Or, more accurately, to make sure that whatever it is she's attacked is annihilated within two meters of ground zero. I think "housemaid's knees," inflamed knee bursas, might be making a comeback, but she's still young.

The American bathroom is probably the source of 70% of the advertising industry's creative revenue. Forget the medications and emollients for a moment, just think soap, smell, and of course germs. There's money in that stuff.

Anyone these days can attach a hand sanitizer to the zipper of their backpack, but how many homes are equipped with electronic germ eliminators that glow in the dark? One bathroom has what a fanciful imagination might believe is a silo-like object from outer space that has landed and attached itself to an outlet. It glows. It whirrs. It's always on. It does something. Drink enough, and you might call the Air Force's UFO number.

I confess, that due to another offspring who is still with us who takes showers that steam up the bathroom so much you'd think ConEd has cracked a steam line in the house, I might have a slight case of mildew growing on a portion of the bathroom ceiling.

I've been warned that this might be dangerous to my health. If Spielberg makes a movie about mildew overtaking us, I'll know who to ask about eliminating it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Deposition

In a prior life I occasionally had to gave depositions as part of my work. The corporate lawyer told me these were sworn statements, testimony that was "memorialized" for possible use in a future proceeding. I liked his phrase "memorialized" and always held onto it. So, here is my storm Sandy deposition.
  • How does a storm that has 75 mph winds only travel toward us at 13 mph?
  • Why can't I help myself and somehow think that whenever I see New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie block out the clouds that he somehow swallowed Rosie O'Donnell?
  • Iran has hacked the National Weather Service computers and fed the servers an image of a storm headed our way. This is a diversionary move, somewhat like what Brad Pitt and the gang did to the vault area in the Bellagio in Las Vegas. We're in trouble from an attack.
  • Why is Bermuda still on the map?
  • My biggest fear with regard to this storm is that my wife and my friend Dave will be right. I'm going to have to move.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Art Thefts

The recent spate of art thefts and art lawsuits alleging fraudulent copies has replaced news coming from the NHL's negotiating table. After all, it's all international.

And given this, it is completely likely that the current exhibit of Edvard Munch's much-traveled 'The Scream' that is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) might be a fake.

Interpol and the FBI found this copy in the back of a CBS news truck that was on-site along New Jersey's shore as thousands of slot machines were about to be imperiled by an advancing storm with a name of summer that was reaching land.

Stay tuned for more details.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Saint Amongst the Mohawks

If there is such a person who is a regular reader of this blog, then they should be able to guess that Joseph Mitchell's collection of stories, 'McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' is at the top of my recently truncated night table pile.

I'm reacquainting myself with stories I've read at some point, and others I missed. There's nothing like reading something again for the first time.

Mr. Mitchell wrote many pieces for The New Yorker. In 1949 he wrote a typically lengthy New Yorker piece on the Mohawk Indians and how they came to be associated with being fearless high steel workers.

Growing up I always heard stories about these New York Indians and how they just seemed to walk along a six inch beam hundreds of feet in the air and do it as gracefully as Joe DiMaggio playing center field. I used to see them on the subway after work in the 70s as they were working on the World Trade Center. Easy to spot.

As youngsters, my friends and I used to try and imitate the skill by trying a walk a straight line on a sidewalk and pretend that there was hundreds of feet of empty air on either side of our steps. Invariably we "fell off" and admired the Indians even more.

While making my way through the collection of stories again there was big news on the canonization front. Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven saints, including two women with New York ties, with one of those woman being an American Indian, an absolute first. Thus, I vaguely became aware of Kateri Tekakwitha, who lived in the 1600s and was made a saint because of her healing powers.

Mr. Mitchell's New Yorker piece is titled 'The Mohawks in High Steel' and traces the over two hundred year timeline of how they came to such a profession.

The Mohawk iron worker is from a tribe called Caughnawaga, originally branching from the Iroquois tribe in western and northern New York. They were converted to Catholicism by French Jesuits who convinced them to move to a mission outpost in Quebec. Mr. Mitchell traces their progression from Quebec to high steel workers on Canadian bridges to migrating into the United States when there was more bridge and skyscraper work. New York's Brooklyn North Gowanus section became a destination for living.

The Quebec beginnings are described as having a parish hall named Kateri Hall, named in honor of Tekakwitha, an Indian virgin called the Lily of the Mohawk, whose bones are in Caughnawaga's church, St. Francis Xavier. Mr. Mitchell explains the source of the admiration for Kateri.

