Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Getting it Right

Sometime during the first Eisenhower administration I looked at the trivet my mother had hanging between the two kitchen windows and knew something was wrong. The trivet was from somewhere, and depicted a map of NYC, showing the major landmarks, mostly Manhattan and parts of the Bronx.

There was the Harlem River, and to its left, in Manhattan, was a small version of a baseball stadium, labeled Yankee Stadium. Nearly immediately to its right, east of the Harlem River, was another depiction of a baseball stadium, this one labeled Polo grounds.

I pointed this out to my parents. Neither seemed too perturbed by it, even though my father was built several years before the 'House that Ruth Built' was actually built, and surely knew where the ballparks were. I couldn't understand how in the world did they mix up where the ballparks were? To me, it was like showing the Statue of Liberty holding the torch in her left hand. (The statute was correctly depicted on the lower left portion of the trivet.) God knows I wish I still had that trivet.

Today's paper brings further proof that NYC landmarks, if not incorrectly placed, can be incorrectly referred to.

Today's NYT carries a story by David Dunlap that comes under the headline, 'Port Agency Tells Store to Drop 9/11 Items.' Based on NYT Web information, Mr. Dunlap is their infrastructure reporter.  This explains the theme I failed to notice whenever I read his pieces. And this one falls under infrastructure, for sure.

The 9/11 items are plates at Fishs Eddy, an eclectic store of glasses, plates, and dinnerware on Broadway and 19th Street. It's a fun place to browse through. Nothing will set you back an arm and a leg.

Well, it seems the store, according to Port Authority lawyers and reported by Mr. Dunlap, is "unfairly reaping a benefit from association with the Port Authority and the attacks" of September 11. Mr. Dunlap explains that they are doing this by selling two lines of goods--'212 New York Skyline' and 'Bridge and Tunnel'--items that are adorned with fanciful, cartoonish depictions of the twin towers, the new 1 World Trade Center and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, labeled with their names, all of which the agency claims as its 'assests'."

Oh boy. Why Verizon hasn't yet weighed in the use of the 212 telephone area code is unknown. Perhaps their lawyers have something else to do.

Anyone who has spent some time in New York (like from birth) knows the Port Authority operates in a somewhat Byzantine fashion. And that's probably understating it. They are responsible for bridges, airports, rail lines buildings and piers. They are a city-state and could qualify for a seat in the U.N.'s General Assembly. They probably only lack cruise missiles and an air force.

I survived being in one of their "assets" when Osama bin Laden turned Manhattan into an airport on 9/11. I can't understand what can be so proprietary about an image of two buildings that didn't make it past noon on 9/11/2001. After 9/11 my daughters gave me a photo of lower Manhattan that is clearly meant to show off the World Trade Center and the World Financial Center. It's one way I remember the day.

The owners of the store are of course flummoxed by the agency's legal letter. Why take umbrage with something after all these years? I've heard some building have tried to copyright their image for use in movies, but plates? Is the agency afraid some Ragu between the towers will create some kind of blasphemy? I am certain that trivet from the 50s showed the George Washington Bridge, another Port Authority "asset." Maybe I can't find because they came in and took it?

The "212" line at Fishs Eddy does make a mistake for this generation of childhood New Yorkers to be raised on. The mugs, dinnerware, etc. refer to Grand Central Terminal as Grand Central Station. This is a common mistake, repeated in many places, by many people, over many years..

The railroad station is properly referred to as "Grand Central Terminal" and the adjacent post office is referred to as Grand Central Station. There are plaques, but who reads plaques?

As a complete aside, the name of the store might strike those as also being a mistake. Fishs Eddy. Huh? Should that be Fishes Eddy? Or Fishy's Eddy? No.

There is an upstate town in New York on Route 17, somewhat south of Binghamton that is called Fishs Eddy. Why it is called Fishs Eddy is certainly another topic in itself. It is known for its fly-fishing, and there are roads and streets in the town called Fish Creek Road and Fish Eddy-Sullivan County Line Road. Did someone leave off the apostrophe? How do you pronounce an apostrophe anyway?

