Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Things change. Desires don't change, but what is desired changes.

Take figures. Women's figures. Once upon a time the hourglass figure was the definition of perfection. A 10. Enough curves to cause a train wreck. Thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-six (36-24-36) were not lottery numbers, but the most desirable measurements: bust, waist, hips.

Any desirability measurement that went along those lines would nowadays be considered tacky. Probably even offensive. Six pack abs is good for guys, and gals.

I was reminded of how the eye of the beholder has changed when I recently saw 'Goldfinger' for the umpteenth time. Honor Blackman, in her Pussy Galore role was always desirable, but nowadays I wondered if she'd get past the casting call with her lower body girth. Nowhere near bordering on the anorexic look that fills the covers of so many magazines these days. 

And then there was the obituary for Denise Darcel, 87, a screen actress of the 1940s and 50s. I was not familiar with her, but immediately got the message, along with the picture when Margalit Fox, in her first sentence described Denise as someone who was a "great beauty"...with an "unmistakably pneumatic figure."  The accompanying photo from a film with Glenn Ford offered 1950s proof of the description. Probably a good thing Mr. Ford is seen seated. Sure she was attractive. But by today's standards, she would seem to be a curiosity item.

"Pneumatic figure." What a great description. George Carlin in an early monologue described the tug-of-war with sex and church, pain and pleasure, when he talked of the church of "Our Lady of Perpetual Motion."

There were lots of ways, now I'm sure considered of a certain era, that were offered by guys to desribe the perfect female form.  William B. Williams, the WNEW radio disc jockey offered the woman "with a wiggle in her walk."  Country songs tell of the "body built for sin."  There's that religious thing again.

She has "a butt that could move furniture." This isn't always a good thing. Although J-Lo seems to gotten away it with so far.

Wolf whistles and popping your thumb knuckle in your mouth were always auditory and physical signals that female desirability (a babe) has just passed by. The thumb knuckle thing always confused me though, because I always wondered why anyone would want to nearly bite themselves.

But the unmistakably best dated description of beauty is "she's built like a brick shithouse." No one born after 1949 says that one anyone. You have to hang out in nursing homes or racetracks to hear that one.

Deconstructing that one does leave you wondering what is so good about a brick shithouse? Solid, sure. Okay, a tornado is not going to whisk you away if your timing is really bad, but really, brick and shit?  Nothing I'd like to be naked with. Texture and likely the smell should be a mood kill.

"Unmistakably pneumatic figure."  Our Lady of  Perpetual Motion. Perfect for a family newspaper.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Last Hurrah. Maybe.

It's not the sports page I grew up with. It's not even the sports page from only a few years ago. Not when a first page story is about a pair of guys who kayaked 1,500 miles around an Arctic Circle island, and to the best of anyone's knowledge, are the first to do so.

But it's a new world. It's always a new world, and adapting is the key to survival. And it would seem for a print publication that experts placed on Death Row, the New York Times sports section is doing pretty good. It is equal parts results, and Sports Illustrated.

Take today's story. A teaser for it appears on the front page of the paper, leading to three fairly spectacular color photos. Lengthy text, more pictures and a map follow a few pages later.

Improbably, the two guys are named Turk and Boomer. Apparently their real names, not nicknames. Their last names no less. They are polar opposites in age, one 65, the other 26. There has to be something about spending 104 days circling an Arctic Island under the midnight sun, and what it does to your complexion, because judging by a black and white photo of the two, they both look at least 65. One's preserved, the other fast forwarded.

The island, despite being close to the North Pole, has a population on it. Turk and Boomer arranged for food and supplies at key points that was provided by the residents. It was an Arctic version of mass transit. There's another kayak right behind this one. Turk is the older one, and when their names are said out loud you think you're going to be listening to sports radio. WICE. Maybe that's how they landed on the sports page.

We can't possibly have heard the last of Turk and Boomer. The media will beckon. It has to. Turk, because of his age figures this might be his last hurrah in a life full of adventures, unless of course he's challenged to compete against Boomer on skis. Turk reminds the world he can paddle, and he can ski.

Keep checking the sports page.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reading the News Backwards

This doesn't mean reading it right to left. Or, starting at the back of the newspaper and working my way forward. Although as a kid, I became aware of an uncle whose approach to New York City tabloids, The News, The Post, or Daily Mirror was to place the front page face down and start with the back page and go forward from there.  This of course allowed faster access to the race results. And in fact, although I don't need the paper for race results, (HRTV, Internet suffice) I have adopted this approach whenever I pick up one the remaining tabloids.  Sports is at the back.