"...Indian virgin called the Lily of the Mohawks who died at Caughnawaga in 1680. The old bones lie on a watered-silk cushion in a glass-topped chest. Sick and afflicted people make pilgrimages to the church and pray before them. In a booklet put out by the church, it is claimed that sufferers from many diseases, including cancer, have been healed through Kateri's intercession. Kateri is venerated because of the bitter penances she imposed on herself; according to the memoirs of missionaries who knew her, she wore iron chains. lay upon thorns, whipped herself until she bled, plunged into icy water, went about barefoot on the snow, and fasted almost continuously."

Through a little further online research one learns Kateri survived smallpox that killed the rest of her family and left her orphaned and partially blind, She was baptized as a Roman Catholic and spent the last years of her 24 year old life in the mission village of Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) in what was then New France, and is now Canada.

Joseph Mitchell wrote something about Kateri over 60 years ago in a piece on high steel Mohawk workers. The same week I re-read the story the name Kateri Tekakwitha is all over the news.

In the NYT story on the canonizations, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan is described as being over the moon that aside from Kateri and her New York origins, another woman, a mother superior, who started in Syracuse but later moved to Hawaii in 1883 (even then, getting away from the snow) was also canonized. Thus, two New York bred women became saints.

If this doesn't help put The Mobius Strip theory before the committee in Stockholm, nothing will. The card of races held this past Saturday at Belmont for New York Showcase Day for New York bred horses had names associated with all its races. The first race was the Iroquois, and the last was the Mohawk.

If I made this stuff up, they'd put me away.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

McSorley's Wonderful Saloon

There exists amongst us the truly obituary smitten. We love to read news obituaries from virtually any source. These are the ones generally bylined by the paper's reporters assigned to write the newsworthy obituaries. The subjects chosen by the editors are  anointed with any number of column inches and pictures are usually well-known people, bold-face names, politicians and entertainers, and others of distinction through scientific, literary or artistic achievement.

There are obituary writers who seem to also revel in giving short story send-offs to the ordinary Joe or Jane who, while not ever having accepted an Emmy or flew to Stockholm or Oslo to accept a prize, did nonetheless distinguish themselves in some way worth taking note of. This kind of obituary reporter seems to have some secret source of finding these people and getting to know more about them than someone else ordinarily might.

Marilyn's Johnson's seminal book on obituaries, 'The Dead Beat', tells us who these reporters are and where they write from. Being New York based, my own favorite, and perhaps the best of his kind, was Robert McG. Thomas Jr. who plied his trade with the NYT until his own early demise at 60 in 2000.

If being assigned to the obituary page was some kind of punishment inflicted on Mr. Thomas as part of his "career turbulence," then the jailed turned the tables on the prosecutor. He easily became a pre-eminent obituary writer and the one I miss the most. It's like not having Mickey Mantle in your All-Star lineup.

There are anthologies of his work that even include the NYT obituary of him, where the writer, Michael T. Kaufman, takes the reader on a journey of Mr. Thomas's life, pointing out that Mr. Thomas could be counted on to be the center of a good time.

His byline name seemed heavily freighted, but would have even been even heavier if the full name could fit: Robert McGill Thomas Jr. In any fashion, it was always a good thing to see in the morning.

Recently, the person I loaned Joseph Mitchell's 'McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' to returned the book. To the unfamiliar, Mr. Mitchell was a newspaper reporter who also wrote distinctive, highly-regarded, entertaining short stories about people he encountered in New York City. Mr. Michell's attention was generally applied to the 30s and 40s. He himself passed away in 1996.

It is impossible not to believe that McG. and Joe didn't bend an elbow somewhere where spirits were being served. Mr. Thomas's obituary notes that Robert dropped out of Yale by his own admission to, "major in New York rather than anything academic."

They were in the same kind of work, and seemed to have the same eye for the unsung. Thus, reading and re-reading Mr. Mitchell's collection of short stories takes one into a New York City populace that if they were to have passed away on McG's beat, we would have heard about these people twice. Thus, if you need a shot of McG. Thomas, read some Joseph Mitchell and imagine the people in the past tense.

Take 'Santa Claus Smith', written in 1940. If research is ever undertaken to trace the origin of the sometimes ubiquitous smiley face that gets stenciled onto all kinds of messages, then it would have to conclude that the drawing started with Mr. Smith, or at least pre-dated his use of it.

Turns out Mr. Smith was someone who resembled Santa Claus in appearance who would be known in his era as a 'hobo.' But a hobo who left behind good wishes to those who fed him as well as a blank check scrawled out on brown paper, drawn on the Irving National Bank of New York (predecessor to Irving Trust Company) for outlandish sums of money, $52,000, $12,000, $600,000 as graditude and gratuity.

