Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Paid Death Notice

Newspapers have certainly taken a financial hit as classified ads have moved off the page and onto the web. But a bit of growth for newspapers has been the revenue from the paid death notice. These are notices, often quite lengthy (therefore expensive) often accompanied by a photo (sure to add to the cost) composed (probably with an editor's help) by family members who wish to inform those that read them of the recent passing of a loved one.

These paid death notices differ radically from the bylined news story obituaries written by the newspaper's writers. The bylined obits are generally of historical interest in that someone of notoriety in a particular field has passed away. Someone who has lived a long life and who gets a bylined obit gives the obit writers a chance to blend in the details of the times these people lived in; their life placed in context.

The paid notices, with or without a photo, give extensive details about the names of the surviving relatives, who they are married to, their children's names, dates of demise of relatives and spouses who may have predeceased the subject of the paid notice. The notices can be a bit goppy and overly sentimental at times, providing details that do not seem to have much bearing on anything. One of these notices that once caught my eye told us what the deceased's last meal was seasoned with. Cinnamon.

The photos that sometimes accompany these notices are generally of the person looking robust in middle age. You can bet that unless they've left us when that photo was taken, their appearance at their demise was probably sufficiently different from that photo. Perhaps even unrecognizable to the photo.

So when I saw in today's NYT a photo that accompanied a rather lengthy paid notice of someone who looked as old as the person being described, 97, attention was paid.

The notice is not he longest one I ever saw, but its 11 column inches makes it an outlier. In it, we learn of Jamie Porter Gagarin, a woman born in 1918 who married a month after completing courses at Bennington College in three years and earning her degree in 1939. She is described as growing up "in an age and in circumstances where she was not expected to work." Within nine years of her marriage to her husband of 62 years, Andrew, she gave birth to four children, three of whom survive her. Her husband passed away in 2002, but no details of what he did or where the family's income was derived from is given. This obit is not about Andrew.

Jamie was "a smart independent, private and unfailingly generous and polite person." Her anti-Vietnam War activities through the 'Clergy and Layman Against the War' organization earned a place on President Nixon's "enemies list," a recognition she was particularly proud of.

She lived in Litchfield, Connectict and made frequent trips to New York City. "Her last years were spent at her home in Litchfield, still making the occasional trip to the city and still enjoying the visits of her children and grandchildren."

There are no religious services mentioned, but there is something you do not see often. "A celebration of her life will be held on Saturday April 16 at noon at her home at 108 Gallows Lane in Litchfield."

The assumption is you might need to be invited to attend, but that is not specifically stated. A paid notice this extensively detailed has got to attract a bit of a gathering beyond what might really be expected. Litchfield is not a large place, but it is on the map, and it is not too far from New York City. My White Flower Farm catalog comes from Litchfield, and I've visited there.

When my father-in-law passed away in 1980 the Daily News death notice that my wife placed served to attract the professional Irish mourners, in one particular case an elderly couple who commented on how handsome Patrick looked in the coffin and how it was a shame someone from Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, Ireland, had passed away, leaving the village with one less left on earth that came from there.

The couple took particular interest in the whereabouts of Patrick's wife, Helen, who that afternoon did not come down to the funeral home, but would later make the evening session. When my wife responded to a question by the couple as to where Helen was from, my wife informed them that she was English, from Liverpool. At that point the couple politely, but quickly excused themselves and went out and down the hall looking for someone else to pay their respects to. They hadn't expected to trip over an English/Irish marriage.

I'm not at all saying anything like this may happen to the Gargarin family, but you never really know who you might attract when you give your home address.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Billions. It's Complicated

Summarizing the last two episodes of 'Billions' that I watched is difficult. It's complicated.

I'm a little behind, but not greatly. The first of the two was, 'The Deal.' And as you might expect by the title, the episode's theme was dominated by Chuck Rhoades searching his conscience on whether to offer Bobby Axelrod a deal and not prosecute, and Bobby trying to get the best deal possible. Everyone wants the best of all worlds.

Before we get to the back and forth of the posturing players as The Deal gets crafted, we have Bobby giving his troops a General George Patton-style speech about the resilience of the American people after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The speech has been precipitated because the FBI has paraded in--naturally all outfitted with FBI blue vinyl windbreakers--and arrested "Dollar Bill Stearn" for insider trading. This is the "sneak attack" Bobby is responding to.

There is tension in the episode. Are we watching what might be the end of the series several episodes before the season is supposed to end, or will something else happen? Go with he latter.

Ego, arrogance, confidence, call it what you like, Bobby Axelrod and his crew have it. And his bunny toothed No. 2, "Wags," channels enough of it for the two of them. They can't help themselves. Contrite is not a word they know anything about. They would have to look it up in a dictionary to find out what it means.

Someone once commented years and years ago, that if you looked like a million dollars you looked like something no one has ever seen. But now of course billion is the new million, so we are treated to several looks at what a $1.9 billion fine looks like, in the form of a cashier's check with all the zeroes you'd expect there to be. There are many.

The check never changes hands though, so there will be more episodes. The aforementioned ego, arrogance, confidence, whatever you want to call it, that comes off Bobby and Wags like the aroma of an aftershave on a teenage boy, serves to scuttle the deal. As the meeting goes on, Chuck starts improvising more stringent terms that basically would prohibit Bobby from ever trading in securities again. Forever. Lifetime ban.

Bobby of course will not accept this, and tears the check up and throws it at Chuck. At that point you start to think he will also punch Chuck and wind up being arrested for assaulting a Federal attorney. Instead, he gets up and storms out of the conference room. Back to Square One. North and South, East and West, will still be glaring at each other across no man's land.

The next episode is more or less filled with segments that are not so tense.

Lara, Bobby's wife, wants to toughen up the boys. She first thinks dragging then to the water's edge and telling them how to clam with their toes is going to start them onto the path to toughness. As they wail and ask her how long do they need to do this, she tells them until the tide goes out. Actually, you start to clam an hour before low tide and try and keep at it until it comes back in, not out. Lara can be excused for this. She just wants toughness.

