Thursday, February 27, 2014


The world's most photographed woman with clothes on hasn't been seen in weeks, in either the NYT or the WSJ. She's gone missing, at least from the public.

It is assumed Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is post-menopausal, so an eight month stint in Switzerland with a Machiavellian aunt ostensibly to improve on French phonetics is not where she is.  Lady Edith, from 'Downton Abbey,' of course travelled to the land of clocks, banks and lakes with Aunt Rosamund in order to secretly give birth to a love child. We're ruling that out in Angela's case.

But where is she? Jet-lagged from Sochi after watching a German athlete slide down a hill?

The BOLO alert has been raised to an APB.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Downton Abbey, Season Four

It would be negligent to wait a full week to watch and report on the final episode of Season Four of 'Downton Abbey', seen here in the States this past Sunday.

'Downton Abbey' comes to us seasonally, in the winter, after it has already aired in the U.K. It doesn't even last as long as winter. Or summer, spring, or fall, for that matter. There will be a fifth season, but beyond that is anyone's guess. The show's creator, Julian Fellowes admits the story moves slowly. "It's a slow burn of a show," he recently admitted. We're NEVER getting to WWII, are we?

One thing has recently occurred to me. If the English aristocrats are arranged across the moors and  heather like New York crime families, then the Crawley/Granthan clan might be equatable to say the Gambinos, with Lord G. appropriately in the godfather role.

That would lead a sharp-eyed law enforcement agent to look for the "under-boss," who in this case might be very well described, because he is part of the lower level staff. Did John Bates avenge the rape of his beloved wife Anna with his mysterious trip to "York" and instead follow the path of Lord Gillingham and his cocky valet Mr. Green and cause Mr. Green to meet with death by motorized vehicle? Thrown under a bus, literally? If so, it would be another subtle exhibit of the family power.

And another moral question presented by Mr. Fellowes. If getting away with rape is possible but not desirable, is getting away with murder, although desirable in this case, right? Mr. Fellowes does more than dress the ladies in hats and gloves and the gentlemen in white or black bow ties. He presents thought.

Such ethical questions are starting to unfold at the conclusion of Episode 7, as Lady Mary, on hearing of Mr. Green's death starts to do the circumstantial arithmetic and obliquely asks one of her suitors, Charles Blake, what should one do if certain information is known to an individual and they're not sure how to handle it.

Mr. Blake, considering the "theoretical" question and acknowledging its lack of details, advises silence. While Charles's position is not officially that of a "consigliere" his advice of silence fits with the Italian code of "Omerta," the pledge of allegiance to the family through silence.

In fact, Mr. Green's demise has his employer wondering about Lady Mary's power. We know Lady M. asks his Lordship to sack Green, without giving any specifics, only to assure him that he would agree it is the right thing to do if he were to know everything. He agrees on faith.

When the news of Mr. Green's accident ("accident"?) starts to spread, Lord Gillingham has to start to wonder if Lady Mary were to say something about replacing the prime minister, would Lloyd George suddenly receive a vote of no-confidence and see his government dissolved? And that we know of, Lord Gillingham might not even suspect a real seat of power that lies with the lady with the cane, the eminence gris, Dame Violet. Shared power is exponential.

And what an Episode 8 is! The Crawley family plans a Lufthansa heist, English style, when they concoct a means to retrieve a letter of indiscretion that the Prince of Wales has written to a married socialite. The letter is based on what David, the future King Edward VIII, sent to his mistress in 1919, that went something like this:

"This is only just a teeny weeny little scrawl to catch the last post sweetheart & to tell you how fearfully madly I'm loving you this afternoon angel & looking forward to 4.30 tomorrow.
'Although I only said all this about 12 hrs. ago I can't help saying it all again this afternoon only I mean it even more sweetheart!!"

Even if he held it to 140 characters, David was going to paint himself into a corner no matter what era he lived in. And he did.

A portion of the Crawley crew gains access to a potential blackmailer's room, sweeping in with purpose and determination in floor length evening gowns, gloves up to their elbows, and a bobbing bow tie, only to come away empty handed. Bates's time in the slammer has proved indispensable as he arranged for a forged document to gain access to the room, and then again indispensable as he utilizes Fagin learned pick-pocket skills to complete the recovery. Needless to say, this helps Lady M. decide nagging ethical questions as she gently drops tell-tale circumstantial train ticket evidence into the fire.

Finally, Ol' Shirl appears again as Cora's mother, Martha Levinson, with her son Harold in tow, he only freshly reprimanded, and nothing more, after the Teapot Dome Investigations in the States.

