Saturday, November 18, 2017

Power of the Press

There are three photos that accompany today's print NYT story on Bo Dietl, the former NYC detective, head of his own security firm, and radio personality who recently finished 6th out of 7 candidates in the recent mayoral race, won by an acknowledged nemesis, Bill de Blasio, the incumbent. Bo didn't even get close enough to demand a recount if he were to win.

The story courts Bo in his element: his Thursday table at Rao's, that Uptown, East Harlem Italian eatery that is still just as hard to get a table at, despite the recent passing of its co-owner, Frank Pellegrino, famously known as 'Frankie No,' "no" being his legendary and consistent response to anyone who called for reservations.  The place is always packed enough. Who needs people you don't know?

I've never been to Rao's. The closest I've ever come is to be on either the northbound or southbound lanes of the FDR Drive, crawling by its 114th Street crossstreet, or having an Italian meal at my daughter's who buys Rao's sauce. The sauce is good.

"Keep my name out of the paper." The ultimate powerful person. One who can be seen, even photographed, but one who you don't know the name of. There are a lot of people whose names you will never know.

There is one caption accompanying the three pictures in today's print version of the paper. All three have Bo Dietl in them, and he is easily identified. You don't get to run for mayor by being an anonymous phone bidder calling Christie's in an attempt to latch onto a Leonardo.

The top left photo in the print edition identifies the woman who we see from the back and who is seen touching Bo's back. The photo to the right, while not identified, is easily Bo, sitting outside making a cell phone call. The third, and by far the largest of the photos, (seen above) shows a head-on shot of Bo at his table for 10 by the door (table #1), lending a cocked ear to a
60-ish, well dressed gentleman who is standing, leaning in, touching the table with his left hand and making a quiet point with his right hand while making some sort of conversation. The man is not identified, but he bears a striking resemblance to the actor Joe Viterelli (now deceased) who played Jelly in many a De Niro mob-themed movie.

The conversation easily doesn't have to be conspiratorial. He could be reminding Bo that he knew Joe Girardi would not be coming back as the skipper for the Yankees next season. It might also be about something else. Only a very few know.

A now deceased NYC political reporter, Milton Lewis, would tell of purported lobbyists, or advertised "fixers" who promised their clients they could talk to the mayor about something on their behalf and the mayor would listen and say, "yes."

When City Hall was more accessible, these "lobbyists" would bring their client with them into the rotunda area of City Hall, and when the mayor was spotted they would rush over to him and ask if he thought the Yankees were going to win the pennant this year. This was the era when the Yankees always won the pennant, so the mayor was always shaking his head yes. There are lots of ways to make money in this world, and being a "lobbyist" has always been one of them.

But who is the guy in the picture with Bo? There are things no one needs to know. Life will go on.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Coin Collector

As a lad, my go-to spot in Gimbel's department store, when it was on 33rd Street, opposite Saks of 34th Street in NYC, was the ground floor section where stamps and coins were sold. Yes, imagine a department store that engaged in the business of stamps and coins, in an earlier time one of America's favorite hobbies.

My memories of my early pursuits of coin and stamp collecting came back to me when I read Robert McFadden's NYT obituary on Eric Newman, apparently one of this country's greatest coin collectors, who just passed away at 106. Mr. Newman rated 6 columns in today's paper. He was obviously truly a legend, and someone I never heard of.

My own stamp collecting started when I guess my father gave me a small canvas sack that held what was being marketed in the 1950s as something containing 100 stamps from all over the world. The sack was a $1.00, and I think its top was secured with a tiny padlock, as if treasure was inside. The treasure was the stamps. The cancelled stamps were cut off from envelopes, worth at the time I'm sure next to nothing, but were exotic because of all the countries they came from. Helvetia was Switzerland. An atlas in a sack.

(I remember people in our mail room in the late 1960s who always cut off the stamps from incoming foreign mail. People collected stamps.)

I always loved maps and atlases, and the stamps sent me scouring the family atlas for the location of the countries. My father was a cartographer during WW II in Guam, and there were always maps in the house. I still love maps.

This sack of international stamps set me on a course of collecting stamps, basically United States stamps. I tried to fill in the blanks in my Scott Stamp and Coin album by visits to their location at
1 West 47th Street, and to Dumont Stamp and Coin close by. I expanded my collection of collecting single stamps to acquiring plate blocks, sheets, and first day covers. Lots of first day covers. Trips to Gimbel's expanded that collection. They always had first days on great, almost engraved envelopes, that depicted the history of the commemorative event the stamp was being issued for. These envelopes were much nicer than the plain Woolworth ones I had sent to myself at the flower shop, 206 Third Avenue, New York 3, New York. No zip codes then.