She also secures a placement for them on an overnight camping trip with a youth group. Some cellphones get confiscated, but not all. Before sunrise they are rescued by Dad who knows that by now they have been deprived enough, and comes and drives them away, accompanied by thunderous rock music.

But the big story line in the episode is given in the title: "The Punch." Bobby gets really worked up when it is revealed that one of the rich neighbors' Dad drove his kids home from the arcade after downing several beers. Nothing untoward happened, but Bobby goes ballistic. He races over to the neighbor who is having a bit of a pool party/barbecue and promptly sucker punches the guy a hard one on the nose and knocks him down. People, it's possible arrest and lawsuit time.

Bobby skates,but not until he's paid beaucoup bucks and obtained the complete cellphone video from a teenager at the pool, who of course aimed their phone and recorded the entire one-sided fight. This complete recording, once placed in the hands of the police, exonerates Bobby because there is verbal evidence coming from the neighbor that yeah, he had a few and Bobby therefore had a right to pop him. It's television, Jake.

A former South Hampton police chief, and naturally someone who Bobby has on speed dial, acts as a go between and gets the more complete video into the hands of the current police chief. Never mind that there has been a broken chain of custody here of the evidence, Bobby wins.

And where would an episode be if we didn't get some reference to Chuck and his dominatrix wife Wendy and their carnal desires? Wendy's hard slap to Chuck's cheek gets his Tinker Bell going. Chuck is headed for heaven. We only see the aftermath, and the implements that came into play that at least wore Wendy out, because it is she we see awake and groggy from the exertions. Chuck has been so energized he's let her sleep off the nirvana and has already headed to the office. Chuck is certainly a hard-charging U.S. Attorney in every regard.

There will be more. Bobby Axelrod is still in business.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Wanderer

The legendary Yankee manager Casey Stengel was famous for many things, some of which were sayings and observations on intricacies of the game and human behavior. I used a variation of this once at work and earned some major points on how to manage. Casey chalked a good deal of his managerial success and longevity at the occupation to keeping the 5 guys who hated him away from the 20 who were undecided.

There are books (probably out of print) on things Casey said. Some sayings are more enduring than others, but there is one that earns a placing at the top no matter who makes the list, when Casey explained that he really wasn't worried about the ballplayer who stayed out all night with a woman and who missed curfew. He was way more worried about the ballplayer who was out all night and misses curfew looking for woman. Lack of success can be more draining than imagined.

So consider the bull elephant who wandered from the relative safety of Kenya across the border into war-torn Somalia, looking for a mate. Somalia is a dangerous place. Elephants have been all but wiped out from there ever since the mid-1980s and 90s, having been killed by poachers for their valued ivory tusks.

Morgan (the elephant) was equipped with a GPS tracking device which recorded the 130 miles he traveled. There is no confirmed evidence that Morgan found a mate, chatted one up, and acted only in a gentlemanly fashion after being told "yes." (In elephant.)

What the game people did find was that Morgan acted like a member of a Special Forces unit on an assignment behind enemy lines.  He stayed out of sight by day, waited until darkness, and traveled very fast in that darkness. As any one knows, the bars never get crowded until nightfall, and usually then only after several hours of nightfall. Morgan was cool, and in full command of his self-preservation instincts.

A Mr. Douglas-Hamilton (has to be British with a hyphenated name), who has been studying elephants for over 50 years, was absolutely struck by Morgan's self-discipline. "He didn't peek his nose out during the daylight hours." And we know about the size of that nose.

It was theorized that Morgan, who is in his mid-30s, was repeating a similar trip he made like this one years ago. He was resuscitating his memory.

And since he was only in his 30s and nowhere near the age of the 100 year-old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared (plus, he came back), there will not likely be a book and movie about Morgan's adventures. Unless of course he really is part of a Special Forces unit and is trying to regain a part of his memory that has gone missing.

There could be a sequel or two out there if that's the case.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Double Feature

The world's most photographed woman with clothes on, German's Chancellor Angela Merkel, is even seen in photographs accompanying obituaries. Here she is seen in a 2012 photo sitting next to Guido Westerwelle in a movie theater just after the lights came back on and everyone else had left. They had just finished a marathon viewing of a double feature, 'The Guns of Navarone' and 'Stalag 17,' without German subtitles.

There is no 'gotacha' moment here. Mr. Westerwelle, who has now passed away at 54, was the highest-ranking openly gay member in the German government. Chancellor Merkel's husband had no reason to suspect there was anything going on, since it was reported they were only discussing politics, when they weren't eating popcorn.

This particular movie theater had no cup holders.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The New Yorker

Sam Roberts ends his NYT obituary of Kathryn Popper, the last surviving actor of Orson Welles's film 'Citizen Kane,' who has just passed away at 100, not with a kicker but really a reminder of where all the New Yorkers come from: someplace else.

Ms. Popper was born in Hudson, Wyoming in 1915 and first came to New York in 1941 with Mr. Welles to promote 'Citizen Kane.' As Mr. Roberts tells us, "she moved to the city a year later, befriended many celebrities, wrote a hibachi cookbook and never left." She passed away in Manhattan on Sunday, March 6th.

I like to think the basis for the hibachi cookbook came from Ms. Popper's cooking many meals in an apartment's fireplace in the city on a hibachi. Many pre-war apartments in New York City had working fireplaces, and people did grill food on hibachis in the fireplace.

The mother of friends of mine used to grill on a hibachi in one such apartment. She was from Connecticut, and the two friends, brothers, were born in New York City. One now lives in Ohio; the other on Long Island.

It seems that's the way it goes. Those that are born in New York City later find themselves living somewhere outside the borders that would allow them to vote for the mayor. And quite often, completely outside the state.

