Tuesday, December 29, 2015

You Tell Me

Is it a funny story when a guy gets killed? I'll let you decide, but this one is hard to resist. There is at least black humor in it. You start to wonder if Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling wrote the script. Or a later day O Henry came up with this one. But no, it made the papers as a news item.

The photo at the top shows not a wrecked rural mail box, or one of those newsstands that sit as urban furniture holding free periodicals, or even an electrical junction box along a rail line. It is not an air pump at a gas station, or a recharging station. It is one of the few pictures from Germany that doesn't have Chancellor Angela Merkel in it.

If you know what it is, you've seen the story, or been to Schoeppingen, Germany. It's a condom machine that exploded. Not through some malfunction of electrical wiring, but as a failed result of three Christmas morning burglars who attempted to blow it up to gain access to the cash inside. Honest, that's the start of the story.

Apparently, at 7:40 in the morning, Christmas morning, three men put an explosive charge in the machine. Two got back to the car before it exploded, but the third was hit in the head by flying debris, and later dies in the emergency room. He was 29.

You wouldn't think a scene from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could be re-enacted at the side of a road in Germany with a condom machine, but apparently that is the case.

If you remember the movie, Butch and Sundance, Paul Newman and Robert Redford once again hold up the train and try to get to the mail car where the money is. This time, the poor guy inside is not falling for opening the door, but rather gives Butch and Sundance a hard time, and stands firm in his refusal to open the door.

Butch remembers the guy from before and orders Woodcock, to open the door. No dice. So, Butch places dynamite around the door. Dynamite is what all train robbers carry in case they meet a stubborn Woodcock. But Butch is not a munitions expert, and really does place a tad too much dynamite. When it explodes, it really explodes. Mission accomplished, the door is blown open, but so is everything inside the mail car. Money starts flying around as if it were ticker tape coming down in the Canyon of Heroes.

Woodcock is injured, but not dead, and Sundance sardonically asks his partner if he used enough dynamite. Money is scooped up as best they can, and they ride off with what they can quickly gather. It is not going to be enough.

The story from Germany does not describe what explosive the three men used. There was a piece of advice during WW I that there shouldn't be three men on a match. This meant, a lit match shouldn't stay lit long enough to light three cigarettes. The sustained glow would give away their position to enemy.

Obviously, these guys had no sense of history, or watching American movies. The three hung around long enough to get the explosive going, and two made it back to the car before it ignited, sending flying shrapnel in the direction of the third one who didn't get back fast enough.

Three guys on a condom machine is one too many. It is not known if the slowpoke was a fat guy who might have been out of shape, or if he tripped over his own feet in the excitement to get away. He suffered head injuries, was taken to an ER by his buddies who at least didn't abandon him, but later died from his injuries. Not a happy ending.

LOTS of questions are raised as part of this story.

  • How much cash does one of these machines hold? More than an ATM? Was this going to exceed the Lufthansa heist?
  • What were these guys expecting the take to be, splitting it three ways, assuming of course no one gets killed?
  • Splitting the take two ways is of course better, but leaves you with a body that presents difficulty explaining--as they found out.
  • How much are condoms at a roadside machine? Enough to generate money that would attract even cretin-minded burglars?
  • Where are these machines placed in Germany? By the looks of things, this one seems to be in a rural setting.
  • How adequate was the care the poor guy received? Certainly second guessing there by those who don't know the extent of the injuries, or the ability off the staff to respond to them.
And then we have Donald Trump. He somehow manages to indirectly crawl into the story when you remember that he just recently reminded the American public that Hillary Clinton got "schlonged" by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential Democratic party primaries.

It is too late for the New York Post to revise their headline, but GERMAN GUY'S GONG GETS SCHLONGED AND DIES would get my vote.

Hillary doesn't know how lucky she was not to be near these three guys on Christmas morning in Schoeppingen, Germany. Maybe we all were.


The Last Flowers in the Garden, Part II

A March 25, 1967 edition of the New Yorker is not one I can directly link to. You need to be a subscriber of the magazine to get to the text. And while my journey to the NYPL was successful last week, I could only produce print-outs from the microfilm. And that was a struggle.

Initially, I came prepared through a chat session with a librarian (are you listening, mj?) with the edition of the New Yorker I was going to have to access through microfilm. The chatting librarian and I worked to zero in on the issue, and they gave me an issue date of November 27, 1967 that was when Mr. Angell's piece appeared. They also told me the room to go to was 217.

Well, 217 was not the room to go to. That's the Research room, and while there were two librarians there to help, I was told Room 100 was where to go for microfilm. That's where I remembered going in the past.

Because this was the week of Christmas, there was a thicket of tourists I had to wend my way through. They all seemed to want to stand in front of the lobby Christmas tree and take selfies, or otherwise posed photos. I even saw someone with their girlfriend prowling the hallways on the second floor with a selfie stick. Jesus.

Outside I was happy to see that Patience and Fortitude, the grand stone lions on either side of the stairs, were each adorned with their Christmas wreaths. Several years ago when the building was being cleaned, the wreaths were not there. It was claimed that they trapped water on the lions that could seep into a crack, expand on freezing, and damage the lions. Someone was considering Patience and Fortitude to be wimpy granite lions, unable to withstand a New York winter, despite having done so for decades.

Room 100 was familiar, and I had even kept instructions in my wallet on how to thread the microfilm. But, November 27, 1967 could not be the issue. I came across November 25, and since the New Yorker is a weekly, the 27th could not be right. So much for the helpful chat.

Help was available, and one of the librarians on duty reached behind their head and retrieved a somewhat thick volume holding CD-ROMs of complete New Yorker issues. An index search of 1967 coughed up March 25th! as a date that Mr. Angell filed a piece under 'The Sporting Scene' title.

And there is was, A digital issue on the desktop reserved for The New Yorker CDs. Pulse quickened, as I then watched the librarian send the article to the printer. Yes, I have a Copy Card, also in my wallet. And send it to the printer they did, four times, wrestling with the fact that the desktop wasn't really responding as you might expect when you send something to the print queue.

Several attempts were to get the printer to unleash the article from its cyber grasp. No luck. The librarian was puzzled, since it was claimed this worked in the past. All of course was not lost. Back to microfilm. At least now I had the correct issue date.

Anyone who has ever sat in front of a microfilm reader printer knows this is a beast to work with. I felt like I was in front of a Linotype machine. But, I prevailed in getting print-outs of what of course was a long New Yorker piece. It took some time. I could feel the shadows outside darkening, and my watch wasn't helping me know what time it was. It truly did stop.

So, let me share some of Mr. Angell's poetry in his descriptions of the sights and sounds of a New York Ranger game at the Old Garden.

The rendition of the sound a puck makes as it hits the glass and bounds away--ponk!--is so pitch perfect someone who after reading every book about hockey they could get their hands on, lists it along with other described sounds in a 2014 book, Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada's Hockey Obsession, by Stephen Smith. It looks like it is well worth checking out by any die-hard fan. I just ordered it.

Mr. Angell's piece is based on following the New York Rangers as they progress through the 1966-67 season in what will be the final hockey season in the Old Garden.

Thus, we get a description of a shot taken by Bob Nevin, the Ranger captain. "...Goyette beat Henri Richard in a face-off to the right of the Montreal nets; the puck flew onto Nevin's stick and vanished into the goal in the same instant, like a scratched pool shot."

Anyone who has played pool knows how fast a scratched pool shot goes. The shot has been made, the object ball sunk, and then as if guided by magnetic forces, the cue ball heads for one of the other 5 pockets and deposits itself safely into the back of the pocket and down into the chute. At least one expletive follows.

Bob Nevin was the right wing of a line centered by Phil Goyette, with Donnie Marshall at left wing. We often referred to them as 'The Dancing Girls."  These guys hit no one. And didn't throw their weight around. They kept it to themselves. Together, they probably didn't weigh more than 500 pounds. There were only maybe 5 players, even in the expanded league, who were truly over 200 pounds.

Goyette was the slick playmaker, and they were really the No. 1 line until Ratelle, Gilbert and Hadfield became the GAG line--the goal-a-game trio. They played keep-away with the puck as if it was the pea in a shell game, until someone's wrist flexed, or Gilbert wound up with a slap shot and the goal judge's red light went on as the net twines puffed outward.

Bob Nevin was not a graceful skater. He somewhat wobbled down his wing like a teetering bowling pin that couldn't make up its mind to stay up or fall. But there was one Nevin goal that will stay with me forever.

