Friday, February 22, 2013


You have to be of a certain age to remember the fallout shelter era. But it turns out I am of that certain age, and I started to freshly remember the era when I read Steuart Pittman's obituary in yesterday's paper.

The threat of nuclear war might seem like a memory that's not a pleasant one. The memories at least are not the worst ones.

Mr. Pittman was 93 when he passed away. He had been an assistant Secretary of Defense for Civil Defense, appointed by President Kennedy, to ready the nation for the possibility of fallout from a nuclear war. A huge part of readiness was the availability of shelters for people to spend the first two or three weeks in after an explosion, when radioactive fallout was at its strongest.

Mr. Pitman had a tough time convincing the nation and Congress that shelters should be built. The $3 billion cost in the early 60s was a huge showstopper.

But shelters were not just pitched as a government project, like building a missile, or a supersonic transport plane. You were encouraged to build your own, and I distinctly remember a series of articles in the Queens 'Long Island Star-Journal' newspaper that diagrammed out how you can do this in your home cellar: how big to make it for your family size, what to stock it with, the thickness of the cinder blocks and how they should be positioned at the opening to block radioactive waves from reaching you.

This was the early sixties, even before the Cuban missile crisis, and nuclear attack, "the bomb," was a topic for conversation. I remember trying to convince my father that we needed to build one NOW, before no one would be around to tell us how. This never happened. The effects of working, and drinking scotch and Manhattans left no time, and no energy, for his slinging cinder blocks around the cellar. There were already enough things to do.

Even as kids in the 50s, we all theorized that the Russians would drop a bomb in Times Square. Times Square was the epicenter of New York City, and this made the most strategic sense, even to young boys. Whether the Russians ever really planned to do this has never come out, but in 2010 a young sympathizer of the Pakistan Taliban did choose Times Square as the place to park his crude car bomb that was fortunately disarmed before it exploded. Times Square has always been attracting all types of people and things.

One of the people I worked with when I started at an insurance company in the latter 60s, told me of his prior job, inspecting apartment house cellars that had been designated as fallout shelters. This was a Pittman idea. Access to these places was designated by the sign above, a variation on the radiation warning sign used in WWII. Stored in these cellars were supposed to be barrels of dried food and milk that was meant to sustain people in the first weeks after attack.

The obituary correctly mentions that there were ethical debates about whether a shelter owner would be justified in using violence from stopping a neighbor from inviting themselves into your shelter. There were TV dramas that used this theme, notably a famous one on the 'Twilight Zone.' You knew Rod Serling was going to weigh in on that one.

The fallout era eventually gave way to the Super Bowl. It's very, very hard to find a building with one of the black and yellow signs still in place. And the drums of dried food and whatever was meant to sustain people have long been removed. The blankets went somewhere.

The obituary closes with the story that Mr. Pittman left his assistant defense post in 1964, highly frustrated at not being able to get budget money for building shelters. Apparently, still convinced there was a need, he and his wife started to build their own, only to abandon that effort after half a day of digging. Office people aren't too good at this activity.

Sometime in the 1990s my family and I visited Nantucket for a day. A typical summer day trip when you're in the Cape Cod area. The island, long a center for whaling, had given way to vacation housing for some of the most seriously wealthy-types in lovely homes, surrounded by preserved architecture. It's always the turn-of-the-last-last century on Nantucket.

The island sits 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and is in a direct line from Hyannis, and Hyannis Port, home of the Kennedy family and their famous compound.

The tour guide on the jitney bus that was our island transportation pointed out many things. Including somewhere near the golf course he pointed in the general direction of where a network of tunnels had been built in the 60s that would serve as the bomb shelter for the famous residents of Hyannis Port, one of whom was the man who appointed Mr. Pittman to his assistant secretary post: President Kennedy.

When you're the president, you don't do your own shoveling.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Downton Abbey III-7

There is only ONE question to ask yourself after seeing the final episode of Season Three of Downton Abbey: How did the United Kingdom ever grow to be 62.6 million people? The place must be full of Australians.

