Monday, February 29, 2016

We Miss Bill

How does this never fail to happen? Write about someone, and later learn someone else has written about them as well. Only a heckuva lot better. But then again, they knew them personally.

Two postings back is a blog about Christopher Buckley, with references to his father, William F. Jr. Open Saturday's WSJ Weekend edition last night and come across a sizable Opinion piece, 'Bill Buckley's Lesson for Today's Conservatives.'

The piece is written by Neal B. Freeman, a name that rings no bells. No matter, Mr. Freeman is identified as the chairman of  the Blackwell Corp. (still no bells) and someone who served on the board of the magazine 'National Review,' the conservative magazine that Mr. Buckley founded in 1955. Bells.

The online bio sketch for Mr. Freeman tells us he's 75 years old. Bill Buckley passed away in 2008 at 82. Mr. Freeman was Bill's hand-picked first producer of the PBS show 'Firing Line.' The Opinion piece is about the origins of that show that ran for 33 years, and how, if Bill were still around, how different the discourse would be if 2016 presidential candidates were to have to undergo Bill's scrutiny.

The piece is as elegantly written as William Buckley's speech. Obviously, the two of them were in simpatico with each other. It's not long into the piece that Mr. Freeman posits the hypothetical interview of Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump with Mr. Buckley, and who might come out on top. It is not however Mr. Freeman's goal to create mythical matchups pairing heavyweight champions from different eras meeting in the ring to settle who is the best. His are only examples to illustrate the point. No one today is like Bill.

Only slightly further into the piece is the recollection of the best example of what I will always conclude is the most self-effacing comment ever made, when Mr. Buckley is asked after his 1965 run for New York City mayor is certified to be a third place finish, what if he were to have won? "Demand a recount" was the quick reply.

You have to have been around for that election campaign to appreciate that remark. Perhaps because I was in high school and just starting to pay a bit of attention to the world did I find it so stimulating. Plus, I was surrounded by very liberal, all-male classmates. Mr. Buckley didn't really want to be mayor, but he did want the other candidates, John Lindsay and Abraham Beame, to be better at being candidates. Bill received 13% of the vote, not bad for a guy who didn't really want the job.

I can understand someone of Bill's background being steeped in books, lectures and academic pursuits, but I find it astounding and hilarious that in what is described in complete seriousness, Bill's asking Mr. Freeman at a press conference, "who is this Mickey Mantle they speak of?" That's like saying it's the first time they heard Robin Hood's name in Sherwood forest. Someone might have been right if they said Bill came from another planet.

Bill did talk in sentences that required a deep sea diver's breath control. They could go on. And on, and not qualify as run on. They were perfectly, if densely constructed by cantilevered words, commas, clauses and prepositions. Mr. Freeman tells us usually one of the first three sentences in an opening dialog of Mr. Buckley's show 'Firing Line' would be "undiagrammable to even Cleanth Brooks."

Who? It turns out a person with a first name of Cleanth is who you might expect: a literary critic of big renown in the mid-20th century, who was an American, first educated at Oxford. His appearance was total professor. He looks like he was put to bed as a child with elbow patches on his flannel pajamas. I get the feeling an A in his class would be something only Mr. Buckley could achieve.

My only disappointment with the Opinion piece is that Gore Vidal is not mentioned. Nowhere. This is like mentioning the boxer Willie Pep without mentioning Sandy Saddler. Perhaps it is because Mr. Freeman wasn't associated with that telecast, or does not see it as a proud moment when Mr. Buckley, hearing himself called a "crypto-Nazi" by Mr. Vidal, responds with a string of language that includes calling Mr. Vidal a "queer." That Mr. Vidal was a homosexual is not the point.

The exchange is on 'YouTube' and still gets hits, although both gentleman are now no longer with us. Bill would be proud of me because I did have to look up what that word "crypto" meant before Nazi. There was once a decent racehorse once called Cryptoclearance, but the definition of "crypto-Nazi" is a bit more elusive.

It turns out crypto basically implies "secret." So, cryptography is secret writing. And crypto-currency can be Bitcoin. And a crypto-Nazi would imply someone who keeps their copy of 'Mein Kampf' under their pillow.

But most of all, the Opinion piece is about how much Mr. Freeman must miss his buddy Mr. Buckley. Mr. Freeman is not the only one who misses Bill.

The room my wife watches one of the three television sets we have is opposite where I concoct postings like this. Her "TV" room, my "computer" room. Sound and light travel.

So, whenever I have to overhear, and unavoidably see the split-screen PowerPoint pomposities of Bill O'Reilly, I too miss the other Bill.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

More Memories

Yesterday I opened the NYT to its obituary page and got a flashback. Andy Bathgate had passed away at 83. I had once written about Bathgate and the shot he took at Jacques Plante in 1959 that resulted in Plante's coming back into the game wearing a mask, the first time an NHL goaltender wore a mask in a game.

I was at that game, my first hockey game, and it was of course at what would now still be called 'The Old Garden,' the pile on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. I've retrieved the archive news story of the game and realized it was played on a Sunday night, which along with Wednesday nights were the usual nights for Ranger home games. On Sundays, they started at 7 PM rather than Wednesday's 7:30 PM

For some reason I thought it was a Monday night and I had off from school the next day because that was Election Day. But no, the story appears in Monday's November 2, 1959 paper, meaning of course the game was the night before.

How strange to be taken somewhere on a 'school night.' Parents were very touchy about taking their kids anywhere when the next day was a school day. So, I don't know if my father was ignoring my mother, or himself, but the seats we had were the best seats I ever sat in, and I've seen maybe over 600 hockey games at the Old and New Gardens. (It is still The New Garden to me despite being open now nearly 50 years.)

There is nothing more exciting for a young boy than to be taken to a sporting event by their father, and on a school night at that. If anyone remembers the Old Garden they would know that balcony seats were reached by the plain entrance on 49th Street. Every other seat was reached by going under the bulb-lit marquee that announced TONITE HOCKEY on the 8th Avenue side.

We had Loge, or Mezzanine seats, and I don't know how. It was the only time I was ever in seats that good. The Old Garden, with its levels supported by beams, offered great sightlines, as long as you weren't behind one of those columns, or in a row other than A in the side balcony.

The tickets were probably $2.50, or even $3.00. I don't know where my father got the tickets, or when. Someone must have given them to him. My father did not plan ahead with tickets. You went the day of the event, and usually if it was a World Series Yankee game, he would linger around and look for a scalper.

I've never forgotten my fascination of the between period ice cleaning. It was done by guys who walked around with snow shovels to scrape the ice, followed by two water barrels, each being pushed by a pair of guys on skates to recoat the ice. There was no Zomboni. And you'd always see the same guys. Even when they got to the New Garden in February 1968, there wasn't yet a Zomboni, and the same guys were scraping and watering. I guess, who would give up that job.

The Canadiens' uniform at the time had a  bright yellowish, orange trim on top of the shoulders. They looked like the winners they were. It was their away uniform, but looked as sharp as a Marine dress uniform. The NYT news story the next day leads off with Toe Blake bragging that perhaps this season the Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup for the fifth straight year, as predicted. They did.

I couldn't believe my prior post on Bathgate and Plante was in 2009! It was precipitated by the retirement of Andy and Harry Howell's numbers.

It's a great obituary, save for lumping Bobby Hull in as a right wing, when he was a left wing. I never knew Bathgate purposely tried to inflict damage to Plante in retaliation for a poke-check that Plante delivered to Bathgate in a prior game that sent Andy crashing into the boards. Think of that. Trying to injure the goaltender rather than scoring!

The six team league made for at least 14 meetings between teams in a 70 game season. The players held grudges and dispensed retaliation quickly, sometimes in back-to-back home games.

The above photo is of Bathgate in the locker room after scoring his 200th goal in 1961. You can see that the players really didn't wear much in the way of padding. A sweater pulled over some thin shoulder and elbow pads. A photo of Plante with his goalie's mask makes him look like Freddie Kruger on skates, without the chainsaw.

In the 200th goal photo of Andy above, Andy has definitely put his false teeth in. No player of that era had more than a few original teeth left in their mouths. Someone Tweeted that despite the roughness of the game played with thin, or no protective gear, how did his cheekbones look so good? The answer is: Players didn't make enough money to eat. They looked eemaciated. The lean and hungry look. A little Shakespeare:

Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous. ... His "lean and hungry look" unsettles Julius Caesar, who prefers the company of fat, contented men—who wouldn't bite the hand that feeds them.