Harold, played by Paul Giamatti, appears looking like a financial Al Capone in an natty overcoat with a fur-trimmed collar, smoking a cigarette as he arrives at the Crawley London headquarters. Mr. Giamatti is perfectly casted as what the English perceive the jazz age financial wizards to be: no hair, put plenty of money. Harold no doubt is Harry F. Sinclair, who figured prominently in the Teapot Dome affair, gaining drilling rights on Federal land after bribing a cabinet member. Harold still thinks he had a good idea. They always do.

And Ol' Shirl. Thank God Shirley Maclaine got into at least one more episode, and this the last one of the season. Ol' Shirl is an American cistern of sarcasm and worldly advice, as befits anyone who through successive reincarnations can remember Cleopatra and her barge.

She glintingly tells Mrs. Dudley Ward about the dangers of tabloid publicity, referring of course to her hardly secret affair with David, the king's son, and the next in line to the throne. Even Americans know of this. Shirley smiles mischievously, and perhaps with a bit of jealousy at Mrs. Ward's youth. After all, didn't Ol' Shirl and Angie have the Rat Pack for playmates? Those were the days.

The English love their pomp. Wardrobe has been emptied out to supply all the regimental uniforms needed for the palace scenes. There are medals galore, and plenty of puffed chests to pin them on. Robert Crawley has somehow remained fit enough to pour himself into his dress regimental uniform, making him appear this time not as if he's ready to invade Poland, but rather to appear as a decorated Russian doorman at a condo complex off Gorky Square, opening doors for Russian women coming back loaded down with Prada shopping bags.

Our radio personality Don Imus calls the Royal Family the best known welfare family. And while few in the 1920s would dare to call them that, you can see how after hundreds of years of such a lifestyle, a general population might get a little weary of it. Or, at least, why Americans might wonder what all the fuss is about.

But the need for royalty might be justified when the alternative is someone like David Beckham, the retired English soccer star who John Oliver, himself another Brit, described on 'The Crowd Goes Wild' as "sonically flawed."  Great phrase.

Beckham, by all appearances, is the epitome of male virility, married to a former Spice girl, Victoria, who has four children with her, named as cool as can be: Brooklyn, Harper, Romeo and Cruz. I mean, the guy is the tattooed English version of George Clooney. But I had never heard him speak. At least not until the press conference when his association with the new professional soccer franchise in Miami, Florida was unveiled. He'll be a part owner and general manager, not a player.

When this resplendent hunk opened his mouth, I thought, geez, John Oliver is right. This guy sounds like a dimwit. Which of course is why the British need the Royals. They have been genetically bred and tutored on how to make everything they say sound like it is coming from a play by Shakespeare.

There will be a Season 5. Several lines are still dangling in the water, and they will no doubt get tied together in some finale-type episode.

Martha Levinson has had the last word over Dame Violet, showing that the Americans still win. Her son Harold, if he hasn't met the right woman yet, might at least be closer through his recent association and at least learned that it is possible.

As Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes wobble into the surf together, they might next time there is downtime at Downton go to the cinema together and snog in the back row. Bates and Anna appear to be out of harm's way (at least for now). In fact, there are several pairings on the runway set to take off. And of course there is Lady Mary. She's got three gentleman seriously interested in her, so it will probably be someone else.

If there's anything I've ever learned by watching horse racing, the front runners tire each other out, and usually someone comes from behind and gets the roses.

And if there is one thing Mr. Fellowes and his crew gives us, it's plenty of flowers to look at.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Woman I Couldn't Finish in Front Of

It is amazing the events and people we are connected to, even after an ocean of time has passed between us.

It was the early 70s and I wanted to stay in shape. I had always liked cross-country running, so running something greater than a mile appealed to me. I decided to take in a Central Park 6 mile Winter Series road race.

There were two in the Series, the first on in December. At that time, road racing, road running wasn't even a nascent sport. It was an oddity. I had never run in Central Park before, knew nothing about the course, but had trained to run six miles.

When I entered the park to check in at the boathouse (no NYCRR club headquarters then) my girl friend (now wife) and I were stopped my a Daily News photographer who wanted to "stage" some pictures of me running through the puddles that had accumulated. I guess he thought I was nuts, and what the hell, nuts sell newspapers. After a few stupid poses, I grew impatient, and took off for the boathouse to pick up my number and my T-shirt and cap, sponsored by Pernod, a French licorice-flavored liqueur I had never had. Any sponsor then was considered. The photos never made any editions.