There was a fellow at he Cooper Union Post Office my father knew whose window I could always go to get plate blocks of the latest commemorative stamp. He never charged me. Eventually he lost his job though. I guess they found him short once too often.

Stamp collecting was big then. There was an annual stamp show held over a few days at the 71st Regiment Armory on 34th Street. The armory is long gone, being demolished for an office building and high school at 3 Park Avenue. The company I worked for once had office space in the building.

There were also a few places to buy stamps as collectibles. One place I never went into, but constantly passed, was located in the passageway between the 34th Street PATH trains and Penn Station, The passageway was a dank, nearly dark, subterranean underground alley that passed by the basement section of Gimbels's (no entrance ) and a few stores. One of the stores was a dusty looking office space with a door of glass reinforced with chicken wire, like the that found in schools, and gold leaf lettering that may have said something like Penn Stamp and Coin.

When my father and I used to use the passageway for a late evening connection from the subway to a LIRR train to Murray Hill/Flushing, we always passed the storefront. The place was never open at the time, and I never  thought to go back at an earlier time to see what I might find. The passageway has long since been closed, but effective use of did enable you to use it, Penn Station and the Path train station that would allow you continuous underground passage from 31st Street and 8th Avenue, to something like 36th Street and 6th Avenue. It was almost like going through a mine. You had to know about it. And we wern't the only people who did.

I still have the stamp collection, although I think I stopped adding to it even before I graduated high school, and that was over 50 years ago. Its value would be negligible, I think. The first day covers might be worth something. Someone once told me it's for the grandchildren. Well, I have those now.

I do not still have my coin collection. That was purloined by my father who pulled it out of its hiding place in the back of my closet and sold it, I assume, or stupidly just pulled the coins out for their face value. I never really knew. It was quite a while before I realized the collection was missing, and when I asked my father about it he claimed my older cousin had gotten into the house and must have made off with it. I never believed him.

I once had the collection in a safe deposit box in a bank near the flower shop, but because I was  a minor I needed an adult to accompany me to retrieve it. By great-uncle at the flower shop did this with for me.

But, at the urging of my father, who claimed it was an imposition on my uncle to leave the shop and walk two blocks with me, he suggested I just pull the collection out of the safe deposit box. I don't remember how soon after that the collection went missing.

In that era of coin collecting you would get these blue Whitman binders with round holes for the various denominations that you would press the coin into with the matching year and mint mark.
I was extremely proud that I managed to fill the Whitman book of George Washington quarters, starting in 1932, just by scouring the coins from the flower shop, and from my trips to banks to exchange $10 bills for rolls for quarters. None of my coins were in particularly great shape, and certainly not proof, or uncirculated condition, but I did fill up the folders. I did have some proof sets.

I kept the duplicates in plastic tubes. In the 50s and 60s you could still see Standing Liberty quarters--always greatly worn--and Mercury, Lady Liberty dimes and Indian Head nickels in general circulation. Indian Head pennies were never seen in circulation. I had to buy a roll of them from some other kid. Franklin half dollars were in circulation, and sometimes you could get a Walking Liberty half, but only rarely. Silver dollars were never seen, but I always heard of the stories of the people who would make a special trip to Vegas just to see if they could get a rare one from a slot machine. (As if the people in the money room were going to let a rare one pass.)

I rarely bought coins. I always tried to get the ones I needed to fill the blanks in the folders form general circulation. I still remember a coin store on 23rd Street, down a few steps, between 5th and 6th Avenues, south side, that my friends and I went into to inquire about hard to get Lincoln pennies, generally the D and S mint marks for certain years. The 1909-S VDB were always out of our price range.

I remember the guy trying to con us by overstating the condition of the offerings, but we knew more than he thought we knew. We were never "taken."

In all those years of my coin collecting I never realized that they started issuing Lincoln pennies in 1909 to mark the 100th year of his birth. And thinking of Lincoln, I always remember Pete's Tavern on 18th Street having a newspaper copy pasted in the window whose headline screamed LINCOLN ASSASSINATED. That was removed long ago.

