Monday, April 20, 2015

The Knockouts

When I was involved in the type of work that financed my life, I occasionally had to give a deposition on a case we were working on that might reach courtroom status. The lawyer I worked with when these things came about explained to me that a deposition was really all about "memorializing" testimony for future possible use. I always appreciated the description and when giving a deposition always understood what role it had.

There is annual Do-Wop oldies show put on each year at Holy Cross High School in Flushing. A friend I used to work with has been singing in a Do-Wop group since he was around 17 in Brooklyn, and it is now his vocation, avocation in retirement. The groups that are part of the show are the familiar names from the 50s and 60s (more 60s now). The Duprees, Kenny Vance, The Emotions, The Excellents, The Shirelles, The Marcels. Usually these groups have at least one original member. So, they go way back.

The high school setting is perfect in the school's auditorium. Holy Cross High School in Flushing is a Catholic high school, the first all boys high school in Queens. It is still all boys. At least one notable graduate is Mike Repole, who may not he a household name, but is a fairly newly minted billionaire who sold Vitamin Water to Coca-Cola. Mike also keeps a stable of top flight thoroughbreds trained by Todd Pletcher on the NYRA circuit. Mike's stable has won numerous top graded stakes races and has had early favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

Apparently, at some point growing up Mr. Repole spent a good deal of his youth at Aqueduct, in southern Queens. Mike is so Queens through and through that the colors for his stable are the same colors as the Mets ball club: blue and orange.

Holy Cross is in Flushing, where I grew up most of the time. The surrounding neighborhood is full of tidy homes with beach blanket lawns that could be trimmed with a scissor rather than a lawnmower. I didn't go to Holy Cross High School, but I knew kids who did. My only time inside other than for a Golden Gloves preliminary series of fights and the concerts was once when I needed to take an SAT achievement test in physics. The test was in one of the classrooms and was proctored by a Brother in a full length rob with a rope sash. I could only think of Friar Tuck. I remember looking up and seeing a crucifix on the wall behind the teacher's desk and thinking this is a type of classroom I've never been in before.

The annual Do-Wop show has now been running for 17 consecutive years. I believe I started going with my wife and other couples (and once with a bored daughter who left after intermission) every year since 2002. It is professionally produced, and is always backed with a live band. It is usually the same band for all the acts, The Coda Band is five people, one of whose members is Mary Beth who at some point in her young life probably startled her parents by wanting to play the saxophone and clarinet. And does she ever. She solos with Louis Prima riffs and produces more sound that anyone should be able to from such a petite body. The band members are the youngest people in the place. And loving it.

The acts are first-rate, and are ones you would encounter on cruises if that's what you did. Year-to-year there is always a different lineup of talent, but after awhile, as you might expect, you see some of the same acts who've seen before. Such is the case with 'The Knockouts.'

Two white guys who do sing. Neatly dressed, grey haired geriatric bantamweights who are some part Smothers Brothers without the bass, and one part Smith and Dale, a vaudeville act that my father remembered, and who I probably saw on Ed Sullivan years ago.

All I know about 'The Knockouts' is that the guy on the left is Gary and the guy on the right is Bob, a kinetic mass of humanity who must be fueled by the strongest caffeinated coffee laced with crack. Bob never stops moving, And generally in directions that suggest he's pantomiming sex with a pneumatic pelvis, all while singing. Guessing their age is difficult, but my guess is Harry Truman was president when their arrival was announced to their dads. Maybe even FDR.

They are a singing comic duo that lets Gary be the straight man for Bob's antics. In the best variety show tradition, some schtick gets woven into the act, and a front row woman's hair gets made fun of.  And Gary's wife gets the treatment as well. They never go overboard, since they are not on that long. No one act is. In the case of 'The Knockouts,' they are on for perhaps 20 minutes. This particular time Gary sang a solo, "Unchained Melody' and it was the first time I can say I saw Bob standing still in the wings. You could still see him sweating though, he was so warmed up.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening to be back in the Borough when the magnolias are blooming and the cherry trees are popping. A cool, pleasant April evening with 'The Knockouts.'

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Follow the Bouncing Pantsuit

You have to be of a certain age and temperament (and I am both) to realize that the picture of Hillary Clinton in Iowa campaigning fro president is really a picture of Mrs. Clinton leading the factory floor workers in a Mitch Miller sing-a-long.

