Monday, December 30, 2013

The New Year

This isn't going to be a year-end wrap crap. Nor will it be lame predictions about the coming year. I still can't out of my head the stage full of advanced thinkers who were assembled by PBS in the waning days of 1999 by John McLauglin who were asked to tell us what we could expect in the new decade.

The only one of the group other than Mr. Laughlin that I can remember was Stephen Jay Gould, the paleontologist, who missed predicting his somewhat early demise that occurred in 2002. As for the bunch of them, not ONE of them mentioned terrorism. Here we are, 12 years after 9/11 and we're still taking our shoes off at the airport. No predictions.

What I will have some fun with is to propose what we might see on 'Downton Abbey' next week in Season 4. Of course for us Yanks, Season 4 is old news. It's long been in the can and absorbed by the UK crowd. But, here's what we might have gotten to see if some out-of-work Yanks from 'Saturday Night Live' had gone across the pond and written a few episodes.

Lord Grantham continues to strut and tut, and wonder what's become of the world. He has finally put his Boar War uniform away. It still fit him during WWI when he got to wear it around the pile and look like he was ready to command cavalry across the field on the Continent and invade Poland, or Lithuania. But now of course he's got Jazz to worry about. Lucky for his stiff upper lip he can't possibly live long enough to witness those four guys who came out of Liverpool. Thank God for term limits.

The household has taken on some strange post-war qualities, and he's getting a little balmy. He's been seen in overalls and a cloth cap pushing a hoe around the garden. The abdication of King Edward is certain to seal the demise of his mental health.

Lady Cora carries on like any stout woman would when presented with grandchildren and missing parents. She's taken to seeing a specialist on Harley Street once a week. It's rumored he's a shrink, and goodness, can you blame the poor woman? She's also been chatted up by a dandy rake who bumped into her as he was coming out of one of those all-male clubs in London. Colin bears a strong resemblance to what you might expect Benedict Cumberbatch's dad to be. Stay tuned.

Martha Levinson, Lady Cora's mother, as played by Shirley MacLaine brings plenty of surprises to the new season. She reveals she's Jewish, and would really like a menorah placed in the window of the esteemed homestead. She also develops a strange female-type disorder that Dr. Clarkson bravely diagnoses. She also claims she's the reincarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. It's no wonder her daughter is on that train once a week to Harley Street, and perhaps a discreet assignation.

Mrs. Patmore, the cook, develops cataracts. This causes her to mistake some lye for powdered sugar as she's preparing the Yorshire pudding. It's only a small sprinkling, and all recover, but Dr. Clarkson is going a bit batty with all there is to tend to. Jane Marple was a house guest at the time of the "poisoning" but concluded it was question of eyesight and not something more sinister. Bravo Jane. One-time guest appearance.

Daisy, the assistant cook, gets knocked-up by a delivery boy who rides a bike to the manor delivering newspapers.

Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Lord Grantham's mother, taps her walking stick on a stair and takes a nasty tumble from the next-to-last step. It seems the impish children that are now swarming around the house have partially sawed their way through the bottom of granny's stick. No one will fess up to the deed. Granny is okay, but does utter a very un-ladylike expletive as she falls. It has to do with the Irish.

Carson, the butler, is the first one who comes under Jane Marple's suspicion when everyone is retching at the table. He of course is exonerated, and helps Jane into her waiting coach for the trip back to St. Mary Mead. He has a smirk on his face.


We don't really know how far into the 20th century 'Downton Abbey' will go. Julian Fellowes has other plans, but works live beyond their originators. The show has got to make it to the Blitz. An English show has to have the plaster ceiling come down before the curtain comes down.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Rabbits

It is the holiday season. Time for giving and receiving. There are some people who give you something they've made themselves. This is usually some form of edible food, perhaps cookies, if you're lucky. If you're unlucky, the eternally lasting inedible fruitcake.

My own experience is that I've been lucky to get a tin of very edible, tasty homemade cookies for the family to share. This year, I've decided to give that person something I've made: wooden rabbits for their garden.

Years ago I made a pair of wooden rabbits for our own garden. Over the years I've repainted them, and kept them in generally good shape. For years and years, despite the fact that there were two rabbits, no little rabbits appeared.

I pointed this out at family barbecues and commented that perhaps the rabbits are gay, and are not going to try for a family. Things change.

There are now two little wooden rabbits that are next to the first two rabbits. The explanations I offer vary greatly depending on who I'm talking to.
  • The original two were not gay, they just waited to have offspring.
  • The original two were not gay, but adopted when the time was right.
  • The original two were both gay, but together decided to adopt.
  • The original two were both gay, but had a procedure involving a surrogate to enable birth.
  • Only one of the original two was gay, but together they decided to adopt.
  • Only one of the original two was gay, but one decided to have a procedure involving a surrogate to enable birth.
We do not have six barbecues in any one year, so I generally only get to announce the first possibility. Sometimes the second.

Now, the person I'm giving the rabbits to has their own imagination. Thus, I am not telling them what the gender or the sexual orientation of the rabbits is. Therefore, they can announce to those in attendance at their barbecues what the rabbits are.

Since any one rabbit can be either male or female and either gay, or heterosexual, there are 16 possibilities that exist for the gender and orientation of the pair of rabbits in the garden. This can go a long way to explaining why there are just now, no little rabbits next to the big rabbits.

Assuming the cookies remain edible, and the friendship lasts, there might, someday be little rabbits in this person's garden.

I'll then let them explain which of the 16 combinations produced the offspring, and what state recognizes their union. Assuming of course there is one. Adding marital status to the mix will create 32 possibilities overall. I hope they like to eat outdoors often.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ya Gotta Love It

Already discussed. There can be great finds on the obituary page. Sometimes there are two great things in one obituary.

Since obituaries for notables are sketched out and nearly completely written before the subject has left us, we can be rewarded with an obit by a favorite reporter who themselves may have now stopped working, or who may have even left us themselves. In a professional parlance, these can be called "double down obits." The older the deceased, the better chance we'll get a eminence grise veteran, perhaps retired/expired reporter.

We do not have a double-down today, but by virtue of the deceased having left us at 92, we get to read an obit by Robert D. McFadden, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who can write the best ledes you will ever read.

The subject of today's obit is Harold Camping, 92, a persistent end-of-the-world forecaster, who, by virtue of life-ending complications caused by a fall, finally got one of his predictions partially right: He got to Judgment Day, but blew the date. I always love to read about end-of-world forecasters who get the date wrong, but leave us to read about them when their date rolls around before ours.

Harold Camping was hardly alone in being a doomsayer. The world is full of active ones, and the ether full of deceased ones. In some families, it's a tradition.

One of my wife's departed uncles was forever predicting another depression in this country. 1929 was coming back. Ever since I first met him in the 70s, he always got around to telling the assembled where we were headed. He predicted depression so often that now his offspring have kept the thought going. Whenever we meet one of my wife's cousins, we know where we're expected to be found.

Mr. McFadden details how Mr. Camping somewhat vigorously predicted the end--often. As Mr. McFadden neatly explains, Camping was held up to "merry mockery" and clownish commentary" when these predictions fell through.

