Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Death Did Take a Holiday

There is a of the obituarist Bruce Weber giving a talk at a conference in Monterey, California on April 12, 2012. The talk gives no indication that Mr. Weber will be retiring from obituary writing, as he has just announced in a good-bye essay in the NYT on August 13, 2016, taking the buyout offered by the paper. The talk was re-posted via Twitter tweets when his announcement hit cyberspace and the print media.

Somewhere I read or heard, Bruce tells us he's going to spend time with his wife and their recently purchased house on the East End of Long Island. Wives and houses give someone plenty to do. And if it is a younger wife and an older house, there's always something to do.

In his talk, Mr. Weber makes mention of some lame jokes that people make to the obituary staff. Things like, "What happened, I haven't seen you. Did death take a holiday?" Definitely lame.

But here is an example of where death does seem to have taken a holiday. Just back from the annual pilgrimage to the finish line at Saratoga, when I only buy the local papers and the Daily Racing Form for the week. Outside of nightly phone calls to my wife, I pretty much stay unconnected to downstate news.

I'm happy to report there are still hard copy print newspapers to buy. For me, this is usually the Glens Falls Post-Star, and the Saratogian, from of course, Saratoga Springs, New York.

To show you how reading obituaries seems to have taken hold of the collective readership, the Saratogian posted this on its front page, bottom, in the teaser portion, amongst the other headings of 'Community Page,' 'Opinion,' and 'Classifieds'. Under the 'Obituaries' heading, and then the sub-heading, Remembering family and friends, it was reported:

There are no obituaries in today's paper. Look for recent obituaries at

It was Monday's, August 22 edition. Seems like everyone in the area did have at least one more weekend.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

American Pharoah, Part II

Another tale from Joe Drape's book singing last week was the story of Tom Durkin's frustration at not seeing a Triple Crown, that was also Mr. Drape's because the 2015 Triple Crown of American Pharoah was his first in attendance.

I knew fom other aspects of Mr. Drape that he is younger than I am. He missed the 70s at the Belmont Stakes when three horses won the Triple Crown. Two in consecutive years! Look it up. There would have even been one earlier than Secretariat's 1973 achievement, if in 1972 Riva Ridge doesn't meet a muddy Preakness Pimlico and get upset by Bee Bee Bee, a horse with fantastic mud breeding from Better Be. I did not have Bee Bee Bee that day. My uncle did, however

A Riva Ridge Preakness victory would have started Meadow Stable, trainer Lucien Lauren, jockey Ron Turcotte and owner Penny Tweedy on consecutive Triple Crowns. Penny Tweedy's heart was conflicted when Secretariat defeated the older Riva Ridge in the 1973 inaugural Marlboro Cup, her horses running 1-2 against an absolutely stellar field of older horses in the Marlboro Cup, a now discontinued race.

So, in 1973, Mr. Drape probably doesn't have his Missouri driver's license yet in order to roam from home and follow the starting gates. But once he did, he surely caught the bug, watching races in Nairobi where there are so many starters they collide with other and the jockeys fall off, and where you can hit a bush track where nooo one hits the exacta, including Mr. Drape. Imagine, a consolation exacta.

That tale reminded me of once being at Greenwood Park in Toronto in the mid-70s, another track that is no longer there. Betting had commenced on the races and I was somewhat dumbfounded that even minutes before post, some horse had no money in their show pools. I took a picture of the tote board showing the zeroes. Imagine a consolation show bet?

But the Durkin Triple Crown story went that Tom, upon being at the track as a "civilian," not the track announcer, walked out of the track when American Pharoah won, likely to collect his thoughts on being a year away from calling that race, since he retired in 2014.

The New York wiseguy offered Mr. Drape a story to match, that he wound up telling the audience at Joe's invitation.

We callow fellows started going to the track in the late 60s, the 1960s I like to remind people, starting on the day Stage Door Johnny won the Belmont Stakes, upsetting a bid by Forward Pass to be a Triple Crown winner with a huge asterisk next to his name. (You'll have to look up the Forward Pass/Dancer's Image story separately.)

We became tutored in the art of handicapping by an older fellow, perhaps by 25 years, named Les. Les was a student of what was then The Morning Telegraph, available for 75 cents, a then outrageous price for a broadsheet.  Les was a proponent of "pace makes the race." We eventually took to calling him Mr. Pace. I kept his home phone number in my wallet under Mr. Pace. A TRafalger number.

