Saturday, May 31, 2014


It was one of those brief news items that appear daily in the New York Times in the Arts section, 'Arts, Briefly.' The piece was titled 'A Documentary About Moondog' and explained of the recent plans to produce a documentary on his life and the Kickstarter campaign that was being launched to pay for post-production costs.

I knew a good bit about Moondog, but who the hell knows anything about him now? As the article explains, the blind musician used to stand generally in the Sixth Avenue area around 54th Street. That is exactly where he is pictured here, and where I first saw Moondog in the late sixties.

The two brothers I was friends with lived in the building pictured in the background of the photo, to the right. In fact, I can pick out their apartment that was on the third floor. One evening, or late afternoon I was walking with one of the brothers and we passed the great Viking. I had never seen or heard of Moondog. My friend looked up, because the Viking was taller than us, and greeted him like an old friend. "Hiya Moondog." I looked at Moondog, realized he was blind, but he returned the greeting.

"You know that guy? He's got a name?"

"You never heard of Moondog? He's there all the time. Years now."

Of course they would know about Moondog. They went past him every time they left their apartment. My friend told me that as kids, he and his brother were somewhat scared of the giant Norseman that stood guard in their neighborhood. And why wouldn't a little kid be a little taken back by a guy with a spear and a horned helmet just standing there? He's not the crossing guard.

The bothers' father went past Moondog every morning because he worked at CBS, the 'Black Rock' building that Moondog would be standing in front of at the pictured spot.

Moondog (Louis T. Hardin) was born in Kansas. Well, he certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore, seen by thousands of people each day as they made their way through the area. And in front of CBS headquarters. He wasn't exactly standing outside a doorway on 11th Avenue.

At some point, there were stories about his avant-garde music and how it was going to be played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Moondog had a cultural following, but was as strange as can be.

According to the recent Times piece, Moondag disappeared from the New York streets in 1974 and went to live in Germany. When he was prowling the pavement he lived in Brooklyn, I believe. There was never any kind of service animal seen with Moondog, so how he got back and forth is a story unto itself. My friend remembers hearing Moondog ask someone near him if the light was green so that he could cross the street, on his own. And why not on his own? No good karma could ever come from hitting a Viking with your cab.

New York holds all kinds of characters, but someone as themed as Moondog for years and years is still rare. It is hard to imagine someone getting up in their apartment in Brooklyn and finding their Viking outfit and heading for Midtown.

But, that's exactly what Moondog's day consisted of. Historical photos of Moondog show that his outfit changed over the years, but he was always an easily recognizable Viking, or a lost extra from a Metropolitan production of a Wagner opera.

Moondog sold poems, music and writings to passersby. So, there was some income. Moondog was an early take on a popular Capital One banking commercial involving Vikings.

"Moondog. What's in your wallet."

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Longest Name

How does one get a name that is composed of 11 first names and not be a fugitive from the FBI or Interpol with their wanted poster and aliases sprayed across the Web? Answer: start out as a prince, and never do anything bad enough to become wanted by anyone, except perhaps The Rolling Stones and the crowd at Monte Carlo.

I distinctly remember the aftermath of New York City's newspaper strike of 1963-1964. The famous 114 day strike that caused the merger of three papers to eventually be one paper, however short lived: The World Journal Tribune.

This was an amalgam of The Journal-American, The Herald Tribune and the World Telegram and Sun. The times, they were a changin'. A New Yorker cartoon of the era showed a newspaper delivery truck that looked as long as a stretch limo, just to get the full names of the combined papers on its side. It didn't last.

So, what genetic merger has to occur in families for a person to emerge with the complete name of Rupert Louis Ferdinand Frederick Constantine Lofredo Leopold Herbert Maximilian John Henry du Loewenstein? Answer: Be born as Bavarian royalty on the Spanish island of Majorca to a woman who was a great-daughter of someone who owned a sixth of the Brazilian Crown jewels. How the jewels might have been split up is anyone's guess, but it apparently was more than enough to give Rupert there a sprinting head start in life.

One of the Catholic sacraments is Confirmation, in which the person chooses a confirmation name. This can of course add a single first name to what is usually a first name and a middle name. Most people don't use their confirmation name for any means of identification.

