Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Sandman Taketh

There doesn't seem to be anything that doesn't remind me of something else.

Take the story I was lead to by someone's return tweet (RT) this morning. It was a news story about the theft of sand. Large scale theft of sand. Cubic yards and yards of the stuff transported off beaches, even vacuumed out onto anchored boats. Proof positive, there isn't anything that can't be taken.

The story appears in the online English version of Le Monde, the French newspaper. The sand is needed for making bricks and mixing with cement to make concrete. The legal sand production methods are not keeping up with the surging demand needed for construction projects.

One sentence in the story brought it all back for me: In mid-May, Liberia’s Mines and Energy Ministry arrested men who were “helping themselves” illegally to sand on the beaches around Monrovia.

My father was never arrested, nor was our neighbor. But in the early 1950s they did help themselves to sand from New York City's Rockaway Beach as they filled up a few burlap bags of the granular stuff and plopped it into the neighbor's pickup truck to be added to my backyard sandbox. At a very early age I was playing with stolen goods.

They did this is broad daylight when our trip to the beach was over. My father and neighbor liked to take myself and the neighbor's son early, before any crowd appeared. Thus, we were usually pulling up stakes by noon, or even earlier, and if needed, were hauling some sand back to the truck.

This didn't happen on every trip to the beach. After awhile, there was certainly enough sand in the sandbox. And when my father later needed sand for building something, he did seem to buy it, as a truck dumped some in the driveway.

The removal of sand for the sandbox was a drop in the bucket compared to the wholesale removal that the story describes.

I even responded to the RT by admitting that my sandbox sand was removed from the Rockaway peninsula by my father. The statue of limitations for this offense has long passed, I'm sure. And anyway, my father has also long passed away. I don't think I'm going to have to "lawyer up."

As to playing with stolen goods at such an early age, I've long gotten over it. But I have paid for any sand I've ever needed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New York City's Strongest

Once again, Mr. Clyde Haberman of the NYT has been sent out with a modest expense account allowance and been asked to break bread with someone. He does this every other week and writes about in a 'Breaking Bread' piece that appears in the New York section of the NYT. Where else?

The two weeks spin by fast, because it seems like yesterday he was just chowing down on pizza at Green-Weed Cemetery in Brooklyn. This time, he's found the anthropologist-in-residence of the New York City Sanitation Department. And it's a woman. Someone famous used to say, "I kid you not."

Robin Nagle has filled the unpaid job for the past seven years. It being an unpaid job has probably helped prevent it from being a campaign issue in the upcoming primary for NYC mayor. The candidates for mayor have certainly brought and unloaded a good deal of their own garbage to the proceedings, but this isn't about that.

Ms. Nagle, at 52, is attractive enough to even make her left shoulder tattoo look feminine. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, and teaches it at New York University. She worked as a sanitation worker for several months in 2004 and 2005, after qualifying by passing the physical. She's written a book.

It's interesting that there are those who sort of do a 'George Plimpton' with the sanitation job. It is demanding physically, (thus the nickname, New York's Strongest) so much so that when the workers went out on strike in January 1968 for several days, Governor Rockefeller refused to call out the National Guard to remove the trash. He claimed the Guard wasn't up to the task physically to do that type of work.

This has always remained amongst the oddest of explanations I can remember regarding NYC matters. Was the good governor being candid, or was he more than scared what might happen to the trash in front of this 55th Street townhouse when the strike was settled? It was a long time ago, and people have died, so we'll never really know.

Nevertheless, Robin passed the physical. I'm not sure if William Proxmire, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin passed the physical when he embedded himself amongst a crew of sanitation workers. It was a long time ago, and it might have been a one day type of thing, for some reason or another. Senator Proxmire was instrumental in the 70s in preventing the funding to proceed on building the SST, a supersonic transport plane that by now would have surely joined the Concorde as obsolete. He was also famous for his hair transplants and his face lifts.

I don't think the good senator wrote a book, but the one take-away I have of reading about his experience as a sanitation worker was the proper way to get a black plastic bag into the back of the truck. You do not lift it and let it press against your body as you haul the sucker up. You never allow the bag to touch your body. You drag it to the truck, then fling it into the back. You never really know what's going to pop out of it, syringes, glass, sharp pieces of wood. I'm sure Ms. Nagle was just as careful as the good senator.

Now, an anthropologist activates images of people in hot, sandy areas bent over tombs and brushing sand and dirt away with toothbrushes. Somewhat like what is apparently going on in an excavated parking lot in Leicester, England, where the skeletal remains of King Richard III have been found, and now a lead-lined intact coffin with someone yet to be identified inside.