Les had been going to the track for so long he could claim that Citation was his favorite horse. We often joked Les may have slept with Citation, the winner of the 1948 Triple Crown, and the owner of a 16 race win streak.

We always saved a seat for Les, because he liked to arrive after the Daily Double, the only exotic bet there was then, in a total exotic bet wasteland.  Les explained that pursuit of Daily Doubles sometimes meant Tap City for Les, and an early trip back into Manhattan, where Les lived with his wife and son, who we never met.

In 1971, when Canonero II was going to be perhaps the next Triple Crown winner, Les was one animated figure. His previous night's handicapping and system of assigning numbers to horses based on pace and weights (then a more important part of handicapping) gave him a horse named Pass Catcher, a horse that had run second to Bold Reasoning in Monmouth a few weeks before. Bold Reasoning was then one of the best three-year olds, but was not in the Belmont.

Les could not stop talking about Pass Catcher. All day, and to anyone who looked his way, he'd pull the Telegraph out of his pocket and show anyone who gave him their attention, how Pass Catcher had a phenomenal number to win.

We didn't bet Pass Catcher that day, but Les did. Modestly, but when a horse pays $82 to win, you don't need a lot of money to make some serious coin. The jockey Walter Blum even dropped his whip before the finish line.

Les was an ecstatic crazy person. We thought he might have to be tranquilized. He owned the section we were in. To this day, it's one of my favorite stories.

But the story that came out about Les at the Northshire 'American Pharoah' book singing was one that I was reminded of on hearing about Durkin walking out of the track to collect his thoughts as the place went bananas. (I wasn't there, long ago having stopped going to the Belmont due to crowds and poor transportation handling by NYRA.)

We always saved a seat for Les, and the Belmont of 1973 was no exception. We saw Les before the feature race and told him we had a seat for him. Come on up. Les hung around the paddock and never did join us for the Belmont. He walked out of the track before Secretariat's race.

Secretariat had already been on the cover of three news weeklies, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, before the Belmont. He was already being given the crown, and Les could not contemplate a world where the 25-year span of no Triple Crown winner, going back to his love, Citation in 1948, was going to be put to an end by the new champion of the people, Secretariat.

(We were at the track when Secretariat broke his maiden as a two-year old. As Secretariat ran out after finishing first, Les then informed us that "they're expecting great things from that horse." They were right.)

I eventually emulated Les's system of assigning numbers to horses that have raced, based on an 11 point system to assess their conditioning. Les's system was heavily predicated on weight, because in those the days of handicapping weight assignments were greatly scrutinized. Racing secretaries assigned weight with the purpose of penalizing winners. Thus, when the great Dr. Fager was in the Vosburgh handicap in 1968 he was assigned 139 pounds, in the hope that that was enough weight to put the entrants on a level playing field.

The track was level that day, but not the playing field. The good Doctor set a 7 furlong track record at Aqueduct that stood for decades, demolishing the other six horses in the field with a 43 and 4/5 half! and finishing in 120 1/5.  I keep a chart of the race on the wall in the room where I'm writing this.

I thought it was almost fitting that Mr. Drape mentioned Johnny Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer who trained Dr. Fager. Dr. Fager wasn't mentioned, but a quote from Nerud was. He told people that they, the trainers were running a hospital on the backstretch, keeping horses fit enough to run and hopefully win, nursing them through their aches and pains. Johnny Nerud didn't need too many hospitals for himself, for he only fairly recently passed away at 102 in Old Brookville, Long Island. Nice territory.

Mr. Drape talked of how American Pharoah ran to the front, and that most great horses do run to the front, intimidating their competition. Dr. Fager certainly did. The saying then was that no horse could look him in the eye and expect to be around at the finish.

Consider that this all went on on the Tuesday before the Travers. Somone asked if Mr. Drape was going to be there for the draw, which apparently he was missing part of. It was being held at some Saratoga Springs bakery across the street,

Upon signing my copy of 'American Pharoah and exchanging some chat, Joe asked me who I liked in the Travers. I told him I had no idea at that point. I'd figure it on the way home, since we were leaving Saturday morning, not wanting to be part of a massive crowd.

I did figure out who I liked by doing my numbers back at the motel on Friday night, using the advance past performances provided in Friday's Daily Racing Form, now at the astounding prices of somewhere between $8.00 and $10.00! depending on your purchasing point and which edition you select. The Form is however indispensable, and compared to the information it once held to what it provides today, it's like suddenly being exposed to calculus vs. simple arithmetic.

