Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year End Words

I've been doing my best to promote one of my mottoes: Any year you're alive at the end of is a good year.

There are certainly the usual fair number of people that are not alive at the end of this year, as anyone knows who gets a saturation of media that is out to remind us of who passed away. Lists and categories. Of course we can find this in today's NYT, where the obituary editor William McDonald gives us his year-end essay on the departed of 2016. Online, the color photos are a nice touch. Print is still black and white.

But this posting is not about the departed. It's more about words I wish were departed. There's a list, but there's not much of one after "legacy."

Right now the word "legacy" is mostly being used in connection with what kind of legacy President Obama will leave behind. As if right at this moment we can definitively say what will stand the test of time. Are they kidding? What is the legacy of an eight year-old?

We get NYT headlines that go: "Obama Wants to Cement Legacy with Eye in Trump." And since Trump has only been the president-elect since November 8th, and the Inauguration is January 20, 2017, we're hearing Obama is trying all sorts of maneuvers to "cement" his legacy. He is busy pouring that mix 24/7. There must be cement trucks on the White House grounds.

As if after eight years we can tell what will forever he known about his presidency. Or any presidency, for that matter. From book reviews I read, there are recent publications that look at Ulysses S. Grant in a different light, rather than the cigar-chomping, hard-drinking general who got himself elected post-Civil War.

Books now tell us where he was great, and where we were wrong before to disparage him. The only thing post 19th-century about Grant to me is that he is on our $50 bill, and I love to see him when I cash some tickets at the track. I always liked him. Benjamin Franklin is an even greater joy.

Legacy is word that is almost repeated as often as "icon," another overused, inflated word. Read Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" and think legacy then. The only good legacy is, where you can find out who is not alive at this year's end.

Other words to cringe at are: viral, trending, social media, and Tweet, especially when used the the news organizations to give us "news." Most of the news is generated by listening in on the "party lines" of the 21st century.

In post-World War II not everyone had a telephone. And some that did had "party lines," phone lines that were shared by a few neighbors. When the phone rang, it might not be for you. It might be for your neighbor. The courtesy was that you not listen in. Some people followed this, some didn't. Picking the phone up to make a call didn't mean you were always going to get a dial tine. You might get some previously connected chatter. You had to wait, or ask a favor that they hang up, so you could make a call.

Party lines soon gave way to individual numbers as the installers got around to giving everyone their own dedicated line and number. "Privacy" was attained. And now? Privacy is last century's legacy.

"...No thing beside remains...
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Legacy: Any year you're alive at the end of is a good year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2nd Avenue Subway

Up to now, there have always been two things you could count on never finding in New York City. One has been Judge Crater, the oldest missing person case on the police books. The Judge went missing after getting into a cab in the theater district in 1930 after lunch with his mistress, and hasn't been heard from since. His body has never showed up anywhere. Perhaps when they dig up a parking lot they'll find his bones, like King Richard III.

The second missing item is no longer missing. It is the 2nd Avenue Subway, a portion of which will open at noon on January 1, 2017. You'd have to be a dead New Yorker, or someone deep into collecting Social Security to fully understand the length of its absence from the subway map.

There is a NYT reporter, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, on whose capable shoulders the subway reporting has been falling on. Ms. Fitzsimmons wanted to talk after I emailed her my story of my father holding his breath waiting for the day to arrive when there would be a 2nd Avenue train he could get on.

Alas, my father passed away in 1987, so it has been rather easy for him to hold his breath these past 30 years. He was born in 1915 in the family cold water flat on 32nd Street and 2nd Avenue, delivered by a midwife. His birth was eventually recorded sometime in the third week in May, so he really never knew his birthdate. Over the years, it was always a good guess.

He would tell me stories of getting on the what was then the 2nd Avenue El and riding it with his mother to Astoria over the Queensboro Bridge to North Beach to frolic in the sand and surf. If you never heard of North Beach you're hardly alone. It is where LaGuardia airport is these days, and next to water you would never really think about sticking even your toe in, unless of course your plane left the runway without taking flight, or stopping. These things have happened over the years and are parts of other stories.

I don't know if my father was taken to the beach with his brothers, but someone liberated a destination sign from inside one of the trains. If I were to guess I'd say it was a cousin Archie, who as an adult later worked in Farmingdale, Long Island at Republic Aviation as an airplane mechanic, working on the test fighter planes. Archie would have brought a plane home if he had a runway

The sign has been in our family for years, and I recently passed it on to my daughter, in whose kitchen the sign now rests on display. Relaying this part of the story to Ms. Fitzsimmons produced some excitement, so a photo was provided in an email attachment.

Part of my email to Ms. Fitzsimmons was the tongue-in-cheek mention that when the new portion of the subway opened we would hold a seance and try and tell my father that the line has just opened, but that his token would be no good: he'd need a MetroCard, and a Senior one, like mine, so you could pile on for $1.35 rather the full-freight fare of $2.75.

In talking with Ms. Fitzsimmons I knew immediately she wasn't from New York, and she was probably young. Right on both counts.

Her Twitter photo (@emmagf) shows a smiling, eager young woman who tells us she's from Texas, and married to a reporter for Bloomberg News. I didn't know this when I first spoke to Emma, so I naturally asked where she was from. I was surprised to hear Texas, because I mentioned she has no drawl. She acknowledged she's lost it. She has not, however, picked up the solid New York patois. This can always be tested by asking someone to say "fuhgetabouit." If they don't sound like
Al Pacino in the movie 'Donnie Brasco,' then you know.

Ms. Fitzsimmons has grown into her responsibilities to report on subways and the capital construction projects launched by the MTA. She has purchased waterproof Timberland's and sports a hard hat when required. She has been to watery tunnels and subway cutouts to stand while trains wiz by. She's been tested under real conditions, and relates this in her narrative as a NYT Insider reporter.

One part of her work resume included viewing the LIRR access project that will link the LIRR trains coming into the city with Grand Central Terminal. This one has been going on for perhaps a decade and now has due date of 2022, or something like that.

The project has required the LIRR to come to rest under GCT, perhaps by more than 10 stories down. That is some escalator ride to the top. Knowing how escalators seem to not be in service seemingly half the time, I feel for the 160,000 expected commuters who are going to take advantage of this East Side access. They will get the bends coming up to the surface.

That is of course if there are 160,000 commuter to even use the access advantage by 2022. Increasingly, these people work from home, so there may not even be that many commuters. Time will tell.

My mention to Ms. Fitsimmons about Judge Crater didn't get a knowing response. No surprise there. The disappearance in 1930 was a long time ago, and I'm sure not part of Texas lore.

Numerous theories have been put forward over the years as to why the Judge disappeared and was probably killed. The judge was starting to become a person of interest in a local corruption case and there was speculation advanced that FDR, the New York governor at the time, wanted his Judgeship silenced before the corruption inquiry gained steam. That one doesn't seem to fit FDR's perceived style. Numerous books have been written about Judge Crater, one I recently read, 'The Vanishing Point,' by Richard Tofel, a fictionalized account of solving the mystery.

The cement shoe method of disposing a body was certainly a fate Judge Crater could have met. As to which public works project he might have become a part of (a pillar of the community) there is always the Triboro Bridge to consider, inasmuch as its construction started in 1929, but wasn't complete until 1936.

Of course, time hasn't ceased, so there is still a possibility that something might come up. King Richard III met his death in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485. In 2012, 527 years later his bones were found under a tarmac of a parking lot that adjoined the Abbey where he was probably buried in an unmarked grave, he received a proper burial in Leicester Cathedral in 2015, attended by and viewed by tens of thousands. Any identification of Judge Crater's remains would never get that kind of attention. This is, after all, not England.

When I was talking to Ms Fitzsimmons she asked me if I was going to go look at the new subway. The question caught me a little by surprise, since I can't think of any dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker going to see a public works project just because it was finished. Perhaps if I needed a subway connection to a block and building that was along the line, I might see it because I was using it, but as a point of interest, probably not.

Two of the several people interviewed in Ms. Fitzsimmons's story this morning on those who have waited a long time for the line to come into existence are Lothar Stelter, 85, and his son Lawrence. Lothar took incredible Kodachrome pictures of the Third Avenue El when he worked in the area as a telephone installer in the early 50s. He photographed the entire line, and his son, Lawrence, an architect for New York City, collected the photos for a book that remains in print, 'By the El: Third Avenue and its El at Mid-Century.' (I will brag that I put Ms. Fitzsimmons onto the father and son.)