A baby is born; someone dies. That's pretty much how Willie Nelson describes his birthplace, Abbott, Texas, where the population always stays the same; a baby is born, a man leaves town.

It's no wonder those big mansions never get fully occupied and they fall down around someone's ears. There's no one in all those bedrooms.

Of course Matthew's auto accident is a plot device, but really. The Crawleys and the Granthams are resembling the Kennedys. At the rate the show is going, there will be no one to 'soldier on' in WWII, and history will be changed, Plus one, minus one is a guaranteed way to keep the country from aging and turning into America, where getting old is not free and there are Republicans who basically think we should adopt the Julian Fellowes system of population control.

There are other things that of course happen in the the two hour final episode. Basically, none of them are weighty enough to be worth mentioning.

The only take-away worth mentioning is that absolute scariest pair of people, Shrimpie's and Susan's butler and head housekeeper, will easily have work in horror films when the pile in Scotland goes under the auction hammer. They are frightening standing still.

Season Four? We'll all be back, no matter what you say now.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Members of the The Resistance

More of us have things in common than we're naturally aware of. Until we find each other, we're members of a common resistance movement unknown to each other. Take disliking the New York Times and their online paywall policy.

Anyone, or anything can annoy you. Generally, the bigger they are in size, whatever the measurement criteria, the more intractable the annoyance. In other words, there's no relief. Spitting in the wind, holding your hand on your ass, pissing, and or baling out the ocean, are all phrases you could use when you try and take on a Giant.

In William Zinsser's book that I promised myself to get, 'The Writer Who Stayed,' Mr. Zinsser has collected his short essays that appeared online in the 'American Scholar' in his column, 'Zinsser on Friday.'  The essays cover a range of topics, but writing and the activities around it are the central theme. Some essays come off as a bit of a very focused rant that could easily be read while you're waiting for the train that's promised "right behind this one."

One such rant he directs at the New York Times on behalf of his wife, who despite many valiant efforts, seems to have been unable to convince the Times she gets home delivery from a vendor, and therefore should be able to get promised access to the online Times for home subscribers. My sympathies, and empathy go out to Mrs. Zinsser.

My own frustration is a variation on the theme. I get home delivery, but I'm the home deliverer. I buy the paper every day, except Sunday, at my local CVS store. I therefore pay full price, which right now is $2.50. I also buy the Wall Street Journal, so over time, I'm spending a few bucks here. But that's not what I'm complaining about.

Why don't I get home delivery from the Times, get their discount, become eligible for unlimited online access, and join the rest of the world?

I used to, but whoever they arranged to deliver the paper seemed to forget where the house is on way more than one occasion. Sure, phone calls extend my subscription one day, but one gets weary of the routine.

So, I am a subscriber in my eyes, but a newsstand subscriber.

Thus, when it comes to online access, I get the publicly offered 10 site visits per month that anyone gets. Go for the 11th one, and I'm reminded via pop-up how I don't have to suffer with this limitation, but can pay a few bucks and get the whole sheebang, unlimited, all the time.

Never mind that their paywall is about as easy to get around as it is to step over a hose delivering oil. You go to Goggle, find the article, send the link to yourself, or another account you control, and you can open the story. Of course you know the article because you bought the paper, or someone told you about it. This won't help you browse the online version, which is really the extent of their paywall limitation. Good luck with that, guys.

I understand a little bit about the newspaper game and that having auditable circulation numbers goes great when they're setting rates to charge the advertisers. Freelance buyers like myself don't leave electronic footprints.

So, I write comments on their contact page, and have written to Mr. Sulzberger, the publisher, and to Mr. Scott H. Heekin-Canedy, president and general manager, that why don't they arrange for a way to recognize this walkup audience that's out there. They've got UPC codes and QR codes that could be scanned. How about a prepaid NYT card in my name, like a MetroCard, that can be used to buy the paper, thereby leaving my precious income, demographic information on a server somewhere that will please the advertisers and help set rates?

A few letters went to Mr. Sulzberger, and a few to Mr. Scott H. Heekin-Canedy. Never an answer from anyone. Lately I've read that there has been buyout at the paper and Mr. Scott H. Heekin-Canedy will be leaving.

