Friday, October 30, 2015

The Constant

There are several mathematical constants, the most famous of which is probably π, which tells us that the circumference of a circle is always 3.14 times the length of the diameter, no matter what the diameter's length is.

There is another mathematical constant that shows itself at the racetrack whenever the Assembled are gathered at Aqueduct or Belmont: Jose will hit a 1/7, 7/1 exacta, and it will pay enough to at least lease a Toyota Corolla for a month, maybe two.

The Assembled are a group of now-graying individuals who can all claim to have worked for the same employer once upon a time. This number can swell to five individuals, but the 7/1, 1/7 exacta certainty will only appear on the tote board when Jose is there. And guaranteed, Jose will have it.

It took all day on Saturday, October 24 for this phenomena to present itself at Belmont. The wait was made even longer due to there being 11 races on the card known as New York Showcase Day, a day of racing where all the entrants are New York State breds. This can mean a lot to to certain people.

Ten races came and went on the card, with mostly favorites, or near-favorites winning. One longshot came through, but no one had it. Some of us were having a decent day, and others were having a frustrating day. Jose, true to the demands of the distance he has to travel to get to the track from his home, missed the first few races. No loss, apparently. He said he wouldn't have had those winners anyway.

Jose once told me the significance of the 7/1, 1/7 combination, but I've forgotten. Jose is known as a handicapper and a numbers guy, so the 7/1, 1/7 represents a birthday (July 1st, or January 7th) a birthday or an anniversary date (17). The number 71 doesn't seem to have any significance to Jose, so it definitely is a permutation of something to do with the calendar. Whatever it is, Jose has now learned to "box" exacta number combinations after several lectures from myself to insure he can still win even if the order of finish is the reverse of the primary bet. Hedging is always a good bet when betting.

So, we've spun through 10 races and no one is really ahead for the day betting-wise. It is getting dark out. Really dark, since the last race is going off at 5:52 and the day was solid overcast all day. The light has been going on at the finish line, and now the lights from the tote board are in sharp contrast to the oncoming darkness. It almost looks like we're at nighttime trotting racing.

The last race is a turf race, with a fairly typical turf race finish. Nearly everyone in the 12 horse field is within mere lengths of each other at the finish. It is a scrum headed for the finish line. A little more than three and three-quarter lengths separate the first 7! horses to cross the finish line. The third and fourth place horses dead heat, creating two triple payouts and two superfecta payouts. There are numbers all over the place.

The numbers of the first two horses across the finish? Seven, one. The win payout for the 7? $60.50. Jose had a deuce on this.

The exacta payout of the 7/1? $358.50, which Jose has a $1 bet on, so he gets half of that. Jose has now collected nearly $200 to the race, but that leaves him with only nearly a $100 profit for the day. Winning money at the races is never easy.

The exacta numbers 7/1, for some reason, were bet rather heavily. By rule of thumb, an exacta payout for some mathematical reason (an alert reader can tell be why this is?) usually pays out to the tune of the product of the win price and the place price of the second place horse, in this case $9.90. You would expect those numbers to produce an exacta payout of somewhere very near $600. For some reason, this didn't happen.

A possible explanation for the lower exacta price is that the first two horses were trained by the same trainer, Bruce Levine. He, and others, might have liked the 1-2 chance of a same-trainer-finish to a considerable degree. Payouts are a function of distribution of bets, hence the name pari-mutuel wagering.

Then there are always the conspiracy theories that abound at the racetrack. These can generally be summed up into: "somebody knew something."

Jose sure did.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Way Over My Head

I've been reading obituaries for a long time. Lots of them. But today's NYT obituary on Sheldon S. Wolin, 93, a political theorist by William Grimes has got to be the most densely worded, incomprehensible obituary I've ever read. It's not the obituary that's hard/impossible to understand, it's the deceased.

You can't tell you're headed for the thicket of the forest from just visually absorbing the deceased's picture, caption, or outquote. But the lede lets you know you're in for molasses in January in a cold climate.

Mr. Wolin, "a political theorist whose landmark 1960 book Politics and Vision shifted the center of gravity back to politics rather than economic or sociology, in the field of political science, and who went on to analyze the possibilities and limits of democracy in a series of influential studies, died..."

