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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Hive

There is a conscientious Tweeter from Brisbane, Australia, @JustKenKing, who could easily qualify as a near-champion Tweeter. She is a former operating room nurse who has reminted herself as a Digital Media Content Editor at ABC--that's the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Jen has a common interest in obituaries, so the Tweet matchup of myself, @jdemet, and @JustJenKing was almost inevitable. In the old days, following someone from the other side of the globe would be called being in touch with your "pen pal." That's when contact was achieved through postage, envelopes, paper and pen. No collection of foreign stamps in the digital world.

The advantage of following someone from Australia is that the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the reverse of our own in the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, when Ms. King posts a picture, which she does sometimes several times a day, we can be treated to sunny skies, beach scenes, and budding flowers, when here in the Northeast we're turning the outside water off, putting hoses away, and in general getting ready for cold weather and likely snow.

There is also the 14-hour time difference between New York and Brisbane. Brisbane is 14 hours ahead of New York, so right now this puts Ms. King likely asleep at 12:30 A.M. on Monday morning. She's either already had a good day or a bad one, while ours is still undecided.

Several times @JustJenKing has posted pictures of lizards on the hoods of cars in the parking lot, kangaroos at the end of a residential street, wallabies and koala bears, all mixed in with an urban population. This has led to an exchange of how Australia has a pervasive wildlife in non-wild surroundings, in contrast to the domestic cats and dogs we have, along with, depending on where you live, the possibility of cockroaches, New York's least favorite pet.

One of the postings was a collage of pictures lifted from her news station's access. The above photo was taken by a French tourist who was observant of the same thing I was taken with: Australia's intruding wildlife.

The photo is authentic Australian, since a close look at the upper right hand corner shows NSW, (New South Wales), Transport, Roads and Maritime Services. The photo was taken in Broken Hill, an isolated, old mining city in the far western portion of New South Wales. Broken Hill apparently is a popular tourist attraction. Finding French people taking pictures of what appears to be an outdoor sign on a public roadside comfort station is therefore nothing unusual. If I was there, I'd have done the same thing.

No one likes to be stung. Especially in the bee-hind.

Friday, November 20, 2015


It was several years ago during one Winter Olympics when I was on a LIRR train headed home and there were a few kibitzing fellows behind me who were quite funny.

The train was a post-rush hour one, but not a late one. The Knick or the Ranger game, if there was one, hadn't let out yet. The train was fairly empty, and conversations were easy to hear. As I was about to get off at my stop one of the fellows facetiously said he hoped to make it home in time to watch the curling competition. I couldn't resist, and told him and his buddies that it's the instant replays that I really love. How that slight piece of ice made all the difference. A spike going to second base just before the glove swiped the leg.

So, we were all having our fun poking fun at a sport that all the networks seem to think we are interested in. Not.

So, today, when the NYT Sports section does a front page Sports Illustrated type of story about the "directional fibers" in the broom, well, you gotta read this.

It seems to boil down to brooms made by two different companies. These sound like the Addias and Nike versions of shoes. One company. BalancePlus is accused of making a new broom that makes curling too easy. The other company, Hardline Curling is the newcomer, and is trying to gain traction, if you will, in the curling market.

It's hard to pick a dog in this fight. I mean curling, with "directional fibers?" To me, the most famous directional fiber was worn by Janet Jackson at a Super Bowl halftime show when her left breast was exposed to tens of millions viewers.

Apparently, there is no sport, played for whatever stakes, where someone doesn't try and gain an advantage. I'm trying to think if we ever did something in stick ball that created an advantage over the other "team."

We didn't switch the Pinky to a dead one when the other team was up. There was only one ball, and one bat, a shortened broomstick wrapped with electrical tape at the bottom to improve the grip. If anything, arguments were meant to change things. Like suddenly calling a ball over the fence an out, because now we had to go find the ball. Games were played with a fluid use of ground rules.

But here's curling, joining the fray over equipment advances. Golf is going through this, and swimsuit design as well. Tennis rackets as well. Professional bowling has seen its sport pushed into specialized equipment. Different balls for different lanes, to follow the subtle tracks in the alley on the way to the sweet spot.

Curling has its origins in Scotland, like golf. It turns out the most highly rated stone, the 44-pound colorful top with a handle on top, comes from only one place, a quarry on an uninhabited island in Scotland. Now that's exclusivity! Whose island it is, is not mentioned, but the owner of the quarry apparently has the sport by the stones.