It's almost as if those that are born in New York City have to leave, just so others from outside the city can move in. Affordable housing has always been tough to find.

A middle-aged, or late-in-life New Yorker, who is actually from New York, is hard to find. I recently caught some dialog from the movie 'Humoresque,' starring John Garfield and Joan Crawford. It is hard watching some of the older movies with all that cigarette smoke. I felt I want to open a window, even if it is cold out.

Well, Garfield's character, Paul Boray, is playing the violin at a swank social gathering in an uptown Manhattan town house. Joan is the icy hostess who is drawn to pay attention to Garfield's playing. At the end of a piece she asks him where he is from. He replies, New York, In a distant tone she replies that is rare, "a New Yorker who is from New York." The relationship gets its start there. The movie was made in 1946.

Even then, 1946, someone can observe that New Yorkers from New York are a rare bird.

Ms. Popper was from Wyoming, and moved to New York in 1942, and never left. The movie that she's famous for being in, 'Citizen Kane,' is about William Randolph Hearst, a person born in San Francisco who moved to New York, bought newspapers and ran for mayor of NYC and governor of New York State. Hearst later moved back to San Francisco, probably because someone else moved into New York. It is fitting that a New York fixture remains the turnstile in the city's subway system.

For the longest time I was a middle-aged New Yorker from New York, at least from within the city's boundaries that included Flushing, Queens. I now live on Long Island.

Friday, March 11, 2016

I Want You

The initial reaction to Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel in the above photo is one of fear. She looks angry, and possibly threatening. She might be even be exhorting people in Germany to take the Trump Pledge. Wait till the 'Today' show hears about that.

The photo looks like a movie poster for '1984.' All knowing, all seeing government; Germany's version of a recruitment poster that says, "I Want You.' It is Angela at her least fluffiest.

The poster's eyes seem to follow you as you move your head. You wonder if she's getting even for her cell phone being bugged by the U.S. a while back.

Turns out Angela is standing in front of a campaign poster for upcoming elections in one of the German states, Baden- Wurttembery, being held this coming Sunday. She's stumping for support of her party's candidates.

I'm sure the juxtaposition of the campaign poster and Angela standing in front of it is what caught the photographer's eye. The eyes have it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Billions: The Good Life

You might now be able to tell that this the show I like to comment on the most. And why not? It's got New York characters who are both powerful and rich, foul language and sex. What's not to like?

This particular episode really only has one story line worth mentioning: getting it on paper that Pete Decker had pre-public, undisclosed information on Pepsum Pharmaceutical that he used to make a market killing before it was announced they had developed the formula to create genetically modified corn. We've heard about this. Big money there.

Getting this affidavit involves a trip to Iowa. And here's where the impossibilities pile up a bit. But before we get to that, we have Chuck Rhoades, the Paul Giamatti character arriving at the farm of Clayton Grunwald (can there be a more solid farmer first name that Clayton?) with his entourage of his chief of staff, another assistant, and one FBI agent. Full disclosure to farmer Clayton: they tell him who they are as they introduce themselves after piling out of the black SUV. A black SUV pulling into an Iowa cornfield is like the train making an unscheduled stop at Black Rock and discharging Spencer Tracey. Bad day for Clayton. He mutters the word shit. Yeah.

Clayton, just because a guy who tells you he's the U.S. Attorney for the Southern district of New York and takes an interest in your dog, doesn't mean this guy is going to be your friend.

Chuck gets his affidavit from Clayton after somewhat threatening him with arrest and interrogation. Clayton's wife wonders about having a lawyer, but Chuck smoothly, and I mean smooothly convinces Clayton that the goal is to arrest the real bad people.

Clayton signs, attesting to the fact that he told the guy, "Dollar Bill" who posed as a friend of the family, that he gave him word of the success in creating the formula. "Dollar Bill" was then in possession of non-public information the day before the announcement was made about the success of the formula. He cleaned up in the market.

All of this sounds nice and benevolent, but then Chuck announces that the affidavit contains a "deferred prosecution" clause that requires Clayton to appear and give testimony that will likely, but not guarantee, that he won't be prosecuted himself. Clayton's wife is a bit outraged, but what's done is done.

Clayton, how can you trust a bearded man in a three-piece suit who gets out of a black SUV in the middle of your cornfield with a gaggle of people and pets your dog? Jesus.

The sex part gets implied when the entourage is relaxing at the bar of the Iowa hotel they're staying at before their flight out the next day. Bryan's schtupping of the female FBI agent Teri is emphatically confirmed. And why not? They are apparently both single, and two attractive people who just happen to work together. But, there are of course fraternization rules that are being violated. Maybe they can get a waiver when the shit hits the fan.

Now, we know about Chuck's proclivity for being sexually dominated by his wife, but now he's in Iowa and feels a strong need to get humiliated.

Chuck finds an S&M club and feels compelled to go inside. He's still well-dressed, but has now shed the tie. How Chuck finds this place is not disclosed. I guess it is possible there can be such a place in Iowa, but this is a state that gave Ted Cruz a narrow edge over Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Does Ted know about this place? Perhaps Chuck has really crossed the border into Nebraska, where such places are common. Who knows? Don't ask.

Chuck is nervous about entering, so he calls his wife, who is smoking an e-cigarette in bed and reading. It's good to know she's not really smoking in bed, because we know that is not safe.

The cell phone connection is great, so she offers to walk him through his entry into the place. Chuck is excited. Once inside we get a mild sense of what goes on in an S&M place that Chuck has found in the land of tractors and seed.

Chuck does look a bit overdressed, but with his cell phone in hand he listens to his wife go through what can only be described as telephone S&M. Foreplay first, of course.

At this point I start to wonder if this should be allowed. Not the part of this being portrayed on cable television, but isn't Chuck doing something like what the neighborhood pizza parlor tells us is prohibited by a sign near the door? NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Belly-Whopping While Under the Influence, Sarge

Robin Chandler Duke. Say it three times and tell me the name doesn't scream social connections. Her husband was Angier Biddle Duke, another name that screams social connections.

