Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Executive Volunteer Corps

I owe the following news referral to a Twitter connection with a journalist in Brisbane, Australia, @JustJenKing, a freshly minted journalist who in mid-life left being an OR nurse and became a digital media specialist for an Australian news outlet.

Following the Bloomberg News link will take you a story that is in effect an comparative study of crime as committed by the elderly throughout the world. I particularly enjoyed the story because it closed the thread of the recent jewel heist in Britain, as well as provided a memory resuscitator for a bit of a bygone life.

Basically, the story revels how the elderly in countries other than the United States seem to resort to crime. And not just garden variety shoplifting, but major, crew oriented crime like the recent jewel heist in London, where the elevator shaft was shimmied down and  high powered drills were used to cut into a vault. We've seen this in movies, but always played by a cast of relative youngsters. The youngest of the British crew of nine was 42, with one topping out at 74 with diminished hearing. He might have been the lead driller.

I've always found heists fun to read about. Generally, no one is shot at, and the thieves get away--for a bit. Perhaps my fascination for these crimes springs from the 1964 Murf-the-Surf caper where Murf placed a simple ladder against a window of New York's Museum of Natural History, popped open a display case, and made off with the Star of India Sapphire. The biggest (and easiest) jewel heist to date

My father and I went to the museum after the caper and I distinctly remember looking at the tall, double hung window and imagining a ladder leaning against it outside, and someone making their way inside to the display area holding a flat blade screwdriver. Sort of like being locked out of your house.

Murf was more than colorful, and of course there was a movie made about him. He was considered somewhat benign, having of course spawned a huge security industry. He was fun, until he was wanted for murder.

The story gives another example of a German ring of thieves who were just trying to top off their pensions and avoid life in a retirement home. If orange is the new black, as one TV show tells us, will Sing Sing be the new extended care facility?

Where the average age of criminals seems to be rising in other countries, the trend apparently has not hit the United States. No reasons are given for this, but it has to do with money, sex, TV and drugs.

I distinctly remember during NYC's  Koch administration accompanying a co-worker at lunchtime on a quick trip to the Executive Volunteer Corps, a collection of elderly business people who were corralled by the city to offer advice to budding entrepreneurs and small business owners. This is long before Silicon Valley and venture capitalist funding. A PC was nowhere in sight yet.

There were significant public service ads in the subway leading you to a second floor expanse of space near Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street. Looking back, it was also indicative of when the portion of 42nd Street was somewhat threadbare, and a city's rental of space was likely for a song, compared to what the rent would be today.

I distinctly remember my co-worker and I being the youngest people in the place by a divisible factor of nearly three. My friend was always thinking he was going to come up with an invention of some kind. Why he thought this I always got a kick out of, because he never actually made anything, but merely thought about making a mint doing something. At least Ralph Cramden and Ed Norton on 'The Honeymooners' had a product to offer. My friend had ideas. But hey, you got to start somewhere.

With absolutely no waiting, we were met by a 70-something female receptionist, who led us to a 70-something gentleman in a suit and tie who explained to my friend some of the approaches to starting your own business. We were seated in hard, slat-back wooden chairs, at a vast wooden desk, an arrangement that was repeated throughout the floor plan. No cubicles then. This was where a municipal purchasing agent's inventory went before it went to Weissberger storage. There was a great second- story view of East 42nd Street and barely moving crosstown buses.

He pointed to a shelf of books, and gestured toward another gentleman who could give very specific advice once my friend had a few more specifics to disclose. With both of us being relatively young, I wondered if the whole Corps thing was just a way to give these people health insurance. And maybe it was. Maybe it kept them away from jewel heists.

The story points out the that the upward age-creeping bracket for criminals is not trending that way in the United States. There are no reasons given for his, but I can easily offer a few: money, sex, TV and drugs.

The close of the story talks of a 74 year-old co-defendant who slowed up the getaway with constant pit stops for peeing. This is not the case in the United States. As anyone who watches the national edition of the evening news should know by now, if you've got ED, Erectile Dysfunction, or, as the boys call it, "can't get it up anymore," then it is entirely your own fault. And if you can't complete a round of golf without pulling your putter out in the rough at every hole, then that's your fault too. There are cures for this, and American advertising budgets and TV make the cures known.

If you've ever been varnishing a chair with a classy looking 50, 60-something lady whose ashes haven't completely gone out and you don't get the urge to put down your brushes, then it is your fault. Las Vegas is in one of the 50 states. It exists no where else. The point is: with a little pharmacological assistance, which the US has a abundance to offer, you don't need to be bored and resort to crime to pad out your sunset years.

Take the recently released Blythe Danner (72), Sam Elliot (70) movie, 'I'll See You in My Dreams: Life Goes on, Go with It.' Why slide down an elevator shaft and risk going to prison and meeting a geriatric Bubba who wants to make you his girlfriend, when you might be able to have a meal on the back of a boat with Blythe?

I know what I'd choose.

How We Do Do-Do

Not many days go by when there isn't a picture of some sort of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, even if at the end May it is a picture of Ms. Merkel in March wearing an overcoat. No image is out of date to show.