It was the overtime game against Toronto in the 1970-1971 season, and the Rangers, if they beat Toronto that night in Toronto, would advance to the next round of the playoffs, a feat that hadn't performed in my memory.

The puck was fed to Nevin on a perfect pass, he crossed the Toronto blue line and somehow got off a shot so beautiful and along the ice that it was in the net before you knew it. Of course being an overtime game, it was a sudden death game. The Rangers win, and advance.

Even though I was home alone and it was now maybe 11:00, or later at night, I wanted to celebrate. I promptly went out and got a six pack of beer at the local shot and beer joint, The Murray Hill Cafe, and returned home. I don't remember if I drank all the cans, but I do remember I called in "sick" the next day and spent the afternoon at Aqueduct race track.

As if to keep the hockey moment alive, there were guys at the window who were members of the New Haven Blades, the Ranger farm team. They were wearing their leather sleeved, wool jackets, with American-Canadian hockey patches on the shoulders. They showed more than a few scars on their faces. Guys no older than I was.

Mr. Angell, right at the opening of his piece, establishes his chops for a keen eye when he describes aspects of the Old Garden and its atmosphere:  "...the super-fans in the last row of the balcony standing up in their seats and propping themselves against the rafters with their hands..."

Absolutely true. As mentioned in the prior posting, the Old Garden was built with boxing sightlines. Expand to a hockey rink, and even the second row of the side balcony starts to offer an obstructed view. Go all the way to the top, and well, there's no one behind you, and few directly in front of you most of the time. Although there are assigned seats with a $1.50 side balcony ticket, it's really General Admission. Thus, I would sit behind my high school friend who had an enviable Row A seat.

The real noise makers took to the last row and did literally hold onto the ceiling to keep from teetering forward. These were  the leather-lunged, leather jacket crowd who would blow "Charge" on their bugles trying to get the Rangers to show some life. Sometimes they did.

The New Garden didn't have a "balcony." At least they wouldn't call it that. They called it a Mezzanine. Seats at the New Garden were color coded: Red were those closest to the ice, followed upward by Orange, Yellow and Green seats. I had two season seats for 11 years in Row M of the Green Seats, and eventually the Yellow seats on a turn.

The upper reaches were the Blue Seats. The Green seats were $5.00 then, so I imagine the Blue seats were somewhat cheaper. But the columnless design of the New Garden created a bowl, so everyone was really further way from the ice than before.

But the Blue seats were inhabited by the old side balcony crowd, paying just a little more to be able to toss toilet paper onto the ice. It did take more effort. But what the New Garden offered was the ability to hang banners from the Mezzanine from the front, concrete rim that wouldn't hang too low to bock anyone's view from below. And banners people hung. There was some girl who was always professing her love for one of the Rangers. In the early 70s, when the Rangers and the Bruins were such rivals, I arrived early to the game, went up to the Blue seat rim and hung a bed sheet that was spray painted: CREAM BOSTON'S PIE.

Johnny McKenzie, a right wing on the John Bucyk, Fred Stanfield line was a pug-faced, squat, pain-in-ass who was very aggressive. I think he competed in rodeos as well. His nickname was Pie. Years and years later I had a boss who was a season ticket holder who went to Ranger games with his brother during the same time I did. I mentioned the banner to him. He remembered seeing it.

Did anyone ever go to a hockey game that didn't have fights? The older style of play, the back-to-back scheduling and frequency of seeing the same stick-wielding mug, and the somewhat lenient penalty assessment system, all helped to propagate fights. The saying was: "I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out."

Mr. Angell acutely describes the scene when a fight inevitably broke out. "...almost every game erupts at least once into a brisk fistfight, when the ice suddenly resembles the environs of a bombed glove factory..."

The main even combatants would always drop their stick and throw their gloves down and start to throw punches generally in the direction of each other's head, with the goal being to get the other player's jersey pulled over their head so their arms would be tied up, It was like one of those old gangster movies where the thug pulls someone's suit jacket down to tie up one's arms and then starts to throw punches at a defenseless opponent.

There were no helmets worn by any players then, so the head and face were far less protected than they are today. And it was never just two guys fighting, the rest of the players would pair off and generally waltz around the ice, keeping each other from throwing any punches. They were the sideshow. So, with all the sticks and gloves on the ice, it did look like a bombed glove factory. The clothing-drop bin in the parking lot had exploded.

Generally, no one fought with their sticks. That was fairly taboo, but it did happen. Mean Teddy Green, a defenseman for the Bruins was a stick-swinger who was often suspended for it. He did inflict some serious damage.

The most violent stick-swinging occurred when Boston's Dave Forbes skated directly at Minnesota's Henry Boucha and butt-ended him in the eye. A serious injury resulted with Boucha's vision becoming severely compromised. Within two years he had to retire at 25.

The Minnesota DA, Gary Flakne, pressed assault charges after a grand jury indictment, with a trial ending in a hung jury. There was no retrial.  It was perhaps the first time something that happened in a professional sport became a criminal matter. There was huge controversy over it.

Years later Flakne would tell people, "friends of mine still get on me about it. They say I'm the only prosecuting attorney in history to have 15,000 witnesses to an assault and not wind up with a conviction."  He did at least get nine of the twelve jurors to vote for a conviction.

Occasionally, the benches emptied, with even the goaltenders skating toward each other with half-hearted malice. Games could take a while to play, as all the equipment had to be picked up, penalties decided, and order hopefully restored.

The game, while the fastest of games, could grind on with pettiness. When the puck was being dug out of the corners, opposing players would grapple with the player trying to free the puck. This often lead to players pressing against the boards, moving the puck slowly with their skates until the linesman decided there was enough non-action and whistled for a face-off.

A look at any photo or video of a game from the 60s and 70s, with the players with no helmets, wearing sweaters really, with a thin layer of shoulder pads underneath, is a sharp contract to the equipment-laden players of today.

I have a photo from the New York Daily News of Eddie Giacomin on the night he came back to the Garden as a Detroit Red Wing. It was not a popular trade, and the fans let the Rangers know it. I was at the game and every time the Rangers touched the puck, they were booed. The place never really quieted down. Detroit was cheered whenever they had the puck, and won the game, to everyone's delight. Everyone was disgusted that Giacomin had been traded.

What makes the photo so iconic is that it shows Giacomin, facing his net at the start of the game while the anthem is being played, and visibly trying to wipe the tears from his eyes. He's almost bawling. At one point in the game he made a save, looked up, and almost shoveled a pass to a Ranger.

Being an isolated image, it is easy to realize how little protection the goaltenders had, even with their mask, which really only covered their face. It didn't protect the other parts of the head. The pads looked like puffy cardboard taped to their shins. The rest of their body was not very bulky with padding. Packages from Amazon come better protected these days.

But the game is obviously still being played, perhaps more skillfully than ever, with the removal of the center red line inhibiting two line passes. The wings play on their off side, and the puck is passed around as if directed with a laser, almost always landing on the right stick.

Fighting still happens, but the penalties are more severe, and hands can be hurt from pounding on a helmet. There is less of the corner delays in moving the puck, and the action can often be so sustained that even the broadcaster Doc Emrick might need an oxygen tank nearby to restore his breath after some end-to-end-to-end-action.

The New Garden has just been renovated after a two year project. I've yet to go there for a hockey game, but my daughter Susan did treat me to a Bob Seger concert last December. Being a working girl trying to save enough money to buy a house, she got what were really "nosebleed" tickets in what I think is called the Upper Bowl, or something like that.

With the sound system and sharp image video screens, close tickets for a concert are not necessarily required to enjoy the show. I remember looking up, and I really could touch a ceiling support beam that was probably holding up the recently added catwalk, with seating, that they constructed over the arena.

I must admit, I didn't immediately think of the Old Garden and the bugle boys and the lousy sightlines. But after all, they only ripped the old place down. They didn't cart the memories away.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sex Trumps Crime

When the obituary for Licio Gelli appeared in the UK's Telegraph I predicted it was unlikely the NYT would pick up on the decreased and run their own obituary. Even though Licio had led a long life of financial fraud going back to WW II, since his massive misdeeds were basically confined to Italy, I figured with no United States connection, he wouldn't get an American sendoff. So far, I've been right.