Roger Angell, in his gem of a piece in the March 25, 1967 New Yorker magazine, 'The Last Flowers in the Garden' mentions that NHL players of the 1967 era earned perhaps $15,000 a year, including playoffs. So imagine what Bathgate was pulling down in the late 50s and early 60s on a team that seldom made playoff in a six team league! The Rangers were doormats.

Dave Anderson wrote a Sports of the Times column on the Rangers in 1971, 'From the Butcher Shop to Leather Coats,' telling of the ascension of the Rangers at that point that allowed them to seek celebrity discounts beyond the butcher shop on 9th Avenue to now buying designer leather coats. They could now at least eat out rather than cook for themselves. And start to look good in public while eating.

Goaltender's masks after Plante's first use became more prevalent. The coaches started to allow it. The 20 minute delay of the game I was at was caused by the time it took to stitch Plante up, and the fact that at the time the league didn't dress an extra goaltender. I don't really know if someone was ever called onto suit up because there was no backup. Now, of course, there has to be a backup goaltender.

Goaltenders these days resemble Matt Damon in the movie 'The Martian.' They look like they just fell out of a NASA space capsule. I have a large photo of Eddie Giacomin coming back to the Garden as a Detroit Red Wing on November 2, 1975 after he was traded by the Rangers. (God almighty!) I have cushions on the couch that look like they would afford more protection than his leg pads.

And just as there are two goaltenders, I suspect goaltenders might pack an extra mask. I was at the Ranger-Flyer game when the Flyer goaltender Bernie Parent wandered away from the crease to join in a fracas along the boards.

A goaltender skating away from the crease looks like someone lost from a cricket game. In this instance, soon after Parent put his two cents in, Vic Hadfield pulled Bernie's mask off and gave it a good heave into the stands. Way back into the stands. This was at the New Garden. Not nice, but a real crowd pleaser.

Chants of "Don't Give it Back! Don't Give it Back" repeated for a good while. Parent never got that mask back, during the game at least. I don't remember if he then got another mask, or another goaltender came in. Flyer games of that Broad Street Bully era could take a while to finish.

I didn't know about Bathgate appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or writing a story that said spearing shouldn't be part of the game. I never knew Clarence Campbell fined Bathgate the $500 he got for the magazine story because Campbell viewed the story "prejudicial to the league and game." The Players' Association would have something to say about that these days.

Campbell was somewhat like the IOC's Avery Brundige. He was out of step with what was happening to new values. He however once suspended Montreal's 'The Rocket,' Maurice Richard, for some fights he had.

Richard was going to miss at least one playoff game, and the fans at the Montreal Forum were not happy. There were riots in the street, and Old Clarence there was showered with galoshes when he appeared at a game. The league office was in Montreal at the time. Imagine getting whacked with galoshes. So very French.

I also never realized how long Bathgate played in the League after leaving the Rangers. But I will always remember when he had the puck it seemed someone in a leather jacket with lots of zippers and greasy hair would stand up in the last row of the side balcony, put a bugle to their mouth and blow Charge!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Relic Master

Christopher Buckley is a rather common name. But not when it is associated with someone who has now published 17 books and is the son of William F. Buckley Jr., the longtime publisher of the magazine 'National Review' and one who is considered to have given rise to the Conservative Party.

William F. Buckley Jr. passed away in 2008 at the age of 82. He was known for his perfect, plummy diction-despite not being British-and as the host of 'Firing Line' on PBS was a pure delight to just listen to, if not always agree with. He was at his best when he was taking on his bete-noire Gore Vidal, one televised encounter of which nearly resulted in two men in suits rolling around on the studio floor trading punches. Oh, what could have been!

William F. Buckley ran for mayor of NYC once and famously replied he would demand a recount if he were to be elected. It is doubtful Donald Trump would ask for a review of the votes he is likely to get running for president. Buckley pere would also cringe at the hijacking of the Conservative Party by talk radio hosts and a Bible carrying senator from Texas. But, we're not here to talk politics.

Christopher is like Rosanne Cash: the offspring of a famous father, but hardly overshadowed by it. Each has gone on and matured into their own version of themselves. It doesn't always happen that way.

And like his father he possess a flair for vocabulary, Latin and razor blade wit. Two of Christopher's utterances will forever be in my memory: what Dorothy Parker said of the study body at Bennington College, and who James Carville's parents were. Details to follow.

Needing something to read at night and being a tad tired of spy novels, I took a chance on Mr. Buckley's latest book, 'The Relic Master.' I only read a small summary of it either in the NYT or the WSJ, and was intrigued. I had already read what I guess was pre-publication publicity of sorts in the WSJ when Christopher wrote an op-ed style piece saying that American politics was too self-satirizing at this point to take on as a subject anymore.

And of course he's right. There are TV shows which have not had as many episodes as the debates of both parties so far. And there are shows that while meant to be funny, cannot match the debates for humor, satire, and outright belly-laughs. No matter who you are watching. But I digress.

So, if not America in the 21st century, do a take on the Middle Ages. The result is 'The Relic Master' a book whose cover alone should make it a best-seller, but probably won't.

It is a handsome book, even before you open it. The buff color of the dust jacket and the monk-like lettering of the title are attractive. The ragged-right pages also give the volume a nice classic touch. I had a cousin who once had a printing outfit on Hudson Street, Lynn Art,  whose main work came from producing book covers. He is no longer in business, but I'd like to think he could have had something to do with this one. The cover is suitable for framing.

Of course, judging a book by its cover is something we've been warned about since childhood, but this book, even on reading it, has appeal.

There are no blurbs on the back cover from other authors sucking up to Mr. Buckley, hoping he'll return the favor. The requisite author photo is on the back flap, and shows Mr. Buckley to have grown a bit of facial hair into a small, neat beard. A mistake I think. He now looks more like a magician than an author who has a perpetual twinkle in his eye.

The beard might be an attempt to somewhat hid the resemblance to his father. But he really doesn't need it. I've seen a photo of him with his father sailing, and the man has tattoos! He could easily start downing shots in a Williamsburg bar and start picking us babes, if so inclined.

William F. Buckley Jr. was a devout Catholic. I have no doubt Christopher was raised as a Catholic, but might now be a lapsed one, or not. It doesn't matter. He knows something of the subject. As a kid I was surrounded by playmates who were Catholic. I was not.

My mother was Catholic, my father Greek Orthodox, my baptismal rite. And while neither parent seemed too swayed or practiced in either religion, in my formative years I was sent to Episcopal Sunday school nearby. I should have been on the path to becoming a theologian, but probably got sidetracked by becoming a New York Ranger fan at an equally early age. Madison Square Garden was the cathedral.

Not really feeling too grounded in religion, I borrowed from those around me. When I heard they were giving up something  for Lent, I too gave up something, chewing gum. What I wasn't told was that after Easter and Lent was over you could go back and take up what you gave up. Thus, under-informed, I gave up chewing gum forever.  I probably had more pocket change than those around me after that.

'The Relic Master' is Mr. Buckley's story of the pursuit of the burial cloth used to wrap Jesus after the crucifixion. The Shroud of Turin is considered by many to be this piece of cloth. It has a great history and holds a great deal of reverence in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. There are also those who disclaim its authenticity, but we're not here for that.

Dismas is the Relic Master, a person who scours the continent for bones and souvenirs of saints and other dead religious notables to be sold to various bishops and cardinals to later be presented for sale to peasants as a way to buy their way out of their sins and gain entry into heaven. Chop off the time in purgatory. You have no idea what a toe is worth in time spent out of purgatory until you read this book. This part of book is political, because this process is an early take on current campaign fundraisers.

A good many relics are fakes! No surprise there. Money and relief from Purgatory is after all involved. It is just like the Mark Rothko's and Jackson Pollack's  that have been found to have turned out by a guy in a Queens garage. There can be several iterations of a bone. Even a fishing vessel said to be Saint Peter's can be constructed long after the Apostle's nets were pulled in. There are forensics detection methods, even then.

The book is populated by people who really did live in the early part of the 16th century in medieval Europe. The inside of the book's covers shows a nice map of that European era. The exploits of these people is why the book is in the fiction section.