Can you name that tune?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Deja Vu

Several months ago I wrote that I would miss reading Maureen Dowd's column and her use of unheard of words as she went to a once a week schedule, on Sundays. I was in no man's land. I wasn't getting the paper delivered, so I wasn't a New York Times subscriber who was granted full digital rights to online copy.

My written entreaties to the Sulzbergers to grant me subscriber status, since I saw myself as a newsstand subscriber, went unanswered. I felt a scan of the QR code could establish by bona fides.

Well, I'm happy to report I've become a digerati because of my new attachment to home delivery of the NYT and the Wall Street Journal. The newsstand price vs. the home delivery price tipped the scale. Luckily, the delivery vendor has proved quite reliable, and I am now a happy subscriber.

So, with this newly acquired status in life, I am now able to check Ms. Dowd out on Sundays online. I do not get the Sunday doorstopper edition of the NYT. And I have to say, lately she's been pretty good. Or, at least reminding me of why I started to read her back at the beginning of her career in her 'Liberties' column when she was taking on president Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky era. "A little nutty/a little slutty" I think went one of Ms. Dowd's phrases.

Ms Dowd was great reading then, and I did predict that she would win a Pulitzer. And of course she did, very soon after.

Adversaries need to be matched to certain other adversaries. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier produced three great fights. Leonard/Hearns, Dempsey/Tunney. Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

And now we're going to get another great match up. Dowd vs. Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton running for president is going to be so much fun. We we're deprived a pay-per-view race when Rudolph Guliani pulled out of a New York Senate race. So, we waited. And while Mrs. Clinton may not have a equally entertaining political opponent, she will be followed by a political journalist. And who better than Ms. Dowd.

Hillary reminds me of the Run to the Roses, the lead up to the Kentucky Derby. Just like candidates need to compile primary delegates, horses need to compile points in order to get in the starting gate for the mile and a quarter classic on the first Saturday in May. They do this by running in races that have points assigned to them. And with the relatively early announcement that Hillary is running, we are going to get two Kentucky Derbies before the 2016 election. Things are seldom this good.

Ms. Dowd, in her most recent column points out that Hillary shares some similarities to Richard Nixon. Maybe more than some. Her column is worth the read to see how she develops this, but it is based on her lifelong knowledge of growing up and being in Washington, using even the experience of her brother when he was a Senate page.

Mrs. Clinton is not, however, the first woman to run for president. Perhaps eventually on a major ticket, but not the first. In a wonderful column in the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal era, Cynthia Crossen reminded us in a October 2004 'Deja Vu' piece that Gracie Allen ran on the Surprise Party ticket against FDR in 1940.

Who is Gracie Allen? Well, I won't try and describe her too much, you can do that through the Internet, but she was George Burns's spouse and comic foil in vaudeville and in the early days of television. On TV she'd appear toward the end of her show with George in her crinoline skirt that could block a doorway, and proceed to confuse the world, and George, with stories of her relatives and who was married to whom and what they did to each other. She was a ditz. Except in real life.

She concocted the presidential campaign with the promise of changing the way asparagus was grown, to producing campaign buttons that were the "sew-on kind" so the wearer would not change their mind. She was great fun.

But Mrs. Clinton is really running for president. Ms. Dowd senses that her campaign strategy will be to avoid big audiences, and play up her being a grandmother. (Maybe Surprise Party will be replaced by Knitting Party.) By the time the election rolls around, Hillary will have taped so many appearances that someone is going to wonder if there will actually be a body to swear in if she wins.

Back in the day, politics and the candidates were always compared to horse racing. Someone is a long shot; someone is a sure thing; someone is a dark horse (although presumably that one's to be stricken from the style guide); there is of course a race, and a finish. Maybe even a close finish.

So, which of this year's Derby horses does Hillary most remind you of? In the sports section of Monday's NYT there is a list of their writers' comments about the potential entrants and their strengths and weaknesses.

In certain circles, Mrs. Clinton is already being somewhat vilified for accepting sheik shekels for the Clinton family foundation while she was Secretary of State. Thus, I think the possible Derby horse she might most resemble is American Pharaoh.