So when @obitsman Tweeted out the Telegraph's obituary for Fernande Grudet, a madame to the jet set, I again predicted there would be no NYT sendoff since her base of operation was France, with some time spent in Los Angeles, but that almost really doesn't count. It was in France that she pretty much invented the term "call girl," an escort service from a stable of women who passed the highest standards of love-making, intelligence, beauty, and of course discretion, whose assignations with the truly rich and famous were arranged with a phone call. Talk about a hot number.

Live to be 92, and you cover a lot of ground, and Ms. Grudet did, starting in WW II, when she herself was a Lady of the Evening. She was many things, but eventually felt her role was best served in the management of things. And did she ever manage.

Her client list was extensive, and the Telegraph reports it once consisted of half the French Cabinet. The other half must have been gay.

The client list reads a bit like a Who's Who. Amongst the bold face names of Marlon Brando, Moshe Dayan, King Hussein of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, Rex Harrison, Muammar el-Qaddafi, and many others, was JFK and Aristotle Onassis.

Perhaps the JFK connection is what got the obit in the NYT. I'll never know, but the reference to JFK is the same in both obituaries: He wanted someone who resembled his wife Jackie, but someone who was "hot."

Since the subject was 92 and the byline is not by Robert D. McFadden, the dean of the morgue obits that float up with people over 90, I have to think the NYT wrote their obituary based on having read of Ms. Grudet's demise online in the Telegraph.

The Telegraph's narrative is a bit spicier than that of the Times. The anecdote surrounding Onassis, not in the Times, is that on one occasion he came to the brothel with his mistress at the time, Maria Callas and requested something Ms. Grudet considered "depraved," and caused even her to blush. An adult imagination can easily guess what the Greek Tycoon and the soprano probably had in mind.

Poor Jackie. She wound up with two men in her life who shopped at the same emporium. Poor Caroline, JFK's and Jackie's sole surviving child, who even if in Japan as the United States Ambassador, might get wind of the obits and again be reminded of the past. Perhaps she's used it to it by now.

Not to outdone by the Telegraph's copy, the Times reports a client once asked for a fairly warm dead body. No names here. Request denied.

Personally, I think the best anecdote comes from the Telegraph surrounding Gianni Agnelli, the Italian car maker of Fiat. He was said to have requested a passel of girls who participated in an orgy, and then accompanied him to Mass afterwards. Pity the male parishioners who missed Mass that Sunday. Agnelli was Italian to the core.

As it goes with anyone who is making cash hand-over-fist, Ms. Grudet had tax problems. Somewhat like Al Caopne, the French got after her for not paying taxes and levied some hefty fines. Ms. Grudet was incarcerated a few times, but between the two papers the sentences vary. The Telegragh has her doing 5 years in a French slammer, along with some lighter sentences, also reported in the Times.

Online versions of stories vary in the way they're handled by different newspapers. Often, as in the case of the Times, the text is the same, along with the one picture that appears in the print version. This carries over to the online version.

The Telegraph weaves in more photos to accompany their online text. Thus, we treated to picture of 73 year-old cheese cake as Ms. Grudet poses for...something, I guess. A holiday card? A professionally taken studio shot that could easily have been in her portfolio if she was looking to cast herself as a spokeswoman for any of the erectile dysfunction drugs. Know your audience.

Ms. Grudet stated she was not adverse to plastic surgery, and admits she had everything but her breasts worked on. Here, she has the look of Helen Mirren with a set of Rockette legs.

But both papers lead off with nearly identical, more subdued photos of Ms. Grudet, looking very much like what she was: a demanding business woman who didn't always treat the help well.

Maybe it's not the JFK connection that got her into the NYT after all. Perhaps she reminded the editors of Carly Fiorina. There are similarities.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Last Flowers in the Garden

Roger Angell is still with us at 95. Ninety-five makes Mr. Angell a nonagenarian. A strange word, with Latin roots that means you're in your 90s.

He was born in 1920, and while he wouldn't have possessed first hand knowledge of the event at the time, that's the year that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was on the James Cox presidential ticket as his running mate against Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. That is a ton of time ago.

1920 is also 5 years after my father was born, but he passed away in 1987. So, to be 95 and still roaming the earth and turning out a book has to be looked upon as a noteworthy event. The book is actually a second memoir of sorts. So many years were spent breathing after the first memoir, Let Me Finish was produced in 2006, that a second one came due, This Old Man, All in Pieces.

The NYT review by Michiko Kakutani is itself a pleasant read. It puts you in the mood to want to re-read Roger Angell. Virtually no fault is found with the current collection of letters, profiles essays and poems from his days at the New Yorker. Ms. Kakutani reminds us what 99.9% of us remember about Mr. Angell: he wrote about baseball.

Yeah, but did you know the Kingston Trio recorded 'It Was a Very Good' year before Frank Sinatra? And did you know Mr. Angell wrote what to me is such a memorable piece about the Old Garden and New York Ranger hockey, that when I re-read it today at the New York Public Library on microfilm, my watch stopped? Literally. Time stood still, and I was transported back to the "dog pack" in the $1.50 seats of the side balcony, straining to see what the sight lines would not allow you to see all of unobstructed: a New York Ranger game.

You have to be a full generation, or less, behind Mr. Angell to remember Ranger games at the Old Garden. It's worth noting that Mr. Angell's New Yorker piece' was in the March 25, 1967 edition under 'The Sporting Scene' title and 'The Last Flowers in the Garden.' sub-heading.

With regard to professional hockey, 1967 sits at the fault line between B.C. and A.D. It is also the fault line between the Old Garden, and what would be the New Garden. It is a biblical year. Now that the New Garden is nearly half a century old, there are easily plenty of people who just call it The Garden, never even knowing about the pile that was on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.

It is this pile and what was going on inside with the New York Rangers 1967 that Mr. Angell directs his attention. And he does it well.

It is funny to read the start of his piece make reference to the fact that the Landmarks Preservation Committee hasn't yet said a word about trying to save the Old Garden. Of course, you have to understand the context of the era. Penn Station has been demolished in 1964 and suddenly there are those in New York who think perhaps the city should try and hold onto some classically designed buildings.

But the Old Garden was hardly a classically designed building. If you didn't see the marquee and only viewed the place from the 49th Street or 50th Street sides you would never suspect what it held inside. There were stores and windows along the 8th Avenue side. It could never pass for a building you'd want to save. Memories, yes.

The Landmarks Committee is formed in the wake of Penn Station being hit by the wrecking ball. The Commission of course is still in existence, but too late for Penn Station, a subtraction from the city that is still not gotten over by those that remember the place, despite its griminess at the time. Modern Original Sin started with the two-year demolition of Penn Station.

There are two things going on here in 1967. Penn Station has been cleared for an office building, and a new Garden to go over the railroad tracks. Grand design.

1967 is also the last year the National Hockey League will be only 6 teams: New York, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto and Detroit. An expansion of 6 more teams is planned for the next season, This is going to put teams in 6 American cities, two on the West Coast: Oakland Seals, and Los Angeles Kings, with the St Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota North Stars. The 6 teams will be in their own division, and the scheduling will favor intra-division games in the season, with some inter-divisional play. The movie was 'The Magnificent Seven. The league was The Original Six. The Brave New World has begun.

This juncture of time has got Mr. Angell on a mission to write about the New York Rangers and their home.

Anyone who knows anything about The Old Garden knows it was built with boxing in mind. If you stick a ring inside the center ice circle, everyone in the arena can see the action, with no obstructions, save for some seats behind steel columns in the lower sections.

Expand the arena to accommodate hockey and you can only see the complete ice from the first row in the side balconies. Sit in the second row or up, and you get increasing angles of not being able to see the whole paying surface. Go all the way to the top, you're at the game, but pretty much cut off from half the action.

I had a friend in high school who was a celebrity to me. He had season seats in the first row of the side balcony. At $1.50 a seat, for half of a 70 game season I think, he got a season's worth of action for $52.50. I often bought a side balcony ticket and just moved myself to sit behind him. It was amazing what he could see and I couldn't. But, we were at the game.

The 70 game season with only 5 opponents to schedule games against meant teams faced each other 14 times during the season, often with back-to-back home and away games. This close-knit renewal of seeing your gap-toothed, scowling opponent so frequently often meant players were tired of seeing each other. Thus, they fought more often.

I remember you could always count on a game where the Rangers' Vic Hadfield was going to haul off at a faceoff circle as soon as the puck was dropped and start start pounding the head of the Canadiens' Henri Richard (the Pocket Rocket, Maurice's younger brother).

