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, "...in 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.