Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Pennny for Your Weight and Fortune

There was plenty of Humphrey Bogart in Lauren Bacall's recent obituary, all of it predicted by Ms. Bacall herself. She presciently noted that when she passed away her obit would be full of Bogey. Well, to a degree, it was, but she knew that would be understandable.

The front page NYT obit lead off with a picture of Bogey and Bacall from 1946. Most movies have memorable lines, but Bogart and Bacall's sentences could enter a greatest lines movie compendium. Maybe they already have.

A whole paragraph of Enid Nemy's obituary carries the dialog between "Slim," Bacall's character, and Steve, Bogart's character. It has to do with what it takes to hail a cab. Or a woman, it seems.

The dialog is from her first movie with Bogart in 1944, 'To Have and Have Not.' The plot concerns resistance fighter smuggling, boats, a night club,  and Bogart as a bit of an angel of mercy. Slim likes the adventure.

The movie is a classic based on the era and its stars. But, like most good movies, there's more dialog than what everyone imitates at a bar or party. Or, quotes.

Take the scene where Bogart plays a medical professional and removes a bullet from Paul de Bursac, a resistance fighter who was shot as Bogart was trying to get him out of the area in a boat. He does this of course while wearing the standard nautical cap of a pleasure boat captain. He does wash his hands first and sterilize the instruments the best he can.

Humphrey Bogart's father was a surgeon on the East Side of Manhattan, so naturally his character should have some medical expertise. A typical movie bullet removal ensues with the patient out cold, shoulder slit open a bit, and tweezer/pliers used to grope for the bullet, grab it and pull it out. The bullet is always held up by the extractor as a trophy of their work, and clinks into a metal tray.

Loss of blood is inevitable, and there is no chance of a transfusion in the cellar hovel where all this is going in: the basement of the nightclub hotel where Slim sings and Bogie sleeps. Paul's wife, Helene storms in to space and insists she must watch what's being done to her husband. You can tell Bogart doesn't think dames should be watching, but he's got no choice, since he's already scrubbed up and got a probe in Paul's shoulder.

Well. Bogie's right, because one look at what's going on and Helene faints dead away and collapses on the floor. (Good thing she's not around to view the new series 'The Knick' on Cinemax. She'd lose consciousness for a week.)

Bogie continues, attends to his patient and insures everything will be all right after the ritual rest is acquired and the patient is not moved for a while. Any appearance of a subsequent fever must be reacted to.

Bogie, being gallant, picks up the fainted dame with two hands in front of him and carries her into the outer room of the cellar. By this point in the movie, Bacall's character Slim has set her sights on Bogie, and another woman who is a damsel in distress is not to be trusted.

So, as Slim comes out of the room where the bullet was removed, she sees Bogie carrying the unconscious Helene to be stretched out and made as comfortable as possible.

The cat in the woman comes out, and with a simple sentence, she asks Bogie, "what are you trying to do, guess her weight."

Lauren Bacall was 19 when she made that movie with Bogart, and she married him as soon as he got a divorce from his third wife, Mayo Methot. She was 25 years younger than Bogart, but who wouldn't know what they wanted?

Ms. Bacall was born in Brooklyn; Bogart was born in Manhattan. Bacall was already a top model when she made the movie. She hadn't lead a sheltered life and by then was worldly enough to know about men.

I have to think that even if they hadn't met on a movie set, with her New York savvy and his movie persona, they would have met somewhere else and still ignited.

He had to marry her. Anyone would have wanted to marry her. She was a New York smart-ass. And very good looking.


Friday, September 26, 2014


I'm glad they finally came up with a term that captures the demographic of currently being young: The Millenials. And "currently" is the operative word there. Because, anyone who is an "aging baby-boomer" knows, the generational name stays the same, but the mail that shows up in the mailbox changes, as well as the adjective preceding it.

There is that I know of no domain naming committee that comes up with these names. There was of course a less demographic generation, "The Lost Generation," that wasn't really lost, unless you count stumbling out of Paris cafes at three in the morning and forgetting where you lived.

Don McLean in his song 'American Pie' tells us of "the generation lost in space." Again with the lost. There was the "Pepsi Generation," a Madison Avenue concept quite a few years ago that used the phrase to hawk Pepsi to that group on the beach jumping up and down for no reason at all, while looking good in their bathing suits, bikinis and hats.

I distinctly remember in high school a fellow student complaining of the English teacher who gave them the assignment of writing an essay on what it felt like to be part of that "Pepsi Generation." Considering that at point in our high school lives we we're probably 15-17 years old, I felt sorry for my friend. I was glad I wasn't in his class. I asked him if there was a contest involved.

Real estate listings in Manhattan used to brag that the apartment building they were trying to entice you to live was a "pre-war" building. This was the 60s, so pre-war was indisputably WWII. What the phrase meant, and was true, was that the building was constructed before WWII, and therefore did have bigger rooms and more sound proofing by virtue of the building material used. No sheet rock then.

I've looked up what the Web might tell me about the approximate age/year category of "The Millenials." Smartly, it is written is that there are no specific years that are hard-coded, so to speak, to generation designations. But, by the definition I read, the cast of Friends would not qualify as being young enough to a "Millenial." Just think.

Only one of my two kids could be considered a Millenial. The other is too old. She's back there with the cast of 'Friends,' which fittingly, was her favorite show.

I remember reading years and years ago something Russell Baker wrote about how all the people then on TV were a good deal younger than he was, especially in the commercials. I'm now probably about as old as he was when he wrote that, so if you stay awake, you'll encounter the same things.

The sales adage is "you can't sell anything to anyone over 50." How stupid. There are plenty of grey heads driving late model cars. There are few cars on the road that are 10 years old. There are plenty people driving over 50.