And the name Biddle, ring any bells? Sydney Biddle Barrow? A woman. The "Mayflower Madame" who ran an escort service in New York until busted in 1984. Sydney has social registry ancestry that puts her in a direct line from the passengers on the Mayflower. She thus earned the newspaper nickname, "Mayflower Madame." She was quoted as saying she was the "Martha Stewart of client experience." Oh boy, did Macy's know?

I once went to the library to see if the incoming CEO of the company was in the Social Register. I asked the reference librarian for the book, and told her I was just checking to see if my name was spelled correctly. The incoming CEO was not in the book, but I did find him in another registry.

You don't hear much of the Social Register, or the 400 Club. Anyone who takes a bit of guilty pleasure in reading the captions of the pictures taken at the latest function in New York City realizes all you really have to do to get your name in the paper is show some skin. The more the better.

I thought "Social Register" all throughout the recent obituary for Mrs. Duke, 92, who just passed away. The obituary written by the man whose name invariably appears when the subject is over 90, Robert D. McFadden, is as elegant as the deceased Mrs. Duke. We learn of her somewhat hardscrabble life after her lawyer father divorced her mother and she and her sister lived in New York with the mother who found work as "tea room cashier."

Modeling and journalism provided Robin with income, and connections. She was part of the early 'Today' show with Dave Garroway, working as an anchor and reporter. She covered the 1953 weeding of JFK to Jacqueline in Newport, Rhode Island. Her second marriage, to Angier Biddle Duke, his fourth, was the catapult to the real big time in social circles and affairs. One gets the impression she ate a good deal of catered food at charity functions and political dinners. She was on many boards and was in the papers well into her 80s.

Angier, a distant heir to the American Tobacco fortune, was JFK's chief of protocol, and worked in government with the rank of Ambassador. The world was his oyster, and Robin was part of it. The two pictures that accompany her obituary show a well-turned out woman, even when elderly, who you could easily imagine breezing, Loretta Young-like, through a ballroom full of tuxedoed gentlemen holding wine glasses and chatting away. They always chat.

As elegant and fluffy Mrs Duke's obituary is, there's a tidbit in it that to me attracted more attention: how her husband, Angier died. Without giving his age at the time of his demise, Mr. McFadden slips in the fact he died in 1995 while rollerblading in Southhampton, having been hit by a car.

An alert reader of these outpourings knows I've written about unusual forms of death. It relates back to the ICD-9 and 10 code books of diagnoses and mortality codes. "Whacked by trolley" has become my own umbrella under which I categorize these odd circumstances.

Being a NYT subscriber, I get access to their digital database. Look up Angier Biddle Duke's obit and we learn he had several arrests for drunk driving. His license was ultimately revoked in New York State.

So, hearing of a 79 year-old man who runs afoul of a motorized vehicle while rollerblading makes you wonder did Mr. Duke take up rollerblading as a means of getting around because he no longer had a driver's license?

I am reminded of the George Price cartoon that appeared in the New Yorker in a February 1968 issue that showed an inebriated fellow handcuffed to the officer who is on the call box phone, whose free hand is holding a rope to a sled. The caption reads: "Belly-whopping while under the influence, Sarge."

Now, whether Angier was under he influence of alcohol, or anything other than being 79 while rolllerblading, is not disclosed. You're going to have to get your hands on the coroner's report for that. But imagine, "whacked while under the influence while rollerblading." Is there a mortality code for that one?

And, because one thing with me leads to another, I remembered another odd cause of death happening to a socially prominent member of business and society. A Bingham.

The Bingham family is another whose name usually has the word "scion" associated with it when a member is being mentioned. And when Barry Bingham Jr., the Louisville Publisher passed away at 72 in 2006, Mr. McFadden also got the nod to tell us.

The Bingham family was big in ownership of Louisville newspapers, whose political influence was always felt. When Barry Jr. passed away we were treated to a story of a family dynasty that rivaled the Kennedys for generational influence, as well as tragedy.

Mr. McFadden narrates the tragic arc when he tells us Barry's younger brother Jonathan was electrocuted at 22 in a "freakish accident" and his older brother Worth, in 1966 was killed in "another freakish accident: a surfboard protruding from his car hit a parked vehicle, pivoted abruptly and snapped his neck." Worth was 34.

The accident was fully described in a New York magazine story:

"One summer morning, while vacationing with his family in Nantucket, he decided to drive to the beach to surf, placing his board horizontally across the backseat of his convertible. When one protruding end hit a parked car, the whole surfboard swung around and crushed his neck."

Talk about a snake-bitten clan. After I read of a death caused by a badly placed surfboard, I have forever been more than extremely careful when loading planks of wood into the SUV.

I wonder what the ICD-10 for that would be.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Nancy Reagan

How unspecific of the NYT. When you reach the part of their lengthy obituary on Nancy Reagan we learn she was born in "New York City" as Anne Francis Robbins on July 9, 1921.

New York City. There are 5 boroughs, or counties, that comprise the boundaries of New York City: New York County (Manhattan); Bronx County, Richmond County (Staten Island), Kings County (Brooklyn) and Queens County. Usually, there is a little more specificity as to where someone was born when it comes to an obituary.

Nancy Reagan was born in Flushing, Queens. So in a way, stating she was born in New York City is wholly accurate, and also provides accidental acknowledgement that Queens is part of New York City. For the Times, this is incredible. Usually, a reference to anything other than Manhattan gets labeled as being an "outer borough." So, of course they're right. She was born in New York City, and they don't have to mention Queens, or even "outer borough." And certainly not Flushing.

Anyone who has been following these postings, or who has listened to me rant, knows I always make fun of the NYT when it comes time for them to describe a locality outside of Manhattan, but still part of New York City. For four boroughs that are connected by numerous bridges, tunnels, ferries and rail links, the "outer borough" designation always makes me laugh at their sense of place.

