Monday, June 20, 2016

Branford, Connecticut

The Branford population in Connecticut is decreasing. They have lost two of their esteemed citizens.

To be wholly accurate, Branford has lost one, and the other Branford, North Branford, has lost one as well. The two towns are just east and north of East New Haven and are not adjacent, but do share a name.

And it is that similarity that was spotted when a read of the Thursday NYT obituaries was done. The sole two obituaries that day told us Gregory Rabassa, 94, departed Branford, and Richard Selzer, 87, departed North Branford two days apart. I really can't remember reading two NYT bylined obituaries on the same day where the subjects were from liked named towns in the same state.

The NYT obituary page editor, Bill McDonald has done these hidden common denominator obituary placements before. It's almost as if you can ask your obit reading buddies if they spotted the similarities.

And it's not just the town names that are complementary. The occupations have similarities, despite one being an award winning translator and the other being a surgeon.

The first obituary in the layout is that of Mr. Rabassa, a noted Spanish translator, Spanish to English, whose sendoff is  written by Margalit Fox. Apparently, his translation work was as crafty as the works he translated, working with Spanish authors who later won awards, notably Garcia Marquez, who won a Nobel Prize for literature.

Ms. Fox is the perfect obit writer for Mr. Rabassa. I have to think that Mr. McDonald probably didn't assign the piece to her randomly but purposely gave her the ball. Margalit is a linguistics expert whose books reflect the origin of languages and phrases.

And to lead us into the nuances of translations into English, Ms. Fox dissects the choice of the words "a hundred" or "one hundred." Which would you rather have? A hundred dollars, or one hundred dollars? (My question.)

Well, that's like asking which weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of lead? One is decidedly denser, but the weight is the same. As would be the purchasing power of a hundred George Washingtons, or one hundred George Washingtons.

But to Mr. Rabassa, the two words while meaning the same in a financial transaction, do not sound the same to the reader. And it is in words that Mr. Rabassa puts his heart.

It is amazing that a man who can sweat over such distinctions lived to be 94. Surely the lesser of us who embarked on a career of such parsing and tortuous word decisions would have suffered a nervous breakdown and death years before becoming a nonagenarian.

Ms. Fox takes us through other language twists that leave the obituary containing passages in Spanish, along with Mr. Rabassa's English outcomes. The art of translation never occurred to me until now. I'm probably never going to read enough Spanish to English translations to see what choice Mr. Rabassa might have made when conveying the Spanish word for cojones into English.

He might have left it alone, or settled on "balls," "nut sack," or "brass ones." I'll never know. Likewise, the Spanish word caramba. Would it be, "surprise!"  "yikes!" or possibly "holy shit!" I know I'll never know. Maybe it would depend on who is  uttering "caramba."

The second obituary, placed underneath Mr. Rabassa's is that of Richard Selzer, 87, North Branford, who was a surgeon who took up writing after retiring from the OR in 1985 at the age of 58. Initially, he wrote horror stories, then other forms of fiction that contained a medical theme to them.

And while he did no translating, he created his own words when he felt there was nothing in the dictionary that expressed what he was trying to say with precision. The guy would have been hell to play Scrabble with. Especially if he brought his scalpel and started waving it about when challenged.

We was an artist in residence at Yaddo, the artist's colony at Saratoga Springs, 10 times. This makes me sorry I never bumped into the guy to ask if at Yaddo did he ever cross the road and head for the track at Saratoga?

When I worked for a major health insurer I became friendly with the retired surgeon who was assigned to work with our fraud division. He didn't write, but he did tell the story of the patient who kept coming back to see the doctor who kept amputating sections of his leg. The surgery wasn't necessary, and when the patient realized it and took the doctor to court for malpractice so much surgery had been already done that the poor fellow's lawsuit was thrown out of court because he didn't have a leg to stand on.

You have to hope that was fiction.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Kayak Plug Popping

An alert reader will remember I wrote about ICD-10, the International Classification of Diseases needing a code to cover the incident in the Hudson River where it is alleged that the fiance of Vincent Viafore pulled the plug of his kayak causing it to sink, thereby resulting in the drowning death of Mr. Viafore. It has become a murder case since Angelika Grasweld has been arrested and accused of causing Mr. Viafore's death, motivated by the large life insurance benefit she was slated to receive on his demise.

This first blog entry was made on September 14, 2015 and promised that more would follow as the case made its way through the justice system and into the media's maw of reporting sensational murders.

Well, the case has advanced and there' been a pretrial hearing for Ms. Graswald. Evidence has been presented in the form of an 11 hour videotaped confession by the defendant. Admissibility is being argued by her lawyer.