Scott, good luck with your home delivery. You might become one of us.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Right Phrase

I've never taken a writing class of any kind: creative, journalism, or whatever the course catalog might have, I've never taken it. This might be because my formal education didn't advance too far after high school, having coasted to a halt sometime before my 20th birthday, brought on by a mixture of calculus and beer. At this point, I'm hardly upset about it.

But I do wonder how things might be taught in such settings. I like to think I'd love to hear of an instructor who illustrates searching for the correct word. Or words to describe something. Perhaps they'd use Mark Twain's famous quote that the difference between the wrong word and the right one is the same as the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.

But that doesn't illustrate an example. It was quite a few years ago that I was reading Ira Berkow's biography of the sports writer Red Smith and how Red tried to capture the exact essence of what it was he was trying to say, by looking for just the right way to say it. Red was Mr. Berkow's mentor, so the story is a highly appreciative example of searching for accuracy.

Red apparently wrote something that conveyed the look of disgust on someone's face, as if they had just bitten into an apple and found half a worm. Easy to imagine what that look might be. Lightening.

The editor changed it to: having just bitten into an apple and found a worm. Not even a bug that lights. Red went nuts. (The editor, whoever it was, likely didn't ever get the Pulitzer that Red later earned.)

The image of someone's face being so scrunched up after finding half a worm in an apple they've just taken a bite of has always stayed with me. Saying they made a face like they just bit into a lemon is good, but who the hell actually bites into a lemon other than someone's foreign uncle? The facial reaction should be no surprise if you're chomping into a lemon with your eyes open. Half a worm is a surprise.

I've never tried to seek a better phrase for facial disgust. But I have to say, one found me. It is predicated on knowing a little criminal history, but it's an easy topper to half a worm found in a freshly bitten-into apple.

It's been over 20 years since Jeffrey Dahmer was finally arrested for intensely brutal serial slayings, made even grislier by cannibalism of the body parts. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was killed in jail not long after being incarcerated. But now there is a documentary in theaters, 'The Jeffrey Dahmer Files' that has been released. The film centers on recollections of those who worked the case, and those who lived near Mr. Dahmer in Milwaukee.

I wonder if this will ever will ever make it into a classroom as an illustration of carefully describing facial disgust. In the documentary, there is a neighbor who recalls Mr. Dahmer before his apprehension as a friendly man who he regrettably accepted a sandwich from.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Canadian Visitors

I confess I seldom get that oversized periodical, The New York Review of Books. This is not because I don't like books, or don't like book reviews, but rather because of a few reasons, one chiefly being I started to feel overwhelmed by what went unread in my house after I did start to get it years ago. Too many things started piling up. I had to cut the cord.

This bothered me because I knew that occasionally Russell Baker had a review in there, and I’ve been reading his writing since sometime in the mid-1960s. But, as can happen in this connected age, I learned through a Tweet from @obitsman that there was a Baker review in the February 21st edition of the NYRB. So, I went out and bought a copy.

Mr. Baker's review is of  'Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Combacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds,' by Jim Sterba. Finally something sane about animals. About the environment. Things don't always disappear. Quite the opposite. They come back stronger than ever.

And here's where I detected I had an ally. Mr. Baker seldom does these book reviews, but I suspect he chooses the ones he does do. So, why choose a book that seems to debunk all the hand-wringing of a disappearing nature?

One clue is found when Mr. Baker adds to the narrative that his local newspaper has announced that 250 vultures have picked his town of Leesburg as their forwarding address. They are not movie extras sent there to appear in a sequel to Alfred Hitchcok's movie 'The Birds.' They are uninvited, and causing a good deal of property damage.

When I was working there were many indications I was getting older. One of them was that I was continually surrounded by younger adults who seemed to hang out in the print room whenever it seemed I was watching my job come out of the printer who couldn't help exclaim, "there you go, killing all those tress."