The checks of course didn't have any money behind them, but were sent to the Irving National Bank by their receipients in hopes that perhaps they did. It may sound unbelievable, but I remember even in the 1960s there was such a thing as a "blank check." In fact, you could buy a booklet of blank checks at the right stationery store (today this would be Staples). You filled the check out with payee, date, amount, signature, as well as the bank you supposedly had an account in, along with the account number. Merchants supplied the blank check and did sometimes accept the completed check if they knew you and believed that you really did leave your check book at home. But even then, most business was conducted with cash.

Mr. Mitchell describes being allowed to review the brown paper presented to the Irving National Bank. No legal action was ever taken against Mr. Smith because he never presented the checks as payment for anything, or ever received funds from them. Mr. Mitchell could trace Mr. Smith's travels from the dates on the checks and where the recipients sent them from. It sounds like a early version of FBI Agent Carl Hanratty trying to locate Frank Abagnale Jr. in the movie 'Catch Me If You Can.'

Mr. Smith was passsing out these slips of paper as early as 1934, and on each one he drew what today we would call a 'Smiley Face.' As described by Mr. Mitchell in 1940 these resembled a "crude face with a smile on it. There are two pencil dots for eyes, a dot for a nose, and a line tuned up at both ends for a mouth."

Write your own headline for Mr. Smith's obituary.

If one character is good, then two are better.

Take Mr. A. S. Colborne, 'The Don't Swear Man,'  who is the self-appointed president of the one person Anti-Profanity League. Mr. Mitchell describes meeting Mr. Colborne in a bar and being upbraided a bit for saying "hell."

The story is written in 1941, and Mr. Colborne has been handing out business cards trying to promote the elimination of profanity since 1901. There is no year given for Mr. Colborne's birth, but he's quoted as telling Mr. Mitchel he opened a store in Brooklyn in 1890.

This probably makes it unlikely that the cause of Mr. Colborne sure demise was listening to a 1970s George Carlin record. But with enough longevity, it's completely possible he succumbed to a 1950s Lenny Bruce recording.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

South Dakota

People seem to pay attention to obituaries when a third person of the same type of fame passes away, say an entertainer, sports figure, famous author--a bold face name. But sometimes attention should be paid when two people with a common denominator leave the grounds. Because when two people with South Dakota in their bios pass away in the same week and whose obituary notices appear on the front page of the New York Times, attention must be paid.

South Dakota is a fairly large state with few relatively few people in it. It ranks fifth from the bottom in population, with the 2010 census pegging the breathing at 819,761. It only contributes the minimum of three electoral votes, so it's surely not a 'swing state.' So, when two people of some notoriety pass away, it's worth noting. A third would mean someone on Mount Rushmore developed serious fissures and crumbled to the bottom.

The first person to warrant attention on their demise was of course George McGovern, the 1972 presidential candidate who will forever be remembered for losing the election by a true landslide. He didn't even carry his own state, and was only on the plus side in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. It was bad.

Aside from all that, the man had a long life, that he admitted he was happy in 90% of the time. That's not bad at all.   

George McGovern is much referred to as the "Prairie Liberal." His mother was 20 years younger than his father, and his father was born in 1868, a full eight years before General Custer lost the last big one at Little Big Horn, fighting the Lakota Sioux Indians, who came from South Dakota. It would be safe to assume that Mr. McGovern's father could remember what he was doing when that news reached home.

The second person with South Dakota in their resume is Russell Means, an American Indian, who was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and who passed away there. Mr. Means is most famous for leading an armed protest at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 in protest of Native American treatment over the years.

The protest however did not give him Gandhi, or Martin Luther King status. We was a rugged guy who apparently was not liked by many, even people you might think were on his side. They thought he was too self-serving. He was shot several times, stabbed, imprisoned, and acquitted from some big league court cases. He had many parts in movies, commercials, recorded CDs and wrote a memoir, all while running for several elected offices, most notably trying to run for U.S. president in 1987.

If there is such a title, he was the "Prairie Curtis Sliwa." South Dakota can't afford to lose any more people.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New York Showcase Day

There is a day of thoroughbred racing in New York known as New York Showcase Day. It is a day in which all entrants in all the races are considered to have been bred in New York.

Definitions of the circumstances of certifying a NY-Bred have changed over the years. Variables as to where the dam stood, for how long, where the birth actually took place, the residency requirements of the carpetbagging sire, and even where the highly orchestrated conception took place, all play into the NY-Bred definition.