After the last apocalyptic forecasted date of October 2, 2011 came and went without the end, Mr. Camping came to concede that "there's going to be no display of any kind. The end is going to come very, very quietly."

Yikes. "Not with a bang, but a whimper?" Perhaps someone will be around to report on it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tar Beach

I will readily confess I never heard of Colin Wilson, the British intellectual, writer, philosopher, and master of numerous other literary disciplines who has just passed away at 82, in Cornwall, England. By Margalit Fox's accounts of his life in his obituary, Mr. Wilson sounds like someone who would have been greatly displeased and disapproving of those of who never heard of him. Sorry Colin.

But, he was easily nearly a generation ahead of me, and my higher education, for as long as it lasted, consisted of trying to master Issac Newton's mathematical invention: calculus.

Colin had his contemporary fans, and by Ms. Fox's accounts, there were many of these. Eventually, however, certain parties tired of his output and he was met with numerous harsh critics. He was completely undeterred, for he had nearly a 100 book output on a vast array of subjects.

One of the best tidbits parenthetically inserted about Colin's life was that one critic, Kingsley Amis, himself a literary light, once tried to push Mr. Wilson off a roof.

A literary rivalry can be the stage for great pissing matches, but the number leading to attempted homicide is not known.

In our own country, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. were famously at each other's throats for what seemed like decades, and probably was.  Some of their spats were of the best kind: face-to-face on a stage while discussing issues, usually political, usually Vietnam.

Gore Vidal's recent passing somewhat resurrected for people of a certain age the memory of these encounters, and to lead them to avail themselves of the YouTube footage that exists when the two faced-off wearing combat dictionaries.

In a nutshell, these were delightful, spirited exchanges that on one occasion has Bill telling Gore, "now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in your goddamned face and you'll stay plastered." Buckley does this while seeming ready to rise out of his chair and deliver the blow, right there on the air.
Bill's son Christopher makes mention of this encounter in an essay he recently provided for the 'New Republic' magazine. Christopher mentions that his father suffered an injury to his clavicle while sailing earlier that day that left his shoulder wrapped in adhesive tape. The injury made him uncomfortable, and he was quickly reminded how much his shoulder hurt when he thought about getting up to sock his coyly-smiling antagonist. The son can only wonder, like the rest of us now knowing this, how things might have turned out if the day's yachting went more smoothly.

That we know, Vidal and Buckley never appeared with Les Crane on a penthouse terrace, or on top of a roof that was often referred to as "tar beach" by the apartment dwellers where a summer suntan could be had without a subway ride to a city beach.

Like so many speculative matchups of all stripes, we'll never know who might have come down from that encounter at 32 feet per second squared, and who might have been left to take the stairs.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Too Good Not to be True

Senior citizens react to the oncoming ObamaCare.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And They're Off!

Alert the media. The NYT has found Queens without calling it one of the "outer boroughs." Not only that, but they found Aqueduct Race Track, which is in the South Ozone Park part of Queens that sits so close to JFK airport that all planes in flight are seen with their landing gear down. The versatile reporter William Grimes has sent back a cutely worded, nifty story that lands on the first page of today's Arts section.

Yes, art, art at the races. It seems the New York Racing Association commissioned 13 street artists to decorate the cinder block walls with their takes on the racing experience. And these are big, colorful, entertaining takes at the Big A.

The elusive graffiti artist  Bansky doesn't seem to be represented, but then that might be because he wants his work to be seen, and abandoned buildings in Long Island City have more people pass by them than people who might drift by a mural at Aqueduct.

No matter. The Aqueduct murals are highly decent, professionally done works of art that evoke a range of style. From what I can tell, a take on Picasso is evident in at least one of the murals.

It was a long, long time ago when the head curator at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas Hoving, shelled out what was then an astronomical sum of $5.5 million for "Juan de Pareja," a famous portrait by Diego Velazquez. The news made all the papers. A reader of the NYT wrote a letter to the editor after reading the story that a Velazquez on top of a horse coming home first with her money on it was worth more to her than something on a wall in a museum.

One of the top five leading jockeys at the time was Jorge Velazquez. The NYT ran the woman's letter showing a horse coming down the stretch, winning by a comfortable margin, perhaps even with Jorge on top.

Forty years later there is still a jockey named Velazquez at the track, John Velazquez, (no relation) who is one of the top five jockeys and who has also been inducted into the Hall Of Fame. (Racing inducts active jockeys, trainers, etc.) Wagers on him can at times be profitable.

The print version of today's story is colorful, and highlights two of the murals. The online version of the story gives you six colorful pictures.

That racing is a dying sport is accurately noted in the story. Several years ago the New York Racing Association (NYRA) was so desperate for money they contemplated selling artwork they had hanging on the walls.  Being quite familiar with the New York thoroughbred tracks I wondered where this artwork was, since I only ever saw some 1930s photos while going to the men's room when I was in Belmont's Garden Terrace restaurant. That, and some more as you approached the restaurant area.

The artwork worth selling must have been in offices. But the sale never happened, because the state stepped in and said ownership wasn't clear, with NYRA being a quasi-public enterprise. Now, if NYRA wants to sell these murals, they'll have to sell the walls. It's not quite like the Vatican selling the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel, but things will get hotly contested if they try.

So, put it on the walls and they will come? I seriously doubt anyone will come to the races to just look at the murals. But they are a great touch to what can be a drab place. When Barry K. Schwartz, a thoroughbred owner, bettor, and partner of Calvin Klein was running NYRA, my thoughts were that now the place would get discovered and fashion models and photographers would be all over the place. Never happened.

Aqueduct, of the three NYRA tracks, is not where I like to go these days. Its racing is more in the winter and the quality of the racing reflects a lower level of the sport. But I usually make at least one appearance there annually, so the murals will be seen.

And unlike The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a suggested admission price, admission to Aqueduct is free, and with skill and some luck, you might even leave with more money than you came in with.

You can bet on it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gourmet Magazine Comes Back from the Dead

I have been reading obituaries for a good part of my life, and by some standards, it is getting to be a long life. Ever since I was a teenager I read obituaries, principally in the NYT, but also I'm sure in The Herald Tribune. I always found the history that follows people around like a shadow to be very revealing when their mortal coil had been shuffled off and we get to read about them from cradle to grave.

This interest of mine has been considered somewhat strange, but only until I explain it. The day Robert McG. Thomas Jr.'s obituary about The Goat Man appeared and I told my cubicle mates about something they had to read showed others what the attraction was about.

So today, when we have the obituary about a chef, Judy Rodgers, who passed  away at 57 from what has to be something rare, cancer of the appendix, the thinking is, well, poor Judy, she lit her last burner. Instead, we get all of Judy's life, plus a full detailed recipe of a famous chicken dish of hers. Her life lives on through her cooking, which apparently to those who follow that sort of thing, she was one of the greatest at.

I knew something was up when I spotted the byline, Eric Asimov, a name I remember who always seems to be, or has been writing about food for the NYT. His byline is seldom seen on the obit page. Then, at the bottom, there is a recipe below a centered horizontal line, that looks like a muffed layout: part of the Wednesday food section has been served onto the obit page.