I wrote about Nancy's Flushing, Queens birth ages ago in a posting when a unauthorized biography of Ms. Reagan came out by Kitty Kelly. She identified the house, which turned out to be three blocks from where I grew up.

Reading that Anne's (Nancy's) mother was an actress and lived in that Flushing locale, makes me think that perhaps her mother might have made silent movies. Astoria, where movies were made then,  and even now, is not far from the house. And many actors and actresses of that silent film era lived in the Beechhurst, or Whitestone, areas of Queens, just to the north of that area of Flushing. Flushing would be a step below those communities, however.

Anne (Nancy) didn't live there long. At two she was sent to live with relatives in Bethesda, Maryland after the father abandoned the family. All this is small potatoes to the full story of Ms. Reagan life. What still holds my interest is the power of coincidence that I wrote about in that long ago post.

 My mother and father bought a house in 1946 three blocks from where Anne (Nancy) Reagan was born and my mother's older brother Howard, my uncle, grew up with Ronald Reagan in Tampico, Illinois, where my mother, and her younger brother Vernon were also born. They were the Cook family.

My mother always talked about that. The famous schoolhouse photo of young Ronnie in the lower left, second row, also shows my uncle Howard nearly square in the center, third row, third from left, wearing a necktie.

Ronald's family moved away from Tampico and settled in nearby Dixon. But Tampico is the birthplace of Ronald Reagan and where he went to school in his early years. I had a distant cousin (Don Kirst) who commemorated the Reagans with a mural he painted on the side of a brick building in Tampico.

Much is being remembered of how strong a relationship Nancy and Ronald had. Regis Philbin once described a scene where Ronnie swam out quite a bit offshore, and kept going to a point where it seemed dangerous to be that far out. Ronald had been a lifeguard, so ocean swimming was something he had experience with, and he was still in good shape. But as he got further away from the shore, Nancy kept getting closer and closer to the water's edge to watch him. He was "her rock" Regis said. She wasn't going to let him out of her sight until she knew he was back safely on land.

Nancy Reagan accomplished a lot, in many phases of her life, as the lengthy obituary describes. And in her passing, she still accomplished something.

Without knowing it, she got the NYT to admit in print that Queens is part of New York City. Quite a woman.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sports Illustrated

It is almost too easy. Want a back issue of a magazine that contains a story you want to read?  Do you know the date? Sure you can go to the library, and maybe you should. But they won't let you keep the hard copy if that's even what you get to look at. More likely you'll be looking a digitized version, which is great, but not the same as turning the pages and feeling the weight of the paper.

So, when I read of Andy Bathgate's passing a week or so ago, I learned from the obituary that he was once on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1959. No date was given. It has always been a weekly magazine.

Sports Illustrated did not make it into our home at the time. We did get Life, and Reader's Digest, but not SI.  The magazine was, and still is a product of Time-Life. SI was started on August 16, 1954. Since I had such success at obtaining a 1967 New Yorker hard copy from an Internet search, I tried the same for the cover story on Bathgate.

Bingo-bango. Several people were selling copies of the January 12, 1959 edition. A range of prices and conditions were offered. A $7.50 asking price, plus $3.00 shipping did not seem beyond the pale of what I could afford. After all, I've spent somewhat more for neckties that I no longer wear.

And it arrived neatly wrapped and protected in plastic, with cardboard backing. No rips, or dog-eared pages. Pristine I guess the grading would be. The cover, aside from the image of Andy tells us the price is 25 cents, and the annual subscription rate is $7.50 The mailing label was to Bill Howvet, 358 Morehead, Chadron, Nebraska. No zone, and certainly no zip. America's heartland. MapQuest puts this place in the very upper left of Nebraska, just south of the South Dakota border, and not too far east of Wyoming. If it was God's country then, it still is.

The issue is thin. Not too filled with ads, and certainly containing no babes in swimsuits with sand on their shoulders with behinds protected by dental floss. The magazine almost has a New Yorker magazine feel and look to it. There is a cartoon by Interlandi; there is a section which closely resembles 'Talk of the Town,' and 'Shouts and Murmurs.'

There are color photos, but of no great quality. Most pictures are black and white. The ads are poised a bit for snob appeal, even Budweiser's. What distinguishes them from today is that there is ad copy, words, a narrative that accompanies the pitch. The back page color Bud ad shows a comely wife, or girl friend, pouring a tall frosty cold one for her man who is in a button-down white dress shirt and tie, relaxing with a newspaper and a bag of chips after what surely was a hard day at the office. The 'Mad Men' look. The guy could be Jon Hamm. The copy goes: "NEXT TIME you're drinking beer, look at the label. Does it list the ingredients? The Budweiser label does." We're getting close to hearing Ed McMahon's baritone tells us about "smooth taste, and drinkability."

Vitalis hair tonic contributes an ad, as does The RCA Victor Popular Album Club, which can get you started with a '5-Album Set of Swing Classics for only $3.98.' Who are the five? Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw. Certainly titans of their musical age. I wonder if the guy on the mailing label, Bill Howvet bought into this.

Contents? Stories on Russian Hockey, tennis, basketball, Davis Cup tennis, picture gallery photos, Andy Bathgate, 'A Long Cold Road to Fame,' Charles Goren on Ladies Bridge, A recipe, A Fashion Designer, and a Fox Hunt in Ireland.

The 'faces in the crowd' section, which is still around today I think, gives us Glenn Davis, who was already well known for world and Olympic 400 meter hurdle records, and who has just been awarded the James E. Sullivan award by the A.A.U. for amateur sports excellence, and Shelby Lyman, of Harvard, who was the top collegiate chess player who led Harvard to a second place finish in Cleveland behind the University of Chicago for a chess championship. Shelby, as some of us might remember, gave us near move-by-move analysis during the Bobby Fischer/Boris Spassky chess match from Reykjavik in Iceland in 1972. That match was televised live on New York's public television station, Channel 13. We would watch it in the Blarney Stone after work. I wonder if he'll be involved when the World Chess Championship comes to New York this November. Deja vu all over again.