And how about pharmaceuticals? I happened to watch 20 minutes of CBS's 'Evening News' last night and was struck by how many consecutive commercials were from drug companies. Atrial fibrillation seems to be the latest category of ailments someone is taking aim at. Trying to get those who are already taking something for "a-fib" to switch to their "a-fib" product.

I don't really know how pervasive "a-fib" is. I don't know if it is more prevalent that "restless leg syndrome," but I do know my heart will flutter a bit when I consider going through Times Square and I realize Elmo over there might really be a suicide bomber from ISIS whose explosive vest is hidden by fake fur. There goes the intersection.

The A&E cable show 'Longmire' has been cancelled because the audience is too old. Well, I liked the show (so I guess they're right), about the widowed 50-something Wyoming sheriff who was still able to satisfy an attractive widowed ranch owner on the rustic living room table when the "moment was right." But, I guess, business is business.

But think of it. If print newspapers are on the rocks, so too might be the evening news. I've never liked televised news. It dwells on stories that if I were to encounter them in a newspaper, I'd just glance past them (manhunt in Virginia).  But that's not the point. At that point in the day, whatever the networks are yakking about, it's not "news" anymore. At least not to the under-50 crowd. Thus, the ads for the population needing medication. The under-50s have already caught two sentences, and pictures, on the latest through the day on their phone. Their smartphone.

The age dividing line at this point is the phone. The cell phone. I read a review of Research in Motion's latest smartphone entry into the market, the "BlackBerry Passport."  BlackBerry, as anyone who overhears these things, has been in trouble. The iPhone and Microsoft have buried them. And there they were, basically first with the keypad and everything. The last job I had, which was only three years ago, issued me an BlackBerry. I liked it, but hey, what did I know?

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the reporter, Joanna Stern writes a review of the freshly released BlackBerry device. First, she waxes rhapsodically about how attached she was to her first BlackBerry. You would think she wore it with her prom dress. The thumbnail sketch of Ms. Stern that accompanies the article clearly reveals she's a Millenial. Or, maybe not.

She basically buries the phone by telling us "the Passport has some neat tricks and longer battery life than the competition, but it's living in the past. It's not 2005 anymore." She quotes someone's reaction that it's a "deformed laptop."

But "not 2005!" That was nine years ago, and if Ms. Stern is already separating herself from that era, she just might have started to age past the entry point of the "The Millenials." I really don't know what generation she might really be in then. "X?"

I'm hardly against anyone who is younger, so long as they stay off the front lawn. We've seen the overhead pictures of the snake lines of people lining up outside an Apple store on Fifth Avenue. Lining up for a phone! "Ms. Stern tells us  The BlackBerry Passport is available for $600 without a contract, and about $250 with one. That can't be cheap at twice the price.

As kids in the 50s we strung wire between two tin cans and hoped we could hear each other 30 feet away. We longed for walkie-talkies so we could tell each other where the bad kids were hiding that were looking to jump us.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if I was a "Millenial," I'd be lining up for a phone somewhere too.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

The English Kardashians

It's not often I get to write a second obituary posting on the same person, but the reach back in time of Deborah Cavendish's time is nearly a century

It's hard to believe there was woman alive on Tuesday who at 17, along with a sister named Unity, had tea with Hitler in Munich in 1937 and wrote home "...seen all the sights." But certainly not was about to come.

The sister, in love with Hitler and apparently second in his affections only to Eva Braun, tried to commit suicide when England declared war on Germany and died 10 years later with the bullet still lodged in her head.

The Mitford sisters were the Edwardian Kardashians. It's almost too bad we didn't get them in the era of texting and video phones. Their legacy would have been better shared by millions. A reality show with the Mitford girls would have been more global. In addition to Unity in love with Hitler, there was Diana, a fascist who married Oswald Mosley, England's fascist leader, with Goebbels and Hitler as witnesses. Tiny Tim getting married on the Tonight show with Johnny and Ed and all of us as witnesses shows you how popular a show would have been on the Mitfords.

Diana and Oswald were thrown in England's Holloway hoosegow for the duration of WWII. Whether they were in orange is not known. Deborah visited her sister in prison.

In today's NYT the print world catches up with the death of the Dowager Duchess of Devenoshire. In Britain of course, The Telegraph has produced its recognition of the Duchess.

We learn a good more about the family than be did through yesterday's BBC video/print mix of an obituary.

We knew about Nancy the writer, Unity and the Fuhrer, Diana the fascist, and Jessica the communist, who eloped with a nephew of Churchill. We additionally learn sister Pamela as a child wanted to be a horse. She married a famous jockey, and the belief is he always had a mount, at least until be became a physicist. The brother Thomas was killed in action in WWII. The family alone could keep Rupert Murdoch from ever going out of business.

Deborah was more sedate. She saw herself as a "housewife," even if the joint does have 32 kitchens and 68 bathrooms. It's always the kitchen and bathroom that define a place anyway.

Duchess Deborah and her husband turned his family estate, Chatsworth, into a tourist attraction, while also producing branded food and gift items for sale. The Duchess became highly knowledgeable about chickens, and kept many varieties on the grounds, free-range in the most literal sense.

Some of the items they put on sale at Chatsworh were "Duchess Marmalade" and the "Duke's Favorite Sausage." Think Jimmy Dean Sausage hawked by a guy in a WWII officer's uniform who looks like he's going to invade Poland, and I think you get the picture of how enterprising she and her husband became to keep the family estate from crumbling. The businesses continue to pay the bills.