There are also those who may or may not have lived in the era. There is a distinct Bernie-Madoff character, Master Bernhardt, who Dismas has entrusted his considerable relic business royalties to. Dismas brags to others that, "the man is a genius. Give him Guldens, he turns them into ducats, and the ducats into diamonds. He has quadrupled my money!"

Since Charles Ponzi had yet appear, it was not labeled a Ponzi Scheme. But the letdown is the same. Dismas's fortune falls to this character.

The authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, as mentioned, is itself surrounded in debate. Mr. Buckley offers his own version of how the Shroud was created. And who is to say the book doesn't offer a plausible explanation of the Shroud's provenance? It is almost like Mr. Buckley has offered a historical fiction version of who did Judge Crater in, as Peter Quinn did in 'The Man Who Never Returned.' Mr Quinn has described himself as a "lapsed historian." Perhaps Mr. Buckley has lapsed on a few fronts. No matter.

Dismas meets up with the painter Durer, and together, after some setbacks of incarceration for Master Dismas, embark on a journey though the castled countryside to steal what is considered to be the true burial cloth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On their way to doing this, they enlist an array of three free lance soldiers with distinctive names, Cunrat, Nutker and Unks. Here, Mr. Buckley shows how you might be able to win at Scrabble if the game allowed use of proper names. Rule changes are possible.

Also joining this party is Magda, a beautiful Gypsy who is later disguised as nun, and they as monks. Pretending to be clergy going through the dangerous countryside is presumed safer. And to a point, it is.

Dismas, Durer and Magda resemble Bob Hope and Bing Crosby meeting Dorothy Lamour in one of the road pictures they made. The dialogue between Dismas and Durer invokes the banter between Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin in 'Midnight Run,' only without the handcuffs.

There is mention of sex, but no real description of it. A herbal medicine does play a part in creating a very early version of Viagra that one of the soldiers takes in order to restore his confidence. It works only too well, but he doesn't seek medical attention after four hours. He merely exhausts himself in a house of ill-repute. That was after all when the ED condition first befalls him. He did however drink a good deal before engaging.

There is violence with crossbows and daggers, with blood being spilled. People and horses do get whacked. If made into a movie, Parental Caution would surely get attached. But I couldn't help reading the book to myself as if it were a fairy tale, imagining each short chapter unfolding as if they were serial adventures on the 'Rocky and Bullwinkle Show's Fractured Fairy Tales' segment with Edward Everett Horton supplying the voice-over. If the man were still alive, he could have been called on to do the audio book. I miss that voice.

And like Christopher's father, who when he passed away was described as a sesquipedalian (Latin for foot and half long) in at least two obituaries, Christopher can also use some words that send you to a the dictionary. But usually the context helps you through it. Nevertheless, learning words like jocosity, pursuivants, cranequin, catarrh and equipages can only help your intellectual standing in mixed company.

There is some foul language used in the book, generally in the dialog between Dismas and Durer. But it is historically accurate. I looked it up. The OED tells us the word fuck is early 16th century, right on for the boys. Cocksucker would I assume also be in use by then.

Christopher does show off his Latin knowledge, but not to excess, and not to make you feel second rate. After all, I'm sure he was expensively schooled and made to endure translating Ovid for at least one semester. You should show off what you know.

The ending falls a little flat, and does come up too abruptly, but Dismas and Durer were a pair. Who got the girl? Hope, Crosby, or no one? You're going to have to read 'The Relic Master' to find out.

Oh, the taglines for the two things I'm always indebted to Christopher Buckley for saying that I would remind him of if I ever met him...?
  • You have to remember what Dorothy Parker said of the women of Bennington college: if they were laid end-to-end, she wouldn't be at all surprised.
  • James Carville was conceived during the love scene in the movie 'Deliverance.'

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Come On, Come On

I'm sure there can be an academic debate trying to answer the question, "has song writing replaced poetry?" "Replaced" would probably be a bad verb to choose. But for some, I'm sure lyrics have surged ahead of poetry in their consciousness. But then, aren't lyrics poetry set to music? Of course they are. So, poetry is alive and well is all aspects. We just download it, stream it, and copy it these days.

Years and years ago I made the comment to someone that it seemed to me that my father didn't spend much rime reading the paper as he got older. Actually, it never really seemed he spent the amount of time with the paper that I devote, but whatever time it was, it certainly had gotten shorter.

My theory to this was that he had read all those stories before. Only the names and dates had changed. After all, he was born in 1915, lived through the Depression in a cold water flat in New York City, was educated, but well-educated in public schools, and later worked his way through college waiting on tables in Syracuse in a cousin's restaurant, graduating with an engineering degree.

He was in the army for the Big One, and was stationed in Guam. He didn't see combat, but certainly was away from home for years, with the threat of Japanese planes finding the island and bombing it. No matter what you're doing in a war, there is the chance the enemy will get you and you'll be shipped back in a box.

At this point in my life I find myself comparing my sentiments with his at the same age. It's like the lyrics in Mary Chapin's Carpenter's song, 'Come On, Come On,' ..."now you're older than they were then."

I still devote a fair amount of time to reading the newspapers, certainly more than my father did. But as I first scan the morning papers' headlines and sub-headings I mentally tag those stories that there will no need to do a deep dive into later; there's something I have no need to read.

The morning papers for me are The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Paper. Hard copy. Even with home delivery discounted prices, I spend what can be viewed as significant money on these indulgences annually. That's the way I want it.

So, what stories are of no interest? Generally the personal advice, health and food topics and investment ideas for retirement. I'm nearly five years into my retirement, so either I did a good job of planning, or I'm headed for ruin. It's too late whether to decide to take Social Security, early, or late. I'm there already. W-2s do not accompany my tax returns.

Take today's papers. The following articles will hold no interest for me. They are taken directly from only the first page of the nine sections these two papers break down into. The list will get much bigger as I open the sections. Later for that.

NYT: Seize the Morning. The case for Breakfast: A little early effort in the kitchen can pay big dividends for the rest of the day.
Are they kidding?

NYT: Ticket App Is Making Broadway Inroads
As soon as I see the word "app" I move on.

WSJ: Ikea's India Bet Hits Thicket of Rules
Things I build I put together without buying anything at Ikea.

WSJ: Spin or Yoga--What your Workout Says About You
Are you talking to me?

WSJ: Device Aims To Bring an End To Bad Home Wi-Fi
"Device" is like the word "app." Next.

WSJ: Getting Paid to Live Near Your Job. Company-offered subsidies attract new hires to high-rent areas like Silicon Valley.
This one has a picture of a young man standing in front of his bike on a hardwood floor at his job. I no longer ride a bike. My back is bad. And, I'm not moving to either Silicon Valley, or even Silicon Alley. No one is asking me to.

Getting older is not so bad. There is a good deal less to worry about, and there's not a great deal of time left to fuck up.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How Old Are You?

The song that is sung before the title question is posed and the cake is cut, as most anyone past the age of three will tell you, is 'Happy Birthday.' To think of 'Happy Birthday' as something someone can collect royalties on is like thinking 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' enjoys the protection of a copyright. Gee, does it?

This story has been around for a while. Warner/Chappell Music was in the habit of invoking its copyright ownership status on the use of singing 'Happy Birthday.' ASCAP, that American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers was as far aback as 1996 leaning heavy against the Girl Scouts and the camp-fire songs being sung at camp. They belligerently even said that singing 'Happy Birthday' would put the Girl Scouts in legal do-do. Uproar.

The 'Happy Birthday' part didn't go away. It wasn't until a federal judge, U.S. District Judge George H. King ruled in a 43-page ruling (I have always wondered if this is double, or single-spaced.) in September 2015 that the royalties the music industry had been collecting on the song 'Happy Birthday to You' were not legally collectable. They did not own a valid copyright to the song. Finally, relief.

It is quite possible you were never aware of any of this. Singing 'Happy Birthday to You' over a cake burning with candles in your home was no one's idea of copyright infringement, but apparently using the song in more public, or media settings without paying a royalty was a no-no.

As with anything we take for granted, there is a history. Music can be just that, music, or it can be a song, composed of music, a melody, and words, called lyrics. Each can be separately copyritten. The melody to 'Happy Birthday' apparently comes from a song of more than 100 years ago, 'Good Morning to All,' written by a pair of sisters named Hill, one of whom was a kindergarten and nursery school teacher. We all know where trouble starts.