Lately, the requirements of meeting all the variables have been relaxed. It is not known if this is an attempt to gain the vote for New York horses and therefore restore New York State to its former Electoral College clout, but there is no telling what the legislators in New York State will do.

So, once the definition is met, there can be eligibility into any series of races on Showcase Day that highlight and consist of only New York bred horses competing against New York bred horses. They do this over various distances, surfaces, and within gender and age groups. It's almost like taking people who were born and raised in 'da Bronx' and asking them to compete in races underneath portions of the Woodlawn elevated line.

Being somewhat of a regular at New York thoroughbred tracks, I'm sensitive to seeing things I'm not used to seeing. The first clue that Showcase Day is a bit of a special day is that there are usually very full fields of horses entered in each race. Yesterday was no exception. From the vantage point of being right over the entry point onto the track one could see all the outriders gathered to lead the horses to the post parade. Since there is one outrider for every entrant, a full field means a lot of outriders.

Thus, before the first race, after lifting my head from my studies, I noticed a positive gang of outriders assembled to lead the horses onto the track. Fourteen, in a semi-circle, waiting to grab the reins of a horse and canter them up and down the stretch and then lead them to the starting gate. There were more outriders than people sitting in the section I was in. The scene looked like 'all the boys' rounded up outside the saloon, ready to be deputized as a posse before riding off to catch someone.

Overnight rains left the track in a condition declared 'muddy.' Rain and dirt will produce mud. Horses run in this goo, although some like it more than others. But mud also requires the trainers, grooms, minor officials, reporters and photographers to wade into the stuff to get their jobs done. Start the day off with the wrong choice in footwear, and you're in for a long day.

Full fields produced some competitive racing. It also produced very strung out results because not every horse entered was capable of keeping up. Thus, some of the finishes looked like high school cross-country races, with a few at the front, leading a pack of many.

But the competitiveness lead to some exciting finishes. A tight, tight, rail-skimming ride with two horses to his outside by Joel Rosario on Isn'tshewonderfull in the 4th race, helped complete a decent exacta with Jerusalem Stone and helped set the day up as profitable.

There were some other exciting finishes, but perhaps the most exciting was found in the marquee race, the Empire Classic, a mile and an eighth race that is New York's version of the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Two horses stood out from the eight entered. One was Lunar Victory, a highly capable campaigner and the favorite, who races for Juddmonte Farms, a genuine Sheik, Arab-owned outfit not known to stock its stalls with NY-Bred horses, preferring instead the more high-priced Kentucky and European bred animals.

This much was even alluded to by Lunar Victory's Hall-of-Fame trainer, Bill Mott, who said quite frankly, he didn't think anyone at the farm was aware that Lunar was a New York Bred at first. New Yorkers, it seems, can wind up in most unexpected of places.

The other horse of upcoming ability was Saratoga Snacks, a younger horse, who was looking to gain attention. Attention was already being paid because the owner of Saratoga Snacks is August Dawn Farms, itself owned, at least in principle, by the twice-winning Super Bowl coach of the New York Giants, Bill Parcells.

Bill is a long-time racing enthusiast, and has owned horses in the past. Clues to the naming of  'Saratoga Snacks' can't be found in the immediate breeding lines. The name almost seems to be a reference to a very high profile owner, Mike Repole, who made a fortune selling Vitamin Water to Coca-Cola and whose latest business ventures include producing 'Pirate's Booty,' a cheese flavored popcorn snack. Bill and Mike are sure to know each other.

The race itself came down to the two horses, who battled each other mightily down the stretch, leaving the results in doubt until very near the wire. A final urging from Lunar Victory's jockey Junior Alvarado made the last strides look easy, leaving Ramon Dominquez and Saratoga Snacks to finish a close, but clear second.

No Gatorade over Bill Parcell's head in the winners' circle. No dumping of Saratoga snacks either. At least not this time.

A modest profit was achieved, and my friend and I did what we always do after the races. We headed back to my house for a pasta dinner served by my New York, Bronx-bred wife.

A good day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Long Time Ago

The first jolt to the memory, and really the only one needed, was the Op-Ed headline over the piece in Saturday's NYT, 'Who Will Mourn George Whitmore?"

When I saw the size of the piece and the large drawing that accompanied it, I wondered if there was going to be more about this chapter in the city's history. A few days later an obituary appeared for Mr. Whitmore, who had passed away eight days before at 68, in a New Jersey nursing home. He wasn't completely forgotten afterall.