The sport cries out for attention. I think it was the Norwegian team during one Winter Olympics that wore such bright outfits that the team made a round of appearances on talk shows. They could have done well in Times Square.

And like any sport, there is perceived athleticism. The article tells us there is "strength and athleticism" in the sweepers.  One top ranked curler has a book out titled: Brush Like a Badass: A Curler's Guide to Great Sweeping. Just what we need, a curling smack down.  Can a steroid, performance enhancing drug (PED) scandal be far behind the brooms? Stonegate? Deflated Scottish stones from a rival quarry?

My only regret to what is a great story is that it didn't appear as a WSJ A-Hed piece with twelve puns in the headline and subheadings and lede.

                             Curling Swept by Controversy 
                                    Has the Sport on Ice
                          Fiber of the Game Needs Direction

I really do love the instant replays.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Lively Life

A lively life can lead to an lively obit, and The Telegraph's one for Cynthia Payne is no exception.

Not familiar with The Telgraph? Well, it's a U.K. paper that has a following in the British Commonwealth. This includes Australia, where @justjenking retweeted about the United Kingdom's most famous brothel-keeper who has now passed away at 82.

Old brothel-keepers, madams, always seem to attain a certain level of respect, and prove the words of Noah Cross, as played by John Huston in the movie 'Chinatown' to be prophetic. Anyone who remembers the scene where Mr. Cross looks up from his outdoor lunch and greets the Jack Nicholson's private eye character Jake Gittes with the observation that all "politicians, public buildings and whores gain respectability if they last long enough" will understand how true that statement turns out to be when the read the take on Ms. Payne's life. Lust for Life could be the story of Ms. Payne's life if Irving Stone hadn't already used the title for his book on Vincent Van Gogh,

The Telegraph's obit might be nearly as pleasing as a romp through one of the rooms that Ms. Payne kept occupied by a select breed of woman who attended to men's pleasures, even if they included a replay of what they might have endured in those all-male boarding schools when the teacher used the switch to make a point on tender anatomical parts.

The obit's liveliness is created in typical British fashion--by the words used to describe things. Thus, we are treated to Ms. Payne's birthday present for her 16 year-old son as the time he was "deflowered" by an employee.

We also have a remembrance of something Jeffrey Bernard wrote in the The Spectator, when he declared Ms. Payne was the most famous Englishwoman since Boadicea.

Now that's something. He skips over every Queen there ever was, in addition to Florence Nightingale, and goes for a woman who was a Queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Roman Empire.

Who? Well, the woman as depicted above is Boadicea, a very rough looking customer, who is seen on horseback carrying a spear rather than a punishment switch. She could be the cover to an action video game. She passed away in 61 A.D. so she goes back. But if she were alive today there is no doubt she too would have flattened Ronda Rouley in a UFC championship match.

We too have famous brothel-keepers who have been somewhat endeared by the news media. There's Heidi Fleiss, the actor Charlie Sheen's favorite "Hollywood Madam." Years ago in New York City there was Xaviera Hollander, "The Happy Hooker," who ran a house. There was also Sydney Biddle Barrow, who, true to her patrician name, was found to be a direct descendant of someone who came over on the Mayflower. The family name is in the Social Register. Irresistibly, the news christened her, "The Mayflower Madam."

These are 20th century woman who ran houses like Cynthia Payne and ones I can say I read about when their activities came to light in the glare of the media. From reading about early 20th century New York City I've often come across the name Texas Guinan, a woman who ran a high-end nightclub during the roaring 20s and 30s.

Texas was not directly associated with prostitution. Her entertainment was more of the show business variety. Her nightclub acts went on for hours, with jazz, chorus girls, booze and shows. Her motto was, "an indiscretion a day keeps the Depression away."

Texas passed away after abdominal surgery for colitis in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1933. A small news obit appeared in the NYT, along with a photo of her when she came to New York as an entertainer. The liveliest piece of the obituary is in the sub-headline: "Coined Broadway Slang." Apparently, one of her famous lines was, "Hello suckers." But that's not in the obit.

Short followup news stories told of her body coming back east to Chicago and New York. She was waked in New York at Frank Campbell's, where nearly all New Yorkers of notoriety are usually waked. Twelve thousand people came to view her.