The younger Stelter has the same reaction I do to the new line. "On the map, it looks so limited in what it can do."

In fact, to me, it's not really a complete subway line, but rather a spur, even after the project is finished and the stations north of 96th Street to 125th Street come online. The 2nd Avenue subway doesn't run down the spine of Second Avenue to the Battery, but rather hooks into an east/west section of track at 63rd Street that sends it on a westward and southward path down Broadway and 7th Avenue. It will never be a line that anyone could get onto if they awoke from a decades long coma and tried to get on at 32nd Street and 2nd Avenue.

Would a ghost have to pay?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Annie Oakley

Is it too late for the NYT to issue a correction to one of its obituaries? Say, one from 1926? I'm sure they prize accuracy, so from here we're going to send this posting to their Public Editor. I don't really expect to see a correction, but it is amazing how far you can reach back and find people who know just little more than you do.

As previously posted, I got The Doorstopper for Christmas, the NYT 'Book of the Dead,' a formidable sized tome with proprietary web access to 10,000 digital obituaries from 1851 to 2016. For some people, the book may be a reason to never leave the house again.

Anyone who follows current obituaries has a feel for how they're written. There are styles presented by the writer, but you can usually be guaranteed a snappy opening, an informative narrative of their life and the era they live in, along with some pithy quotes from contemporaries, or even themselves, and sometimes a zinger as fresh as lemon juice squirted into your eye.

Last night I took an interest in reading the obituary of Albert Einstein, who passed away April 19. 1955. I was interested in reading in how his theories might have been presented to a 1955 readership. Well, they weren't. They weren't explained, they were mentioned.

The obituary was not bylined, something I found rather amazing. There is an almost comical image of Uncle Albert standing on the stern of a small sailboat that is tied to a pier, with the caption that he loved sailing. This is I did not know. It is nearly comical to see the frizzy-haired professor holding a sail's hoist rope wearing a trench coat and a tie. It is a 1929 photo for the sailboat present he received on his 50th birthday. Uncle Al went way back.

The obituary is not particularly long, mentions a son, but not a wife, and basically rambles on with outquotes from his writings about social topics. The headline to the obit goes: Einstein Noted as an Iconoclast in Research, Politics and Religion, sub-headed: His Early Spare-Time Reflections in Bern Led to Strong Belief in Social Equality and Hope for a World Government. No snappy wiseguy reflection on the man who gave us a Big Bang.

As for Annie Oakley, I noticed from the above photo, which is the one  that accompanied the print obituary in the book, that Annie appears to be holding the rifle as a left-handed person would. I'm left-handed, and I tend to notice where we differ from right-handed people. My father was left-handed, but even born in 1915, they considered left-handedness a sign of the devil and would convert the child to write right-handed. The Latin for left eye is oculus sinister. Sinister eye. By the 1950s they stopped the conversion and let us lefties be lefties.

I was surprised that someone born in 1860 like Annie would have been allowed to stay left-handed. What to do? Who to ask? There is always someone.

I got an answer to my question in a pleasant reply from Eileen Litchfield, the president of the Annie Oakley Center Foundation.

But before I tell you the answer I'll inform the world that since my inquiry likely sent Ms. Litchfield to read the same obituary, she came across a typo in the obituary. Annie was given the nickname "Watania Cecilia," by Chief Sitting Bull, a phrase that translates from the Lakota meaning "Little Sure Shot." Ms. Litchfield tells us the obit spelled the first word "watanic."

As for which handedness Annie was, I'm told I was half right, which anyone should tell you is far better than completely wrong. Annie was ambidextrous. And considering the way she shot, no one was going to make her write with any hand she didn't want to.

Monday, December 26, 2016

I Got the Doorstopper

Even expected gifts can surprise. Take the doorstopper book received yesterday, 'The New York Times Book of the Dead,' with of course a subtitle...'320 Print and 10,000 Digital Obituaries of Extraordinary People,' edited by the Times obituary editor, William McDonald, that jump-shooting basketball player from Bridgeport, Connecticut.

I hadn't seen the physical book until it was handed to me yesterday morning to unwrap. It is a heavy book, shaped a bit like a tablet that you might imagine the 10 Commandments were etched on. It has a biblical quality, that would be further enhanced by a frilly purple placeholder dangling from between the pages, or "passages," passages of lives lived and now gone. A pulpit would complete the deal. I'm sure its physical design is no accident.  There are no coincidences in marketing.

It is an understatement to say the book is comprehensive, spanning the years 1851 through 2016, coincidental of course with the publishing history of the paper. The 320 obituaries, with black and white photos in most cases,  are arranged in categories chosen by the editor. They make sense. Sport figures are in 'The Atheltes' section, world leaders in the 'The World Stage' section.

Who though made the 'Notorious' section, pages 216 through 225? There are only five subjects. You will be surprised at the first, and fully understand how the other four made into this highly specialized section.

In total, the book weighs in at 646 pages, but hardly ends there. How do you get to the promised 10,000 digital obituaries? Easy. A tiny USB tab, smaller than some of the pills I swallow, is connected to a thin piece of stiff paper, the size of a business card. After some user name, password creation and registration hocus-pocus, who are led to a proprietary website that will get you to anyone you can think of and see if the NYT considered their demise newsworthy enough to write about it.

The arrangement here is creative. You can search, browse by a selection of very distinct categories, like mathematicians, (but no physicists) and 43 other categories that should provider you endless hours of historical fun. You can also browse by year. You can create your own "vault" of favorites, I guess the Facebook-like "Like" of dead people.  I'm sure the obituary smitten will even devise a game to be played with other equally smitten obit junkies, just based on digital access to 10,000 names.

The only thing I've found lacking for the obit junkie is an ability to get the obits written by a particular writer. The junkies know these folks, and their styles, and something that aggregated say Robert McG. Thomas Jr., Robert McFadden, or Margalit Fox would be a nice function. Perhaps in the next release.

Familiar a bit with the content and style of current bylined obits? Try some really old names. Quite by accident I spotted that there was obit for Jesse James, and not in the 'Notorious' section but in the 'Old West' section.

The April 3, 1882 obituary from St. Joseph, Missouri is nearly a coroner's report of where the bullet entered Jesse, where it exited, and how much blood was gurgling onto the lap of his wife as she tried to hear his last words. They don't write them like they used to.

Contrast this with the obit of John Gotti, found digitally, because I looked for someone who might be considered by some to be a modern day equivalent of Jesse James. The modern obit is given over to a far richer chronology of one's life, their parents, their schooling (if any), and in Mr. Gotti's case, their near constant brushes with the law and trials.

I remember reading Mr. Gotti's obit when it was first published, and the re-read was just as informative. Jimmy Breslin years and years ago wrote a funny book that they turned in to a bad movie, 'The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight' about the South Brooklyn brotherhood in the 60s and 70s, the Gallos, the Profacis, the Gambinos, the gang.

Well the re-read of John Gotti's obit tells us they named one of their early storefront headquarters, 'The Bergin Hunt and Fish Club.' My neighborhood in Flushing had one of these like-named storefronts next to a dry cleaners. The window was painted over with something like "....Rod and Reel Hunt Club' lettering. I never remember ever seeing anyone associated with the place.

Well, it turns out John's headquarters had relocated from East New York Brooklyn to Ozone Park Queens, but in homage to its roots used the name of the street the headquarters was on in Brooklyn, Bergen Street.

They however misspelled it as Bergin when they moved to Queens. The Gang that Couldn't Spell.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Rene Lacoste

Who hasn't looked at a piece of clothing or an accessory and not noticed a logo staring them clear in the face? A recent WSJ A-Hed piece describes the lengths some buyers go to have their cake and eat it too. Have the designer duds, but remove the logo. Tricky, because these things are not meant to be removed.

Some buyers of course want the logo, and it is the garment with the logo that has attracted them in the first place. They want the purported exclusivity that wearing the garment will infer to those who see them wearing it.