No helmets were worn in those days, so aiming for the head with your fist was a desirable way to get to your opponents jersey so you could pull the wool over their eyes. Hockey fights usually exposed the suspenders that held up their padded pants. A successful fighter often skated away to the fans' applause with no jersey on, looking somewhat like a male stripper whose act was interrupted, while his opponent was on the ice in a tangle of clothing, being held at bay by the linesmen. It was always great fun to watch. It still is.

In fact, for high school students, you could get the $1.50 ticket for fifty cents by showing your GO, General Organization card to the 49th Street box office. I always got a kick out of Sheldon Silver, the now convicted former New York State Assembly Speaker, who at the City Hall celebration for the 1994 Cup winning Rangers, told the crowd that it was wonderful to get in for fifty cents. My thoughts were even then, that Mr. Silver was always trying to get in for fifty cents. Or less.

The balcony was reached by the 49th Street entrance, which was just a series of doors that lead past a two window box office to an escalator. Thus, if your were a balcony person, you didn't even go through the front, as pictured above. That was for the swells. The 'service entrance' was on 49th Street.

Mr. Angell acknowledges the upstairs 'dog pack' quite well. He mentions the debris that would come down on the ice when when a bad call went against the Rangers. Rolls and rolls of toilet paper would come steaming down from the balcony. It could look like a ticker tape parade sometimes. The crew that cleaned the ice had to skate around and pick up wads of paper and anything else that came flying down. It was a circus.

There was no Zamboni at the Old Garden. There was a crew of men you walked on the ice with shovels between periods, scraping the ice, followed by two teams of two guys each pushing water barrels, depositing water to freeze and create a smoother surface. It looked like a WW I  cannon crew pushing caissons.

I do remember there was always someone at the top of the balcony with a bugle or a trumpet that would blare out 'Charge' to get things going. There was no rock music pounding out from a state-of-the-art sound system. There was some kid in a leather jacket with more zippers than he needed, with greasy hair who could at least play one thing on the trumpet.

I wasn't there for Harry Howell night. Harry was a great veteran Ranger defense man who at times seemed to be the only guy who was trying to prevent goals. He was honored that night for his 1000th Ranger game,

Mr. Angell recounts the tale of the final gift being rolled out onto the ice, a car, a Cougar, when some leather-lung from the upstair reaches informs Harry that Mayor Lindsay was just going to tow it away. Mayor Lindsay was not a popular mayor for many reasons, one of them being his towing program in an effort to raise city revenue. It still goes on. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

I had forgotten about the batting of balloons by the balcony assembly. Between periods, someone would blow up balloons and start batting them through the crowd. It was the Wave before the Wave. The goal was to keep the balloons going through the crowd and not let them go over the front rail and down to the lower sections. Occasionally, some meanie popped a balloon. He was booed. The tradition was revived for a time with a beach ball at the New Garden, but eventually the ball batting faded into history.

Mark Twain is famous for many works, and many sayings, one of which is: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word...is the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."

In large part, Mr Angell's piece has always remained with me due to a single word, a word he uses to describe a sound he uses in his close. I knew my memory of the word as "plink" was wrong, but until yesterday, I wasn't once again hit by lightning.

"...and the sudden cry of 'Ooo!' as the puck flies past the home goal and strikes--ponk!--against the glass and bounds away, and the Rangers, fortunately, gather it in and fly up the ice."

When you're struck by lightning, your watch stops.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Oldest Baddest

If Charles Ponzi's name hadn't already established itself as as a synonym for fraud, then Licio Gelli's name would have long ago entered into the lexicon for notorious financial manipulators.

A Twitter feed from @obitsman (Steven Miller, obituary writer) led its followers to the U.K.'s Telegraph obituary of someone who had to be the most manipulative and successful financial manipulator of all time. (That we know of. The one who is yet to be caught could be the greatest.)

His resume makes Whitey Bulger look like a low-level numbers runner. Of course, that might be comparing apples to oranges, since Licio Gelli's actions were not entirely of the cruelly violent, but more of the criminally diplomatic.

A read of his life reveals more plots than a Russian novel. In fact, if something can be described as an "enigma wrapped in a mystery," then Gelli's life can described as more entwined than a bowl of spaghetti.

If anyone watched what was a short-lived series called 'Zen,' starring Rufus Sewell, then you might have seen the episode 'The Cabal.' There's no doubt the episode was written by someone with a firm grasp of Italian politics, the Mafia, and the Vatican. The Cabal would have easily been based on the P2.

And what a great obit The Telgraph's is. It is doubtful Mr. Gelli's life will get promoted to a NYT obit since Mr. Gelli's misdeeds were strictly European. But I'm sure if there is a slow day in the obit pages, the Times editors will at least consider giving Mr. Gelli American attention. I don't think he'd mind.

Not that more details about Mr. Gelli's life are needed to fully absorb what a true badass this guy was, and who lived to be 96, passing away in his own villa that was seized by the state in 2013 for tax reasons, but with provisions that he still be allowed to live there.

Ninety-six is a long life, and when your association with Blackshirt fascist starts when you are 17, you develop enough story lines to create a life and an obituary that could easily be turned into a 10
episode miniseries.

The P2 was not a type of aircraft used by the Allies to bomb Germany, but was instead a Freemason Lodge that was thrown out of the society after Mr. Gelli took it private, so to speak. All sorts of politicos and power brokers could be counted as members of the P2. Their influence was vast.

Of course Mr. Gelli was tried and incarcerated, but some people are hard to pin down. He escaped, and spent some free time like Willie Sutton and Whitey Bulger. But Licio's exploits easily exceeded those of our own bank robber Willie, and even Whitey Bulger, who when found after 16 years on the run, had over $800,000 stashed away in the walls of his condo. Mr. Celli's villa was once searched and 160 kilograms of gold bars were found hidden in crockery.

The obituary doesn't translate the worth of that gold, but it was said to have come from a transport train from Yugoslavia during WWII. Thus, this guy had gold that would easily have had an estimated value of $2.8 million at the time, along with reproductive organs made of granite.

(A WWII gold-laden transport train is featured in the 2013 miniseries 'The Spies of Warsaw,' starring David Tennant, but without Licio Gelli in the script.)

During a period of unapprehension, Mr. Gelli obviously enjoyed celebrity status in Italy. Seen below is a striking photo of him promoting a book. On a quick glance, he could easily be mistaken for Cary Grant.

Crime can pay.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Stinky Breath

There is a story in yesterday's NYT about Great Britain making an effort to get some outdated laws off their books.

There is nothing new about outdated laws. They can go back to the 1200s in England. And in modern contexts they might seem like Loony Laws. Take the one about being prohibited from wearing a suit of armor in Parliament. There is no real mention that that one is being removed from the books. The online headline implies its removal, but the story doesn't further confirm that.

The little I've seen of the way discourse that takes place in Parliament I'm not surprised that at some point someone probably came in with a suit of armor in order to thwart the onslaught of invective aimed at them. How better to have them suffer the "slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune" than to have them unprotected by a suit of armor? Everything in England gets back to the Bard.

As you might expect, the effort currently going on in England is scholarly. There is of course a committee, Britain's Law Commission, consisting of two lawyers and a researcher. And as much as they sift through the 44,000 pieces of rules, they also debunk those that have become urban legend.

Apparently, there was belief (it is not known if it was a widespread belief) that female store clerks in tropical fish stores in Liverpool were allowed to go topless. Apparently, this is not so. How this came to be believed is unclear. Did someone feel that these clerks were really mermaids, and thus hard to fit for bras? A female in a bait and tackle store would be expected to be clothed, I guess.

London has Piccadilly Square, but only New York has Times Square, where it turns out topless women can roam around, as long as they don't aggressively panhandle.

Late night talk shows have always mined these Loony Local Laws for their humor. There are websites devoted to them. Garlic and body odor play into a good number of them. And they should. Anyone who has shared a subway pole with someone who has just gargled with garlic, or used litchi nut tooth paste would appreciate being able to "Smell Something, Say Something" and bring the offending passenger to the attention of someone in uniform.

For decades now we have gone to a certain section of Vermont that lies roughly south of Middlebury College on Route 30, the Seth Warner Memorial Highway. Seth is another story, but taking Vermont Route 73 west from Route 30 brings you into one of the quintessential Vermont towns, Orwell.

Orwell is tiny, but it does have the clapboard church, a school, a bank, and a general store, Buxton's. Buxton's is like a rural Gristedes, groceries, some hardware and a butcher. Route 73 at that point is a favorite stretch of road for touring bicyclists. They tend to get their energy bars at Buxton's.

