Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro

One of the enduring pieces of trivia that I've wheeled out over the years is that I remember when Fidel Castro's son attended P.S. 20 in Queens, about three-quarters of a mile down the block from my elementary school, P.S. 20. Both schools were, and still are, on Sanford Avenue in Flushing. Several people have already shared their memories of this, even before today's passing of Fidel. Any decent search engine will get you there.

It was 1959, and Castro was being courted by the United States as a favorite son. A year later, before speaking at the U.N., Castro introduced his comic self by throwing chicken bones out of the window of the Hotel Theresa in Harlem at reporters. Ah, that Fidel.

Many, many years ago the advertising executive Jerry Della Femina, suggested at a meeting that a tag line for the new client, a Japanese electronics company called Sony, could be: "From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor." It later became the title of a book by Mr. Della Femina.

It didn't take Castro long to go from a U.S. darling to an international pariah. By 1962, Castro, with his friendship with Russia and the accommodation of Russian missiles planted in Cuban and pointed at the United States, could easily be called: "That wonderful man who helped give us the Cuban Missile Crisis."

But live to be 90 and never really be replaced as the leader of a country for over half a century, and people will say what the old saying says: "politicians, public buildings and whores all gain respectability if they last long enough."

Friday, November 25, 2016

It's the Pearls

It is getting close to turning into a runaway.

On the far turn, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May has moved alongside Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and is starting to create separation from her rival for the title of the World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.

It might be the pearls. They create the Donna Reed effect. Males don't feel threatened if everyone's favorite mom (at least in the 50s) is seen leaving 10 Downing Street on her way to the weekly prime minister's question session with members of Parliament looking positively smashing.

The red coat is of course a natural choice. The British were once an army of "Redcoats." If the accompanying picture were more widely circulated here in the States, the Burlington Coat Factory would surely sell out of red coats on Black Friday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First, You Start With One of Each...

Brooklyn Woman Convicted of Cruelty to 100 Rabbits

So goes a story's headline in today's NYT. This is one of those stories that follows the timeline from the arrest to the trial, and that will eventually lead to the sentencing, and then possible appeal.

"A Brooklyn woman charged with abusing the residents of her sprawling rabbit colony was convicted on Monday of 100 counts of animal cruelty, one for each rabbit..."

The story is a doozy, complete with a byline by the court reporter Andy Newman, and a photo of the convicted woman, Dorota Trec.

"The six-person jury acquitted Ms. Trec of 25 of the cruelty counts. But over and over, the forewoman read 'guilty' as she was asked about each charge in the Criminal Court in Brooklyn." The reading of the verdicts took a half-hour. Talk about cruelty.

"Ms. Trec, who acted as her own lawyer and has filed a $2.8 billion civil suit alleging that her rabbits were wrongfully seized, vowed to fight on. 'I think this is all injustice,' she said. 'There's so many reasons to appeal.'"

How many reasons to appeal there will be by the time one is filed is anyone's guess.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Well-Turned Phrase

I love a well-turned phrase.  So much so that years ago I started to collect them into what was going to be what I learned was called a 'Common Place' book. I still have a collection of phrases I keep on a thumb drive, but the reality is no one is really interested in them other than myself. I took instead to posting blog entries when someone suggested I start to do so. I've always thanked them for that advice.

I am now in my eighth year of posting entries, but I do still collect phrases I've read that I like. Very often these phrases, quotes, are found in obituaries. Sometimes in just general news articles.

Recently, I realized my way for preserving these phrases for myself would be to occasionally compile them is a blog posting. So, here is a posting that plops down a few of these favorite phrases, while providing a little background context.

These are from the WSJ's 'Mansion' section. Within that section there is always a  small piece from someone who has achieved a bit of notoriety, talking about where they grew up and where they now live. There probably aren't many of us who now live exactly where they grew up.

Chazz Palminteri is one of my favorite actors. The scene in 'Analyze This' where he puts the phone down and declares that he's going to get to the bottom of the definition of that word 'closure' is as good as anything Bogart mumbled while having had way too much to drink in a gin joint in North Africa. His gin joint.