I like the "center of gravity" part. I understand Mr. Wolin changed the emphasis in political science back to politics (hence the name political, maybe?) from other disciplines. Whether we're better or worse off for this I don't know, but I should have stopped there. It's the last thing that made any sense to me, other than the standard biographical parts of hometown, marriage, schools, survivors, etc.

I was not admitted to any of the colleges Mr. Wolin taught at. Full disclosure, I didn't apply to any of them, thus I had no chance of spending a semester trying to figure out what the guy was trying to say. If the subject matter of the class were as thick as I gather from the obituary, I think an "A" would have been in order just for perfect attendance and not succumbing to sleep in his presence. Osmotically you might have absorbed something.

Mr. Wolin's life apparently did not leave us with a cute anecdote, or a cute play on words that you might expect from such an academic. There doesn't seem to have been a twinkle in his eye telling us that really all this stuff might really just be crap.

Consider Mr. Grimes's next to last paragraph, a quote from a 1994 essay of  Mr. Wolin's: "Democracy in the late modern world cannot be a complete political system...and given the awesome potentialities of the modern forms of power, and what they exact of the social and natural world, it ought not to be hoped or striven for." His last book was titled: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

When does the bell ring?

Monday, October 19, 2015

The World's Busiest Woman

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is of course the world's most photographed woman with clothes on. But, did you also know that she is the most traveled woman in the world ever since America's former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, resigned that post and took to running for president.

Here she is seen in Istanbul on Sunday with Turkey's Premier Ahmet Davutoglu. The Chancellor was in Turkey's capital to discuss Turkey's hosting refugees. After the discussion at the water's edge, Chancellor Merkel again hailed a taxi, this time a water taxi, to take her back across the Dardanelles and closer to Russia to discuss Syria with Vladimir Putin.

She is the world's most photographed and traveled woman with clothes on.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hail By the Chief

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was seen hailing a taxi the old-fashioned way: waving an arm at oncoming traffic. The fact that the Chancellor chooses not to use the online car service Uber has sent the stock into a bit of a tailspin in the overnight markets coming out of Brussels.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Vermont Connection

For decades now, we have been visiting Vermont, generally in the fall for the leaves, (sometimes known as the changing foliage) but also for a little skiing, and once upon a time for fishing and golf. Our stays have been in the western part of the relatively small state, and have often centered on going up and down Vermont's Route 30, the Seth Warner Memorial Highway.

It's a two lane road, named after a Vermont hero who caused the British considerable trouble during the Revolutionary War in a so-called rear-action retreat. There is a battlefield in Hubbarton where Seth's actions are described and commemorated.

Route 30 connects a number of Vermont's hamlets, and fair-sized centers. There is Manchester in the southern portion, known for its shopping and Hildene, where Robert Lincoln lived for a time.  At the top end of Route 30 is Fair Haven, hugging the New York border where the Fair Haven Inn is located, an authentic Greek restaurant that has been there for nearly 40 years.

In between the ends is Middlebury and Middlebury College. Middlebury is the county seat of Addison county and its ancient court house in the 1980s was the site of Geraldine Ferraro's son John's trial for selling cocaine on campus. Ms. Ferraro by then was a household name, having been a Vice Presidential candidate with Walter Mondale in 1984. She was the first female candidate in a presidential election and of course spawned the rhyming pejorative, Fritz and Tits.

The media crush at the old court house likely convinced the elected officials that a more up-to-date building was needed. A new court house was built, and the old one was used for vocational training. Our most recent visit to Middlebury, after a nine year hiatus, showed that the old courthouse was now housing a tech company.

Vermont has many charms, and still some grueling industries. Take granite. Still being taken out of what is described as a near-inexhaustible quarry in Barre, Vermont. The Italians from Bari, Italy settled in the town, worked the quarries, and turned the town into a shrine to granite. The Rock of Ages granite company is still hoisting and polishing and engraving the heavy stuff, turning it into monuments, headstones, and nearly anything that calls for granite.

The town is so in love with granite that house numbers are carved from granite, mail boxes are made from it, and I swear I even saw a welcome mat made from the hard stuff.

One year after a tour through the town and the Rock of Ages quarry I will forever remember a giant flat bed truck pulling up to 35th Street and Fifth Avenue early one morning, unloading huge lengths of granite curbstone for the front of the re-purposing of Altman's Department Store into a City University Graduate Center and a Science and Technology branch of the New York Public Library. The cab of the truck proclaimed that what you now step over in that section of Manhattan came from Barre, VT.