Years and years ago I saw one of those tiny blurbs in the New York Daily News about a Loony Law that Orwell, VT had on its books. It struck me that how many people would ever read this little piece in the paper and ever have anything to do with Orwell? We really do live on a Mobius Strip.

Anyway, the Loony Law stated that is was a fine, or some penalty, for being a woman eating garlic at a basketball game.

My thought was that perhaps someone of a garlic persuasion (probably an overzealous Mediterranean) sat behind the coach at a school game at the gym and constantly breathed down the coach's neck. This would have been long before the 9/11 induced message that if you "See Something, Say Something." The response in Orwell to olfactory terrorism was apparently to get something on the books.

Of course I saved the clipping and waited for our next trip to Vermont. I asked someone at the store if they knew anything about the ordinance, but of course no one was old enough to have even remembered any president prior to Jimmy Carter.

I strolled around and pinned the clipping to their community bulletin board and figured I had done enough to alert someone that they might have a law on the books they might want to readdress.

Or maybe enforce.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Declining an Invitation

Any self-respecting scamp I ever grew up with always knew the parody words to the ditty 'Home on the Range.'

O give me a home where the buffalo roam...
And I'll show you a home full of (add favorite word for excrement. Ours was always shit.)

Very unlikely anyone could possibly have buffalo actually roaming in their home. As big a home as Ted Turner might have in Montana, my guess is he holds the line at having buffalo roam in the home.  I'm sure Jane Fonda moved out for other reasons. (Or maybe Ted did have buffalo roaming in the home.) I mean buffalo are an endangered species, and quite large. Their waste material must in turn also be prodigious.

But how about birds? Wild birds?

Turns out in South Africa, Johannesburg, JoBurg, there is a variety of wild bird that is a descendant of prehistoric birds, who somewhat fill sections of the city, poop where they want, and make an awful sound that goes somewhat like: "HA, HA-dee-DAW." This sounds like dialog from a Laurel and Hardy movie.

The bird is almost named after its sound, Hadeda ibis. The bird is liked and disliked. There are those of course who take to feeding the birds, sometimes with gourmet bird food they prepare themselves. This attracts the birds, and also adds to the din. Neighbors complain. It sounds like it would not be nice to live near a Hadeda ibis lover. People have moved away.

The WSJ A-Hed piece gives us the lowdown on these birds, how they came to be where they are in the numbers they are, and what their effect is on the citizens of Johannesburg.

It is highly doubtful I'll ever get to Johanesburg, and highly doubtful I'll ever be invited into someone's home. But if I ever were to, I'd have to decline an invitation from the lady in Joburg
who prepares a mixture of bird food based on what she feeds her dog, and allows the birds to waddle into her living room, where they love to look at themselves in the mirror and poop on her Persian rugs. She says they're "spoiled."

I'm sorry I can't make it Ms. Mauchle. Prior commitments.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Connection

He is not The Tin Man. He is not Frosty the Snowman. Perhaps Mr. Terracotta would fit. Mr. T.

I got the idea for the pictured garden statue when I visited the Planting Field Arboretum in Oyster Bay, NY not too long ago. They had a nearly similar figure displayed at an entrance to one of their conservatory buildings. Wanting to copy it, I realized I could easily take a picture with my phone and work from that. It is not a SmartPhone, (I couldn't qualify) but I can take photos.

It is very simple to put together, especially if you've got cracked pots laying around. The largest piece, what I call the Indian Urn, was left by the prior owners when we bought the house 23 years ago. I never had the heart to throw it out. I've had various plants in it, and now I think I've found what it was destined to be: a torso for a garden statue.

Over the years I've had various toppings for Mr. Terracotta. I've tried to give him a winter look, and when there's snow on him, he does look quite appealing.

The last hat he had was a bright red stocking cap, but the weather and the birds seem to have rendered it unusable. The current cap is one of many such caps I have. This one is however of complete unknown origin, and seldom worn. I don't remember ever buying it. It was just here. Perfect fit.

The scarf replaces the one I draped over Mr. T. one year. Turns out that scarf belonged to my daughter Susan, who eventually realized Dad had misappropriated a family heirloom knitted by Grandma Brennan. She took it back to be cleaned up. Sorry kid.

The current neckwear was acquired in July of this year when some German tourists left it on a bench I was sitting on on 34th Street and 5th Avenue, alongside the CUNY Graduate Center (formerly B. Altman's department store, where I once worked), killing time before a dental appointment nearby.

It was a warm, sunny day and sitting on the bench getting some sun felt good. The husband was wearing shorts, and the wife was carrying this scarf. Why in July someone was carrying a scarf is beyond me, but the woman left in on the bench. By the time I realized they had left it behind they had disappeared into the sea of pedestrians at that busy NYC corner, I stuffed the scarf into my bag with the intention of using it for Mr. T.

I've just repositioned Mr T. for the winter. As such, as I strung new rope to support his arms, some of the crockery came loose from his right arm. I now suspect he's a candidate for Tommy John surgery. I'll wait for another cracked pot before I perform it.

After my wife washed the scarf and freshened it up for the coming season, I realized something about it that I hadn't before. I always knew the ends are knitted together. I left them that way, wanting to keep it true it its origins. But when I wanted to make a loop out of the scarf, I realized an end had been twisted before it was sewn to the other end. Unfurled, the scarf is a Mobius strip.

As anyone who pays attention to this blog already knows, we are all connected. I have the proof.


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Century Mark

Once again, someone who is 100 or more has passed away, and Mr. Robert D. McFadden has the obituary byline for 'Chuck Williams, Entrepreneur Who Made Kitchenware Stylish, Dies at 100.'

I don't know if this one came up from the pre-written crypt, or was written on deadline. Ms. Margalit Fox fairly recently wrote to tell me Mr. Fadden was occupying the desk right next to her. So, I guess old reporters do not die themselves, and they don't seem to go away either. And we're lucky for that.

If one did float up to the surface after the news of Chuck Williams's death was confirmed, it would be coming up from a non-renewable resource of pre-written obits that will only surface as the subjects themselves pass on. And as the years go by while they're still breathing and they age further, the number that will appear as part of their story will naturally get higher. As pointed out before, the older in age of the decreased subject, the more likely we will treated to a Mr. McFadden obit.

And what a nice water flowing over the rocks obit it is. If you are a cook of some expertise, the obituary will either make you hungry, or make you want to order something from one of the Williams-Sonoma catalogs. Sonoma crawled into the name not because of someone named Sonoma, but because Mr. Williams first store was in Sonoma, California.

Despite the fact that there are now 600 stores, it is the catalogs that get my attention. No one in my family has ever ordered anything from Willlams-Sonoma. All the items in the catalog look absolutely easy to resist, and look overpriced. But success doesn't depend on my family's taste. A net revenue of $4.7 billion gets you acknowledged in business magazines.

Mail-order catalogs and websites generate a lot of business. It is the catalogs that just keep coming that I marvel at. With a wife and an  daughter whose mail and laundry still show up here, we do order things via catalogs and websites. And I know lists are sold.

At this time of year that means the mail we get will be 92% glossy catalogs, and a few envelopes asking for payments for key utilities and insurance. We get a lot of mail. We get Williams-Sonoma, we get Duluth, L.L. Bean, Orvis, Brooks Brothers, Pottery Barn, West Elm  we get...you get the idea. We get so many catalogs that I have literally seen the mail truck backed into our driveway so the letter carrier doesn't have to handle our haul throughout the neighborhood.

Did you ever look through these catalogs? They're the same catalog, with a different cover. You're lead to think there's something different inside, but there isn't. When the oldest daughter was still here and her mail showed up as well, a doorstopper edition of Vogue magazine crashed landed in the mail box like a meteor, making mail box repairs necessary.

As a kid I remember the only catalog we ever saw was the one from Sears, Roebuck. This one was an anvil in weight and was proportioned like an unabridged dictionary. The letter carriers used a golf cart in those days to wheel the mail through the neighborhood. Cliff, the mailman character in the show 'Cheers' would complain about "Sears, Roebuck day."

I know the passing of Mr. Williams will not mean the end of the delivery of a Williams-Sonoma catalog. It has long since gone out of his hands. The obituary points out that in 1983, when the company took on Pottery Bar and other purveyors of mostly silly stuff, there were seven mail-order catalogs, and six websites.

I still doubt we're ever going to order anything.