My youngest daughter recently was shopping with her mother. This is what mothers and daughters do of course, nearly as soon as the child can walk. I just finished watching a Smithsonian Channel series called 'Polar Bear Town' on polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, hard by the edge of Hudson Bay, a frozen Hudson Bay. A segment of it included sought-after footage of the mother polar bear popping up out of the winter den after six months of hibernation, and soon being followed by two polar bear cubs, outside the den for the first time in their lives. If mama polar walked toward town and a Marshall's I would not have been at all surprised.

Wherever my wife and daughter were my daughter noticed a Lonchamp bag that apparently caught her eye. I once bought her a Longchamp tote, but apparently this was more of a purse. It was a cool $500, and my daughter didn't buy it for too reasons. The cost rendered a non-purchase a no-brainer, and the appearance of the name Longchamp in a size that could be read at 50 feet by someone who needed glasses. My daughter, like many shoppers, doesn't want to be a walking ad.

Like most A-Hed pieces, this one is a fun read, written by Khadeeja Safdar, a retail reporter, specializing in reporting on brick and mortar and online stores. The crocodile logo of the Lacoste tennis shirts is discussed, along with Ralph Lauren's polo player, Ray-Ban sunglasses and the Abercrombie moose.

Also mentioned are distinguishing feature of Brooks Brothers shirts, that can sport their logo of a sheep-in-a-sling, or not. Paul Stuart shirts can come with their flat capped country gentleman sitting on a fence. At least with these two retailers, you can buy their product with or without logo. To me, the annoying part of a Brooks Brothers shirt is that a great deal of them are button-down collars, a style Brooks claims to have perfected back in the day so that polo players wouldn't have their collars flapping in their faces as they thundered down the field on their ponies.

Whether the Lacoste shirt displays an alligator, or a crocodile depends on what country you're in. In the U.S. it is an alligator, in France it is a crocodile. There are a few explanation as to why Lacoste was nicknamed the "crocodile."

Rene offered an explanation that it had to do with a bet he had with the French Davis Cup captain. Win the match, and get a crocodile (or alligator) skin piece of luggage. Supposedly when
U.S. newspapers learned of the bet, they nicknamed Rene the "bitch" and "the crocodile" for his skill and tenacity on the court which lead him to never give up during a game.

The origin I heard from someone years and years ago in my old neighborhood from an old-timer who was in New York's rag trade was that Rene Lacoste got the crocodile nickname because of his "crocodile tears" that he exhibited on the court when he argued an umpire's or linesman's call. He well may have been tenacious, but why associate tenacity with a crocodile if there wasn't something to the "crocodile tears" metaphor?

Origins of words and phrases have many fathers. Crocodile tears is said to mean putting on an expression of insincere sympathy, itself derived from the belief that a crocodile's eyes tear up as they are eating their prey. "Tears of joy might stain my face..." I guess.

Rene Lacoste played a long time ago, so there is no one left who I can ask who might have seen him play and who could describe his on-court attitude.

And phrase origins can certainly be from "urban legends." Consider the kids I knew growing up who would tell anyone who listened that the long-ago store "E. J. Korvette's" was named after eight Jewish Korean war veterans, rather than by someone who served in the Navy and served duty on a "corvette," a small warship.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Maureen Dowd in Fashion

Or is it Maureen Down on fashion? I get my prepositions mixed up, but I am excited to learn that Ms. Dowd's byline has been missing only because she was assigned to a fat farm to do a piece on a fashion icon sent there with orders to lose weight, or else.

Hello Dolly. She's back where she belongs, or should I say, where I think it would be best if she stayed: reporting on fashion.

Today's NYT 'Thursday Styles section shows us where Ms. Dowd has been these past weeks...days? She's filed a gargantuan piece on page one of the section, with large color photos of an interview with Andre Leon Talley, a.k.a. Monsieur Vogue to those who can admit to flipping through that magazine's pages while in a doctor's waiting room, or actually getting the magazine delivered and using it for a doorstopper.

My daughter was once getting a subscription to 'Vogue' and when it hit the bottom of the metal mailbox is left a dent. I'd like to see an edition of that dropped onto the roadbed of a Chevy truck rather than that tool box and see how the steel takes it.

The piece is titled 'Monsieur Vogue is Leaving Trumpland.' Whether this is as significant as Elvis leaving the building I will let the reader decide, especially since it is possible after all the years since 1977 that someone might actually have to look up who Elvis was.

Trump and fashion is perfect intersection for Ms. Dowd. She gets to let us consider a world where the new first lady, Melania Trump, who is already listed as 5'11" (I'll assume barefoot), can negotiate a staircase in 4" stiletto heels.

Mr. Talley, who is himself listed as 6' 6" is seen standing outside by some trees on the diet center grounds wrapped in a fur coat, that to me, the thoroughly uninitiated, looks like something that Leonardo DiCaprio had to keep hauling around while making the move 'The Revenant.' I just finished watching that movie and am thankful Mr. Talley is not seen shedding his coat and sleeping in the eviscerated body cavity of a dead horse.

Ms. Dowd plays coy, as if she has no knowledge of fashion, when she tells us that Mr. Talley is well aware of her fashion ignorance, and feels compelled to tell her his coat is a "Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat." All I can tell you is that I'm happy there aren't too many people on the subway wearing that coat this winter. It is bad enough the MTA has scooped out bench seats to each long section that are geared to nicely accommodate 8 naked, dry, anorexic Asian women, but not westerners wearing clothing, let alone winter clothing. Thus, only 7 people can reasonable fit in those 8 seats in any season. Manspreaders, or not.

I say coyly, because Ms. Dowd in a cute Q&A with Mr. Talley asks him a series of questions ideally suited to the 'Styles' page, but that also perhaps reveal the inner style-horse Ms. Dowd might really be, when she asks Mr. Talley if it is "O.K. to wear a bandeau maillot to the office."

I'll admit that the article is probably not meant for a guy to read, but the chance to read Maureen Dowd, no matter what the topic is, is too good a draw to discourage me, even though there is a 6' 6" black guy featured in a fur coat in a forest who doesn't play for the Giants.

So, what is a "bandeau maillot?" Is it a pussy bow blouse like what Melania appeared in the day after The Donald was called out on, for years ago uttering 'boy talk' about grabbing women by their private parts?

First, Mr. Talley's answer to the "bandeau maillot" office question: "Confirm." That is a yes.

And, was I right about what a "bandeau maillot" is? Absolutely not. The OED tells me it is: "a narrow brassiere: a woman's strapless top formed by s band of fabric fitting around the bust."

Maureen, you saucy thing you. What floor are you on?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gold Rush, Sort Of

The fellow who reached into the back of a Loomis Armored Car Company's truck and waddled off with a bucket of gold flakes estimated to be worth $1.6 million has been formally identified by the police as Julio Nivelo, 53, an Ecuadorean who was living in West New York, NJ at the time of the September 29th theft and who now is suspected of being in Los Angeles, via Orlando, Florida.

There is no explanation for the Orlando stop over. Perhaps it had to do with being rewarded with a free pass to Disney World for pulling off the heist, somewhat like a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Or, perhaps Mr. Nivelo met a cruise ship and the gold is out to sea. Naturally, the investigation continues. And perhaps naturally, the gold rush leads to California.

At least Mr. Nivelo, or whatever his real name is, is not by any accounts a terrorist. A thief for sure. Apparently he's been arrested 7 times and deported 4 times. The revolving door on the deportations doesn't make you think much of the word Security when you hear the words Homeland Security.

As the Johnny Cash song goes, Mr. Nivelo is a 'Wanted Man.' A most wanted man, and probably not just by the authorities, but by the people who hired Mr. Nivelo, or who came in contact with him after the heist. I would think that actually finding the gold at this point is not going to happen.

The NYT has included the surveillance video that clearly shows the suspect reaching into the back of the unguarded Loomis truck and trying to get the best of carrying a bucket of dead weight that is clearly probably more than half his own weight.

The police video from the surveillance cameras has been stitched together and ends with Mr. Nivelo getting to 49th and 3rd near Smith and Wollensky's steak house, placing the bucket on the curb for a breather, then going to an awaiting parked white van and getting in.

And what is the vehicle that is parked in front of the white van? Why it is a Dunbar armored truck with the engine running. But the doors are closed.