The start was at 90th Street and Fifth, where they still start races. As we took of, maybe a few hundred of us, I noticed girls, women in front of me. This was a shock to my still chauvinistic self. How is this possible? Okay, I hadn't kept up with competitive running since high school, but that wasn't that long ago and women in a six mile race? And ahead? And they stayed ahead.

I knew nothing of the hills, so I finished in 46 minutes. A personal disappointment, but I vowed to do better next month.

I trained harder, and longer. I ran up stairs with ten pound weights in my hands. I was in better shape when I took to the line in January.

I didn't remember seeing women around me either. I'm sure there were those ahead of me, but I was doing much better, flattening those hills. I could feel it. There are no people at mile markers, so you could only guess at how you were doing.

And there I was, coming up the drive along Fifth Avenue at the end, a long straightaway. I was well in front of whoever was behind me, and could see who was in front of me. A woman. A tiny woman. Time to try and get past this one.

Not enough time, and not fast enough anyway. In the chute I could see she was Asian, looking Japanese, but that's all I could tell. When the Road Runner newspaper came out with the results I could see I had done much better: 41:00 and change. I was pleased with myself. But ahead of me, in bold print, because that's how they identified the females, was Toshiko d'Elia, listed as in her 40s, nearly 20 years older than myself.

In the years that followed, I became somewhat aware of her because she was running with the Warren Street Striders, I think, a Jersey City track club headed by a lawyer named John Sweeney. They took many team titles. Years and years passed, and I no longer ran in Central Park, but my daughter did.

I picked up her NYRRC magazine and saw many photos of Toshiko at a dinner, described as having won nearly every age-group championship there was. She had become quite famous as an age-group runner. I never knew anything more about her until today's obituary of her, having passed away at 84.

She got three columns bylined by the retired track reporter Frank Litsky. Whether I live to be 84 or not certainly remains to be seen, but for certain I'm not getting three columns in the New York Times for finishing behind the woman I couldn't pass.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Paul Colby

Paul Colby, owner of club that helped the rise of Greenwich Village, dies at 96.

The Bitter End announced his death.

Wow, what are the chances of that?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Has anyone seen Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel lately?

She hasn't been spotted in the news since about the time of the Super Bowl, when she was seen wearing orange and was giving two and half with the Denver Broncos. We know how that turned out. Denver's Dunkirk.

The world's most photographed woman with clothes on seems to have gone missing at about the same time as those most photographed women with dental floss, the Sports Illustrated bathing bunch, were seen walking through the New York Stock Exchange.

It is not expected that anything akin to what happened to Judge Crater has befallen the Chancellor, but a BOLO has been issued: be on the look out.

Pennsylvania Station

I didn't grow up homeless, but it does seem I also grew up in Penn Station, going in and out of there so many times on either the LIRR or the Pennsylvania Railroad, headed to Chicago with my mother to see relatives. This was the 1950s, so I saw plenty of what everyone is still wringing their hands over and shedding their tears over, the old Penn Station.

The catalyst for this post was last night's telecast of one of those 'American Experience' shows on PBS, appropriately named 'The Rise and Fall of Penn Station.' The weeping continues. Guys and gals, it's gone.

It is rather amazing, but the show's narration makes no reference to Thomas Wolfe's poetic description of the station that he wrote in "You Can't Go Home Again." There is a fleeting reference to the place holding time, but treatment is not given to more of the text. I keep the text behind a print of Alfred Eisenstaedt's Life magazine photo of the clock and the main level.

...when the main character, George Webber, walks into Penn Station's Main Waiting Room: "The station, as he entered it, was murmurous with the immense and distant sound of time. Great, slant beams of moted light fell ponderously athwart the station's floor, and the calm voice of time hovered along the walls and ceiling of that mighty room, distilled out of the voices and movements of the people who swarmed beneath. It had the murmur of a distant sea, the langorous lapse and flow of waters on a beach. It was elemental, detached, indifferent to the lives of men...Few buildings are vast enough to hold the sound of time, and...there was a superb fitness in the fact that one which held it better than all others should be a railroad station."

I can only think of two places the same can be said of now: the main reading room of the 5th Avenue branch of the New York Public Library, and Grand Central Terminal.

The first part of the show concentrates on the rail tunnels that needed to be built to connect Manhattan (an island) with New Jersey and Long Island's, Queens County. It was a huge engineering feat that was somewhat comparable to building the Panama Canal. The archival photos, and even motion pictures are a treasure. The work of the sandhogs was strenuous and basically one done with a hand held shovel.