I suspect the store has sold out at this point. There is no such thing as bad publicity.


Friday, July 25, 2014


I mis-heard my wife the other day when she said that "James Horner has died." "Oh, the guy who wrote the music from 'Titanic.'" "No, James Garner has passed away."

Who of  "certain age" didn't like James Garner? I grew up with 'Maverick' and was angry when a vice-presidential candidate from Alaska declared herself a 'maverick.' Sarah, I've watched loads of TV, and you're not close to being a maverick.

I loved Maverick. I loved Garner in "The Great Escape". I loved him in 'the "The Americanization of Emily". I loved him in the "Rockford Files". I loved him in Polaroid commercials with Mariette Hartley, and would surely have bought a Polaroid if I didn't already have one.

I loved James Garner in "Murphy's Romance". I loved he and James Woods in "My Name is Bill W", about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. It, along with the Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands TV movie, 'Strangers' were the best TV movies I've ever seen, and the only Bette Davis movie I ever liked. I loved him on Johnny Carson when Don Rickles teased him that all his movies made him laugh.

Like Sara Lee baked goods, nobody doesn't like James Garner. Certainly not the woman he was married to for 57 years, Lois Clarke. Julie Andrews, his co-star in "The Americanization of Emily", admits "I don't know a lady who isn't a bit in love with him."

Perhaps I've always been trying to channel some of the James Garner charm. I've found there's no better way to make a middle-age woman feel good about herself, or flirt with her slightly, than to tell her what Garner told Sally Field as she walked down the hall in the hospital after being admitted for observation because of an auto accident caused by a horny farm boy, than when he gets a glimpse of her uncovered behind through the hospital gown.

"Well, I will say, you're seasoned, not sagging."


Monday, July 21, 2014

Walter Mitty

I have this Walter Mitty-like thought that I'm sitting in a journalism class and the professor asks us to sum up the headlines of the day in one word. Easy. "Conflict."

My answer is so good the professor asks me to elaborate, which I of course do with a well-spoken speech. I don't what answers the others in the class gave, or even how many others there are. I also don't know how old I am in the Mitty class. I just imagine the question and the answer.

Front page headlines by definition are never really about good news. If the event itself isn't tragic or attention getting on its own, the editors will attempt to make it so through size of type and choice of words.

Of course, there are enough people these days who believe print will disappear. Rupert Murdoch doesn't think it will any time too quickly, and certainly not if he has anything to do with it. He loves print. In a recent 'Fortune' magazine interview Rupert tells the reporter that he just came back from burying his mother. She passed away at 103 in Australia. Rupert plans to be with us.

So, to prove the "answer" I gave in class is always right, take today's front page headlines from the the NYT and the WSJ.

Missouri Alone in Resisting Prescription Drug Database
Victims' Bodies Held Hostage Over Distrust
Neighborhood Ravaged On Deadliest Say So Far For Both Sides in Gaza
In the Battleground of Words, Hatred and Muddied Reality

West Lays Blame With Russia
Israel, Hamas Clash in Deadly Day
Lucrative Drug Niche Sparks Legal Scramble

The world is a big place. It's a good thing.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Summer Place to Be. Bring More Money

In what is now my sixth year of doing this blog, I don't think I've ever taken the opportunity to "go public," editorialize, or point out something that's bothering me. Until now: the Saratoga racetrack general admission price increases for grandstand and clubhouse coming into effect. News of the $3 to $5, $5 to $8 prices is just reaching us downstate. It was a sealed deal back in December.

Since reading about the story in Sunday's New York Daily News I've followed the story online back to the upstate newspapers. No one's happy about this, but that lousy expression, "it is what it is" applies. (I swear that line came from the movie a 'Perfect Storm' when the swordfish boat 'Andrea Gail's owner explains the math to George Clooney on what his catch is worth to him.)