Lucky for them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Donald

Have I been remiss not to write specifically about Donald Trump? I don't think so. There are so many other people either doing a good or bad job of that, that I've been sticking to my policy of not being a political blogger. We have so many. And some of them actually get paid for treating us to their angst and therapy notes.

I just found myself getting ready to put together the 2016 edition of the 'Onofframp' postings. We're near year's end, and it is time to decide on a cover, a back cover and a dedication. 2016 will be the 8th edition of the blog postings put into a book format that can be accomplished through the website Blog2Print. There is of course a fee for book binding my vanity.

Glancing over the editions I took a quick look at the last posting made for 2015, a December 29th take on the news that a person was killed in Germany by an exploding condom machine that he and two others were trying to blast their way into for the cash. A true story, check it out:

I find it great to be able to read something I wrote and find something in there that I don't really remember writing, but that now so incredibly fits into today's news.

As with anything, one thing leads to another, and in the posting I imagined rewriting the headlines that were accompanying the story to something more like what the New York Post would write: 'GERMAN GUY'S GONG GETS SCHLONGED AND DIES.'

The word schlong was then recently in the news because Donald Trump, (yes, the real Donald Trump) was reminding the American public that in 2008 Hillary Clinton got "schlonged" by Barack Obama.  The future was before us, and no one paid attention. I included The Donald's description of a margin of victory because of his choice of words.

Consider this. In December 2015 Donald Trump was in his inimitable fashion describing Hillary's loss to Obama in terms you might expect to hear someone say in a bar in Queens. Donald of course was born in Queens, but probably didn't hang out in the beer and shot places. But, he certainly grew up around enough construction workers.

In everything I've read or heard about the recent presidential election and Mr. Trump's truly astounding victory, I can truthfully say I haven't heard anyone say Hillary got "schlonged" by The Donald.

My own metaphor is that Hillary became the 1964 Phillies, who were leading the National League pennant race by 6 1/2 games with 12 games left to play. No divisional playoff the, no wild cards. Just win the pennant, and you're in the World Series, and the Phillies looked like a lead pipe cinch to do that.

But as in horse racing, you have to run the race. The Phillies lost 10 straight games, and 12 of 13, and finished tied for second with the Cincinnati Reds, with the St. Louis Cardinals (Red birds) winning the pennant.

And now we have Hillary Clinton claiming Vladimir Putin and the Reds (Russians) have cost her the election.

Yogi said it: "It's deja vu all over again."

Monday, December 19, 2016

The First Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On

There was no official title back when I was growing up, and by most accounts, there is no official title now, but if I had to retroactively consider women in the news who might qualify I'd certainly have to hand it to Zsa Zsa Gabor, who at 99 has now just passed away.

The King of the Crypt obituaries, Robert McFadden, has once again gotten his byline associated with another nonagenarian, centenarian figure. Sadly, he has to relate that Zsa Zsa was seriously ailing in the later stages of her life, and even had a leg amputated above the knee. But I'm hoping that didn't change her accent, a delightful fluency of English with a medium-weight Hungarian accent that was perfect for making her able to get away with just about anything, including not really having any discernible talent, which of course has never held anyone back from notoriety. Just ask George Hamilton, or Kim Kardashian.

Unfortunately, the obit doesn't give any insight into how she became known as Zsa Zsa, when her birth name was Sari. There aren't many people whose first names start with the letter Z. ZaSu Pitts is one I can think of, and she goes way back, an American silent film actress who was born in 1894, who was still getting parts when TV rolled around, notably on the 'Gale Storm Show,' a childhood favorite of mine in the 50s.

Wikipedia explains that her name of ZaSu was a portmanteau of the father's sisters' names, Eliza and Susan. My guess is Zsa Zsa is a childhood nickname from an affectionate Hungarian expression.

The encounter with the Beverly Hills police officer that resulted in her arrest is given space in the obituary, as it should be. Zsa Zsa was accused of slapping the officer who pulled her over in her Rolls convertible, as well as being cited for driving with an open bottle of vodka in the car.

Zsa Zsa took the defense that it was open season on people driving Rolls Royces in Beverly Hills, but I always wondered what the "slap" really was. Was it a Zsa Zsa tap on the cheek as you might expect her to bestow on a feckless male who has made an unwanted flirtatious advance on her? (To Zsa Zsa, the cop had to be cute, right?) Or, was it a real movie slap where the head jerks back? No details emerge, other than she was sentenced to three days in jail. No mention if she actually had to serve three days in jail. Her dry cleaning bill for that stint alone would bankrupt most people.

The above photo that accompanies the obituary shows Zsa Zsa with her two sisters in 1955. She is seen wearing white gloves, something women of even modest social status of the time wore. It is unmistakable that Zsa Zsa has anticipated cell phones. Today, she'd have a divorce app.

She is seen giving what to me can only be described as the cell phone pantomime, using her thumb to hold down the middle and ring fingers, while freeing the index and pinkie to indicate the device. It is that, or she's looking for husband number three, or giving a so far cumulative total.

Considering her eight marriages, she was famous for saying a girl had to marry until she found love. That reminds me of the comedian Alan King's dictum on what would be necessary if you wanted to read a book on love and marriage: You need to buy two books.

A Screen Shot

It is not news that attendance at thoroughbred tracks is not what it was. The sport is in constant proverbial "trouble." It needs...well plenty of people will tell you what.

No matter, to me it is no less interesting than it ever was. They still run races, and those races create history, no matter how many people are there watching and hopefully plunking down a a few bucks so they can say with glee they "had it."

There is a complete dearth of racing coverage in the general media, so it was with no surprise that I didn't know California Chrome was going to run in another race before his expected final race, the Pegasus, the $12 million Frank Stronach creation at a mile and an eighth that will be run at Gulfstream Park on January 28th.

The entry fee is a cool $1 million, with $7 going to the winner. There are 12 openings, or stalls that can be "bought" by people who don't even have a horse to enter. A young Midwest pizza tycoon is buying a stall and he doesn't even have a horse to enter. He will ostensibly sell his stall, or parts of it, to others who might bid on it. Mr. Stronach has turned the starting gate into a craps table, where the side bets are as good as the table bets. It is interesting. It is as if you can buy space in Trump Tower for the afternoon. Whoever thought a starting gate would have short-stay rates.

Through the magic of the Internet and Twitter I did get to see California's warm-up race after it was run. Even on replay, it was no less exciting to see him romp through a mile and a sixteenth at his home track of Los Alamitos in track record time, against a surprisingly full field of 9 other competitors, who were surely there to take other parts of the $180,000 purse that The Winter Challenge had to offer.

There were only 5,023 people there, but I'm sure they were completely enthusiastic to see their favorite horse run. The online writeups of the race say they were.

And here's where horse racing still provides me with visual delights of many types. Someone took a screen shot of the Los Alamitos tote board as it was displayed on a monitor of Chrome's race with 18 minutes to go to post time and Twitter posted it.

The to the uninitiated, it looks like a colorful display of numbers, perhaps an Excel spreadsheet done by one of the office's more creative types. But it is telling a story, a powerful story of Chrome's favoritism.

The numbers to the left of the colorful saddle cloth numbers are the current odds. This will change as post time approaches zero, and will settle into a final set of odds, but at the moment someone took the photo, Chrome, the 10 horse, is 1/9, with everyone else, aside from the 4 horse, listed at 99. Since a tote has never been able to show odds with three places, the 1/9 usually means the horse has drifted below 1/10 odds, or 10 cents to the dollar, extremely low odds. The lowest win odds can go is 1/20, or 5 cents to the dollar That's the mandated minimum.

And some people will consider a 5% return "guaranteed" return on a racing bet as good as buying savings bonds, or "safe as houses" as the British would say. These people are called "Bridgejumpers" because if their bet doesn't pan out it is expected they will leave their car and head for the railing and the water at the nearest span. No life jacket.

