Monday, June 30, 2014

Name That Year

Someone I'm aware of is writing a book on archaeologists. This, I suspect, has put them in touch with people who throw the time reference of B.C.--before Christ--around like Frisbees. The plates they unearthed are said to be from 450 B.C. The other plates they dusted off are from 200 B.C.  The closer the number comes down to zero, the closer in time the item or people, or event comes to being coincident with the year 1, the year considered to be the first year of Christ's life. Bigger B.C. numbered years are further back in time from the birth of Christ, being even older items or events.

This isn't too hard to understand. But what I've never understood, how did anyone alive when that plate was newly made in 450 B.C. know that they were then 450 years away from the birth of Christ? And after the earth spun around the sun one more time, that they were then 449 years away from the birth of Christ? They couldn't have. Looking back, we assigned that year to that point of time. Which of course explains why there were no warranties and guarantees in that era. You couldn't tell anyone what year you bought the plates, only perhaps how old they were. Thus, caveat emptor.

I happen to know that the plates we use in our house for everyday meals were new in 1998. This of course is A.D., anno domino (after death of Christ, as I learned it). It is now 2014, so the plates have held up well, and are now 16 years old. I'm not concerned about any warranty, or guarantee. But I am able to state what year the plates are from, something someone back in the B.C. era couldn't do.

This is good news for us, and bad news for companies. As much as General Motors may not like it, consumers are able to tell them when they bought the defective car and that they're responsible for it.

Time marches on, even if at some point it was recorded backwards.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hit the Stores, Jill

There is an advantage, and sometimes a disadvantage to reading newspapers that are perhaps a few weeks old. One advantage is certainly that whatever is being worried about in say a May 20th edition, has already drifted into the background and been replaced by something else, sometimes even something bigger.

Sports as a topic has a quick expiration date. I no longer need to read in depth how the New York Rangers are faring against the Montreal Canadians in their quest to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. I know they beat the Canadians, advanced, and met their comeuppance from the L.A. Kings, who beat them four games to one in the cup final series.

The disadvantage is that I sometimes get to follow the story in reverse. Take the Jill Abramson episode where it was announced that the former New York Times executive editor would be teaching nonfiction narrative at Harvard in the fall. And that she has two tattoos, an 'H' for Harvard and a Gothic-style 'T' for the NYT on her body.

That story didn't tell the reader where the tattoos were on Jill's person. The May 20th edition of the NYT carried a bigger story of Jill's commencement address at Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In that story, a student is said to have asked Ms. Abramson if she would now be removing the 'T' from her back, since she had been let go.

The response is what you'd expect from an unflappable New Yorker. "Not a chance. It was the honor of my life to lead the newsroom." Definitely Semper Fi.

The same story goes on to recount a lame reference to a remark that Albert Hunt made, a Bloomberg News columnist, who introduced Ms. Abramson. He noted that perhaps a translator might be needed for listeners to help get them through her strong New York accent.

Jesus. Like the Duck Dynasty folks in North Carolina are more readily understandable than a Jewish New Yorker. The south is still annoyed about the outcome of the War of Northern Aggression.

What I might have hoped someone said to Jill, in private, sotto voce, was, "get some clothes, and some decent shoes."

In the movie 'Wall Street' Gordon Gekko upbraids the Charlie Sheen character for needing a better suit when he comes to business lunches, etc.

In the above picture, Ms. Abramson is clearly seen wearing somewhat dilapidated running shoes with what looks like a striped jogging suit under her academic robe.

Part of her speech made reference to her former employment, and the unemployed position she now finds herself in. "What's next for me? I don't know. So I'm in exactly the same boat as many of you. Like you, I'm a little scared, but also excited."

Jill, get to Bloomingdale's.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Odds

By reading the obituary of John Devens, a former mayor of Valdez, Alaska, I learned that the tanker Exxon Valdez that dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Prince Edward Sound when it ran aground, did so in front of the town of Valdez, Alaska. I of course was aware of that gigantic oil spill when it occurred, but it must have escaped me that the ship was named after the same place that suffered the damage.