Friday, December 4, 2015

The Words are Much Alike

Young Frederick in Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Pirates of Penzance' becomes apprenticed to the Pirate King because his family mistook the word pilot, for pirate. They thought they were getting young Frederick in with being a mariner pilot.

Frederick becomes resigned to the indenture service he must serve to such a motley crew, all because the works pilot and pirate sound "much alike." True.

Those words sound alike, but are spelled differently. Take the place name Jamaica. You wouldn't think a word like that could create consequences, but it has.

I almost didn't read the obituary for Monsignor Richard Albert, 69, who cared for the poor in Jamaica for decades. Monsignor was born in the Bronx, the northernmost of New York City's boroughs, or counties.  Apparently was was living in Brooklyn at a rectory, about to be ordained in 1976, when he applied for an assignment in Jamaica, thinking it was Jamaica, Queens, which pretty much borders Brooklyn. You can get there by subway.

Perhaps young Albert thought the assignment had something to do with St. John's University, a Jesuit run college, which is in Jamaica, Queens.

Whatever he thought is not what it was, because the assignment was for the island of Jamaica, in the West Indies in the Caribbean. Not discouraged by his mistake, Father Albert went to the island of Jamaica and did good things for over 40 years. He just couldn't get there by subway.

Father Albert was not the first one to misunderstand what the name Jamaica might entail. There is a show business story about Judy Garland and her husband Sid Luft staying at a hotel in Manhattan and Sid telling Judy, probably over the morning room service toast, that they're going to Jamaica in the afternoon.

Wide-eyed Judy realizes she doesn't have a suitable island wardrobe. So, she does what likely comes naturally: she goes shopping for Caribbean-themed clothing in Manhattan. And since you can find anything in Manhattan, by the time Sid gets back to the room, she's outfitted, for what becomes Sid's afternoon plans: a fast trip out to Jamaica racetrack, in Jamaica, Queens, hoping to make the Daily Double. Judy is perhaps a bit oddly, and over dressed for the occasion, but I'm sure she looked absolutely smashing.

Yes, Virginia, there once was a Jamaica racetrack in Jamaica, Queens. I was too young to have ever gone there. It disappeared in the late 50s, making way for a housing project, Rochdale Village. The turf writer Teresa Genaro has written a bit of history about the place.

My only connection to the place was the stories I heard the older horse players tell of the place. Apparently, you could go up on the grandstand roof and watch the races as if you were an eagle. Whether you were really allowed to do this was never clear, but there were always guys who told of watching the races from the roof.

There was also the urban legend story of the guy on the roof who watched a prohibitive favorite who he backed with a massive show bet, hoping to make at least 5 cent to the dollar, run out of the money, turning his bet into a losing bet for a great deal of money.

There are still people who back massively short prices in the show pool for what is thought to be a "guarantee" of at least a 5 cent per dollar return (mandated minimum return). Such people are called "bridge jumpers," because if their bet fails, they are ready, to commit suicide, and may actually do just that.

Thus, there was always the story of the guy on the roof with an unobstructed view of his "guarantee" running out-of-money who pulled out a pistol and shot himself in the head, toppling off the roof. Not a bridge, but just as dead.

Jamaica and Jamaica. The words are alike. But only in spelling.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cold Water

"Cold-water flat" are words you don't hear anymore with regard to current housing conditions. In the 60s at the flower shop I often heard of people either then living in cold-water flats, or having once lived there.

It was easy to imagine what these dwellings might have been like. They were old, and had no hot water. My grandmother's place on East 19th Street could have once been a cold-water flat. It had the railroad flat layout. This meant the rooms were laid out in a straight line, like a railroad track. You had to go through them all to get to the front room.

A cold-water flat obviously was not a desirable place. Apartments without an individual bathroom would be worse, but I don't know how many of those might have been left by the 1960s. I'm sure they too were still around.

Saturday night bath. I always heard of this. I also always assumed it was just a traditional time for people to take a bath before Sabbath Sunday. Well, yes, traditional, because that was the only time the superintendent created any hot water for the tenants. Thus, a cold-water flat had a reprieve on Saturday night. There would be hot water. For a while.

The Burek brother Johnny who I recently reconnected with and whose remembrances helped source the AC/DC posting, added some further descriptions of their early 1950s living conditions.

He writes "...another thing about our apartment back then was having a bath tub in the kitchen with an iron cover over it. Hot water it seemed was only supplied early on Saturday evening. Therefore, everyone in the building would rush to take a bath before the hot water ran out."

My wife remembers a playmate whose apartment in the Bronx was a railroad flat with a bathtub in the kitchen. The toilet and the sink were in a small room next to the kitchen. She does think the Hanleys had hot water all the time, but it is possible they didn't.

TV was of course a nascent medium back then, and since the Burek house was DC current, there was a converter that allowed the TV to work with their current. Of course there was no show called 'Saturday Night Live' yet. But it had a prequel: Saturday Night Wet.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Double-D Doda

It has been commented on before in these postings that I am now seeing adults who were near contemporaries when I was growing up pass away.

And if the passing of a topless dancer seems like someone who no one would, or maybe even should remember, well then, you weren't around when Carol Doda came on the scene with her 44DD topless chest when you were fifteen. And male.

Aside from the passing of the first showing of Twin Peaks, we also have yet another example of how the British excel at obituaries. Ms. Doda passed away several weeks ago, and her obituary was duly noted in the NYT. A topless dancer gets a bylined obit? You weren't around in the 60s, I can tell.

Ms. Doda wasn't even British, and they give her a story-filled sendoff that includes Liberace and the perils of grinding away on top of hydraulic piano when there is no safety switch. The incident of the club manager who relieved himself and his partner of body heat on what in a nightclub is their version of a desk, only to accidentally have his foot hit the UP button on the levitating piano of course reminds me of another story.

When I'm in Penn Station and I see a pantograph-rigged passenger car over on the lower numbered tracks, I always think of the company that rented a railcar for their Christmas party one year, only to have an amorous couple take their passion outside to the top of the rail car and subsequently get electrocuted. Never was the phrase 'get a room' ever more good advice.

Apparently in the case of the levitating piano at the Club Condor, only the male was crushed to death. There is no mention of whatever injuries, if any, might have happened to the female. It is therefore safe to assume what position they were in when they ignored the fact that they were suddenly really being sent heavenward.

Ms. Doda was BIG news in 1964. I told a like-aged friend of mine that Carol Doda passed away, and he said, "who?" Figures, he was sequestered in a Pennsylvania military school at the time, and probably got absolutely no news of the outside world.

Ms. Doda really started something. Soon after her breakout performance, the Metropole Cafe in Times Square featured topless dancers. Not that I could get in. Or anyone else my age. That's not to say you didn't try and peek in through the open doorway that offered a sliver of a view of the stage if you stood just right and could jostle a favorable angle around the Goliath bouncers that stood at the door. Getting to the sweet spot to see that sliver was the thing. There were always rubber-neckers of all ages clogging the sidewalk at all hours of the day. You needed tickets, if there was such a thing.

Read the obituary from The Telegraph carefully. You'll come across a word "embonpoint." Never heard of it, which also shows you there can be literary excellence when writing about topless dancers. If only I could have used the word in an English class in high school. I probably could have gotten a higher grade.

The OED defines it as "plumpness," which indeed Ms. Doda achieved artificially. The OED further uses a line of text from someone named G. Clare: "A good paunch...or a bit of embonpoint, added dignity to a man." Silicone certainly added bucks to Ms. Doda, and certainly removed some dignity from several men.

The 60s.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Too Good to Ignore

Sometimes, a picture says everything. Or, it makes several people say different things, when they are really saying the same thing. Wonderment. Yikes! Wow!

The above photo comes to us courtesy of a retweet by @obitsman from an original tweet from@dmataconis.

I would say the photo was definitely taken from one of the side streets where the Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons are inflated and staged for entry into the stream of the parade that starts on Central Park West, which as any New Yorker knows, is really 8th Avenue, north of Columbus Circle. Central Park West does sound a good deal better, and likely, because it really is west and adjacent to Central Park at that point, has been contributing to real estate prices for years now.

The original Tweeter commented:

  • What happens at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade stays at the Macy's Thanksgiving day Parade. 
Others have added:
  • Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
  • You Can Do That with Children Watching? 
  • The Economy Really Is Bad, Isn't It?
  • I Never Knew That About Uncle Sam. Spider Man, Maybe.

This could be like one of those New Yorker cartoon contests where you get to add your own tag line and hope they will choose your entry. Only here, you can add anything you want and no one will reject you.

