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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The News From Across the Pond

The news from across the pond is exciting for archaeologists and history revisionists: the remains of King Richard III, dead since 1485, having succumbed to being poleaxed at the age of 32, are thought to have been recovered.

Richard apparently was not well thought of, being depicted as a murdering evil schemer with a bad back. But that was the Middle Ages, and the hygienic and medical discomforts endured even by a king could make someone unduly churlish.

It seems the remains of King Richard III were always suspected of being buried in the choir area of a priory.  But another tempermental king, Henry VIII, ransacked and leveled the priories of the era, and rendered future GPS clues difficult to follow.

None of this discouraged anyone from being on the lookout for skeletal remains that fit all the expectancies of what poor Richard's remains would show nearly 500 years later. And such remains have been found buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Isotope and DNA testing, expected to take 12 weeks for usable results, will advance some conclusions. No instant replay at work there. It is science.

Thus, the archaeologists are ecstatic. The history revisionists are hopeful the remains will help them prove that King Richard III was not as bad a guy as history as treated him.  How confirmed remains will do this is not known, but in 12 weeks political analysts and spinners will be looking for work. The American presidential election will be over, so it's not too much to expect that there might be those with English connections who would be drawn to the story. Or, the re-make of the story.

And while this news might have portions of England aglow, it's likely not doing anything to anyone here in the States. This of course is a shame. After over 500 years, the remains of an English king might be confirmed as found. Alert the media. Fanfare for re-internment at Westminster Abbey.  

Jimmy Hoffa has been considered missing for 37 years, and it seems Americans have given up even caring where he might have been buried. The belief here is that if Mr. Hoffa had ever given money of any kind to Public Television, (Channel 13, for example), he would not have remained missing for any appreciable time. Someone would have come looking for him and not given up until they found him.

Mr. Hoffa of course is the missing former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who was convicted of jury tampering, bribery and fraud in 1964 and sent to Federal prison. He was considered murdered in 1975, but his remains have never been found. Theories have flown off the wall, but it's hard to believe they will keep interest alive for over 500 years.

And even if his remains were found, revising his history would be completely unnecessary. He was granted a pardon from President Nixon in 1971, so his reputation shouldn't need any further polishing. Let those without sin cast the first stone.

So, if Jimmy Hoffa won't having the staying power to ignite burial interest in this country 500 years from now, who will?

Silly question: Those strawberry ice cream eating aliens kept in Area 51. And if someday they're found buried anywhere near Chicago, it's a cinch they will have voted in several high-profile elections.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

Ten years. Still true.
No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Some More Sticky News

The last thing I expected to read in an obituary was further proof that Quebec is interested in maple syrup.

You might remember where we last left the Royal Canadian Mounted Police: investigating the disappearance of nearly 700,000 gallons of maple syrup from a supposedly secure, secluded storage tank in rural Quebec.

The WSJ video link to the story remarks that the 10 million pounds, or 15,000 oil drum barrels of the syrup would require 75 tanker trucks to transport away. Set up the roadblocks. If truly moved off site, it is an astonishing haul.

So far, no further news has been reported on the heist. It reminds me of the story in the 1960s, when Billy Sol Estes, a close friend of President Johnson's in Texas, managed to fool the auditors when they came to verify the presence of soybeans in his storage tanks.

Billy somehow delayed the auditors from inspecting the subsequent tanks after the first one was verified. He took advantage of the delay and had the contents of the first pumped into the second before the auditors got there. Thus, once they arrived at storage facility #2, the tank was full, but #1 was now empty.

The scheme worked for a while, but they finally caught up to Ol' Billy and I think he was convicted and did a little time for fraud.

So whether the syrup might have merely been pumped into a tanker ship and sent out along the Saint Lawrence Seaway will of course be things the RCMP will be looking into.

But back to the obituary. Jake Ebberts, a Canadian film producer, who produced many mega-hits in the States, passed away at 71. The films included 'Dances With Wolves,' 'Chariots of Fire, 'Gandhi,' and many other familiar movies.

In mentioning Jakes's travels it is also mentioned there was a house in Montreal (in the province of Quebec) where his family "created an elaborate system for producing maple syrup, which they distributed to friends each year."

The RCMP would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bits and Pieces

Here are some thoughts and phrases that have been rattling around in my head recently. It'll be good to get these out of my head and onto a page of some kind. Someone else might actually enjoy thinking about them as well. Or not.