No mistake. The recipe is intentionally there. I am not our household's cook, but I know that something that requires 1-2 days of dry brining has absolutely no chance of being tried in our kitchen. That's why there are restaurants. To get what you won't make for yourself.

So credit the obituarist, and credit the editors for finding the space to include the recipe. Ms. Rodgers may have left us, but she apparently has left instructions on how to feed ourselves well.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Outer Fringe

A reporter for the New York Times today made what to me is an absolute startling statement. They wrote, and I quote quite accurately, "she grew up not far from Manhattan, in Wantagh on Long Island."

Wow. Wantagh, nestled on the south shore of Nassau County, closer to the Suffolk County border than the Queens border, an unincorporated village, hamlet, that is called the 'Gateway to Jones Beach', because that would be the town beach if Robert Moses hadn't come along many years ago and turned it into a state park, is openly referred to as not being far from Manhattan, by a reporter who works for a paper that has consistently referred to the four boroughs other than Manhattan as the 'outer boroughs,' despite being connected by a slew of bridges and tunnels. I've always thought that Saul Steinberg's famous cover piece showing the Pacific Ocean to be what is just west of the Hudson River as a required wall decoration for anyone at the Times.

I sent my congratulations to Mr. Haberman this morning for breaking with the gang on the upper floors.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Haberman's bi-monthly piece, 'Breaking Bread,' today's edition is a dinner meeting with Ms. Amy Kule, the executive producer of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Everyone knows about this parade. And nobody doesn't like Sara Lee.

Mr. Haberman describes a filling meal that included items I've never heard of, but ones he does seem to find on the menu of the places the interviewee chooses. Not familiar with 'kampachi tartare,' and although I'm quite familiar with chicken, I never heard of it under a brick. There was no mention of a wall caving in, so I have to assume it came that way from the kitchen, and was quite edible. The chicken, not likely the brick.

The amazing thing about these bi-monthly culinary reports with some movers and shakers is that there always seems to be a thread I can relate to. In this one, it is Wantagh, my home for the last 21 years, and a place I commuted from into nearby Manhattan for approximately 19 years. Connected by a train, the LIRR.

There's little spectacular about Wantagh, but now I know the person who puts that great parade together came from here.

We can also boast about having President Richard M. Nixon's dog, Checkers, buried in an animal cemetery here.

Mr. Haberman has already done an interview with someone connected to a cemetery so my guess is he might wait a year or so before getting to the person who runs the animal cemetery. But there is a local restaurant, near the train station, he might break bread at: Hemingway's. Try the sliced steak.

We are, after all, near Manhattan.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Telecom A.G.

It was inevitable.

Christoph Schmidt, Germany's Vice-Chancellor of Telephone Security, is seen giving Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel a phone book lisitng all the people who have listened in on her phone calls in the past year.

Chancellor Merkel was gratified to receive the volume, and was pleased it was alphabetized. She still denies speaking to the Chinese.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Last Word Anecdote Quote

To a regular reader the ending of an obituary is, well, the end of the story. But to the professional obituarist, the ending is as crafted as icing on a cake. In 'The Dead Beat', the seminal reader's guide to obituaries, Marilyn Johnson doesn't give this section a distinct name like "the zinger," but does describe the quotes that are usually written as, "providing the splash of a living voice." Into this naming vacuum I'm going to call the section, "the last word anecdote quote." It can even come out as music, or certainly poetry.

Take the recent obituary for Chana Mlotek, 91, who devoted her life to being a scholar of Yiddish folk songs. She was the go-to person for authentication and history, filling her three room apartment with sheet music and correspondence related to her favorite subject. And, she apparently knew where everything was.

At the end of the obituary her son Zalmen is quoted as saying that recently he was in Japan and he encountered a French teacher who wanted to know the Yiddish words to a song that was being sung in French. He called his mother, and she immediately knew where to look for the music.

"In my old room, in a box, in a closet." A glimpse of a retentive life summed up in a few lyrical words.

A vastly expanded definition of obituaries might include certain songs that are written as tributes to someone. I have no definition of what to call these songs, but they should be recognizable. Take Amanda McBroom's elegy to her father, an actor who appeared in many Errol Flynn movies, receiving credit somewhat far down the list. Her song, 'Errol Flynn', starts as musical spoken words:

In a hall,
On a wall,
In a house
In Reseda,
There's a poster held by
Two nails and a pin...

Not an obituary, but we're certainly going to enjoy hearing about, "my daddy, the actor."

Then there are the lines we carry around ourselves. These seldom see the light of day, and just pop out of our own minds now and then, triggered by something that is sometimes itself hard to remember what resuscitated the memory.

Take the key I carry around with my other keys. It's a rather bulky, registered-type key that now will open nothing. I've been carrying it around now for over a decade.

This is a key
To a door
On a floor
In a building
That doesn't
Exist anymore.

It's always about the memories.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Top Ten

Until now, I've never given this any thought. But reading the last lines of Manfred Rommel's NYT obituary (the son of the famous German General, The Desert Fox), has made me wonder: if it is written in stone, and you run out of stone, do you use the other side?

Think 10 Commandments. Were they only on one side of the tablet, or were they on both sides? And are there only 10 because God only wanted one side used, or one tablet used, and didn't want anyone, notably Moses, to be lugging two or more pieces of stone around?

If the prevailing ancient publishing wisdom was to use only one side, and the text was going to spill over, was the stone stylus changed for another, smaller size? Did this produce messages written in stone that grew smaller as you got to the bottom of the stone? Somewhat like those pre-printed legal documents that require a magnifying glass as you reach the bottom of the pages.

The whole question is not as silly as you might think. There is going to be a need for a modern day answer to the question of how much gets written in stone on the gravestone for Mr. Rommel.

Mr. Rommel grew to be a respected, oftentime elected mayor of Stuttgart, and an international figure who received many, many honors of recognition for his outreach work.

It is this number of honors that caused Manfred Rommel to reflect at some point at how many might be inscribed on his tombstone. He knew there were so many that if they were all listed there would be a need at the bottom to alert the reader to, "Please turn over."

In a cemetery, on a gravestone, these instructions might easily confuse the living. Never mind the dead.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Irish Cold

Anyone who has even been to Ireland, or knows anything about Ireland, knows that it can be dank and quite chilly during certain times of the year. They need to keep warm.

This was quite apparent when the Clancy Brothers popularized the Aran knit sweater that they wore in concerts, particularly in the 50s and 60s. These are thickly woven cable knit sweaters that come from the looms of the Aran islands, a drafty spot off the northern Irish mainland. You need to keep warm on the Aran islands.

The sweaters became so popular that you couldn't miss seeing them on the wannabe, and the Irish Americans along Queens Boulevard, and other New York City Irish enclaves.

Now we see the woven Roman gladiator look coming out of Ireland. I don't know who is trying to popularize it, but of course it harkens back to the time the lousy Romans roamed the green land.