No, I didn't make the name up. This is a living and breathing thoroughbred three-year-old whose chances for a Derby are considered very good. He has a hall-of-fame trainer in Bob Baffert and will likely be ridden by Victor Espinoza, winner of last year's Derby aboard California Chrome, and War Emblem, another Derby winner. The connections, as they say in racing, are very good. Consider what the NYT sports writers Joe Drape and Melissa Hoppert have to say.

He validated the buzz coming from the backside with a sensational Arkansas Derby (think husband's birthplace and where he was governor) victory. Who'd he beat? (They always say that.) That's up for debate.

The son of Pioneer of the Nile, the colt followed the Rebel Stakes win with an absolutely dominating eight-length victory in the Arkansas Derby. (It was impressive.) He and Dortmund (substitute a person's real name) have established themselves as the ones to beat, but I think Dortmund has faced tougher competition. (They also always hedge.)

I can't wait for Maureen Dowd to call the coming race.

The Trojan Horse with Batteries

The showdown on the Greek debt is fast approaching. And so too is a robot stalking Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, based on this photo that appeared today in the Wall Street Journal.

Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted Tuesday after a YuMi robot grabbed her finger as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, looked on. The YuMi and several other machines displayed at a trade show in Hannover, Germany, are being touted by their makers as being more flexible, easier to program and safer for humans.

It doesn't say who made the robot, but it could be from Greece and is something that is a modern day version of an electronic Trojan horse--their version of a drone--intended to cause the Chancellor harm. Thus, it was good she jumped back after it grabbed her finger. The robot definitely didn't come from Italy, because of course he would have looked like the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlosconi, who of course would have virtually grabbed her bum as she tuned her back. All in the name of World Piece.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide

How well read can a book be if it is published in September 2013, it is now April 2015, and it is not widely known at the publisher that pages 495 through 558 are missing?

The first woman I called at Penguin Books did admit that she heard of it, but I needed to call another number. No problem. How many things are ever settled by talking to the first person?

I never bought a book with missing pages. Not ripped out, just never there in the first place. The second woman I talked to said she never heard of this one, but there must have been a problem at the bindery. I'll say.

The other night I went to get more details on George Clooney's 2005 "Good Night, and Good Luck," the Edward R. Murrow film he directed and co-wrote that centered on Murrow's pursuit of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s. The Red Hunt. The Blacklist era.

It's a great film if you know anything about the era and lived through parts of it firsthand, even if you were just a wee one at the time. I distinctly remember adults being scared of who might be a Communist. Growing up I heard the doorman at 150 East 18th Street went to meetings. I always looked intently at this guy in his Mexican general uniform when I delivered flowers and wondered how he was going to threaten my safety. He always held the door open for me and told me next time to use the service entrance. I never did.

When I went to look the movie up in Maltin's 2014 movie guide I was first confused by the listing that went from 'Frank and Ollie' on the bottom of page left, directly to 'Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams.' at the top of page right.

As anyone who has ever struggled with Maltin's published lists will tell you, the alphabetizing is of its own invention. It follows no accepted standard. This presents problems when there is a numerical start to a title, or words after A and I. Spaces are not handled well. Keep looking, you'll find it somewhere. But only if all the pages are there.

Missing pages is a new low for print. I remember there being a story in the paper about how the 2014 edition was going to the last one printed. Mr. Maltin says with all that there is online, no one goes to print as they once did. No one goes to G as they once did either.

So, we'll see if the fresh copy they promise to send me, via UPS, will have all the pages. I asked the woman could they at least first check that at least the ones I mentioned as missing are all there. No, that would be impossible. When I get the replacement, just "recycle" the old one.

Is she kidding? My first reaction will be to see if the new one is at least fatter than the old one. Then I'll see if there's anything missing. Then I'll keep both books. Just for fun.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pet the Rock

There was news the other day that the creator of the Pet Rock passed away. You would definitely have to be of a certain age to remember the Pet Rock, and have to be a great sentimentalist if you still had the rock, the box and the instructions on how to care for it. For yes, Virginia, there really was a Pet Rock, and Gary Dahl, the inventor has now passed away at 78. And he did become rich over it.

Charlie Brown might famously be given a rock in his trick-or-treat bag at Halloween, but Mr. Dahl came up with the idea while dinking in a bar, where good and bad ideas always start. He was already connected to advertising, so he knew the value of promotion. He wasn't working at the time, but his mind was. Thus, for $3.95 an easy to carry rock was packaged in a brown box (think dirt) with air holes. The rock itself was bedded down inside with caressing excelsior. The box's lettering was attention grabbing, and the instructions were for the caring.