Somewhat like Mr. Newman, the subject of today's obituary, I did get interested in paper currency. My first paper currency purchase, and perhaps my only one, was at Gimbel's when for 90 cents I was able to buy a $1 train ticket that looked like an engraved stock certificate from some long ago defunct railroad that was in pristine condition in a plastic folder. I never forgot the salesman telling me of the great bargain I was getting in that I was able to buy something that once went for a dollar, for now under a dollar. I agreed with him.

The online version of  Mr. Newman's obituary offers you more photos, and color photos of some of the coins in his collection. I also did start to buy the really older coins, the ones from the 1800s. Half pennies, three cent pieces, like the one pictured above. Just a sampling from what were then common years and not really expensive then, Never in pristine condition.

My father never owned up to taking the coin collection, and we eventually became somewhat estranged, even though we saw each other often enough. I used to think I would make him make a death bed confession that he took the coins. When that time came in 1987, I never thought about making any effort to force "closure." What's done is done.

But I never shed a tear at his passing, and I still haven't.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Family Planning

My Bronx-born Irish-American wife immediately knew what the advertisement was offering. As for myself, I knew what was being offered, I just thought perhaps some added punctuation would have helped clarify the exact details of the offering.

In yesterday's and today's New York Times, under the In Memoriam section on the obituary page, there was an ad for a cemetery plot for sale. This kind of ad is not unheard of, it's just that I'm not sure I ever remember seeing one in the NYT. If I have, it's been a real long time since the last one.

   Bronx, NY, 1 Hillside Plot for
   2 Double Decker, 1 Opening
        For Sale at 2008 prices.
      Historic Landmark Scenic
 Landscape, Call...   

I was confused. 2 Double Decker is taken to mean stacked one on top of another. Thoroughly possible to save land, and when the water table isn't too high, this is done. 2 Double Decker was not distinct enough, at least not to me. Are 2 Double Decker spots for sale? And 1 opening? This means there's one available spot open, that someone's family plot didn't quite fill up, perhaps due to a cremation, and someone can get in with strangers? Okay, you don't get to pick your relatives, but going on top of someone who is a stranger? Just so on the odd chance that someone you know is coming to pay their respects after the burial can be treated to a "scenic landscape in a historic landmark?"

"No. Don't you understand?" my wife said when I read it to her. And now that I think of it, perhaps because I did read it to her that she understood it better than I did, and right away.

"One plot for 2, in a double-decker arrangement, as opposed to a side-by-side arrangement like our plot, with one opening. Our plot, since it is a side-by-side, means that there are two top openings." Get it? That one for sale has only one top opening" Well, yes, when you put it like that.

My confusion probably stems from my family's history. When my grandfather passed away in 1956, the four sons and my grandmother planned ahead and bought a plot in Maspeth's Mt. Olivet cemetery that could sleep 12.

Maspeth is a section of Queens dotted with cemeteries. There are views of Manhattan from there. Mt. Olivet is a non-denominational cemetery, meaning the Jews and Catholics have their cemeteries, and the non-denominationals are for everyone else. This might be where I developed my theory that to be anyone of any accomplishment and success in New York City you had to be either Jewish or Catholic. I mean, they had their own cemeteries, right? There are lots of Greeks and others in Mt. Olivet. No O'Reillys or Feinbergs.

As for the plot the family purchased sleeping 12, this was accomplished by a four across, three-deep arrangement. Four times three is twelve.

Since there was one set of grandparents, and four sons and their wives, and two bachelor uncles--one my grandmother's brother, and one my grandfather's brother--the need was for 12. If there's one thing Greeks can do, it is count. They are great with money. Try and pull a fast one at a diner next time and tell me how far you get.

The planning was sound. There is one huge headstone with the family surname on it, despite my grandmother's brother's surname being her maiden name. Footstones mark where the family members are buried. Or, at least where some of the family members are buried. They're there. but just in unmarked graves.

The current population, that I know of, has 9 people in it. I say "that I know of" because members of my family don't tell the living others when someone has died. At least not always. Thus, I can account for 9 members. There is one brother's wife who may have passed away and I don't know it, or, she might have been buried elsewhere where an adopted son placed her. I don't know, despite my living in the same house, with the same phone number for 25 years now.

One brother and wife wife, both passed away, are definitely not there. He is in Arlington, Virginia, a decorated, WW II career naval officer, and his second wife who recently passed away, who is probably buried in Greece, likely with her family. They were still married when he passed away, but the disparity in their ages and birth countries may have had a hand in separating their resting places in death.