The cap certainly looks functional, as well as fashionable. The drop-down mouth and nose guard looks great whether in the up or down position. The ears are well protected. The helmet arch is a great touch. Not sure of the color availability.

I once read that in all of Ireland not that long ago there were only 11 homicides. So, if that still prevails, death through deadly force is not rampant. The rate of holdups is not known, but law enforcement is keeping  their eye out the cap to see if it figures in any increase in this category of crime.

The headwear is quite distinctive, so it might not be the ski mask of choice for felons. Also, if bought with a credit card, they might know who you are.

The waters are untested, but law enforcement people are watching this trend.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Angela, All the Time

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is still annoyed about the possibility of her phone being tapped by the U.S. Here, the world's most-photographed-woman-with-clothes-on is shown being gently led by president Obama to a White House pay phone.

She's not happy about that either, since the pay phone is on the White House grounds. But what can you do? There are so few pay phones these days. Her top concern has been about her dealings with the Chinese, always a tricky topic with Americans.

She doesn't want it to be more widely known that she favors Chinese dumplings over German dumplings. And that she and Poland are having a falling out over Poland's wide use of coal in its pizza ovens. Pizza, apparently, is threatening the ozone layer. And that doesn't count what Italy is up to.

Angela now keeps a steady supply of burner phones.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just Say No

The fact that two stories about pigeons, and reference to pigeons, appeared in major newspapers within the past week does not go unnoticed to this reader. Pigeons are in the news.

Second story first. Racing pigeons have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, PEDs. Shocking, perhaps, but surely expected. Any contest that offers money is worth cheating for. And if that means doing something to yourself, a horse, or even a pigeon, it's all in the spirit of trying to win.

The pigeon on PED has of course spawned humor. On 'The Crowd Goes Wild' yesterday someone from the staff came out dressed in what hardly looked like a pigeon, but nevertheless gave a Lance Armstrong-type news conference at a podium denying the use of PEDs. I'm sure 'Saturday Night Live', Leno, Letterman, Fallon have all weighed in on this piece of sad news.

Racing pigeons on steroids might surely sully the sport of bird racing, but my thoughts are a little closer to home. What if the pigeons that seem to defy the anti-roosting spikes at the railroad station somehow are on steroids and start to poop steroid enhanced waste? There's enough of the ugly stuff as it is, what will it look like if steroids are added? I've started to take extra care where I stand waiting for a train.

And then we have the first story that makes reference to pigeons. Last week the WSJ did one of their A-head pieces on stink bugs, and how they are swarming the Washington D.C. Maryland, Virginia area. The bugs eat crops and gardens, and I'm not sure they haven't hit here, further north in the northeast. I haven't seen a swarm, but something's done a good deal of damage to certain plants this year. And there has been something that's been big, jumpy and flying that we've whacked near the door.

The Journal story goes on to explain that the insect, when crushed, or threatened, emits a stench. A stink. Great. A flying, crawling, hopping skunk.

It is claimed that pigeons will put anything in their mouth, apparently even steroids, if fed to them by the conniving human. But apparently when they encounter these bugs near downtown Washington monuments, they spit the bugs out.

It just shows you how muddled the message is coming out of Washington. It is unfortunate. All that money spent to educate the lowly, unloved, vulnerable creature, and what do we as taxpayers get in return?

Pigeons are saying to themselves: 'Just Say No to Bugs.'


Monday, October 28, 2013

Reassuringly Free

I don't know if the use of the right word can ever really change anything. But it can be enjoyed, like a well-played piano. Mark Twain famously said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

Absolutely right words can appear anywhere, however rarely. I sometimes find them in obituaries, and in particular those obituaries written by Margalit Fox of the New York Times.

A few years ago she got the call to write about Delbert Mann, a film director and producer, who had a start in television and was the director of the TV movie 'Heidi,' one of the most famous TV interruptions then and since. Ms. Fox wrote of Mr. Mann's credits:

They also include a film that would haunt him to the end of his life: “Heidi,” whose ultrapunctual broadcast on NBC in 1968 famously eclipsed the final minute of a dramatic football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, 1968, the Jets were leading the Raiders 32-29, with about a minute left to play. The game was broadcast live on NBC, and on the stroke of 7 p.m., the network, intent on keeping to its published schedule, dutifully cut away to “Heidi.”

Enraged calls flooded in: what millions of viewers did not get to see was Oakland scoring two touchdowns to pull off a last-minute victory, 43-32. Famous to this day in the annals of broadcasting bloopers, the debacle was known ever after as the Heidi Game.

As the saying goes, 'those of a certain age' clearly remember this pre-empting that saw the game telecast end precisely, ultrapunctually, at 7:00 P.M. The collapse to the Raiders in the 'Heidi' game might have proved to be the latent curse that has kept the Jets without a championship since 1969.

And now we have the phrase 'reassuringly free of sweat' as Ms. Fox describes fashion advertising in the first half of the 20th-century, as she recounts the life of Deborah Turbeville, a fashion photographer who dramatically influenced the art from the 70s on, with somewhat grungy depictions of models.

Apparently, prior to Ms. Turbeville, models were unfailingly depicted almost as wax mannequins. They'd be in fashionable tennis clothes, holding a racquet as if they just went a set with Bille Jean King, and wouldn't show a bit of exertion. They were, 'reassuringly free of sweat.'

Perfect Madison Avenue. Americas love products, and we love to guard against perspiration. Europeans don't seem as obsessed with stains under their arms, but we seem to head for any product that promises to leave us 'reassuringly free of sweat.'

And at the same time Ms. Turbeville's life is being shared with us, and the era of being 'reassuringly free of sweat,' we have the World Series and the case of the Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester either using, or not using something illegal in his glove to add to the pitched ball to help fool the batters.

Mr. Lester's explanation is that it's resin in the glove because he sweats a lot and he needs something to help him grip the ball better and keep sweat off the ball. Resin is legal, and it's just that Jon apparently keeps it closer to himself so he doesn't have to bend down and use the rosin bag that sits on the back of the pitcher's mound. Why it looks green in the glove is a whole other story.

But apparently, there is some corroboration about Lester's sweating, even if it may not come from a completely independent source. The Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia says," I've played with Jon basically my whole professional career--he kind of sweats a lot, man. I know he loads up with resin all over the place. I don't even like going out there and telling him 'good job' and patting him on the back, because you get wet and stuff."

And there you have it. The pitcher may not be 'reassuringly free of sweat,' but the baseball is.

Madison Avenue still has work to do.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Yeah, So

The fallout from the Edward Snowden disclosures about United States spying continues. It is now claimed that the U.S. spied on its allies and other world leaders.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is particularly perturbed and vocal about what she thinks might have been intercepted cell phone calls. Here she is seen at yet again another world conference showing off what she believes was bugged.

Off camera she's of course admitting that yes, she does speak to the Chinese.

She's told close associates that she hates to admit that she gets tired of that heavy German food, and has cultivated a taste for Chinese food from a hole-in-wall take-out place on the shady side of Berlin. They do deliver, too.