Where defendants get their lawyers has always puzzled me. My guess is the lawyer has been appointed by the court, inasmuch as Ms. Graswald hardly seems like someone who could afford a lawyer for anything. The insurance company has withheld paying her the death benefit pending the outcome of the trial, so where one gets the money for this puzzles me. Perhaps the court pays the lawyer. No matter, really.

The story of the pretrial hearing shows a demure Ms. Graswald who hardly looks like a femme fatale in prison orange (the new black), t-shirt, glasses and handcuffs. There is testimony at the hearing by an investigator of a live chat with the defendant after the drowning that the investigator describes as being light-hearted and that didn't seem to fit the anticipated mood of someone who just lost someone they say they loved. The defendant is also described as wanting all the people  assisting with the search to join her at a party at a nightclub. Night clubbing and death didn't seem congruent.

The actions of Ms. Graswald remind me of the Matthew Solomon case that played out here on Long Island a few years ago. Mr. Solomon was accused of murdering wife. His trial started one year to the day after their wedding. Happy anniversary, honey, I miss you. The trial got a good deal of coverage.

A friend of ours was on the jury and they described being sequestered and taken out to dinner at a nearby restaurant where a somewhat partying Mr. Solomon wanted to buy drinks for the jury. The hardly brainy guy was convicted.

Thus, actions of the defendant had a bearing on the outcome. It will probably be that way for Ms. Graswald, but perhaps not. Testimony at the pretrial hearing was made from "kayak experts" (look for them of Fox News next) who say that the removal of the plug should not have caused the kayak to sink.

Keyword there is "should." It did sink, but in their view it didn't sink because someone pulled the plug. Score one for the defense.

I have no idea if there is yet an ICD-10 code that covers death in sinking kayak caused by removal of plug by another human. There's a good deal going on there to get encapsulated in a few digits. But, regardless of the outcome of the case, there should be a code, because it has already happened.

Just imagine a prosecutor who faces the jury and is not able to tell them that there is a code for what Ms. Graswald is accused of doing. A summation without a code. Their case might be weakened.

Kayaking is becoming quite popular. You can even rent a kayak at some place on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge and paddle yourself into the East River. Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me, but it's happening. There was recently a story of some kayakers who got swamped by bad weather on Long Island Sound and two died.

Code it. Death by kayak is happening.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Cartoon, Part II

Piling through all those 'New Yorker' cartoons looking for the one by Charles Saxon that I thought for sure I would find, but didn't, did take me past plenty of cartoons I remember. A little bit of a greatest hits moment.

At one point in my life I was really ambitious in preservation and organization and in 1967 saved all the cartoons and covers from the 'New Yorker' and put them in a sort of scrap book. It was the only year I did this, and thinking back it was a time in my life that I was somewhat without direction.

I came across one that has always been one of my absolute favorites, a 1967 Ed Koren drawing showing a demolished bar with unconscious patrons all about. There is someone at the doorway on the right explaining to someone else: "It all started with a friendly discussion about gas versus oil heat."

Perhaps you had to be there, in the 60s, when the discourse of gas versus oil heat did become, well, quite heated. There was plenty of advertising extolling the virtues of each. Oil settled on "Oil Heats Best." Gas didn't seem to have a good tag line, other than you didn't need to rely on a truck to deliver it through the snow. It came to you in your gas line, no matter what the weather was.

Thinking some more, perhaps gas also advertised it was cleaner. No soot building up in your furnace. Of course, this was countered with stories of gas explosions. And there have been some doozies, whole homes turning into matchsticks because the owners monkeyed with the gas lines.

Oil's slogan seemed a little vague to me at the time, because if you were getting heat, wasn't keeping warm the objective no matter which one brought you the warmth? It certainly was in my house growing up. We had oil heat, but only when my father bothered to buy the oil to put in the tank. Or, what I should really say, only when my father's check would be accepted by whatever oil company was willing to take a chance on a check that had lottery ticket odds of clearing the bank.

BTU's. cubic feet versus gallons, it was all very hard for a typical person to really determine which one really was the better one to use. For the most part, homeowners didn't have a choice of choosing one over the other. It depended on their furnace. There were no residential burners that could use either oil or gas. It was one or the other. Comparisons were nearly impossible. So, opinions held reign.  And of course, the drunker the opinion makers got, the more prone they might be to create a John Wayne bar room altercation.

The whole oil vs. gas argument neatly pre-dated the Miller Lite beer commercials between Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner: "Tastes Great. Less filling."

You can well imagine if those two guys started talking about oil versus gas heat the place would look like an Ed Koren drawing.

But how about updating the caption? I know from my waiting room visits for a physician in Manhattan who seems to have the best magazine selections I've ever encountered, 'The New Yorker' now has a caption contest for a cartoon that has none. A single panel cartoon is presented and you're encouraged to submit your take on what the caption should say. The winning caption is published, and you're considered to be a star.