The full 'Happy Birthday' lyrics apparently didn't appear in print until 1931. There is no one in my family who I can ask: "Well, before 1931, did you sing anything when it was someone's birthday?" In your family?

Warner/Chappell Music were considering themselves to be the holder of the copyright to the song and the lyrics. And if you think what could they have been collecting, it turns out enough to offer $14 million  in restitution to those it charged royalties to.

Even with all this apparent silliness over the world's most common song finally lifted, I didn't start to fell better until I realized that NASA's Mars Rover would not be in copyright violation as it sang 'Happy Birthday' to itself on its first anniversary powering itself all along the surface of Mars.

Sticking NASA and the American taxpayer with a bill over that would have been un-American. I probably would have gotten mad.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


You can't really say Rosanne Cash blew into town last night at Carnegie Hall with her Southern roots music, cracker-jack musicians, and life-long observations and worked her way into the hearts of New Yorkers. She didn't just blow into town. She's lived in the city now for 26 years, so this was a home town gig for her, as she pointed out as she opened her show. By now, she can surely open a box of Entenmann's baked goods without shredding the box.

I have been following the Cash and Carter families for over 50 years now. It started when I selected one of her father's 331/3 records--perhaps 'Ring of Fire'--from the Columbia Record Club's introductory offer of 10 records for a $1. That was the 60s.

I've now seen Rosanne four times, the first of which was in 2006 when she played Zankel Hall and during an encore related the story she told an acquaintance that no, she wasn't playing Carnegie Hall that night, she was in the their cellar. "There are many Saks Fifth Avenue stores, but only one Bergdorf's." Last night she made Bergdorf's.

Carnegie this season worked a four concert Perspectives Series around Rosanne and the music she knows best. She brought in a variety of musicians and artists who she accompanied a bit for shows. Last night was the fourth show in the series, in the main hall.

In 2006 Ms. Cash told us her son was bummed that Carlos Beltran had looked at a third strike that dropped the Mets from the playoff series against St. Louis. That Halloween a small boy came trick-or-treating to our door wearing a Beltran Mets jersey. I dropped some candy into his sack and looked at the mother and asked, "does he know what happened?" She said, "I know."

When Rosanne was introduced to the audience at that 2006 concert the MC told use she was turning the show over to one of New York's own. I winced. Not knowing more that the time, I said to myself, "what a thing to say, she's from Nashville." No, actually Memphis, by way of Southern California and decades in New York City.

If you look at a map of Tennessee you might realize it is surrounded by more adjacent states in the Union than any other, and Memphis is really right on top of Mississippi, perhaps the most Southern of all the states. Rosanne explained last night that her parents were southerners, and that now in her later years, she realizes where she comes from. Thus, she and her husband  John Leventhal co-wrote and produced what became a three-Grammy Award winning album 'The River and the Thread' in 2014.

I saw what was really the first half of Rosanne's show last year at Adelphi University. Like any great artist, sketches are made and things are rehearsed. She takes the audience on what is really a guided tour of the South by presenting the songs in the sequence of the album, accompanied by a slide show projected on Carnegie's three wall panels behind her. The short footnotes that she provides between each song serve as a further guide. She does bring you up from the below-sea level home of her father in Arkansas with 'Five Cans of Paint' to a moonlit night in 'Night School.' Everything has been polished to reflect light, sun and moon.

The second half of her show was chock-a-block filled with some classics, and incredible guitar jamming. In 2006 she introduced 'Tennessee Flat Top Box', one of her father's songs by way of telling us it was her son's favorite. I'll guess it was one of her favorites growing up, because it has always been one of mine. Last night she played it again, explaining the men in the band had children in the audience that liked the song.  And when her husband and guitarist Kevin Barry riffed on it loud and long enough to register a complaint from the subway, the entire audience were children again.

And when she introduced 'Girl from the North Country' as one of her father's song that he did with Dylan on the album 'Nashville Skyline' in 1969, I leaned over to my very adult daughter and told her "I have the vinyl to that album. When you find it, don't throw it out."

In 2006 Rosanne's surprise guest was Elvis Costello, another New Yorker who she bumped into at Balducci's grocery store and arranged to appear with her. Last night, it was Jeff Tweedy, who came out in a Paul Simon shirt and a Bob Dylan-like hat who captured your attention in the second half.

Years ago, perhaps 2003, my wife and I, sitting in very nearly in the same seats we were in last night, saw Emmylou Harris entertain us through an evening. The review in the NYT was glowing, and described Emmylou as the "high priestess."

Last night Emmylou was mentioned as the intended artist of a song Rosanne's husband and Rodney Crowell wrote, "When the Master Calls the Roll." Half a year went by, and Emmylou still hadn't recorded the song. Rosanne convinced her husband and Rodney that Emmylou was never going to record the song, and couldn't she re-work the lyrics with Rodney to tell the story of Civil War ancestors. Rosanne was acceded to, and reworked the song. It is a sad narrative, but my wife being Irish-American loves sad narratives. It choked up Rosanne when she was through, as she turned and looked at the 1860s photo of her distant relative in his Union Army uniform with his bride.

So, what's next for the Southern curator of Roots music and the Dali Lama of spirit? Music for a play she and her husband are working on, apparently. She sang a number from the play.

Early in Johnny Cash's career he liked to tell anyone who would listen that he knew a thousand songs. His daughter knows at least a thousand and one.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Untoucables

It wasn't that long ago that Thursday meant the HOME section in the NYT. For some reason this section seems to have disappeared into the online edition. I miss it, especially anything to do with gardening.

In its place the Times has made a separate section called 'Thursday Styles.' This basically means fashion. Fou-fou clothing that I've never seen on anyone. Of course, I don't get to places where people might actually wear what is being shown in the section. I am on no one's list to be invited to fundraisers for any cause. The small amount of money that I do donate doesn't require me to appear anywhere in person to try and look philanthropic. I like it like this.

I am however getting a huge kick out of the news that Barneys has moved back to its roots: 7th Avenue and 17th Street. The neighborhood is now trendy, and a desirable place to shop and live, unlike what it was when I was buying suits there in the late 60s.

There seems to be an outpouring of nostalgia hitting the 'Thursday Styles' pages driven by Mark Lee, the chief executive of Barneys New York who waxed and waned in February's issue of Vanity Fair about his first purchase at the store when it was still in Chelsea.

Vanity Fair is another magazine, among the many, that never hit my mail box. I only get to see the issues when I go to get my ears annually cleaned of impacted earwax (TMI?) at a 55th Street ENT. The doctor has the best array of magazines of any waiting room I've ever been in. He also doesn't keep you waiting too long. So, I have to move fast when I'm there to catch up on what's happening, wherever they say it is happening.

Apparently, this year I missed the February issue of Vanity Fair. For obvious reasons I was too busy reading about Sofia Vergara, the Colombian actress in 'Modern Family.' The modern day Charo, who apparently is as smart a business woman as Lucille Ball was. Don't know who Charo was? Look her up.

One week in this 'Thursday Styles' section the NYT excerpted some of Mr. Lee's golden memories of shopping at what they're calling the "original Barneys."

He remembers making regular trips to Barneys "nose to the glass, before splurging on a purple-and-red Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat." There's more, but you can catch the replay in John Ortved's piece in the February 18th NYT issue, where, he attaches what other "notable shoppers recalled regarding their first purchase at Barneys."

Complete with small head shots, the memories come pouring out from notables like Danny Meyer, Derek Lam, Courtney Love, and RuPaul, among many others. RuPaul's memory to me is the best because it involves a makeup brush pallet.

Their Barneys is nowhere near the Barney's I knew. Mine had an apostrophe. Okay, the late 60s are nearly 50 years ago, and this can be like someone in the Nixon administration recalling their memories of Prohibition, but Jesus, how about remembering when it was a men's store, an upscale Robert Hall?

In that era I bought Botany 500 suits, which were then about $100, with one pair of pants. Buying suits that came with two pairs of pants went away when Bonds closed, I think. Plus, if you really wanted a suit that stayed together for more than a month, you didn't shop at Bonds.