On a bike.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Birthday Rule

A friend and former colleague for many years was once again seated to my right in Belmont's Dining Room on Saturday. Another friend and former colleague was seated across from me. It is somewhat like school and assigned seats. We tend to take the same seats when we venture out for an afternoon of equine prophesy.

I've written about this gathering before, and once again find the proceedings and outcome to be noteworthy. And once again, the fellow to my right has applied unscientific methods to an unscientific game and created a nifty profit for himself.

Saturday saw an often applied technique called the "Birthday Rule" waved over the entries for each race. In the health and health insurance world from which we all sprang, the "Birthday Rule" applied to comparing the spouse and contract holder birthdays to determine what contract was primary when "coordination of benefit" rules needed to be applied. The earliest month and day birthday was considered primary, and so, that person's contract was used first. This could help mitigate an insurance carrier's total outlay. Always a goal.

As applied to lottery numbers and horse racing selections, the Birthday Rule has absolutely no set rules and no mandated time when it is applied. It is all in the head of the person considering selections for the upcoming race. A race card for a thoroughbred race usually maximizes at 15 entrants; there are no zeroes.

Thus, double digits beyond the top number and any number having a zero can necessitate creative thinking. And no matter how large or small the crowd at a racetrack, there are easily more creative thinkers present than there are faculty members and students at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies. Easily.

Double digits are usually split, like aces in blackjack. Twenty-eight--a number significantly beyond an American Thoroughbred race--would be rendered 2-8; 8-2. This is perfect for developing exacta selections, where the bet is to pick the first two across the finish line, in the order they finished. "Boxing," or reversing the numbers is generally engaged in to capture the permutations. A triple bet is to pick the first three. A superfecta bet is to pick the first four. Payouts increase as the degree of difficulty in being right increases. Separate betting pools control these payouts.

A favorite two-number bet for the individual to my right has historically been the application of a son's birthday. 1-7, 7-1 gets played often. I think I remember which son it is, but I don't know if the selection, decoded, means January 7, July 1, or 17 of any given month. It is often best to just go with it, and not ask too many questions.

This individual applies elements of traditional handicapping, but hedges everything they do with application of the Birthday Rule. This results in the purchase of several tickets and combinations per race. This can result in so many combinations being concocted at the last second that the hand they are holding is not really known until after the race, when the tickets are checked more closely. The fun often lies in realizing what was done after the race finishes. It almost becomes a scratch-off lottery game. There are surprises.

The fifth race at Belmont saw the Birthday Rule wanded over the entries, and mixed in with handicapping elements. This can be a potent approach that sometimes yields results that are so solid they might resemble having the answer key template placed over a standardized test before the test starts.

Amongst the several bets the fellow to my right made on this fifth race was the triple box of 2-8-11, for $1. This covers the six permutations of 2-8-11 of any order of finish of those three entrants; a $6 overall bet. Someone's birthday was involved, but I really didn't delve into the details.

I myself could see in the 2-8-11 boxed sequence my oldest granddaughter's birthday of 11/28. But my approach to betting doesn't go the Birthday Rule route.

The 2 horse was a solid selection, despite being a so-called "career maiden"--many starts, never winning--but being the bridesmaid by running second 11 times. There are horses like this. No matter where they run, who they run against, they just don't win, but they can manage second.

Stock Fund, despite this tendency, was a deserved favorite at 2-1, and quite realistically, once again, looked capable of being first. The rest was a jump ball of scrambled eggs. Birthday Rule was applied in betting a triple by the fellow to my right.

The race was finished, and there were only two of us at the table observing the posted order of finish: 2-11-8.  Birthday Ruler hadn't yet returned from the window. They were likely watching the race on a TV monitor nearby, a few levels up.

It was commented by my opposite number that the second place horse, an unraced horse ridden by a moderately successful journeyman, upstate jockey, was 53-1. Considerable odds to finish second. In New York, outright long shots such as this don't often get in the money to win, place, or show. But in this race, one did. The third place horse was 11-1, moderate odds that aren't really considered to be an extreme long shot. I myself commented that Birthday boy might be counted on to have a part of the play in the 53-1 shot. It was just a feeling.

Birthday Ruler made it back to the table before the prices were posted, rapidly telling some narrative that they weren't sure they got the tickets they wanted; "The lady didn't get all my bets in," before the betting was closed. A quick shuffling check of the tickets however revealed that they did indeed beat the bell, and all intended bets were being held.

It's very hard to predict triple payouts. Win prices can be easily predicted based on observed final odds, and exactas invariably tend to ring up as a very close product of the win price and the place price of the second horse.

A 53-1 shot anywhere in an official triple sequence is a rarity. Separate triple pools govern the payouts of this wager. Guesses as to the payout by the gathered at the table were all over the place. But they were never near the $3,204 that was going to be paid out for a $2 triple wager on the 2-11-8 sequence when the OFFICIAL sign went up.

Since Birthday Rule boy had a $1 bet, his take was half the $2 payout. When it comes to money, racetrack payouts are sharply mathematical. Thus, the reward was $1,602. Major high-fiving and loudness ensued all around.

When I retold the story to my wife on the way home she asked the inevitable question of why didn't I just bet what he bet?  Simple. "How the hell am I ever going to know whose birthday this guy is going to use when he finally gets to the window? He doesn't know." She saw my point, but was still sorry to realize I didn't read minds.

If you're not the big winner yourself (and I wasn't), it's great to be in the presence of a big winner. And just think, Birthday Ruler didn't even arrive with a pen to write his picks with. He borrowed one of mine.

He did return it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tempus Fugit

Based on his reading of the Book of Revelation, the Reverend Chuck Smith, a Southern California minister, began predicting the end of the world in the early 1980s, a prediction that has repeatedly proved wrong. He has been undeterred. "Every year I believe this could be the year," he told an interviewer. "We are closer than we were."

Reverend Smith passed away on October 3 at this home in Newport Beach, California, at 86, of lung cancer.

Nothing beats eventually being right.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dig We Must, for a Dying Norway

Years and years ago, when Con Edison used to put up wooden saw horses around their digging sites in New York the saw horses displayed the company slogan: Dig We Must For A Growing New York. This was the meant to be the pre-emptive apology for eliminating traffic lanes and creating bottlenecks. Any barriers that are now placed around work sites do not carry any slogan or apology. Just dig, baby dig. And splice.

Con Edison continues to dig for a growing New York, as Norway apparently digs for a dying Norway, or, to be more specific, digs to reuse graves so that the newly deceased can be buried where there were once others.

This is a form of recycling we don't see here. No, there are no old Norwegians pushing shopping carts of virtual empty graves. Or full ones. It's high tech all the way.

The WSJ's A-Head piece yesterday recounts the Norwegian policy of reusing graves after 20 years if the original descendants or caretakers do not extend what in effect is a 20 year lease on the use of the land. In Norway, even graves expire.

This holds true only if the deceased was not wrapped in plastic at the time of their burial. Apparently once in Norway there was a practice of wrapping bodies in plastic for sanitary reasons, and then inserting them in coffins, and then in the ground. The plastic has done a very good job of preserving the body, so in effect, it doesn't decay, even after 20 years.