And now the Bathgate story, proving you are never too old to learn something new. The article's writer, Kenneth Rudeen mentions that Bathgate doesn't score as often at home, the Old Madison Square Garden, as he does on the road. "On the larger rinks he has more freedom to do what comes naturally, and he takes advantage if it; he scored 14 of his 21 first-half season goals in games out of town."

I never knew the Old Garden wasn't 200 feet regulation: 60 feet blue line to goal line, offensive/defensive zones, ten feet behind each net, and 60 feet in the neutral zone, by 85 feet wide. It was 186' by 86'. I always knew Boston Garden was smaller. When they held indoor track meets at the Old Boston Garden the best they could squeeze in was a 55-yard dash I believe, and not what was the standard indoor dash of the time, 60 yards.

The cover photo shows Bathgate in his home Rangers uniform, with the A, for alternate Captain nearly hidden by his pose. I guess in 1959, he hadn't yet been made the captain. The narrative is basic, but well-written, giving us a sense of what it's like to be a boy in post-depression, pre-war West Kildonan, a suburb of Winnipeg in icy Manitoba. Twenty-five degrees below zero Fahrenheit was pretty much the winter norm, and was the temperature when 12 year-old Andy and his buddies walked the five miles at 4:30 in the morning to get to play indoors (unheated) in a Winnipeg ice arena.

And as we might make fun of curling (at least I do) that sport was a rival for a young boy's attention growing up when Andy did. He complained that a lot of his friends were taking up curling so they could play in heated arenas. Pussies.

In Stephen Smith's seminal book on Hockey, 'Puckstruck' he describes some early New York American players playing at the Old Garden in the mid 1920s who complained of the heat in the
building. They couldn't stand it. They were fainting. They got Tex Richard, the boxing promoter who built the Garden, to finally lower the indoor temperature to 55 degrees. Tex wouldn't go any lower. He said the customers would freeze to death.

The high cheek bones of Andy that someone on Twitter commented on were of course not caused by starving, as I facetiously suggested in a prior posting, but were caused by the fact that from an early age he had no upper teeth of his own anymore.

When I started to follow hockey in the early 60s, I used to hear stories of the Junior system in Canada that took boys who were no longer in school, and basically used them to develop into minor and major league NHL players. I had always heard that the western Canada brand of Junior hockey was particularly rough for some reason. The article confirms this by telling us that Andy's first shift in a Junior game saw him take a stiff check into the boards, giving him the knee injury that would follow him around for his whole career. Dr. Kazuo Yanagisawa operated on Bathgate's knee in 1952. Dr Yanagisawa name would remain in the news as the team physician for decades.

And just like Phil Esposito practiced deflecting shots against his goaltender brother Tony, Andy practiced taking long shots against a boyhood playmate from 70 feet out, as each shot pucks at each other standing in goal. They purposely shot high at each other so as to avoid breaking each other's sticks in stopping the puck and also perhaps breaking their ankles as they stopped the shot with their boots.

Kenneth Rudeen beautifully describes a slap shot Bathgate took from the neutral zone, a full 15 feet outside the blue line, making it a 75 foot shot, that rose and caught Montreal's goalie Jacques Plante completely by surprise and went in. A goaltender getting beat from anything that far out has to be embarrassed. (Plante developed a weakness for high shots, and the Rangers took advantage of this when Plante was in goal for playoff game for the Bruins in the early 70s.)

And it is likely that kind of embarrassment that Plante kept in his mind when he once tripped Bathgate so blatantly that Andy crashed heavily into the boards, nearly suffering serious injury, and that Bathgate remembered, and with his sniper ability to shoot high, avenged the trip as he purposely aimed high at the then unmasked Plante at the game I was at in November 1959, that caught Plante flush on the face, forcing him to skate off for stitches and come back 20 minutes later with the mask on that became part of a goaltender's standard equipment. Hockey. The origin of bad blood.

I'd love to know where the "modest apartment on the outskirts of Queens" Bathgate was reported to live in with his wife on his $15,000 a year Ranger salary was. (See, no one could afford to live in Manhattan, even then.) I grew up in Flushing, Queens, and would love to know what was considered by a reporter to be the "outskirts." The NYT has always referred to Queens as an outer borough, which of course has always made my laugh.

It is funny to read that prior to Bathgate joining the Rangers, "they were staggering around in the depths of the NHL." It is funny to read that a six-team league, employing 120 players, had depths. I remember looking at NHL standings in the paper and now can say there are 'In Memoriams' taken out on the daily obituary page that are longer than the space that league standing took in a sports edition. The Ranger and the Bruins were usually each trying to stay out of the cursed cellar.

The absolute bonus to being able to browse through an issue, either digitally, or hard copy in this case, is to find another story on hockey, this time a story placed before the Bathgate story on the visit of the Russian National Team to the United States to play games against assembled American amateurs.

There is an italicized preamble to the Robert H. Boyle story, 'Red Icemen Come, See and Conquer.' The lay of the land is explained that the U. S. team is composed of post-collegiate players, generally all from Minnesota. and the Soviet team, which even then, was composed of the cream of their state-sponsored crop. Well known American amateurs with experience in international competition were generally not part of the U.S. team because of the demands of a four month preparation period and the $10 a day they were going to get for room and board. They had regular jobs, and needed to support their families. They were amateurs, a term not recognized or understood these days.

There is a black and white photo of the first game played in the tour at the Old Garden, showing the star, hammer and sickle Russian flag flying next to the 48-star American flag. Alaska and Hawaii weren't states then. The Garden looks smoky, as it always did, since cigarette smoking was not banned anywhere, and only suggested as something you shouldn't do in bed, since you might set yourself on fire, as some people did when they fell sleep with a lit butt.