No one thought would be enough to build a whole entry on, but there are thoughts here that are big thoughts. Song lyrics, a line from a poem, initials, things that have happened. Some are perhaps cruelly humorous, depending on your viewpoint, or just inane. So far, there aren't many.

Lyrics from a Phil Ochs song, "The Flower Lady."
"...they complain about the present using memories..."
Wow, just a few words to describe an incredible number of people through generation after generation.

Lyrics from "Frankie and Johnny," sung by Pete Seeger
Before getting specific I have to add that I learned to play this on the accordion when I was maybe 10, or 11. I may have read the lyrics and thought nothing of them. I had enough trouble realizing Frankie was a woman. How can Frankie be a woman when the boy across the street is named Frankie? I was confused, but learned the piece anyway.

"...second time she shot him, there's a new man's face in Hell..."
If you're familiar with the song, it's about the revenge Frankie gets for Johnny's stepping out on her. She fires three shots through the hotel room door with her .44; the second shot, according to the lyrics, proved to be the fatal one that sends Johnny down below because of his misdeeds.

Great female revenge song, but there are laws, and Frankie gets the electric chair. The song basically claims all men are alike. Perhaps true, but the side effects can vary greatly.

Where do they go? Over the years I'm sure I've bought more bookmarks than I currently have. I remember some of them, and know I no longer have them. They go missing with the regularity of half a pair of socks.

Came across these initials when reading a Twitter tweet about a "Stride for Pride" event at Golden Gate Fields. Golden Gate Fields is a short meet thoroughbred track near San Francisco.

I figured it had something to do with the gay community, but what did it mean? It certainly wasn't one of the abbreviations
E-Z Pass uses on their statements to designate where you incurred the nation-building toll.

A friend of mine was handier than Google at the moment, and he quickly told me it stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender." Completely fit the "Stride for Price" theme. What it might have to do with thoroughbreds is another thought, but maybe the track is just a place to hold the event.

The same friend of mine explained what "tramp stamp" meant when I wondered out loud on hearing it. He quickly explained it was generally a tattoo on the small of the back favored by strippers and female porn stars. It can be a wide tattoo that goes from the left pelvic bone to right pelvic bone. I got the idea, but was left wondering if hookers also had "tramp stamps." My friend said he didn't know, but thought the named professions rendered the question moot.

He's a good guy to have around to explain things.

To me, one of the great lines of all time. From 'Sequel,' the first line of a poem by Alice Fulton.
"The universe's ignorance of me is privacy."
Just think about that when you hear of someone describing their lunch on Facebook. Or anything on Facebook.

And right now, that's it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Williams Library

There is one thing about New York City. There are an infinite number of things going on that need no advertising.

Most sports are like that. Print the schedule once, and the place will either fill up, or go nearly empty. No need to announce too much that there is a game. The fans know. Music, opera are like that as well.

Even an event as obscure as last night's presentation at the Williams Library, a four hundred square foot cornucopia of books, railroad pictures, memorabilia and mis-matched hotel ballroom chairs, located in upper recesses of Grand Central Terminal, it was nearly filled by virtue of e-mail and word-of-mouth. There were about thirty people, canes and hearing aids, in a room that can't hold much more.

The National Railway Historical Society meets there on the first Thursday of every month, except during July and August, when presumably its members ride the rails. The presentation last night was by Lawrence Stelter, the co-author of the book on the Third Avenue El. He wrote the text to accompany his father Lothar's incredible Kodachrome 1950 pictures that vividly document the era.

There have been two editions of the book. A hardcover version that came out many years ago and the current soft cover second edition, 'By the El: Third Avenue and Its El At Mid-Century.' The books were self-published by Mr. Stelter, an architect with the City who was born in 1957, just after the El was demolished.

My own connection with the book is that I'm mentioned in the Acknowledgements section, having contacted Mr. Stelter several times since the first edition. It is my grandfather's flower shop that appears in the lower left corner of the pages on the 18th Street stop. I remember the El and of course the shop. I thus got an invitation to the presentation.

Mike, the "sexton" of The Williams Library, showed me around half of it. Despite it's relative small size, the other half becomes hard to get in front of when people are sitting in the closely spaced chairs.