Which of course bring us to Rupert's ID. How big was his passport? What font did they choose to get all of his first name onto a driver's license? Of course Rupert was probably recognized as the official version of his name, as it is used in the obituary headline: 'Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein, 80...'

What's up with the 'zu'? Is it some kind of royal apostrophe used to eliminate all the first names between the first first name and the surname? No response yet from the NYT. No surprise.

The Prince apparently was worth every one of those first names, because he basically created the fortune the Rolling Stones enjoy. He fixed things as well when it came to divorces for Mick and an arrest of Keith Richards on a drug charge. He sounds like he was bigger than U.S. Steel.

But, like many business arrangements it seems, despite his living to be 80, he and the Stones parted ways at some point. Pity about that.

Mick's girlfriend, L'Wren Scott who just recently committed suicide, apparently over her failing fashion business, sounds like she could have used some of the Prince's financial wizardry. At least Mick and his band was able to fly back on his own jumbo jet from Australia to attend Ms. Scott's funeral thanks to Prince Rupert's astute financial handling.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Grab Five

Finally. A group of conspiracy figures (read organized crime) that have not been nicknamed by the Daily News and presumably have no knowledge of the 'L' train.

Of course I'm writing about the five members of the Chinese military that have bee indicted by a Federal grand jury in western Pennsylvania for conspiring to commit computer fraud, among a host of other indictable offenses.

The five, who have nicknames from their computer aliases or some other source are, in no particular order:

Wen Xinyu. a.k.a. Wen Xin Yu, WinXYHappy, Win_XY, Lao Wen. Quite honestly, a  Daily News, or New York Post  nickname here would go a lot better. Say something like 'The Genticist' because of  the X and Y letters in his name. His specialty should be hacking into pharmaceutical companies. China may not now exceed two billion people through strictly human reproductive means. Have you been watching 'Orphan Black?'

Sun Kailiang a.k.a. Sun Kai Ling, Jack Sun. The last nom de guerre leaves me unable to ever look at a $20 bill again and not see some Asian gangster leaning over he rail of a freighter in the fog.

Wang Dong a.k.a. Jack Wang, 'UglyGorilla'. This last name is unfortunate. I mean, based on what we're reading, as bad as it can be, this guy didn't hijack a 767 like Mohamed Atta and use Lower Manhattan as an airstrip.

Gu Chunhui a.k.a. Gu Chun Hui, 'KandyGoo.' Most of these aliases just seem to be spelling variation of their names, possible typos, or other variations to thwart search programs. But 'KandyGoo' is nearly affectionate and may indicate a hobby making fudge.

Huang Zhenyu a.k.a. Huang Zen Yu, 'hzy_lhz.' The least colorful of all. Mr. Zhenyu needs a publicist to create a name for him that will be the sound bite on the evening news. Here, or in China.

There is no extradition treaty with China, so the indictments are certainly symbolic. A shot across the bow in the continuing struggle to keep computer networks safe from unauthorized users.

But just imagine for a few minutes if one of these figures were to come to United States, and they eluded arrest by hiding out, somewhat Whitey Bulger style. After years and years of evading the FBI, the Bureau takes to putting the individual's picture on the Jumbotron in Times Square.

An alert dog walker recognizes the figure and the non-violent arrest takes place. Inside the walls of the individual's dwelling, instead of finding $800,000 in US currency that goes back to the Nixon era, the authorities find walls full of small pieces of paper: fortune cookie sayings.

The sayings of course have been computer hacked from the one company in Brooklyn that makes all the fortune cookies and their inserts for the Northeast.

Maybe this guy does know about the 'L' train.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Link Back

If you live long enough, are born late enough in your mother's life, and are British, then there is a good chance your mother was born when Queen Victoria was on the throne and ruled your country, and we're going to read about your passing in the 21st century. And that is exactly how far back the lineage goes for Harry Stopes-Roe, 90, whose mother, Dr. Marie Stopes (1880-1958) was famous, notorious, and came to be regarded as one of the 20th century’s great feminist heroines, a crusader for birth control and enlightened sex education, and the author of the first modern sex manual, 'Married Love.'

Her book was an early contradiction to what the comedian Alan King would always later declare: "If you want to read about love and marriage, you need to read two books."