Here, she is seen with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece, similarly clad against what is probably a chilly Berlin in March.

The story this picture accompanies is timely, since the time is fast approaching when Greece has to pony up some money, or risk being taken for a debtor nation that defaults on its debt and become no better than an Onslow, Hyacinth's work-challenged brother-in-law on the British show 'Keeping Up Appearances.'

Here, in a civic moment of comparative local laws, Chancellor Merkel is showing the Greek prime minister the sanitary effects of German pooper-scooper laws.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Well Writ Obit

On any given day, a pass through the New York Times obituary page will take you to deceased subjects who are noted for a lifelong contribution to a certain endeavor. These endeavors are widely and wildly varied. They can include, like today, the man who put heart shaped bathrooms in Pocono hotel rooms, to authors, pilots, sports figures, scientists, media types, dancers, inventors, musicians, actors and actresses, politicians, criminals and police pioneers. Because of an obituary read, I know a good deal more about WD-40, the spray lubricant in the blue and yellow can a with the red applicator straw than, I would guess, most people. It's now more fun when I use it.

And on a given day, there can be one, or even six of these obituaries to consider reading. Of course they can all be read, but sometimes, with time and attention span to consider, a triage selection is made. Perhaps I'll eliminate the ballet person. I've never gone, to a ballet, not even to 'The Nutcracker,' so it's not likely I can appreciate the person's achievements.

So, when the obituary headline told me, "Victor Salvi, 95, a Virtuoso of Harp Making" had passed away, I was tempted to pass up the opportunity to read about him. I've seen harps played in classical orchestras, and particularly by the now deceased Derek Bell of The Chieftains,' a famous Irish group. I know there a lot of pedals involved, but I'm not sure I have the time to read about someone who made the instrument.

Following that impulse would have been a pity. Because then I wouldn't have read Margalit Fox's description of the sound of someone learning to play the violin at a very early stage of their desire to learn to play the instrument.

But the piece is about harps, right? Yes, and it goes that even someone just fooling around and plucking or stroking some strings can produce a pleasant sound, unlike the "feline altercation" sound produced by a violin novice.

And there you have it. You will never watch a movie or commercial scene of a youngster attempting to play he violin and not equate the sound with cats having a territorially dispute, a "feline altercation."

Being a fan of Margalit's sendoffs I emailed her and commented on the choice of words. I asked if she had been holding onto that description of sound for years and was waiting to finding the right time to use it. I call it the "well rehearsed ad lib."

She replied with an even better explanation. It just came to her while writing the piece. "As the great Red Smith used to say about writing on deadline, "God will provide..."

Moral to the story? Try not to pass up a single obituary.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Uncle Phil Moments

Watching this year's round of playoff hockey featuring the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, viewers are asked to Tweet their favorite playoff moments: #myplayoffmoment. Or something like that. At this moment we're in between Games 4 and 5, with the series tied at two games apiece. Thus, I can't exactly confirm that hashtag address, but it's close.

I could of course do a compose a Tweet to that address. But my memories would have to be squeezed into 140 characters--with spaces. I prefer to be more expansive.

One is a moment I read about in Sports Illustrated, and another is a moment I actually witnessed at Madison Square Garden. Both involved Boston's Phil Esposito, one of the most competitive players to ever play the game, and certainly one with the most irritated rear end.

Phil, as any fan of a certain age will remember, liked to stand with his back toward the goaltender and face and deflect any shot a teammate was taking toward the net. Any goaltender will tell you, a deflected shot is the hardest to defend against. In addition to having Esposito's somewhat considerable frame blocking the goaltender's vision of shot coming from the point, his stick was waved like a loose rudder, trying to send a shot into the opposite direction of where the goaltender was expecting it. Phil scored many goals this way, and not all due to luck.

Growing up, he practiced this for hours on end, trying to deflect shots past his goaltender brother Tony. Tony Esposito came to be a starring goaltender for the Chicago Black Hawks and set a record for shutouts for a rookie netminder,

In the early1970s, the Bruins were playing a playoff round against the Montreal Canadians. Both teams were powerhouses of the era, with the Canadians led by their goaltender Ken Dryden, an American who played for Cornell. Dryden was one of the tallest goaltenders to play the game at that point, standing around 6' 4", without his skates. He filled out the net considerable.

Well, it turns out during one game, Dryden is keeping the Bruins off the scoreboard with one spectacular save after another. Playoff hockey. The goaltenders, like the pitchers in baseball, are leading the show.

Dryden was a thinking man's goaltender. He would tell interviewers he would try and anticipate where a player wanted to make a shot, lead that player to think that's where he should shoot the puck, then within a fraction of a second, close the opening he gave the shooter and make the save. He was very hard to score against.

One sequence of plays has Phil firmly planted in from of Dryden, and Bobby Orr, or someone else on the Bruins takes a screaming slapshot from the point. Phil is ready, thinking he's got Dryden blocked out of seeing the shot, and with a quick turn of his stick blade, redirects the shot to where he thinks Dryden can never make the save. Needless to say, Dryden, being the skating cat he is, just a s quickly recovers from leaning in the wrong direction and makes the save.

