Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Deadly Derring-do, then Death

It might say something about a good idea that might be badly marketed when it takes my own interest in obituaries to read that the NYT has assembled a second year's worth of their obituaries.

The first such collection was labeled 'Annual 2012,' and looked a bit like an almanac. The 'year' was odd. It was 12 months' worth of obits, but they spanned August 2010 through July 2011. The calendar year is the one we're most familiar with, then the fiscal year, but this is a new one: the obituary year.

No matter, really. The intention is a good one, and welcome. The first edition had a nice foreward by Pete Hamill, that opens with the indisputable observation that life is the cause of death. All those mortality codes funnel into one. Life.

And what a nice point Mr. Hamill makes. It coincides somewhat with my own that being born is what we survive. In addition to Mr. Hamill, the first edition has an introduction by Mr. William McDonald, the editor, and NYT obituary page editor. Who better?

Forward to 2013 and I lost track that the Times has produced another edition, collecting the obituaries from, you guessed it, the next obituary year, August 2011 through July 2012. As long as they stay consistent, I can catch up to that.

I learn of this edition when I read the obituary of Peter Workman, a man who headed a successful publishing house, and who published 'The Socialite Who Killed A Nazi With Her Bare Hands.' We know 'sex sells,' but after that, and certainly in New York, an asphyxiated Nazi is good copy as well.

The title happen to be the title of the 2013 collection of NYT obituaries. The almanac look is dumped for front cover photos of some of the luminaries who can be read about inside. The carnival barker title has already announced there are tales of deathly derring-do inside, so come on in. The guess that the largest of the uncaptioned photos on the cover is the one of the socialite proves correct.

There is surviving blurb from the first edition. Stephen King gets a say on the front and the back cover, and Marilyn Johnson is appropriately brought back for another year's worth of plugging obits. Her seminal book, 'The Dead Beat' might be fairly responsible for the recognition that obituaries are now getting as news items, and as short stories. They've reached the front of the cerebral cortex.

Certainly the Times recognizes this, inasmuch as they've embarked on a conscious policy of starting more obituaries on their front page. Country singer George Jones, in any other era, would not get front page NYT coverage. But when you can put a great lede on the front page, George's death is too irresistible to put back in the pack.

Certainly not to wish either Mr. King or Ms. Johnson bad, but two year's running might be a limit. How about blurb from those most likely to wind up inside the following year? Perhaps something from Stephen Hawking about the cosmos and eternity would be great blurb, and absolutely serendipitous if he would up inside the next year. The odds are with the editors.

The second edition has a foreward by Tom Rachman, who may not start off with a Hamill nugget, but does have a nice essay. Mr. McDonald is again giving the introduction, and seems to have been caught up in the title's swashbuckling action by writing about a deceased Frenchman who lived like Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne movie series.

A detailed read of Robert de La Rochefoucauld, the saboteur who posed as a nun, can remind one of a Robbie O'Connell song about Sister Josephine, an IRA terrorist who hides as a nun in a convent, drinking, playing poker, shaving, and flirting with the 'younger nuns.'

Robbie is still with us, but when he does pass on, my hope is they mention his song about 'Sister Josephine.' That way, if there are others like me who download desired songs of the recently memorialized departed, we'll have the obit, and the song to remember them by.

And of course the NYT and its annual book.


Monday, April 29, 2013

A Day at Belmont

It is not a regular occurrence, but it is aimed for: a gathering of five guys who are linked by the same previous employer and who also enjoy trying to turn thoroughbred horse selections into bets that reward the bettor with a return on their investment.  This can be also be described as the practice of equine prophesy, but to call it what it is--playing the horses--is okay too.

Sometimes the financial reward eludes some, or all of those gathered, but since the meeting takes place in Belmont's dining room, even a losing day is not endured on an empty stomach.

Mostly the conversation is about what horses in the next race represent the best chance to cash a bet. Sometimes memory lane is gone down. One highlight from the past was someone's remembrance of the two cent cost of an item I won't disclose, other than to say it's always played heavily in the lives of young men becoming men.