Mr. Stopes-Roe is lauded for himself becoming a noted philosopher and for surviving the upbringing his mother inflicted on him. Reading of his life in the obituary that now appears in The Telegraph you can only imagine that there might be a two or three part mini-series in here that someone at the BBC is going to push on an American public that eats that type of thing up. That Mr. Stopes-Roe became a functioning adult is a credit to something, perhaps cricket, or crew.

Mr. Stopes-Roe so infuriated his mother at his choice for marriage that his mother essentially wrote him out of her will. She believed that because his wife-to-be wore glasses that they would hatch a gaggle of ugly children who would have to wear glasses.

On the mother's demise, Harry got the 13-volume Greater Oxford English dictionary. We can safely assume it wasn't a large print version, so wearing glasses in the family might have been a good thing for looking things up in the bequeathed dictionary.

And a dictionary doesn't need watering, or sulphur dust, or plant food. If anyone remembers the Tom Cruise character in the movie 'Rain Man', Charlie Babbitt got the roses that lined the driveway from his father. His institutionalized savant brother got the fortune.

By most standards, Mr. Stopes-Roe's inheritance has him coming out ahead of Charlie Babbitt. A set of books is more permanent than a driveway lined with roses in Cleveland.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Ice Wagon

Anyone of a somewhat advanced age should remember Flip Wilson, the black comedian who in the 70s had his own show and was very, very popular. His "Geraldine" character was an absolute riot, but is better experienced visually rather than narratively. Go to YouTube.

Flip told stories. Sometimes long stories, and he did it cleanly, and on national television. I went looking for something about his 'Ice Wagon' routine, but only found someone else's recollection of his classic routine.

The newly elected mayor of New York City, William de Blasio, is making an issue of doing away with the horse drawn carriages that take people for a ride into Central Park. They are as New York as a parking ticket, but the mayor wants to replace them with an electric car that looks like the one in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He feels it is inhumane to have the horses doing what they do. There is staunch opposition. Nothing is yet resolved

Over the years, there have been one or two horses that have died in severe heat, but new rules were adopted that governed at what temperature they have to stay in the stable.

Never mind that homeless people have frozen to death on the sidewalk because it was against the law to move them, but that's another story and another administration. So far.

When I was working, I sometimes used Flip's 'Ice Wagon' routine as an explanation to my co-workers why I didn't want it to be known that I could do something that was needed. I always felt I was doing enough. To volunteer was to ask for work, and I already had enough to do. My goal at any meeting was to emerge without a fresh assignment. I gave myself enough to do.

Having left that job in 2004, my attitude surely explained why my last promotion was in 1992, but I didn't care. I was content doing what I was doing. And not doing.

Taken from the Web, this is someone else's narrative recollection of Flip's routine. It is quite accurate, although I'm sure Flip didn't always tell parts in the middle the same way twice. No matter. You get the idea.

The comedian Flip Wilson (and I date myself here) used to tell a story that has stayed with me for many years. If memory serves, it goes something like this:

In the days before electric refrigerators, the ice man drove his horse-drawn wagon down the street, yelling, "Ice! Ice!" A woman opened a window above and called down to the ice man to bring her up a block for her icebox. While he hauled the ice upstairs, a passerby noticed the idle horse was muttering, "What a life!"

"Did you say something?" the startled passerby asked.

"Yeah," said the horse. "What a stinking life I have. The ice man makes me pull this heavy wagon five days a week, fourteen hours a day. Then on Saturday I have to pull a carriage through the park for the tourists. And on Sunday he makes me give pony rides to the kids."

"Holy mackerel," said the passerby, "does he know you can talk?"
"No," said the horse, "and don't you tell him either or he'll make me yell, 'Ice!'"

I have a feeling the Central Park carriage horses could tell Mayor de Blasio what they really want. But that would mean talking, and then he'd want the horses to tell people to vote for him in the next election, when they'd rather stay away from politics and just do their thing, even if that means someone else has to pick up after them.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Sign of Spring

Signs of spring are seen to be when a "red, red robin, comes a bob-bob-bobbing along." Certainly this qualifies. Especially in the northeast, as winter loses its grip.

But what surer sign of spring can there be than picking up a newspaper on the first Saturday in May and seeing there, page one, above the fold, a picture of Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, beaming at you from the White House Rose Garden with President Obama in tow?

Is this all a clue that 'Wildcat Red' is her choice in today's 140th running of the Kentucky Derby?

Stay tuned.