Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Going Once, Going Twice

Abe Vigoda was going to get a bylined obituary no matter what. You can't be the source of perhaps one of the most memorable pieces of movie dialog and not be recognized when you go. I won't even fill the words in that go with the picture. If you don't know them, you can, as Casey Stengel said, "look it up."

When Mr Vigoda passed away the other day at 94, it was his second bylined obituary, his first being reported in People magazine in 1982.

There are distinct disadvantages to being reported deceased when you're not:
  • Your social security payments may stop, or be very hard to get started when you alert the media that you're alive and now eligible for payments.
  • People who owe you money might think they've been let off the hook, and now have no obligation to repay you.
  • Being an actor, like Mr. Vigoda, it might now be hard to get roles if agents and producers figure you're six feet under.
This last disadvantage is what lead Mr. Vigoda to take an ad out in Variety with a picture of himself sitting up in a coffin with a copy of the magazine issue that proclaimed his demise. 

Another disadvantage to mistakenly being reported dead is that, depending on where you're living in NYC, the landlord might now consider the obligation to keep your apartment at rent controlled rates to no longer be in effect, and they can now list the apartment at market rates. NYC landlords are always rooting for a legal excuse to get someone's apartment removed from the rent controlled rates.

When I was no longer living at my grandmother's I left behind a checkbook for an account I had closed. My father's oldest brother, my uncle, rooted through the bedroom and wrote a check out from the checkbook to pay his rent for what was a highly desirable rent-controlled apartment on East 38th Street in Manhattan. He then went away on vacation somewhere.

When he and my aunt got back, there was an eviction noticed plastered on his apartment door. The bank obviously bounced the check. The landlord considered the tenant to be in arrears, and started to take action to remove the tenant and get a better market rate for the apartment.

Apparently, my uncle and my aunt were made from a little sterner stuff than the doctor in the movie 'The Hospital' who suffers a fatal heart attack after the Angel of Mercy wacko patient phones in a phony stock market report alerting the surgeon that his account has been wiped out by a plunge in value. Down goes doc.

After "straightening things out with the bank," my uncle and aunt continued to live in their rent-controlled apartment until their demise, when they really did stop paying the rent.

But back to Abe. One look at his visage and it was hard to believe, even alive, that he hadn't been embalmed. He had the Old-Man-in-the-Mountain look made famous as a tourist attraction from that that New Hampshire rocky outcropping.

His most memorable role was undoubtedly his appearance in the 1972 movie 'The Godfather' as the old capo that Michael Corleone has put down. It was just before being led away for his last car ride, that Abe, as Sal Tessio, makes his final speech. Of course, being bumped off as a part in a movie is nowhere near the same thing as being bumped off by a magazine with the circulation of People.

How much the premature report of Mark Twain's death contributed to his "post-death" popularity is not known, but true to his wit he told enough people that the news was exaggerated.

Mr. Vigoda was rewarded in "death" with a bit of a resurgence in his career. As the NYT  obituary outqoute points out, "not everyone gets the chance to survive death and go on for 30 more years."

I hope he got his Social Security.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Guys Talking Tube