Every member of the group represents a story, but only one represents a new found presence on YouTube and a call from 'America's Got Talent' to see if that applied to them. To some extent it must have, since their audition got them to progressive levels upward, and a taped segment of their performance. Airing it has probably been answered with a 'no' but what got them that far can be found at 'mrhumantrumpet' on YouTube.

This same member is the one who a year ago bet the right exacta numbers in the wrong race at the wrong track and still came home a hefty winner using that approach.

This time they remained fairly focused, and were rewarded with a $184 exacta for a $2 bet that was placed the correct way. Sometimes this works as well.

Subsequent to this they asked for a lead into what the future might hold in the next race. When another member of the group revealed their choice as an entry number, it was met with a comment that the horse hadn't run on the turf yet, and this was a turf race.

Puzzled, the advice giver pointed out that they were now looking toward the 7th race, not the 8th race. This put both members of the group on the same page, but did remove the luckier of the two away from a proven technique of betting the wrong race and being rewarded anyway.

The lesson learned from this is that anyone sitting next to a winner of a $184 exacta shouldn't be telling that person anything.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Detective Darlene O'Hara

Darlene, where have you been all my life?

Actually, I know the answer to that question. Darlene was born in 1971, so I had already lived significant portions of my life and voted in presidential elections even before her mother was cruising down the diaper aisle at the supermarket.

Plus, Darlene is a fictional character in now what are two Peter De Jonge books. The first was 'Shadows Still Remain,' and had me as soon as one of the characters is walking west on 52nd Street, going past buildings I know about.

There is even a passage in the first book where Darlene and her partner, Serge Krekorian, are spending quality time in a booth at the Old Time Bar, a landmark establishment on 18th Street, still serving, and where I once delivered laundry to over 50 years ago.

The second De Jonge book, 'Buried on Avenue B,' has just been started. And again, I'm right there with Darlene as she gets her workday started at 8:00 A.M. in a joint named Milano's with her vodka, grapefruit eye-opener.

I finally hit on a series of books I love. Spy, true crime, fictional crime, seems to be where I like to go. But the locales so far, for me, haven't been New York City. Pre-war and post-war Europe, LA, Panama, even Chechnya. Outside of reading a fictionalized account of solving what happened to Judge Crater, and how the Mad Bomber case was solved, nothing has been Streets I Have Walked. Until Darlene.

And she's contemporary. She remembers what rock songs were being played when certain things were happening, and she drinks fluids with a straw. She couldn't live without cup holders. Our relationship was cemented early in the second book when she refers to people in bars with iPhones and instant access to trivia answers as 'dipshits.' I've never seen that word spelled out. It's a great word. It's also been awhile since I ever heard the word. And coming from someone who perfectly fits the marketing demographic of an iPhone user, you know Darlene is special.

Mr. De Jonge apparently apprenticed co-authoring, with credit, some James Patterson works. Now he's roaming about the city with his own developed stories, helped in no small part by contacts within the New York City Police Department. Help he fully acknowledges that has even been the back story to his main character's development. A female homicide detective, Donna Torres, is gratefully acknowledged, and by last accounts, is still on the force.

Detective O'Hara is portrayed as the expected fictional detective loaner, five-foot-four, freckles, red hair, and not at all looking like an ugly redheaded step-child. Apparently, there's a decent shape and working furnace underneath the generic, baggy civilian clothes she goes around in, that at least in the first book finds its way into helping an assistant medical examiner smile. And Darlene, of course.

It's interesting from my perspective to remember when woman were first introduced in number into the police department, sometime in the 60s. The hue and cry was that a woman would put their male partners in danger in patrol cars because they were too small. They wouldn't be able to help during an altercation. Police wives were vocal about this.

I remember my father thinking the uproar was really more about putting a woman next to a horny guy for at least eight hours. He had his way of seeing things as well.

Fifty years does not make history ancient, but it is a slice of time that certainly some can't remember. But now we can have female Detective Torres helping a writer create a very believable female Detective O'Hara, and facing a city that never lets you down. Her hangovers allow her to move just fast enough.

Mr. De Jonge has created a franchise detective. Will she be exported to the British like we took in Inspector Morse? Certainly the visual media awaits. Will she get her own show here in the States?