I think I've read that the magazine's cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, has been quoted as saying your chance of having your caption declared the winner (and I think they now acknowledge the top three) is also of lottery ticket odds, or, in my case growing up, of my father;s check clearing the merchant's bank.

I've read that there are those who are slighted (Garrison Keillor? Steve Martin?) that their submissions are turned down. They submit several captions and complain. Pout, might be a good way to put it. In some cases, it seems their celebrity status carries weight, and aha, they win.

But how about updating a caption? Any alert readers willing to take a stab at the one above?

How about, "It all started over a friendly discussion of what signs should go on the bathroom doors."

My posting. I win.

The Cartoon

Given the accumulation of nearly 50 years of clippings, it should be understandable why some things cannot be found. But just because I can't find something doesn't mean it didn't exist.

Take the cartoon I'm reminded of when I look outside my kitchen window on weekday mornings. It's actually what I don't see that reminds me of the cartoon. Everyone has gone to work. There are few, sometimes no cars on long stretches of the block; none in the driveways.

I tried finding the cartoon from the CD-ROMs that came with 'The Complete Book of New Yorker Cartoons' that was a Christmas gift several years ago. The cartoons on the disks start from the first year of the magazine and proceed through 2004, the complete year before the book was published.

I used several keywords to look for it. I used 'Charles Saxon,' who I was sure drew it. Charles Saxon, to anyone who is familiar with New Yorker cartoons often drew of the suburban rich who were either somewhat full of themselves, or, were overstuffed with inane comments about something topical. His drawings were like many cartoons in the magazine, droll, with more than a touch of truth.

Charles Saxon passed away in 1988. I was astounded to find his NYT obituary appeared as 'long ago' as 1988! It seems I read it more recently than that. No wonder the trail ran cold in the late 80s when no more Saxon cartoons were returned by my search queries.

The archive obituary reprint doesn't come with what I remember to be a photo of Mr. Saxon. I remember thinking when I read the obituary that he looked like his male characters. Female too.

So, no hits on Saxon, and no hits on subject queries of 'morning,' 'commuter,' 'artist,'  and 'writer.' They were good subject names, because the search engine did return cartoons that either had those words in the caption, or were centered around those subjects.

Mr. Saxon passed away at 68 at home in New Canaan, Connecticut. This is high-level executive horse country in Connecticut. The CEO for one of the companies I worked for lived in New Canaan. This certainly gave Mr. Saxon, Brooklyn born, but Ivy League educated, a familiarity with his targets.

So, what the hell cartoon am I talking about?

The cartoon that I can't find shows the typical looking Saxon male sitting in their den, next to either their desk filled with pens and brushes, and possibly a typewriter--his work from home space before that was ever heard of--looking out of the window and giving his salutations to a group of male, briefcase toting commuters headed for the morning train, each wearing the corporate uniform of the day, Burberry raincoat, sensible shoes, hat and umbrella, perhaps. Saxon's cheery greeting to them is to "have a nice day," or something sarcastic like that since his work will be done inside his home wearing slippers. Always casual.

And what does any of that have to do with the photo above, taken from my front door on a weekday? Well, I'm retired, and they're not.

Maybe the cartoon was in 'Playboy.'

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe, preceded by Muhammad Ali, followed by...? Bill Russell? Deaths come in threes?

In my time spent as a New York Rangers season ticket holder I did get to see Gordie Howe play. He was never a flashy player, but at just over 200 hundred pounds he was one of bigger, heavier players of the era who dished it out when necessary.

Gordie never let the opposing players forget who he was. Homage must be paid. I remember when Gordie encountered the Rangers' rookie Gene Carr in a defensive corner there was a bit of a thud and a commotion, as the play moved toward the other end of the ice with only Howe skating away. As Howe left the scene of the crime, it could be seen that Gene Carr was slowly getting up from a Gordie Howe elbow mugging. Welcome to the league. With only one referee at the time, the penalty was not noticed.

Gene Carr was really a lightweight player who could skate like hell, with his blonde hair blowing in the wind he created. It was just skating and having the puck at the same time that presented a problem for Gene. Bill Chadwick, the Ranger announcer once informed the listeners that Gene Carr "couldn't put the puck in the ocean." Perhaps he was never the same after meeting Gordie in the corner.

One of the best stories of anyone I ever read was reading that as a kid, Gordie spent so much time outside on the pond playing hockey, and probably perfecting his wrist shot, that when it was time to come in for supper, his mother didn't make him him take off his skates. She just put newspaper under them while he was at he table. It was already a given that he'd be back out there until it was impossible to see anything in the darkness outside that Saskatchewan home. Behind every great man is a woman who understands.