My numbers gave me the Baffert duo, We know how that turned out. Quite well, especially when you played exactas. I know not at all what "system" Mr. Drape uses to inform us of his pick, but when I got home and picked up Saturday's Times I saw that Mr. Drape boldly had Arrogate on top. A gutsy public pick, But to perhaps a student of "pace makes the race," a very logical choice,

I Tweeted my boxed exacta (1-2-10) to Mr. Drape shortly before the race went off. No red boarding there. Money won is always twice as nice as money earned. Maybe 10 times better.

That's why we show up in jeans and an untucked dress shirt, with reference material rolled up in our back pockets.

Monday, August 29, 2016

American Pharoah

A book signing by the New York Times sports reporter Joe Drape was held last week at the Northshire book store in Saratoga Springs, on Broadway. It was a well-attended presentation, that Travers Week and the Saratoga Springs locale contributed to. Oh, and it was on a Tuesday, when the track is closed, the so called 'Dark Day,' the perfect day to hold a book signing at 5 PM. No races were being run in the neighborhood that anyone was missing.

I often wonder about what hidden metaphors might be at work, especially when the area of the book store devoted to the presentation was carved out of the Children's section. Some might think this a perfect spot from which to appeal to the childlike fantasies of the horseplayer. For surely, we are a group that thrive on fantasies, usually involving what we are going to do with the dough we will surely make by the end of the betting card.

I found myself on an aisle seat where when I scanned the shelves I found out that the New York Daily News sports reporter Mike Lupica has written numerous young adult sports books. Over 10. And recently. Who knew? Given the direction of that paper's attention to bylined sports reporting, Mike is smart to earn money from something other than newspaper sources.

Aside from being introduced by the Northshire lady, Mr. Drape was easy to recognize. He looks like his picture on Twitter and the back jacket flap of his latest book, American Pharoah, The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner's Legendary Rise, a subtitle long enough to be a margin of victory.

When Joe prefaced his remarks with stating that he's been to 113 tracks in 19 countries, it was easy to understand why he was amongst us dressed in jeans and an untucked dress shirt. The only prop missing from the horseplayer's dress code was a rolled up program or past performances sticking out of his back pocket. But, I did say it was the Dark Day, so no accompanying reference material was needed.

A New York wiseguy asked Mr. Drape if he felt that perhaps NYRA's track announcer Tom Durkin was responsible for the dearth of Triple Crown winners, with American Pharoah achieving the hat trick after 37 fallow years and the year after Durkin retired from announcing. Larry Collmus walked into the job and hit the Triple Crown call his first year at a NYRA track. Go figure.

Of course this was meant in jest, but it did get Mr. Drape to tell a Durkin story that was probably true. Tom Durkin was so upset that yet another Triple Crown bid had been thwarted when in 2004 Smarty Jones was caught "in the shadow of the wire" by Birdstone, that he flung his headset off in frustration at yet again not witnessing a Triple Crown. And there were even more frustrations to follow through the years. You can look it up.

Joe gave a quick highlight of American Pharoah's background and how right from the beginning there were veteran horse people who were impressed by his growth and increasing ability. American Pharoah put weight on after the Derby, and then again after the Preakness, when most winners between those races would lose a fair amount of weight. So, going into the Belmont, he was a fit horse.

Safety, drug issues, and declining interest in the sport were all topics on people's minds and Mr. Drape did his best to either answer the questions, or assure the audience that there was still plenty of life left in the game.

When someone asked why the NYT did not even have a story in the paper after Song Bird's Alabama success, Joe explained that in today's readership climate, with competing sports reporting platforms, there just wasn't that much "thirst" for reading about horse racing. He even assumed that he would be the last sports writer at the Times who would be devoted to horse racing. After him, the job won't be filled.

And this is not a brag that the mold will be broken after Mr.Drape's tenure on earth and at the Times comes to the finish line. It is a fair realization of the erosion of interest. I can remember when the paper covered racing to the extent that entries were listed, results and prices were published daily, and full Daily Racing Form charts were supplied in the paper. A sports page of today does not resemble a sports page of even 20 years ago, never mind 50 or more.

But then there's Saratoga. The Vatican, as Mr. Drape rightly states, but where there's a new pope almost every year, male or female, four legs or two. There's been racing there since the Civil War. It is called continuity. Red Smith, a now deceased sports writer for the Times, stated that you, "turn left on Union Avenue--go back 100 years." Brigadoon.

Two-year olds turn into three-year olds and they in turn turn into older horses. When the calendar changes, everyone is a year older and there is renewal in the ranks.