The second book has really just come out, end of 2012, so Mr. De Jonge certainly has miles and miles to go with Darlene. She's only thirty-four at the time of the first book, and because of a very early pregnancy that makes her son now old enough to be a college student, she will likely have no more children. I look forward to following her no matter where Peter puts her. It is bound to be good.

There is one place I expect Darlene will never be. Management.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013

Maybe Earth Day is going to turn out to be the day I annually look back and remember what I was doing in times now past.

As noted in my blog entry of 2010, Earth Day still remains the day I will always remember what the back of someone's jacket read:

Today, the memory of Earth Day was ignited first by the calendar, of course. I had to get closer to it to read that today was Earth Day, and not some event in New Zealand. These calendar people are clever. They design maybe eight calendars for the entire world, then distribute the English ones to the English speaking world--us, and some other former colonies of Great Britain, and the United Kingdom itself.
The second instance happened in the supermarket this morning when the man in front of me had somehow spent $40 on items that didn't seem big enough to fill a Leave It to Beaver lunch box. He didn't think anything of it, but the cashier suddenly remembered the store's apparent promotion and reached for a grocery tote bag--I'm sure made from decomposed green beans--and handed it to the man, explaining that his purchase qualified him to have this bag in recognition of Earth Day.

My own purchase of a popcorn snack and two rolls added up to $3.99, didn't qualify me for the soy-based bag, but did look like I was going to have more fun eating what I bought than what he bought.
Slowly I turned, step-by-step, and I remembered:
I can't help it. I'm hard-wired.
So, now it's the 43rd anniversary and how has it been going? Well, we haven't landed any humans anywhere else in space other than on the moon, but there are signs of a cleaner world, or at least certainly enough commercials to tell us that banking online will save trees, stamps and lower the carbon footprint. When the meteor hits, we'll have an extra 12 seconds.
Three years have gone by since that 2010 posting. What else is new?
I am in the supermarket at 10 A.M. and not at work, because I am retired. A supermarket is once a place I would only ever hear about from my wife, or see from a passing car. I'd never go in, because I didn't want to, or need to.
My wife still does the shopping, but I now complement it by getting the things I've always wanted but in the past had to accept her explanation that they, "don't carry that," or, "they apparently were all out" when she'd return with nothing I asked about.
This of course always amused me. All that national advertising, and they were out of ice cream. Again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Non-Denominational Forever

I still pay my bills by paper, using checks, envelopes and stamps. I'm sure this makes me a Luddite in some eyes, but I don't care. I know there are online ways to do the chore of paying bills, but I purposely choose not to do it that way. My reasons are good, at least to me, and I'll keep them to myself right now.

As mentioned, I need stamps to do what I do. The United States Postal Service at some point introduced the Forever stamp. It is a non-denominational stamp, good for a first class postage delivery weighing up to one ounce, I believe. Perfect for bills.

I used to collect stamps as a kid, and the thought that there could some day be a non-denominational stamp was beyond anyone's imagination. Then, non-denominational to me meant there could be a religious gathering where the pastor was allowed to wear a regular necktie with a suit that looks like dad's. I didn't know anyone who was non-denominational.

But now of course my postage is. It's a great convenience. You can buy stamps at the current rate, and then continue to use them, even if the rates have gone up, by one cent, or several. When the Forever stamp concept was introduced I distinctly remember reading a financial advice Q&A where the question was would it be wise to sink significant money into Forever stamps, then wait for the rate to go up, then sell them at the profit that was the spread. 

Sounds stupid, but on a percentage basis, it could fly. The answer was that it wouldn't be wise, or worth it to invest so much money into a vehicle that basically wasn't going to keep up with, or exceed inflation, even as low as it is. Postal rate increases are not pre-ordained, and they could be so small, and potentially so far apart, that Forever stamps would not make a good investment vehicle.

To me, this was good. China was not going to buy all our stamps and leave me with no way to pay my bills, thereby leaving me badly in arrears and without power.

And speaking of power, my utility company, LIPA, used to provide a postage-free envelope to mail the check.  This was always a treat. Everyone else in the stack got a stamp, but that one was a free ride.

Of course, with Forever stamps being non-denominational, I usually forgot what the value of my benefit was. Was it 41 cents, 43 cents, 45 cents? Perhaps this played into LIPA's thinking when they discontinued providing a pre-paid postage envelope and got like everyone else that provided an envelope that told me where to stick it. The stamp.