Homicide seemed called for, but probably tough to convince an inevitable like-minded jury that it was justified. I did usually manage a terse remark that I had news for them: ‘Don’t worry, trees grow back.’ A theme of the book.

For whatever reason, I tend to hold onto nuggets of thought that are wrapped in numbers. Thus, when the time seems appropriate, I have forever found myself repeating that I once read that the average teen-age boy thinks of sex every 14 seconds. Clearly, I don’t remember it being that frequent, but obviously, we haven’t been given enough credit for getting through school.

I don’t know anything about Leesburg and why it would attract 250 vultures. I don't know why we, like many other communities, have an infestation of Canadian geese down the street in the park. The book, and Mr. Baker's review, help explain what's going on that has made this happen.

The numerical nugget that I take away from the review is that Canadian geese apparently have a primitive digestive system. So, it turns out they poop often, as much as five times an hour. Good or bad at math, that's every 12 minutes. The adult goose can contribute 1-3 pounds of waste a day to the ground. This surely explains why freshly fallen snow is suddenly turned yellow after reacting to shotgun shells of shit everywhere you look.

Thanks to Mr. Baker's review I can provide a literary retort to the print room kibitzing, if I ever need it again.

"There's a book I think you should read. You remember books, no?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Downton Abbey III-6

Can we really be up to the sixth episode of Season Three already? The producers snuck in a two hour episode that drops so many lines in the water you'd think it was a party boat fluke fishing. Thank goodness for the DVR. This episode was longer than Super Bowl half-time, even with the electrical outage.

What year are we in? Obvious clue is the cinema that Ivy and Alfred go to, where Lillian Gish is playing in 'Way Down East,' a story not quite unlike that of Mrs. Crawley's Ethel. That makes it only 1920. Yikes, time is not flying.

And if that clue is too subtle that we're in the 1920s, then we have the 18 year-old cousin Rose who drinks, flaps, and sneaks off to smokey London jazz clubs with married men where black people play the clarinet. It's all so delicious.

Lord G. is having a tough time asserting post-war authority. In the prior episode, he wasn't able to scare a single crow out of Mrs. Crawley's luncheon dining room. The dessert trumped him.  And here in episode six, he's having a Dickens of a time with Bob Cratchit, son-in-law Matthew, who owns half the pile and has all the ideas.

Lady Edith goes to London to consider becoming a columnist, and enters the world of offices and women who type and smoke. And married men who flirt. The times, they are a changin.'

But on the male side there's an emerging triumvirate developing here between Lord G., Matthew and Tom (Branson). Lord G. is not wholly without skills. The money here is that Lady Edith's columns get him roused enough to run for Parliament. Stay tuned.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lord G.'s mother, played by Maggie Smith, gets all the good one-liners. Thus, Branson's brother after the inevitable one-too-many-for-the-Irish, is a "drunken gorilla," while hardly looking like a gorilla. Or, does she mean guerrilla? These IRA types, you know. Granny is the slyest of them all. Close captioned says 'gorilla.' But which one does Granny really mean? Hmmm.

If her son Robert's influence is slipping, her's is Gibraltar. She is the eminence gris of the household; Carmine De Sapio without sunglasses, but tapping a cane instead.

If this were a Norman Lear production in the 1970s, Granny would have her own show by now. Aside from the drawing room intrigue, she acts as judge and jury when she banishes the young thing Rose to Scotland for a month with a maid. She is decades ahead of Judge Judy.

Despite the sodomy laws in laws in Britain in the 1920s, a man-to-man a kiss on the lips is just one of life's slips. Lord G. as much admits that when he discloses that if he yelled out at Eton whenever he was bussed by a male, he'd he hoarse. If he were Italian, that much kissing would have left him dead.

Mary and Matthew now seem medically cleared for parental take-off. But what guy goes to his wife's gynecologist? Ours is not to ask, I suppose. Only marvel that they don't seem to have to stay within network.

Bates leaves jail dressed like he's ready to serve tea. He meets Anna outside H.M.S. York prison, which until now has been Bates Motel. He and Anna, I guess because they're married servants, will get a cottage on the estate. Lord G. insists. Can a cradle be far behind as he an Anna plop onto a ruptured sofa, much like John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara breaking the bed in 'A Quiet Man?'