I always buy next year's calendar when I'm at Northshire. I'm now looking at 2017 waiting to be placed in the kitchen. I asked the likewise older fellow at the cash register, "how high do the numbers go?" It took a bit, but he got what I meant. They just keep going. Like the horses. Like Saratoga.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Social Media

Social media. It is everywhere. This blog is "social media." Word of this posting may spread through "social media." And as much as the use of the word makes me cringe a bit, I have to say, social media can be fun.

There's a line in the great song from the musical 'West Side Story,' 'Gee Officer Krupke' that gives the confused delinquent an assurance that the deficiencies he's suffering from, "...the trouble is he's crazy, the trouble is he stinks, the trouble is he's lazy, the trouble is he drinks..." is not genetic, but rather social in nature, environmental. His surroundings are making him a jerk. "He's got a social disease." "So, take him to a social worker."

STD stands for "sexually transmitted disease" which of course can be spread through social interactions. Social media, on the other hand, is spread through computers. No pharmaceutical cures needed.

There may be those who remember the fellow who placed a TRUMP tombstone in Central Park as a form of protest, or commentary, on 'The Donald's' run for higher office, the highest office in the land: the presidency. This occurred this year in early spring. The placing gained significant media attention. Reporters sought explanations as to who placed it there.

Mr. Michael Wilson, of the NYT reported on his findings, and declared the mystery solved. He reported in his 'Crime Scene' column on May 9th the identity of the person who had the tombstone made, and who engraved it. Even the estimated cost of the prank, which ran into the several thousand dollars. Great press. Great story.

Mr. Wilson will answer his emails, and when I inquired as to what the perpetrator, Brain Whiteley, the 33 year-old artist would be charged with, he replied that no one had that information yet.

We know what the 19 year-old Trump Tower building climber Stephen Rogata, is being charged with, and how it's gained him a stay in the psych ward in Bellevue, but what  about the tombstone placement? Surely there's something on the books that the artist can be charged with, even if it carries a penalty no greater than spitting on the sidewalk, which is a violation.

Not much about the tombstone story has appeared lately. I would venture to say it died, and perhaps it really has. It has certainly been replaced by what you might call the 'Trump Edifice Complex' where there are those motivated to leave a remnant of his legacy, or in the latest case, a life-side naked statue of Donald Trump in Union Square Park, depicting the Republican candidate without the Greek word for grapes, "orchi." The Democratic candidate doesn't have them either. But in her case it is an anatomical characteristic of females.

The Trump statue, like most artwork, has a title: 'The Emperor Has No Balls.' Apparently there are similar statues placed in other American cities which will lead other parks' department spokespersons the chance to top the zero-tolerance policy statement uttered by Sam Biederman, of NYC Parks.

My attention to all this was initiated by social media, coming from a Tweet by Pia Catton (@PiaCatton), who in turn retweeted Slade Sohmer (@Slade) who links his tweet to a Gothamist story that carries multiple views of the naked Trump statue from various angles, even showing it being trucked away, gluteus maximus up.

Mr. Biederman, identified as a spokesperson for NYC Parks is quoted as saying: "NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in the city parks, no matter how small."

I really don't know if the writer of the story is inventing Sam Biederman and the quote, or if indeed there is someone who actually said that in front of someone with a cellphone set to record.

If indeed it is a true quote, I wonder if there is a guideline to call NYC Health and Hospitals if an erection lasting more than four hours is observed. Should 311 be used to make the call? Will an erection of a statue lasting more than four hours become the statute?

Anyone with a decent memory should remember when NYC allowed statues of naked men to be placed in public spaces, even notably on a setback of the Empire State building, prompting people to think someone was ready to jump. This was written about in a prior posting and also by this writer in a letter to the New York Daily News, which did publish the letter, where I felt the naked statues were in poor taste. I also explained that passing the statues daily on my way to work by Madison Square Park I was always being reminded to make an appointment with a urologist.

The Gothamist story closes with what should be on all tourist brochures: New York is the best city on earth, and don't you forget it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Alive Good-bye

Bruce Weber is retiring. Not the photographer Bruce Weber, the Bruce Weber who is an obituary writer for the NYT.

Bruce has been at it a long time, and in a piece that appears in today's paper, be eloquently writes about what has been his craft for nearly a decade or so now, and why he feels it is time to move on to other assignments.

