Monday, December 30, 2013

The New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Rabbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ya Gotta Love It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tar Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Too Good Not to be True

Senior citizens react to the oncoming ObamaCare.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And They're Off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can bet on it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gourmet Magazine Comes Back from the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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