Another example of the Duchess's marketing prowess was to produce a cook book titled "The Chatsworth Cookery Book" in 2003 with the introduction, "I haven't cooked since before the war." Imagine Kelly Ripa or Kathie Lee Gifford compiling recipes and telling us they don't cook.  The book would probably sell as well as the Duchess's. Titled authors and celebrities sell.

Comparing the two print obituaries, Robert McFadden's piece identified a son Peregrine and two sisters as immediate survivors. The Duke passed away in 2004. The Telegraph says the son's name is Stoker. You have to hand to the English when they name their kids.

Peregrine and Stoker are probably the same person. If not, then we need Agatha Christie's Miss Marple to find the birth certificate for what is probably an out-of-wedlock birth. The reality show might still continue.

In 1999 Deborah Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was made a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (DCVO) by Queen Elizabeth for her work in preserving a heritage.

There is nothing like a dame.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Lovely Span of Ds

For some reason, one of John Updike's very early poems always sticks in my mind. It is "I Missed the Book, But Read His Name.' The poem derives from Mr. Updike reading a 1960s notice in the New York Times that 'The SilverPilgrimage' by
M. Anantanarayanan, 160 pages. Criterion. $3.95, is now available. The price affirms it was the 60s.

In four four line stanzas, Mr. Updike riffs on the name, "...a lovely span of a's and n's..." Every time I see the word Canada I think of the a's, as well as when I see Saratoga, also a nice span of a's.

So, when @obitsman Tweeted a link to a BBC obituary that brought us the news that Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire has passed away at 94, what else could my mind have been brought back to? A lovely span of d's.

Deborah apparently was the last of the Mitford sisters, a lively bunch of ladies that wrote novels, had tea with Hitler, married a fascist and another who became a communist. Deborah was more like the English version of Martha Stewart. She stayed at home at Chartsworth, a pile on 30,000+ acres and turned it into a tourist attraction to help keep the place up.

Chatsworth, as you might imagine from the sound of it, is another pile like Highclere Castle, where 'Downton Abbey' is filmed, and where the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon get their junk mail and sales circulars delivered.

Deborah was the youngest of the Mitford sisters, and at 94 is the last of them. The family had six girls and one boy, and in one family picture you might think they were the Von Trapp family. Apparently, if they sang, it didn't get past the ballroom.

The BBC obituary link is a great example of what online journalism can be. A mix of text and informative video. Thus, we see a very attractive Deborah in what looks like the 1960s bearing a striking resemblance to Jacqueline Kennedy. She was at a JFK White House affair and who knows, given JFKs reputation as a ladies man. He could have claimed he just got mixed up.

Deborah becomes a Duchess by marrying Andrew Cavendish during WWII. His home, Chatsworth, has been in his family since 1549. Dorothy becomes a Dowager Duchess by virtue of being Sir Andrew's widow.

In 'Downton Abbey' we of course have Lord Grantham's mother, Lady Violet, played with sharpened tongue and mind by Maggie Smith. Lady Violet is also referred to as the 'Dowager Duchess.' So, like the comedian Alan King smartly observed, more women seem to outlive men. I'm sure in England, there were way more Dowagers than widowed Dukes and Earls.

Their chaps might have just called them 'Lucky.'


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Red Heads

A few entries ago I remarked that I'd be missing Maureen Dowd on Wednesdays for at least a quick glance. Ms. Dowd is now only appearing once a week, on Sundays. I do not get the Sunday Times, but I get all the other days of the week. I get them at CVS, so they're not home delivered. I'm a newsstand subscriber in effect, not a home delivery subscriber. As such, I only have digital access to 10 articles a month for free, like anyone else who chooses to go online.

I'm not seen as a subscriber because my purchases aren't in effect registered with the digital world. Thus, I'm not granted unlimited digital access like they grant their home delivery people. I understand the paywall and think it's okay. But, I don't understand why I'm not given a chance to prove, through QR codes, or something, that I'm a subscriber. Letters to NYT executives go unanswered.

Regardless, there are enough ways around the paywall that I'm not too upset about things. Just inconvenienced. So, when I spotted that Maurren Dowd wrote in last Sunday's column that she was on Willie's bus getting high, I needed to research the story.

I love Willie Nelson all the time. I like Maureen Dowd, some of the time. No matter. There was going to be a way to read the cleverly headed column 'Two Redheaded Strangers.' And I did, and once again Ms. Dowd used a word I knew nothing about.

Apparently, the whole meeting with Willie on his bus home came about when Ms. Dowd wrote about consuming parts of a marijuana candy bar in Colorado and then describing the paralytic high it brought on. Lucky for Ms. Dowd she was in her hotel room when this occurred and the lousy high wore off after eight hours. Lucky for Ms. Dowd I guess was that she didn't miss checkout and didn't get dinged for another day.

Through a Rolling Stone interview Willie recounted reading about Ms. Dowd's bad experience with Willie's favorite substance and invited her to come on his bus/home whenever she could and he'd set her straight on how to handle the stuff.

Willie, at 81 has just released a terrific album, 'Band of Brothers.' It contains songs he's recently written and is superbly produced by Buddy Cannon, who is also credited with co-writing the songs with Willie.

When I first heard the album I immediately thought at 81, Willie has produced a great piece of work. The sixth selection on the album, 'I Thought I Left You' has some of the least likely lyrics you'll ever hear on a breakup song, but they are as hilarious, as they are deeply expressed.

"...you' re like the measles,
you're like the whooping cough,
I've already had you..."

Whoever thought their childhood diseases could equate to lousy love?

Ms. Dowd accepts Willie's invitation after a concert he does in D.C. On the bus, Willie points out the information needed before consumption of edible pot. Basically strength, then portion control. Sort of like milligram dosage of a traditional pharmaceutical drug.