"Did you see Black Sails yet?"
"No, let me make sure it taped."
"Damn, I don't know what's wrong with this. Didn't tape from Sunday."
"You gotta check that out. I've already seen it three times on Starz repeats."
"Let me look."
"Okay, I've got it set right now. Will catch it on Monday's showing."
"It might have hit a conflict with Downton Abbey."
"I can't watch that English stuff."
"I know."
"I'm a little behind on his Lordship and the clan. Even with servant downsizing, sometimes it's tough to keep up with the characters."
"I didn't know Branson is in The Imitation Game. Plays an embedded Russian spy."
"I can't watch that English stuff."
"Did you see Agent Carter yet"
"I did watch it last night."
"I forgot how much of a comic book it was. But, I did like it."
"It was hard to absorb a double episode in one sitting, even skipping the commercials."
"Did you realize that the senator was a lookalike for Kevin Spacey playing the president on "Net Flix's House of Cards?"
"And one of those guys at the conference table was ringer for Kirk Kerkorian. The investor, Vegas guy."
"No. didn't catch that."
"Wasn't him though, The guy's dead,"
"Are you up-to-date with Shades of Blue?"
"Yeah, but just what I told you: another badge-on-the-belt-babe."
"I mean, what cop goes to her daughter's cello recital in the auditorium wearing her badge?"
"You're right."
"Her hair of course is always perfect.."
"I think J-Lo's doing a good job."
"Did you realize she's listed as a executive producer? Smart girl."
"Oh, she's all right. I never realized the jugs she has."
"I always knew her butt could move furniture, but the front of her could push things around as well."
"What is it with these cop shows. Everyone is a wiseugy, 'I gave up morning sex to come here, it better be good.'"
"What's up with that? Gratuitous violence up the kazoo. I mean, these shows are a great recruitment tool for the NYPD. Become a cop, get laid left and right, wear a badge on your belt, and walk around with a Glock holstered in the small of your back."
"And what the hell is up with the dimwit cop, Tess?, who moves a body she had nothing to do with turning into a stiff?"
"Because her house is for sale?"
"Who lives next to an empty lot in NYC these days?"
"It doesn't exist."
"Makes absolutely no sense. And J-Lo handcuffs a guy to a bed for hours?"
"Talk about contaminating a crime scene."
"I like Ray Liotta."
"Yeah, he's good. I like that he's got to keep putting his glasses on to read. That is very realistic."
"I know."
"He's got that menacing Jack Nicholson voice. You know, like he's trying to get toast in a diner."
"You're right."
"What was the name of that movie?"
"Five Easy Pieces."
"Blacklist. Have you seen the Blacklist you missed?
I can't find S3E11 anywhere. Not On-Demand. Nowhere. something happened there as well."
"I'll keep looking."
"You gotta be more careful."
"Why don't you watch the show live?"
"Are you kidding? With all those commercials? Two dollars at McDonald's. And Jan selling her RAV-4 Toyotas."
"I thought you didn't see the commercials."
"Sometimes I let them play though, like golf, because I gotta go pee."
"If I don't get back in time, I just rewind."
"You know, I completely forgot what, in the Blacklist, they were finding in the teddy bear."
"What was it called? The Zodiac."
"The Fulcrum."
"Do you think Sarah Palin could do Christine Lahti's job."
"Sarah Palin couldn't check coats."
"I think you're right."
"I was glad to see Strahan, you know the Director, dropped in on those Dutch folks,"
"Definitely. No more episodes for him. "
"Time to move on."
"No more contract there."
"I told you I tried to expand my DVR, and they sent me new boxes."
"Well, they neglected to tell me there is no way to transfer the contents from my old box to the new box."
"I was going to be able to do six shows at once, but I'd have to start from scratch."
"Back the boxes went. With a snide note to Verizon that they misled me."
"You mentioned that."
"I get jammed up with only being able to do two shows."
"I keep searching for conflicts every day and rearrange the schedule to record things at 2 a.m. if  I can."
"Thursday night is tough."
"I got to do Elementary, and that only leaves one more show to be able to record."
"Right now I'm staying with Shades of Blue."
"Same time as Elementary, but I love to poke holes in it."
"You record way more than I do."
"I know."
"I add those English shows, and the schedule gets filled up."
"I keep grooming the space, as well."
"Is there going to be a new Orphan Black?
"Jesus, I forgot all about that one."
"They were all sitting around at the end of the last one, right? Sarah's alter egos were everywhere at the table?
"They can't be going on from there, can they?"
"Who knows."
"What are you watching tonight?"
"Tuesday's not good for me."
"Will probably watch Black Sails again."
"I gotta go."
"I gotta check for conflicts."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

News Conference

Maybe it's just been me, but I think it has been awhile since we've seen Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel in a photo.