An urban legend constantly repeated by our mentor Les was that after Twilight Tear ran out of the money in a muddy race at Laurel in 1944, a shot was heard and someone fell backward off the grandstand roof. Twilight Tear went off at 15 cents to the dollar and was described in the chart's trouble line as having "quit badly." Twilight Tear always remained an object lesson to Les on a filly's perceived unpredictability. And also proving a Pittsburgh Phil (George Smith) axiom to never bet on a horse asking them to do something they've never done before, in this case, handle a muddy track,

The moment of the screen shot, capturing the extremely long odds on all of Chrome's challengers is to me as good as the photo I once took of the tote board at Greenwood race track in Toronto in the mid 70s. Greenwood is no longer there, but when it was it was billed as the only thoroughbred track next to a trolley line. It really was.

Well, with perhaps 10 minutes to go to post time, there are actually horses in the race with no money bet on them to show. There were zeros in the show pool numbers. I couldn't resist a photo. Eventually money did appear in the pools, but I always wondered what they would do if a horse with nothing bet on it to show, were to finish in the money. Payoff on the next horse down I might think.

Odds change as the betting progresses, and eventually Chrome stays at the 5 cents to the dollar that the tote can only show as 1/9, and some of the other horse drift down to 21/1 and other amounts, but with 5 horse still going off at over 100/1.

Chrome wins the race the race with the greatest of ease and sets a track record as well. His mile split is 1:34 and the final time for the mile and a sixteenth is 1:40. Very few horse are running faster at the end than they are at the beginning. Despite losing the Breeders' Cup Classic to Arrogate, Chrome should still be Horse of the Year.

With a $58,000 minus win pool in a race with no place or show wagering you might wonder why didn't the track management just run it as a non-betting affair? To their credit they didn't.

There was exacta wagering, with the 21-1 shot, Point Piper finishing second and paying $5.60 for a $2 exacta bet. A 9/5 return in a race with the mortal lock at 1/20 is not really a bad payout. Point Piper was second in the odds, and second in the race. Good betting pattern by the crowd.

There was also trifecta, superfecta, and super high five wagers, that have higher takeouts, so the track attracted bets on all the betting formats. And if they were able to get Chrome's name on the win tickets, who is going to cash those tickets for $2.10? The abandoned property for uncashed tickets will lower that minus money considerably, even if the name isn't on the ticket.

I don't think you will ever see a tote board, however briefly, with 8 horses at 99/1 again. Chrome is Halley's Comet.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Decoded

Tis' the season to name things. Surely at some point someone will challenge you to name the 7 Dwarfs or Santa's 8 reindeer. No SmartPhone lookups now.

A slightly more challenging question might be for you to name all the people, animals and objects found in that Christmas chestnut, 'The 12 Days of Christmas.' Go ahead, no cellphones.

'The 12 Days of Christmas' is almost like '100 Bottles of Beer in the Wall.' But instead of counting down, you count up, and with far more variety that just bottles of beer.

I'm not a Catholic, but I sure was surrounded by them growing up. No one ever postulated the carol was a code for persecuted Catholics in England. Every Christmas season I would hear that song, and still do, and still no one has ever casually tried to show off some historical religious knowledge and tell the assembled it was a code. Huh? I've obviously been hanging out with lapsed Catholics and other forms of heathens.

Through the social media of the Internet and Twitter and being linked with an Australian news reporter, I now have a link to someone's explanation of what the number in the count-up refers to.

Just like Don McLean's epic ode to rock and roll, 'American Pie' has symbolic references to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and of course Buddy Holly, 'The 12 Days of Christmas' has meaning in every stanza.

The link provided should take you to ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Company's story where @justjenking now works, a public station much like our PBS/NPR stations, and their background explanation and the meaning of the "code" within the count-up.

So, just knowing how the 'The 12 Days of Christmas' goes is now no longer enough to win that round of drinks you bet. Really show off and tell them what the code is. Because we all know there's no sense keeping this knowledge in your head unless you're going to win around of drinks with it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I Knew It

Anyone who might read these postings knows there's a race on for who is the most photographed woman with clothes on. And they would also know that Britain's Prime Theresa May has been reported to be piling on the style points and is pulling away from Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, somewhat like what Secretariet did to the field in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

And now I know why. She wears leather pants and kitten heels. I knew the woman is a siren.

Today's NYT reports that people in Britain are in a lather about the Prime Minister's $1,250 leather pants, seen when she sat for an interview a few weeks ago on her sofa in her home for the Sunday Times Magazine.

Shame on those people. What did they want her to come out dressed as, a washerwoman in a bandana, sweats and wet sneakers? Not wear pants?

A few years ago Martha Stewart was photographed on her way into her trial for lying to the FBI with a hard-to-get Hermes Birkin bag on her shoulder. It was considered scandalous that she had such a bag. How silly. She probably didn't even pay for the bag, but got it instead because she'd be seen photographed with it. Eventually she got to wear orange for a while. Without toting a bag.

How do people even know that what the Prime Minister had on were $1,250 designer leather pants from Amanda Wakeley, whoever that is? They must have priced them for themselves and now were jealous.

The story reports that Britain's 'Trousergate,' as they are so originally calling it, has so boosted Amanda Wakeley's sales that no more can be found anywhere. Somebody's buying them in a country that people will have you believe is in the midst of a post-war austerity crisis.

I say, go Theresa, look good for the camera as long as you can. Eventually they stop taking your picture.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Believe It, You Ate It

What could possibly link the recently deceased Milt Moss and Michael James Delligatti? One did advertising for the effects of what the other one invented.

I think it is hard to realize that a certain food combination was actually invented. The Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich so he would have something to eat while spending hours at the gaming tables, but who invented the tuna fish sandwich?  Hard to trace, I would suspect.

But there are people who claim, or actually get the legitimate credit for inventing a combination of food ingredients that come to be known as something we all become familiar with.

Take Bobby Valentine, the former major league ball player and manager, somewhat famously known for hiding behind a pair of sunglasses and a fake mustache lurking near the Mets dugout after being ejected from a game. He fooled no one.

Well, Bobby now finds himself as the athletic director of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. Bobby's from Connecticut, and from a prior life when he owned a sandwich shop, he will tell you he invented the "wrap" sandwich.

You're probably familiar with "wraps." They're on all the diner menus and chalk boards at lunch places everywhere. The sandwich contents are wrapped in a kind of doughy tortilla. No bread.

My own belief is that wraps came in to existence because Fink bread went out of business. If anyone remembers the Fink bread trucks that bounced around New York City, delivering bread to restaurants and other commercial feeding institutions, you will also remember that the logo and the wording on the side of the Fink bread trucks: OVER 70 YEARS FINK MEANS GOOD BREAD. Simple. When you got a corned beef sandwich at a Blarney Stone, the slices of bread were pulled from a FINK bread wrapper.

As the years advanced, the 70 was painted over by 80, 90, and eventually 100, before the faded red and blue trucks stopped rolling trough the streets in 2002. When I left the company I was with after 36 years I commented that I started when the Fink bread trucks said 70, and they were last seen with 100 on their sides. No one understood what the hell I was talking about, but I've long become used to that.

Michael James Delligatti passed away at 98, and is authentically credited with inventing the Big Mac. Yes, that Big Mag, two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame- seed bun. Mr. Delligatti even devised the bun this heart stopper went between. The existing buns at McDonald's in 1967 would not hold the contents of Mr. Delligatti's invention.

Mr. Delligati was a McDonald's tycoon, starting with one store in Pittsburgh, that eventually morphed into a franchise empire of 47 stores that he opened. He even created the special sauce that slathers the Big Mac. At the time the Big Mac was introduced, McDonald single hamburgers sold for 18 cents. The initial price of the Big Mac was 45 cents.

Advertising and unsolicited emails will tell us size matters. Burger King is currently promoting something called "Bacon King." The ads for this heart attack show two goofy guys each wearing the Burger King crown and taking the viewer on a tour of the Bacon King's contents. It's the six strips of bacon that top off the burger tower that lend the name to the Bacon King.

So, how does Milt Moss, an actor, who at 93 passed away, fit into this? Mr. Moss, a second generation stand-up comedian was featured in a classic Alka-Seltzer ad that had Mr. Moss appearing in his pajamas, sitting at the edge of his bed, apparently unable to continue sleeping because he's in gastric distress, telling us, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

Alka-Seltzer, was a white tablet that came in foil packets, meant to be dissolved in water or seltzer as an aid to break up stomach blockages and indigestion; cure heartburn from foods you might have recently consumed. The foil packs were in a cardboard silo, usually found at lunch counters. It never seemed a ringing endorsement for the food, but my guess is the luncheonette owners felt that if their food made someone have a tummy ache, they might be able to score another sale on the antacid to cure it. It is no longer sold this way, but is available at the drug store as "Alka-Seltzer Original."