I knew about Howe's ability to literally switch hands on a hockey stick, and go from a right-handed shot to a left-handed shot in the blink of an eye. When I played roller hockey I used to try and do that. Fuhgetaboutit! George Vecsey in Saturday's NYT devotes an entire column to two reminiscences of a fan of Howe's. One of the remembrances is seeing Howe switch hands and score a goal. Try it.

My vice president in the next to last company I worked for grew up in Meriden, CT, near Hartford. As a kid, he played ice hockey and one day was in a game at the arena where the Hartford Whalers played, Gordie's last team.

My boss Rob remembers being pushed and pinned to the boards rather roughly by an opposing player's stick. This can be a cross-checking penalty. Whether it was a good check or not and deserved a penalty, none was called. The action went away up the ice and Rob in true, tough player fashion, just shook off the check.

Gordie was watching the boys play from the stands. Rob distinctly remembers Gordie coming into the locker room and tousling his blond head and telling him, "that was a pretty tough check, wasn't it kid?" I said to Rob, "holy shit, Gordie Howe patted your hair? How long was it before you got a haircut?" I'm sure Rob is telling that story this week to anyone who might not have heard it. And probably even if they have.

Gordie obviously appreciated good hockey and good physical contact. And why wouldn't he? I never saw him skate with Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay, but I do remember Abel as the Red Wing coach and Lindsay as a hockey commentator for NBC. Ted's face was lined with the scars he took as a player, estimating the stitch length to be something equal to two points on a map. Lindsay was a tough, stick-swinging player who got as good as he gave. Howe was the quieter one, who didn't get caught often.

When the World Hockey Association (WHA) was formed there was a gimmick exhibition gamer played at Madison Square Garden. The New York franchise was the New York Raiders. John Sterling, of now Yankee announcer fame, did the radio play-by-play then.

I was at the exhibition game with my friend and the format was that three teams, the Houston Aeros, the Raiders, and someone else I can't remember, would play each other for one period.  This way, with three periods, three teams would be showcased.

I distinctly remember when Howe came on the ice and got the puck it seemed like the Red Sea parted and suddenly there was no defense on him. Maybe it was a setup, maybe there was no WHA defense capable of covering Gordie Howe, even at his advanced age. No matter. Gordie gets the puck and aims his wrist shot at the goalie. Within seconds of stepping onto the ice, he's scored a goal. Mr. Hockey.

George Vecsey in his column in Saturday's NYT, writes of fans keeping their own mental pictures of great players. I've certainly kept mine. And I've even kept my memory of pictures of players playing the game.

There's a photo I saved and it's somewhere where the heirs might someday find it. Gordie is coming off the bench with one of his sons. I forget which son it was, but the son vaults over the boards with his hand on the top rail. Gordie is seen sticking one of his legs over the board first, then lowering himself onto the ice. He's over 50 and he's not vaulting. But he is getting on the ice.

Yes, still Mr. Hockey.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jason Gay

The Wall Street Journal has a sports writer. For those of you who may not realize this, ever since Rupert Murdoch took possession of the storied paper and turned it into a more general interest paper, it actually has sports section. Of sorts. No standings, but there are stories, and of course lots color photos.

Jason Gay is probably their Dean. He apparently came by way of GQ magazine, but he is a writer in what might be called the modern, or contemporary vein. I saw him once when I went to a showing of the now defunct Regis Philbin sports show on Fox, 'The Crowd Goes Wild.'

The show perhaps never had a chance, but I did like it a bit. It was silly with off-beat games but the chatter amongst the people on the show was lively and fresh as the day's news. Like many things these days, lots of Twitter. Twitter should be renamed Old Reliable, because it is a guaranteed geyser of things to talk about. Just wait three seconds.

One of the talking heads other than Regis was Jason Gay, who I think sat in the middle. He was perfect for the show. Animated, and informative. I remember seeing him go into what I guess might be the Green Room before the show as I stood on line to go through the metal detector and wanding process. Jason is a tall, well dressed guy, who was coming to work in sneakers (athletic shoes?) There was a definite bounce in his step and a grin on his face. He easily liked the job.

When the show got its notice everyone on the panel was asked what they might like to do next. Regis quipped that he'd still like to do a sports show. He knew the shortcomings.

The Journal, even before Murdoch made the changes was a paper I read. I like reading the WSJ and the NYT, and subscribe to the print editions. I'm old enough to still want print. I remember linotype machines.

At the outset I'd read anything Jason wrote, or really, try and finish anything Jason wrote. I've come to like the advice on how to approach Thanksgiving and touch football, but little else has ever stuck. I'm still looking for Dave Anderson, Red Smith, Arthur Daley, Ira Berkow, Fredrick Klein, Barney Nagler, and even Robert Lipsyte. And we know where some of them are.

Jason is a product of the era, and he certainly doesn't need to be like anyone else other than himself. But with the passing of Muhammad Ali I've taken to reading what people are writing about him and his era to see if they've got it right. After all, nearly all of Ali's life fits into mine.