I remember when Chazz was on 'Regis with Katy Lee' many, many years ago and he mentioned how he met his wife. He described seeing this beautiful creature go into a Catholic church. Being raised Catholic, he respected the sanctity of the church, and waited until she re-emerged on the sidewalk before he started to chat her up. Hit on her, I guess.

It worked, because they now seem to be married quite a long time, have two children, and live in what is described as a big house north of New York City. I'm going to take that to mean he lives in Westchester.

The opening paragraph is a beaut:

Only the wiseguys had money when I was a kid. I grew up in the Belmont section of the Bronx, a great Italian neighborhood. Most parents there didn't have much. They worked hard to make a better life for their families. For me and my friends, it was paradise. I saw a guy kill a man when I was 9. Other than that, we had fun.

Life can hold some life-defining moments. This certainly was one for Chazz.

Further on, Chazz mentions his mother and father. His mother is still alive at 97.

My father was handsome guy. He grew up in Brooklyn and fell in love with my mother, Rose, at a Manhattan dance. They were only with each other their whole lives.

Don't know how long forever is? That's how long it is.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Style Points Piling Up

In the competition for World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is showing how to move up, and possibly forge ahead in the standings for good: show some skin.

Looking nearly naughty in a sleeveless red dress, Ms. May is seen addressing a gathering in London this past Monday at the Annual Lord Mayor's Banquet. The style points are piling up, especially when you compare the WSJ's front page photo of Germany's Angela Merkel matching strides with President Obama on the red carpet at Berlin's Chancellery as the U.S. president makes a farewell tour overseas.

Chancellor Merkel is only caught from the side, tromping somewhat heavy-footed on the red carpet, looking as if it will be her job to roll it up after the ceremony and lock it away for another day.

Say this about the Brits. You have to acknowledge they are in this race, with a prime minister who can throw off a simply saucy look in a sleeveless dress that reveals no tattoos on her biceps.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

10 Downing Street

The competition for the World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On continues.

Proof of how serious the two contenders, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May are taking the competition, is seen in none other than the above photo.

Not to be seen in fluffy slippers or a tea-stained bathrobe, Britain's Theresa May opens the door at her residence, 10 Downing Street, fully attired and looking absolutely her best as she tries to see who just knocked at her door and ran away before she could buy come chocolate Cadbury bars.

Since the transaction didn't get consummated, we will never know if the price of the chocolate was going to be quoted in Euros or Pound Sterling. Nevertheless, Prime Minister May scores major style points with the pearls.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New York Times Reporting

Saturday, November 12 was a high-water mark day for New York Times reporting. Five bylined, "tribute" obituaries spread over three pages from three obituary writers. A double from the legendary Robert McFadden, another double from the new-to-page but otherwise hardly new, Sam Roberts, and one from Leslie Kaufman. The third page of the obits had color photos. It is hard to get better than that.

Within all five pieces there are nuggets of information that my guess is will form the basis for 'Jeopardy' answer/questions of the future.

Take the first obituary for Charles Wolf Jr. who passed away at 92. Mr. Wolf was a founding dean of the RAND Corporation's graduate school. The obit writer Sam Roberts explains that RAND stands for research and development. All these years I've heard of the RAND Corporation, but never gave much thought as to what the acronym stood for. Now I know.

There's more, a lot more, principally Mr. Wolf's clash with Daniel Ellsberg and the role Mr. Ellesberg played in making the Pentagon Pagers public, a 47-volume Defense Department history of American involvement in Vietnam, available to the New York Times. WikiLeaks did not spring the first leak.

From that page we move to the right where two obituaries basically fill the entire page. Robert Vaughn, the cleft-chinned star of 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has passed away at 83. The obit writer Leslie Kaufman gives us half a page and six columns on Mr. Vaughn's travels through life.

'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' was one of my favorite shows as a kid in high school, and to me was so believable that I argued that there really was an U.N.C.L.E. organization. I based my certainty on the fact that at the end of each show there was a scroll where the producers thanked the U.N.C.L.E. organization for their assistance in making the show. Then, like now, you just can't believe everything you read. I can still feel my scarlet-faced embarrassment when I was laughed at by less gullible classmates.