No, reading the news backwards refers to the habit I've seen myself take up of saving whatever paper I didn't fully get to, and at some point when it's rainy, or too cold to work in the garage, or whenever, and pick it up and go through it as thoroughly as I'd like to.  This generally doesn't take long, and you might imagine why.

There's no reason to read an October 2011 story about Herman Cain in January 2012.  The Euro? They settled that. Now they're onto debt downgrades. Romney in Iowa? Hey, we're headed to South Carolina now.  It's actually a great way to take the news in.  See what you didn't read in the first place, and now see there's still no good reason to read it.  It's a great time-saver.

I'm quite up on the news. I just don't always get the chance to absorb it with the attention I'd like to. Thus, the snow drifts of newspaper in the living room that drive my wife nuts, and the eventual shrinkage of the pile as tasks alternate and I devote some time to "catching up."

And while I do occasionally realize I missed a concert or something I might have considered going to, the arrangement works well.  Catching up is fun.

Take learning that Lenny Dykstra and Jose Canseco were going to box each other in early November in a celebrity boxing match in Hollywood. Lenny talking trash about how Canseco "ruined my career by spreading lies." No idea of the outcome, and no idea if the bout was for charity. Considering Dykstra's career also involved investment fraud and grand theft auto, the bout might have been for his legal bills.

And the post office. An 'A-Hed' piece in the WSJ never really gets too dated, and in one in early November we learn about the lengths the postal service goes to decipher bad handwriting and get the mail delivered despite the obstacles the sender has placed in their way with hieroglyphics, and bad spelling.

We learn a new word, at least to me. 'Nixie,' a piece of mail that can't be delivered because of being poorly addressed. What we don't learn is what the postal service does with the envelopes that appear to have cash in them and can't be delivered. It's assumed if there is a legible return address the mail will make its way back to the sender that way.  And thank goodness for those return addresses that do-gooders keep sending in the hopes of raising a few bucks.  Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity project has kept me from seriously dipping into my own supply of self-produced Avery return address labels. Thanks, Jimmy.

Letting the news "steep" on the floor also allows attention to stories that might have been overlooked if the approach were more frantic.  Take the Q&A interview in the NYT in a section called Small Business.

This piece is fairly recent, but without an aging process, would have completely escaped me. I usually don't read anything about chefs, or the preparation of truffles, or "drizzles of olive oil," but this one caught my eye.

'After South Boston, A Restaurant was Easy,' is the business story of Barbara Lynch, who by all accounts operates a string of very successful restaurants in the Boston area. Her training was not formal, but nearly reform school. She stole an MBTA bus at 13, didn't get caught, took bets from teachers and dealt drugs in high school. She's 47 now, attractive, married, and no longer steals buses.

What I would have missed if I had thrown that paper out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Joe Torre

In between the recent holidays my son-in-law gave me a copy of his firm's holiday gift to their clients: a folded sleeve jacket from the accounting and consulting firm of J. H. Cohn, LLP with a DVD inside titled, 'Insight on Management with Joe Torre.' My son-in-law's firm is not J.H. Cohn, and his is not an accounting firm, but the gift still fits as a corporate giveaway.

Joe Torre is of course the former New York Yankee manager who has gone on to positions with The LA Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and now likely a part-owner of the Dodgers. Joe is a New York legend, and his association with the J. H. Cohn firm is well known to anyone in New York who looks up at transportation advertising.

I don't know how big the Cohn accounting firm is. It's not one of the Final Four, but they must have some reach. Joe apparently is a spokesperson for the outfit, and the DVD is one of those casual instructionals on views and techniques regarding "Leadership, Team, Integrity, Resilience, 3 Cs and Strategy." The three Cs apparently are: Commitment, Conviction and Caring.

Joe is seen at a table, nicely dressed in a business suit and tie, wearing an enviable diamond New York Yankee logo ring on the right hand, a nice wedding band on the left, and a multi-function watch that could land aircraft. He's not wearing cuff links, but the interviewer throwing him softball questions and prompts is.  The two of them are introduced by the President and CEO of J.H. Cohn, (who is not named Cohn) who looks like he was certainly born sometime during Richard Nixon's first term in office. The president remains off camera, and is only there to get the proceedings started.

It's a perfect business DVD, and a perfect business holiday gift. I'm sure there are companies that have made it required viewing. I asked my son-in-law if he's watched it, and the answer was an easily understood "no." His is a small outfit, and they probably don't need the kind of team building that Joe talks about.

I've had this DVD in front of me for over a week now, and it had to happen. I finally gave it some thought and wondered how Joe compared to my memory and what I read about Casey Stengel, the equally legendary Hall-of-Fame Yankee manager from a completely different era.