In yesterday's edition, Jason has a sterling piece on Ali. I know I have a sense of humor, and I dearly love it in others. When I Tweeted Jason "Muhammad Ali: Finally you wrote a sports column that shows you CAN write a sports column. Keep at it." Jason Tweeted back, "Mom?"

I might even buy his book, 'Little Victories' now.

Battle Cry of Freedom

Back in April, Margalit Fox gave us one of her patented "I bet you never knew that" obituaries about Les Waas, the adman who wrote the Mister Softee truck soundtrack. That's right, the nearly ubiquitous Mister Softee ice cream truck's music was actually written, and not just taken from a bad high school band's rehearsal. In fact, there are words, and Ms. Fox, in her thoroughness to details, gives us a few bars. Of lyrics.

At the time I wrote to Ms. Fox and told her of the time, a long, long time ago, when the Mister Softee trucks were sabotaged in their garages in Queens just before the July 4th weekend. No jingle, and no Mister Softee that holiday.

This of course would have been a Mayor Mike dream. No incessant music coming from slow moving, or idling ice cream trucks. A few weeks later I read that Mister Softee seems to have run afoul of another ice cream company that claims the right to sell exclusively in Midtown Manhattan. Mister Softee ice creams trucks are apparently intimidated from cruising through the Midtown area tempting office workers to indulge.

New York fights over everything. Who can sell pretzels and hot dogs on which corner, and who can call themselves Ray's Pizza .(This one seems to have gone away, for now.)

When I was working in the Flatiron District I remember one Mister Softee truck that was parked by a sizable apartment house on 24th Street and Broadway. Because of the city regulations on not playing the jingle while parked, they were musically silent, but were just the same doing a land office business with all the nannies and young kids from the building. All this Mister Softee news got me to pay more attention to what plows through our suburban neighborhood.

As a kid growing up in Flushing in the 50s there was the Good Humor man, whose open cockpit vehicle with a freezer in the back used to come down the block, jingling its bells on the windshield. The white suited, bow tie ice cream man had his hands full with the gang that piled out of the houses when his bells rang. I like to think the parents' and kids' money got that poor guy some Florida real estate that was above water at low tide. He put up with a lot.

But paying closer attention to my immediate sounds, I've come to realize we get cruised by three ice cream trucks. Mister Softee of course is one. No mistaking that. Then there are the two trucks that somehow don't really look like ice cream trucks, despite being what looks like being painted white. They somewhat more resemble repurposed armored cars with the gun turrets removed.

One is Rick's, and really doesn't look clean enough to be selling you anything you want to put in your mouth. I don't remember if he has the jingle, or it is the other guy who I don't know the name of, who plays 'Battle Cry of Freedom.' That's right, a Civil War song. One truck plays nothing, just recognizable by the slow movement and the sound of  its diesel engine. I never see anyone on my current block stop any of the trucks.

I can just imagine Cliff Robertson in a 'Twilight Zone' episode waking up from a long nap on my front lawn, hearing the 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' and reaching for his musket. It really is the 'Battle Cry of Freedom.' I've confirmed it. I guess the tune is in the public domain, so no royalties need apply. Imagine an ice cream truck in the Carnegie Hall/Central Park area pumping out the notes to something Beethoven. He's in the public domain as well.

Here we are well into the 21st century and someone is still paying a Civil War tune, well north of the Mason Dixon line! Not that I think many people would recognize the tune for what it is. When I was a kid I remember the Long Island Star Journal, the newspaper of Queens, carrying stories of when the oldest living people passed away. A few times I read of Civil War veterans finally slipping off at ages well beyond 100.

So, in the spirit of putting things I want on my iPod because I can get them from iTunes, I've downloaded two versions of the 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' one by Bobby Horton (you remember Bobby Horton, right? I don't. I remember Johnny Horton.) and the other by the Chicago Symphony and Chorus.

It is great. I can hear the music whenever I want, and I don't have to buy the ice cream.


Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali

I wasn't going to write anything about my memories of Muhammad Ali. My feelings toward him were conflicted, despite his life fitting very nearly completely inside mine. That's one way of saying he was around so long, different feelings emerged depending on the era you are considering.

I was at one of his fights. Actually at the fight, Ali-Frazier I at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, one of the most memorable of all sporting events I've witnessed. It's only exceeded by Secretariat winning the Belmont in 1973. I was also there for that one.

I've eventually grown to dislike boxing, and I trace it to Mike Tyson twice biting Evander Holyfield's ear. Actually ripping part of the ear away. And although I feel a boxer in shape is in terrific athletic shape, getting hit in the head is ultimately not good for you over time. I used to train like a boxer, but was never hit, even by a gentle sparring parring.