Norwegians are not a callous lot. They just need burial space. So, what do you do with plastic wrapped bodies that are not decayed after 20 years in graves that no one wants to keep the seat license active for? Lime.

Any slightly attentive movie-goer knows that the mob uses lime to speed the decay of bodies they don't want found. No sense having evidence pop up in a dog's mouth if there are ways to prevent it. The story describes, and shows the efforts that are used to inject lime into the grave to hasten the decay of the remains, thus releasing the spot for the next occupant. And in a perfect symmetry with the body disposal properties of wet cement, someone with a cement background has aided a former graveyard worker to perfect the lime-injection-body-disposal system. Everything, of course, is done with approval.

Real estate space is tight in New York as well. And finding an apartment in Manhattan is difficult, even ones that can minimally be afforded. It is not mentioned in the story, but the application of lime to living people, or barely living, might be a way to create apartment vacancies. Death has a way, sometimes, of removing tenants. A white powdery blast from an elevator shaft might clear the floor of old people as they make their way to Gristede's. For the shut-ins, something white and feathery wafting through the heating system might create the desired turnover.

Cultural differences. Norwegians apparently have never had to bury American Indians, or slaves. Or maybe they did, and they're under some very expensive skyscrapers in Oslo.

For the price of legal fees, there might be new owners of those buildings.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The World is a Noisy Place

It is no secret I like to read Clyde Haberman's 'Breaking Bread' piece that appears every other Monday in the New York Times. Mr. Haberman takes in a meal with people who you might describe as being somewhat under the New York City media radar, but who, nevertheless contribute to how things are run.

Take the latest meal with Arline L. Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist, who even in her 70s helped revise New York City's noise code. Ms. Bronzaft connects back to the John V. Lindsay mayoral administration. This can date a person for sure. When I was a kid, anyone connected with the Mayor Hylan era was getting the door held open for them at the family flower shop.

It is also no secret that my train of thought can be thrown from the tracks like runaway tanker cars in Quebec. Mr. Haberman only needed to mention that the place they ate in was near Ms. Bronzaft's apartment on York Avenue and I'm seeing maps and hearing conversations about the Second Avenue subway, Avenue D and Burt Lancaster.

Ms. Bronzaft's field of expertise is how noise affects health. It's not directly mentioned in the piece but Ms. Bonzaft's apartment is two blocks east of the construction for the Second Avenue subway, as noisy and disturbing an endeavor as you can absorb, given the occasional sound of explosions in peacetime.

Second Avenue subway. There was one once. It was an elevated line, that connected to Astoria via the 59th Street/Queensboro/ Ed Koch bridge. A family heirloom is a destination sign my father took from one of the trains as a kid. It is a black metal rectangle, with stenciled white letters, that would tell you that the train was headed for 'ASTORIA VIA 2nd AVE'. My daughter now has it in a living room bookcase.

Astoria was where North Beach was, which was the area that was later turned into LaGuardia airport. My father recalled being hustled off by his mother with fruit in a paper bag, along with some of his brothers for a day at the beach. It beat diving into the East River off 32nd Street, which was another way they got wet.

York Avenue. Never knew until I read it referred to in a Peggy Noonan column that it was named for Sergeant York, a WWI Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who was born and died in Tennessee. His connection to New York is not immediately understood, and so far goes personally unresearched. He might have had lunch here, or made a speech.

York Avenue. An old-time neighbor in Flushing who grew up in East Harlem told be that it was once named Avenue D. He also told me that when he was growing up there were guys who knew Burt Lancaster as a kid, and that Burt was called 'Dutch.' Burt came from that area.

Burt's not around to ask about York having once been Avenue D. My old-time neighbor is not available for further questioning either.

But my fate is clear. As long as Mr. Haberman reports on a meal he's taken with someone in any of the five boroughs, it is going to dislodge, for a moment, some nostalgic and likely worthless piece of information from my brain.

It's up to you if you want to read about it.

The Weather's Clear, the Track is Fast

I no longer review any book I haven't finished. I have steered away from that habit after someone more deeply connected to books than myself chided me for it. So, this is not a book review of 'The Cuckoo's Calling' by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling.

I am however reading the book nightly, and only about a quarter of the way through it. It moves along, as does the night.

The book needs no further publicity, but like anything that is well written, there are what I call internal nuggets of poetry within the prose. I love these.

Take the main character, the private investigator with the odd name, Cormoran Strike, who on one Sunday early in the tale has some time on his hands and plops down on a bench facing the Thames with a newspaper he's filched or, as the author writes, "twitched" from a receptionist station.

"The sun was warm on his head and shoulders. Seagulls cawed, wheeled overhead, and Strike, happily aware that he was due nowhere, and expected by no one, settled to read the paper from cover to cover on the sunny beach."

...due nowhere, and expected by no one...

This is the good phase of retirement.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Wild Bunch

The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, is seen with her posse getting off the plane in Las Vegas, headed for the Steel Cage Ultimate Fighting Man Championship fights being held at Caesar's Palace.

By all accounts, she has good seats.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Oh, I See Words

I see from my high school alumni newsletter that the English teacher we had as juniors who was met with absolute silence when he asked a classroom full of 30-some-odd boys to name some words that ended in "ic" has recently passed away. No one came up with a word. Even after a fairly long silence to compose ourselves. He told us he could think of many words that ended in "ic." It primed no one's pump. The request floated to the floor, and never came up again.

No age was given for Mr. Michael Marks, but I'd have to guess he was at least 80, given when he started teaching at the school and when he retired. He wasn't a substitute either. He was our regular semester English teacher. He really hit a dry well with that "ic" stuff.

I have no idea why, but several years ago I started to think about that lazy afternoon in school. Of course by then I could come with many words that ended in "ic." I was amazed that no one that day, including myself, could come up with at least one. At some point I decided to start a list. The words just kept coming and coming.

By now I was married with two daughters. I enlisted the aid of offspring Susan. I explained the whole thing. She easily came up with numerous words. I now organized the list.

With the goal of making the list suitable for framing, as I once did for a list of homographs that became my hobby to create, I came up with a draft version of what I'd like to frame.

I've never been to a high school class reunion, basically because there's never been one for my class. Classes before, galore. Classes after, many, many. We fell into a black hole for some reason. No one wants to remember our time in the 60s, I guess. We're coming up on the mid-century mark, so there are surely fewer of us, and probably few teachers.

If there is a reunion, I might bring the list, but I'm not sure who'd I'd show it to.

For now, rigorous proofreading is still required, but Sue's not home yet.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Watt Gets Left to Whom

There is absolutely so much you can learn if you pay attention to what you are reading.

Take the meaning of skew. Or, at least the meaning of the pronunciation of skew, as in skew number--the ubiquitous SKU numbers we see everywhere on items we buy.

I never gave any thought that these three letters might have a larger meaning other than to be pronounced skew. Turns out, SKU stands for "stock-keeping units," a means to track inventory. (Some sources say the "s" stands for store, or shelf.)

