Tuesday, September 24, 2013

And the Winner Is

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


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Busy Bee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, Moriarty.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Not What They're Having

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

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

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

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


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ken Norton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 16, 2013

Septembers, Part II

The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

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


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Septembers, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The circle will be complete.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He's got to be missed.


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some things never change.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Umberto's and Jerry Orbach

We have a local pizza place,Italian restaurant named Umberto's nearby in the shopping center. They've been there about eight years it seems, and never once have I thought of a gangland shooting when we order pizza from Umberto's. That's because it's only Umberto's, and not followed by the two words 'Clam House.' That makes all the difference.

Umberto's Clam House reminds me, and others apparently, of the gangland shooting of 'Crazy' Joe Gallo, sometime near 4 A.M. at a Mulberry Street restaurant while Joey and his entourage caught a very late night meal at restaurant with no liquor license. How many restaurants advertise they serve Pepsi, as seen by the storefront's sign on the right?

Mr. Michael Wilson, in his 'Crime Scene' column in yesterday's NYT brings back memories of that 40 year-ago event. I don't know Mr. Wilson, and there's no picture of him quickly available on the Internet. His Twitter page shows yellow crime scene tape where a photo might go. Being anonymous, even reporting on long-ago crimes is probably a good idea. If it gets too hot, you can always move over to being an anonymous-faced food critic.

My guess is he's not as old as I am. Too many buyouts have probably come and gone at the Times to have allowed someone my age to have turned them all down and remain working. No matter. His account is a good one.

I was in my 20s when I read about the shooting in the paper. I can still remember being at the desk in the back at the family flower shop when I read the front page story of what was then another hit. The 70s really were a gangland slaying era in New York City, and the hit on Joey Gallo was just one of many. The lore lives on. Mr. Wilson story is jogged out of whatever memory he has of it by a walking tour guide explaining to a group of people on the sidewalk what took place, despite the fact that the pictured Umberto's is not the current incarnation of the restaurant. It's moved a few doors away, apparently, still under the same family ownership, it seems.

Much is always made that these shootings take place where people are eating. There's truth to that. Even a wannabe shot and killed someone at the bar at Rao's restaurant in the Bronx while expressing dislike for singing. There are many restaurant-placed slayings in the city. Thus, the tours.

I remember reading that the maître d' at P.J. Clarke's on Third Avenue expressed a little exasperation when John Gotti would show up with no reservation to eat a $25 hamburger.  He of course wasn't alone, and the party needed to be seated with Mr. Gotti's back to a wall. The proverbial 'Godfather' seat. The maître d'  only wanted a heads up so he could have the right type of table open. My guess is Mr. Gotti got his table, no matter what and the maître d' got a good tip. Maybe someone had to move in mid-swallow.

What I always distinctly remember reading is that the actor Jerry Orbach was part of the Gallo dining entourage. I always thought this was such a nifty piece of trivia that I would tell people about the link whenever the story came up, or Mr. Orbach was mentioned for his many Broadway and TV roles, most famously, of course for 'Law and Order.'

I didn't save clippings then, so I could never go back to the source material to verify if that is what I really read. Finally, when life presented me with more time on my hands and access to digital retrieval of past articles, I checked on the story at the library. No Jerry Orbach is mentioned in the news account of the shooting.

Mr. Orbach, through other news accounts, was described as a friend of Joey's, who even stayed at Jerry's apartment with his girlfriend.  There were pictures of the two together. It was no secret. Jerry's star was rising, first as an actor in the long-running off-Broadway production of 'The Fantasticks,' then as an actor in the Broadway show 'Promises, Promises.' 'Law and Order' didn't exist at the time.

Joey Gallo was rubbed out for his role in planning the hit on Joseph Columbo that took place at an Italian-American Pride Day rally held at Columbus circle.  Mr. Gallo, apparently convinced a just-released prisoner he knew from his Sing Sing stint to kill Columbo. Mr. Columbo was creating a rift in the families by declaring there was no mob, and that Italian-Americans should present solidarity against ethnic stereotyping. The campaign was somewhat successful, because the day of the rally all the pizza joints in New York City were closed.

Mr. Columbo survived the hit, but was left in very bad shape, living his life out in a poor quality-of-life-state. The assassin didn't make it out of Columbus Circle. He was immediately dropped from behind, with no one ever caught for it.

Jimmy Breslin, a high profile reporter for the Daily News was already making literary capital out of New York's crime characters with his 1969 book 'The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.' If I've got it right, Kid Sally, is Joey Gallo. A very bad movie of course followed.