So, I have many memories of Ali and my feelings toward him, but it wasn't until I read Dave Anderson's piece in the NYT that I was reminded of Ali's fondness for magic tricks that brought back a distinct Ali memory, perhaps more so for someone else than myself.

In the 70s and 80s I was a regular at the 32nd Street Blarney Stone on Madison Avenue. And of course as a regular, you get to know a lot of of the other regulars whose migratory drinking habits coincide with yours. You also get to know the owners and the bartenders.

In particular, one bartender, Eddie Smith, who to this day I should try and reconnect with. Eddie was a smooth talker who of course chatted up lots of people. My wife and I were at his wedding. We slept over his place after a party. He came over to our place.

Anyway, Eddie was a boxing fan, and a huge Ali fan. There was a refined older black fellow who was also a regular, Dick Edwards, who once published a magazine called 'New Age Press' aimed at a black readership. Dick had a office nearby, and of course his office when he was on a stool at the Blarney Stone.

Dick had active press credentials. I once got in the photographers area next to the penalty boxes for a Ranger-Toronto game at the Garden on the basis of having 'New Age Press' credentials. Aside from getting photos I could never have possibly gotten from anywhere else in the arena, I got to observe Carol Vadnais's hands when he took his gloves off as he sat out a Ranger penalty. I had once heard or read he had manicured fingernails. Well, he did.

When the Ali-Jimmy Young fight was announced for Landover, Maryland, April 1976,  Dick Edwards suggested to Eddie and his best friend co-bartender, P.J. Manning, that they accompany Dick to the fight, with press credentials.

Needless to say, this was viewed as a great idea. What wasn't viewed as a great idea was that Eddie asked to borrow my Nikon to take the pictures he was going to get at ringside, and who knows where else, as he played being Neil Leifer. Eddie had lost his camera, and needed one.

Loaning what was then was an expensive camera to someone who has already lost a camera, to have have them take it to an event where undoubtedly he's eventually going to be drinking, was an absolute act of extreme faith. I closed my eyes and acceded.

The fight was won by Ali on a controversial unanimous decision. A sloppy fight, with Ali coming in at his heaviest, 230 pounds. But little matter. Before the fight, Eddie, smooth talker that he probably still is, has managed to blend in with the press entourage and actually get in Ali's hotel room, sit next to his bed as Ali is lying there, shirtless with a pair of trousers on, hands folded across his midsection, and start to show Ali sleight of hand card tricks. Eddie has handed the camera, my camera, perhaps to P.J., to take a picture that clearly shows this Irish-American bartender entertaining a shirtless Ali lying on a bed with card tricks.

The framed picture hung in another Blarney Stone, the Blarney Rock, one of three owned by the Dwyer family. The bar is still there, on West 33rd Street and represents an absolute gold mine, being near the Garden. I once saw a bartender there close out, counting piles of money into a cigar box at one of the back tables. He should have just weighed the money.

The picture is no longer hanging in the bar. I don't know who got it. I don't even know if the ownership changed. I long ago pestered Eddie for the negative, but eventually gave up. I did get my camera back, and still have it, but God, I wish I had that picture.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


This wrap-up of the last two episodes wasn't purposely delayed, it just happened that way because of good weather, days to be out in the garden instead. Right now it is pouring, so we set out to finish this task.

The timing is also coincidental to the news that Mark Teixeira has once gain left the Yankee lineup due to injury. You might remember he was able, several episode back, to give Chuck's son an autograph without injuring himself. It is playing baseball without winding up in a medical office that he has trouble with these days.

It is easy to figure out why we don't see the children of Chuck and Wendy Rhoades, or those of Bobby and Lara Axelrod too often: there are so many utterances of the word "fuck" by all adult characters that the children have to be shielded somehow. If the show were a movie it would easily be rated "R" for dialogue and sexual situations. But, Showtime comes with its own warnings, so everything is cool.

The last two episodes of Season One are great setups for a Season Two. In the penultimate episode Chuck catches a view of Wendy's late night confidence building session with Bobby, seemingly flirting together as Bobby tries to get his head together after making a disastrous trading decision. Wendy, being the "best-in-the-game" in-house performance coach she is, is up for a long session with Axe as she tries to get inside his head and see what lead him to make such an obvious blunder.

Wendy is good. She asks all the right questions and deflects all the cover-up answers Bobby creates. She should have been a lead counsel on the Watergate Committee hearings. She can smell a bad clam from the north side of South Street.

Her session with Bobby runs into long hours after work. No hanky-panky whatsoever, but her absence from home does start to make Chuck wonder what's going on. Axe Capital is located in what seems to be Westport Connecticut, and Wendy and Chuck live in a swank townhouse in Brooklyn Heights, just across the river from where Chuck works as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District on St, Andrews Plaza, Manhattan.