Barney's was a family business, started by the old man and later run by his sons, I think. They eventually ran into trouble when they took the place uptown and spent waaaaay too much money getting the store up and running. Asian ownership moved in, thus we have a Mr. Lee remembering his "nose pressed against the glass."

The Barney's of my memory was one that button-holed you at the door as soon as you came in and assigned a salesman to work with you. Browsing was discouraged.

I once met a salesman at Saks who once upon a time worked at Barney's in that era. I then told him this story.

You have to remember the era to remember 'The Untouchables' TV show that had recently been filling the airwaves on ABC, starring Robert Stack as Eliot Ness. The show ran from 1959 to 1963, and was very popular. Desilu produced it, an example of how smart Lucille Ball (the Lu in Desilu) was. Walter Winchell was the staccato voice-over that moved the story line along and gave it gravitas.

The Kevin Costner, Sean Connery movie version was years away. The TV show was popular and worried parents, and Italians.

Parents became worried because they felt it was exposing their impressionable young boys to the Underworld. And there was some truth to that. I bought a pulp paperback book that blazingly told of all the major crime figures that had their pictures in the post office. I kept it under the bed. When my folks found it they became worried. They thought I was aiming to become a mobster. It didn't happen.

The Italians were upset because all the mobsters in the episodes had Italian names. Capone, Nitti, Luciano, etc. Eventually the network relented and started to introduce Greek names. My father couldn't have cared less.

Barney's, like any major store, advertised. They advertised in print, and on television. One of their angles was to deflate the salesman assignment that came as soon as you cleared the double doors. They introduced the option of allowing you to just browse.

They did this by giving you, if you asked, a lapel pin that just plainly said "Just Looking." It was like a campaign button, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. Wear the button, go downstairs, and just walk around. No one would come to "help you" unless you asked.

One of the great things about Barney's were the pneumatic tubes at the registers. Sales were completed by the sales staff stuffing papers in a cylinder and shooting the cylinder to some upstairs location to be processed. The whoosh was great. Right out of comic book.

Of course, that is if you bought something. At lunch time, myself and two of my co-workers hiked over to Barney from our 2 Park Avenue office. We tested their advertising claim, and asked for "Just Looking" buttons at the door. We got them.

As we descended the slightly spiral staircase to the lower level selling area one of the salesmen waiting in the shark tank at the base of stairs looked up, spotted our buttons and blurted, "Oh no, it's the Untouchables."

Just browsing, thanks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ten to the Ninth: A Billion

A billion is a huge number. It is 1, followed by 9 zeroes: 1,000,000,000. Ten to the ninth power. But a billion is also the new million. It is also a thousand millions. Costs of projects no longer get quoted as being several hundred million dollars to complete. They are in the billions, and their cost overruns are in the billions. Take the new transit center designed by the hot Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava for lower Manhattan, post 9/11, called the Oculus.

The now $3.9 billion dollar price is double the original estimate, now coming in at $2 billion dollars over budget, and years late, Some people aren't happy about this, but everyone says time will erase their discomfort. The 'Oculus' of arched steel ribs is meant to resemble a bird flying out of a child's hand. It is meant as a symbol of hope for a post 9/11 scarred city. The problem is going to be that 15 years after 9/11, the resonance of the event is not as powerful. And when New Yorkers think of birds, they think of pigeons, who no one wants in their hands.

Fittingly, there is a new series called 'Billions' on Showtime. I'm a little late to getting to watch the show, and the DVR recordings are starting to pile up. My son-in-law recommended the show. My reluctance has been is that I can't stand looking at Damien Lewis's mug. I developed a deep dislike for it in 'Homeland', such that it contributed to my not watching the show. Only when he was written out of it, did I go back to the last season.

I finally watched the first episode, the pilot of 'Billions' last night. I knew enough of the story line, even that the U.S. Attorney, Chuck Rhoades is into being played at by a dominatrix, who in this case turns out to be his wife. (The kids are asleep.) I wasn't however prepared for how she extinguishes a fire, and nearly bolted from the show. But that part was short, and they got down to business: the pursuit of a hedge fund operator, Bobby Axelrod who is making waaaay too much money with waaaay too much insider information.  Bobby's got to be brought down.

The show's appeal resonates with anyone who has followed the news of late and who can easily pick out who the characters represent.

The Southern District of New York is sometimes referred to as The Sovereign District. It encompasses two New York City counties, Manhattan--New York County--and the Bronx, along with six other adjacent counties to the north.

U.S. Attorneys throughout the United States are approved by the Senate. The appointment to the Southern District is considered  a plum. The two former U.S. Attorneys, James Comey and Mary Jo White went on to be the the Director of the FBI and the Chairman of the SEC, respectively. The alumni list is a Who's Who of prosecutors.

The current U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, has been in the job a little over five years now and has an eye on being the NYC mayor, like one of the Southern District's predecessors, Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Bharara has racked up an impressive record of leading his office in white collar convictions. Wall Street is in Manhattan.

It is this record that becomes pivotal to the plot, since Showtime's U.S. Attorney, Chuck Rhoades, as played by Paul Giamatti, puts an 81-0 white collar crime unbeaten record on the line to pursue Bobby Axelrod, as played by lemon faced Damian Lewis, who in closeups does have a resemblance to Steve McQueen, (at least to me) who I did like.

Bobby, as so affectionately named, is the non-sectarian Bernie Madoff. He can't be seen as being Jewish, because that's like saying all the members of organized crime are Italian.  So we have his wife coming from an Irish-Catholic family of 5 kids ( "5 sibs." Who talks like that?) from Inwood. (Upper Manhattan) Yeah, so? When did Inwood get such a tough reputation?

Bobby is also Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald was out of the office when the plane hit One WTC, and over 600 people in his firm were lost.

Bobby is the sole surviving partner from his firm, Axe Capital. He is also a benefactor of scholarships for the children of his deceased co-workers and colleagues. When one of the widows of Bobby voices a little distaste that she wishes her husband were alive and not Bobby, Bobby's wife takes the woman aside and basically tells he what a tough monkey she is, and says what may be the first of the show's many, many uses of the word "fuck." In this case, she reminds the woman that if she feels she is being threatened, she affirms it by telling her, "you're fucking right I am."

I lost track of how many times someone says "fuck." I need one of those clickers to keep track.

Those bad-ass Irish from Inwood? Nonesense. Pure Hollywood scripting. No one realizes that the bad-ass Irish were originally from the South Bronx. Southern Boulevard, or the West Side of Manhattan? They never heard of the Westies? Dock workers? Hell's Kitchen, anyone? Now of course sanitized in the real estate market to be Clinton.
And then we have the Greek (who doesn't look Greek one bit) from the SEC trying to alert the media about Bobby Axelrod. Sounds like the Greek who was trying to get the SEC's attention for years regarding Madoff. Now the SEC has their own public relations people writing positive blurb about them into scripts.
And lunch, where they're never open for lunch? The Gordon Gekko scene where he tells young Charlie to order off the menu and get a decent suit. Here, Bobby starts to setup a WSJ reporter. And why, oh why, does everyone drink wine? All the time? No one seems to twist off a beer cap and guzzle half a bottle at a time. Elitists.
So, Bobby has some comparisons to some manipulators, and Chuck there, with his taste for being attended to by his dominatrix wife has some comparisons to Eliot Spitzer, who even now has managed to land in the news regarding female entertainment.

Eliot, as anyone might remember, was New York's governor who resigned after his affection for call girls was made public. This was in 2008, and even now, he finds himself in the news when a Russian woman claims he choked her in a Plaza Hotel suite he booked. Not just any Russian woman, but one with her own YouTube show regarding her way of making money. She's now gone back to Mother Russia, and Eliot, although no longer a public servant, is once again proving that sex rehab camp just doesn't seem to work long term.

Eliot was never known to be a fan of a dominatrix, but Showtime certainly has to generate heat. Adding juice to the plot is the fact that Chuck's wife, Wendy, as played by Maggie Siff, works for Axe Capital as their in-house psychologist/cheerleader who gives Knute Rockne speeches to the dealers to get them back on track to making millions. when they start to doubt their ability to be aggressive. It works.

So, certainly looking forward to the heat Bobby brings to Chuck, and the heat Chuck brings to Bobby.  Will the 81-0  record click forward to 82-0? Will Chuck's desire for punishment get known outside the walls of his home? Will Bobby back off and be content with just being a run-of-the-mill billionaire, rather than THE Billionaire. 