The mere mention of LIPA to anyone in my surroundings will likely induce a tirade of complaint, usually profane, and loud. The prolonged outages after recent storms has been difficult to deal with.

After the last storm, Sandy, there were changes at LIPA, and perhaps an infusion of funds from somewhere, and they started clearing branches from wires.  In the 20+ years I've lived in their domain, I can only remember one maintenance cleanup, and that was soon after we moved in.

In that time I replaced a diseased dogwood tree with a Callery pear tree at a corner of the backyard. The wires for everyone's power run overhead along the  backyard property lines. After the last storm, LIPA got busy and sub-contracted an extensive removal of branches that looked like they could pose a danger to pulling the power lines down in a storm.

They did a good deal of work in my area, and personally, our lovely Callery pear tree was trimmed enough to leaving it looking like a upside down Hershey Kiss without the aluminum foil. I complained not a bit. If my pear tree could pose a danger to power lines (which I really didn't see, given the thinness of the branches), then so be it.

Hard to say there's proof here, but several strong windy storms, after Sandy and after the pruning campaign, did not cause us to lose power

April is when the Callery pear trees blossoms, and I miss seeing its graceful elliptical shape. I also miss LIPA's pre-paid postage envelopes.

I remember a poem, 'Never Was I Born To Set Them Right,' that Ogden Nash wrote, I think shortly before he died, that appeared in The New Yorker. The poem lists many gripes that are made to rhyme. Nash closes with a complaint to the IRS that they don't provide a postage-free envelope, and that after he drains his bank account to pay his taxes, couldn't they at least "blow me to nickel's worth of postage."

I feel the same way about LIPA at this point. Since I'm now faced with a severely truncated Callery pear tree that looks like a top on its tip, but is not spinning, can't they at least provide me with a pre-paid postage envelope?


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Homage to Jonny

In the 'Arts' section of today's NYT there is a loving piece written by Robin Williams on Jonathan  Winters. We know Jonathan was not Robin's father, but he certainly had a hand (or something) in what Williams became: an even wilder comedian than Jonathan.

The piece is labeled 'An Appraisal,' but it's not. It's a heartfelt homage to the man. An appraisal would have been written by Edward Rothstein and he would have attempted to academically and clinically explain why we laugh at a man who comes out in a pith helmet as Jack Parr's guest and explains that he hunts for squirrels by shooting at their nuts. We don't care about Freud or Jung when we're laughing.

There is a 'YouTube' segment of Jonathan on the 'Tonight Show' with Johnny Carson. After Jonathan calms down on the couch, Robin Williams is introduced, comes out, and bows in complete homage and recognition to the man that gave him life.

I seem to remember Bill Cosby telling the story of his childhood in Philadelphia and that he thought monkey bars were an attempt by adults to do away with little kids. "You don't see them playing on them, do you?"

Cosby would also tell, true or not, that his father told him to play in traffic. So, perhaps the funny people come from adults who were shunned as children. Robin Williams tells the story of Jonathan coming back from duty as a Marine in the Pacific in WWII and finding that his mother had already cleaned out some of his things from his bedroom. She didn't think he was coming back.

Mr. Williams neatly closes with the reference to the classic bit on Jack Parr that Jonathan stitched together where he assumes 10 different characters while using a simple stick as a prop.  That's 10 he did standing up. Coming back and sitting in the chair next to Parr he gets into two more. His Bing Crosby playing golf and singing sends Parr awe-struck to heaven. And don't miss that a sand trap is called a 'cat box.' (Kitty litter was invented in 1947, and Crosby was playing golf long before that.)

Robin says Jonathan's stick touched all of us. It did, and luckily it was shared and handed to others who keep using it.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Funny Man

The New York Times has really adopted a changed obituary policy in that they now fairly regularly put the passing of someone on their front page. In today's paper there are two faces pictured, with captions and leads to the full text. The trifecta has yet to happen.

Since both pictures are black and white, the subjects are fairly old. In this case, both were octogenarians, with Jonathan Winters passing away at 87, and a famous ballerina, Maria Tallchief, at 88.