Nevertheless, the following letter was sent to a member of the New York Racing Association's (NYRA) board of directors who was said to be fairly outraged at the developments. I guess they, and a few others fell on that other side of The Supreme Court ruling. Putting the text of that letter in my blog, and then going #NYRA on Twitter, referring back to it, might get the sentiment some exposure. Social media.
July 15, 2014

Mr. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
NYRA, Board of Directors
PO Box 90
Jamaica, NY 11417

Dear Mr. xxxxxxxxxxxxx:

Just how stupid is NYRA that they want to, in the immortal words of John Hendrickson, "piss-off" every customer, every time they enter the track, six days a week for six weeks, a total of more people we are told than attend either a season of Rangers or Knicks games—as they pay the ridiculous increase in admission prices for either Clubhouse or Grandstand, absolute dollar sums and percentage increases that no sane American business would consider after already losing attendance in the prior year?

The story about the price increases is just now reaching us downstate. Downstate papers carry very little racing news. It was only Jerry Bossert’s Sunday Daily News story that lite the fuze.

Following that thread to online upstate papers, I read Hendrickson’s rich quote, and your own opposition to the price increases. I’ve mailed the attached letter to Mr. Christopher Kay, Governor Cuomo, and the Saratoga county State Senator, Kathleen Marchione.

I have been going to NYRA tracks now for 46 years, and there is a special mentality that seems to grip whomever is in charge. What other entertainment venue charges money to get in for the right to use the reserved seat that you have separately paid for? Raises that admission price, as well as raises the seating prices over the years? I’ve already got my reserved seats, and now will pay even more than last year just to put my butt in the seats I already paid for. (Season pass will not work for us.)

Let me give you an example of how NYRA thinks. And this is only recent history. The 21st Century.

In 2003, the Friday before the Belmont Stakes when Funny Cide was trying for the Triple Crown, I paid my $5 admission price to Belmont’s Clubhouse, went upstairs, and was confronted with the entire array (I mean every seat in the joint.) of seats roped off and usher guarded. It seems NYRA made people buy Friday’s ticket, as well as Saturday’s ticket if they wanted to see Funny Cide’s attempt.

Needless to say, people were able to read a calendar, and had no intention of going to the races when Funny Cide was not going to enter the starting gate. So, you had the usual sparse non-weekend Belmont crowd being greeted with thousands of seats they couldn’t sit in. They weren’t allowed.

I pitched such a fit that security lead me to the ground floor customer service, where after some vigorous talking, the woman reached behind her desk and gave me a reserved seat ticket, for Friday—in the Grandstand. I accepted the ticket, sat in the seat, then wrote a letter of complaint that I paid for Clubhouse and was made to sit in the Grandstand. I got some complimentary admissions.

Ever since then I seem to remember taking note that there were publicly posted notices at admission gates that admission didn't include a seat. I like to think I at least made them state what I already knew.

So, what value does NYRA have in store for us? More competitive contests like Sunday's Rockville Centre Stakes where only one horse had won a race, the few others hadn't even started? A $125,000 purse for that! The race unfolded in a sorry line of 5 horses struggling to finish the distance, separated by more than 35 lengths. Greater than Secretariat’s margin of victory. Exciting, right?

Oh, a newscaster upstate mentioned NYRA plans to give us all flat panel TVs. Well, not give, but provide for our viewing. Has NYRA walked into an appliance store lately? There are no other types of TVs available. You can’t buy anything else. They finally upgraded the downstate dining room TVs only recently. Giving snow away in the winter.

And let’s not even discuss this year’s Belmont Stakes. The WSJ carries a story before the race of how difficult it is for the LIRR to get trains out onto that spur. I started going to Belmont in 1968, by train, and there were always trains waiting to take us back to the city after the 8th and 9th races.(No 10th in those days.) Multiple trains already at the Belmont platforms. I guess those were the days.

There are fewer people in NYC with driver’s licenses, so NYRA and the LIRR must figure people are going to walk to the track. Because walking back was certainly an option.