His essay reminds me of Russell Baker's self-penned sendoff to his work when he retired from the NYT in 1998. Mr. Baker wrote a thrice weekly Op-Ed column called 'The Observer.' Mr. Baker said he had spent many years creating a "ballet in a phone booth," his description of his work product, 750 words or so that fit into a designated space. And his column was a ballet.

Mr. Weber's prose compares. The subjects are the deceased, but when you analyze what's in an edition of the NYT over say a week, you realize that obituary writer's write a lot. Sometimes their byline will appear twice on the same day on the same page. And then will appear again a few days later. A beat reporter never gets that much exposure. The obit writers at the Times are basically an elite squad of writers,

Mr. Weber alludes to this in his piece when he acknowledges they are generally the oldest reporters on the staff. They've generally seen more of life because they've lived more of it in measured years, and therefore seem to be able to add the right perspective, and respect to the departed. Even if the deceased were a scoundrel, we at least get a notification that they own't be doing it anymore.

Mr. Weber notes that "journalism isn't supposed to be a personal service, but obituary writing, without compromising any professional integrity, can be."

And Bruce did a good job of it with his own style of carefully measured words that weren't flashy, but together gave us a full measure of the subject.

I've been a longtime reader of NYT obituaries and when Mr. Weber's byline first hit the pages I marveled (and still do) at he construction of the sendoff. The sentences could be long, and if diagrammed, would be a sturdy cantilevered construction of phrases and clauses that resembled the skeletal outline of the Tappan Zee bridge. The old one.

Perhaps ever since Marilyn Johnson's book about obituary writing, 'The Dead Beat' published in 2006, obituary writing has risen a bit in stature and come to be exposed to more people. More notable obituaries appear on the front page of the NYT now than ever before. A documentary film has been made 'Obit' about how the NYT writers go about putting the pieces together of what now will be the story of a departed life, As Mr. Weber comments, "an obituary is not about a death, but a life"

Although not mentioned in Mr. Weber's self-penned sendoff, he did play a corpse in a 2011 theater production of 'Play Dead' at the Players Theater. The pun-filled headline proclaimed that an obituary writer gets to think inside the box.

Mr. Weber reminds us that just because as of Friday he's an ex-obituary writer, that doesn't mean he's gone. He's already written two books, and is likely to write more. His health is not ailing, and his byline will appear on perhaps 40-50 obituaries of people he's already filed an advance obit for. The names of these people are not public knowledge, but I've been wondering who gets Doris Day?

I'm going to borrow shamelessly from Mr. Baker's own sendoff to say that Mr. Weber created a ballet of 750-800 words, or sometimes more, that didn't fit in a phone booth (what's that, anyway?) but did fit in a grave.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bombs Away

The other day I was in the city and started talking to the cab driver about the heat. How HOT is was all over the country, and how pleasant it was to be in an air-conditioned cab. The weather map for the whole country is showing red and orange, with tons of rain.

The conversation continued on a bit. He mentioned how hot it was in Phoenix. Since we live on a Mobius strip and all things dovetail, this allowed me the chance to once again tell my When-I-Was-In-Phoenix story. Not being famous, and not being on the radio or television has its advantages. I'm able to repeat the same story to anyone I feel I haven't told it to already. This can allow your material to stay alive for decades.

Since I'm seldom in a cab I was certain I hadn't told my Phoenix story to this particular cab driver. This allowed me to tell him that when I was in Phoenix one June on a business trip I saw a digital display on the roadway to the airport that said it was 115. I immediately took this to be the time of day and said to myself there was plenty of time to get to the airport. Only when we got closer to the digital display I noticed it changed to something like 1:01, the time of day.

What I hadn't noticed when I first saw 115 was the absence of a colon and the presence of a small circle where an exponent would go over the 5. Thus, it was 115 degrees. Fahrenheit, thankfully, I guess.

I also got to the another part of the Phoenix story where I mentioned a colleague who was talking a bit from one point to another in the city. Nothing too far. What New Yorkers do. A car pulled up alongside her not to harass her, but to genuinely ask her if her car had broken down somewhere. Did she need assistance? It seems no one really walks around Phoenix in the heat unless it is to get from one air-conditioned spot to another. The cab driver said it sounds like LA. All cars.

He then asked me if I had heard of "rain bombs?" I replied I hadn't. I keep an open mind, and since he wasn't telling me about UFOs or space aliens, I thought perhaps there is something to this. Perhaps it really isn't about something he saw on the front page of a tabloid while checking out at the supermarket.