I didn't need to read the details, but I did, about the black teenager who, in 1964, confessed to a double homicide he didn't do. The piece is by T.J. English, who met Mr. Whitmore several times in the stages of writing a book about George Whitmore  Jr. and the events that surrounded him and the very badly aligned wheels of justice.

It was August 1963, and two young women had been savagely stabbed to death in the middle of night while asleep in their Manhattan apartment. The killer entered from the fire escape and the open window. Open windows were common in Manhattan in the summer. Air conditioning basically didn't exist for most people, and the only chance of cooling yourself off was a fan, or open windows. Sometimes even moving the mattress to the fire escape was resorted to.

The young women were roommates, "Career-Girls," the euphemism of the era for young single women who lived on their own while working and living in Manhattan, pursuing "careers" rather than marriage. There are lots of sitcoms about this type of lifestyle now, and the description "career-girls" has been shelved.

This was an ugly crime, and one that shook the city. I was a very young teenager at the time, and the crime remained a topic of conversation for quite a while, one because no one was caught immediately, and then because it ushered in a realization that personal safety was at stake: you couldn't sleep with your windows open during the summer. Someone could come in and kill you. There were plenty of newspapers then, and plenty of stories.

Then, in April 1964 an arrest was made. George Whitmore, Jr. has confessed to the crimes. Crimes he didn't do, but he "confessed" regardless.

Mr. English's piece, and the subsequent obituary for George Whitmore Jr., give an accurate account of the chain of events that befell Mr. Whitmore and why his name is closely associated with the Miranda ruling. His defense had all the earmarks of "B&B," black and broke.

As the story was progressing in real time it was shown that Mr. Whitmore hadn't done the murders (he wasn't even in the state at the time) and that his confession was tainted by coercion. I remember thinking then that how could anyone confess to something they didn't do? At that point in my life I felt that if someone confessed to something it was because they did it. Case closed. And if something was beaten out of them it was still a confession because the beating just got out of them what was there to begin with. No difference.

Eventually, a recently released ex-con, Richard Robles, was arrested and convicted of the murders. He remains in prison to this day.

I've joked in the past that when asked what were the 60s like, I tell people they were hot, that there was little air conditioning.

For George Whitmore Jr., there was no justice, either.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hard to See Land

There was a Twitter tweet tease from @obitsman that said something about Prince Roy, Sealand, and the fact that His Highness had passed away. There was a UK link to an obituary.

It was a tease because 'Prince' didn't register with me and what I thought was a connection to containerized cargo. Even more so, because I thought someone connected with containerized cargo had recently passed away, and they weren't a 'Prince'.

Turns out following the tease is worth it because at the end of the link the viewer is treated to a Morning Telegraph obit about someone who could only exist across the pond and who could only be remembered by the Morning Telegraph. We don't grow people like Prince Roy. His obit is an export.

The new form of journalism that combines words with great pictures does auger well for online newspapering. 

Thus we see Prince Roy, with his lovely wife Joan, in the preserved phase of their lives in a lovely room that looks like it's where Midsomer Mystery's detective Tom Barnaby has held an 'murder inquiry.' No one's in pajamas, and there's not cell phone or a computer in sight.

Prince Roy, who is really Roy Bates, is seen in this first picture with a typical English complexion of rosiness on top of chalk, who is either trying to suppress a look of silly surprise or is holding back the residue of an apple he's eaten after finding half a worm (with a nod to Red Smith).

To say Bates was a character is superficial. He was equal parts Ross Perot, Bruce Willis, a Navy Seal, and Howard Stern. That he is survived by a wife and two children is a testament to their own endurance and their enormous good luck. That he lived to 91 is a defiance of all known odds.

Simply summarized, Roy Bates basically established an offshore fort as a sovereign nation that attracted WikiLeaks Julian Assange's interest in putting his servers there out of subpoena range. The Prince literally fought several times for his nearly 6,000 square foot island that resembled a toppled oil rig platform on concrete pillars that is seven miles offshore from Felixstowe.

To put 6,000 square feet in perspective, I think of the plot of land my house sits on in the birthplace of the suburbs--Long Island. The plot is 60 x 100, which makes the square footage 6,000 square feet. To think of my living space on a horizontal spread seven miles offshore sitting on decaying concrete pillars would not give me comfort. If there were a newspaper delivered, a walk outside to pick it up would require a life vest. I'd have to live there with my eyes closed.

This was not a fictionalized country like Freedonia in the Marx Brothers' movie 'Duck Soup' or a creation of Latka's country Divy-Divy in the TV show 'Taxi'. The place exists to this day.