The library is reached by an elevator just inside Track 23 on the Upper Level of GCT. You need to be escorted now, post-9/11. This bring you to a level above the Apple store at the east end. From there you proceed along the glassed-in catwalk that allows you to look down at GCT with a view most people don't get. Apple iPads as seen from the Goodyear blimp, almost.

Another long corridor after going through an id card guarded door and you get to an area with staircases going up and down. It looks like a staircase landing at the old 8th Avenue Madison Square Garden. You're there. Mike opens two tight fitting doors and turns the lights on. Air conditioning happily follows as well.

It's a square room that first strikes you as being in shambles. But it really isn't. It is musty looking, however. There are books there that look like they'd fall apart if you took them out. There are periodicals on the shelves, but mostly the place is filled with parts of trains and pictures.

There are glass display cases with pins, patches and signs from the New York Central Railroad.I gathered from the opening comments that the National Railway Historical Society is devoted to fans of the steam locomotive era. Diesel seems frowned on, and electric is not represented.

I asked Mr. Stelter if he comes there all the time. He said, "Oh no, I'm a member of the Electric Train Society." He was a guest as well.

The room holds a somewhat dirty red carpet, displayed like a tapestry, that would have been the upscale welcome mat for the people getting on the 20th Century Limited. The train's logo is woven in. This is the New York to Chicago train that William Powell and Myrna Loy and Asta took in the 'Thin Man' movies. I mentioned to Mike that I used to go to Chicago with my mother on the Broadway Limited that left Pennsylvania Station in the 1950s. Mike didn't exactly put up a sign of the cross with his hands, but did say they were the competition.

There is a small banjo clock on the wall, surrounded by old pictures. There is what looks like the world's heaviest coaster along a ledge halfway up to the ceiling. It's a steel wheel from a train. Models of trains are seen throughout.

As familiar as I am with the Stelter book, I learned several new things. Mr. Stelter himself said he nearly always finds something he didn't first see in the pictures, and when you look at the book you can understand why. There is great clarity in the pictures of everyday 1950s life along Third Avenue.

I didn't realize, even from looking at the book, that the express stations stops were two levels. There were three tracks, with the middle track the express service, reversing direction for the rush hours. There were no signals on the local tracks. It was "line of sight" movement. There were signals on the express tracks, and the express went from 34th Street to 106th Street, an incredible continuous run.

The third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel is made from steel taken from the demolished El. The sidewalk clock at 85th Street seen in the 1945 movie 'The Lost Weekend' is still there. It doesn't have the pawnbroker's three gold balls above it, as seen in the book. The clock still works. When Ray Milland woozily walks by it in the movie it's one o'clock, and a train can be seen above. In the book it's five o'clock in the afternoon.

The presentation closes with a picture of the rear of the train on its last run along the elevated tracks: May 12, 1955.  Mr. Stelter's parents took the ride, along with many others. His parents are both still alive, with it being mentioned in passing when his presentation got to the Cooper Union stop that his mother [my emphasis] graduated from there. His father worked for New York Telephone and photographed the El on his lunch hour from various spots depending on where he was sent for the day.

Mr. Stelter quipped that he thinks he was conceived when his parents met at a seminar on how to use Kodachrome film better. The recent discontinuance of Kodachrome by Kodak was treated like a death in the family.

A member of the audience said that he too was on that last train ride. He recounted the story that the emergency cord was constantly being pulled so the train would stop and people could take pictures of the surrounding areas. Mr. Stelter relates that his father said a cop finally cut the cord so that it could no longer be pulled.

The Third Avenue El was the last of the Manhattan El trains to be discontinued and demolished. At one time there also were El trains on 9th, 6th, and 2nd Avenues, with crosstown trains at 34th Street and 42nd streets in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. So unknown were these other avenue Els that engineers doing work on 6th Avenue didn't even know of the El's existence until they unexpectedly found footings buried in the street that hadn't been removed, delaying a then current roadway project.

So, who killed off the dinosaurs? Mr. Stelter explains that there was a 1950s study by some city planners that argued that declining ridership and unsightliness were reasons enough to discontinue and demolish the line. Mr. Stelter recounts he did his Master's thesis on this planning decision. The Bloomingdale family, whose department store bumped up against the El at 59th Street lobbied heavily to have it removed.