He said a rain bomb was when it rained so hard and so fast, people drowned. Somewhat like turkeys straining their necks up to the sky and drowning in the rain, only with humans, they know enough not to try and swallow the stuff, but can't get away fast enough and they drown in the incredibly fast accumulation of water.

Yikes, no I really hadn't heard of rain bombs, but it got me to thinking about the ICD-10 mortality codes and did they develop one for get whacked by a rain bomb?  You might remember in a prior posting I pointed out the need for a code to cover death by a maliciously pulled kayak plug, leading to drowning.

Upon reaching home I checked out rain bombs on the Internet. Yes, there were rain bombs, and even video of rain bombs. There were lots of links to rain bomb episodes and data.

Since I'm sure The Weather Channel has been bringing us video of the intense rains I felt a little sorry that perhaps I had been too harsh on the channel when I advised someone who was about to retire to avoid ALL daytime television, even The Weather Channel. Turns out there might be some redeeming educational qualities to watching it. Oh well.

I shared my story with someone I know who works with ICD-10 codes and who is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They confirmed they had heard about rain bombs, and that right then it was raining so hard the rainfall was getting into the double digits. Their home was even becoming threatened with flooding.

A Johnny Cash song about a rising river might be nice to listen to, but it's not nice when the river is really rising and it's getting close to your back door.

And while none of this might sound all that interesting, it shows you that unless a cab driver is talking about aliens, Section 51, strawberry ice cream or UFOs, you should listen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cafe Nicholson

Over the years, can the same photograph accompany the obituaries of four different people in the NYT?

No, the people are not from a famous set of quadruplets, but three are from a pictured group of people enjoying what looks like a late lunch in the garden of Cafe Nicholson on West 58th Street in NYC in 1949. The diners, from left to right are: Tanaquil Le Clercq, Donald Windham, Buffie Johnson, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. Messrs. Windam and Vidal had the photo accompany their obituaries. Ms. Buffie Johnson hers.

As described in a blog posting many years ago, it is a "key race" photo, as much as for the artistic and literary careers of the diners, as for their longevity.

The same people, left to right, passed away at 71, 89, 94, 71, and 86. The photographer who took the picture, Karl Bissinger, was 94. The food must have conferred its own form of longevity.

And now we have an unseen member of the same crowd, the fourth person to have the same photo accompany their obituary, Johnny Nicholson, at whose restaurant the photo was taken, who has now passed away at 99. Perhaps he ate more of the food.

Mr. Nicholson was partners with the chef, Edna Lewis, who went on the become a major exponent of traditional Southern cooking and who authored many cookbooks. Mr. Bissinger was Mr. Nicholson's partner in an antique business.

The restaurant was a favorite amongst artists and celebrities, and survived until 1999, despite protracted closing spells caused by the owner's extensive travels.

To me, Mr. Nicholson is distinguished by the reason he was not accepted for military service in 1941. An Army psychiatrist recognized him as someone he treated at a children's psychiatric hospital for chronic, perhaps even epic truancy from school. Who knows how different Mr. Nicholson's life might have been if the Army doctor separated school truancy from punctuality in making the date for his pre-induction physical. It's the first I ever heard of a reason for being turned away from military service.

The server in the background of the picture is Virginia Reed, who I'm going to guess has also passed on. The chef, Edna Lewis, passed away at in 2006 at 89. She rated her own NYT obituary. Her life was no less interesting that that of her diners, being the granddaughter of a slave, an accomplished seamstress, cookbook author, chef, pheasant farm owner and spouse of a Communist retired merchant seaman.

You had to love the era.

A Double Billing

Perhaps it was inevitable in this tell everyone-everything-world that the girlfriend of a deceased would take out a paid death notice in a newspaper that would appear squarely below the notice created by the wife. Talk about a twin billing. This was guy who was truly loved.

The above comes to our attention not through one of the usual obituary tweeting suspects, but through Joe Drape, a sports reporter for the New York Times who retweeted a link to a story in nj,com that was in turn put out there on Twitter by @nydotcom. It's not really complicated. The guy is no less dead even if you don't understand how we came to know it.

We are notified of the passing of  Leroy Bill Black, or Leroy "Blast" Black first by his wife, who omits his nickname "Blast" and who does not acknowledge the girlfriend Princess Hall. The wife's notice lists herself, "loving wife Bearetta," as an immediate survivor, as well as a son Jazz. Additionally listed are two sons, Malcolm and Josiah Fitzpatrick. No prior marriage or relationship is mentioned that accounts for Malcolm and Josiah.