McDonald's opened in our Flushing neighborhood in 1972. It wasn't long before  I wasn't really a fan of their food. And still aren't. I'd get a stomach ache.

When I would pass the sign that proudly proclaimed how many billions of burgers had been sold, I always thought to myself, (and still do) "yeah, but how many were digested?"

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Michelle Dockery

In case anyone has been wondering (which I really doubt) where my summaries are for 'Downton Abbey's' last season, I have to report I've put them on hold. I've got all the episodes stacked up on my DVR and will be getting to them as the winter sets in. I did this on purpose so as not to consume the whole thing when everyone else was. I saved them for dessert.

And as any viewer of 'Downton Abbey' knows, Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary, the frosty, oldest daughter of the Granthams. Lady M. became a widow with a very young son when her husband drove too fast without a seat belt on, which of course there were none of in 1920s motor cars.

Ms. Dockery has appeared in one other production I've seen, 'Restless,' a 2012 British spy story with Michael Gambon, Charlotte Rampling, Rufus Sewell, and Haley Atwell. The series was a good as the book by William Boyd. Ms Dockery's character is that of Ms. Rampling's daughter, who is fairly strait-laced, with only some weed smoking to give her an air of a rebel.

But in 'Good Behavior' Ms. Dockery's character is waaay more than a rebel. She is one hot mess. An American parolee from North Carolina who has gotten out for good behavior after a three year stint in prison for being a grifter and a thief, Letty tries to go straight, but her high is getting high, and stealing, something she does with what seems like pure natural ability. Some people have athletic talent, Letty has theft in her bloodstream. Just watch her at the self-help checkout. A primer. Try it yourself at your own risk.

Aside from the stealing schemes, which she seems to quickly fall back into after giving waitressing a try while working for asshole managers and lecherous customers, she shows her drug addicted side by creating a crack pipe from an eviscerated light bulb. Letty might engender sympathy, but she is really a roadside pileup that we can't take our eyes off of. She is also funny as hell.

One of Letty's scams is to rob hotel rooms while their well-heeled guests are at the pool, shopping, or playing golf. She exudes so much Southern charm you might think she's auditioning for the Scarlet O'Hara part. The honey pours out of her mouth, something I'm always a bit in awe of, how British actors can do American parts, but Americans can't seem to do British parts.

One room heist finds her hiding in the closet accidentally overhearing a contract murder plot that she sets out to disrupt. Criminals do have their code. This plot device manages to get her hooked up with Javier, an eye candy Argentinian hunk with a Spanish accent as smooth as Letty's fake drawl.

Javier makes contract killing look like something you arrange online with Amazon. He's as smooth at it as Letty is at getting things out of stores without paying. Without coughing up too much of a spoiler, Letty and Javier find themselves traveling in a stolen Pirus that is soon going to run out of electricity. The dialogue this sets off is nearly as good as DeNiro and Grodin in 'Midnight Run' on the bus. Letty and Javier become dependent on each other. Naturally.

Along the way so far we get to meet Letty's mom, the town slut whose fire is by no means out as she seeks gratification with a local dimwit who went to high school with Letty. Letty's mom has custody of Letty's son, who Letty is not supposed to come within a 1,000 feet of. There is a restraining order against her.

Letty tries to go straight again, but can't understand how she can be so good at texting, but can only manage 8 words a minute typing at a desktop computer. Perhaps the thumbs are too far apart. No job offer there.

We meet some of Javier's family as he and Letty transport two of Javier's teenage nieces on a road trip to join their estranged mother, Javier's sister, for a visit.

Aside from sex, drugs and rock and roll, Letty proves to be a kindred spirit with the impressionable nieces when they engage in a singalong in the car to a rap song with very explicit lyrics. Javier's not amused, but he is smitten.

Where are Javier and Letty headed? It can't be Vegas to get married. Last seen Letty has just engineered a hotel heist of $200,000 that once belonged to other thieves who had just relieved the resort's ATMs of their cash.

Letty is a piece of work. And Michelle Dockery is piece of work playing her. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Of All The Useless Things

I am not a Luddite by any measure. But I really do wonder what value there is in a refrigerator..."The new Family Hub refrigerator, that has built-in cameras that take a photo every time the doors close, so you always know what you have and what you're missing."

I've been seeing a full page ad for this latest in gadgetry for weeks now in the WSJ and the NYT. And one can only guess at what one of those full pages cost. Alongside the copy is a hand holding a SmartPhone, a Samsung Smartphone to be precise, that is showing six images from inside a Samsung refrigerator. My guess is the multiple cameras are aimed at different shelves and levels of your refrigerator.

Quite honestly, if what the cameras are showing you is all you have in the refrigerator, then you don't have much.

There's a beautiful pink icing layer cake, some eggs, and what looks like three long neck beer bottles, or perhaps wine bottles that you can't see the level of, some fruit along with a wedge of watermelon, a basket of strawberries, and some other healthy looking stuff that I can't really identify. Alert readers, anyone?

Of course what the food-selfie photo-op doesn't show is what's crammed in your freezer; or, what's wrapped up in tin foil that might be edible if enough ketchup is poured on it (my personal favorite). Not knowing what quantity of these foods there might be is really what's of value. How much ice cream is left in that carton? Is there one more mac and cheese to pop in the microwave? Is that an onion wrapped in foil, and how old is it? When I peel the foil back will I find something growing on the onion; will it be firm, or will it be mushy and unusable? (Picky, huh?)

Aside from the clock on the refrigerator door and the outside weather and temperature, there looks to be a time stamp that tells you when the latest photo was snapped by the fridge-cams. Someone like Jeffrey Dahmer might find this useful if he feels he needs to commit another atrocity to store in his refrigerator, if while out on the town he feels the need for fresher food before hitting the hay for the evening. One hates surprises once they're home.

Can you image one of those TV private eyes, or TV detectives, leaving the scene of late night carnage and wondering if they have enough leftover  pizza in the box from Mario's? Is their SmartPhone going to tell them how many cold slices are left in that box with the half open lid? Beer, or wine bottles, you'll probably know, so I guess there might be some value in this innovation.

But not for all of us.

A and E

I never realized there was a Canadian way of spelling the word gray. It seems they spell it grey, which is how, for some reason, I like to write it. Spellchecker flags grey, but I don't listen to Spellchecker if I don't want to

Perhaps I saw the word grey spelled with an e when I helped my father paint the shutters with a grey Dutch Boy paint. Let me tell you, those shutters over the years were more colors than Dolly Parton's famous coat.

They were at first green, then grey, yellow, black, and eventually red, the color my father settled on, and the color they were when the house was sold. I painted shutters a lot.

To be it's like when vice-president Dan Quayle was excoriated when he spelled potato potatoe. The media went  nuts. Here's the vice-president (a Republican) and the guy can't spell.

Growing up I always seem to remember that potato was, or could be found to be, spelled potatoe. Maybe that's how it was spelled on the bag of potatoes I always saw on the pantry floor.

Dan Quayle was eventually exonerated for his potatoe spelling, with the e, which was considered an acceptable version. But not until he was labeled as a permanent dunce.

It seems now Canada is annoyed at the spelling of the bird they would like to anoint as the national bird of Canada. The gray jay was chosen to be Canada's national bird. The twists and turn of the story are well laid out by Ian Austen, in Wednesday's NYT.

It seems the American Ornithologists' Union, AOC, holds sway on North American bird names. The Gray Jay was third in online voting for national bird, but a professor of emeritus of wildlife biology at McGill University (Montreal) lead the charge to pick the Gray Jay, a bird found mostly in Northern Canada. Think of how cold Northern Canada can be.

As pictured, the bird is a cute, furry looking little thing that no doubt is headed for a stamp. The professor's name? You won't believe it. David Bird. Yes, Bird picks bird.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

They Said a Bottle Is Just a Bottle

"They told me a bottle can't dream." "They said a bottle is just a bottle." Oh yeah. Do they also realize their "bottle" is a pain in the ass?