So, was Jerry Orbach part of the early morning dinner crowd at Umberto's when Joey's whereabouts were given up by his driver and he faced off with hit men? Did Mr. Orbach's name get airbrushed from later editions, and it was those editions that were the basis for the archive version? Or, was he truly not there, and I just blended his known Gallo friendship with his presence at eating on Mulberry Street at four in the morning at a place with no liquor license?

Mr. Orbach has passed away, so he can't be consulted. Jimmy Breslin however, is still with us, and could perhaps set the memory straight. Maybe.

But really, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cambridge, New York

It is not impossible to get to Cambridge, New York. It is a somewhat rural town, on the eastern edge of New York State, about halfway up. It is clearly marked on the map, and a reliable navigator/driver should be able to get there from anywhere. Finding the nuns of New Skete in Cambridge though requires just a little bit of luck.

Depending on how you're approaching the sign for New Skete will determine your initial success. After a second pass along the road, going in the opposite direction, the sign was quite visible, and the dirt road it pointed to was taken.

As described in a prior posting we followed signs to the gift shop. The gravel crunched under the tires, and it was a decent distance before we saw a small building. The gift shop. All visits to anywhere should take you to a gift shop. The reason for the stop-over was of course cheese cake.

As befitting a monastery setting, the place is isolated. We went into the gift shop and encountered Sister Sharon, who helped us. The place was somewhat dark, and I'm not sure the lights were on. There was enough sunlight coming through the windows to see, however.

Not long after we entered, another couple pulled up and came in, with the same slow, careful pace anyone does when they're coming somewhere for the first time, and the lighting is dim. Now there are four of in this fairly small space that serves as the gift shop. Some Trappist jams and jellies are on the shelf, along with religious greeting cards in a rack. A small counter with a computer register guards the way to the back where there is a large freezer with the cheese cakes.

My friend John hovered near some lemon marmalade, and thinking of his sister's liking of lemon tasting things, selected one. At this point we became aware of the fifth person who has now entered the gift shop, a tall, 40-ish woman, on her own, who started talking to my friend about the marmalade.

There was a TV show a few years ago called 'Ink,' starring Ted Danson as a skirt-chasing newspaper reporter, and Mary Steenburgen, his editor, and real-life wife at the time. The show has the Danson character being once married to the Steenburgen character. Of course she teases him and asks if he's still trying to pick women up by cruising the Self-Help section of book stores. I wondered what marmalade was going to do.

The tall woman was something of a regular in some fashion, because she gave Sister Sharon $10 to give to another Sister, for a reason we didn't overhear.

The lemon marmalade lead to conversation about the nearby Washington County Fair, Saratoga, and "have you been to the new book store in Saratoga Springs yet?"

Turns out we had, the night before, and knew all about it because he had heard that the Northshire bookstore from Manchester, VT (where we've also been) had taken space in a new building on Broadway and was now going to fill the gap left by the departed Borders bookstore that closed a few years ago.

The marmalade woman asked if we had seen the train layout on the second floor of the bookstore. Turns out I had, since I had to go to the bathroom on the second floor, an area basically devoted to children's books.

The train layout was impressive, in the open, with signs that asked that you look with your eyes, and not your hands, The trains weren't running, but they were H-O gauge, like the trains I had as a kid. I had also tried to build layouts, but nothing that matched what I was looking at.

The woman explained that her husband had built the layout. I told her I was impressed, and that I only came to know very late in life that H-O stood for "half of O," another model railroad gauge that was scaled larger than H-O's 1" to 8'.

Years and years of working with model trains had never revealed to me, or my father, that H-O stood for "half-of-O". No one ever mentioned it. It was like the 'PQ' on the lawn mower handle. I only learned about H-O when I had lunch with an IBM'er at a restaurant near work that displayed large gauge model trains along the ledges of the restaurant. The trains caught our mutual interest and we discussed model trains. Steve Miller knew more than I did about what H-O stood for.

The marmalade lady told me she had never heard that H-O stood for "half-of-O." I told her husband might not even know and that I was now telling her in the hope of spreading the knowledge. She thanked me, and carefully backed out of the gift shop, since I had already told be about the fair and the commands that are shouted at teamed oxen to get them to turn left and right. "Gee" means to turn right. After H-O, she was trying to get out of there gracefully.

So, on a Tuesday afternoon, five people descend at the same time on a gift shop in a rural town in upstate New York. If any more people had come in it would have resembled rush hour on the 6 Train.

So, what caused this? The curvature of the earth? A solar black hole? The answer of course is cheese cake.

Bake a great one, and they will come.