This of course is my theory, since no one really told me what arrangements they made for my uncle's wife.

Thus, the known population is 9, but there are only footstones telling you the names of 4. The bachelor uncles have no billing, and one of the brothers and his wife, that I know of, have no marker.  Significantly, my grandmother has no billing either. Only my parents, one of the brothers, and my grandfather are noted with markers.

The one brother whose wife may or may not be there, at least has a dual marker that has his wife's name on it, with a birth year on it. Overall, the place is the plot of the unknown Greeks.

Perhaps ironically, my wife and I today were going to go to the cemetery, not really because today, Veteran's Day, is my mother's 99th birthday, but because the cemetary's office would be open and I'd be able to try and inquire who is actually in the plot right now. Mt. Olivet doesn't answer their mail. Something came up and prevented us from going today, but it will be much sooner than later when we do go.

My wonder extends to seeing if one of the brother's wives made it in, and if a divorced first cousin, who I signed a form for 30 years ago so she could be buried with her Mom and Dad, finally shuffled off.

A simple visit to the plot does not tell you everyone who is there. It never has.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Disappearing Apostrophe

How do you pronounce an apostrophe anyway?

Sarah Lyall in her latest piece for the NYT almost poses that question. Her latest story is about the new Little Caesars Pizza arena in Detroit, home to the N.B.A. Pistons and the N.H.L. Red Wings.

Ms. Lyall correctly notes there is a missing apostrophe after the r and before the s in Little Caesars. A pesky English teacher, especially at an expensive school, would have your backpack in a shredder if you didn't know enough to write it as 'Little Caesar's Arena.' A less incensed teacher would probably not care.

Of course, any English teacher I had predated backpacks so their frustration at your not knowing where to put the elevated comma might involve slamming the chalk down on the tray of what was truly a blackboard. Black slate. White chalk. Mad teacher.

Go ahead, say 'Little Caesars Arena.' Did the missing apostrophe create a different pronunciation? Of course not.

Lynne Truss in her tongue-in-cheek primer on grammar and punctuation, 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves,' takes us on a journey through the minefield of punctuation. Fittingly, she dedicated her book 'to the memory of the striking Bolshevik printers of St Petersburg who, in 1905, demanded to be paid the same rate for punctuation marks as for letters, and thereby directly precipitated the first Russian Revolution."

(Since I doubt there are mistakes in Ms. Truss's book, I'm sure her omission of the period after St is not accidental. She's testing us.)

And since the apostrophe might be the most troubling of punctuation marks, Simon Griffin wrote a book titled with what Richard Burton called the greatest Anglo-Saxon word in the English language, 'Fucking Apostrophes.' And they are.

The elevated comma has been causing havoc ever since it first appeared in the 16th century to indicate omitted text. Its first purpose. More of course was put on its back, until it now scares you into indecision as to when you use it and where do you place it when there is a possessive noun, and worse, a plural possessive? Give me a beak. And if there a word ending in one can live under that much pressure.

If horse racing's series of championship races were inaugurated today, the Breeders' Cup no doubt would be without that little guy sticking up there. It's a logo invader. But the Breeders' Cup was started in 1984, before cell phones hid the little bugger on another screen that you had to go to, and that of course just slows you down. And we can't have that.

The apostrophe has served as the copy editor's blackmail for too long. Correctly, the NYT headline over Ms. Lyall's story notes: At the Pistons' New Home, Empty Seats and Hockey Statues. Since Pistons is used in a plural possessive form, the apostrophes goes after the last s. Get it? Of course you do.

But editing layers are disappearing at the paper that has a motto of: "All the News That's Fit to Print." Will apostrophes start disappearing as well? Probably not with the current generation at the paper, but maybe when the next one gets employed who have grown accustomed to not looking for the pesky bugger on their cell phones.

Little Caesars Pizza is only the beginning.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Bringing Back What Was Asked

I once worked with a fellow in Auditing who was once described by our vice president as someone who was guaranteed to complete the assignment.

Ray was brought to mind when I read the obituary of Irv Refkin, 96, who was described as an 'impromptu spy' who during WW II completed assignments for the British and the United States. He was an American, who after basic training was further trained in Canada in the use of explosives. The obituary didn't explain why the Army sent Irv Refkin to Canada to learn how to detonate explosives and couldn't, or wouldn't provide the training within our own country, but this was the same Army that transferred my father from Guam where he was injured in a typhoon to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, half a world away. Talk about not having any beds available closer.