And then there's the episode closing cricket match. The English playing that thoroughly incomprehensible game that has everyone wearing the same sweater with no numbers, running between wickets while holding onto the bat. Things are settling down. For now.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Opening At the Vatican

'Pope Gives God Two Weeks' Notice'

Thus, Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement yesterday at the age of 85. He's the first pope in six centuries, and nearly 600 years, to leave the job alive. The last one to do so was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415. Since popes don't have grandchildren they'd like to spend more time with, they tend to stay in the job that's theirs for life.

The two week notice headline is from the NewYork Post, igniting that plural, apostrophe, placement conundrum that Lynne Truss wrote about in her cute book on punctuation, 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves.' Ms. Truss goes on at length about the two words, but never offers the neat solution: Two-Week Notice. Compound adjective, noun. Apostrophe? Fuhgetaboutit. How do you pronounce an apostrophe, anyway?

Anyway, Pope Benedict's announcement is considered a bombshell announcement, but it's seen here as a terrific media ploy.

The New York Times has announced that it has already, and will continue to, put more obituaries on its front page. Apparently, in 2012, they did 30 on the front, a considerable increase from the 14 in 2011. Some are certainly expected, when a world leader, or highly notable person passes away. Others, are whimsical treatments of the somewhat famously departed. A pope would certainly qualify in all instances.

So, in leaving the job alive, rather than dead, there's a good chance Benedict will achieve front page acknowledgement twice; now, and when he really goes. And right now, he's a banner headline all over the place.

He's savvy, that's all. He has a Twitter account, and perhaps wants to spend more time with that. And since famous subjects are not shown their obituaries before they expire, the pope has forced into print what people think about him for him to read. He can settle some scores if so inclined. Or, at least order up some penance.

There's probably a Latin phrase to describe this. But I never took Latin.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Lac Bug Meets the Writing Bug

Newspapers, obituaries and book reviews are enough to sustain life.

Anytime I'm doing a household project that requires me to spread out some sheets of old newspaper for an improvised drop cloth, I usually start scanning the headlines again. And when I do this I think of Russell Baker and something he once wrote that anytime he's spreading out newspapers for a similar project he finds himself once again catching up on the news.

So, that's one writer that's followed me into the garage. And now there's another. William Zinsser.

There is a product I've used that's a stain blocking primer. White can, has a two ring red target with a black bull's-eye in the middle. The Zinsser name is italicized for emphasis and the 'R' slightly overlaps the target a bit. In smaller print, also italicized, underneath the name we're told 'Quality Since 1849.' It is good stuff.

The WSJ has great book reviews. They're always in the same spot in the first section, and always have their own format and same length. In yesterdays' edition there was a review of what sounds like a collection of essays by William Zinsser. The book, 'The Writer Who Stayed' is fairly thin at 175 pages, but attractively priced at only $14.95.

WSJ book reviews can be as much about the author or the era they're writing about as they are about the book itself. Novels are not frequently reviewed. Thus, history is usually imparted.

The reviewer, Edwin M. Yoder Jr., sounds like he's a kindred spirit to the author, as well as contemporary. And that contemporary occupies a John Cheever, Guy Talese era of men wearing hats, and the men's grille at Schrafft's.

The history part comes in when it is revealed that Mr. Zinsser, a life-long New Yorker, is the great-grandson of a German merchant of the 1840s who started a prosperous shellac business. The business is not now operated by the family, but the name prevails.

I'm quite familiar with shellac. I've mixed my own from orange flakes with denatured alcohol for wood finishes. My father seemed as in love with shellac for use as a household painting primer as he was in love with olive oil for his skin and diet. We don't know that he ever mixed them up. I know shellac well.

The book review lets us in on more shellac history: it's origin from the lac bug, found in India; it's industrial and pharmaceutical uses. Most of these I am familiar with, but I am, like the reviewer, not familiar with Mr. Zinsser, who after returning from WWII turned away from learning and running the family business and instead went to work for the Herald Tribune.