I like that part.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Al Smith

The mystery has been solved of who the woman is who was sitting between Mayor deBlasio and Governor Cuomo at this year's Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf Astoria.  (See prior postings.) The AP photographer, Julie Jacobson, came within the radius of Tweeting and responded to the inquiry. The woman is Nan Smith, the wife of the master of ceremonies at the dinner, Al Smith IV,

How nice that there is an Al Smith IV, great-grandson of Al Smith, four-time governor of New York and the first Catholic to run for president in 1928. If John F. Kennedy Jr. doesn't go down in the plane he's piloting for a weekend getaway, there might be a JFK III, then maybe paving the way for a IV.

Anyone who knows anything about New York politics knows there are a few dynastic names in state and local politics. There's Al Smith, who after losing the presidential election became the president of the company building the Empire State building. Fitting.

Nelson Rockefeller was a four-time governor of New York, but left office during his fourth term to take the Vice President spot vacated after Gerald Ford ascended to the presidency after Nixon resigned the presidency, and Vice President Spiro Agnew's resignation before that.

The Wagner family was lead by Robert F. Wagner, Sr. a four-term United States Senator for New York, whose son, Robert F. Wagner, Jr. was a three-term mayor of New York City. His son was a Board of Education president for the city, who died at a relatively young age. Come to think of it, where's the Wagner bridge?

There is an Al Smith state office building in Albany, and while the name might not be as familiar to all today, whenever they play the 'Sidewalks of New York,' they are playing his campaign song.

And play that song they did, before the start of every Belmont Stakes race until Frank Sinatra's 'New York, New York' pushed it aside. Al's song is now played on Belmont Day, but before the start of the Manhattan Handicap, a turf race on the same card.

It's not surprising that Sinatra's 'New York, New York' has edged out 'Sidewalks of New York.' Sinatra's song is a little more bombastic than lyrics about kids playing in front of stoops. Anyway, what's a stoop?

I don't know anything about Al Smith IV and his wife Nan: if there's an Al Smith V or not, or even if there are any offspring who might take up a spot at the dias for forthcoming Al Smith dinners. But how nice is a name that gets you into the Waldorf for dinner and gets you a seat between the current arguing lions of New York politics?

Even if they take your picture and don't tell us who you are?


Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Mystery Continues

It is not often I see the same picture used in two different papers. It might happen on the same day, but rarely weeks apart.

But here we have today's Wall Street Journal doing a story on the icy relationship between New York City's mayor William deBlasio and the state's governor, Mario Cuomo. The photo accompanying the photo is the same one commented on several postings ago, showing Bill and Mario playing "pass the salt" at The Al Smith dinner on November 10, with an unidentified woman between them. Who is she? Former mayor Mike Bloomberg's date?

Alas and alack. Today's edition doesn't tell us who she is either. This is rather astounding. That a perfectly coiffed woman with an "I'm-somebody-look" should remain identified. Again.

No alert readers came forward after the last posting with any help identifying her. I reached out to non-followers as well, people who I thought had sufficient about-town-chops who would surely know who she is. The best I got was that she looks familiar. And why wouldn't she? Her face keeps popping up in newspapers.

But all may not be lost. There is a credit alongside the right margin of today's photo in the WSJ. It tells us Julie Jacobson of AP was behind the lens. A clue.

A Twitter search yields a reliably identifiable Julie Jacobson. You know it's reliable: the profile tells us @jajacobson101 is an AP photographer. An answer may be forthcoming, but we might have to wait. The last posted Tweet from Ms. Jacobson account was November 24th. There's no telling where they might have sent an AP photographer since then. Nowhere near Wi-Fi, that's for sure.

Ms. Jacobson and the AP created some controversy and debate when an image she took several years ago of a wounded Marine in Afghanistan was sent to member newspapers by the AP. The Marine later died from his wounds, and it was thought that any photo of the wounding that lead to his death was not really suitable for wide distribution.

No such controversy exists here. It is ironic that the WSJ runs a photo of Mario and Bill looking every bit glad to see each other as part of a story about their iciness to each other.  The key to amending whatever enmity exists between the two men might rest in finding the Woman in the Middle.

If only we knew who she is.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Northwest Passage

Anyone who has spent time with these  postings will recall the bug-a-boo I usually make whenever I read the NYT refer to any borough other than Manhattan as an "outer borough." All those bridges, tunnels, rail connections and ferries that link the boroughs (other than Staten Island) with Manhattan still leave them with a status as an "outer borough." At least according to the NYT.

Today, there's a new reference that would make the uninitiated think that parts of New York City border the Yukon Territory.

Take today's front page teaser that tells us in a headline: Interpreters Needed in Bronx "The proliferation of West Africans in the northern reaches of New York City..." That's right, the Bronx is near the North Pole apparently.

"Northern reaches..." Has anyone at the Times taken a good look at a subway map and seen how many subway lines reach the top of the Bronx? The Northern reaches? I used to get off at 242nd Street and run cross-country in Van Cortlandt Park. We were near the Westchester border (Yonkers) doing this, but I never felt we had ascended to the northern reaches of the city. I never had to wear special clothing for what the Times make sound like a guaranteed drop in temperature. No extra down jacket was ever worn. I left high school in the same clothing I wore in the morning for the "journey."

My wife comes from the Bronx. Initially she grew up in the South Bronx, which I guess the Times equates with...I have no idea. Another part of an outer borough, I guess.

Eventually, her family moved to the Norwood section, 204th Street. Not quite the upper, northern reaches, since that would be about 252nd Street, or so. I never felt I was dating someone who might be from "upstate."

In fact, I'm fond of joking that according to the Times, anything north of Bloomingdales at 59th Street is probably "upstate."


Thursday, November 26, 2015


This year is the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's birth. If anyone has been following the news, apres moi le deluge has been applied to Frank's birthplace, Hoboken, because they've just had a massive water main break affecting the city's water supply. Who knows what might occur by the time the date of Frank's birth (December 12) rolls around. Might be a good time to be in Palm Springs and not take chances with a Northeast winter and a 100 year old storm.

Celebrate the centennial of anyone who became famous and you realize there are many people who will tell you about the subject. A life is re-examined. Books, documentaries, TV tributes, radio shows, lectures and discussions will all follow.

Sinatra's daughter Tina has been trying for years to get a statue of Frank erected in Times Square, near the old Paramount Theater, where Frank sent bobby-soxers into fainting spells. There is a statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square, and it is felt Frank should have one as well.

There has been disagreement over this since Frank was not from New York, but rather Hoboken, across the river in New Jersey. Of course this is silly carping. Ulysses S. Grant was not born in New York, and yet there is a tomb and monument to him, albeit so far up in Manhattan that some people might think they've left the city.

At this point, with the way Times Square looks with life-size costumed characters and topless women caging for tips on Bloomberg Beach, Frank himself wouldn't know the place, and might just really want to be honored somewhere else. The statue advocacy seems to have died down.

But Times Square would be right for Frank. He was a bit raucous, and could be rough around the edges. The joints he frequented are all gone, but there's got to be a place Frank could go. Maybe something near the 21 Club, not far from Times Square. Frank did like to drink.

I do read books, but I read book reviews more. They can be beautifully written, and often impart as much knowledge as a good obituary about the context of the subject. The chief New York Times book reviewer is Michiko Kakutani, who I suspect is feared amongst writers, publishes, and literary agents.  Even the show 'The Affair' had a piece of dialogue about how tough her reviews can be.

Take the review she recently wrote for Sinatra: The Chairman, by James Kaplan. The first several paragraphs of the review deftly outline Sinatra's life on their own, and give Mr. Kaplan sufficient credit in this, his second volume on Sinatra's life. The first volume is also held in high regard.

But then the 979-page length becomes an issue, and you almost get the impression things would have been better if perhaps there was less shoved into the book. All I know is I'm not going to know, because I fog out on biographies. And I already know a good deal of Frank's story.

Ava Gardner, Frank's second wife, is discussed a bit at length in the review. Ava, as anyone knows, was the one person Frank wouldn't discuss with anyone after he and Ava split up. The review points out "the hole left in his heart gave his singing new depth and dimension. These are hardly new insights."

Well, they might be new to those whose lives don't nearly coincide with Frank's. I remember being at a New York Pops concert at Carnegie Hall and Tierney Sutton was doing several numbers. She looked great, and sang great, and told the audience that she wanted to thank Ava Gardner for devastating Frank so much, because he wouldn't have had the emotions he put into song if they stayed together. It was insightful, black humor, and not many people got it.