To me, this is somewhat like comedian Robin Williams's observation that the odds must have been astounding for Lou Gehrig to have died of Lou Gehrig's disease.

I realize the ship probably carried the name of the port city it was based in. But I never knew that the port city that suffered the damage was the same name as the ship itself.

The obituary for Mr. Devens doesn't go into even a brief mention of how the tanker got its name, and the fact that the spill affected the port of Valdez, Alaska, no less. Valdez has a Spanish ring to it, and could easily be someone playing baseball for a major league team.

It's these intersections in life that keep me going. Like the American Legionnaires who died of Legionnaire's disease in Philadelphia umpteen years ago, caused by the bacteria legionella, spread by the hotel's air conditioning system.

Or, Lou Gehrig dying from Lou Gehrig's disease. What are the odds of that?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jill Abramson's Ink

One has to wonder if there might not be a simmering dispute between the NYT and their former executive managing editor, Jill Abramson, who they just let go rather abruptly after less than three years on the job.

It was news everywhere, including the NYT, when Ms. Abramson was suddenly replaced by her No. 2, the deputy managing editor Dean Baquet. In yesterday's edition of the NYT, Ms. Abramson is reported to have accepted a job teaching at Harvard in the fall, a course in narrative nonfiction. I'll assume journalism falls under this discipline, but really, what do I know?

It is a short story, but it has a picture of Ms. Abramson speaking at a commencement exercise at Wake Forest. We don't know what she said at this exercise, but, being a New Yorker, she might have cracked-wise about her former employer. Separations for cause might not include an agreement not to speak badly of your former employer. When I was given a termination package surrounding a layoff one of the things I signed was not to speak badly of my former employer. I didn't. And I haven't. But, Mr. Abramson's circumstances and mine are worlds apart, I suspect.

The story stays in the collegiate vein when it is revealed that Ms. Abramson graduated Harvard in 1976. So, she's coming back, in a sense. Where the story seems to jump the tracks and perhaps return a tit for a tat is when it is revealed that Ms. Abramson has two tattoos, one an 'H', for Harvard, and the other an Old English style 'T' to match the NYT logo. This is revealed in the story's next to last paragraph.

Why there suddenly seems to be a need to tell us what Ms. Abramson has etched on her body (and not tell us where) seems out of place with the spirit of the story. Or, maybe, it is completely within the spirit (mean spirit) of the story.

I once heard of the story that when Julie Andrews did not get the movie part for Eliza Doolittle, the part she made famous in the musical 'My Fair Lady' and it instead was given by the movie's producer Jack Warner to a non-signing Audrey Hepburn (with singing dubbed by Marni Nixon), Ms. Andrews took every opportunity to drive by Jack's office and sing at the top of her lungs. She felt better doing it.

I'd like to think that when Mr. Abramson walks past the NYT building on Eighth Avenue she can turn a cheek toward the reviewing stand and symbolically flash her 'H.'

She's certainly not the first, or the last person, to be mad at the NYT.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

There's Money to be Made

That there's money to be made from what can be the oddest things will no doubt come as no surprise, especially to those who have made money from odd things. Take pay-toilet locks.

Wilson R. Neckerman was the inventor of a highway restroom pay-toilet lock that was so successful that the fortune that it made made its way down to a granddaughter.  From what can be gleaned from the Internet, Mr. Neckerman was granted a patent for his invention in 1922. Other patents followed for others for variations of the pay-lock concept, often for toilets.