There are two things I moan about when I think of what I miss in New York City. One is the old Penn Station. I'm hardly alone there, but our numbers are dwindling. The second thing I miss is the Herald Tribune: a broadsheet of news, sports, comics, and editorial cartoons. As complete a newspaper as ever existed. I'm not alone here either. Mr. Yoder expresses a pang of loss as well, as I'm sure Mr. Zinsser does.

Without too much surprise, it is learned that Mr. Zinsser will be 91 this year. He admires Joseph Mitchel, and apparently his writing even resembles it in subject matter. The review is an unqualified recommendation to read the book. And as soon as I can get to the bookstore after last night's snowstorm, I plan to do just that.

And the next time I'm in the garage whipping up a shellac mixture, readying a can of oil-based primer for needed cover, or spreading out newspapers out for the project, I will now have two writers to think about and remember.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Long Live the King

The news from across the pond is again exciting. Not the news that soccer matches might have been fixed, but rather that there is confirmation that the complete skeletal remains found under a Leicester, England parking lot in September 2012 are really those of King Richard III.

The remains of Richard III have been missing for over 500 years. He was killed in battle at the age of 32 in 1485. His grave at the Greyfriars Priory was never marked, and the priory was ransacked and destroyed by Richard's successor, King Henry VII, no fan of his predecessor. Eventually, a parking lot was poured over a plot of ground where the priory once stood. Scholarly clues lead the determined to zero in on this parking lot with very modern detection equipment.

One of those determined, Philippa Langley, a writer and passionate member of the Richard III Society, is given credit for raising the money needed to continue the research and subsequent dig, and now positive identification.

Perhaps, in a bit of over-the-top glee, Ms. Langley poetically says, "I think he wanted to be found, he was ready to be found, and we found him..." She certainly wasn't talking about Whitey Bulger.

It is probably best left to another line of inquiry as to how a skeleton signalled that it wanted to be found and was ready to come out of hiding. If this is the case, there are a great number of people who have long counted on the axiom that "dead men tell no tales." If skeletons do talk, then some people are going to have to "lawyer up."

The British are a very historical and possessive lot when it comes to their Kings and Queens. We are a much younger country, and by all accounts haven't misplaced any living or deceased presidents. As such, we search for another level of rank: judges and union leaders.

Judge Joseph Force Crater has been missing since he got into a cab in 1930 on an August night after a restaurant meal in Manhattan. More theories than strands of spaghetti on a plate have been put forth over the years. There are still books and articles published about the disappearance. Suffice it to say, the judge had many connections, and it is likely someone wanted those connections ended, just like someone was not too happy about King Richard III on that battlefield in 1485.

The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, the leader of the Teamster's Union who went somewhere in 1975, never to be found again, is another person around whom many varied explanations prevail.

There are other types of people who have been missing for years and are presumed dead. But, we'll stop where we are. There are a lot of us in this country, and it is impossible to keep track of everyone.

It is hardly likely that anyone in this country will wonder about the judge, or Jimmy, 500 years after their disappearances. There is no William Shakespeare--or whoever he was--to immortalize them. No one in this era would write about the King's bad back curvature and describe it as "a lump of foul deformity." The Bard wouldn't last between commercials on daytime television with that utterance. Times change.

Shakespeare's Richard III play is still performed. The positive id of the remains will only further propel the academics, educators and theater people into more King Richard III themes.

Make no mistake, it is all good news for our cousins. Usually, Kings and Queens get interred underneath Westminster Abbey in London. The current momentum is to respectfully place Richard's remains in Leicester's Anglican cathedral, in very close proximity to where the bones were found. No dancing spine on a table like those in a mall or mass transit terminal reminding us we all have bad backs ever since we stood up to grab that apple, or whatever it was that attracted our attention.