To me, Jonathan Winters is the more well-known. I know next to zero about ballet, other than knowing a few names. Ms. Tallchief, despite her considerable fame and famous marriage, remains a complete unknown to me until today. I'll catch up.

Jonathan Winters, on the other hand, was always generating laughs for me whenever I saw him appear anywhere, which in my case was always on television and in movies. I imitated him imitating others. My own favorite riff is to suddenly work it into a conversation, if it hasn't already been part of one, that, "I have hair, alllllllllllllllllll over my bodddyyyyyyyyyyyy." Since Jonathan's comet tail has flared out, no one knows what the hell I'm talking about unless they're on a Senior Citizen Center bus. It doesn't bother me.

My own favorite nugget of knowledge about Jonathan is right next to me, his book of paintings, 'Hang-Ups.' Oddly, his art career and interests are mentioned in the obituary, but not the book.

It was published by Random House in 1988, and is a collection of color plates of his work, with titles and blurb on the facing pages. I first saw the book in a Denver airport bookstore during a flight delay in December 1988. For some reason I didn't buy it then, but did always remember it. I later did buy it, but is was many years later.

There are a few Salvatore Dali influenced looking abstracts, but there others that are not quite as challenging to grasp. The cover of the book is his very arresting painting of several black balloon-like bombs coming down on a picturesque village, with a red sun in the upper right corner. The plate appears as the last painting in the book and is titled 'The First and Last Day of Spring.' The blurb goes as follows:

It's spring. And there are all these little homes and buildings and greenery and innocence.  And everyone is thinking it's just another day. And it's not. War rains terror. And if we continue to fight wars, it really will be the first and last day of spring.

The sentiment is nothing new, or nothing that hasn't been said in tons of ways. But the day Jonathan Winters is featured on the front page of the New York Times there is a picture of North Koreans riding up an escalator and looking at the floral display to their left. In amongst the display, incongruously for what the caption says is a 'flower show', are mock-ups of missiles, a white trumpet blowing soldier, and a military star. Sort of a miniature May Day parade at the Bronx Botanical Garden's Enid Haupt Conservatory.

We can only imagine what routine Jonathan might have launched into if he had seen that.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Another Maggie

The news of Margaret Thatcher's passing does not effect Americans the same as it does the British. It's easy to understand why. She was the prime minster for a foreign country that's not often in anyone's thoughts unless they're watching public television and are hooked on 'Downton Abbey.'

Her passing does seem to have revealed the sharpness of opinions about her, at least in Great Britain. Despite the fact that her last year in public office was in 1990--over 20 years ago--it's the 11 years that she did serve that have left a sizable country with some distinct opinions about her--good and bad.

And the news reports on this dichotomy. Perhaps we find it funny that 20 years later people can be so animated about their dislike for the woman that they hold parties to celebrate her passing. Or, graffiti a brick wall with lettering that looks like it would make a great album cover for a British rock band.

Personally, I have no feeling one way or the other, other than to greatly admire someone who can stay in office that long with some very heated opposition in a country that can call an election to oust you at any time.

The pictures of her with our president Reagan invoke a nostalgia for two political stalwarts who thought alike and came along at the same time. Maggie and Ron, two kids who got along in the sandbox of the world.

There is the affectionate remembrance of her and Reagan described in one story that has Reagan putting his hand over the receiver and likely holding the phone away from his ear when she was delivering a withering scold about his invading a Caribbean country with the Queen's picture on the currency without telling her. You almost think it's Lucy yelling at Charlie Brown.

For those with little memory, the country was Grenada and it was 1983, when Reagan sent marines in to free the country from the rebels. It didn't last long, and it only produced one Clint Eastwood movie. The effect for Americans was some swelling of military pride, but also some concerned realization that there were foreign medical schools, like the one in Grenada, that trained Americans to be doctors for practice in the United States. The belief that everyone came from an Ivy League school was shattered. Worry did set in then, for awhile. Credentials started to be questioned. What if my doctor got their med school degree in a foreign country?

You can just imagine Reagan, the actor who surely played males who were yelled at by wet hens, grinning that Maggie was a little excited. Almost as if a neighbor built a tree house in a tree whose branches were over the other yard. They made up.