I viewed. I took notes. I compared. I wondered how Casey would have been packaged in a DVD if there was such a thing when he was around.

First off, Joe is not funny. I guess this is no surprise to anyone who's followed him, but he really isn't. The DVD and its business, baseball, kinda-like-life metaphors are boring. Dry. Dry as toast in the Sahara.

I wasn't a really formed adult when Casey was in his heyday. I remember him as the Yankee manager and how everyone said they could win that many games and that many World Series if they were the manager, given the players they had and the talent.

Stengel was a talker. He was a reporter's dream interview, if you could stay with him. His leadership style was summed up in his statement that, "There are 25 guys on a team, and my job as manager is to keep the 5 guys who hate me away from the 20 who are undecided."

An example of one of his Cs, Caring, would be his understanding of what went into a player's physical and mental well-being. Always keen to have his players ready for the game he recognized that a ballplayer wasn't necessarily done in by spending the night with a woman, but was surely done in by "spending the night looking for a woman." Joe doesn't address this aspect.

Another one of Stengel's Cs, Commitment, would be his loyalty to his players. When asked by a reporter if he was aware that so-and-so was seen in the hotel lobby at 3 A.M., well past the curfew, and if he was going to say something, Stengel is said to have hardly missed a beat and explained to the reporter that first, he was going to find out if the player was coming or going. He might have been arriving very late, or leaving very early. Get the facts first. Joe touches on this, but not as succinctly.

I remember in the early 70s Casey had something seemingly incomprehensible to say about the Oakland As, who under their owner Charlie Finley were a colorfully dressed team that alternated parts of their uniform colors in their doubleheader games. Stengel went on-and-on about their socks. Their socks were a part of the uniform changes that were made during doubleheaders.

Casey Stengel is hardly mentioned these days. I've seen his name come up in two fairly recent obituaries.

An example of his third C, Conviction, would have to be what he said about Greg Goossen, a catcher who played for many teams and never really lived up to the expectations about his career.  In Goossen's obituary the Stengel association was recounted.

"It was Casey Stengel who made Goossen a baseball trivia legend with one remark in 1966. Stengel, having retired as the Mets manager the previous season, was visiting the Mets’ training camp when he pointed at Goossen and was reported to have said, 'Goossen is only 20, and in 10 years he has a chance to be 30.'"  Be patient with the talent.

Another recent obituary, for a cartoonist/writer I can't remember, went on about his being sent to the Polo Grounds in New York, the first home of the New York Mets, in 1962, to interview Casey, who was the expansion team's manager. Casey was shagging fly balls in the outfield during practice (he had been a player as far back as 1912 for the Brooklyn Dodgers) and came to the dugout for the interview asking who it was he was supposed to talk to.  The cartoonist/writer remembers he asked Casey what could they expect from the Mets this year?

The DVD would still be playing. The writer remembers he never got to ask another question.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Obits Annual 2012 Part II

I'll never really know how my mind works.  Years and years ago, sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, there was a cartoon in Playboy of, I think, a Fink Bread truck (there really was once a Fink Bread in New York City, that baked bread for commercial eateries) that was being held up by a gang of either hippies, or beatniks. They were armed, but totally bummed out when they realized what their target was, and that, "Hey man, it really is a bread truck."

I was reminded of that thought was I began reading, mostly re-reading, the obituaries in the recently compiled release from the New York Times. "Hey man, these people really are dead."

There have been obituary compilations before. Years ago there was 'The Last Word.' There was a collection of Robert McG. Thomas's obituaries as they appeared in The Times, '52 McGs'. The Economist produced a massive, high paper quality hardcover edition of their obituaries, 'Book of Obituaries.' But all these books were compilations of obituaries as they occurred throughout a period of time, not just a 12 month period.

If you can parse the events, the freshly produced obituary is a bit of historical short story that appears soon after someone's demise. Maybe it is theater. The front cover topping blurb in 'The Obits Annual 2012' calls them "the curtain call." The show is over, liked it or not, and here's the wrap up of people who brought it to you.

Now, re-reading these obituaries at a further elapsed time from their first appearance, it settles in my mind that these folks have really passed away, and we won't be hearing from them in the present tense any longer.

Tony Curtis will not be seen around town in large glasses with his younger wife, or standing in front of a recently completed painting. George Shearing can't possibly now produce his version of music that will yet be written. Sargent Shriver will not weigh in on Arnold and Maria's lives.

The freshly absorbed obituary is the service and the trip to the cemetery. The later read same obituary is the headstone. It's the final proof the subject has left us.

Except of course in Elvis's case. Or anyone else you care to mention.