I know I'm coming back to find out.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mobster Memorabilia

Lots of people collect lots of different things. Antique cars, stamps, coins, artwork, baseball cards, just to name a few categories. Almost anything can be considered suitable for an investment vehicle for your IRA account. Oftentimes, the only reason to collect is to hope to be in on the appreciation in value. The investment aspect.

There are of course people who just want something because of its provenance: who owned it prior to them. High-end estate sales of famous people draw crowds to Sotheby's and Christie's. Bidding can be competitive, and things that say once belonged to Jackie Kennedy Onassis can fetch some staggering sums.

Already mentioned are probably the two most widely known auction houses. There are others. Bonhams comes to mind. But the FBI? What are they going to auction off? Vinyl windbreakers with FBI lettering used in the raid on Bernie Madoff? I guess it is possible.

I once attended fraud meetings that were held at 26 Federal Plaza. The meetings were hosted by the FBI, who had offices in the building. At the end of the meetings they always invited the attendees to stop by the gift shop. Yes, the FBI sells things.

So perhaps it shouldn't surprise anyone that the FBI has scheduled an auction of Whitey Bulger goods. Whitey, as anyone should remember, was the notorious leader or the Boston-based Winter Hill Gang. His life was indirectly portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the movie 'The Departed,' to me, one of the worst movies I ever saw. I don't care that it got Best Picture. Yeah, so?

Whitey famously of course eluded capture for over 16 years, skipping out when he got inside word that the Feds were closing in on him. It seemed his honeymoon with the Feds as a confidential informant was considered by some to be far too cozy. He got to kill who he wanted, so long as he provided some information. Eventually there were Bureau people who thought this was not a flattering picture for the Bureau.

Of course, catching the country's most wanted man proved difficult. His whereabouts finally became known after the FBI took out an ad on a Times Square billboard, offering a reward for information leading to his apprehension.  Meyer Lansky once told Bugsy Segal they were bigger than U.S. Steel. A milk carton wasn't going to be sufficient to bring Whitey in. They needed Times Square.

The Times Square tactic worked. And quickly. Whitey and his girlfriend were arrested in a condo in California with $822,000 stuffed in the walls. Numerous weapons were also recovered. Whitey had a trial and is in jail. The girlfriend had a trial and is in jail. And the FBI had Whitey's stuff.

After his capture Hollywood thought a biopic of the notorious Mr. Bulger would go big. 'Black Sabbath' starred Johnny Depp, and proved completely resistible to the public. The movie tanked. Sometimes you just can't make someone seem appealing, no matter how much of a bum they were. Apparently, there weren't enough redeeming qualities in Mr. Bulger's life to get to the break even point. This happens. Movies are a gamble.

A WSJ story in Friday's paper tells us of the upcoming FBI auction to be held this spring for Whitey's goods. The proceeds, along with the $822,000 is going to be distributed to the families of Whitey's victims. Apparently, it has taken two years of court proceeding to get the green light to do this. Goods have been stored in a warehouse for 5 years. Whitey was brought out of hiding in 2011.

Whitey's goods seem dull, except for perhaps the fake Stanley Cup ring, and the rat-shaped pencil holder. A fake Stanley Cup ring? No team is mentioned, but that is degrading. A mobster of Whitey's stature didn't possess an authentic Bruins ring? Jesus, they did win the cup twice in the 70s. Whitey should have been able to do better than settle for paste.

Anyone who saw Jack Nicholson in his Whitey portrayal screw his face up into an image of a rat can appreciate Whitey's association and obsession with rats. The movie even closes with a rodent walking along a window sill. Such symbolism. No wonder it brought down awards.

Notable to me, is what is missing from Whitey's auctionable possessions. Or, perhaps held back. Not a single baseball bat is offered. Surely Whitey used a variety of bats over the years to eliminate those who didn't go a long with his style of management.

Just think of what an autographed Whitey Bulger baseball bat would bring. Major League Baseball would surely object. A bat as a murder weapon is not a good role model for kids.

Pete Rose signing a baseball bat is not so bad. He stole bases within the rules of the game, and only bet on games, that was not in the rules of the game. He didn't murder people.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Still Not Found

In a prior post we speculated that the British must have been completely obsessed for years regarding the disappearance of Lord Lucan, the lead pipe murderer of the family nanny and a very missing man.
Commit a crime like that, then disappear, and be peerage as well--well, the presses must have never stopped. And it seems they didn't.

Aside from the famous missing people mentioned in the prior post, there was also D.B. Cooper, the gentleman who jumped out of an airplane, with a parachute, holding $200,000 in extorted cash, over rough terrain in the Pacific Northwest in 1971. He has never been found, but some of the money did turn up in a riverbank. The case remains open.

We love mysteries. A Tweet from Jen King, @justjenkind, a digital media journalist for ABC News in Brisbane, Australia, puts us onto a recent UK Guardian story about the journalists who ate a lot of dinners and earned a lot of frequent-flyer miles at the expense of their London tabloids over the years, convincing their editors they had to go abroad to pursue some leads.

Apparently there was a legendary reporter, Garth Gibbs, who seemed to have milked more money and vacationed in more locales than other reporters. Mr. Gibbs has, with certainty, passed away in 2011. His associates know that he wouldn't have accepted a court's determination that a death certificate issued based on "presumption" as just handed down, should close the matter out.

The Guardian story relates that Mr. Gibbs pursued his missing person for 30 years. That's a good deal of dining out, and plenty of hotel towels. Lord Lucan, being from Great Britain, was the perfect person to chase all over the globe. Brits visit other countries way more often than Americans, and a Lord might have more ties to former British colonies that could easily put his living possibilities in Hong Kong, Macau or the Bahamas. All jet set locations. All with casinos.

Gibbs's sources put Lucan in a Nazi colony in Paraguay, and living with goats in new Zealand. If he was with goats, he might really have passed away since Robert McG. Thomas years ago famously wrote in a New York Times obituary that the Goat Man had passed away. (Well, maybe not the New Zealand goat man.)

I love reading about old scores, and how they translate the money into today's dollars or pounds. With the recent death of Gordon Goody, a mastermind of Britain's 1963 Great Train Robbery, the take of 2.6 million pounds would today be $50 million dollars.

And when you read of D.B. Cooper's extortion demand for $200,000 in $20 bills, you might think he was settling for what would only be a down payment on a studio in New York City condo. In today's dollars it would be $1.17 million. Now at least a one bedroom down payment.

Missing people and buried treasure are the things we're made of.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Thoughts on L

L is the Roman numeral for 50. L is what they chose not to use to designate this year's Super Bowl. The feeling was that an L would be mistaken for Loss. Loser. One wonders if the Romans chiseled W for fifty, what would the NFL have done then.

It's about time they moved away from the Julius Caesar-era and the Roman gladiators. The NFL commissioner at the  time, Pete Rozelle, thought it would be great to portray the game as the ultimate match between the AFL and the NFL. The Roman Coliseum.

Fifty is a somewhat large number, and is equal to the number of Super Bowls I've seen. I've been around for all of them, and had them all on whatever television was in the room I was in.

I remember getting a haircut the Monday after the first Super Bowl, and the barber who I was going to at the time liked to listen to talk radio. Yes, there was talk radio in 1967, probably in this case Barry Gray.

The commentary went along the lines that the NFL proved it was superior to the AFL, didn't they, by winning this first of 50 games by a score of Green Bay Packers 35 and Kansas City Chiefs 10? Yes, but the score at halftime was Green Bay 14, KC 10. Didn't that prove something? Yes, you have to play the whole game for the score to be final. On and on.

NFL vs, AFL was like the talk between oil and gas heat. It was heated. Which one was better? Despite the New York Jets surprising the Baltimore Colts in 1969 in what would be the first title game with a Roman Numeral, III, by a score of 16-7 in an absolute epic upset, predicted, or "promised" by the Jet quarterback, Joe Namath, I still consider the Jets to be in the AFL. It's been their only Super Bowl victory, Joe Namath's only real claim to fame, other than surviving multiple, brutal knee surgeries and trying to get amorous with broadcaster Suzy Kolber on camera while enjoying the effects of alcohol.