The danger of the sandhog work is revealed when it is mentioned that a leak of the compressed air could suck a man right out of the tunnel, and send him geysering up to the surface of the water, and certain death. I distinctly remember William Bendix playing a sandhog, who works in a tunnel next to his son who has dropped out of engineering school to also be a sandhog. It was a 1956 TV Screen Director's Playhouse episode, and the Bendix character, Joe Redman, gets sucked out of the tunnel, but lives.

Perhaps, perhaps not, but I understood the Borden Chase story, 'High Air' (also a 1935 movie, 'Under Pressure') to be true. A sandhog did survive being sucked out. If so, it was based on the writer's experience of being a sandhog himself while working on the Holland Tunnel.

So the tunnels naturally came first. They are what fascinated me as a kid when we'd take the Broadway Limited to Chicago. My mother and I would get on at Murray Hill, a stop in Flushing on LIRR's Port Washington line, and take the train into Penn Station. From there, we'd make our 4 PM connection, with the expectancy of being in Chicago 17 hours later, around 9 AM the next day.

I'd always think that once I got on that train at Murray Hill I didn't have to again be outdoors myself (not in a train car) until we reached Chicago. And we weren't.

It was almost funny to hear during the telecast that there were those who were pushing the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, to build a hotel on top of Penn Station. Even in the early 1900s, Manhattan air space was valuable.

The hotel idea got nixed by the architect Charles McKim, because he pointed out they'd lose at least two tracks to the support columns that would be needed. The funny thing about this image is that eventually they did put something on top of where the old building was: Madison Square Garden, without losing any tracks.

The other funny thing is that I distinctly remember a New Yorker cartoon in 1968 that depicted the solution to the raging controversy of what was then Penn Central Railroad's (PRR and NY Central had merged) plans to tear down Grand Central Terminal and build an office tower over the tracks, much like what was done with Penn Station.

The caption to the cartoon (used with permission) was: "We think Marcel Breuer really has it licked now."

The battle over this was pitched. It wasn't equaled until the post-9/11 controversy over how to replace the World Trade Center. Marcel Breuer was the architect chosen by Penn Central to do the deed.

But 1968 saw Jacqueline Kennedy, then living in New York and having friends and knowing influential people. Very influential people. She wasn't in New York in the early part of the 60s, so she wasn't around to save the old Penn Station, but she and others weren't going to see another pile replaced in the same decade.

Penn Central lost the battle to do the tower, and later devolved into one of the greatest bankruptcies ever in 1970. The lawyers for that one likely built Boca Raton.

So, Grand Central Terminal at least was saved from the wrecking ball. John F. Kennedy Jr. would later joke that his mother did get a great deal of the credit for saving the place, but she really wasn't one known for her use of mass transit.

Given today's context and sensibilities, the destruction of Penn Station does seem like a crime against humanity. But at the time, the station was really dark and rundown. A maintenance deferred hunk of junk. The LIRR never looked good, and even today, after some renovation, still can't evoke anything but a midway of comfort and finger food joints.

Add to this the prospect of adding Madison Square Garden on top of the station, and you had a mouth-watering opportunity to bring a major sports arena in direct contact with mass transit, the LIRR, what is now Amtrak, and the subways. When it happened, I once again thought of my train rides as a boy. I could get on at Murray Hill, and didn't have to go outdoors to be in my season seats at Ranger games.

The current movers and shakers are trying to atone for Original Sin. There are touches of the old station visible at the Seventh Avenue end of the LIRR level; the New Jersey Transit station within the station, is clearly designed to evoke the old place, with its entrance from Seventh Avenue trying to make you think you're going to close your eyes and see the old station. But you're not going to, and if you close your eyes, you'll bump into someone with their head down looking at a cell phone. The girders and the arches at Jamaica Station evoke the old Penn Station.

There are vintage photos of the old station on the Amtrak level, and some original brass banisters with giant spheres at the top that were part of the original station that lead down to the tracks. It was years and years ago, and several years after my Chicago odysseys, when I looked down from the Amtrak level and saw a porter I remembered from the Broadway Limited leaning out one of the doors from a train that has just arrived from somewhere.

This porter was the same guy who took the 50 cent piece from me for a 25 cent pillow rental who never came back with my change. I started to think I'm the elephant who never forgets. I felt like calling him out on it, but I'd only get arrested. I guess he built his tip into my 50 cent piece. And by now, 25 cents wasn't worth much anyway.

The old Penn Station? I see it all the time.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Save The Pigs

I am a little behind on my 'Downton' episodes. I just absorbed the one from February 9th, Episode 6, (already!) with last night's still in the DVR queue waiting viewing. No worry. Doing it this way is somewhat like making the 16 game season in the NFL last 17 weeks. The end is deferred.