But as soon as you think someone might have gone under the covers, out they pop, as here, where the Chancellor is headed to a news conference to discuss regional snow removal.

Behind her are all the sanitation and highway, autobahn, commissioners whose job it will be to insure that the snow is removed and pushed into Belgium and Poland.

They may be some protests--that Germany is once again invading countries--but of course that's not the case. Germany is making room for migrant refugees.

New York's Mayor de Blasio is seizing on the idea and intends to build affordable igloos in Central Park to provide housing for the homeless with the snow that is now falling in the city. The dwellings of course will be somewhat temporary, and will not last until the next election.

The people who live around Central Park are counting on it.

Friday, January 15, 2016


My father passed away in 1987, so sufficiently long ago that I find I no longer think of him--good or bad--every day. But I do still find myself thinking of him.

He was a civilian employee for the Department of Defense, U.S. Navy, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He was a project engineer who contributed to the design of hulls.

Somehow his engineering degree and WW II experience turning reconnaissance photos into maps for the U.S. Army on Guam, morphed into working on ship design. I did not follow in his footsteps.

As a youngster I remember a few trips to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to witness a ship's christening. I never saw the ship slip out of dry dock into the water. Apparently, they didn't do that with the few christenings I saw. The water level rose in the dry dock bed, somewhat in reverse to a falling New Year's Eve ball in Times Square. When the water reached the keel, the ship was christened by a dignitary.

In one instance, the dignitary was Mamie Eisenhower, the president's wife, who was unable to get the bottle of champagne to smash against the hull, needing assistance from a nearby Admiral to get the contents spilled. It was good to know that ships were built to withstand champagne bottles.

What sparked my memories of my father was yesterday's WSJ story about the U.S. Coast Guard's need for at least two new icebreakers, each coming in at $1 billion or so. I don't really remember what it cost to build a ship in the early 1950s, but I'm sure the word billion didn't enter into the sentence.

One of the last ships to be built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which closed in 1964, was the U.S.S. Constellation, an aircraft carrier. It stay in service long enough to be deployed during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

They never built an icebreaker at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, so my father never worked on a government icebreaker. But there was the icebreaker he created at home.

When a neighbor and his wife came over for what I guess was cocktail hour, my father made the Manhattans that everyone loved at the time. In order to do this properly, he needed crushed ice. I remember when the cocktail hour was at he neighbor's house, they crushed the ice by placing cubes in some kind of wall-mounted grinder that looked like a can opener. Out came chopped ice.

Our household didn't hold all the bells and whistles of other households. In order to get the crushed ice he needed, my father wrapped ice cubes in a hand towel and vigorously banged the towel against the bricks of the living room fireplace. Six or seven whacks against the bricks, and there was enough crushed ice in the towel to get the evening going.

So, my father never did work on icebreakers for the the U.S. Navy. But he did have his own domestic version that did help chop up the ice around a Manhattan.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New and Last Season of Downton Abbey

I was a little delayed getting to watch the first episode of the new and last season of 'Downton Abbey.' This wasn't caused by any pressing events in my life, but rather due to the first episode being recorded by the DVR with the DVS option on. What, you don't know about DVS? You will now.

Just when you might have thought that no more initials could crawl into your life, out comes DVR--Digital Visual Service. It is an option, when turned on, that gives the viewer a voice-over narrative of the action on the screen. "The hunt begins." "Lady Mary falls off her horse into a large puddle." It is annoying as hell to the fully-sighted, but is intended as an aid to those who might be visually impaired, even blind, so that they call hear the words of the actors, as well as hear a storybook-like narration of the events unfolding on the screen.

I first became aware of this annoying voice-over when I played back my DVR recording of the new Sherlock, the one where the contemporary Sherlock and Watson go back in time to solve a mystery from the 1890s. That show has gotten so filled with gimmicks that I just assumed this voice-over was just another feature the producers and writers inserted to annoy me. And likely others. I watched (and listened) the whole episode with this voice-over describing nearly every action I was seeing. Ugh!