We no longer do Belmont Days, for many reasons. Lots of stories in nearly 50 years of attendance. Common thread? The bad ones are brought to me by NYRA.

My hope is you share this letter and sentiments with your like-minded board members—and those who aren’t like-minded.

May the horse be with you. And in the right order.

Yours truly,

P.S. The best part of going to Saratoga used to be listening to Harvey Pack and Little Andy, especially when he had the dunce cap on his head. But then again, that was brought to us by Siro's and they provided the seats. Free.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Final Battle

It has taken several weeks, but the world is about to watch the World Cup soccer finals this coming Sunday. The match pits Germany against Argentina. This is quite significant, if not a spiritual message of some sort.

The current pope is from Argentina. The prior pope, who is still alive, is from Germany. At this point in the soccer tournament, games cannot end in a tie. It is the ultimate Pontiff Playoff. It is a zero-sum game. There has to be a winner.

But, in this final world battle, can there really be any winner?

Will there be a Monday?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Of A Certain Age

It's possible you've seen the television commercial for Viagra, an erectile dysfunction drug that portrays a user to be a manly man wearing a hard hat talking into a walkie-talkie while seemingly being the only guy around a massive pipeline, or chemical plant. The message is he knows what to do at 3 A.M. when no one else is around. Who you gonna call? This guy. He's of the certain age where he knows what to do.

He's going to report back to headquarters that there's nothing to worry about. He's flipped the right lever and now it's time to go home to his beauty queen runner-up who's just ready to take such a man into her arms. The moment is right. It's time for Viagra.

The commercial has of course made me think. I'm of a certain age. What do I know how to do?

I make sure I put the check into the correct envelope to refill my advance deposit wagering account. In industry terms, my ADW. This requires me to make a distinction between XPressBets and XPressScripts, who I of course send my mail order prescriptions to.

XPressBets and XPressScripts. The words are much alike. Almost like "pirate" and "pilot" in Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance." There can be little worse than having no money in the betting account while also having an empty medicine bottle, all because I chose the wrong envelope. I am of a certain age and I know what to do.

I also never set my garbage out on the curb the night before they're not scheduled to pick it up the next day. I read the town's annual sanitation schedule as closely as I read the obituary section of the newspaper. When the recent July 4th holiday rolled around I knew, unlike many, that there of course would be no pickup on Friday, and that there was no substitute date scheduled, like Saturday. Face it and stuff it. I am of a certain age and I know what to do.

When I go to the supermarket I never buy more than 10 items, which of course would disqualify me from the express line checkout. But I also never automatically default to the express line. I see who's doing the ringing up. A non-express line can move faster if you catch it right, like being at the tail end of someone who's finishing up while doing their own bagging. It doesn't happen often, but you've got to keep your options open.

I'm reporting back to headquarters. I am of a certain age and I know what to do.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Choice at the Narrows

In 1876 Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was surrounded by American Indians at what became known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Things did not go well for Colonel Custer and his men of the 7th Calvary Regiment that day. They all lost their lives.

Sometime in the 1960s a New York Times reporter, Gay Talese, found himself surrounded by American Indians in a bar in Brooklyn, hard by where the Verrazano-Narrows suspension bridge was being built.

Mr. Talese is still with us today, and at the age of 82 recounts the story of how one of the Mohawk ironworkers wanted to show his friendliness toward Mr. Talese by offering him sex with his sister.  Mr. Talese gives nothing further way, other than to tell us that, "the perks of being a reporter are surprisingly presented to you when you least expect them."

General Custer in his zeal to eradicate American Indians died with his boots on, probably next to his dead horse.

Gay Talese, during his assignment to interview American Indian ironworkers building the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, may or may not have gotten lucky one night in the 60s, but nevertheless has certainly lived well and into his 80s, extremely well-dressed and ready to tell tales.

This of course is just one more example of how the pen is mightier than the sword.

The times, they are always a changin'.