The story is certainly not flying through the calendar. I've completely abandoned any silly hope I had that they were going to get to WWII and falling ceiling plaster from German bombings. We're in the early 1920s, and while we know Season 5 is already being put together, it's unlikely the saga will press on beyond that. The executive producer Julian Fellowes is trying to float an American version of  'Downton' for NBC, set in the Edith Wharton-like Gilded Age period of New York City. If this comes off, no doubt we'll get glimpses of Gramercy Park.

Any entertainment project is dicey, but didn't Scorsese do this with 'Age of Reason.' And how popular was that movie, despite a competent cast of Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel-Day Lewis no less?
Nevertheless, we have Lord Grantham headed off to America quite suddenly at his mother-in-law's request via telegram, the first form of a Twitter message.

Lord G's mother-in-law is of course Ol' Shirl, who we haven't yet seen again. This might be the segue to get to Ol' Shirl on her home turf, and spin-off a little of 'Downton' to America, in hopes to prime the pump for Mr. Fellowes's next project. After all, didn't 'All in the Family' give us 'The Jeffersons'?

Thus, we have his Lordship filling what seem to be nearly 30 pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage for his trip across the ocean with his pinch-hitting valet Thomas Barrow. Reason for the substitution of Bates becomes revealed, and has to do with the rape of his wife Anna, and the secret that is slowly getting out.

Lord G. explains the valet is so essential because "Americans have a correct uniform for practically every activity known to man." I don't know that it can compare to the British dining attire and black and white ties, but if there was a strict sartorial American style we know it eventually disappeared into Dockers, Nike footwear and puff coats with 'North Face' on the back.  He explains mightily that that he'll "cross the raging seas" and provide support for his brother-in-law who is getting pulled into what we'll know as the Teapot Dome Scandal.

The hope here is that on Lord Grantham's arrival in New York Ol Shirl' will be making an appearance. The next question will be if the closeted valet Thomas Barrow finds Christopher Street and makes the return trip, because, as Lady Mary daintily tells her father, she knows of such matters because she's been married, and "knows everything." Marriage will do that to you.

Credit the creators with giving the show major themes to deal with: rape, homosexuality, abortion, and inter-racial puppy love. But, like any good Shakespearean play, there is comic relief.

We have Lady Mary and her ideological adversary, Charles Blake, the economist for the Crown,  sloshing around in mud by the light of the moon and delivering buckets of water to distressed pigs. It is an adorable sequence, right out of 'Our Gang' or a Mickey Rooney movie: plucky people making sure the show goes on. Save the pigs. The pigs are saved.

Mary lets her patrician aloofness down just long enough to get mud flung in her face, while returning the gesture with smearing a glob onto Charles's face, somewhat like the bride's early revenge with wedding cake. But at sunrise Mary's composure returns, and while she scrambles eggs, for her and mud-splattered Charles, she doesn't pick up after herself, and lets the kitchen staff do the dishes. She does give credit to Charles with the inevitable line of "you've literally saved our bacon." William Safire would smile from his grave at the correct use of the word 'literal.' Thank God the regular Mary has returned.

And poor Edith. Three months pregnant, and the married cad Micheal Gregson can't be found. He's completely disappeared into Munich without a word, ostensibly to become a German citizen so he can get a divorce. But what to make of the absence? Is he MI-5, MI-6? Is he really already a German and is a spy? It's a little early for WWII spying angles, but England and Germany were quite attached at the hip in that era. Certainly anything along those lines is possible.

The abortion sequence is gripping. Apparently, despite being illegal, such places in England can be found by discreet, coded ads in woman's magazines in doctors' offices. The abortion site is nowhere near as seedy as the one portrayed in 'Love With A Proper Stranger' where Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood are basically sent to an empty apartment and someone opens a suitcase. Here at least you see someone who you assume is a doctor wearing a white coat. Edith, with the resolute Aunt Rosamund at her side, reconsiders the procedure, and leaves to still give us more fuel for future episodes.

Edith's mother Lady Cora will eventually understand, but what of his Lordship? Yikes. the guy has dealt with a dead Turk in a bedroom, a gay valet, a daughter married to an Irish chauffer, who then dies giving birth, a dead son-in- law who drove too fast, and now what looks like an out-of-wedlock birth from a daughter that was left at the alter and later made pregnant by who knows what kind of guy?

And what about what else he doesn't  know about? The rape of Anna, and the cousin Rose who likes a black jazz singer.  We're clearly not on the Donna Reed show.