So, when it rolled around to watch the first episode of 'Downton' that had been recorded I once again got the voice-over. Now, I was hopping. This can't be right. Closed caption on; close captioned off. Only unconsciousness could make the voice-over go away.

I checked the Internet, the de facto central nervous system of the universe. Something was going on with Comcast. They were broadcasting PBS with this DVS option turned on. There were some incredible kluge solutions offered, that stopped short of suggesting putting a chicken in a bag and shaking it over my head.

But I have Verizon as my cable carrier. So, call Verizon stupid.

The wait wasn't long, and I was connected to someone who asked if a real-time viewing of PBS carried the same problem. Yes, to my surprise, it did. Someone else soon got on who lead me through Settings and all its options. And there, perhaps in the third layer of options was a DVS ballot: Yes, or No?

Problem solved. The DVR was now set to re-record the first episode in a few day's time. The second episode would naturally follow. And happy to report, last night's first episode DVR viewing did not have the nagging voice-over feature. I was home free.

Overall, the first episode was a hoot. Or, as much of a hoot as you can get watching and listening to stiff Englishmen get through the day.

I became aware that the hair on the women seemed a shade lighter, something women do these days as they get older. Anna's hair for sure, and even Mrs. Hughes's. Just a bit.

Sex and money. The topics that run the world were nicely threaded through the first episode. Lady Mary is being blackmailed by a chambermaid scamp who is going to inform tabloid parties that she and Tony Gillingham spent a week together in adjoining rooms in a Liverpool hotel having out-of-wedlock sex. A social no-no for the times.

Lady Mary was of course, in her defense, just trying out the merchandise before committing to marriage. Ultimately, she found something lacking, and left the merchandise where she found it.

Money enters when her father, His Lordship, confronted by the guttersnipe, cleverly buys her off with an offer of 50 pounds as opposed to the 1,000 she is asking for, with a signed statement that she is blackmailing, but a promise by his His Lordship that he won't use it to go to the police if she'll just go away into the night with the 50 pounds. It works.

It's an episode filled with good news. Daisy doesn't get fired after her outburst at the new owners of the estate who are throwing her father-in-law out by not renewing his lease. Anna and her husband John get the good news that the suspicion the police had that they had something to do with Mr. Green's death in Piccadilly has been laid to rest with the statement of a witness who can put the real perpetrator at the scene.

No one gets laid off at the households, although Dame Violet does engage in a bit of Mafioso fear to insure loyalty. Like Sonny in 'A Bronx Tale' she wants the subordinates to fear her a little bit, rather than just like her. It works.

But the real elephant in the room is the upcoming nuptials between Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Elsie. Mrs. Hughes is getting somewhat worried about her appearance naked, or near naked, in front of Mr. Carson. Or, let's just call him Charlie. Will going all the way with Charlie be required, and if so, will he be disappointed, despite his own less-than-George-Clooney body?

The cook, Mrs. Patmore is enlisted by Mrs. Hughes to feel old Charlie out on this matter. What does he expect? Mrs. Hughes is aware of her age, and her looks, as well of his age and his looks, Will Mrs. Hughes have to hit the gym in order to tighten up some sag? It is definitely too late for a complete makeover.

Not to worry. Charlie loves her as she is, and comes as close as an English butler of that era can come to saying so. In a lovely closing scene that should really have an 'I Love Lucy' heart framing the happy till-death-do-us-part couple, the first episode draws to a close, having really dispensed good cheer all around the grounds.

There is of course the hanging thread that will spill over to Episode Two--the feud between Dame Violet and Isobel Crawley regarding the possible merger of the village hospital with a larger one in York. Managed Care might be coming to Downton. Listen for Dr. Clarkson to utter the word "damn." Also, watch for a political statement to come through here. Whatever it turns out to be, it will be subtle. The English way.