I can still see the boxes of Pet Rocks stacked at the Fifth Avenue Card Store in the Empire State building. The rock was everywhere. And with Christmas coming, and the hardly eye-popping price of $3.95 in 1975, the rock sold. And sold big.

These kinds of wild fire items are like comets: they flash, then burn out. There was once a Laugh Box that laughed annoyingly whenever you opened the lid. There have been other must-have items that have long ago hit the trash. If you used today's language, you would say the sales went viral.

A friend of ours took advantage of the $3.95 price and gave my wife and I a Pet Rock for Christmas. It was of course a gag, and I already knew about the craze. It was a different story for my wife.

She unwrapped the gift, thought it was "cute" and immediately took to caring for the rock by acclimating it to its environment, as the instructions suggested. It was not to be moved for several hours, perhaps days. She placed it on the mantle. The maternal responsibility of care had started.

I didn't realize she really thought this thing was to be cared for until she scolded me for moving it before it was ready.

I am still married to that woman.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Trees, Birds and Newspapers

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree...

Mr. Kilmer's poem is of course widely known and quoted. And in my household growing up memorably sung by my mother. Perhaps that's where my exposure to poetry took hold.

It's a great sentiment, and one I nearly share, except when the tree-huggers tell me that paper just killed another tree. I grit my teeth and silently take it, telling all tree-huggers under my breath that trees grow back. They are not endangered.

Newspaper is of course made from wood pulp, which of course comes from trees. So, the tree-huggers probably are cheering heartily for the death of print. I have my own poem, but it doesn't rhyme:

I think that I shall never read
More information on one page
Than what I head in a newspaper.

I love print. There's nothing more informative that absorbing the front page of at least two daily newspapers. Take today's WSJ. I'll bet you never knew what I'm going to reveal the story says about pigeons. Yes, those grey buggers that foul statues and concrete.

Todays WSJ A-Hed piece is about European pigeons, but it really applies everywhere. The headline goes:

                         To Frankfurt's Pigeons,
                       Outdoor Life Is for the Birds.

                    As avians roost in train station,
                     pecking disrupts order: 'the plaque.'

The WSJ loves puns when they do these pieces. They don't do the piece if they can't work in a pun.

Consider what you can have learned from a read of today's article.

Did you know pigeons are in the dove family?
I did know this from prior WSJ stories about pigeons.

The dexterity they have in flying stems from their link to living in cliffs.
Pigeons don't really like trees. And come to think of it, how many pigeons have you ever seen come swooping out of tree? Pigeons are "descendants of rock doves--seaside birds that live on precipices and caves. They prefer to nest on ledges, roofs, beams and other flat surfaces."

This explains a great deal. It doesn't give you the origin of "stool pigeon," but help yourself to Google on that one. Or, go to a prior posting :

They apparently love tunnels. Which is what is attracting them to the Frankfurt train station, because it is open at one end. The birds have, no joke, learned how to wait for automatic doors to open.

I can offer a first hand exception to pigeons not roosting in trees. My father, who was not a hoarder but was certainly a procrastinator, seemed to be unable to take his Christmas tree out of the apartment he was living in in Crystal City, Virginia to be disposed of at the end of the season, when everyone else seemed to acknowledge that it was time to do so. For some reason, he took to dragging it out onto the terrace. He might have thought the cold was going to do something. I can no longer ask him.

I didn't visit him often in Virginia, but one May we did go down there and found three Christmas trees on his terrace, in increasing stages of decomposition, the apparent oldest one being the barest. There was at least one pigeon in it. I'm not sure if a three year old Christmas tree can qualify as still being a tree, but it did offer proof that my father needed someone to live with him.

Pigeons will not defecate (shit) on you while they are flying.
Apparently they can't poop and flap at the same time. This is somewhat reassuring, but shouldn't allow you to drop your guard. I always looked at where to stand at the Wantagh  train station by first looking up, then looking down for signs of droppings. It's no less of a mess to have pigeon poop on you just because they weren't airborne.

And there you have it. A delightful, informative  piece on pigeons. Front page. Of a newspaper. Brought to you by a tree.