I gleaned this from a WSJ story on light bulbs. Ralph Gardner Jr. has got to be one of the more prolific newspaper writers outside of obituarists. His nearly daily piece appears in the City News section under the title 'Urban Gardner,' a name he apparently hates. But that's another story.

Since his most recent piece opened my eyes to the meaning of skew you might say it was enlightening. And since the piece was about light bulbs, it was even further enlightening. 

Parts of the story I already knew about. Like the part about the diminishing supply of 100 watt incandescent bulbs because of their being phased out in favor of CFLs, more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, and their cousins, the LEDs, light emitting diodes. Energy efficient at a hefty up-front cost. There is no free lunch.

I can never forget Con Edison's 1960s effort for New Yorkers to save energy by advertising the "Save a Watt" campaign. It turned out New Yorkers listened, used less electricity, and in turn decreased the amount of money owed Con Edison to the extent that in the following year Con Edison needed a rate increase, stating that their fixed costs were high, and that there was less money coming in because usage was down. Therefore, they needed more money in the coming year. It made sense to them.

My father was ahead of this curve. He had his own save-a-watt campaign. He had the unnerving habit of wondering why utility companies wanted his money on a monthly basis. In Con Edison's case at the time it was a forgiving every two months. Still too often for him. My father's late and non-payments lead to tug-of-wars carried out in the mail and by phone. Such tugs were always won by the phone company, as our phone was turned off almost regularly every two months.

It was harder to wear out the patience of Con Edison, but my father managed to accomplish it in June, some time in the early 1960s when they dutifully came as promised and did something to the fuse box in the cellar of our two-family home and turned our lights off for non-payment. We were saving watts every minute of the nearly four days we were without electricity.

My father didn't seem to mind. He just didn't come home when the lights were off. The bill was soon paid, perhaps even by him, and our lights came back on. This only ever happened once.

In Mr. Gardener's piece, complete with photos from the 'Just Bulbs' store on East 60th Street in Manhattan, we not only see a little of the wide variety of bulbs that can be purchased, we learn a good deal of where lighting is headed. The owner of the store, David Brooks, tells Mr. Gardner that he has 35,000 different SKU's in stock. As the title of piece tells us, it is a bright future. For someone.

Anyone who has been looking for 100 watt bulbs, or moans about their near extinction, will be heartened to know you can get 100 watt LED bulbs for $60.95. (NYC sales tax not included.) Who this is good news for is unknown. But the bulbs last for 40,000 hours, vs. the 750 that we've been used to getting.

As Mr. Gardener points out, the bulb might outlive you. Depending on your age at purchase, you might not ever have to change the bulb again. Forty thousand hours equates to 1,666 days of continuous use, about four and a half years.

The four plus years might not initially seem so outside your life expectancy, but when you consider that it is considered that a bulb will be in use only three hours a day, there are then 13,333 days of illumination expected, or a little over 36 years. This might surely, coupled with the asset value of the bulb at the outset, place bulbs in the domain of assets that need legal distribution on one's demise. It might even re-classify crimes.

Years and years ago I worked with someone whose marriage disintegrated and whose wife, while he was at work, removed everything from the apartment that she considered hers. My friend, on returning home that evening and seeing the nearly empty apartment knew immediately what had happened. This didn't prevent him from hesitating for one minute in reporting it as a burglary to NYC's Finest.

When the police arrived and took a look at the place my friend said one of the cops passed his hand over an exposed light switch. He remarked that he had never seen a job like this. They had even taken the switch plates.

If this crime were to take place today, there is a possibility, depending on the removal, or non-removal of the light bulbs and their type and wattage, that the break-in could get classified as grand larceny over petty larceny.

Father knew best? Over 50 years ago my father saved-a-watt and made light bulbs last longer. It was just hard when then sun went down to thank him.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

And the Winner Is

The face that captured all the votes needed to win a third term. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel makes it look so easy she can do it standing on her head.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Busy Bee

This is one of the few times I didn't get a satisfactory answer from the Internet to something that was puzzling me

For those who follow such things, in the last episode of this season's 'Elementary,' Sherlock names a new species of bee after Joan Watson. From the explanation given by Sherlock, the right to name the new species of bee that is appearing right before his and Joan's eyes, falls to him. Thus, his new name for the species is 'Euglassia Watsonia.'

Joan is impressed. "You named a bee after me." There is no explanation as to what the name might mean, other than a bee is named after Watson, "...Watsonia." But what is 'Euglassia?"

Holmes is crafty, and of course knows nearly everything. so my weak etymology explanation might be completely off, but if you break up the word "euglassia" into "eu" and "glassia" and look for definitions of the prefix and word, you might get to be as nearly as smart as Sherlock.

So, "eu" in biology is a prefix for good. "Glassia" is a protein inhibitor class of drug used to treat emphysema.  The guess is that the "inhibitor" portion of the definition is important to Sherlock. Joan Watson, as his sober companion, and perhaps forthcoming companion, inhibits he, Sherlock Holmes, from lapsing back into drug use.

A mighty achievement, since a drug-free Holmes will lead to Season Two.

Take that, Moriarty.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Not What They're Having

Lest anyone thing Pete Hamill might have been making something up when he remembered being at The Lion's Head's Pub one night and someone at a nearby table dropped dead of a heart attack and someone else asked the waitress, "What did he order?", consider the obituary for Professor Marshall Berman, who is said to have had a fatal heart attack while eating breakfast at his favorite diner, the Metro on Broadway at 100th Street in Manhattan the other day. This of course proves that you really can go to your eternal rest in New York while eating publicly without being shot at.

It's not sure what the owner of the diner might have to say about his establishment being mentioned as the site for someone's fatal heart attack while they were eating.

But he probably needn't worry. Professor Berman was as hardly well-known as Crazy Joe Gallo who was taken out in a storm of bullets while twirling Italian food on his fork at Umberto's Clam House at 4 o'clock in the morning back in 1972.

Leave the John Catsimatidis for Mayor sign in the window, and no one will think anything happened at all at the Metro Diner. At least there are no bullet holes.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ken Norton

I've always loved telling people that I was at the first Ali-Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. I had gotten tickets when the fight was announced by simply writing to MSG and asking for three of the cheapest tickets, which were $20.

I got my three tickets in the mail, probably without paying any handling fee. We were in the last row of the blue seats, with binoculars. My father and a friend of mine from work. We were superstars just for being there, never mind the other superstars who were there as well.

I've kept my ticket stub, and several of the souvenir programs that were being sold then for $1.50. Years and years after the fight I was stunned to see that Ken Norton was listed as being on the card. He's listed as being from San Diego, CA and is scheduled to fight a six rounder against Roosevelt Eddie, Jr. from New York, NY. His fight is the fifth preliminary of the eight that are scheduled to precede the main event. Ali's brother Rahman Ali was in a fight on the card as well. As was Jimmy Elder.

I have no distinct memory of Norton's fight. It is possible it might not have even been held if they were running behind, or one fighter wasn't cleared to fight. Or didn't show. According to it is not listed amongst Norton's fights.

No matter. He was on the card. And that later proved to be a tarot card that predicted his future of fighting Ali three times in memorable fights.