Nothing I've read compared Texas Guinan to any famous historical American woman. Granted, the United States wasn't an identifiable country until the latter part of the 18th Century. So what famous American female could she be compared to?

Betsy Ross? The DAR would storm the editor's office. Molly Pitcher? The Monmouth County heroine was nicknamed Pitcher because she brought water to the Revolutionary War troops at the Battle of Monmouth. There is a Molly Pitcher stakes race held annually at Monmouth race track.

No, we seem to lack color here. The other woman named as brother-keepers all left the business for more legal activities and have not yet left us. But not Cynthia Payne. She continued in the business until age made her go into the promotional end of the business.

She ran for Parliament for the Payne and Pleasure Party in 1988 and 1992, with a platform, "to provide light relief, to whip up support and raise funds."

It is no wonder she was compared to a legendary fighter described as "having greater intelligence than often belongs to  woman...who had a "great mass of the tawniest hair that fell to her hips..." wearing "around her neck a large golden necklace and tunic of divers [diverse] colours...fastened with a broach."

Image is always everything.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Jail Bait

Males having sex with younger woman is no news. Even when it occurs with an underage female it can remain no news, but it is illegal. A comely young lady who is underage can be coarsely referred to by the predator as "jail bait." "She's jail bait," a warning to try somewhere else.

The middleweight champion Jake LaMotta famously got himself in trouble with an underage female, who when she was making herself seem available was not dressed as the catholic school girl she was when she appeared in court. Dim lighting can have consequences. Jake went to jail.

The famous film director Roman Polanski is stuck outside the United States because he fled the proceedings that were going to sentence him for having sex with a 13 year-old girl. Mr. Polanski has luckily for him found friends in the European court system who reject the extradition requests of the United States. Roman is stuck in Switzerland right now. The court proceedings were decades ago.

So, when Jackie Collins passed away at 77, it should have come as  no surprise to anyone that she might have had celebrity sex as a young lady. Jackie Collins was of course the famous novelist whose books revolved around the instinctive urgings of the Hollywood crowd. Her sister was the actress Joan Collins, someone who you might be able to count on to have had a lively life, and might even now be having one, despite being the older sister to Jackie's 77 years.

The NYT obituary describes Jackie meeting 29 year-old Marlon Brando at a party when she was 15. Jackie recounts in an interviews, "we had a brief but fabulous affair." Different states set statutory rape statues (even if consensual) at different ages. The rock and roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis eloped and married his 13 year-old third cousin in 1957. It was not illegal, because the state, probably Tennessee or Mississippi, had a lower threshold for statutory rape. The publicity from the marriage did damage to 'The Killer's' career, but if you're interested, he's going to appear in NYC at B.B. King's Club on December 16. He's not likely to tell you anything about it. He's 80 now.

On the heels of the obituary for Jackie Collins we learn of Joan Leslie, 90, described as Hollywood's girl next door. A wholesome image.

Margalit Fox, who wrote the NYT obituary for Joan, can usually be counted on for using the one word that stands out in describing something or someone.

Ms. Fox doesn't disappoint when she describes a Hollywood reception encounter with the very young Ms. Leslie and Errol Flynn-"a notorious roue."

You don't even have to know the definition of roue to guess what Mr. Flynn's interest in Ms. Leslie might have been. No age for Ms. Leslie is given, but there is no need to imagine she was anything but very young.

The difference between lightning and a lightning bug is the using the right word, and Ms. Fox nails it with roue.  Look it up and the synonyms are mild and rugged: a rake; a debauchee.

Flynn's reputation with chasing and catching women was the stuff of legends. He was from Tazmania, and was the Tazmanian Devil. "In like Flynn" has become a phrase to mean having success in the chase.

Think of someone who gets in as easy as it is to get into community college. or Angie Dickinson's bedroom, and you've got it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So, Who Is She?

There are people who have people who strive to keep their name out of the paper. These are usually quasi-public, private people from financial, entertainment, sports, and political walks of life who try and keep negative stories out of the media. "Just keep my name out of the paper." How many times have we heard that line in a movie?

The woman in the middle must be one of those such people. Her name is not part of the caption that identifies Mayor deBlasio, on the left, shaking hands with Governor Andrew Cuomo, on the right. Pardon my reach? Is she there to pass the salt, or to just keep the boys from slugging each other?