And true to a good obituary, aside from the colorful read of a true personality, is a sprinkling of Latin phrases, with definitions, and an explanation as to how the three-mile nautical limit became three miles and not two, or four, or six.

There are some abbreviations which elude the American reader. Awarded an MC...military cross. Declared a UDI...unilateral declaration of independence. With, no problem.

The only thing missing from Prince Roy and his micro-nation status was creating a family big enough to have a better chance of representing the offshore nation-fort in the Olympics. After all, the Prince created a constitution, currency, stamps and a flag.

Sutton's Place

There are people who have long since passed away who we still know about because of their quotes, or quotes from their works. Shakespeare certainly is one of the most famous, and any number of people from the Bible. Yogi Berra's utterances will live long after him, as will those of many, many others, of all stripes.

Add to that pile Willie Sutton, an old-fashioned bank robber who physically removed money from banks rather than the new way of just getting the money sent to the Cayman Islands electronically as a result of insider information overheard while holding a flute of flat champagne, who famously said, or is said to have replied, when asked why did he rob banks, "because that's where the money is." And therefore, after Willie, where the money was.

Willie denied ever saying it, but he's lucky it stuck, Otherwise, no one in the 21st-century would be writing a book about him, and no major newspapers would be reviewing the book. Whether he said it or not, his phrase is perhaps more famous than he is. It has appeared as part of any number of Power Point presentations on fraud and uttered by any number of people to explain all kinds of behavior.

Bonnie and Clyde were famous bank robbers and stickup artists, but the movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was more famous than the true-life pair. The visual of dapper, hunky Beatty, coupled with desirable Faye dressed in cutting-edge 1930s fashions that became 1960s fashion, with a cigar popping out of her mouth long before Cigar magazine came into existence, sets the mold for Bonnie and Clyde. Even Clyde's statement of, "we rob banks" doesn't add any immortality to the pair, but rather seems like an answer to the question for what his occupation is. No, Willie's got it when it comes to that quaint occupation of robbing banks.

So, into this we get J. R. Moehringer's book titled, 'Sutton." Apparently, for some reason it is written as a "novel telling the true story" of Willie Sutton and his life after release from prison in 1969. Perhaps a 'historical novel' is what gives way to some inaccuracies in the review by the Wall Street Journal's Bryan Burrough.

Willie Sutton escaped from prisons, as well as robbed banks. And how he got out of New York's Sing Sing twice is hopefully given some true detail. That's some laundry basket if that's how he did it.

Aside from the exploits committed by Mr. Sutton there were tangential happenings that were significant. Mr. Burrough's, perhaps taking it from Mr. Moehringer's prose, says it was a 'mailman' who spotted a most wanted, walking-around Willie in a New York City subway and did enough things that lead to his re-apprehension and another incarceration.

The Arnold Schuster 'mailman' wasn't a mailman, but a young twenty-something adult who was a salesman in his father's Brooklyn clothing store, who initially wasn't going to get the reward for "leading to the arrest and capture" of a wanted felon. They didn't want to pay up.

Arnold, and perhaps his father, doth protehdist too much, and caused such a stink that they got the media attention (read newspapers) in 1952, and ultimately got the reward. But it came with a heavy price. Arnold Schuster was killed in daylight hours (read "broad" daylight) coming back to his Brooklyn apartment by a professional hit man who shot him once in the eye and once in the groin: the mob's message for people who squeal, even if they aren't part of the mob themselves.

Mr. Burrough's, perhaps again because of Mr. Moehringer, describes an "outer-borough Mafiosi" as ordering the hit on Mr. Schuster for being a "rat." This is really laughable.

"Outer-borough" is one of the descriptions that I find most ridiculous. To describe New York City's four boroughs that aren't Manhattan, but are connected to Manhattan by more bridges and tunnels than any place on earth as "outer" is to portray them as islands off the coast of Scotland. My own suspicion is that the New York Times started this description and that's something they're famous for.

Regardless, there was and is no such thing as an "outer-borough Mafiosi" as if it was a green cab that went where the yellow cabs won't go. It's reliably considered that Albert Anastasia, the boss of New York's bosses, ordered the hit because Arnold, even though he was just a civilian Joe, was not adhering to the "code of silence." Albert himself was spectacularly whacked in a midtown hotel (Manhattan) barbershop in 1957. Whether he was visiting from an "outer-borough" and getting cleaned up before seeing a Broadway show was never disclosed.

And perhaps a reach, but one for psychologists to ponder, is how the very public, sensational shooting of Arnold Schuster affected New Yorkers and whatever chances they would take to "get involved."