Its removal did have the effect of opening the avenue up to light, and development. Big development.  Third Avenue had an established seedy reputation by the time the 1950s rolled around; bars, rooming houses, and pawnbrokers. Lots of bars. Mr. Stelter said he found over 100 bars listed in a 1950s phone book. There could be several on the same block. An old-timer co-worker my friend once visited in a St. Albans,Vermont nursing home answered the question if he watched much TV with the response that there was "nothing on TV but Third Avenue trash." There are those who might find that remark timeless. Barbara Stanwyck in the 1941 movie comedy 'Ball of Fire' makes a nearly similar disparaging remark. The reputation remained.

The corner building that flower shop was in and where my father's family basically grew up was torn down. The shop moved across the street to occupy the corner store of the new northwest corner 1950s six-story apartment house that replaced the building barely seen in the 18th Street stop photo. I remember the hole in the ground for the foundation of this building. The building was built by the landlord developers Belkind and Brenner, who had several other apartment building in the area, and whose building I can still pick out.

They missed the absolute high-rise boom, however. The southwest corner became a high-rise 'luxury' building that is still there: The other two east side corners each also became high-rises, each succeeding one taller than the other. At one point in the early 60s I remember some old-timers claiming they were going to rename the avenue 'Paradise Avenue.'

Luckily, 'Paradise' was not adopted as a name, and the numerical designation sticks. Even 6th Avenue, after years and years (since the 1940s) of officially being known as Avenue of the Americas is now also labeled 6th Avenue. Thank goodness.

Second Avenue is only now getting a rail replacement for the 2nd Avenue El, discontinued in 1942. My father remembered a 1930s bond issue that was reappropriated after approval that was meant to build a subway line.  Mr. Stelter added his father's recollection of this as well. Sounds somewhat like a Bob Dylan song, "It's been a long time coming," And if the Irish sandhogs don't blow up the street level buildings, there might actually be a line there someday.

As the 1955 newsreel concludes, "The El is at the end of the line. The El belongs to the past."

Speed Reading

Quite a few years ago I remarked to someone who was older than I that my father didn't spend much time with the newspaper. What I meant by that was that it didn't take him long to read it. He went front to back in no time. The NYT. Whereas myself, reading the same paper took me a good deal more time. I landed on more stories to read.

The person I told this to completely understood. Getting older meant not being as interested in the same things, because they are the same things. The names have changed, the clothing looks different, but it's really the same story they read years ago. Thus, there is more to skip. Been there, read that.

Now that I'm the same age as my father was at the time, and the person I told the story to, I find myself skipping a good deal of the newspaper, even though I go front to back.

The past few weeks have incredible for skipping things. Add the things I'm not interested in to the things I've grown weary of, and you've got a very short read in front of you.

Tennis: U.S. Open. Two weeks or more of skippable stories and results. Pages and pages in the sports section of the NYT. Have absolutely no interest in tennis. Tried to learn how to play 40 years ago and never got past a few lessons, which were actually held at the tennis courts in Grand Central Terminal.

Political Conventions: Either one, have grown weary of the same old thing by either party. The conventions are choreographed love fests that hold no surprise. I once did follow politics, but after the 2000 presidential election don't know the electoral vote counts or any numbers associated with the election. Someone will win, and we'll endure.

Food: Restaurants, recipes, what to do with truffles and drizzles of olive oil. No interest, but the pictures can be nice. I eat well enough, and don't starve.

Fashion: Never see anyone who is wearing what they're writing about. Male or female. Learned yesterday that the new editor of Cosmopolitan, Joanna Coles, 50, was wearing purple geometric Prada pants, a black Preen English top and black Givenchy heels when she was being interviewed for the story.

She's an attractive woman who probably shouldn't be wearing clothes with the labels on and the boxes nearby. How the reporter learned who produced what she was wearing is a mystery to me. I wouldn't be able to tell if a man's shirt came from Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Wal-Mart. The story caught my eye because it was in the Business section. Honest.

Real Estate: I have a home. Not interested in buying or selling. Don't know anyone who is. I know all about the neighborhood.

Obituaries: Death is common. Happens to everyone eventually. Yet, this is the section I can get the most out of. Sure, death happens every day, but it only happens once to the people they write about.I love to read stories about the eras they lived in, and what they did, and what they won't be doing any longer.