And what did U.N.C.L.E. stand for, that CIA-like organization that was constantly battling that other acronym T.H.R.U.S.H., that KGB-like organization. Hey, it was early to mid-60s and there was a Cold War going on. It already was the decade of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy. No shortage of conspiracy theories, then and now.

Before reading the obituary I couldn't tell you what U.N.C.L.E. stood for, or that there was even an antagonist group named T.H.R.U.S.H. I wonder if 'Jeopardy' champion Ken Jennings would have known. Or IBM's electronic brain, Watson.

U.N.C.L.E. United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. T.H.R.U.S.H. Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. T.H.R.U.S.H. were bad people. All I can say is if you knew what T.H.R.U.S.H stood for before reading the obituary, you really paid attention to 60s television, and have lived to tell about it.

Moving down from Robert Vaughn, we are treated to the story of Rosamond Bernier, an elegant art insider who gave fabulously well-attended lectures on the subject of art, who passed away at 100.

We're in writer Robert McFadden's range now, a subject who has passed away at the century mark.This one has to be coming from The Morgue. But what few people might realize, Mr. McFadden has hardly shuffled off himself. He's still on staff and available for duty.

I don't usually read about people like Rosamond. People connected with the arts, but not artists themselves, can be subjects I bypass, especially on a five obit day. But this one's written by McFadden, who I love to read and who never disappoints.

By all accounts. a lecture by Ms. Bernier was an informative and memorable event. Consider a McFadden description: "her voice was a modulated flute of cultured accents, and her talk was brisk and conversational, given without notes as she moved fluidly over the stage for all the world like Rosalind Russell..."

Mr. McFadden goes on. He clearly was in attendance for at least one for Ms. Bernier's shows. I'm not sorry I missed them, but I am glad I got to read about them.

We;re moving to the back page now of the 'B' section, where for some reason color sneaks in. Usually, when the subject is 98 they have been out of the public eye so long that the only photos available are black and white. Not so for Aileen Mehle, a grand dame of gossip who was plying her trade at the highest level in New York Society until 2005, when she was 87.

Never heard of Aileen Mehle? Well, maybe you heard of Suzy, or Suzy Knickerbocker. Assuredly you've looked at some pictures of well-dressed gentleman and well-dressed ladies at some affair or another, smiling into the camera, with their names in the caption portion, all surrounding some of her short, descriptive text.

Mr. Roberts informs us of Aileen's life and life as Suzy. She was only married twice, probably putting her well below the median number of marriages of the people she hob-nobbed with so often that at her height she was filing six columns a week.

Her column marched through New York newspapers like a conquering general. First in The Mirror, then the Journal-American, The Daily News, The New York Post, and finally Women's Wear Daily.

The two color photos are a nice touch. One shows Suzy by herself lifting a glass of champagne at an unnamed party, amidst balloons, streamers and confetti. It would be easy to assume this was a New Year's Eve party, but my guess is a good deal of the parties in New York can resemble New Year's Eve.

The other shows her in what what looks to me to be a Scarlet O'Hara blue dress, standing next to Paloma Picasso in a matador jacket, along with a dashing tuxedoed Rafael Lopez Sanchez. His name rings no bells, and he might have been Paloma's "plus-one."

Blaine Trump, president-elect Donald J. Trump's former sister-in-law, proclaimed "glamour was Suzy's occupation. She was the social history of her era." You wonder if someone will toast her at the next gathering.

And finally, filling out the bottom half of the back page is an obituary by Mr. McFadden for someone relatively young, Clarence M. Ditlow III, 72, an auto safety executive whose name is likely familiar to only a few, but who championed safety features and recalls with such effect that Ralph Nader called him "the nightmare of the misbehaving auto industry and the dream of the safety-conscious motorist."

Mr. Nader was Mr. Ditlow's mentor, and saw him become the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety for 40 years. The color photo shows an undated image of Mr. Ditlow in an almost Mount Rushmore pose standing in front of a highway safety sign. The message is clear: Don't mess with Clarence.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The More Things Change...