(It did work out for my father because he met my mother who was an Army nurse at the hospital, and they married. They produced one son, who at this point in his life types an occasional story about them.)

Mr. Refkin was somewhat shoved into first working for the British by an American commanding officer who didn't like him. The officer had him shipped off on a plane to Britain, where they made use of him as a spy to be dropped behind German lines, all because he could speak German, a language he learned while being raised in a German Lutheran orphanage in Milwaukee, and of course because he knew how to blow things up. Some skills when combined can get you the most exciting and nerve racking of jobs. Whether you asked for them or not.

Mr. Refkin proved quite good at completing his assignments. In one particular assignment he was to bring back a file. When he couldn't open the combination lock to the file cabinet, he brought the whole cabinet back. He then had to return the cabinet before the Germans knew it was missing. Mr. Refkin was never caught, and lived to be a decorated 96-year-old.

As for my Auditing colleague Ray, he was described by our vice president as someone who if you asked him to "bring back a typewriter" Ray would bring you back a typewriter. No questions asked.

Manhattan Beach

I'm not one to read many novels. Mysteries, true crime and and spy stories, some fiction, some non-fiction are generally the Sandman.

But I do read the book reviews, so I do read about novels, and one caught my attention, Jennifer Egan's 'Manhattan Beach,' a WW II story with a Brooklyn Navy Yard backdrop centered on a female hard helmet diver, Anna Kerrigan. Anna may not crack the corporate glass ceiling, but she does crack the gender gap below the water's surface.

For me, the Brooklyn Navy backdrop was the hook. My father worked as a civilian engineer in the Design Division at the Yard after the war, and until the Yard closed in 1964. After that, he stayed as a government employee in the Department of Navy, working in Washington D.C., bound to a desk that didn't overlook water, and where nothing visible was getting built.

But in the 50s I was taken to the Yard on a few occasions to watch ship launchings. I don't remember the ship President Eisenhower's wife Mamie christened, but she did have to whack the champagne bottle several times before it broke on the ship's hull, just like the multiple times Margaret Truman needed to christen the USS Missouri, a wartime battleship ship built at the Yard, as described in Ms. Egan's book.

Apparently Ms. Egan spent four years doing background research before she produced the book. The reader is treated to a detailed map of the Yard on the inside of the hard covers. I couldn't identify the building my father worked in because I don't remember its location within the Yard, and don't know its number.

I was never in the Design Division building, but I did get a bit of a childhood tour, seeing the huge crane, described as a 'hammer head' that I remember had huge lettering on it that said 'Safety First.' I remember a scoreboard of sorts that reported the number of consecutive days the Yard had gone without a serious accident.

It was because of the memory of that scoreboard that I once wrote to the MTA and suggested they adopt a similar scoreboard, publicly displayed in Penn Station, on the number of consecutive days all the escalators were working. I sarcastically challenged them to hit double digits. They replied, but didn't adopt the suggestion.

On a particular visit I did get a thrill riding on the huge platform elevator used on an aircraft carrier under construction that was going to be used to transfer the planes from the hanger deck to the flight deck. The hanger deck and the flight decks were immense flat spaces that seemed capable of swallowing football fields.

The Sands Street gate gets mentioned a number of times in the book. That was where I had to go a few times to deliver my father's photo id card to the Marines at the gate. On a few occasions my father went to work without his id. I never understood this, but they let him in without it, but were not going to let him out until his card was delivered to the gate.

Since I always showed up with his id card after school, my father was able to come home. For some reason I never asked (there are tons of questions we never asked out parents) what would have happened if no one showed up with his id card? Where was he going to sleep? I'm not sure even he knew.

Marines, then and now, are outfitted in the greatest looking uniforms ever. They are walking recruitment posters. But for some reason, their uniform never induced me to try and enlist in the Marines. The Navy was for me, but I wasn't taken by anyone. 4-F.

There are tender moments in the book, but perhaps the best one to me is expressed by Anna's Aunt Brianne, her father's sister, who at a certain juncture in Anna's life tells her, "if wishing could make men die, there'd be nary a one left." In certain contexts I've told people "all men are alike; but the side effects vary."