Ms. Dowd of course uses the Willie bus interview/lesson learned, and writes a column. And she doesn't miss a chance to plop in a word that sends me the dictionary. 

Colorado it seems needs to instruct people on how to consume marijuana. Not all customers are seasoned pot heads. There are novices, like Ms. Dowd in her hotel room, that are trying the stuff without knowledge of what kind of stuff they've got.

So, like any good public safety concerned state, Colorado has started campaigns to instruct the public. The Marijuana Policy Project. Ms. Dowd writes:
"Trying to prevent any more deaths, emergency-room trips or runaway paranoia, the Marijuana Policy Project has started an educational campaign called “Consume Responsibly.” Its whimsical first billboard in Denver shows a bandjaxed redhead in a hotel room — which is far too neat to be mine — with the warning: “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation. With edibles, start low and go slow.”
All this reminds me of when New York introduced off-track wagering on horse racing in 1971. In a nod to the concerned clergy and social workers that the state was embarking on the creation of destructive, career-ruining gamblers, the slogan "Bet With Your Head, Not Over It." became a mainstay of Off-Track Betting advertising. A health warning like on a pack of cigarettes.
But what about that word "bandjaxed'? A stoned-out groupie? Close. "Ruin, destroy, incapacitate." So, we get the picture. In order to avoid becoming someone like Ms. Dowd after her candy bar consumption, "Start Low, Go Slow." Seemingly good advice, based on Ms. Dowd's description of her lousy high.
So, we always knew Willie was a pot guru, and now we know Ms. Dowd has been properly instructed on better ways to enjoy the weed in the future, if she decides to. We also know Willie has forsaken alcohol for the green stuff, but Ms. Dowd admits to chardonnay consumption.
The hope is that neither one will get so whacked out of their gourd that they stop writing songs and stop using words that send me to the dictionary.

The Practical Miracle

I once worked with someone who talked of "practical miracles." They read it somewhere, and firmly believed that when something happens that's good, it's something you've been waiting for, even if you haven't been thinking about it constantly.

I pretty much concurred with her because why argue about the existence of something neither of us can prove or disprove? I'd just call it good-luck, or serendipitous, and it would be the same thing.

Well today, I had TWO practical miracles. Unfortunately, my co-worker is no longer with us to tell her. It would be a true miracle if I could tell her. The "practical miracles" may not seem like much, and I'm certainly not financially richer beyond belief, but, I do have sharpened gardening shears and knives AND an explanation for the B that appears at the end of the name of some thoroughbred races. I am richer than Croesus right now.

A gardening adage is it's time to prune whenever the pruning shears are sharp. I keep a pair in the kitchen drawer to facilitate the urge to trim in front of the house, and a pair in the shed when doing the back.

They're good quality, and left-handed for my use. They get dull and I try to sharpen them on my own, but I never get back to the sharpness I started with after I've picked the shears up from the place I've taken them to in NYC, Westphal's, on 25th Street, just west of Sixth Avenue.

Using Westphal's was always easy because I worked nearby. It's a narrow storefront that runs deep into the back and looks like it should collapse. But, it's a busy enough place and they do good work. They help service what's left of the garment trade in the area, and the student and faculty at Fashion Institute College, (FIT) nearby. One of the women there told me pilots used to come in a lot with kitchen knives near the holidays. Post 9/11, this isn't happening.

But, I'm no longer in the area like I used to be, and access to Westphal's becomes a bit harder. I was trying to find sharpening services where I live, but none popped up. I was straining to hear the slowly clanging bell signifying the sharpener was coming down the block with his grinding wheels and was ready for business.

I asked my wife if she's ever heard the bell, and she said no. I remember the sharpeners who came down the block when I was a kid in Flushing. I think the guy pulled out a foot-pedal grinding wheel and sharpened whatever came flying out of people's homes.

Well, both shears have been dull, there's work to do, and I'm annoyed I'm not getting to Westphal's. I even dream last night that a sharpening service has opened up in the neighborhood and I bring by shears and knives over.

So, what happens? The next day: Clang. Another clang. Another Clang. It's 1:00 o'clock and this can't be the ice cream man. The clang is a few blocks over, but quite clear. Could this be a sharpener?

And then, the clang comes up the block. Clang. A slowly moving short blue truck.Vet's Sharpening Service. Clang. there's no one flying out of their doors. They're all at work. But me. I flag the guy down, which is not hard to since he is going about three miles an hour.

How much for...? Don't move. He's not. Fifteen minutes later and $25 lighter, I'm trimming hosta stalks off the plants and having the time of my life getting clean cuts.

Do you have a card? Can I call you next time I've got a batch of things that need sharpening? Like a shovel? Sure. I'm in heaven.

And then, did I get an e-mail/twitter answer from anyone regarding my inquiry as the why there are thoroughbred races with a B after their name, and other races with no B. The Union AvenueB100K; DreamRush100K. No B. Why?

In handicapping, every notation means something. So, what are they telling us about races when these un-graded stake races can have a B and not have a B.

That same morning after my sharpening dream, I write to the racing secretary at the New York Racing Asssociation (NYRA) asking this question: To B or not to B. Since I just mailed the letter I can't expect an answer yet. But, I use social media and contact Equibase, a compiler of past performances. I also try other people and organizations.

After returning to the house with sharp tools for the drawer and shed, I see Equibase has answered me. B is a Black Type race. I know what this means. It's a high level race that will be in black type (bold) when the horse comes up for breeding to designate either winning the race, or placing second or third in the race. The more black type races in a horse's past, the more likely they will command a higher price for breeding. And their offspring will be considered to have a better chance of being good.

Equibase has also thoughtfully given me a link to a page from the NAICSC, the North American International Committee Standards outlining the criteria for a Black Type designation.