I know only one Brit whose opinion about Maggie I could get. He was the owner of the last company I worked for, and is a British national. Unfortunately, it would only likely be e-mail contact, and I'd be robbed of the accent and the facial expressions that would come over his glasses. Whatever his opinion of her is.

So, has there been an outpouring of divided opinion about anyone in our political system who has left us? Maggie certainly came from a political cloth that was made of different fibers than those here in the States. She held an advanced degree in chemistry. Certainly we always have people who don't like someone. The public portions of Washington D.C. are crowded with protesters over many issues and the targets are very specific.

But we're a very large country, with large malls, and when the protesting crowds come home, they get very diluted with everyone else. We're not jammed into a pub giving voice to happiness over a demise.

Is there anyone I could fell the same enmity toward, even after they've died? I was searching my memory hard for this, but I was aiming too high. I was at the Federal level, when I should have been at the local level.

John V. Lindsay, a New York City mayor whose two terms in office ended in 1973, and who passed away in 2000. I was no longer living inside the political boundaries of New York City then, but I can well imagine if I were, and if I were imbibing, I'd find several bent elbows at bars in Woodside, Flushing, Bayside, Douglaston, Rego Park, Jamaica, Astoria, Jackson Heights, anywhere in fact in the lovely borough that the New York Times still calls an 'outer borough,' who would gladly drink a good riddance toast to the departed mayor who couldn't get the streets plowed in Queens in 1969 after a major snowstorm, leaving the borough isolated for days. Truly outer, then.

"Mayor Linds-ley," as the departed union leader Mike Quill would tauntingly call him before ordering the Transport Workers' Union members off the job, giving NYC its first transit strike in 1966, "we hardly miss ya."


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Visual Pun

It's hard for me to ignore the visual pun. Take the obituary about the death of one of the first female bullfighters, a torera, Patricia McCormick, 83, who just passed away.

The accompanying picture is vivid in showing the dangers of bullfighting, no matter what you think about the sport.

It also shows that as usual, males are aggressively horny.


Saturday, April 6, 2013


The word gulp is a short, one syllable word that like a lot of English words can be a noun or a verb. In the hands of the writer Mary Roach, if you say the word gulp, you've said a mouthful.

'Gulp' is the name of her latest book, and quite honestly, I have little intention of reading it. I will pick it up when I hover over the bookstore table, but I'm sure I won't shell out money for it, or even borrow it, or check it out of the library.

The cover of the book is an arresting picture of a human mouth with no upper cavities. It bears a strong resemblance to a Rolling Stone tour, an amusement park ride entrance, or a hippopotamus saying "ah." The entertainer Martha Raye, who I would see on the Ed Sullivan show, seemed to be able to open her mouth that wide. The things that make us laugh.

So why even mention this? Because I'd recommend the book for people who read a lot. I read too slowly to take in the latest and acclaimed. So, I do the next best thing, and read about books a good deal. Lots of reviews. And here Ms. Roach seems to be enjoying the best of opinions.

She's even appeared on the Jon Stewart show, an attractive, perky, trim, woman, who moves her hands like a symphony conductor when she talks. And she's quite funny and expressive, as I'm guessing her book is. If she were an English teacher at my all-boys high school there would surely be a clique of infatuated Lotharios who would want to date her. I say that, because there were certainly enough guys who seemed to be hitting on Miss Neiderdorfer in the 60s when my English class was over.

Mary's book gets a thoroughly entertaining review by Janet Maslin in the NYT. How hundreds of pages can be used to describe human eating and digesting and not be a medical text is beyond me. On the Jon Stewart show, Ms. Roach, led on by Mr. Stewart, takes us from the point of entry, the mouth, (there is another) and somewhat describes how whatever we chew is softened and reshaped cylindrically to allow swallowing. This has direct bearing on hot dog eating contests, and why there are no famous hamburger eating contests.

So, I've already got all I need. Just like Russell Baker's book review of Jim Sterba's 'Nature Wars' in the New York Review of Books where I learn that Canadian geese foul our grasses at least once every 12 minutes because of an unsophisticated digestive tract, I learn the logistics of how that many hot dogs can be consumed at Nathan's on July 4th. I'm set for the company when they come over.