Is the woman former Mayor Mike Bloomberg's date? Mayor Mike is divorced, and can be seen with different traveling companions when the photographers catch him at a function. Certainly the woman's placement between New York's top politicians would lead one to make a good guess.

And maybe she was Mayor Mike's date. The former Mayor is said to have quipped, "sitting between the governor and the mayor for the next two hours might feel like 40 years of marriage." So, maybe the woman in the middle is divorced as well.

I've been married 40 years and still have a decent memory. Nothing about being married 40 years would compare to being stuck between those two rascals for any length of time.

The omission has to be deliberate, I would think. The NYT does not want the dinner to appear to be a People Magazine photo op. Okay, but put her name in the text? No, that doesn't happen either. She is certainly the most nicely attired woman to appear in a photo that we can't identify.

We know the woman is not the mayor's wife, and she is not the governor's girlfriend. We do know she likely spent a fair amount of time getting ready for the annual Al Smith dinner held at the Waldorf Astoria,. She might have even taken the day off and spent it at the beauty parlor. The dinner raises money for Catholic Charities, and offers safe haven for zingers against the ranking politicians of the day.

Her hair is coiffed. Her makeup is impeccable, Her necklace is retrieved from a lock box. Her gown is stylish and age appropriate. She is certainly not a slut.

So, who is she?

A response from an alert reader would be appreciated.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Sunday Paper

When Russell Baker was still writing (he is still alive, at 90) he complained about the emerging columnists that were only writing two columns a week, while he churned out three on deadline, and did so until he retired over 20 years ago. Ms. Dowd churns out one, and can be quite good, but not very often these days. Sometimes there isn't even a weekly effort. She's smoking Willie's weed somewhere. She phones, or mails them in.

This one must have been written while waiting to clear airport security somewhere. The picture is better than the words. Look at the package George W is sporting through his jeans. Who said he had no balls? Grab a guitar and join the gang at the Country Music Awards. Do a duet with Kenny Chesney. The clan's sport gear is telling us where Sammy Sosa played. Texas, then the Cubs. George W, as an owner of the Texas Rangers was roundly criticized for letting Sammy go. Then they found out about the steroids. Who knew what, when?

The managing director of the last company I worked for was a bit of a well-connected individual, whose wife was related to the Walkers of the W in the Bush name. After a meeting at a client's he told me of having once been invited to Kennebunkport, through his wife's family connection.

I teased him and asked if he was made to play horseshoes, personally finding that a very funny sight, a British national playing a '"bloody" American game, and surely losing because that bunch is good at it.

I always somewhat whistled at his providence over securing an invitation to Kennebunkport, further teasing him that with that kind of invite, why did he have to keep scratching his ass to try and make money with the company. He told me that "they are very careful" about what they talk about in front of outsiders, but the Bushes are pretty much a regular bunch, with the house, while nicely situated on the water, was really just a big vacation home with a rustic downstairs bathroom that lacked latches on the stall doors.

No two writers are alike, and it's unfair to have ever expected that Ms. Dowd would fill Mr. Baker's shoes. In his last piece as he was retiring, Mr. Baker explained that three times a week he was trying to create a ballet in a 750 word phone booth. His 'Observer' column was very often that. Carefully constructed sentences that delivered their point in syntax that very nearly begged to be diagrammed, if you knew remembered how.

Ms. Dowd's columns were initially under the marquee of  'Liberties.' Well named, because she immediately took then and set out to create one liners that could be part of a snarky talking head dialogue. At one point her column appeared twice a week, now once, and not always even that.

Perhaps the early years were better than these latter years. I remember telling people to read her, and sure enough, she soon won a Pulitzer, much like Mr. Baker.

Over the years Mr. Baker and I have very sporadically traded correspondence of the old fashioned, written, typed, paper, stamped, envelope kind. The earliest of these was in 1967 when he advised me to stay in college, which is something that had already been tried twice and remained unrenewed.

If you attain some public status, the Internet will always cough up some biographical details. For Mr. Baker's 90th birthday I sent him a birthday card that might have said something that being 90 is better than probably not being anything.

Eventually I got a reply, handwritten on personalized New York Times, Observer note card that further made me wish there was still an Observer column taking in the national and worldly happenings and putting a gentle, well-worded touch to them.