The second notice is brought to us by Princess Hall, his long-tome [sic] girlfriend. She acknowledges the son Jazz. The wife Bearetta is not mentioned, nor the two Fitzpatrick sons. Other details are virtually identical, with Princess Hall adding some employment background. Even the picture accompanying the notices is the same.

And it's the use of the same picture that adds another layer to Mr. Black's story. Could it be his wedding picture when he tied the knot with Bearetta? He looks to be wearing a white suit, with what looks like a carnation in the lapel. And he is certainly young enough in the picture for it to be a wedding photo.

That the girlfriend would use no other picture of him other than a wedding photo, somewhat diminishes the nickname "Blast" that she adds to his first and last names. We already get the feeling from the texts that Mr. Black might indeed have gone through life with a "Blast." It would be fun to see him smiling about it.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Daily Sports Fantasy Games

I have a friend who is a bachelor and is retired. This allows him ample time to devote his attention to whatever he wants because there is no one else around to distract him. No one to tell, or ask him to do anything.

And while to the untrained eye he appears to be doing absolutely nothing, he is in fact keeping tabs on the pulse of the American people. He simultaneously listens to all sorts of talk radio and watches all the news shows, cable and otherwise. His fingers work faster than a surgeon's with the remote.

A favorite object of his attention is "Mikey." To those of you who don't immediately know who this is, I'll fill you in. It's Mike Francesa on WFAN radio, which apparently you can also watch on a cable TV channel. Televised radio. What will they think of next?

To say Mikey is opinionated, rude, arrogant, gruff, impatient, wrong, seriously wrong, occasionally right, and narcissistic is probably leaving out 50 more adjectives you can use to describe him, mostly negative. But he is hugely popular, despite being the man you'd shudder to think of being stuck in an elevator with. In fact, from the little I know of Mikey, he's the man I'd least likely enjoy sharing an elevator ride with, even if we were only going up, or down, one floor.

Now you'll have to know a bit of the controversy surrounding Daily Fantasy Sports, online games of chance, or skill, where the players risk money to create mythical teams of players who are virtually competing against the other players who are creating their mythical teams of players. It's made for the smartphone Millennial generation, but has its origins in the Rotisserie League that was created decades ago by a group of literary men during their excessively long lunch hours, fueled by their interest in sports and aided with the intake of alcohol and some food.

Two companies were running these online gaming versions and were minting money. The fallout in the law came when it couldn't be decided if the activity could be considered an effort of skill, which would make the games exempt from gambling laws, or really were games of chance, which would place them under the umbrella of gambling legislation. (Why gambling itself can't be seen as an effort of skill is beyond me, but who am I?)

With semantics in play, the Daily Fantasy Sports games were shut down in New York earlier this year. Mikey was ecstatic. He expressed his opposition to them in no uncertain times whenever he could, and was at his height of rage as they were becoming part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They were a moral outrage to Mikey.

I'm going to borrow a line from someone who told me about the way someone he knew described angry basketball coaches.

New York's Governor Cuomo just the other day signed a bill that defined the the activity of playing Daily Fantasy Sports as being legal, no matter how you described it. DFS would start again in a few days, just in time for the the start of the football season.

Mikey became apoplectic. He was so beside himself that no crazier pair of individuals ever existed on the radio.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Tense Summer Wears on Merkel

She's back in the news, and I'm thinking she's holding the lead over Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May for the title of most photographed woman with clothes on. But Angela has problems due to her open-door immigration policy, and the German population is taking it out on her popularity. She's down a good number of percentage points.

The print edition of today's WSJ shows a very mystical photo of the chancellor from the chin up, with her eyes closed. She's almost Buddha looking. In fact, since the photo is so tightly cropped around her face we really can't tell if she's still the most photographed woman with clothes on, because frankly, from the vantage point of the shot, you can't tell if she's got any clothes on. We'll assume she does, however.

The online edition carries the above photo, a good deal more flattering, and shows us the Angela that we know, decked out in her suit jacket, in this case, a nice shade of blue.

Gee, her eyes look blue too. Nice.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Hedge

A positively futuristic take on what may present itself as the future of horse race betting, and perhaps all betting in general, is presented in a story by Joe Drape in this past Saturday's NYT: 'High-Tech Wagering Finds Gateway Into U.S.'

In some respects, the future is already being seen if you live in New Jersey, where, through, you can select and bet on horses in races to win, but also perhaps NOT to win; you can also bet in the middle of a race, each time receiving real-time odds through something called Exchange Wagering.