There were other quarry sites. Proctor, right outside of Rutland produced a steady supply of marble. There's a spot just off the road where you can still pick up some colorful small pieces and no one will ask you for money. A few of these are bookends in our house.

Then there's the neat, looking fairly upscale community of Dorset, just north of Manchester. Dorset is not particularly big, but there is an East and South Dorset, and a just plain Dorset. As you go through Dorset, heading north on Route 30 you can't help but notice a large swimming area on the right where in the spring and summer months there are always lots and lots of daredevils, tiptoeing their way to the edge of large ledges of marble, to jump into the water below.

There is an expanse of grass along this stretch of land, where there are lots and lots of sunbathers. No beach, but certainly water, and some cool looking cliffs to jump from.

A stop this year in the Middlebury bookstore lead to the purchase of 'Vermont Magazine', Not 'Vermont Life', which I've been getting for years but a magazine that looks and reads like what Vermont Life used to look like. Way more content.

In the the September/October edition I bought I came across a story about Dorset, and its quarry history. It is an extensive history. The marble for the Fifth Avenue main branch of the New York Public Library came from Dorset quarries, starting in 1901. One hundred ton slabs.

The swimming hole we've always been going past is actually part of the old quarry, now flooded and put to good recreational use. The magazine story gave background on the railroads that transported the massively cut stones, as well as information on the Dorset Historical Society and the museum it operates.

Other than a stop at J.K. Adams for some butcher block cutting boards, we've never really explored, or looked into the history of Dorset All that will change now. The next time we approach Dorset we will stop. We go through there now annually anyway, since we take in the Greek restaurant in Fair Haven on the dark Saratoga racing day, Tuesday.

The trips through Route 30 takes you up and down, and around and around, a bit of  a roller coaster ride through small communities, and just plain farm country. Depending of the time of day, and your direction, you are likely to get somewhat stuck behind a school bus. You can go around them when they are not stopped, but the width of a two lane road makes this difficult. So, in addition to other sights, you get to see that Vermont kids, like all kids, universally wear backpacks. Only up there, it does seem even a walk from the bus to the house, a hike is involved.

When you see them head to the house that is part of a farm you can't but wonder what chores they might have already done, and what are they headed for in the afternoon part of the day. Neighbors can be a little far away, so popping over to someone's house doesn't seem to be on the agenda.

I've read from some jacket cover flyleaf that the novelist John Irving lives in Dorset. This puts him in great surroundings for a writer, and very near Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf School of English. There is also a great bookstore in Manchester, Northshire, just south of Dorset where I know Mr. Irving has given readings. I even have an autographed copy of 'Widow for A Year' that was still on the shelf after one of his readings. I guess they didn't all sell.

You're just going to have to take my word for it, but years and years ago Mr. Irving complained quite heatedly in an Op-Ed NYT piece, or something in the Wall Street Journal, about how his young son had to spend so much time on the school bus. There was also something in there about school taxes, I'm sure.

I'm also sure I saved the clipping, but finding it will be a chore for any interested heirs. Needless to say, Mr. Irving took considerable heat in Letters to the Editor.

Mr. Irving is not J. D. Salinger. A picture of his trophy home appears on the Internet. Quite a spread. Finding it might be a bit of a secret, but one I'm sure someone could easily crack.

The school bus tirade was so long ago that I'm sure his son now drives to school. Or is in college somewhere. And since that son is from a second marriage, there might not now be any following younger offspring to plop on a bus and curse. Or, if there are, they now drive.

Anyway, Mr. Irving has a new book coming out, 'Avenue of Mysteries', November 3rd. Appearances will I'm sure be made, and my guess is he will be at Northshire Book Store, Middlebury, and at a Barnes and Noble in New York City, amongst other venues.

It's not likely I'll be in any of those audiences, but I'd like to remind him of his school bus outcry and ask him: "John, what did you think might happen when you have young children in Vermont?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Midnight in the Bathroom

Very hard to understand what creates some thoughts and memories. I've been getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom for decades now, so why should I suddenly remember something I wrote back in the 60s? It's not like I suddenly saw something in the bathroom that was scooting away. I haven't seen critters in the bathroom since I left my grandmother's apartment on East 19th Street. And that was a very long ago. So why now? Dr. Freud?