It was odd that yesterday I found myself back in the 18th Street neighborhood, going past the storefront of where that barber used to be. My wife and I were headed to Pete's Tavern, for a post-show dinner. We had just seen 'Noises Off' for what for us was the third time: 1982, 2001 and now 2016. 'Noises Off III,' I guess.

Pete's Tavern, as I'm sure mentioned in prior postings, is the bar, speakeasy, that my grandfather's flower shop served as the front for during Prohibition. I somewhat expected it, that perhaps they were going to have an admission-style Super Bowl party there and we'd have to go somewhere else for dinner. They do after all have televisions everywhere in the place.

I was right. We got as far as the clock my father used to wind as a youngster.  It is still not working, and were greeted by a manager I've seen there for years, but whose name escapes me. We were told there was a Super Bowl party starting at 6:00. It was now 5:00 and I didn't want to be mixed in with an audience primed with booze trying to talk up the game. We went elsewhere, L' Express on 20th Street and Park Avenue South, where the lamb burger is always good. My wife enjoyed the cod.

When leaving, I told the waiter I've seen all the Super Bowls so far, and was still going to see this one, but with near-zero interest. He explained they were soon going to put the sound on the only TV in the place, near the bar. At 6:30, he was surprised they had as many people as they did so far.

Home was achieved before the first half was over. Then of course the halftime nonsense. A half hour of pop music, with thousands of kids who run onto the field. How do you get to be one of those youngsters? Is there a lottery, like the New York City Marathon for it? Mute.

Extravaganza Super Bowl halftime shows are nothing new. And from what I could see, CBS was proudly replaying highlights from prior exertions. Of course they didn't show what can happen when Janet Jackson's boob can be exposed by a failure of Velcro to thwart Justin Bieber's yank. Snuck into this show was Beyonce's salute to the Blank Panthers. There are people who really miss the 60s, even though they weren't around. CBS must be hiding under their desks. Again.

I like to tell people that when the Jets first starting playing at Shea in the AFL they often played on Friday night. I distinctly remember being a young lad at one of those games where the halftime show consisted of two rubber mats being unrolled onto the field, with a fully stocked refrigerator at the end of each mat. The object was for women to run back and forth on the mat and see who could empty their refrigerator the fastest. You've come a long way, baby.

My friend called at halftime to tell me I missed little. He said the game was boring, and he was glad there was a 'Walking Dead' marathon to fall back on.

I watched as much as I could, but grew weary of fumble, recovery by the other team, fumble by that team, recovery by the other team. With no dog in the fight, the excitement was missing, and I was growing weary. At about 9:40 I went upstairs to read the latest book I'm working on before lights out.

Just because I've seen all 50 Super Bowls doesn't mean I have got to stay awake through all of them.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Dead Twice, No Obit

This is the week for repeats.

We were treated to a fine obituary on Kenny Sailors, the first to develop basketball's jump shot. Then, if you read the other paper, in today's WSJ, you get an Essay piece on the jump shot by Shawn Fury. Mr. Fury has even written a book on the jump shot, "Rise and Fire: The origins, Science and Evolution of the Jump Shot--and How It Transformed Basketball Forever." The subtitle is as long as the first chapter.

Earlier in the week we had the obituary for the character actor Abe Vigoda, best known for being ordered into a car for a final ride by Michael Corleone in movie "The Godfather." Abe also had the distinction of previously being reported dead in real life nearly 30 years before he actually did pass away. Both times there was an obituary.

This is somewhat repeated when you consider the story of the British figure, Richard John Bingham, the seventh Earl of Lucan who disappeared in 1974 after being suspected of whacking the household's nanny to death with a lead pipe in the basement of the family's home.

This of course lead the makers of Clue to revise the British version of the popular game to include the possibility that the body could be found in the basement, done in by a lead pipe wielded by an Earl. The Earl's token was made to be near-royal blue in color.

The Earl was never found, prompting comparisons to New York's missing Judge Joseph Force Crater who got in a cab after having dinner in the theater district during FDR's administration as governor of New York, never to heard or seen from again. Speculation for his abduction and likely murder was all over the map, including a theory that FDR had him eliminated because the Judge was a figure of interest in an Albany corruption scandal that Roosevelt wanted squelched. Nothing's changed.

Crater's disappearance was on August 6, 1930 and was fodder for comedians for decades. Johnny Carson on "The Tonight" show would make reference to the missing Judge. Today, Crater's name would draw blanks from most people.

Perhaps the next most famous missing person is Jimmy Hoffa, the head of the Teamsters Union who disappeared on July 30, 1975. Persistent speculation has always revolved around Hoffa's ties to organized crime,and the theory that they wearied of his presence on earth. Jimmy has been identified as being mixed in with more foundations than are registered with the IRS.

Richard John Bingham, the seventh Earl, is described as what we American would immediately recognize as the epitome of a British snob. Cad, more likely. He was estranged from his family at the time of the murder, but supposedly got back into the house and murdered the nanny, perhaps because he thought she was his wife.

Daughters are sometimes teased that they "marry their fathers" when they choose a spouse, so I guess it's not entirely impossible to believe that rich people hire a nanny because they resemble their wife.

Mistaking your nanny for your wife while you're throttling her with a lead pipe in the cellar does go a bit beyond the pale. The lights were out in the cellar? A woman's screams are just like your wife's? With no apprehension of the good Earl himself, one can only speculate.

His Lordship had heavy gambling debts, so it's not entirely impossible to believe that he met with foul play himself when he fled the murder and got completely cut off from his assets. There are people who do eventually weary of IOUs.

As you might imagine, the British have been as preoccupied by the Earl's disappearance as we Americans have been with Judge Crater, and later Jimmy Hoffa. Flight to France, suicide, all sorts of explanations have emerged. But where's the body?

And this is how you get to be dead twice. A British judge declared the Earl dead in 1999, but when there's peerage involved, it doesn't go away, even then. The Earl's son, George John Bingham (two first names, just like dad) petitioned the courts to be named the eighth Earl of Lucan. No doubt there's something to be gained by having your nobility recognized.

George John's request apparently stems from a 2014 British law that requires a death certificate to have been issued for the father's demise before he, George John, can ascend in ranking to be the eighth Earl. GJ's request has been granted.

Whether any of this leads Julian Fellowes to mine the story for export to the States will of course remain to be seen. 'Downton Abbey' is over in the UK and Mr. Fellowes is supposedly cobbling together a New York Gilded Age version for us to feast on. Over the years, the Brits have of course already fed the story into their own media furnace.

Again though, with no body, and the fact the Earl is still not too old not to be alive, there can be the possibility that he became a silent partner in Gordon Goody's beach front bar in Mojacur, Spain and could even now be living as the seventh Earl of Lucan, but also as an honorary 16th member of Britain's Great Train Robbery Gang.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Try 'Em, You'll Like 'Em

As usual, something always reminds me of something else. And they are related.

You wouldn't think an obituary for a robust woman in an apron who leaned out of an apartment window and called her son home for dinner, repeating his name Anthony twice, would establish any fame (or money) for the woman, or the young lad who weaves his way through the neighborhood to an expected plate of pasta.

But when you combine these elements, add a North End Boston locale, and advertise Prince spaghetti for 13 years, your notoriety is assured.

Today's NYT carries the obituary for Mary Fiumara, 88, the mother who did just that: leaned out of window and appeared in an ad for Prince spaghetti.

From my imagination, I always thought Anthony resembled a youthful Phil Esposito, gangly legs and skinny arms, weaving his way through the neighborhood to arrive at the top of the stairs to momma's welcome.

Phil of course was a grown man at the time, playing hockey then for the Boston Bruins, from Canada and not the North End. But he is Italian, and so to me, the image fit.

Sam Roberts gives us the nuts and bolts of how the commercial came to be, who was in it, how much Anthony made from the commercial, and the plot it followed. I was surprised to learn the commercial ran for 13 years. That's longer than nearly any TV series, or show.

The tag line in the voice-over tells us that "Wednesday is Prince spaghetti day." The phrase began ubiquitous, almost as much as "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Jewish rye bread."

Commercials are mini-movies. They have producers and location scouts. Mr. Roberts explains how these people worked together to create a very long running classic commercial.