There is no mention in the NYT obituary of Norton being on the Frazier-Ali card. I've never read anyone write that he was listed on the card. But there it is in black and white.

And that's the thing about contemporaries and near-contemporaries: you know things that don't make the paper.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Septembers, Part II

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.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Septembers, Part I

I finally caught up to some of my backlogged DVR shows. One was the 'Nova' episode on PBS this past Wednesday, about the rebuilding of 1 WTC, 'Ground Zero Supertower.' The one hour broadcast was an update taking you to the present status of the building, the memorial center and the memorial pools.

Well done as usual, with some short footage inserted from earlier shows on how things were being made and fitted. By the look of all things, the whole project will get finished and will eventually blend seamlessly into downtown Manhattan, as if it were always there.

Of course there are those who know it wasn't always there, and the many who remember what it was replacing. Say what you will about the re-building effort--and many have lots to say--money, spirit and symbolism are huge forces that create tremendous momentum. And that momentum goes up.

For understandable reasons, it's a story I've followed from Day One. Day One being September 11, 2001. Seeing pictures once again of the Twin Towers made me think that they look dated 12 years later. We've started to grow accustomed to the new spire-type of skyscraper buildings being built all over the world, and the two Ronzoni spaghetti boxes that were stood on their ends somehow really do represent a bygone era.

The chief architect of 1 WTC, David Childs, explains how the core of the new tower is made of tremendously thick custom-blended concrete, the design of which replaced the prior towers' core of sheetrock over steel. It was the penetration of this core that obliterated the stairs on 9/11 and made exiting impossible from floors higher than the point of compromise. Bad things were made even worse.

The mention of sheetrock reminded me of the story someone told me of their uncle who was a Port Authority engineer stuck in an elevator when the bomb went off in the North Tower on February 26, 1993. I don't remember what floors he was stuck between, but he was able to pry open the elevator doors and carve his way to safety through the sheetrock with a pocket knife.  In 1993 there were six fatalities.

The story goes that the knife he used is displayed somewhere in the Smithsonian. The uncle has since passed away, but perhaps his story and knife will get blended into the 9/11 museum exhibits.

Watching the 'Nova' broadcast reminded me of the incredible amount of debris that was driven into the ground by the falling towers. All this was effectively taken away and sorted through. Incredibly, personal items were found, and when there was sufficient means to identify the owner, the NYC police property clerk sent out notices to the owners that there was something that could be claimed.

I learned from a police property clerk that a wallet found nearby on Broadway was turned in and later returned to the husband of a woman who was on one of the planes. The wallet of a woman I worked with was returned, singed and beaten up, but still containing a recognizable drivers license.

When all is completed and the time is right, I'm going to wonder if either of the two ID cards I had that were recovered from Great Kills will grant me free admission--if there is any--to the 9/11 museum.

The circle will be complete.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I must admit I never heard of the ultimate pitchman Calvin (Cal) Coolidge Worthington until I read his obituaries today. I've spent very little time in the Southwest . Even less time watching television in that area. And absolutely no time in Alaska. So I was never aware of his commercials.

New York of course had a zany pitchman, Jerry Carroll, for Crazy Eddie, the discount electronic store. Eddie Antar was the Crazy Eddie, who the last I heard was arrested for securities fraud and was handcuffed to a hospital bed in Israel. But that's old news. Crazy Eddie needed doctors and lawyers.

Cal Worthington was a car salesman of the first order. Perhaps the highest power. He used a barrage of inane, but catchy television commercials featuring animals that vaulted him to top of selling cars. When I read his obit and learned he came from Oklahoma and was born in 1920 in a town that now no longer exists (Springsteen would likely sing, "blown away") I couldn't help but think of Will Rogers and the Ogden Nash poem about Rogers.

Rogers was perhaps the first national comedian that wasn't elected to office. He was famous in the 1920s and 30s and toured that nation in Vaudeville. Think Bob Hope with a cowboy hat twirling a rope telling one-liners. He also appeared in movies and wrote a newspaper column. 

Ogden Nash was a poet with the most unique form of verse. His life overlapped that of Rogers, and he no doubt would have been entertained by him at some point. Nash was himself famous for light verse poems, often with forced, but funny rhymes. Some of his best known pieces were quite short.

Reflections on Ice Breaking
Is dandy,
But liquor
Is quicker.

When Rogers died in a plane crash in 1935, Ogden Nash wrote of him as if Rogers was describing himself:

“I worked with grin and gum and lariat
To entertain the proletariat.
And with my Oklahomely wit
I brightened up the world a bit.”

Cal Worthington was a Will Rogers for the television age. His commercials apparently were filled with pitchman lyrics:

If your axle is a-sagging,' go see Cal...
If your wife has started naggin,' go see Cal...

Cal advertised himself as the person to see for anything, so long as you wanted to, or needed to buy a car.

His early television efforts promoted country music with a live show in 1959 from a dealership lot. Soon-to-be big stars appeared: Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller, another singing versifier from Oklahoma. Who can forget...

"...and you hadda do wack-a do, wack-a-do, wack-a-do..."

Cal was obviously a character. I'm not Ogden Nash, and like I said, I never even heard of the guy until reading his obituaries. But in the spirit of verse I've written my tribute to Cal.

With a zoo of animals
He sold sedans,
And made it big
With Los Angelans.

He's got to be missed.


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Numbers

I know it can take years before the full results from a ten year census are digested and spit back out for the world to absorb. And since the 2010 census is not yet even three years old, I wonder if my very informal observation of there still being few surviving husbands after a wife dies is valid. If nothing else, testing a theory can be fun.

One of the things I always do when away on vacation is always get the local newspapers. I buy as many as there are worth getting. My latest journey from the hearth led me to an area where there were at least two newspapers, from nearby communities, that were worth getting. In addition, of course, to the Daily Racing Form.

The Post-Star from Glens Falls is the quintessential newspaper from somewhere outside New York City. The Washington County Fair, which always seem to be going on when I'm in the area, is often featured on the front page. Racing from Saratoga gets the local touch. As do obituaries. Lots of obituaries. Collections of thimbles are often left behind.

Papers like the Post-Star always featured pictures of the deceased as part of the paid death notice. It's relatively only recent that papers like the New York Times have recognized the paid notice to be a revenue generator. Thus, we now see self-penned obituaries, of varying length and effusiveness, often accompanied by a photo.

My first day in the area lead me to the Post-Star's two page obituary section, complete with seven photos of the deceased; six of whom were women. Six out of seven women. Quite noticeable. What better time than now to look into the numbers behind who the survivors were. The departed comedian Alan King had a career routine of reading various obituaries and pointing out that the recently deceased husband was always survived by the wife.

So, I wanted to see if Mr. King's long ago routine still held water. If he was still right, then I was thinking, five of these six various aged ladies probably outlived their husbands. In obit parlance, their spouses would have 'pre-deceased' them.

Move over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news. One woman's notice makes no mention of a husband, despite three children. We drop her from the group. Of the remaining five, only one leaves a surviving husband. And one of those four outlived two husbands.

Some things never change.