And speaking of Ava and book reviews, there was a book review in the Wall Street Journal a week or so prior to the NYT review on the same book. It had a style completely different than Ms. Kakutani's and was itself a little raucous, much like Frank and those he hung out with.

Ava, herself a piece of work, is said to have commented on Frank's human proportions, weight vs. reproductive organ. She said of Frank: "He weighs 120, but 110 of those pounds are cock."

Now that would make some statue.


Monday, November 23, 2015

The City

Someone who knows that I've quoted Pete Hamill on several occasions Tweeted me that Mr. Hamill has a piece in the December issue of National Geographic. The essay, 'New New York' is accompanied by a series of absolutely stunning photographs by George Steinmetz, that as good as Pete's prose is, actually upstage the words. I think Pete would agree. Or, maybe not.

There are three Pete Hamill moments I like to recount. One has to do with his quote from a forward on a collection of obituaries, that "life is the leading cause of death."

Another has to do with his reminiscence of when he was at the now closed Lion's Head Pub and someone dropped dead of a heart attack at a table near him and someone else immediately asked the waitress, "what did he have?"

The third is not in print, but when Pete appeared on the stage at the Warren Street Barnes and Noble in April 2011 with other writers as part of a promotion for an anthology of boxing stories, "At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing" he commented on his dislike for mixed martial arts competition. He said he's seen better fights at a Puerto Rican/Italian wedding. Only an authentic New Yorker could boast of having been invited to one of those. (Considering the shellacking Ronda Rousey took in losing her MMA championship in the second round to Holly Holm recently, Mr. Hamill must have seen some real donnybrooks at the catering hall.)

Viewing the National Geographic piece online, which is where I first dove into it, the photographs are incredible on a large desktop computer screen.  I remember someone once commenting about the photos in National Geographic that they are so clear and detailed that they could make a photo essay on water pollution seem like water you'd want to drink.

But, valuing tangibility over suspect cyberspace online permanence, I had to go out and buy a copy of the issue. Luckily, I found it today at the local supermarket. In the suburban hamlet I live in, the corner "candy store" makes a total living selling lottery tickets and tobacco products. They don't even carry magazines, but do carry newspapers.

This won't be the first time Mr. Hamill's prose has inspired me to add my own. Two of the worst days of my life, and also the luckiest, occurred in Manhattan at my place of work. The first was being in Tower One when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The lucky part, was getting out only slightly damp with a small layer of dust after getting down from the 29th floor.

The second was the more dramatic, if you can imagine that. Being there when my Vice President executed my two co-workers on September 16, 2002 at Empire BlueCross BlueShield at what was our temporary workplace at 1440 Broadway. He immediately took his own life, leaving three very bloody bodies in the office on the other side of where I sat. The lucky part, was of course not being chosen by John Harrison to be one of his victims.

It was after those shootings that I ached to write something. And I did. Approximately a 9,000 word narrative that I attached to a cover letter to Mr. Hamill at the address of his most recent publisher, Little, Brown & Co.. I had been reading Mr. Hamill's 'Downtown: My Manhattan' and he seemed an appropriate person to send such a narrative to.

I never heard from Mr. Hamill, but of course I don't know if that's because he didn't want to answer, or just plain didn't get mail sent to his publisher. He wasn't the first author who never answered me. Nor the last. In fact, the person who did respond is the same person who has now told me about the National Geographic piece. It is a connected world.

I'm not sure, but my suspicions are that person may have anticipated I'd write something of my own after reading Mr. Hamill's latest. After all, Mr. Hamill and I are both what I would call authentic New Yorkers. We were both born in New York City of parents who worked there, were educated in either public or Catholic schools, worked in Manhattan for decades, and remember nearly the same mayors and police commissioners.

Mr. Hamill does recognize that his musings might be perceived as just another lament from "another old guy fighting off a longing for a lost past." How could they not be? But at least he doesn't dwell on it and drag his heels. Eventually, current times are somebody else's long ago memories.

I just had two photos digitally restored. One is from a slide I took in 1975 of the Greek Church on Cedar Street with the towers of the World Trade Center in the background. I distinctly remember that when I took the picture I would be back taking more. I never did, and now of course I can't. I had an extra copy made and plan to give it to a Greek priest at the new church that is being built near the old site.

The other picture is one I took from the mezzanine level of the Blarney Stone at 162 Madison Avenue after a lunch hour in 1975. I had just gotten a 35mm SLR camera and was very excited about taking pictures.

A few years after taking the photo I realized that the fellow who appears in almost Alfred Hitchcock shadow in the upper left, by the door, is someone my wife and I became very good friends with, who became the Godfather for our second daughter. The friendship of course evolved after the many rounds of Budweiser and elbow bending that we did in those days. He passed away in 2011, but we were friends with he and his wife to the end. I still stay in touch with his now adult children and will be sharing extra copies I made of the prescient photo.

Mr. Hamill talks of being a walker, a flaneur of the city, and that he never learned to drive until he was 36. I still haven't learned to drive, and at this point purposely won't. I too see what was there if it isn't still there.

I still see that Blarney Stone, although it was long ago replaced by 'Twin Jays' Korean deli/fruit stand, and now with the entire half block replaced by one of the slender high rises that Mr. Hamill talks about. Thus, I go back two iterations.

I still see the Twin Towers. I see where the family flower shops were: for over 50 years no more than a block separated the three locations. I see the other florists who we dealt with. All gone. I see where I first worked full-time in Manhattan, 2 Park Avenue. It's still there, and I get a haircut just west of the building on 32nd Street. I was there on Wednesday, and still get into the city when dental and other needs require.

My favorite time of the year for sidewalk gazing has always been after the clocks go back and it's dark at around 4:30, 4;50 in the afternoon and people around Gramercy Park still haven't closed their blinds or shades, and you can see in quite easily at their domestic life and furnishings.

I still look up and see the stenciled, faded signs that advertised handbag emporiums. But of course the skyline has changed. Has it ever. The National Geographic piece has a great pullout insert that shows the city to be a great long key, with mostly high, and some low cuts in its profile. Whenever I take the LIRR into the city I always look up just before the train heads into the East River tunnel and my ears still pop, and I marvel at how much it has changed, and at how much it really does look like an enormous bar graph with thin bars of various heights along an x-axis.

I remember the start of Mr. Hamill's 'Downtown' when a trip to the City (Manhattan is always the City) is described as going to Oz and the Emerald City. Flushing, Queens, where I grew up, now has a skyline of its own.

Mr. Hamill correctly points out that the current spate of building are engineering marvels more than architectural marvels. This is true. My thought is that someday someone will make one of those slender towers rotate floor by floor, leaving the place a bit chock-a-block like some unsolved Rubik's Cube.

This will set off titanic New York-style real estate lawsuits over who gets to face the fireworks on those floors where someone doesn't occupy the whole floor. The height of these building is necessitated by first being able to be that high, and most importantly, to be that high to shoulder out the view of anyone else.

He may be wrong though that these new buildings will not give New York PTA members or school board appointees. I remember getting physical therapy at a place on 23rd Street in the back of a New York Sports Club gym where local people were also having their kinks worked out. I heard plenty of public school, children talk from patients, as well as the owner, who lived in the Waterside complex of buildings on the East River by Bellevue. Of course, these are the more residential dwellings of people rather than the status symbol dwellings of the occupants of the towering towers, who probably aren't moving in with a complete set of Legos, back packs and kids with runny noses.

But just recently the mothers of the area probably near where Mr. Hamill now calls home (a loft in Tribeca. Not bad Pete.) protested for more crossing guards for their kids. These aren't people living on the 88th floor, but they're not in five story walkups either.  But they do have kids, and are worried about their safety.

As estranged as my father and I were, I can rarely stop thinking of him whenever I think about New York. He was born in 1915, 100 years ago, at a walkup on 2nd Avenue and 33rd street. He finished his life out in Washington, D.C., being made to move there after the Brooklyn Navy Yard closed in 1964.

Despite his near religious adherence to weekly visits back on weekends, I always think he should have never left New York. But the job and the pension took him away. I was in high school, and I chose not to follow him, opting for the cot at my grandmother's, four blocks from Stuyvesant High School. A cot on 19th Street was better than a view of the Capitol.

It wasn't that long ago that I read that Mr. Hamill was living in Mexico. He mentions residence there, but doesn't say when.

At eighty, he's certainly returned for a victory lap.