Ms. Egan's research has conveyed the Yard's atmosphere. I almost feel what air my parents were breathing, even though they were both outside of New York at the time and in the Army. Unless you grew up even in that postwar era, I don't think you can imagine the pride that existed that warships were being built within the city limits--and huge ones at that. The Yard was a huge part of the Brooklyn economy.

Outside the walls of the Yard bars and other recreational spots, bowling alleys and pool halls, did a booming trade. A good friend of mine, slightly older than myself, remembers his father's bar on Court Street, not adjacent to the Yard, but close enough to get the rowdy clientele that filled the place on payday. My friend John has distinct memories of guys sent flying through the front door onto the pavement. Management and other patrons provided the propulsion.

The nuclear era changed that, and the Yard was mainly relegated to building smaller LSTs, landing ship transports, and doing repair jobs. The Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara ordered the Yard closed in 1964, and my father's life and my life changed forever, not the same way Anna's life changed because of the Yard, but changed nonetheless. The place was our life as well.

I think Ms. Egan's book is promoted as historical fiction, with a bit of mystery woven it. Given the advance notice from the book reviews that a mystery is involved, you do guess fairly easily what the mystery is. Until you're wrong.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Breeders' Cup 2017

Or, How I learned to Stop Handicapping, Pick a Race, Play It and Come Out Ahead.

I've been handicapping and playing the Breeders' Cup races since their inception in 1984, when Harvey Pack and Pete Axthelm took television viewers on a trip through the Subway Special to Aqueduct.

The first set of races were held at California's Hollywood Park, but the handicapping pair opened the first televised show of the races with a trip down the subway stairs near the Port Authority, through the iron horseshoe Good Luck Arch that the Transit Authority had stuck on the platform and onto one of the oldest set of subway cars you ever saw that comprised the Subway Special.

If a token then was 90 cents, the Subway Special token was an eye-popping $1.50. It was a special token as well. But it was a special train, making one stop in Brooklyn at Hoyt Schermerhorn Street before arriving in Queens alongside Aqueduct Race Track. For some reason passengers thought they could smoke on this train, even though there was, and still is a NO SMOKING rule in effect on all subways and platforms, even outdoor ones. No sooner did some get on the train, open their Morning Telegraphs, or whatever, and light up.

No Roman numerals to tell us how many Breeders' Cup races there have been. Pete Rozelle didn't have a hand in this one. There are no Roman numerals in past performance lines.

Yesterday's renewal was the 34th, and was designated in the shorthand of the day as BC17, for 2017 no doubt.  I've never been to the Breeders' Cup, even with the few that were held at New York tracks. Too expensive to attend, and sometimes too hard to get tickets. Winning is tough enough without adding a cost prohibitive overhead to the equation. However, I've always been able to bet on the races however, thanks to Off-Track wagering and XPressbets.

But betting has always meant getting or downloading the Classic Past Performances from the Racing Form.  Thirty-three straight years of doing this, poring over more races, swollen size fields, and many, many foreign horses whose past performance are difficult to compare with the domestic past performances. European racing is mostly run on turf, at tracks, or courses with odd configurations, and hardly level surfaces. They go up hill. They come down hill, They bend to the left. They bend to the right. They split into two groups during the same race and race to the wire.  The field can resemble a swarm of birds giving those of us below an air show. The racing in Europe is the equine version of cross-country racing. It can be hard as hell to pick a winner. And hard as hell to win overall.

This year I gave up. Tired of being buffeted by the long shots and the Europeans. I didn't download a single page, a single race of the thirteen races held over two days this year. This doesn't mean I didn't watch the races. I did. And as usual, the results were full of upsets and boxcar payoffs, with one winner, a New York bred, Bar of Gold, lighting up the tote board with a win payoff of $135.40. The exotic payoffs in that race were so large they could had been displayed with exponents.

But that payoff was in the 6th race, and the Pick Six didn't start until the 7th Race. So, even with a few more long shots, albeit of smaller dimensions, the Pick Six was hit, for $388,423. The incoming new Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board will be expected to make a statement on using wagering as a means to keep the economy humming.

But even though I didn't download, a single line of a past performance I did still bet. One race, the Classic.

Gun Runner figured big time to win. No need to learn this from a past performance. West Coast, a late-blooming 3-year old who I had in the Travers was also an easy pick to toss into the exacta bet. And while at it, throw in Collected, a Bob Baffert trained
4 year-old. Leave out Arrogate all together. He's shown no affinity for the surface at Del Mar, and has lately just plain shown no interest in winning. He has a great future behind him.