These people live is an alternate universe. Chuck is able to get inn a chauffeured black car and make it to Wesport to witness--without either Bobby or Wendy realizing it--what looks like some serious flirting and laughing that can only lead to sex. (It doesn't.)

Chuck is able to get back in the same car and be back in Brooklyn in the same evening. Wendy is able to get to Brooklyn from Connecticut in the same evening.

This of course is ludicrous. No one can get to and from Brooklyn and Connecticut by car in the hours after work and sometime before sun-up the next day. And no one can get from Connecticut to Brooklyn and be in the shower before hubby gets in, even after his aborted dominatrix session with Troy in the same evening. The things these script-writers would have you believe!

Chuck is sneaky. While Wendy is in the shower he taps into her laptop and reads session notes from her and Bobby. There are incriminating statements in there that Chuck thinks he can use to get Federal charges, of any kind, against Bobby. Chuck is Captain Ahab and Bobby is the White Whale. Are they both doomed to mutual extinction?

I've gotten into the habit of leaving the close captioned (CC) option on, even for non-British dialogue. It helps to sort through the rushed and mumbled words.

It also describes the sounds that are being made in a scene. "Door creaks," "muffled voices in background." Aside from the number of times we hear the word "fuck," which needs no close captioning because it comes through quite clearly, it is amazing how many times "clicks teeth" comes up on the screen, describing the sound a character is making with their lips, tongue and teeth just before speaking. I have no idea what a speech coach or a dentist would make of this. More flossing might be recommended.

At the outset of the final episode of Season One, we have Axe bestowing the keys to what looks like a Maybach to Wendy on a street in Manhattan, in what looks like SoHo. Take about product placement! This is just his way of saying 'thanks" for the psychological insight he gained from their late night session. Considering the value of such a vehicle, that is some form of co-pay.

But as the episode proceeds, Axe comes to the mistaken belief that Wendy betrayed his confidences and revealed compromising information to her husband Chuck, who is now using it to bring federal firearm charges against him, along with conspiracy and bribery charges for corrupting municipal employees, namely members of the Greenwich police department.

A few episodes back, you might remember, Bobby intercedes with the police after one of his employees is caught firing an assault rifle at a herd of deer who are eating his shrubs. The poor fellow has had waaay too much to drink, and is fed up with the deer in a big way.

It's just Bobby's way of protecting his people from themselves, but it does leave a trail of offshore money and expensive vacations for the involved officers. It comes back to bite him in the ass once he confides the event to event to Wendy, and Chuck, unbeknownst to Wendy, uses her password to gain access to her session notes on her laptop while she takes a shower.

Chuck puts the wheels of an investigation into motion, in the hopes of getting an indictment and an ironclad case against Axe. It is much like the strategy of taking Al Capone down for income tax evasion, rather than all the other crimes he's committed, but can never be made to stick. Just get him for something.

Axe thinks back and figures out that Chuck's information has come from Wendy, which of course it has, but not directly, and not from her meant to be used against him. He confronts Wendy in a big way, showing her screen shots he's kept locked in the office safe of her dominatrix website; her "dark side." Wendy's cornered, and walks out.

Chuck's hoped for indictment and case against Axe unravels when Wendy, who should really be a CIA operative, confronts Chuck with what she believes, and gets him to unknowingly cough up what is really a confession about how he's obtained the information into her cell phone that she has purposely left on to record.

She instructs Chuck to get out of the house, which he does do, taking his overnight gym bag to his club to start his exile. Without a lawyer, Wendy has secured the house, and gotten to keep the car Axe gave her. And she's not finished.

She plays the phone recording back to Bobby, as she sits in jeans in her her cleaned out office and asks Bobby how is he now going to make her feel better. She didn't sell him out; she didn't betray him. Bobby ups the bonus from $2 million to $5, making sure Wags gets the instruction to put "five sticks" into Wendy's personal account. He tells Wendy to check on it in two minutes, which she does. Wendy has hit Lotto. The money's there.

But Wendy's not staying. The air has been poisoned by all the secrets and evidence that has been kept. She gets Bobby's commitment to destroy the screen shots. Bobby wants the recording of Chuck confessing, and offers $15 million, "for starters." He wants to destroy Chuck. But Wendy won't let that happen for any price. Chuck is after all, still the father of her children.

Tangential to all this is the wooing of Chuck's chief-of-staff, Brian Connerty, by Bobby, after his lead counsel Orrin Bach has explained to Brian how his boss Chuck was getting the information to pursue Bobby. Brian is disgusted by the actions of his boss.

After delivering the news to Brian in what must be the be the best after-hours pizza joint in the city, Orrin excuses himself and leaves the stage for Axe to enter from the wings to start his employment pitch to Brain. At this point on, we're into Shakespeare.