I stay in heaven.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Day at the Races

Saturday, Belmont Park, September 20, 2014: The weather is clear, the track is fast, the turf is firm, There are 10 races carded on the day, and basically, all are worthy of attention. And they get it.

Small gathering of the faithful met and sat in the 3rd Floor stands of Belmont's Clubhouse section. With a newly introduced common $5 admission for anywhere in the track, the Clubhouse is no longer a bit more exclusive due to its price.

Still, there are few people sitting in the Clubhouse stands. Really a few. A good size elevator, like one in the subway in upper Manhattan, would seemingly hold all the people that are sitting in the seats.

Things started well, and ended well, but in between there was disappointment. Three split exactas, running 1-3, photo finishes for second that didn't go in one's favor can be discouraging. The winning on the last race continued the lifetime tradition of hitting the last race more often than any other race on the card.

So what's so entertaining about that? The eighth race. The feature.

Feature races are the races on the card with the biggest purse. Generally, the best horses competing who meet the criteria for eligibility for the race and who have been trained for the spot. The feature can be graded, I, II, or III, with I being considered the highest. Saturday's feature was a bit low-key: Gallant Bloom Handicap for fillies and mares, three years old and up, to run six and a half furlongs on the main track (dirt, not turf), Grade II affair. $300,000 purse. Not bad.

A six and a half furlong face is considered a sprint, and the Gallant Bloom has attracted six top sprinters, with several career wins each with large accumulated earnings (purse money won).

The one horse, Artemis Agrotera is the favorite, and deservedly so, How horses come to get the names they get is always a bit of a story and a mystery. Most of the time the names are derived from the immediate breeding of the horse: the sire, the sire's sire, the mare and the mare's sire.

This of course is not always the case. There was one owner who named his filly Flat Fleet Feet in the hopes that the name would completely tongue-tie the race calling announcer. (It didn't.)

If wordplay is your thing, you can fun with horses names. Like Marie Antoinette, who ran yesterday, but lost by more than a head. It can go one and on.

Back to Artemis Agrotera. A men's cologne? The horse is sired by Roman Ruler, from an A.P. Indy mare Indy Glory. Fusaichi Pegasus is Roman Ruler's sire. Good sprint breeding.

But where does an name like Artemis Agrotera come from? When there are names like that, they generally come from either Greek or Roman mythology. Bingo. Artemis was a Greek deity, and the Greek poet Homer referred to her as Artemis Agrotera, "Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals." The successful owners and breeders, Chester and Mary Broman, no doubt do crossword puzzles in ink.

So, the race. Artemis is seen as the primary speed. Get in front, stay there, and coast to victory. That's what she did in her last race, The Ballerina at Saratoga on August 23rd, Travers Day. Pressed the leader hard, moved to the front, and won by six lengths, defeating seven other horses. As some would say, she's the 'mortal lock.' The odds reflect this. 1/5, 2/5, 3/5, finishing at 2/5. This is called "odds-on" and at 2/5 pays $2.80 to win on a $2 bet. On a stock, a 40% gain would be seen as a great thing. On a race, it is seen as a foolish bet by most because it requires risking a good deal of capital to make an appreciable return. However, this doesn't discourage some. Risk is in every part of their name.

Every race usually contains a mix of horses who did not totally make up the field of any prior race. Races are snowflakes; each one is different.

In this particular race, even though there are only five other horses to challenge Artemis, there is other "speed." The prevailing handicapping wisdom sees doom for Artemis if she doesn't secure the lead. If either Bridgehampton or La Verdad gets the lead, Artemis might struggle home, second, or even be out of the money. A terrible fate for a horse on the board at 3/5 and 2/5. And certainly not good for the money bet on Artemis. But certainly good for others.

Starting gate doors pop open. Artemis, breaking sixth, does not get the lead. La Verdad does, and is making the most of it. Sprinting to first and as they say, "peeling off" fractions that are suicidal for finishing the race first. Pace makes the race, and a perfect pace is needed. La Verdad is a four-legged rocket with a man on its back: the first quarter, two furlongs, is run in 21 3/5 . Fast. Blistering fast. The lead is a half a length. The half mile mark, four furlongs, is passed in an astonishing 43 3/5, and the lead is three lengths. We're seeing an F-16 gallop. The lead into the stretch is four lengths, leaving less than a quarter of a mile to go. Looking good, despite the suicide pace.  Basically, empty air is behind La Verdad.

Meanwhile, Artemis is looking bad. Fifth place at the quarter pole, approximately nine lengths back of the leader. At the half, in sixth place, Artemis is just under eight lengths back of the leader. This looks bad for that home team.

Going into stretch, Artemis Agrotera, is fourth, very wide, but things are a bit better: just under six lengths back of the leader, La Verdad. but still behind three horses.

The six furlongs is run in 1:08 3/5, an extremely fast time considering there is still a half of furlong left, 110 yards.

La Verdad did not stop running fast. Victory and glory were going to be hers despite the four-legged
'Mistress of Animals' coming down her right side. All that front-end speed and the margin of the lead were going to work, despite the suicidal pace. It certainly looked that way, until it didn't.

Artemis of course hadn't stopped running, even though at the outset it looked like she was going to throw in a clinker. She just kept running, and running faster.

If you can imagine air disappearing, then you imagine that there was less and less air separating the two horses. Sitting close to the wire it wasn't hard to realize that Artemis Agrotera has just passed La Verdad and was winning the race by a head. Not a great margin of victory, but a win is a win.

Exciting. No exacta was personally hit, despite having La Verdad in some possibilities. Artemis was left out.