Box the three for a $1 and play the permutations with a modest multiple of six dollars.

It's great to watch a race and see your exacta leading the field. And leading it every step of the way, all the way to the wire, despite some crazy fast fractions for a mile and a quarter race

Joe Drape and a fellow NYT prognosticator picked Gun Runner. It wasn't really all that hard. At the  book signing for his book on American Pharoah at the Northside book store in Saratoga in 2016, Joe told the assembled that the really good horses take charge of the race, they head for the front, try and stay there, and control every call. It was in his pre-race comments in the paper yesterday. Gun Runner does that, and did that yesterday.

When Joe said that I immediately though of Dr Fager, the horse I fell in love with when I first went to the races in 1968. He wanted the lead, and pulled his jockey out of the irons to get it. He was so known to want that lead that a rival trainer, Frank Whiteley, would stick a "rabbit" in a Dr. Fager race, Hedevar, to soften the big guy up for Damascus to come from behind and pass the weakened Dr. Fager. It did work. Once.

Not all champions win from the front. Forego didn't. Zenyatta didn't. Gun Runner's style may not be unique, but it is successful. In this year's Whitney at Saratoga, Gun Runner famously annihilated the field while even carrying another horse's shoe in his tail. The shoe had flipped off a hoof during the race. It's a great picture. You can almost claim he won because he had 5 legs in that race while every one else had four.

As much fun as it was to watch Gun Runner win it was also fun to watch his trainer Steve Asmussen react to the win. Asmussen has a head of bushy silver grey hair that looks like a wild thicket. With his excited jumping up and down, hugging and arm waving his sun glasses dislodged from his face and disappeared into his hair. It happened more than once.  Asmussen became Gun Runner, with an object disappearing into his body. He was an Al Hirschfeld portrait with 'Nina' somewhere in his hair. It was fun to watch.

Exactas are nice, but triples are better, but I don't generally play them, and I didn't this time. I was very satisfied to hit with my only bet, getting $17 for every six dollars bet. A better ROI than on than most investments. A modest return, but one I hit without downloading a thing and spending hours scribbling on.

This is the way to win playing Breeders' Cup races. It's the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Fallout. You don't hear that word too often, if at all these days. The primary definition would be air that has been radioactively charged after a nuclear explosion. Fallout of this kind can eventually be deadly.

Then there is the metaphor "fallout," meaning the after-effects of something happening. Given this definition, it is a wonder we no longer seem to hear the word "fallout." Because something is always happening after something else happens. We are never without "fallout," even if we don't use the word.

Then there is the drill sergeant's command to "fallout," meaning to disperse from the formation. This command occurs after a period of time after "fall-in" has been uttered, and whatever is on the drill sergeant's mind has been accomplished.

What brings the word to mind is the passing away of the man who designed the signs that were everywhere during the beginning of the Cold War. These signs gave the population direction to a shelter where you were expected to go to survive a nuclear attack that produced the radioactive fallout.

These shelters, generally in the basements of apartment building, were to be stocked with water and food so that the occupants could survive what may be a prolonged period of time that needed to elapse before the air was considered safe to go out in again. The arrangement of the cinder blocks in these bomb shelters were expected to block the rays of radioactive air.

Personal bomb shelters were built in the basements of people's homes. At some point when all this was going on, it occurred to me to wonder where you were going to go to the bathroom. Apartment cellars did not have public toilets, and I don't really remember if the instructions for the construction of a personal bomb shelter showed you how to rig a toilet. Nothing like having the shit scared out of you with no where to shit.

Robert Blakeley, the individual who designed these FALLOUT SHELTER signs has passed away at 95. Mr. Blakeley designed the signs as part of his job as a civilian with the Army Corps of Engineers. As the years rolled on and the fears of nuclear attack subsided, the signs became relics of that Cold War era. No one seemed to take them down, so they rusted away at the edges on the walls they were attached to. A generation plus has grown up, likely nor knowing anything about what the signs meant. At least one sign did find its way into my garage workshop, next to the Civil Defense sign--a whole other story.

Robert McFadden's NYT obituary for Mr. Blakeley accurately captures the essence of the era--fear, and the resignation to what will be will be.  I remember a beat up sign in a Times Square dive that outlined the steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack. I don't remember the number of the last step but it was plain: "Grab your ass and kiss it good-bye."