The only sad thing about obituaries is that we get too many of the distinguished deceased. It's hard to relate to a Nobel Prize winner, or award winning film directors. It's been over a decade now that the great obituary writer Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. left us and with that, his uncanny ability to find the Goat Man, the champion duck pin woman, the fellow who invented kitty litter, and any number of worthy candidates we can relate to. Luckily his work lives on in several books. It just doesn't get added to.

Sports: With Internet available results, sports reporting has certainly changed. We know the score. There is less to read, but more to view. The Olympic coverage was extensive, but ultimately of little interest. Splashing in the water, diving, and gymnastics do nothing for me. Track is interesting, but there are really only a few events worth paying attention to.

What I was happy to learn was that there really is an American female volleyball player who is named Destiny Hooker. This gave me great relief, since I now knew Don Imus could say her name and not get reprimanded by Reverend Al Sharpton and ultimately suspended from his job.

Finance: I've got a few bucks, no longer work, and if I paid attention to all those analysts, advisors, pundits, consultants, and soothsayers who write about it, I'd be pretty much wiped out by now and pulling the newspaper out of the garbage can.

Arts: There is interest here. Film, theater and book reviews are interesting and helpful. Who gets to be praised, who gets to be buried. Music is sometimes interesting, but basically filled with names of people I'll never be interested in hearing, or seeing at obscure venues that can't be reached by cab.

Science: Can be interesting, but generally health slanted with stories about what the worried-well should think about. Fuhgetaboutit.

Home: Furniture I'm sure the cat wouldn't even go near. I have a couch, a bed, lamps, chairs and tables. We're fine.

Weekend: I know what I'm going to be doing.

Time to get started.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Knew?

Put enough of anything anywhere and they will come. To steal it.

If you've ever had pancakes, french toast, waffles, or some other breakfast food and used pure maple syrup you might have unwittingly been using stolen maple syrup. You have been receiving stolen property. Send it back. The Royal Canadian Police might be after you, and you know their reputaion.

The news item in Saturday's WSJ was revealing on many fronts. It seems, in the Journal's words, "some sticky-fingered thieves" made off with a haul of $30 million Canadian dollar's worth of maple syrup from a "little known strategic reserve in rural Quebec." (It's $30.4 US dollars for the conversion minded.)

Further revealed is that Quebec produces about 75% of the world's maple syrup. This we did not know.

My annual trip upstate for continuing equine prophesy credits usually finds me in Vermont when class is not in session. This occurs on Tuesdays. Since I like waffles, and I've come to like pure maple syrup, I usually buy a gallon of Dark Amber in the Jolley convenience store at a Mobil station in Fair Haven, Vermont.

This sounds totally unrustic. Getting your maple syrup where you can also get motor oil, soda and beer doesn't sound right. But forget that country barn crap. The price is right. The gallon size is the best buy per unit pricing, and this year it went for $44 US dollars.

Thus, the haul from the strategic reserves, I would guess based on my retail street value, amounts to a truly astounding 690,909 gallons. This is a heist. Or a bookkeeping error. Is there any left?

Aunt Jemima and Log Cabin syrup long ago stopped claiming there was any maple syrup in their product. It became way too expensive to leave on a diner table and have Billy create a lake of it around his breakfast.

But, as anyone who has tasted real maple syrup knows there is a difference between it any other type of syrup and it's worth it if you can get your hands on it. Or steal it.

So, somehow, persons unknown managed to pump nearly 700,000 of the tree nectar and make off with it. We've all watched enough TV to know that there needs to be a "fence" involved. Who do you sell 700,000 gallons to who can then repackage and redistribute it back to the consumer? Unless it's art, when you steal something you generally try and sell it. This is big.

The gallon that I buy is labeled that it comes from the Vallee Farm, St. Albans, Vt. There is some kind of Vermont seal on the jug to make me feel that it's coming from the source. Maybe it is. Or, maybe it comes from some underground tank, pumped into a jug, and labeled as if some farm family worked very hard and late and into the starry night to create to the product.

As anyone who has read some recent Vermont Life magazine stories knows, the image of tin buckets hung from maple trees to collect the spring sap has been replaced by tubing that connects the trees and delivers the sap to a central spot.

Thus, there is some modernization in collecting the sap that is boiled off to leave the syrup, but the huge storage reserve part of it was unknown. A strategic reserve of maple syrup, hidden somewhere in rural Quebec. A James Bond plot involving Goldfinger.

Or Stickyfinger. The media is alerted.