The site is too old for it to have been a Trans-Atlantic burial ground for victims of Whitey Bulger's unique brand of love, or a final resting place for Jimmy Hoffa if he was on vacation across the pond when he got whacked, or even Judge Crater, after he hailed a cab and disappeared into the ether. But what does an anthropologist-in-residence do for the Sanitation Department? It's fiction, but Peter de Jonge wrote a mystery, "Buried On Avenue B?" What if this were real?

You're just going to have to read the NYT and find out.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Are the Odds?

What are the odds that someone would come to Kungliga Biblioteket, the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm looking for the book "Das illustrate Mississippithal," a 19th-century book of lithographs by Henry Lewis, not find the book there, and touch off an investigation into missing rare books that results in a librarian at the Biblioteket committing suicide and the recovery of only a few of the stolen books. Kurt Wallander, they need you.

Actually, the odds are pretty good that something will come out of the blue and help solve a crime. It's just that it usually takes a good deal of time for something to come out of the blue. It is usually something very simple. You just have to react to it.

The Watergate break-in was detected by a security guard seeing that a door had tape horizontally placed over a lock rather than vertically placed. Despite the door being closed, the tape was visible when he made his nightly rounds. An awful lot followed.

Joel Rivkin, a serial killer of Long Island prostitutes, was stopped by the police when it was noticed that his landscaping truck had no rear license plate.  The dead body in the truck under a pile of grass clippings was hard to explain.

The Son of Sam serial killer was brought down in 1977 when a parking ticket was traced to his car near what turned out to be his last shooting. It was wondered why a car registered in Westchester was illegally parked on Shore Road in Brooklyn on a Saturday night. David Berkowitz is still in jail.

And so it goes. The researcher looking for the Mississippi book specifically came to the Swedish library from somewhere else in Europe to look at the book, an exceedingly rare edition. When the library couldn't produce it, the researcher was told to come back in six months. The detailed inventory that followed lead the librarian to confess to dealing in stolen books over many years. He committed suicide soon after.

All things and all people that are searched for are not always found. I'm still missing some socks.

Friday, July 19, 2013


My guess is that even a casual reader of  The New York Times has by now read a story of the famous Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, the final resting place of the famous, and not-no-famous. Even if you don't read the Times, you may have heard of the cemetery if you've spent enough time in New York, or Brooklyn (there is a difference that we won't go into here.)

Despite being a dyed-in-wool New Yorker who remembers the 15 cent fare, I've never been to Green-Wood. In 2012 a first cousin of mine, about my age, passed away and was buried there. Despite the closeness as a relation, and having met one of his daughters, the family tradition of not informing family members of a relative's demise prevailed again. Again, no need to go into that here, only to say that I heard of his passing, from his daughter, two months after his internment at Green-Wood in August 2012. They were the Brooklyn end of the family, and I was impressed, and pleased, they thought enough to use Green-Wood. But this is more about the hyphenated name, and not my family's burial habits.

I've always wondered, what's up with that hyphen? Was the place once the Green cemetery, merged with the Wood cemetery, and Green came out on top? More acres?

There's the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. A famous hyphenated name, and a resting place in its own right, but that was a merger of the Waldorf and the Astoria hotels that were side-by-side on 34th Street, where the Empire State building is now. When they were torn down, the hotels merged into the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, taking up significant space in Midtown on Park Avenue. They remain a name  synonymous with a luxury hotel.

Green-Wood cemetery was established in 1838, on 478 very rural acres in what then known formally as Kings County, but now it's just Brooklyn, Dutch for "broken land," but that's another story as well.

When Green-Wood was established it was treated as a park. Picnics were held there, and people walked through there as if it were Central Park. Some of this has remained, but picnics are no longer permitted, but there are tours because of the famous people buried there, and the interest in the 19th century buildings and sculptures. And no doubt, 478 acres of contiguous green space in a city more famous for being paved.

The other day, Mr. Clyde Haberman of the NYT, (who also remembers the 15 cent fare) wrote one of his bi-monthly 'Breaking Bread' pieces where he interviews someone with a deep-vein connection to New York.  His subject was Richard J. Moylan, 58, president of Green-Wood Cemetery. It's like a museum. It has a president.

Mr. Moylan worked at Green-Wood part-time in his youth as a landscaper (not a grave digger). His father worked there installing monuments. You could almost say Mr. Moylan is chip off the old block, but we won't.

Mr. Haberman spins another good tale about Green-Wood and why it doesn't hold the freshly deceased Mayor Koch. And as usual, since this is a 'Breaking Bread' piece, we learn a little of the meal.