No, a visitor's center will be dedicated to King Richard III. A parking lot is also expected to be built.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Downton Abbey III-5 + X, L, V, II

My son-in-law's father is a retired NYC police detective. He doesn't routinely tell the civilians stories, but occasionally one comes out. Senior was born and raised in the Bronx, and grew up around the corner from my wife. Despite being about the same age, they were unknown to each other. The potsy players didn't meet the stick-ball boys. The best I can tell, he spent his entire police career in the Bronx. Alas the Bronx, he knew it well.

During one of those gatherings that happen when people get together around the holidays, he told the assembled of the time he was still in uniform and he and his partner had to handle Saturday night noise complaints. A few apartments in the precinct we're known to be the party house, where the rug was rolled up and the dancing, drinking, and music kept coming. This invariably led to noise complaints being called in.

A response and a knock at the door and the message was delivered that they had to "keep it down." This was Phase I and had absolutely no effect, other than to make it easier for he and his partner to get there and deliver the message in Phase II. The difference was in Phase I the people answered the door; in Phase II they just waited for the messenger to go away.

Phase III was the best part. When the inevitable call came in that things were still swinging in 4-G, he and his partner didn't bother with delivering any messages in person. They gained access to the apartment house cellar (quite easy in those days), located the main fuse for that apartment, and on the assumption that someone on a respirator wasn't in the same apartment with all those singing, drinking, and dancing people, they yanked the fuse, basically giving the occupants their very own blackout.

In addition to this, they unscrewed, or broke the bare bulb lights that were near the fuse box, leaving that part of the cellar in darkness as well. They had their flashlights, with batteries that worked. This tactic was designed to delay any resumption in the festivities by the revelers in finding the fuse box, and more importantly, replacing the fuse. It was felt that at that point, and at that hour, "these drunks aren't ever going to find it." No Phase IV was mentioned.

It is now part of Super Bowl legend that last night's game was delayed when very soon after the halftime show, half the lights in the stadium went out. Play had to stop for something like an additional 30 minutes before the power came back on.

It is also part of Super Bowl legend at this point that Beyonce put on a sound and light halftime show developed by NASA which could easily have strained the stadium's power grid. A blackout ensued.

It's also possible that something more subtle was happening in that the producers for 'Downton Abbey,' tired of all the noise coming from the other channel, gained access to the utility closet at the Superdome, and pulled the fuse. After all, that most British of soap operas was due to share prime time at 9 PM with that rowdy New Orleans party.

It was a busy Sunday night. Of course we had all the hype, drama and reality of Super Bowl XLVII, as well as 'Downton Abbey,' for those of us who took that in as well.

The charm of 'Downton' is that it only runs for an hour, and there are NO commercials. There is no pre-game show, sideline analysis, halftime analysis, halftime show, or award presentations. No celebrities, either. It's what TV used to be.

So, what happened this week at the old place?

We get a reading of how much the upper-crust Anglicans dislike and distrust Catholics when his Lordship refers to them as "left-footed" and filled with "pagan folderol." Carson the butler, not to be outdone, questions their loyalty to the Crown. A spirited conversation at the dinner table with the vicar present neatly shows off how the Crawley sisters are no slouches at geography. They were tutored well.

We have Lord Grantham's mother, the Dowager Countess, as a woman who was likely at Queen Victoria's coronation acting like either Richard Nixon, or a 2013 drug company, when she basically asks Dr. Clarkson to skew the data surrounding survival rates from eclampsia and Cesarean sections.

But in a Clintonesque linguistic somersault, she neatly puts the music back in the unmusical word "lie" and gets her son out of the dog house. Bates, the valet, will be getting out of the Big House, and Ethel, the morally fallen cook for Mrs. Crawley, will stay out of the whorehouse.  Everybody gets to leave their latest house of confinement. The times, they are a-changin.'

Sarah O'Brien, Lady Cora's maid, gets to lay a Lady Macbeth plot that is sure to cause Thomas, the Lord's valet, some trouble when he pops his head a wee bit out of the closet. Everyone seems to be getting a bit back to normal, except for Carson and the assistant cook Daisy. Look for plot developments surrounding those characters next week.

Oh, and as for those Super Bowl commercials...fuhgetaboutit. Third Avenue trash.