How many times have you been made to watch the recycling commercial brought to you (and all of us, really) by the Ad Council? Sure, recycling is a noble effort, but can't they retire this public service announcement with something else at this point?

The pain in the ass thing is that just when you think the message has been received, they launch into another 30 second jobber that says the same thing in essence. The plastic bottle can come back as all sorts of useful objects. It's probably even used in surgery, for all I know. Maybe solar panels are made from it. Who the f**k knows?

My grand-kids are tired of watching the commercial! Do you really want to inflict environmental apathy on the young with repetition?

Dear Ad Council: Get some new material before I start getting mad enough to start secreting these things in with the rest of the trash. No one really checks, you know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Milestone Anniversary

I've thought about milestone anniversaries ever since 9/11. As the years roll on and accumulate into ever higher and higher numbers, will there be a gathering of the 9/11 survivors convening anywhere?

Someone once quipped we know how many survivors of the Titanic are living (none now), and we always seem to know how many Triple Crown winners there have been (now 12, after a 37 year drought that had the number stuck at 11), what else will we keep track of?

The WSJ today has a photo, front page, above the fold, of Robert Coles, a 92 year-old survivor of Pearly Harbor, having joined the Navy at 17 right out of a New York high school, and finding himself assigned to a destroyer that was not badly damaged by the onslaught. The New York Times has nothing on its front page that reminds you today is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Why would I not be surprised?

Mr. Coles is resplendent and fit in his dress Chief's uniform, with enough hash marks to give an embroider cramps in their fingers. Mr. Coles, obviously stayed in the Navy and retired from it. His first job, but I'm sure not his last.

Adding 75 to 2001 gives you a far-out-there number of 2076. As for myself, I was in my 50s when I got down from the 29th floor of Tower One, the day lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and an out-of-control plane crashing in Pennsylvania all became part of what the NYT captured in its headline the next day: U.S. Attacked.

I have rolled that headline over in my head many times, and I've always found it to be lacking. It's accurate, but lacking. I have no alternative headline. It's already happened.

It's not too likely there were many 17 year-olds at the Pentagon or the Trade Center. There was a day care center at WTC, so, like the Titanic, babies and children will count. The estimates have been that there were 25,000 survivors at WTC that day. That's a lot of survivors. Easily there could have been some fairly young office workers, or military people about, but how many will be alive in 2076?

Someone will be counting by then.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Thar's Gold in Them Thar Buckets

At the beginning of the 20th century, Europeans were hearing that the streets in the United States, perhaps specifically New York City, were "paved with gold."

Gold has always been a desirable metal. This goes back to ancient times. Alchemists felt there was a way to turn ordinary substances into gold. A silk purse out of a sow's ear, so to speak. There was of course the California Gold Rush of 1849 when gold was found at Sutter's Mill. There were Klondike gold rushes that brought people to freeze in Alaska.

Gold figures in plenty of movies. Think of 'The Treasure of Sierra Madre.' Think of the James Bond early classic 'Goldfinger,' and Goldfinger's attempt to empty Fort Knox. Goldfinger's first name is even gold, "Auric," with Au being the Periodic Table symbol for gold.

On a morning news show a week or so ago, I saw a piece of video that showed a guy approaching the back of a truck parked in the Diamond District and lifting out what looked like a five gallon bucket, the kind paint can come in, or more usually joint compound.

What made this newsworthy was that he was stealing the bucket from the back of an armored car, and the bucket contained what was first reported to be "gold flakes," worth $1.6 million. Apparently, one guard was somewhere else, and the second guard was turning the ignition off. The back door to the vehicle had been left open. No forceful entry was needed; no weapons were pointed. Gone in 10 seconds. And no one pursued the guy.

Michael Wilson, who writes about some of the odder crimes in New York City for the NYT, has a piece that gives a complete rundown of the details. The summary is: the guy who stole the bucket is still at large; they know who he is, identified from street cam surveillance video; the theft took place on September 29th; the Loomis armored car drivers have been fired; the company has posted a $100,000 reward; it was not an inside job.

There is extensive video pieced together of this guy's heavy-laden zigzag east from 48th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue, to Smith and Wollensky's steak house on 49th and Third, where he disappeared into a white van.

It was first reported the bucket had gold flakes in it. These flakes are the leftovers from the work jewelers do when creating gold jewelry, and in the trade are called "bench sweeps."

It was later reported there were flakes, and larger scraps of gold in the bucket, rough-edged bars of gold, with Sharpie scrawled identifying numbers. The gold is collected from various jewelers and brought to a processing center to be refined into purer gold. Those flakes have value.

Considering that the bucket contents have no doubt reached an outlaw refinery by now, it is wondered what kind of evidence the police will have if they are able to catch the perpetrator. Jaywalking with a bucket will be a new class of crime.

I recently saw the Irish Repertory's production of 'Finian's Rainbow,' a nice confection of a musical that was first on Broadway in 1947, running for over 700 performances. Somewhat of a hit. There was even a terrible 1968 movie made of it with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, but that's another story.

The music is good, but he story is a bit silly by today's standards. Finian brings a pot of gold on stage any buries it. Another character, a leprechaun, claims there are three wishes the pot of gold can grant. A very updated version of the play might be for Loomis Armored Car service to wish for the return of their stolen bucket of gold. Not happening.

If anyone remembers the not-do-great movie 'Paint Your Wagon' that they made from the Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical, you might remember Clint Eastwood was in the movie, and was credited by a NYT critic with singing like a mule.

Also in the movie was Lee Marvin, who at the end of the movie has the great idea to collect all the gold dust that has been spilled from those grimy sacks prospectors have been bringing into the bars casinos and whorehouses, the "bench sweeps" that have fallen through the floor boards of those establishments.

Mr. Marvin's character digs an elaborate set of tunnels underneath these building in order to capture the dust spilled through the floorboards. The tunneling is extensive, but not well supported. It all eventually comes crashing down on him.

When I saw the movie I thought of Manhattan, how it really should just collapse because so much of it is hollow with tunnels and passageways. The place should cave in, but doesn't.

The stitched together surveillance video is probably not on YouTube, but apparently it shows the perp struggling to run and wobble with an 86-pound bucket, while not being a Navy Seal. There apparently is even a point where the guy almost trips.

Imagine, the streets could have been paved with gold.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Admission Standards

I may not be the world's greatest mechanic or handyman, but I can hold my own around the house, and I do know how to fix a toilet. I just never thought that my toilet-fixing skill could serve as an admission quality for M.I.T. But this is what you learn when you read obituaries.

I'm sure somewhere there is an industrial exhibit on toilets through the years. Maybe at a Kolher or American Standard, a museum attached to corporate headquarters.

I remember the huge wooden tank above the toilet at my grandmother's in the early 50s. You pulled a chain with a wooden knob at the end and Niagara Falls came schussing, rushing, gurgling through the drain pipe and into the toilet. The tank in any setup is actually the "water closet." (The words "water closet" got Jack Parr in TV do-do in the 50s. They were considered unmentionable by the censors.)

Of course in those days those tanks held a lot of water. There was no such thing as a one gallon flush. A full seven or more made it into the bowl and made it possible for Lilliputians to go white water rafting, if there were any Lilliputians around.

I loved pulling that chain. No one's home other than my grandmother's apartment had an overhead tank. When I visited my uncle in Greece in the mid-6os their bathroom had an overhead tank. I always felt my uncle would then feel a bit nostalgic for the old 18th Street apartment where he and his brothers grew up over the flower shop.

I always lived in a home with a toilet tank and a toilet bowl. And when there was that time, as there always is, when the water seems to keep going and never stop going into the bowl, when someone tells you to "just jiggle" the handle, you've reached the appointed hour when someone should lift the lid of the toilet tank and see what's going on.

A November 17 obituary for Jay W. Forrester, 98, a pioneer in computer models, gets around to his opinion on what an incoming freshman should know: how a toilet works.

Aside from this piece of opinion, the obituary, by Kate Hafner, shows off the value of what a simple quote from a deceased subject can add to the tale of their life.

The Wall Street Journal is now weekly presenting a trio of obituaries, one main one, and two smaller ones in a bit of  a triptych. Both The Times and The Journal highlight Mr Forrester's accomplishments, and they are significant. They center around computers and simulations of business problems, something that became to be called "system dynamics."