Dame Violet gets a star turn as someone who is nearly dying with bronchitis, headed for pneumonia and certain death. Maggie Smith will surely get nominated for another Emmy for her wispy-hair portrayal of a bed ridden dowager who fights off death with help from cousin Isobel, and gains enough strength to lose at gin rummy. Dame Violet is not all wisecracks. She's iron.

And what  about the elephant looming over the show? The tightening mainspring of violence that's going to be released? Mr. Bates has clearly put two and two together and come up with two squared when he figures out that Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr. Green is the perp who raped Anna.

Green is a cocky sort who tries to portray the incident to Mrs. Hughes as consenting between two libidos liberated by alcohol. Mrs. Hughes is not buying that one, and as this secret gets out further, there has to be a consequence. Perhaps it will be Mrs. Patmore who skewers the guy's privates with a kitchen knife. Or maybe whacks him so hard with a frying pan that he stops breathing. Hell, the household knows how to deal with dead people and cover ups. You are definitely rooting for revenge in an era with no DNA samples.

You also get the message that while an inter-racial coupling is not embraced, England is not Mississippi. This is the 1920s, and if it were Mississippi, or Alabama, or somewhere where the KKK
has membership and a chapter, Mr. Jack Ross would be swinging from a bridge for consorting with Rose.

I'll soon get to Episode Seven. The show moves slowly though time, but covers a great deal. And by the time the saga of the Crawley clan has been played out and everyone has gone home to other projects and we're onto possibly watching a New York version, we will have absorbed a good deal of human drama, and also learned about what color tie to wear with the tuxedo when dining.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The British Art of Name Calling

It has got to be their command of the language. No one hurls a better insult than the British.

Growing up, a common childhood rank was to tell another boy their mother wore 'combat boots.' This was meant to start a fight, but I never saw it start one. It was always met with 'oh yeah,' which when you think of it, is not  great a retort. Sometimes, a kid whose mother's footwear was commented on would hurl one back to the effect that "your mother's a who-a." This was supposed to be "whore" but for some reason it came out "who-a." I guess this was on purpose, because if it was questioned if the name-caller was telling you your mother was a "who-a" they could deny that they said "whore." I also never saw these remarks lead to a fight. Kids are very crafty. And vocal. Trash talk.

So it is with some surprise to read of elected adults holding public office in the UK who rant into name calling. You would think those days were behind them. No, the barbs get sharper.

We observed and commented on some of this in a prior posting about the tradition of heckling the prime minister when he's talking in Parliament. The opposition appears to get quite boisterous. They act like they're in a pub. Or, they're at a soccer match.

Consider the latest comments to come out the UK surrounding who is to blame for the terrific flooding that is taking place in southwest England. Entire towns are under water due to heavy rains and flooded rivers. It seems river dredging was deferred for years, leaving rivers with less depth. Less depth, heavy rains, and you've got trouble in River City. Floods are 17 miles away from London at this point.

I take it the current government of David Cameron is the Conservative Party. Anything bad that happens in the UK is the direct fault of the opposition. Even rain.

Apparently the blame game has been raging, with a Conservative lawmaker referring to the Labour party's head of the Environmental Agency, Chris Smith, as a "little git." (Having to look this up, it means a "worthless person.")

Additionally, Ian Liddell-Grainger (you gotta love those hyphenated names) told Mr. Smith he would like to "stick his head down the loo and flush."


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shirley Temple Black

It's very rare for me to read an obituary in the New York Times and find it lacking. But today's recap of Shirley Temple is rather bland. Perhaps this is what happens when someone's movie career is purposely ended in 1950 and they go onto a life of public service and long-term marriage that takes them to the age of 85. They've outlived anyone who can really add anything that is already known.

The obituary lacks mention of Shirley's father. She certainly had one, but what was he? A shoe salesman, a chemist, an alcoholic? We don't even learn his name. We know the mother to be Gertrude, apparently a stage mother who was loved, but who was dad?

We get an anecdote from Adolphe Menjou that basically gives the lesson that being upstaged is to be expected when you appear opposite kids and animal acts.

We do get mention of what was considered being very bold when white Shirley holds black Bill Robinson's hand while they dance in the 1935 movie 'The Little Colonel.' But it wasn't done for a social statement, it was done so that they could transmit hand signals to each other as they danced, when to turn, stop, etc. I must have gotten that from commentator Robert Osborne on Turner Classics.

I'll add a story that I though might appear in the obit, but didn't. When the famous Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was taking photos for a 1960s story on Ms. Black she was posed behind a chair, holding its back. I remember the photo. Apparently, as Shirley stood ready to have the shot taken she had a cigarette in one of her hands. Mr. Eisenstaedt came out from behind the camera and removed the cigarette, telling Shirley, "I don't think the American public will like to see you with a cigarette in your hand." He was right.