The Daily Racing Form chart caller was effusive in their description of what Artemis had done: "...charged home with an amazing display of determination and speed to wrest away the decision in the last jump." No bad words for La Verdad.  Just "...got reeled in right at the wire."

In fact, watching a full replay of the race, and seeing the lead La Verdad had deep in the stretch, close to the wire, and how much ground Artemis was trying to make up, well, you think Artemis is not going to win the replay.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Last Word

A professionally written newspaper obituary generally ends with a quote from the deceased that is meant to reflect the breadth of their life, or their general attitude toward their living. Sometimes this last word quote is a zinger from someone else about the deceased. In either case, it is short, and can easily be remembered or repeated over cocktails later in the day, or said to someone during a commercial break.

And sometimes, the last word is just about equal to what someone else said in nearly similar circumstances. There you have it. Multiple people with the same earthy take on things.

Take George E. Barrett, who has passed away at 86. Mr. Barrett receives a top to bottom two column obituary in the NYT on September 2, 2014. He fought college segregation in Tennessee. As a lawyer, he sued Microsoft in an anti-trust suit and won a $64 million dollar settlement. He once represented the Ku Klux Klan in a First Amendment case. He defended a strip club called 'Brass Staples' (No wonder the women took their clothes off if they were held on by brass staples.) He was a thorn is several sides when you were the other side. You easily get the picture.

Well, the last word for Mr. Barrett, adroitly chosen and placed by the obit writer Douglas Martin, is a quote Mr. Barrett made to the Vanderbilt Law School alumni publication in 2012.

"I've never really been part of the establishment. But if you live long enough, you become the respected eccentric."

Okay, it's from a movie, but that's nearly exactly what John Huston said as the Noah Cross character in the 1974 movie 'Chinatown.' Noah Cross is a bearded, aged, crusty, conniving owner of a major supply of water that feeds into southern California in the 1930s, with plans to leverage the value of water to even greater wealth for himself. Cross brags to Jake Gittes, the private eye character played by Jack Nicholson, that he, Cross, fits the adage that "politicians, public buildings and whores all gain respectability if they last long enough."


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Another New Word

There is one of those new type of shows now showing on Cinemax called 'The Knick.' Being a cable station, and not an over-the-air-station, allows a programming content you just wouldn't get otherwise.

'The Knick' is short for The Knickerbocker, a fictional hospital in downtown New York City at around the turn-of-the century. The turn that saw the 1800s become the modern 1900s. The postcard at the right is a somewhat bright looking version of how the Knickerbocker might look from the outside.

The main character is a drug addicted surgeon played by Clive Owen. But there are other characters, of course.

To me, the building is as much a character as the actors. The gas lighting, candle lighting, and emerging electrical lighting add as much to the atmosphere as the solid wooden floors that echo the footsteps of the staff.

In the early 60s I remember delivering flowers to a hospital that looked something like the Knickerbocker. It was uptown, not downtown, and was Women's Hospital I believe, 109th Street or so. It was set back from a stone wall, somewhat like the Knickerbocker is set back from iron railings and a courtyard, of sorts.

The Knickerbocker's hospital administrator is a fellow named Herman Barrow, and is probably like anyone in a position of trust these days who is in a financial bind. He has put his hands in the cookie jar big time and is trying like hell to change his fortune for having done so.

He has misappropriated hospital funds to invest in the stock market, only to see the promised sure thing evaporate in the "drop of '98." That's 1898, by the way. He's into a loan shark, Bunky Collier, as unsavory a character as there ever was. The guy is Fagin and Bill Sykes rolled into one.

If getting money out of people is like pulling teeth, and the person has no money to be gotten from, well then, a tooth will do until the currency comes forward. Pliers. Hold the Novocaine.

Barrow's made deals with the electrical contractors so that he can skim off the top: a kickback that kicks back, as it were. Thus, Mr. Barrow is ripe for opportunities to try and get the money back into the hospital funds before being discovered. Barrow is in deep, deep do-do with Collier.

Thus, when a Roundsman, as a NYC patrolman was called then, named Phinny Sears approaches Barrow with an opportunity to make some money indirectly from the skin trade, he turns a listening ear toward the enterprising young man.

Bunky Collier is organized crime himself, as we would know it today. He's at least a loan shark, and a runner of several of the city's whorehouses. The young Roundsman has seen Barrow go in and out of one of Mr. Collier's joints at early hours, so he rightly suspects Collier is known to Barrow. Phinny is looking for an introduction so that he might pitch a proposition to Collier.

He gains his introduction to see Collier and his pitch is this: Being a Roundsman in the Tenderloin District (read the area that became Times Square, or thereabouts) he can supply any number of women he arrests for soliciting as candidates for the more genteel occupation of plying their trade in a house run by Collier. For this, he'll take some renumeration. And so will Barrow, for getting the ball rolling, so to speak. A finder's fee, if you will. There have always been lobbyists.

Bunky's interest is aroused, and even more so when two candidates are waiting outside his doorway ready for orientation. Even in the dim lighting, it is possible to see that one is white and the other black. "I don't normally keep coons," he shouts. "But you have a nice figure. If a customer asks, tell them you're an octoroon." A what? Replay through the DVR and a flick of the close captioning tells me yes, "octoroon."

Dictionary please. Turns out octoroon is "a person having one-eighth black blood; the offspring of a quadroon and a white person." I get it. A light-skinned black whose ancestry is not all black; in fact, fairly diluted by inter-marriage with a white person.

In one of those Ken Burns documentaries on jazz, there was some time spent on 'The Cotton Club' in NYC's Harlem in its heyday. All the entertainers were black, and all the patrons were white. It was controlled by Frank Costello, the more refined Bunky Collier of the era.