A picnic on the grounds was out, because that's not allowed these days. It's still an active cemetery, and there are burials constantly going on. Thus, take-out pizza, with a half extra-topping of cheese was enjoyed inside with Mr. Moylan. Mr. Haberman seems to let us know what his expense report is going to claim.

Whenever I see a story on Green-Wood I hope for a clue as to why it's Green-Wood, and not GreenWood, or Green Wood, or Greenwood cemetery. No mention in Mr. Haberman's piece, but he did answer his e-mail when the question was put to him.

Certainty was not claimed, but Mr. Haberman believes it's a vestigial form of writing two nouns that are adjectives, that was common in the 19th century, that pretty much faded away in the 20th century, and completely disappeared in the current one.

Mr. Haberman points out The New-York Historical Society is still written with a hyphen. He further explains that his own New York Times was once printed as the New-York Times. Which Times? The New-York Times; which cemetery? The Green-Wood cemetery.

This is such a scholarly and cogent explanation that I have to believe it's true. Two words that are considered adjectives are hyphenated. There used to be a grammatical rule.

Hyphens have been disappearing, but not altogether. Picking up today's NYT, first story, first column, I spotted 'anticorruption' written as one word. These kinds of prefix words seem to have undergone a rule change, because it is words of that kind that I can reliably expect to be smashed together.

In 2001 the trend toward removing hyphenation became so pronounced to me that I wrote to Mr. Russell Baker, the retired NYT columnist, who over the years has answered some mail. Not e-mail.

He memorably wrote back that he surrendered to "hyphen idiocy years before leaving the Times." He expressed particular disdain for two names made into one, like "PBS's NewsHour." (There is actually a name for this type of word, but I don't remember it.)

I remember as a kid that 'good-bye' was always hyphenated. It appears that way in the dictionary, if not in current use.

It seems however Green-Wood's hyphen is as permanent as death itself.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


The co-inventor of the game Twister has passed away.

We know because the game Twister has such recognition with most people that when an originator of the game passes away, it's news. Who hasn't either played the game, seen the game's playing sheet on a floor, or more likely seen it for sale in someone's driveway at a yard sale?

Margalit Fox, in a lively NYT obituary gives Chuck Foley proper recognition for a game that did not lead to an increased birthrate when it was played. Blackouts and hurricanes do that.

The game is internationally known, and adapted for local versions. As seen above, the U.K. version appears as the line of succession to the British throne. The twists and turns to this game change with Royal births and deaths. Thus, updated versions are periodically needed to be produced and stocked in stores.

The grey circle in the lower left is the third in line to the throne, the as yet unborn baby of Kate Middleton, Dutchess of Cambridge and her husband, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.

Added offspring to this union will change the game again, as would some deaths of those connected above the grey circle. If the Royal family were to vacation near train tracks that petroleum carrying freight trains travel on, and there was another derailment, things might change more rapidly. Pilot error could also play a role.

Thus, the game of Twister will live on, in many versions, in many countries.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Write Bites

Social media is giving the mainstream media a ton of content. Recite some Tweets (which are really short electronic letters), scan some blogs, follow some hot links, and there's plenty of percolating material to riff on, use, or quote, hopefully with credit.

One such reprinted Tweet caught my eye in the NYT when I spotted something they were bordering off as the "Tweet of the Day." They included this Tweet in a "Trailside" piece on the campaign for City Hall, New York City's upcoming mayoral election.

"We'd be better off with geldings, that's for sure."
Teresa Genaro @BklynBckstretch
Horse-racing blogger based in Brooklyn discussing the race for mayor.
If you know what geldings are, this is quite funny.

Once the sexually disgraced candidate count doubled, the upcoming city elections have taken on an even more carnival atmosphere.

Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former New York governor, joined the race running for city controller. His campaign, freshly started, is added to that of Anthony Weiner's, a former Brooklyn congressman who nearly as recently, added his name to the crowded field already running for mayor.

Both men are former elected officials who resigned their positions over frequenting prostitutes (Spitzer) and sending sexually charged images over the Internet to a woman they were not married to (Weiner).

Fairly fresh uproars, but receding into the past fast enough to breathe life into the possibilities of the election of these two men. Lots of opinions about that, and Ms. Genaro's is one of the funniest.

A gelding is a castrated male horse. In fact, in thoroughbred horse racing terms, the colt, or horse is the male, and the filly, or mare is the female.