Our early 70s Sunday roller hockey games in the fall in the East 32nd street school yard were once met with just such a location scout. A young woman, girl, really, with a clipboard came by and was looking for kids to be in a Frito-Lay commercial. She wanted kids, not anyone adult looking.

We were a ragtag group of kids and young adults, some married, who wore flannel shirts or old Rangers jerseys, sometimes with numbers. (I was No. 3, for Ron Harris) No one really looked like they were on a "team." Player selection for sides was very fluid.

The young woman was genuine, and "signed" up, I think, five of the players, three of whom were Burek brothers. One of the other players was Nicky Grivas. If there was a fifth player, I don't remember who it was. I don't think anyone was over 21.

A commercial was made at a later date, in that school yard, with those five kids, all in their "uniforms," with their skates, sticks and pucks. They appeared huddled in a corner of the school yard, arranged in a bit of a photoshoot triangle, and I think it was Joey Burek who had the line, "Try 'em, you'll like 'em," said while holding a chip and pushing it forward, as an offering, with everyone else sort of cheering. If you blinked twice, you might have missed their part in the commercial.

The commercial played for years. They got checks, or their parents got checks. I don't know how much they got, and when I asked one of the brothers I met recently at a cookout, he didn't seem to remember.

I can't find the commercial on YouTube, but I can still see it in my mind. Jay Leno did Frito-Lay commercials. None of the five got their own show, or a garage full of cars.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

USA Today

I must have been away on a business trip when I either picked up a copy of USA Today from outside my hotel room door, or fetched it from the lobby. It is always free, right? No one would ever pay real money for that newspaper, right?

I used to work with a fellow who sometimes teased me that he read something thoughtful in a day's edition. I told him a parakeet is the only living thing that should have USA Today in their possession for any length of time. And we know what they do with that.

All of this a little harsh, because I did pick up the edition that was gratis (and I still do if I can) and actually did read something that I saved, and copied into what then was going to be book on out quotes, things I've read that I thought were worth mentioning and remembering.

The "book" is no longer being compiled because I now do this, post a blog entry. But I still have the collection of tidbits I compiled on a thumb drive and occasionally search it for something I remember.

I was astounded today when I retrieved what I was looking for. It was something I read in a May 21, 2002! edition of USA Today. And yes, I remember the business trip as well.

A reporter, Mike Lopresti, quite accurately stated at the time:

There were but 11 Triple Crown winners in the last century, only three in the last 54 years.  And with Seattle Slew’s passing the other day, all of them are dead.  This we know because living Triple Crown champions are kept track of like ex-presidents and Titanic survivors.

It took until 2015 that the Triple Crown winner count inched up one to now stand at 12. But the point was made. We do follow these things.  And the people who write obituaries follow these things for a living. Since 2002, I've read the last of the Titanic survivors has passed away.

When I read Mr. Lopresti's statement I wondered if anyone was someday going to be given credit for being one of the last survivors of the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11.

Somehow, I think no. I mean, there were 25,000 of us who got out of thoses building alive. They did establish a bit of a tracking system to get in touch for medical problems, but I'm sure it's hardly 100% complete. Twenty-five thousand cats is waaaay too many to keep track of.

Relatively smaller population numbers work best. Take criminal gangs that pull off historic heists. I don't know how many were really in the crew that pulled off the JFK Luthansa heist in 1978, but when one of the known members goes, their role in the heist is mentioned in their bylined, news obituary, if they are notable enough to get one.

I was reminded of all this when I read in the NYT that Gordon Goody, 85, a leader of the gang in Britain's Great Train Robbery passed away, leaving only two surviving members of the 15 who took part in the 1963 hijacking of the train that netted them what today would be $50 million. Cash.

Their way of stopping a high-speed, moving train was apparently the simplest of things. They covered the green signal with a glove, and powered a red glow from the stop signal with a battery. All aboard.

Epic heists create legends, and Mr. Goody was a legend. He apparently served 12 years of a 30 year sentence, and lived out his life quietly and in near-anonymity in Mojacar, Spain, owning and running a beach-front bar.

Because someone is keeping track of this, rest assured, time will tell when we hear of the demise of the other two members of the gang. What you'd like to be is the 16th member of the gang that no one knows about, who didn't do time, and who got and kept most of the money.

Sometimes, the best part of living can be dying, and no one knows what you did.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Editor Writes

When Marilyn Johnson wrote her definitive book on obituaries, "The Dead Beat, Lost Souls and Lucky Stiffs," (2006) she describes having lunch with the obituary page editor of the New York Times, Charles Strum. She eloquently describes the "heart transplant" that takes place when they lift a pre-written obituary from the morgue of about 1,200 names, dust it off, update it a bit, and implant it, fully beating, to the page. It is great stuff.

The current editor of the page is William McDonald, someone who I have no idea of what he might eat or drink at lunch. I am however forming a hypothesis of his background, based on his bylined obituary of  Kenny Sailors, the college and professional basketball player who is indisputably given credit for starting and perfecting the jump shot.

It sounds odd to say that someone was the first one to jump up and throw a ball at an unguarded tangle of twines hanging from a hoop over a garage door, but Sailors is the young man who did it. Sailors passed away at 95 the other day, leaving such an extended family that a great-great-grandchild is listed as a survivor. The only other time I can remember someone leaving a great-great-grandchild behind is when I read of perhaps the last Australian veteran of WW I when they passed away.

Like a lot of us, William McDonald has no Wikipedia entry to tell us his place of birth and when we should send birthday greeting. Editors are not rock stars. (I could use an entry, because my wife recently put a number on my cake that gave me credit for being here a year longer than I have been. She must be in a hurry about something.)

But back to McDonald. I have to say, I perhaps don't see every obituary written in the NYT, but I don't think I miss many, and I've never seen his byline over one. Lately, the paper has started to put more obituaries on the front page, usually below, or straddling the fold. But still, front page is front page, and that's where Kenny Sailors found his heart transplanted to on Monday.

You might huff and puff that a basketball player, who didn't even play for the Knicks, St. Johns, Manhattan, NYU or Fordham, has no business being on the front page. Talk to the editor.

Mr. McDonald's obituary is such a beaut, written with such attention to detail and outright love for the game of basketball that I'll speculate on his non-existent Wikipedia bio sketch.

He's from NYC, in his late 50s, perhaps early 60s, and he went to Catholic high school and a catholic college. He might have even played the game itself at one or both of these educational institutions, and might have been on the court at the Old Garden when NBA Knick games were preceded by a Catholic high school game. I remember this era, because I had a ticket to go to the Garden to see the Knicks play someone on November 9, 1965, the day NYC suffered its first of three blackouts. The game was never played, and I didn't go to whatever makeup admission they might have been offering. The ticket was probably $1.50 then, but still, that was real money then, at least to me. (I save a lot of things, but I do not have that ticket.)

Oftentimes I think about things that might strike others as strange. I think about people who are living in the western part of the country, perhaps California, but more like Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana, whose grandparents, and more likely their great-grandparents got there with a rifle in a covered wagon.

Kenny Sailors's mother got to Nebraska in a covered wagon, worked a 320-acre farm as a single mom, later moving to Wyoming, where Kenny was a teammate of the broadcaster Curt Gowdy in high school. He played for the University of Wyoming, and was on on their NCAA championship team of 1943, even later beating the NIT winner, St. Johns.

Because of his athletic ability in other sports, Kenny Sailors could leap a yard off the ground, 36 inches. Take out that yardstick from your mother's or wife's sewing things and imagine getting the bottom of your shoes, with your body still attached, equal to the top of that stick. You have to wonder if in the 1940s there was still a standing long jump and a standing high jump in the Olympics, what medals Mr. Sailors might have brought home. Ray Ewry's records might have fallen.

Mr. Sailors was what you might expect of a rugged westerner. He later moved to Alaska and ran a business as a wilderness guide. A latter day photo of him shows such an affable, gentle-looking man that for sure, he wouldn't have left Leonardo DiCaprio buried alive for the bears to get, and for some of us to endure a 2:36 minute movie with great scenery, but little dialog, about his rise from the grave, such as it was.

And who knew there was a 1946 Life magazine photo of Mr. Sailors that likely gave national momentum to basketball players adopting their own jump shots? And who knew there was a Denver Nuggets basketball franchise in 1950?

Mr. McDonald. And now us.