A great deal of popular music came out of the Cotton Club, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, to name just a very few. I used to see Cab Calloway in the clubhouse at Belmont, standing just outside the binocular rental stand. He was tall, well dressed, and looked like he was ready to dance. And when an old-timer passed by and recognized him and said "hi-de-hi-de-ho." Cab acknowledged the lyrical greeting and almost started to dance. I think his mind wanted to, but his body pretty much said not now, not anymore.

In the Ken Burns documentary, one of performers told of the criteria for getting accepted to be a black dancer at the Cotton Club. The paper bag test. If your skin was no darker than a brown paper bag, you had a chance. If it was darker, fuhgetaboutit.

I suppose if the Cotton Club were to advertise, they might have said, "Only octoroons need apply."


Tuesday, September 16, 2014


The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

Twelve years. Still true.
No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

He didn't put an end to you.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Joan Rivers and the Economist

I'll assume Ann Wroe of the 'Economist' wrote the obit on Joan Rivers that appears in this week's issue. I find it somewhat flattering that Ms. Wroe devotes a good bit of space to Joan's purse, as my "tribute" to Joan does. And that mine was written and posted before Ann's opus, I'm even flattered more.

Someone who was studying comedy was once looking into the occurrence of two or more people developing the same joke, at the same time, completely unknown to each other. I have no idea how they made out.

Ms. Wroe speculates about the purse contents as well. She comes up with very different items than I did, but no less plausible. Purses are important to a woman (and even young girls) and I'm sure help drive a fashion economy that probably upsets the balance of payments between nations. Two daughters and a wife, and I have first hand knowledge.

Mr. Wroe's tribute to Joan is a hoot. You wonder if Joan reached down and hit the SEND command herself.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A New Word, Every Now and Then

I started reading Maureen Dowd's column 'Liberties' on the NYT Op-Ed page I guess almost as soon as she landed there under that heading. After only a few columns I realized that despite her light work load of only producing two columns a week, she nearly always had a word in a column that I had to look up. My vocabulary is actually pretty good, even if I say so myself, but Ms. Dowd would still send me scurrying to the dictionary. The one that's in books.

I only now occasionally read Ms. Dowd, not because of having to haul out a dictionary (my choice, I know there are easier ways), but because I wearied of what she was writing about and how. But that's not the point.

Every so often I would take in a column because it started off with interest, and finished while still making sense. And sure enough, she still sent me to a dictionary.

I finally decided to do a blog posting of words from her columns that I had to look up. So far, I've only managed two words, from two columns. This is because of inattentive reading on my part, but now also exacerbated by a footnote I read on the Op-Ed page that Ms. Dowd would now appear in Sunday's paper only. Thus, once a week. For several reasons, I don't get Sunday's NYT.

Once a week. I remember reading something Russell Baker wrote, perhaps even after he retired, that he was surprised to see columnists appear only twice a week, unlike the three deadlines he faced each working week for many, many years. I always thought he might have been taking aim at Ms. Dowd's light twice weekly schedule. Which is now a once a week schedule. (Her column took over Baker's space on his retirement.)

I've read Ms. Dowd say she spends seven hours a day on her columns. Perfectly believable. What I'll miss at this point is the Wednesday glance at finding a word I might not know. Here are the two I recently mined. And just for fun, after these two, I'm going to scan the most recent Sunday column and see if another one pops up.

Ms. Dowd writing about the possible Metropolitan Opera strike:

"Doubtless the Met Workers have Nibelungen fatigue." Does the pharmacy industry know about this? I haven't head this one described during a Yankee game. Is it a new diagnosis for loss of bladder control? Do I have it?

Rest easy. It's Ms. Dowd clever reference to the followers of Siegfried who stole the gold from the subterranean race of dwarfs ruled over by Nibelung. It all dates to a German epic, 'Nibelungenlied.'

The translation is made a bit simpler when in the following text Ms. Dowd tells us that the workers are pissed at Peter Gelb, the Met general manager, who spent $19 million dollars on a 45-ton set of movable planks to stage Wagner's 'Ring' cycle. (From what I saw of this in the news, it allowed performers to be pulled up vertically.) And then there's the $169,000 for poppies in 'Prince Igor.'

Ms. Dowd writing about the Republicans' lawsuit against President Obama:

"The Republicans go absolutely nuts and realize that their lawsuit, the mini-me of impeachment will not..."

No straightforward definition of 'mini-me' in the OED (shorter version). But, we can divine the meaning easy enough from knowing the prefix 'mini': small. Thus, somewhat like Bill Cosby's very early-in-his-career routine of having his tonsils out as a kid and laying on the gurney and wanting ice cream and yelling to anyone who walked by, "Hey you, almost a doctor..." Almost an impeachment. Easy enough, when you think about it.

Checking Ms. Dowd's most recent Sunday column (online)...

Ms. Dowd writes about President Obama and his take on social media:

"...and his adamantine belief that his Solomonic wisdom...

Adamantine means "rigidly firm."

Not bad, but nowhere near as colorful as "Nibelungen fatigue." I'm going to miss Maureen on Wednesdays.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lung and Word Power

I was thinking just the other day that I hadn't seen a NYT obituary bylined by Margalit Fox recently. I've been back from vacation for over two weeks now, it's after Labor Day, and no M. Fox.

Had the recent masthead changes at the NYT trickled down to the obituary people? Did Ms. Fox have a titanic argument with the editor that forced both into a resignation, her words putting the editor in the hospital; his words bouncing off, but still leaving her packing up a box?. Two chess players who resign at the same time? How would you score that? Employment openings in the obituary section, that's how.