I can see now that the neutral zone is smaller than the offensive/defensive zones. There is a good size, perhaps capacity crowd there, which would have been in the vicinity of 15,000 plus people. There is a photo of fur-hatted Russians walking past the Dayton department store in Minneapolis, and a photo of a shirtless 34 year-old captain of the Russian team, defenseman Nikolai Sologubov. Nikolai is a red Army veteran of WW II who was wounded by a German booby trap at the battle of Leningrad. The shirtless photo of him shows the tattoo he sports on his right shoulder, a somewhat crude outline of what might be meant to be a golden-haired beauty, but who, by today's standards looks a bit masculine, like Caitlin (Bruce) Jenner. The eye of the beholder.

The first game at the Garden is described, and takes place after a New Year's Eve game the Soviets watched between the Rangers and Bruins, whose "players tried to chop one another up with their sticks." That was not the Soviet style then, or now. The Soviets were checked heavily, and were, according to Boyle, sluggish, caused by unaccustomed heat in the Garden. (There's that heat thing again.) They were unexpectedly tied, 5-5. They did show off what we now know as their passing skill, playing tick-tack-toe with the puck and perhaps passing it 6-7 times before taking a shot, generally from in close, and with the goaltender wildly out of position. They always played a game of 'hide the pea' with the puck. Marsh Nyman, coach of the U. S. Nationals says of the Russians, "they're a precise team, they play chess on you."

The next two games in Minnesota were eventual routs, with the Soviets winning by 8-3 and 7-1. Anyone who watched Team Canada's start against the Russians in 1972 should be able to recall those early games in the series as resembling what was written in 1959.

Deja vu all over again.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Billions, Sex Aside

I know I've been neglecting 'Downton Abbey.' I know this because I'm way behind on watching episodes and summarizing. And I see in today's NYT that they did a story on the end of the broadcasts and the series here in the States. "Cheerio."

I can't read it, because it would contain spoilers for me. My plan is I'll catch up to 'Downton' when the other shows I'm involved with hit their series finales.  That way, as soon as The Yankees suffer injuries in April (Mark Teixeria, for sure) and the pitching staff and bullpen go kaplooey, I'll have something saved for those spring and summer days when listening to Keith Hernandez is not an option.

It finally hit me where I'd been seeing the name Andrew Ross Sorkin before, whose names is listed third in the credits as a co-creator for 'Billions.'  He's a financial reporter for the NYT and someone who I occasionally read. He knows a good deal about the subject. We already know how the conceit of  'Billions' is about Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern district of New York. Mr. Bharara is a badass on white collar, insider trading crime. His office does have a significant number of wins. He's the office version of what Robert D. McFadden recently wrote about the actor George Kennedy, who just passed away at 91, and the characters he played: you'd be foolish to mess with him.

So, I just finished Episode 4 of 'Billions.' It had its usual sprinkling of the word fuck uttered by several characters, but had no sex. It was lesson in finance. Selling short, even with inside information at your finger tips.

It was a primer of how the big boys play. What can eventually get them in the newspapers and giving statements on the court house steps. The episode was also an MTV video for the band "Mettalica,' whose only North American concert in Quebec, Canada, Bobby flew himself and three other buddies to in his private jet. Only two buddies get to come home on the jet however, with the one being taught a lesson in loyalty and disclosure. Coming from Bobby, who else?

Short selling is a concept of selling something you don't have. If that sounds impossible, it probably should be, but someone, perhaps JFK's father Joseph P. Kennedy made it an art form, and a way to amass money, when things go your way.

Bobby pretty much tells his buddies what a short-sell is. You pick a stock that you think is going to go down at the price it is when you pick it. Go down significantly. Right now there is a three day window to cover the sale. To close. That is, provide the actual shares to the person you sold something to you don't have.

When I worked on Wall Street as a clerk, nearly 50 years ago, the window for settlement was five days. Thus, you had a business-week's worth of time to hope the stock would lower itself to a level that you would then buy the shares needed to cover at this now significantly depressed price from when you first bought the shares.

In the era I worked, Wall Street was a vast paper exchange. There were computers, but actual engraved, physical stock certificates were always being moved about between firms and stockholders. There was no electronic bookkeeping. The "cage" area was a somewhat restricted area where these shares were literally piled up. It was a mess. Often times, no one could find the shares, or, they delivered the wrong ones because the names of the company were similar, or there was only a small difference in designations between the shares: Class A, Class B, things like that.

Runners, or old-retired guys, sometimes former law enforcement, were constantly delivering these physical certificates back and forth. At the close of the window, three days, or five, the shares had to be placed with the buyer, otherwise the seller was whacked by the trading firm with exorbitant interest, or worse, banned from doing this again with the trader.

Electronic bookkeeping created the vast trading volumes there are today. Old guys and near-sighted cage clerks would not be able to keep up.

So, what happens in Episode 4 is really a lesson in the short squeeze. Bobby gets his nuts in a vice because the stock he picks to tank and replace with shares that cost them less than what he paid for, starts to go up. And not just up a little. Up a lot. FAST. Bobby doesn't get to enjoy the concert too much,

And how does Bobby get it so wrong that the stock goes up instead of down. Chuck's dad is an old-time trader, or whale himself. He plants information that makes the stock go up, after taking his own position, long--actually holding the stock.

The whole episode is so much about finance and stock that Chuck Jr, the U. S. Attorney, gets to keep his clothes on all the time. Paul Giamatti is gem being cast as the U.S. attorney. Chuck Jr. has to get dad off his plan, and makes him take a significant loss. Bobby ducks the bullet by borrowing someone's position on the stock to avoid the margin call. Then the news that Bobby knows about becomes public, and the stock starts to tank, going down faster than a plane with no engine. Bobby comes out ahead, way ahead, financially.