Midnight in the Bathroom

Roaches, do not run and hide
When I venture by your side.
Slow down and take a breather,
Because it seems I can't sleep either.

And there you have it. Not Robert Frost, or T.S. Eliot by any stretch of the imagination. But, New York City living.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Things I Wish I Hadn't Read

I realize people can and do have lives entirely separate from what we might see from them as performers. They are not necessarily the characters they portray. They usually are completely different.

Take George Reeves as Superman, that man of steel that came on my television with regularity between 1952 and 1958. In fact, there's a good friend of mine who, with his brother, can recite the dialog and plots of every Superman episode given the tiniest clue. Something like 'Name That Tune,' just given an obscure, short set of notes. One of these brothers is having the time of their life re-watching every Superman episode that comes on a cable station that they get, and I don't: 'Decades.' It should be called the Peter Pan station, because it truly is aimed at those who have spent little time growing up.

Then there was Lois Lane, the pesky reporter who was always trying to find out who really was Superman. She was played by two actors over the years, Noel Neill, and Phyllis Coates. If the show weren't set in the 1950s, Lois would have successfully seduced Clark Kent on screen and found the cape and leotards in the closet. Clark would be exposed.

Of course there was the star of the show, Superman, "who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for The Daily Planet..." played by George Reeves. George in real life didn't have Superman's qualities. He couldn't bend steel in his bare hands, and he wasn't faster than a speeding bullet, especially in the final moments of his life when he either committed suicide, or was murdered. Much has been made of that, and as a kid, that was a complete shock to my boyhood senses.

Rounding out his cast, for all the episodes was Jimmy Olsen, the somewhat dim cub reporter and photographer, played by Jack Larson.

Jack Larson recently passed away at 87. I never knew Mr. Larson was gay. My Peter Pan friend did know that years and years ago, but considering the attention he gives to all things media, I'm not surprised.

Jimmy Olsen, in real life as Jack Larson, was an accomplished playwright. I can easily accept that Mr. Larson had a life other than the one I remember him playing on the screen, when the boob tube in our house was not in the shop being repaired in the 1950s.

Thank goodness I never ran into a wise guy character like Sonny, played by Chazz Palmiteri in 'A Bronx Tale' who tells Robert De Niro's young son that Mickey Mantle couldn't care less about him, or his father, a hard working Bronx bus driver. It would have been way too much for me to have heard a sneering adult tell me Jimmy Olsen was "queer."

There's an aspect about growing older that leaves you with very clear memories of what to others would seem like events from the Stone Age. Take the 'Friday File' feature in the NYT that hauls up entertainment stories from the archives.

This past Friday, '52 Years Ago' is devoted to telling us about the Singing Nun. I'm realizing that 52 years ago does not place an event outside my personal memory.

I do remember the Singing Nun, and I always liked her song 'Dominique.' So what if she was a one-hit wonder, she was a nun for God's sake. They even made a dreadful movie of her story starring Debbie Reynolds.

Think Sally Field in 'The Flying Nun' with a guitar, and you've got Sister Sourire (Smile), a 30 year-old Dominican Belgian nun who became so popular she appeared on Ed Sullivan's show, sold half a million recordings of her song within months of its release, and stood atop the American charts as No. 1, all shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy in November of 1963.

That 'The Singing Nun' and the JFK's fate are so clear to me and have it be 52 years ago must make me appear to be someone who probably remembers Lincoln being taken out by John Wilkes Booth.

There was a storefront on the north side of 14th Street that in the 1950s and 1960s blared the most popular song of the day, continuously, for all outside the store to hear. I don't remember if it was really a record store, or what it was, but I distinctly remember hearing Johnny Cash's 'The Little Drummer Boy' ad nauseam every time I came out of the subway following a flower delivery. In fact, you could hear whatever this store was playing before you popped your up to street level, it was that loud.

So, of course Sister Smile's Dominique got the No. 1 treatment. It wasn't until I reached Irving Place and headed for 18th Street that I stopped hearing that song.

The Times, being thorough, can't resist telling the complete story of Sister Smile. Turns out she left the convent and turned down the attentions of an male friend she knew for years. She apparently lived with another woman for decades, before the two of them, both broke and depressed, mutually committed suicide in 1985.

I didn't need to know when she stopped smiling, or why.