I do remember going to lunch with my parents and as they ordered Manhattans the waiter asked me if I wanted a 'Shirley Temple,' the non-alcoholic concoction that apparently the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant invented. I don't know if New York's Stage Deli ever named a sandwich after her. I never heard that they did. and I can't imagine what combination of pickles, pastrami, corned beef and lox would evoke a dancing little girl. No matter. When asked what I wanted to drink I replied a 'ginger ale.' I drank mine straight.

Ms. Temple has been out of the public eye so long I'm sure there are those who thought she had already left us. Even though I knew she hadn't already passed away, I usually only came up with the Doris Day when I thought who might be at the top tier in age from Hollywood who might still be with us.

So, consistent with what I do when I hear of someone's demise and they had a few popular songs, I go to iTunes to add them to my iPod. Thus, for 99 cents each I'll add, 'On the Good Ship Lollipop', 'Animal Crackers in My Soup' and 'Polly Wolly Doodle.'

I already have a Doris Day CD, so when the time comes, she can join my musical iPod graveyard at no further expense.

There's no hurry.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Season Four Downton Abbey

Been a little behind on watching 'Downton Abbey.' At least that show hasn't changed so much, or at all really, that I no longer want to watch it. I don't know what they've done with Benedict's Cumberbatch's Sherlock, but they seemed to have turned it into a comic book. Delete.

So, with the advantage of a DVR I'm now current with 'Downton' and find enough to write about. Perhaps it's slowed down a bit, but there are certainly enough events floating around the upstairs and downstairs to keep the show in vogue with what are always the two major theme of any era: sex and money.

The show is certainly not fast forwarding through time. We know this because 'The Shiek' has just played at the cinema, and that pegs the year at 1922 with its release in England.  Earlier Season Four episodes have been set in 1922, so the needle is not racing at all toward WWII.

We have youth at bay when the horny footman Jimmy tries to go up Ivy's skirt with his hand as they snog on a garden bench after the show. This prompts an outraged rebuff from Ivy and is a morality tale that all men are alike. Jimmy is lucky Ivy didn't come armed with a boning knife from the kitchen and carve his hand up like Garp's mother Jenny does in a movie theater to a man who is what her mother always warned her to be careful of: purse snatchers and snatch snatchers,

If Ivy did have that boning knife, Jimmy would have been sent howling across the moonlit greensward toward Dr. Clarkson's for stitches, and would surely be unable to hold a tray for weeks.

We have Bates playing Hamlet at the downstairs staircase brooding and plotting how to avenge the rape of his wife by Lord Gillingham's valet. Since Bates did hard time, even if it were for something he was later exonerated of, he no doubt would have been exposed to the 'Murder Manual' from other inmates while in prison. Bates no doubt is trying to figure out the best way to get the bastard in a dark alley and drive a shiv through his spine while remaining undetected. Bates may limp, but he's no less of a threat to avenge.

We haven't seen Ol' Shirl in any episodes yet, Cora's mother from across the pond. I thought the advance was she was due to make another appearance in the new season.  We might have a clue to that when Lord Grantham receives a letter that lets us in on Cora's brother's involvement in what will become known as the Teapot Dome scandal. Perhaps Ol' Shirl makes a visit to plead for funds to help her son's defense. If you know anything about Teapot Dome, it was the Watergate of the Harding administration (1920 -1923) and people are definitely going down. Ol' Shirl coming out of Washington would be the right touch.

And the younger woman of 'Downton.' What can we say? His Lordship is really flying the flag over a stable of fast fillies.

Mary's already proven to be capable of giving a young man a heart attack while in heat, and Lady Edith finds herself to be 'a gal in trouble' from a married man who has disappeared back into Germany. It's too bad the producers can't sneak Cher's song in about a gypsy girl who gets knocked up. Certainly if Lord G. finds out, 'papa would have shot him if he knew what he'd done' with his service revolver from the Boer War.

And then we have Lady Rose, the young cousin who loves jazz, frequents London night clubs, likely votes and smokes, and makes out with black jazz singers in the pile's kitchen after throwing a surprise party for her uncle.

Mr. Ross, the black jazz singer,does seem a bit effeminate though. The producers may or may not have a spot for him with Thomas, the closeted gay footman who has to keep his orientation well under wraps because it's illegal in England until 1955.

I truly thought with Mr. Ross coyly belting out the lyrics to 'I'm Just Wild About Harry' Thomas would have come bounding out of the drapes. The producers went for Rose making out with him.