One of the still most famous instances of not "getting involved" was when it was estimated (how, I could never figure out, even as a teenager at the time) 38 people witnessed poor Kitty Genovese getting dragged around doorways in Kew Gardens and stabbed so many times she was killed by a mugger.

It was night, and screams were heard and people came to their windows. But no one called the police. There was no 9-1-1 system then, and precinct numbers weren't so well known that they were on sticky pads next to the phone. In fact, precincts were seldom called directly. Emergencies involved dialing "O" for the "operator" who was asked to connect the caller to the police or the fire department. But who knows, perhaps getting the police on the phone when needed only happened if you were Alan Ladd or Humphrey Bogart in the movies and you were wearing a hat indoors and smoking.

After reading newspaper accounts of the Arnold Schuster shooting I always speculated that there had to be enough adults around in 1964 who remembered 1952 very clearly, and what happened to people who informed. Ironically, Ms. Genovese was a distant relation of the Genovese crime family.

So, Willie Sutton has given us a highly usable and entertaining quote that he claims he never said, and perhaps with an enormous stretch, the 9-1-1 system that was created after the Kitty Genovese murder.

How do we thank Willie for his contributions? Maybe declare a holiday and close the banks for the day?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Big Bird

Perhaps it's not polite to make fun of a cultural outfit, but when four Nigerian farmers show up in a Dutch court room alleging pollution of their farmland by a Chevron oil spill, and two are dressed in business suits and ties, while another has on what looks like an African business suit, and the fourth one is dressed as...well you have to admit, Big Bird, then political correctness and decorum aside, what is this about? Is he for Obama, for Romney, or never heard of PBS?

Is he a chicken farmer, and came as Frank Perdue early for Halloween? You don't really know because the story is about the proceedings and the pollution claim, and makes no reference to the sartorial diversity represented at the table.

Maybe that's just a well. All pictures don't need words.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Angela Verboten

This is a recent picture in Greece of the riot police having to quell one of the many demonstrators who are angry with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and her European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund austerity measures that are felt to hurt the Greeks. There is bad blood here, inasmuch there are people who remember Germany occupied Greece in WWII and there are those who now see a virtual financial occupation in the making.

Thus, there is no picture of sweet, doughy-faced Angela who bears a likeness to America's Captain Kangaroo. She often looks like the lady who is buying all the kids on the block ice cream from the Good Humor man's truck.

But not in Greece. There is no good humor, and they'd like to blow the truck up if she gets near it.

Angela it seems is not Sara Lee. Because nobody doesn't like Sara Lee.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The British Are Staying

For lovers of British period costume drama the news couldn't be better. There will be a prequel to 'Downton Abbey', starring younger versions of Lord and Lady Granthan. This will account for the time before they became the keepers of the monor and will supposedly include some American backdrop. Lady Granthan, as any true follower of 'Downton' knows, is American born, and Shirley MacLaine is her mother.

Of course we Yanks haven't seen Ol' Shirl as the mother yet, but it's in the can.

The creator of  'Downtown Abbey', Julian Fellowes, has announced he is doing a prequel story in book form, that will be adapted to TV.  The show is extremely popular in Britain and here. Nothing works better than success.

And the introduction of Ol' Shirl into the current story line of course augers well for Ol' Shirl to entertain us in the prequel. Lord Granthan will be younger, therefore he will fit better into his Boer War uniform with six-pint abs and be what what all British officers are in uniform--dashing.

Historical content will be well served. We'll have the crest of British imperialism prior to WWI on display, along with an earlier, American Lady Granthan who is involved in Prohibition amendments and of course the Suffragist movement. Being whose daughter she is, it's not possible that the apple will fall far from the tree.

And Ol' Shirl? The possibilities are unlimited. Aside from being in the series current timeline, Ol' Shirl can be transported back to an earlier time in America when she smoked cigars and perhaps hung out with Bolsheviks. Her New Age spirituality and belief in reincarnation are perfect for the time machine.

The setting is there. Marlon Brando is the more grown up Don Corleon, and Robert DeNiro is the younger, prequel version. With the wave of her hand Ol' Shirl can be Coquette Shirl.

And if she keeps waving her hand she'll become Vivian Leigh and convince us she's Scarlett O'Hara.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Good To Know

The Canadian maple syrup heist continues to attract attention and the best pun-in-cheek journalism there is.

The latest news, as reported in the WSJ, has our northern neighbor successful in recovering 500,000 pounds of the stuff from a warehouse in New Brunswick, a Canadian maritime province, and not where Rutgers University is located in New Jersey. (Just in case your iPhone map app is not working right.)