Mr. Baker once appeared on the cover of Time magazine with the corner banner telling us he was "The Good Humor Man."

The Good Humor Man stopped coming around the neighborhood when he retired.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jose's Numbers Are Following Me

They recently did the annual story on where this year's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is coming from. It is usually a Norway spruce, donated by a family that has one large enough to spare. And this year is no exception.

The 10-ton 78 foot Norway spruce is being donated by the Asendorf family from Gardiner, New York, a town 80 miles north of New York City in Ulster County. It can be quite rural up there. People go deer hunting.

The Asendorf's were going to cut the tree down last year, but it seemed to have come to the attention of Rockefeller Center's talent scouts, and the tree remained for another year on their property and just just harvested and transported to the City. It's being decorated now, and will certainly be reasy for the tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday, December 2.

As anyone who follows these things might now know, the tree lighting has gone from a fairly simple push of button at 5 P.M. to an NBC variety show extravaganza that puts the illumination moments before 9 P.M. It is no less of a pretty tree no matter when they light it, it's just more evidence that there isn't anything that can't he overdone. And TV in search of ad revenue can certainly do that.

And also as anyone who follows these things also knows, Jose, one of the Assembled, has a thing for numbers, particularly 7/1, 1/7 exactas.

I know the name of the town where Jose lives in Rockland County. I thought it was Gardiner's, making this year's tree a near miss for being 71 feet and fitting into Jose's view of the world.

But Jose lives in Garnerville, invalidating the 7/1, 1/7 numerolgy as it might apply to Christmas trees connected to Jose. That would have been cosmic, to say the least.

Garnerville and Gardiner's. The words are much alike. They still are.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Kopp Sisters

There is a recently published book that I can claim to have completely read. As the author explains, it is a work of "historical fiction" taking events from a court case of harassment against three sisters in Wyckoff, New Jersey around 1914, and spinning a tale of fact, mixed in with a little fiction.

The book, Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart, can, melodramatically be said to be ripped from the headlines of a century ago, when their horse drawn buggy was plowed into by a car recklessly driven by a wealthy, and it turns out, a particularly nasty piece of work, Henry Kaufman, an offspring of a famous Paterson, New Jersey silk factory owner, who refuses to pay for the damages.

The oldest, biggest, and sturdiest of the sisters, Constance Kopp attempts to collect money for the damages, but only really gets a life made into a living hell by the actions of the surly Henry and his circle of like-minded, anti-social thugs. Harassment in the form of so-called "Black-Hand" letters, kidnapping threats, fired shots, messages delivered by bricks through glass windows in the dead of night, all contribute to unsettling the Kopp sisters, Constance, Norma, and the teenager Fleurette.

The sisters find an ally in the Bergen County Sheriff Robert Heath, who takes the harassment seriously and helps gather evidence against Mr. Kaufman. One of the more interesting things about the story is that the case winds up in Federal Court because Mr. Kaufman is accused of using the United States mail to spread threats. This is a Federal offense, and the Sheriff works with Postal Inspectors.

Postal Inspectors predate the FBI as Federal law enforcement agents, and were a unit of law enforcement we worked with in my prior employ in a Fraud Division for a major heath insurer in New York. Because the receipt of stolen money through the mails is a Federal offense, the cases fall under United States Penal Code statues, and therefore are pursued in the jurisdiction of Federal courts.

The setting of the story intrigued me--Paterson, New Jersey. Home of silk factories in the early and mid-1900s. I distinctly remember a fairly, colorful, large corner store on 14th Street opposite Union Square Park that was called Paterson Silks. I never had any reason to go into the store, and no one in my family bought silk or made clothes from scratch. But certainly a great deal of women of that era did create clothing from scratch, so supplying the basic material was big business.

In the Historical and Source Notes, Acknowledgements section at the end of the book, the author explains "historical fiction"  and discloses what parts were added by her imagination. The added parts and events do not change the story really, and I guess could be likened to adding a little narrative length.

Various New Jersey, and sometimes New York newspapers and other publications are cited as sources for the story. The ordeal of the Kopp sisters became local news fodder, and eventually made its way to the New York Times when they reported on the eventual Federal trial being held in Newark.