Gelding a horse is not done often, and is not done as a punishment for sexual misdeeds. It is done when it is felt that the horse's temperament will improve if they are gelded, and therefore they will concentrate on being trained to run and win races. Some of the best horses have been geldings, Kelso, Forego, John Henry, to name a few. Because the breeding possibilities have been removed, they remained on the racetrack for more years than other horses and by being good, they won more races and money.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Genaro on two occasions at New York tracks. She's more than a horse-racing blogger. She's a credentialed member of the turf press and writes for racing publications, as well as the New York Racing Association. She's also an upper class English teacher at a private school in Brooklyn, with many years of teaching experience. Originally from Saratoga, she is now a New York City resident, and I'll assume a registered voter. She's got skin in the upcoming election.

Luckily for Spitzer and Weiner, getting gelded is not needed for either of them to run for office. Signatures and money are. Even if they have put their prior behavior behind them, and even with none of my own skin in the upcoming election, I'd hate to see gelding turn either of them into champions.


Another outtake from a self-penned obituary has a life-long Cleveland Browns fan, Scott E. Entsminger, of Mansfield, Ohio respectfully requesting that his six pallbearers be Cleveland Browns players so that they can let him down one last time.

It's such a heartfelt request that you want to make sure you put Cleveland as finishing with the worse record in your fantasy league.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bad Monkey

Carl Hiassen is back in local waters. And that means the Florida Keys and Miami. His newspaper columnist skills emerge quite rapidly as he introduces an array of characters and events that get your attention.

Mr. Hiassen is a writer who can give us within the first few pages a suspended detective who went batshit with a battery operated hand-held vacuum that introduced the long upholstery attachment into a sensitive cavity of the husband of his nymphomaniac girlfriend. He did this with the power on and fresh batteries, and in a busy public space as his girlfriend and her husband, an older wealthy, felonious dermatologist, were walking and arguing on a sidewalk near a pier. There are enough witnesses with cellphones pictures and video to fill a courtroom, which might be where they're all headed.

Meanwhile, his mature, attractive girlfriend has a past that would keep her on the cover of supermarket tabloids for weeks, and possibly on 'America's Most Wanted.'

Additionally, there is the newly elected sheriff, who is the suspended detective's superior. His elevation to the job occurred in an election where his two opponents were somewhat publicly unavailable, due to being caught up in the judicial system.

The incident on the pier was hardly a career move for the detective. But things look like they might work out and he will retain a municipal job that carries his pension over to a new job title: restaurant food inspector, a k a roach patrol.

Then there is the arm. The severed arm that starts the book off, that becomes frozen and examined, and transported as if it were fresh caught seafood up and down the Keys to Miami where it is hoped the rest of the body might be. The story starts on page three, and I'm only up to page 27.

I haven't gotten to the monkey yet, or the widow of the man whose arm is being kept locally, where people store Omaha Steaks and Birds Eye peas. I will get there.  I like to savor Mr. Hiassen's books, and absorb the language.

The covers of Mr. Hiassen's books are a delight in themselves. Simple, creative, colorful art work, that doesn't have to compete with a thunderous sub-title that tells us more of what's inside.

Disney, Sea World and Universal Studios are not Florida. They're in Florida, but are their own city-states. Mr. Hiassen works outside of these corporate principalities with what is the rest of Florida, populated with kooks and weirdos who might well exist.

In a bookstore interview with Mr. Hiassen it's easy to see where these people come from. He tells the audience that he saves newspaper clippings of people who have done odd things that draw attention to themselves. Sometimes legal, or police attention.

I will forever remember the newspaper story years and years ago of the inebriated New Jersey man who was pulled down from the peak of his house that he was trying to chain saw in half because half of the house is what his wife got in their divorce settlement, and he wanted her to literally get half.

Read the book, and see the rest of Florida that Mr. Hiassen knows so well.

Burying the Opposition

All news all the time. And it's always about Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

She's running for election, and is seen here flanked by Robert DeNiro and Ray Liotta (partially visible, on the right) burying the opposition outside a German casino.  Angela is so crafty a politician that she allows a photo to be taken and tells the world it's about opening up some environmentally safe gas plant. She's unflappable, and unstoppable. Whitey Bulger is jealous.

Could we use her in New York? Sure. The coming Election Day in New York is starting to remind me of when I was in Toronto in November 2000. There were 28 people registered to run for mayor. Since William F. Buckley wasn't Canadian, he didn't register. The candidates were an eclectic bunch. The bottom tier of implausible characters reminded you of the characters in a Carl Hiassen novel: strippers, bartenders, bail bondsmen, bounty hunters, (running on the issue of keeping everyone safe) drag queens, and other exotic entertainers.

To have the sexually disgraced Anthony Weiner AND Elliot Spitzer emerge as candidates for public office in same election year is telling us something. Never remember.