But what is this game all about? Bobby's head gets turned around by the female singer of a backup band who he doesn't have sex with. It's hard, because she's so hot-to-trot you can almost see her clothes come off, even though they stay on. No, Bobby stays true to Lara, is wife, and wins points from the seductress.

But Bobby's a changed man, and gets back to the office and starts to sell-off his positions. But this isn't really Scrooge seeing ghosts, or is it? It's more like Sean Connery in the 'Hunt for Red October'dueling with the other submarine captains with torpedoes. Somebody won't do something like that again.

There are more episode to catch up on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

More Billions

If Showtime's 'Billions' were a piece of woodworking, it would be very sturdy, because it certainly has a lot of screws in it.

I think it was just the third episode I finished watching last night, and quite frankly, I have to replay portions of it just to sort out the old guys who are taking Viagra and romping with younger, but certainly ambitious women. No call girls here. and no former governors. This show if it isn't about 'The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' it certainly is about the 'Rich and Influential.'

Bobby Axelrod's wife, (Axe to you fans) Lara, the frosty, blue-eyed beauty who hails from Catholic schools and that notoriously "tough" neighborhood in Manhattan, Inwood, certainly shows that she is the power behind the throne, the eminence blond who knows more people than Ray Reddington on 'The  Blacklist' who owe her favors. She could lead the female chapter of Irish Mafia wives.

Through phone calls and perhaps personal sit downs, she manages to torment a partner's widow, June, from the firm whose husband bought it on 9/11. It seems this woman has written a tell-all book of post-9/11 memoirs that doesn't shed a good light on Axe Capital. It could also prove to provide certain regulatory bodies with fodder for prosecuting her husband, a basic theme of the whole show. June is basically, a woman scorned by events of the day and what floor her husband was on when lower Manhattan briefly became an airport.

Lara Axelrod, with no apparent effort at all, gets the woman's appointment at the spa cancelled, sends her country club membership and account into such "'arrears" that her tee time is wiped off the books, leaving her and her lady foursome partners stalled at the starter with their golf gloves on.

And if that's nor enough social upheaval, she also manages to derail the woman's son's admission to Stanford. The woman's son is a shoe-in with a double legacy parentage and SAT scores approaching perfect. A shoe-in until Lara calls and June is asked by the admissions officer if they've got a "safe school" in mind.

This leads to such total frustration that June breaks down in her car in a parking lot and starts pounding the steering wheel and repeatedly calling June that word that Robin Williams once said would get him thrown out of the house if he let it fly. It rhymes with runt.

Bobby Axelrod is forever reminding anyone who listens, or who he button-holes, of his Horatio Alger beginnings. This includes bringing a titan of a snack cake company to a pizza parlor where the owner has been using certain tomatoes for the sauce ever since Bobby was carrying condoms in his wallet--just in case.

Last week Bobby pisses on the very WASP family Eads when he donates enough money to put the name Axelrod on the campus plinth by having the name Eads blowtorched off. Not only does he do this by a spectacular endowment of $100 million, he fools the Eads family into thinking he's also giving them $25 million to agree to have their name removed, only to ambush them with a $16 million subtraction at the closing meeting because grandfather Eads had Bobby thrown out of the caddie shack, costing Bobby his summer job, after the senile, deaf, half-blind bugger missed a putt in front of his grandson and blamed Bobby for not telling him how to correctly play it, when Bobby clearly did tell him. Bobby lives for sweet revenge. And gets it.

And let's not forget Chuck Rhoades, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Bobby's adversary in this series. Chuck's dad Chuck Rhoades Sr. is apparently boffing a woman named Evelyn who is on the board of directors of that very snack cake company, YumTime (are they kidding with that name?) that Bobby is toying with. Bobby gets the woman thrown off the board and causes Senior there to complain to his son that his pursuit of Axelrod is now going to cost him $200,000 a year because that's what the mistress was making while on the board.

Chuck Jr., ever the sympathetic son, consoles dad that he'll survive, and he just needs some time (and several episodes, I'm sure) to achieve the take-down of Axelrod.

And just as Bobby likes to rub people's faces in doo, Chuck there upbraids a fellow dog walker on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade who doesn't pick up after his dog. Jesus, what a speech on being a citizen! Full oratory powers lead to the offending dog owner to pick up the poop with his bare hands.

Chuck, his wife Wendy, and their children apparently live in the Brooklyn Heights area, as a good many of the people who populate the corridors of Downtown Manhattan power do. Wendy and Chuck are a power couple. In addition to Wendy being an in-house psychologist and motivational coach at Axe Capital and a colleague of Bobby, she is versed in being a dominatrix.

Thus, we get a session with Axe Capital's No. 2 man, Mike "Wags" Wagner who broadens my knowledge of what ATM stands for. Up until yesterday I fully thought it stood for Automatic Teller Machine, and I really couldn't understand why Wags these asks Wendy if she knows what ATM is.

Well, being a certified wife/dominatrix to Paul Giamatti's character, yes, she does know what ATM stands for outside of the machine found in bank lobbies.

This at-home activity of hers with hubby gave us the putting-out-the-fire scene of the show's opening episode, to now a bedroom view of Chuck just not that into being tied up, gagged, and poked with an electric cattle prod to the point that Wendy retreats to the bathroom, hoping he'll redirect his mind and get more into it. While waiting, she sits on the throne and gets on the cell phone and invests $250,000 of her money into a hedge fund account just started by a former female trader at Axe Capital who has recently gone over to another side.

An outside view of their Brooklyn dwelling gives you the sense that there are many floors in that townhouse/brownstone, so therefore there must be some solid doors that lock that will keep the kids out from surprising mom and dad as mom is bossing dad around in her black underwear. Without those precautions, those kids are going to need counseling of their own.

The show is 'Peyton Place' with a hedge fund replacing the hospital.

I bet that dog walker that now picks up after his dog wishes he knew about the U.S. Attorney's sexual proclivities, even if they are administered by his wife.