Phil, or Uncle Phil, as we Ranger fans liked to call him, even after he came to play for the Rangers, is so utterly flabbergasted that Dryden has made the save on a Phil Esposito patented deflected shot that he slams the his stick on the ice, faces Dryden, and screams at him: "You fucking giraffe."

The other Uncle Phil moment is one I personally witnessed at Madison Square Garden during the Bruin/Ranger Stanley Cup finals in 1972.

The movie 'Doctor Doolittle' starring Rex Harrison had already been out. It had a jaunty musical score, featuring the song 'Talk to the Animals.' Sammy Davis Jr. had made a hit recording of the song, and it was quite familiar to many people, even years after the movie.

A Ranger/Bruin rivalry was as intense then as a Yankee/Red Sox one. In that era of arena fan entertainment there were no light shows that spun around the building. But the atmosphere was no less noisy and kinetic. A building virtually on a square block of Manhattan could be felt to shake at times when the crowd really got into wanting something from the team, or appreciating a play.

No blaring, thumping rock music came from a massive set of speakers, but the selections from the organist could be heard quite vividly. In the case of the Garden, the long-time organist was Eddie Layton, and a spot was carved out for him at the press level, nice seating, just at the top rim of the Red Seats. Thus, Eddie was able to match music to the action, and he did it very well.

So, when the pre-game skate was under way and the Bruins filed out from the corner of the arena, trading awkward choppy steps on runner mats for smooth gliding onto the ice, Eddie Layton launched into a clear, loud, spirited organ version of 'Talk to the Animals.'

Anyone who has even been to the Garden before the start of the a game might wonder why, with barely minutes to go before the puck is dropped at center ice, there seem to be so many empty seats in the joint. But take a look around after the anthem is finished, and everyone is in front of a seat, about to sit down. (Hopefully, if they're in front of you.) New Yorkers just seem to cut it close.

So, here was have the Bruins streaming out onto the ice, not a tremendous number of people assembled yet in the place, and Eddie Layton is playing 'Talk to the Animals' as the Bruins swirl around in warm up circles.

The matching of the song and the appearance of the Bruins is not lost on many in the crowd, and it is especially not lost on Phil Esposito, who stops his pre-game skate and starts to hector Eddie Layton on his musical selection. Uncle Phil doesn't just say a few choice words and skate way. I'm in no position to hear the conversation that is taking place, but Phil is jawing and tapping his stick blade on the ice for emphasis for a good while at Eddie Layton. Earl Weaver and a home plate umpire.

I don't believe the music stops, but if it did, it picked up again. I mean, who is going to accede to Phil Esposito's complaint about the organist's selection? No one.

Phil is eventually traded to the Rangers in a still-mystifying deal that saw Jean Ratelle being traded to the Bruins. Nothing got better for either team. 1972 was at the time the last time the Bruins won the Cup for quite a while, and the Rangers wouldn't do it until 1994, 54 years after 1940, when, as Sam Rosen told us all, "the waiting is over."

After 11 years of season seat attendance, I wasn't there when The Rangers finally won the cup. My attendance was poorly distributed over their final success at winning. No problem.

I've still got a great image of Uncle Phil being pretty mad at the organist.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Refugee Image

If this isn't literally a human portrait, then there isn't one.

Today's WSJ and NYT.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Special Day

Yesterday, someone I know quite emphatically Tweeted: "Yes, yes I am celebrating Badass Librarian Day!"

I checked my calendar. May 4th was not circled, or captioned by the calendar company as being anything other than "Early May Bank Holiday (UK)" and "Greenery Day (Japan)." Obviously, someone missed an email.

Sure, there are all kinds of celebrations, and not all make it to the big calendar companies, the newscasts, or even the newspapers in time for the deadline. Apparently, there are no greeting cards to celebrate the day either. A super-niche day can't be made highly commercial, I guess.

The announcement did lead me to wonder what might be entailed in celebrating the "Badass" day. Do squadrons of tattooed librarians ride to work on their Harleys in clothing guaranteed to show off as much tattooed flesh as legally possible through openings in riveted leather? Do they all blow clouds of smoke (or vapor) at each other outside the library's doors before going in? Do they "open carry" handguns where allowed by local laws? What exactly constitutes a "Badass" librarian, even for a day, that makes them run counter to the stereotypical image of their all wearing glasses and sensible clothes and shoes from Sears?

The Web wasn't much help. There is merchandise being offered which you can buy to proclaim your "Badass" credentials. There is a proclamation that May 4th is indeed "Badass" day and is described as follows:

It's like Hug a Librarian Day, but with attitude and chances of emergency room visits...for someone...and there's a full moon that's your chance to be your badass the library or not...and we all rock! All library advocates are welcome!

Now that I am of an age sufficient to span 12 presidential administrations, I can honestly say that I know the librarian image I grew up has been replaced by male librarians, gay librarians, tattooed librarians, body pierced librarians, black librarians, all joining the dated stereotypical image that can still be found in some quarters. I guess any one of those types can become a "Badass Librarian" for a day.

But you know what? I think through all that once a year preening and strutting exterior, they'll still help me.