Ms. Stewart cites the Times story as the source of a courtroom quote when describing testimony given by Constance.  The unbylined account of the trial and the background of the case spills past one column, and heads into the top of another. The great thing about being a full-fledged Times home delivery subscriber I found is that I get full digital access to whatever they have in their database. It was easy to find and print the news story that Ms. Stewart built her story from.

Thus, you can be lead to page 5 of a June 3, 1915 edition of the New York Times where it seems crime and court cases find their way into the paper. "Saw Daddy Make A Fire" turns out to be an arson-murder case where the father burns the mother and wife to death in her bed. "Court Scores Divorce Evil/Judge Calls Swapping Spouses Common as Horse Trading." "Says Doctor Won His Wife." "Conley Released; Shows No Remorse."

With an eight column paper, there's more, and certainly ads. Even ads for silk from Arnold Constable & Co., a carriage trade emporium that when it went out of business saw its building give way to housing the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue.

The account of a day's proceedings of the trial is very well written with a killer lede that rivals anything you read today. The entire story provides a great many details. We are told the Kopp sisters live in a "handsome home on the outskirts of Wyckoff..." The allegations against Mr. Kaufman mesh with Ms. Stewart's narrative.

As nice as the home of the Kopps might have been thought to be, there apparently was no indoor plumbing yet. The news account tells us that as part of Miss Constance Kopp's testimony she relates an incident of being fired on "while on the way from the house to an outhouse."

Acting lady-like to the core, she apparently doesn't mention that this might have scared the shit out of her.

The Lifetime movie version might change that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All Heart

When the filly Dark Mirage hurt herself in a race in 1969 and was euthanized her heart was buried in the infield at Belmont Park.

Dark Mirage was one of the most accomplished race horses of the era. She won what was concocted by the New York Racing Association as the Filly Triple Crown in 1968, which consisted of the Acorn, the Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks, all run at Belmont. The series was for three-year-old fillies. Each was an increase in distance from the prior race, with the Coaching Club race run at a mile and a half, the same distance as the Belmont Stakes for three-year-old colts.

Apparently it was customary to bury the heart of a cherished horse. So consider how cherished Ruffian was when the whole horse was buried in the infield at Belmont after she was euthanized in 1975, never recovering from the leg fracture she sustained in the famous Foolish Please-Ruffian match race in July 1975 at Belmont Park. If you know where to look, the grave site is visible, marked by a semi-circle of flowers.

So consider this post-Halloween story coming out of Bucharest, Romania where the heart of their Queen Marie (d. 1938) was moved from the National History Museum to the actual room in the castle where the Queen died.

The lede of the story as written by Kit Gillet of the New York Times, first describes Russian exhumations of Czars for DNA testing, and the finding and removal of Britain's King Richard III's bones from under a parking lot. The removal of the Queen's heart from the museum to its next resting place via a military pageant parade with the heart in a Romanian flag-draped box the size of a Fed-Ex package is described as "less macabre" than the above.

Less macabre? What's not macabre in the first place about holding onto just the heart, even if it was the Queen's wish? Was it Valentine's Day or something when all this went down? Was Queen Marie really a vampire? After all, Transylvania, the home of Dracula, is in Romania.

Where is the rest of the Queen? Is some reality show hosted by Geraldo Rivera going to come to us from Romania showing us the search for the rest of the Queen's body? Cable will show anything. So will Barbara Walters.

Queen Marie's heart was apparently first in a chapel in Balchik, a town that at the time was part of Romania, but later became part of Bulgaria. When the boundaries shifted, the heart was moved to the National History Museum in 1971. The Queen's ancestors always wanted the heart in a place more associated with the Royal family, thus the move to Pelisor Castle and to the room where the Queen "drew her final breath."

Outside of horses, I really don't think we culturally have anything to compare to the movement of the Queen's heart. My grandmother's gall bladder was once preserved in a jar of formaldehyde on a hutch in the dining room, but my grandmother was breathing at the time of this display, and lived for many years after its extraction. Why the gall bladder was on display was always a complete mystery to me, and there are few left to ask whose answer might be considered reliable

The singer Tony Bennett made the song 'I Left My Heart in San Fransico' famous. The song in turn made Tony famous. Mr. Bennett is still with us, still singing about where he left his metaphorical, not actual heart.

Given all the movement of the Queen's heart it is at least reassuring that the heart remains in Romania. No need to change any of the signs.