The pitch is flattering and lucrative. Seven figures to work with Bach on Axe's account. Brian reluctantly listens, refutes the offer with his doubts, but does not, as Axe coyly points out, say "no" to anything. He doesn't say anything after listening, but also doesn't finish "Nonna's" (grandma's) pizza, which by all facial reactions we've seen before, is to die for. A good pizza goes cold on the table.

The final scene in the last episode of Season One is a doozy. It is solid Shakespeare, but which play it is I can't identify. I don't know enough Shakespeare to venture a good guess. It is dialogue from the movie 'Wall Street.' "Greed is good" and all the rationalizations for what he does coming from Axe, versus the morality of who really gets hurt coming from Chuck. Black Hat versus White Hat. Just not in iambic pentameter.

The two adversaries are squaring off at the offices of Axe Capital after Bobby has had the place completely ripped apart looking for bugs he believes Chuck has planted. Carpeting has been ripped up, holes have been punched in the walls, ceiling tiles have been torn down to look for wires. The place looks like ISIS dropped by.

You see, Chuck has figured out Bobby has been getting information from an informant Bobby's head fixer has planted in his office, a janitor, who in addition to emptying waste baskets, keeps his ears cocked for stray conversations about Axe Capital. Having figured this out, Chuck concocts an openly contrived conversation with an FBI agent that he knows the janitor is overhearing, which leads the informant to report back that bugs have been planted, even without warrants, in Axe Capital's offices.

Into this mess walks Chuck to tirade against Axe and all he represents. It is dramatic, if not at all believable. Would Preet Bharara, the real U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, pop up out of Phil Mickelson's golf bag--his place of business--and confront Leftie Phil? Puh-leeze!

All the implausibility aside, it is a great exchange that leaves you wondering: Will good triumph over evil? Is there really good? Is there really evil? Will Brian Connerty desert Chuck because of his Captain Ahab fixation on Bobby Axe as the White Whale? Will Wendy find employment somewhere? Will she get someone to unzip the back of her dress? (It can be a long zipper.) Will Chuck get back in the house? Will Chuck's next dominatrix session not be cut short because he utters his safe word, "red."

All the good reasons for there to be a Season Two.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mike Dann

Mike Dann passed away the other day at 94. My only encounter with Mr. Dann was when he gave the eulogy at the funeral services for my friends' father, Sidney Piermont in February 1968. I wasn't even yet 20 years old and this was maybe my third funeral service, the first in English.

The prior two services were for my grandparents, six years apart, 1958 and 1964. I don't remember if there were eulogies at those services, but if there were, they were in Greek, and then, as now, I don't fully understand Greek, despite being principally raised by a Greek-American father.

I was friends with the Piermont family, the youngest son Dennis from high school, and eventually his older brother David. I had many a meal over their apartment on West 55th Street, cooked by their mother Susan.

The father, Sidney Piermont, was a native New Yorker, meaning born and raised in Manhattan, working and living in Manhattan, with likely little or no exposure to what even then were the "outer boroughs." (Well, maybe he'd been to Brooklyn and the Bronx.) He worked his way up from being a vaudeville booking agent for Loew's theaters to being a producer of the Carol Burnett and Gary Moore shows on CBS. At the time, I'm sure I didn't realize the hierarchy of the relationship, but Mike Dann was his boss.

The West 55th Street apartment was across the street from 'Black Rock,' the black granite CBS headquarters on Sixth Avenue. There's little better in New York than being able to walk to work, and then needing only one additional traffic light to clear on the way to Toots Shor's. There is a heaven on earth.

By the time I got to know the Piermont family through the son Dennis, Mr. Piermont was still working, but was suffering from emphysema. It is what he would eventually succumb to.

Mr. Piermont was not religious, and the best I can remember was that the services were held at Frank Campbell's. It seemed there was a bit of a pulpit/podium that Mr. Dann spoke from. There were no commercial interruptions.

Dave and Dennis's mother insisted I sit with them, in what I remember were either pews, or bench seats. I was considered a member of the family. I think I mentioned something to Mrs. Piermont that wouldn't it look like she and Mr. Piermont had three sons, instead of two? She told me she didn't care about who might be counting.

In what could be described as a coincidence, but would instead be given some high probability of occurring by Joseph Mazur, author of the recently published book 'Fluke,' I recently mentioned Mike Dann at a cookout to someone who once worked for CBS. They remembered him, and we both wondered if Mr. Dann were still alive. The cookout was May 29, and Mr. Dann passed away May 27. So, when his name came up in that backyard in Flushing, he had just passed away in Boca Raton.

I have absolutely no specific recollection of any of  kind words Mr. Dann had to say for Mr. Piermont. I do however have a recollection of the good feeling they gave me, even now almost 50 years later.