That I know, none of this happened. Ms. Fox is evident in full, fine word power today writing about an opera singer whose first half of their career was over before the United States entered WWII. At 104, Magda Olivero has passed away.

We're sufficiently deep into the 21st century that subtracting anyone's age who has passed away and is a 100 plus, still leaves us with someone born at the opening of only the last century. Goodbye late 1800s.

No matter. Mr. Olivero lived enough for two lives, still singing in public at 99. She was either very good, or very bad, depending on who you listened to or read, or what decade you were in. One thing for certain, she was incredibly popular. If Arnold Palmer inspired golf followers who were called "Arnie's Army," Magda Olivero's rabid fans were called "Magdamaniacs."

Ms. Olivero's voice has been described as being "nothing."  It was also described as producing "singing with an abandon and fervor that leaves you exhausted."

The reference sources that are accessed in order to deliver an obituary that is probably comparable to an Olivero performance seem to be considerable. And if getting to them on deadline were what was needed, than the obituary deserves a standing "brava."

Just think of Ms. Olivero's range across the years. Born in 1904, and debuting at the Met at 71 as Tosca. Still singing in public one year shy of being 100.

Think how much longer the Rolling Stones have to go to equal this woman's longevity. It's very hard to imagine Mick Jagger performing at 99. The odds are already defied that he's still at it at 71. But, we may be two-thirds of the way through history repeating itself.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

She's Back

She's back where she belongs.

In this case, on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal, above the fold, where Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is seen with other world leaders looking up at the latest Calvin Klein fall fashion underwear ad in New York's Times Square.

There were no direct quotes, although some leaders professed they would try and get to the gym more often.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Joan Rivers

The obituary doesn't open with any cute ledes about parts of her body being younger than her. There is a quick reference to a penchant for nip-and-tuck procedures, but nothing that could be fodder for other comedians. Even armchair ones.

Joan made it to being a stand-up comedic Jewish Zsa Zsa Gabor, who I first remember seeing appear on the Johnny Carson show in the 1960s as she came on to the guest seat carrying her purse. She appeared on Carson often in those days, and always had her purse with her.

Why she was afraid to leave it backstage is unknown. Maybe she kept it close by because it had all her charge cards. She was the Mrs. Miller in the audience who made it to the guest chair, then the host's chair. Eventually, she stopped hauling her purse in front of everyone.

I mentioned the purse to someone who was applying to a job we had for being a database administrator, a highly specialized IT job. A young woman made it through the gauntlet of pre-selection interviews and somewhat proudly told me she achieved building a database for the Comedy Club over a period of several years. I professed admiration, but wasn't impressed that it took someone years to build a database, Comedy Club, or not.

She told me about some of the acts that would appear and I jumped the track and told her about Joan and Johnny and Joan's purse. The applicant was way too young to have seen the Tonight shows when they were first aired, but said she could get me an audition. I declined, thanked her for her time, and  hired someone else.

If Joan Rivers always seemed to be hold age at bay, the NYT helped her a bit yesterday when their online home page carried the story of her death and told all who looked closely at the heading that Joan lived from 1933-1914. (It was corrected.) One surely wonders what they'll do when Ol' Shirl, Shirley MacLaine passes away. Ms. MacLaine so believes in reincarnation that the Times might have to print some of their text in ancient Arabic.

I'd like to think I lived in the same apartment building as Joan and was already in the elevator when she was quickly locking her door and yelling toward the elevator, "HOLD THAT ELEVATOR."

Who wouldn't have wanted to be in an elevator with Joan Rivers?


Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Novel

As I think I've written before, I don't necessarily read a great number of books, but I do read about a great number of books. I read the book reviews, principally in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

I'm not much for novels, but I do quickly see if a review of a novel convinces me the novel sounds promising. To me, most of them aren't.  But that's not where we're going.

Dwight Garner, in his NYT review of Ben Lerner's '10:40' opens with a breath-taking cantilevered narrative of having read Tin House, a literary quarterly, where he encounters "a terrific conversation--conducted on Google Chat--between Annie Nugent Baker, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and the novelist Benjamin Baker Nugent, her brother. (Only Dick Schaap could drop more names in such a small space.)

"At one point, Ms Baker says, nearly out of the blue, 'I'm so scared of contemporary fiction that isn't Ben Lerner.' Her brother asks why, and her reply commences this way. 'I'm scared of contemporary fiction because it often seems to me like the author is trying to write something that could be easily adapted into a movie.' Fie on intense plot. She wants intense language and intellection."


I remember a Russell Baker 'Observer' column, probably decades ago, where he expressed concern that novelists were just trying to write a book that could be turned into a movie, and they were hoping they'd be the one to write the screenplay as well and make even more money from the book.

I don't exactly remember if Mr. Baker's thoughts on novelists came in the same column he did about the emerging software of word processing (thus, decades ago) and how writers seemed to now turn out huge books, only because computer typing was easier than a typewriter, and certainly easier than longhand. His feeling was that books needed to go on a diet, but the technology was aiding word consumption to appear on many pages. (I think I just provided an example.)

But it appears that Mr. Lerner's book is being given credit for not being a potential screenplay, and really has some old-fashioned literary merit. The book's 244 pages certainly don't qualify it as a doorstopper. And, there are illustrations.

Having read the review, I'm not sure the novel is for me. One of the excerpts that Mr. Garner uses to demonstrate the book's merit goes: "At one point in '10:04' the narrator is having dinner with his agent. They consume baby octopuses "massaged gently but relentlessly with unrefined salt until their biological functions cease." The book's timeline is between Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, in New York City.

It all sounds over my IQ, my last level of education, and my last pay grade.

But it does sound like Mr. Lerner will be headed for the best seller list and won't be holding any doors open while being there.