Mr. Spitzer is running for New York City comptroller, which means controlling the money. He certainly did that in his prior episodes when he paid the girls in freshly withdrawn cash, and may have even received a frequent patron discount. He did have a code name: Client No. 9.

No less a person of a high social stature, Mary Lou Whitney, wanted to name one of her thoroughbred horses Client No. 9. Stamina.

And Anthony Weiner. The name alone says it all. If elected mayor, the New York Post can't possibly go out of business. They'd only have to sell their headlines.

Could Chancellor Merkel save New York from the fate of future headlines if she were to repatriate? Probably not likely to happen. When you can bury the opposition in broad daylight, why move?

Friday, July 5, 2013


Any of the times I've flown coast-to-coast, east to west, I've looked at the floor of the plane after a few hours or so of flight. I've imagined a long line of covered wagons slowly, very slowly, making their way west. And how what took them months, will take us hours. It almost doesn't seem fair.

And that's of course assuming they made it. Indians, disease, weather, any number of things could create a grave marker somewhere. Flying may not be fun anymore, but it's proven itself to be safe.

I'm sure this comes from a boyhood of watching television in the 50s when there were plenty of Western themed shows. There was of course even a show called 'Wagon Train,' with episodes first introduced by Ward Bond, then John McIntire. Life did look tough.

I've seen Conestoga wagons in museums. They are huge, and heavy. It's hard to believe they could roll over anything not paved, and if stuck in mud, it would seem they'd stay there. And then there's the flat, or broken wheel. The skilled wheelwright, hopefully still alive, was needed to fix it. We now live in a fast-forward world.

At the same time of watching Westerns on television, I was also introduced to mowing the grass. And we did have grass, even if we did live within the city limits of New York City. Queens County was the suburbs of the city then, and we had a front and back yard that needed to have the grass cut.

This job wasn't thrown at me as soon as I could walk. But, like most boys, I loved to imitate what my father was doing. So, when he mowed the grass with the reel mower we had, I "helped" by reaching up to the handles and adding a push.

Where I live now, perhaps because of single motherhood, there are several women in the neighborhood who cut the grass. It's with a power mower these days, but there is still a little boy who want s to help his mother push the mower that's whirling away with an engine. I cringe at this for safety reasons. But, the desires play out.

The reel mower we used had a green metal plate that held the wooden handles. The plate, on both sides said 'PQ PAT. 1918.' I never asked what the 'PQ' stood for, my father never mentioned it, and no one ever came by and talked about it.

As I got older and bigger and was pushing that mower myself, I never cared what 'PQ' stood for. All I knew was that I was being kept away from something else I wanted to do because I had to mow the grass on a Saturday. And the handles wobbled.

Eventually, the reel mower gave way to an electric mower my mother got my father for Fathers Day. This gave way to a gas-powered mower I moved the family up to when I got tired of constantly flipping the long cord to keep it out of the way of the blades. The reel mower stayed in the garage, out of the rain, but no longer used.

When my parents died and I eventually sold the two-family house, I took the reel mower with me. I displayed it in a corner of the backyard where we now lived. I thought of it like the old farm equipment you'd see when you went through rural areas. Hard to get "bulk" sanitation to remove the old harrower, so it was left out to rust in the rain.

Because of limited storage space I had to leave the reel mower outdoors in the rain, snow, etc.  The handles always wobbled, even when I used it was a kid. Now, after many, many years of outdoor exposure, the handles completely rotted out of the plates, the shaft rotted way from the brackets, and the rolling pin was nearly gone. The mower no longer turned, But, it still looked like a mower.

Because of mergers and acquisitions, I now have time. I've created a new shaft, new rolling pin and new handles. I've painted the plates green, and fitted the handles in tighter than they ever were. They do not wobble. I'll knock off as much rust as I can, but even if I don't get it to spin, I'm not asking it to cut the grass. It'll go back on display. It is old farm equipment. I will cover it in the winter now.

PQ. But what does it stand for?

Years ago the answer would have disappeared with the last owner who knew and didn't tell anyone else. Now, there's the Internet. It almost doesn't seem fair.

It didn't take much to learn that PQ stands for 'Pennsylvania Quality.' And they produced the model we used so many years ago in 1918. And, If I'm interested (I was) there's a replica of the magazine ad that boasted of the mower that had handles that didn't wobble, (when new) and blades that didn't need sharpening.

Pennsylvania. In New York again. There was always Pennsylvania Station in the middle of Manhattan. Why Pennsylvania? Because the  Pennsylvania Rail Road built the station. The coal that once heated our home came from Pennsylvania, chuted from a truck that backed down the driveway.

Jet travel and the Internet. Distance and time. Shortened.