Mr. Forrester grew up on a remote ranch in western Nebraska and was just plain curious as a kid how things worked. While in high school he devised a wind generator that bought electricity to the ranch. Being 98 in 2016 puts his year of birth at 1918, an era when rural areas had no electricity. They were all off the grid. There was no national grid.

Growing up, when our toilet started letting water run constantly through, it I did lift the lid and looked at how this thing worked. And I will say, the internal mechanics of a toilet haven't really changed. In the nearly 60 years I've been lifting the lid and staring into the pool of dark water, I can tell you things haven't changed. It is still a Rube Goldberg device. I am amazed and dismayed at that, but that's the way it is.

There's the outside lever you push down, attached to a life rod that either has a thin rod or a chain attached to a rubber stopper that should fit snugly over the drain pipe. When this rubber stopper wears away over time, the seal with the drain is not solid, thus allowing water to escape, making that sound that leads people to tell you to, "just jiggle the handle,"

This can work for awhile, re-seating the stopper, but it's just a band-id, so to speak. Also inside the tank is an intake tube and a float device, or float switch, that closes off the incoming tank water as the height rises to just near the top. Thus, your tank can fill up and not overflow (very key to the operation) and provide you with what these days is the one gallon flush that the code says you should have.

I have to tell you, I hate fixing toilets. Just recently the outside handle, lever came loose from the tank. The gasket had worn out and all the handle could do was sort of flap in the wind; it lost its connection to the rest of the works. Manual flushing was in order until the replacement part was purchased.

The first replacement package was flawed; the plastic gears that are supposed to mesh with the lift rod were broken. A return and replacement of the replacement was in order. I hate a toilet I can't fix on the spot.

The toilet works well now, with a nice forceful gush of water that reaches the bowl. Mr. Forrester's obituary closes with the acknowledgment of his seven decades at M.I.T. as a student and a professor, with a quote that he doesn't understand why current students don't seem to know how things work. He asked students in an engineering class if they understood how the toilet tank stopped filling up and didn't overflow.

"I asked them, 'How many of you ever took the lid off a toilet tank to see how it works?' None of them had. How do you get into M.I.T. without ever having looked inside a toilet tank?"

Let me tell you what strikes me. How did anyone ever fix that overhead wooden toilet tank when it needed attention?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Trump Rump

My youngest daughter is no longer living at home, but her laundry and mail still visit us regularly, as she does. My wife and I provide "thoughtful concierge service," as the uppity advertising copy goes for so-called luxury condo experiences.

Still in her room is a picture of Susan and her friend Donna flanking The Naked Cowboy in Times Square. This was in 2003, and I think he was the original Naked Cowboy, a snaggle-toothed guitar toting, underpants wearing fixture who probably couldn't get into a night club that had a "two-tooth" minimum.

The Naked Cowboy is showing his good side, his rear end. This was the Times Square when he and only a handful of others plied the performance trade for tourist money. Times Square at that point wasn't free of traffic, so the picture is from one of those thing pedestrian triangles. Duffy Square maybe, or where the George M. Cohan statue is.

I don't know how it worked out , but there's another person who is now The Naked Cowboy. I don't know if he is "licensed" by the first guy, but the current one is currently finding a warmer climate appearing in the lobby of Trump Tower, New York's latest hot spot for action, ever since Mr. Trump's election as president. The presidency creates crowds, and crowds carry money, and some of that money finds its way going to The Naked Cowboy for photos with a New York celebrity.

The circus that has descended on Trump Tower ever since election night results came in is described in a NYT story this past Friday. The Cowboy, as he is referred to, is Robert John Burck, 45 years old and a fan of The Donald.

He is a bit of a gadfly in the lobby, voicing displeasure at Mitt Romney and his potential for being named Secretary of State as he takes a whispered phrase from Mr. Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway as she scoots to the elevators. A subsequent TV news story tells of The Donald himself clearing the way for The Cowboy to visit him in his penthouse spread. The guy has got to be on Cloud Nine.

Since the lobby is public space, the curious and the fringe of New York can ham it up for the cameras there to record the comings and goings of the president-elect. The Times story tells of Mr Burck and others who have established themselves as part of the total New York experience.

If the visual isn't enough, you have to be told The Cowboy wears white boots, a cowboy hat, a thin American- flag-like poncho and a pair of short white pants that look like a diaper from behind.

The "diaper" has the word TRUMP written on the back in red and blue letters. This of course blends patriotically with the whiteness of the underwear.  His guitar, which he plays to accompany himself on spur-of-the moment-lyrics, is where he secretes the money he earns from his well-wishers and photograph partners. The security checks peer into the guitar for explosives.

The Naked Cowboy is the latest in political animals who earns money by pay-for-play, although his activity is not likely to get him a stretch in Federal prison like some elected officials.

And even though he is now more indoors than outdoors in frigid temperatures, The Cowboy has already replaced Obamacare with his own brand of health insurance that seems to keep him from getting pneumonia. He occasionally buys an alcoholic drink at the bar, being served wordlessly by a bartender who knows his usual.

He's starring in a gig in the lobby of Trump Tower, now the most photographed building in New York City with a near-naked cowboy inside.

You can't be mad at everything.

The Work Ethic

This is an open posting to Maureen Dowd, who I sometimes leave a comment with when one of her columns sporadically appears. I usually get shut out. Since her Sunday piece probably starts to appear online sometime late Saturday, there are those who can't wait to dive into the fray and read and leave a comment. This fills up her in-bin so fast that by the time I get there on Sunday morning--reading a Sunday paper on Sunday--I'm hardly alone in wanting to leave Maureen a comment. She has quite a following, seemingly from the comments I read mostly people against what she's writing, and exasperated with her in general. But there are those that like her, and that's what the game is about anyway.

I don't know what the attendance was at her recent book promotion appearance at the Union Square Barnes and Noble, but I'm familiar with the space, and my guess is it was filled. Anyone from the Times making an appearance in Manhattan would surely fill the seats.

And because I usually get shut out from the the comments section I wind up leaving a comment in an email to the Public Editor. That satisfies my itch to tell Maureen she doesn't work hard enough. And I've told her often, since her weekly column is hardly weekly. 

And today's posting satisfies my itch even more. It memorializes it.


Years ago I worked for a company that had what they called an "R-Day" program in effect. When you reached 63 you only had to work a four-day week. The fifth day was considered an R-Day--with pay. The time sheet was marked with an 'R' on the day you chose to be out. You had to take the same day of the week off  for a year. Until the Monday holiday observances came into effect, most old-timers took Monday. Then they switched to Fridays.

The purpose of the program was to get employees ready for the day when they would shuffle off and enter the realm of grand-kids, cooking, golf, tennis, woodworking, volunteer work, and traveling, "enjoying" time with their spouse. When you reached 64, you got a year's worth of two R-Days a week. It was, without saying, an incredible enlightened employee benefit.

As I was with this company for 36 years there could have been a possibility I'd be on R-Days eventually. However, I didn't stay anywhere near enough long enough to reach 63, having started when I was 19. And anyway, at one point, they phased the program one year by drawing a line in the sand and saying anyone now 40 or over would get the benefit when they reached the age; those that were not yet 40 would never get it. I was less than 40 when the line was drawn.

Maureen, I have to think that now that you are over 60 the New York Times has offered you their own version of an R-Day program. You can go sometimes several weeks without filing a column. Down from the one a week the readers expect to see you file. In short, you don't work much.

Russell Baker, who is still with us at his Leesburg, VA home, (sometimes we write to each other) once complained that the columnists that were replacing him as he reached retirement didn't work enough. He filed three column a week for I don't know how many years He was certainly onto something.

Your work ethic might be good for Donald Trump, because the story goes when he met with all you mucky-mucks at the Times recently in the wood paneled boardroom with all the photos on the wall, he offered that anyone there, the Arthurs themselves, to pick up the phone and give him a call if there was anything they wanted to discuss. The offer was extended to all in the room, except you Maureen, because he said you were "too tough" on him.

My guess is that got a laugh. But really, why would the president-elect consider someone who hardly works as someone who might interrupt his sleep one night with a pressing policy concern?

You're on R-Weeks. You're never there anyway.