The high-tech wagering system is intended to attract the so-called Millennial generation who are glued to their smartphones. The advertising tagline is: "Smart is the New Lucky." So, instead of holding up all those phones to take American Pharoah's picture as he crosses the finish line as he's winning the 2015 Belmont Stakes and also the first Triple Crown in 37 years, how about pressing the app button and start pumping in some wagers that he will, or won't do it, or, as he's at the to top the stretch and still got the lead, bet the house he's going to it--or maybe not.

A good deal remains to be understood about this type of wagering. Mr. Drape in his example gives us the example of Nyquist being quoted in Ireland at odds of 6-5 to win the Haskell. You either take him at those fixed odds, or you don't bet him. (Of course, this is all before we know Exaggerator won the race and Nyquist finished fourth. It is Joe's example before the Haskell.)

In the United States, where we have pari-mutuel wagering, Nyquist's odds will drift up or down depending on how much money people have bet on him in relation to the other horses in the race. The more money that flows toward Nyquist, the shorter his odds become, because the losers in the pool pay off the winner. And as that supply of money relatively diminishes against the volume going for Nyquist, there is less money per winning bet to payoff the Nyquist backers, should he of course win. (In pari-mutuel wagering, the odds are not really probability quotes whatsoever, but rather payoff approximations should the bet turn into a winning one.)

On a Betfair Exchange, Mr. Drape explains, a wager can be created by a bettor. From what I can gather from their website, in blue and pink colors, you get odds on the horse to win, but also odds on NOT winning.

So, you might get 4-1 odds on Nyquist not winning. Bet $2, on this, and if he doesn't win, you get a $10 payout. Not described in the story is the commission Betfair extracts on the profit. Their website doesn't lay out this percentage, but rest assured, someone will tell you what it is. No commission on losing bets. Their heart is with you.

But if that's not radical enough for you, here's the 'Wolf of Wall Street' part that is intended to appeal to tech-savvy Millennials--you can hedge your bet while the race is being run, up to say the point they reach the top of the stretch, I think.

You can back out of your Nyquist bet if it looks like he's not going to win, if you did bet on him to win. Or, back out of your bet for him to lose if it now looks to you like he's going to win. Hedging is tricky stuff. The smartphone appeal will only be successful if it reaches Millennials who are very good at math and can calculate odds and payouts in their head. Quickly. This might diminish the marketing pool a great deal.

But how exciting would it be if while watching Saturday's Jim Dandy you got the solid feeling that Laoban is not going to throw in the towel after leading up to the stretch and you got some form of odds on his now winning, and you didn't drop your phone with excitement and were able to find the right icon to press and were able to lock in a new wager. But would it be better than the 27-1 when the race started? Hardly. But you could at least become somewhat rewarded for becoming a late believer.

There can be a new world out there.

In my early years of learning about betting, perhaps nearly 50 years ago after absorbing a book by Tom Ainslie, I learned of a technique called "Dutching." This was described as betting on nearly every horse in the race, or every horse if you could calculate that fast, with varying amounts of win bets on each horse. A $50 win bet on the favorite, who for example might be going off at 1-1, say, with $15 win bet on the 5-1 shot.

We'll stick with a two horse example for illustration. It can get very hairy with a more natural-sized field and the vagaries of pari-mutuel odds that are still flipping around after the bell goes off and you can't get a wager in. (Shouldn't be happening, but it still is.) Successful "Dutching" really requires you to know the final odds. Hardly easy.

With a $65 total bet, you'll get back $100 if your even money shot wins; $35 profit. Nice work if you can get it. If your even money shot loses, and your 5-1 shot comes in with $15 bet on it, you'll get $90 back for the $65 you laid out, a $25 profit. But you didn't get burned as you would if your even money shot faltered and that was the only bet you made, the $50 to win. You "saved" your bet. You hedged.

Since according to folklore Dutchmen were considered cheap, as in not liking to lose (who does?), the technique came to be known as "Dutching."

In our salad days, my friend and I were mentored by a fellow who did his own quick version of "Dutching." He would sometimes bet three horses to win in the race (these were days when the most exotic wager was the Daily Double), each with varying amounts to win. It was always hard to get a straight answer when the race was over if he actually came out ahead financially, but once exactas came into existence our friend Les developed a far different form of hedging.

The best we can guess is that Les has long passed away. We don't think he lived long enough to see Pick Sixes and other multi-leg race bets. The dead can rest in peace.