Mr. Neckerman's granddaughter, Norma, an heiress to the fortune that accrued from such an unlikely invention, herself married money when she wed David Langworthy, himself a metals magnate. Together they took over the empty lot at 18 West 11th Street, a lot made famous by fact that the townhouse that once stood there was completely leveled when bomb-making members of the radical group The Weatherman accidentally triggered an explosion in the cellar in 1970 that killed three of the members in the cellar and left two other members, women who were upstairs--one ironing and one in the shower--running into the street with basically nothing on. They found clothes from a neighbor and pretty much disappeared for quite some time, proving that women with little or no clothes on in New York City can find friends fast. Theirs is a whole other story.

The story here is that I remember pay toilets, or at least pay stalls in the men's room, particularly at Penn Station. They were deemed illegal, at least in New York City, sometime I'm guessing in the 1970s. If there were any in the women's bathrooms, I didn't know. I doubt it.

The company that made the pay-locks on these toilets was Nik-O-Lok, a company that apparently is still around, providing controlled access to bathrooms for bars and restaurants. Their patent was granted sometime in the 1940s, showing you how durable this business was, and apparently still is.

Their locks took a nickle, which I think might have once been ramped up to a quarter. I never stuck around long enough to find out who emptied these locks and how. Eventually, the city outlawed their installations and the place has gone downhill ever since.

Whether it is life imitating art, or the other way around, there was a hilarious piece in a 'Frazier' episode several years back where his brother Niles finds out that his never-seen-wife Marist's family fortune evolved from 'urine cakes,' those mothball scented discs that men pee on at the base, inside the urinal, if they manage to keep it within the walls of the urinal. This sends Niles over the top with uncontrollable laughter. But, money is money, even better if earned honestly, however oddly.

Thus. Ms. Longworthy's fortune, along with that of her husband's, allowed them to build a townhouse on the bombed out property that has now been bought by a Mr. Justin Korsant, who of course is planning changes.

Ms. Longworthy passed away in 2012 at the age of 92, her grandfather's fortune apparently sufficient enough to prove that someone can take it with them into a ripe old age.

Mr. Korsant is described as being a "financier," and someone who was born after the 1970 bombing. His grandfather created the sunburn treatment Solarcaine, who many people will remember as being advertised by a picture of a person who has let too much sunbathing overcook parts of their body, seen and unseen in the ads, letting you judge where you might need it most based on which beach you went to.

Somehow, 18 West 11th Street cannot escape its connection to profits for relief.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Bone Man

It is impossible not to pay attention to the picture of Mr. Armelagos that accompanies his NYT obituary.

Mr. George Armelagos is a recently deceased, and quite famous bone doc. Not an orthopaedic M.D. kind of doc, but a Ph.D. anthropologist whose study of bones revealed how people lived and what kinds of natural conditions existed in the world around them, perhaps even thousands and thousands of years ago.

Mr. Argelagos started out in medical school, choosing not to follow in the business of whatever business his Greek immigrant parents were in in Lincoln Park, Michigan. From medical school he switched to anthropology and became one of the founders of paleopathology, a discipline that studies bones to determine how people lived.

I once read a book about surgeons that said that M.D.'s know a lot about their patients, but the pathologist knows the most. This of course being because the pathologist can be a medical examiner who examines bodies to determine cause of death. Hindsight is 20/20.

Mr. Armelagos's specialty is sometimes referred to in movies, TV and books when a skeleton is found in the woods, or sand dunes, but it's usually in the context of a recently missing person, so their opinion is helping shape an ongoing murder inquiry. They are never referred to as a paleopathologist, because frankly it probably just doesn't sound like a word someone would understand, let along able to spell.

Thus, Mr. Armelagos missed out on the glamorization of his job. No Quincy, M.E., no cute Laura Hobson, with a budding romance holding hands and snoggin' with detective Lewis.

George, or "Yor-GEE" in Greek, if it's any consolation to you, you did resemble the late Dom DeLuise auditioning for a gravedigger part in a summer production  of 'Hamlet.'

Come to think of it, Your name in Greek and Yorick's do have a similar ring.

(With a nod to Margalit Fox, who can write and type in Greek.)