There is nothing new about planes having trouble landing and taking off at LaGuardia Airport. Just a week or so ago the plane carrying vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence and a collection of reporters skidded off the runway as it was trying to land during a terrific rain storm. No one was hurt.

My Saratoga betting mate still lives in Flushing and frequents Leiser's liquor store for his selection of wines. Leiser's itself is a bit of an institution, being at the same location at Sanford Avenue and 162nd Street for decades. The store has grown in size over the years. My wife still makes pilgrimages to Leiser's to load up on her supply of the nectar of the gods, because somewhat like the old Crazy Eddie's, their prices are insanely good.

Checkout at Leiser's is quick, and they safely package the precious bottles with pieces of cardboard and newspaper. You're good to go when you leave there.

One of the bottles my friend brought over for dinner still had some of the packing Leiser's used, in this case pages from the Queens Examiner, a free weekly newspaper that reports on all things local. Apparently, one of their features is one of those look-back-on-this-day columns titled 'Back in The Day.' Reprints of front pages from what was one of the many newspapers that served New York City 'back in the day,' the Long Island Star Journal. This was an eight column broadsheet that covered all things Queens and New York City in general. Pictures of newborn babies was a feature. I was in there.

The paper was a household fixture. Like most people, we had it delivered by a kid on a bike with a canvas bag between his handlebars. His tosses usually made the front steps.

So along with the bottle of Bogle that made it into the house were also two reprint pages of the Long
Island Star Journal featured in the 'Back In The Day' section of the Queens Examiner.

Both pages were from before I was born, but the format of the paper brings back memories. One page from May 14, 1940 headlined "Plane 'Crashes' At North Beach; Mayor Misses His Breakfast"

North Beach was the area in Queens adjacent to Astoria that was a beach, and later the location of what became LaGuardia Airport. My father would tell of going to North Beach as a kid via the Second Avenue El that used the Queensboro Bridge to get to the terminus in Astoria, next to North Beach. In those days you could go in the water, which was really the East River, without contracting a disease.

Turns out an American Airlines transport place carrying 9 passengers skidded on the runway while landing when its landing gear collapsed. "As the landing gear collapsed, the transport slid along on its fuselage, tearing up the sod for more than 100 feet." Imagine that, the runway was packed dirt. No one was hurt, but it seems the passengers were in a lather to get their luggage.

As was Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's habit, be arrived at fires and emergencies with regularity. There is a famous photo of him being driven to the scene of something in a motorcycle sidecar. He tended to take charge at these scenes, and the article reports that La Guardia worked off his impatience by "playing redcap for three passengers who insisted they wanted their luggage immediately." One wonders if a tip might have been construed as bribe. I'm sure La Guardia would have refused a gratuity.

The second reprint, dated June 5, 1941 headlines a bus accident when a Fifth Avenue Coach double- decker bus swerved to avoid an auto and crashed into a pillar of the Flushing 'L' on Roosevelt Avenue. I never knew double-decker buses came into Queens. I do remember the Fifth Avenue Coach bus company. The bus driver was killed, and 36 people were hurt. And as was the journalistic custom of the time, their names and home address are listed below the photo of the wreckage.

As noteworthy as the accident surely was, there is a smaller story underneath that tells of  'Kidnapers To Get 20-Year Sentence.'

Talk about 'The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.' It seems two "Brooklyn hoodlums who kidnaped  Charles Giangarra, an Astoria olive oil dealer and demanded a $10,000 ransom from his family" were caught when neighbors responded to the loudness of their arguing with each other in an apartment in Brooklyn where they were holding Mr. Giangarra, and broke in. The jig was up at that point.

Apparently "the jury deliberated only four hours and 10 minutes--with an hour for supper--when they returned their guilty verdict to County Judge Charles S. Colden in Long island City." As the verdict was read, the two defendants "took the verdict calmly, as did their relatives in the courtroom, although some of their womenfolk sobbed quietly."

Those emotional womenfolk. At least they didn't make a big scene.