And my guess is, if you read 'Gulp' you'll have even more goodies to talk about.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

You're a Kumquat

The joys and advantages of reading obituaries have been mentioned before. Aside from the history of the person and the era they lived in, you might also come away with some life-sustaining quotes. And not necessarily a quote from the departed, or even the obituary writer, who might have created a lede for the ages, or who ends the piece with a great turn-of-the-phrase zinger about the departed.

No, there can be other quotes. And if the obituary writer is good and lucky enough to come across one, the hope is they will share it and work it into the story.

Bruce Weber has done that today. The just departed Chuck Fairbanks, a famous college and professional football coach, sometimes seemed to create a fair amount of legal trouble for the teams whose employ he was leaving.

Apparently, Fairbanks created a ton of legal trouble when he agreed to leave the professional New England Patriots and go back to a college program at the University of Colorado. All parties it seems may not have been privy to all the information when they should have been. Or, at least there were those who felt that way, enough that New England sued the University, and the University sued the Patriots.

The acrimony apparently got so prolonged and heated that the Governor of Colorado even got into it, when Richard D. Lamm exclaimed that, "this is a public business and should be conducted in daylight." The phrase "transparency" had not yet caught on then.

Governor Lamm further added that ..."the citizens of this state were being treated like mushrooms..." And why would that be bad, Governor? "...kept in the dark and a bunch of manure spread on us."

That does sound bad.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pattycake, Pattycake, 1-2-3

The NYT wasn't kidding when their Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, revealed there was going to be a policy of more front page obituaries. The number's been rising, and might be attributable to the new Executive Editor at the paper, Jill Abramson.

I don't know if anyone would have predicted that the death of the first gorilla born in NYC, Pattycake, was going to get front page, below the fold treatment. Photo, thick black border, from and to years, caption, jump to the story, page A17.

Luckily for Caroline Kennedy, the smaller tease of the story of her possibly being named the ambassador to Japan, is placed on the opposite side of the front page. The Times has to like the Kennedys. When Caroline's father was elected president in 1960 the NYC joke was that he got his job through the New York Times, a takeoff on an ad campaign they were running to brag about how good their Classified/Want Ad section was.

The Pattycake story does not appear on the obituary page, but it is opposite it, in the New York section. Caroline Kennedy's story is on page A3. It might be considered a little much to give this gorilla that much attention, but there is no good idea (the one about featuring more obituaries) that can't be overdone.

Obituaries have increasingly become a good deal more than recitations of the timeline of life and the names and relationshps of survivors. They are short stories, that can contain a good deal of history.

The good news about this trend is that it seems like it will have legs. The Times and several others have been writing entertaining and informative obituaries for years. And agree or not as to the method, they are getting more attention.

Evidence of the widespread appeal of obituaries as stories is Jen King, a final year journalism student in Brisbane, Australia, going with the Twitter handle @lifeasinzy.  She has neatly weighed in on a recent Times obit on Yvonne Brill, a pioneering rocket scientist. People die, but the hills are alive.

Aside from the inevitable Twitter contretemps front page coverage of a gorilla will cause, the story is interesting. Quite honestly, I had forgotten all about Pattycake. If I were to have been asked before the death this past Sunday of the first gorilla born in NYC I would have gone through my mental Rolodex of NYC rogues who might have left us. Being a mayoral election year always helps with coming up with names fast.

After reading today's story I did remember the time Pattycake's mom inadvertently wound up breaking the baby's arm when she picked her up. This was news all over the place. It was also a jinx put on NYC baseball pitching that arm woes were going to be part of the Yankee and Met seasons forever, as they shell out millions of dollars to win more games than they lose.

In horse racing terms, Pattycake was a good broodmare. She gave birth to 10 offspring, from four different males in matings throughout her life. Turns out one died soon after birth, but the remainder have gone on to lives at other zoos.

The story is written very much like an obituary would be. No Ivy League schools are mentioned, or even hinted at as contributing to her education, but it seems she was a smart gorilla. She wrote no books, but books were written about her. Best way to get attention. Let others do it for you.

She is also survived by at least one grandchild. No funeral services are planned, but you can bet the candles, flowers and ribbons are starting to show up at the Central Park Zoo.