Not too long ago, John Pollack wrote a scholarly and cute book on puns: 'The Pun Also Rises.'  It's an authoritative and entertaining book on the origin of puns, the use of puns, and what has to be an exhaustive working of whatever there is to know about puns. Amazingly, to me, Mr. Pollack doesn't offer even one example of the WSJ at work when it comes to puns.

Here is a paper in love with puns. Their traditional 'A-Head' piece usually can't wait to get started with one, or several puns, announcing them in the column's headline. Take the maple syrup story coming out of their Toronto office. Headline: Maple Syrup Plot Thickens in Canada. And this isn't an 'A-Head' piece, but a buried, although continuing, story inside the paper.

In a story that spans three columns, each of which is 2 1/4" deep (therefore a short story), the bylined piece by David George-Cosh (definitely an English Canadian--hyphenated surname) the reporter treats us to:

"the plot a heist of a big dollop of Quebec's..."
"...seized more than $1.4 million worth of the sticky stuff in neighboring New Brunswick..."

The 500,000 pounds that's been recovered was making its way back to Quebec in 16 cargo trucks, leaving New Brunswick with a police escort. It is not felt that all of the stolen syrup will be recovered.

The executive-director of the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, Anne-Marie Granger Godbout (definitely a French-Canadian), is optimistic the recovery that has been made will help the authorities find the "'network' that pulled off the heist." Anne-Marie further adds, "It's not just a gang of teenagers [who] have a beer and want to rob a warehouse."

And that's the good news. Canadian teenagers are not more audacious and criminally-minded than their southern counterparts. They drink Molson Light, smoke Players cigarettes, play video games and log onto Facebook and surely spend quality time trying to figure out where and when to do you-know-what to you-know-who.

O Canada.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


It is not often I'm ever aware that my thinking lines up to someone as esteemed as Barry Commoner, a biologist, academic environmentalist, and founder of modern ecology, who just passed away at 95.

Dr. Commoner was considered and known as the first person to sound the alarms about what toxic substances were doing to the earth, and therefore us.

In two separate obituaries the writers list Dr. Commoner's four informal rules of ecology. Each writer quotes the rules the same way, so I'm guessing even if they were informal rules, they were written in stone. No interpretations. No variance.

Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything must go somewhere.
Nature knows best.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I therefore find myself in great company when I match the ethos of this blog against his four pillars.

Everything gets connected somehow.
We live on a Mobius strip.

At 95 and born in 1917, Dr. Commoner was only two years younger than my father, who in no way lived as long. Born in New York City's borough of Brooklyn, Barry heard the same repeated and word-of-mouth generational laments that I became familiar with while growing up.

There were several old-timers who hung out at the family flower shop in the 1960s who I heard wistfully lament the passing of the good old days, when you could go into a saloon and pay a nickel for the beer and help yourself to the free stack of sandwiches on plates on the bar. You paid for the beer, but the lunch was free.

When things change, they never go back to what they were.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Angela Merkel Air

Angela Merkel continues to be seen in more places than Betty Crocker.

Recently, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, was seen with someone who wasn't a head of state. She appeared with Tom Enders, the CEO of EADS, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. at a news conference held on a runway to discuss why the planes weren't taking off.

The delay may have had something to do with the fact that no one was boarding the planes, but this was not confirmed.

Ms. Merkel had already finished her remarks when Mr. Enders took to the podium to direct the luggage carts to come back. Their destination was not known.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Further Proof

As if further proof were needed to believe we live on a Mobius strip, consider this fresh piece of news.

Within days of reading about the possible skeletal remains of England's King Richard III being found under a parking lot in Leicester, England and writing about it and wondering if anyone will be still looking for Jimmy Hoffa after 500 plus years, comes the AP news story from Detroit that the police there are checking out a tip that Hoffa may lie buried under a driveway in a Detroit suburb. 

A preliminary radar check of the driveway has found an "anomaly," and further soil forensic analysis is scheduled for tomorrow. 

That Mr. Hoffa, having had so much to do with wheels and vehicles as President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, might be found under a driveway is perhaps anti-climatic.  If confirmed remains are found it will of course still be news. An entire generation has come of age that likely knows nothing about Mr. Hoffa, teamsters, and the fact that his disappearance has never been fully explained.

Remember, we eventually found out who Deep Throat was. Life on other planets, who Carly Simon was singing about, and the remains of Jimmy Hoffa are what's left for most of the rest of us.