What's ahead? We see that Granny gets sick. I don't know what Maggie Smith's contract with the show is, but it would be a loss if she left it too. Okay, a woman who remembers Queen Victoria and what are now very obscure battles in India can't live forever, but the show is not moving fast. If they do get to WWII and that ceiling with the plaster falling, then Granny's tombstone will be all we see of her.  But no need for that now.

'Downton,' I'm still with you. There are plenty of other Sherlocks to choose from.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ralph Kiner

A man who dated Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh but who didn't marry them, was surely destined to outlive nearly everyone, and Ralph Kiner seems to have done that by now passing away in the off-season at the very advanced age of 91.

F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke too soon when he said there were "no second acts in American lives." For Ralph Kiner, the show never ended until it did.

The Hall-of-Fame baseball career made notable with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field would have been sensational enough to keep Kiner in insurance agencies, restaurants, beer distribution, and car dealerships if he wanted after ending his playing career. But minor league management, and broadcasting became the second and third acts, with broadcasting the longest running. He never retired from it.

My own exposure to Kiner came from his job as one of the Mets broadcasters, and as the post-game host of Kiner's Korner. The stories that flowed over Ralph Falls were effortlessly spun from his mind. His patter, and ability to keep the conversation going with whomever was sitting next to him was a joy. A rain delay was never too long with Ralph Kiner at the microphone. And even better if it was between double headers.

There was one particular rain delay when Ralph talked with the other team's general manager (or someone like that), for so long and so informatively, that I distinctly remember he was nominated, or cited for a broadcaster award of some kind. Peabody? Unscripted, extemporaneous talk.

Where else would I have heard about Stan Musial's advice on how to make a million dollars (real money then) if I didn't hear it from Ralph? Stan said: "First, you start with two million dollars, then you open a restaurant."

Kiner was also on the receiving end of notable utterances when he asked general manager Branch Rickey for a raise after finishing the season with 54 home runs, six shy of Babe Ruth's record. Players didn't have the power they have today, and Rickey just told Kiner, "we finished last this year, and we can do that without you too." There were no agents to point out to Rickey how many more people might have come out to the ball park to see a home run hitter, despite playing for a last place team. An easily projected last place for the following year without Kiner would mean less money at the gate. But that's not how things worked then. The lords of baseball were the owners.

I remember the telecast when he asked the question how many major leaguers can you name who came from New Mexico? At the time, he was the only answer. He was born in 1922, and New Mexico was admitted to the Union in 1912 as the 47th state.

Regis Philbin opened the show 'Crowd Goes Wild' yesterday evening with a nicely worded homage to Ralph that included what many people always seemed to say about Ralph: everyone liked him.

My own favorite story about Kiner is when he said that people always seem to say he's a "nice guy." He said, I tell them, "they should talk to my ex-wives." There were three.

As a kid I remember hearing grumbling about how sure he hit all those home runs in Forbes field, but they had brought the fence in for Hank Greenberg, and Ralph's career was shortened by a back problem that didn't really leave him with Hall of Fame numbers.

They were wrong.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII (48)

What will make this Super Bowl any more memorable than any of the other 47 I've watched? Certainly nothing about the game, since for me there was no rooting interest, no betting interest, or even a box with low probability numbers held by myself or any other member of the family. No dog in the fight, as they say.

No, what will make this Super Bowl memorable will be what Michael Kosta said on the show 'Crowd Goes Wild' today.

Joe Namath has lead a charmed life. And by the looks of things, he looks robust enough to continue leading a charmed life. Win one Super Bowl in 1969--the franchise's only Super Bowl--eight days before Richard Nixon was sworn in for his first term--and people still know who you are. And to top it off, to keep the Giants/Jets connection going by virtue of being in their home MetLife stadium, the coin toss was attended to by two New York winning Super Bowl quarterbacks.

It fell to Joe to toss the coin. Maybe Joe won a sideline, untelevised coin toss to win this right over Phil Simms, but it was clear Joe was going to toss the coin. Joe was so eager to toss the coin, he jumped the gun. He flipped the ceremonial coin a nice end-over-end height, only to see it caught in mid-air by the official for a do-over. The Sea Hawks hadn't yet been instructed to call the toss.

The rest of the game is history. But what will not become part of history outside of this blog entry is what comedian/broadcaster Michael Kosta said about Joe's do-over.

It went something like this" "Leave it to a Jets quarterback to toss something up in the air only to have someone else catch it."

You gotta like this guy Kosta. And he's not even old enough to have seen Joe's interceptions, when they did affect the game.