As Mr. McFadden so rightly relates, there was the famous 'Twlight Zone' episode of neighbors demanding protection in the bomb shelter their neighbor built solely for his own family's use. The moral question of allowing others refuge when they didn't plan for the event the same way you did was raised. What would you do?

The 'duck and cover' drills school children performed where they ducked under their desks and faced away from the windows that were surely going to smash from the vibrations of the bomb. But one generation shouldn't think they had it worse than now. 'Duck and cover' drills have been replaced by 'active shooter' drills, something unheard of in the 50s. Mr. McFadden is a Cold War baby boomer, who can easily identify with the events of the era he is describing.

I remember the local newspaper in Queens, The Long Island Star Journal, that carried instructions for the building of your own bomb shelter. A series of editions laid out the steps. Since the home we lived in had a basement, I was nightly imploring my father to start work on building the bomb shelter. I can still see his passive reaction to my pleas. He was tired from work and likely well into his evening intake of scotch. For him, nothing needed to be done. Especially at that moment, which of course eventually stretched into all moments.

Mr. Blakeley's design was a take on the civil defense triangle, as well as the test pattern that your TV had when there was nothing being broadcast (imagine that today--TV shutting down!), or what would appear on your screen if there was an actual emergency.

There was another sign that hung from the outside of buildings that gave you direction that there was a public shelter where the arrow was pointing. Following the arrow would lead you to the hopefully well-stocked fallout shelter where you would await the "all clear," if it ever came.

All this blended into your everyday life. The shelters have so far never been needed, and the provisions have expired long ago and been taken away. As Mr. Blakeley commented after the height of the worries passed, "it's just like many of the other things that happen in life. It's just one of those routine things."

That was then, and now is now. Ooblah de, ooblah da, life goes on.

(An earlier post, also titled 'Fallout' appeared in 2013)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fats Domino

Thomas Wolfe wrote of the old Pennsylvania Station that 'few buildings are vast enough to hold the sound of time.'

Something along these lines might be said of Fats Domino, who just passed away at 89 at his home in Harvey, La. across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Few lives are lived so large and so long that it takes bylines from two reporters to write his obituary in the New York Times.

And so it went yesterday when the front page below the fold obituary appeared for Fats Domiono, an obit crafted by Jon Pareles and William Grimes.

I'm not quite old enough to tell you I heard Fats Domino's music first hand. I was alive when he was making hits, but I wasn't in charge of what the radio played, or which were the few records that were brought home. I also basically missed Elvis Presley for much the same reasons. Those older people, called my parents, weren't listening, and I had no older siblings, or any siblings for that matter.

Of course over time, I became familiar with all the songs that everyone else became familiar with. I've found the expected Greatest Hits CD in my music collection. It's an uneven production, pulling hits in from different labels. Some tracks sound way better than others, but they all sound like Fats. Maybe I'll look again and find a better produced album.

Sometimes I imagine how I'd like to be remembered. I've pretty much come up with it would be great to be remembered "affectionately."

So think of how nice it is to read of someone whose "voice had a smile in it."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brexit Exit

A thoroughly stunning Theresa May, Prime Minister of Britain, is seen leaving through what appears to be a lower-level doorway to an awaiting limousine after meeting with European officials in an effort to bolster Brexit talks. Apparently, the Brexit news only gets worse, as the prime minister fights to keep the Brexit talks from collapsing entirely.

As in peril as the talks might be, you can't tell that from the prime minster's wardrobe, a sharp looking burgundy dress stopping at mid-knee level, accented by red shoes, and a chunky piece of jewelry on her right wrist. The perfectly coiffed Ms. May is striding confidently through the door toward the limo's awaiting open door. She's on the move.

And she has now once again pulled a length or so ahead of her rival, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, for the title of the World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.

Both women have been busy lately, and somewhat out of the camera's lens, this despite Chancellor Merkel's fourth election victory and the looming deadline for resolving how Britain is going to handle no longer being part of the European Union 18 months from now.

The times may be a changin', but the ladies are approaching the wire with style.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Shadows Lengthen, The Leaves Are Falling

The Assembled met yesterday at Belmont, but without a quorum. Only Bobby G. and Johnny D. were present. Johnny M. was back from fishing, but was now attending a wedding, and Jose, who originally said he'd be there, had a change in plans and opted to run a garage sale to raise money for hurricane victims in his native Dominican Republic where he was due to attend a wedding in two weeks. And Joe C. who really hasn't been seen in a few years, is having something done again around the house. Joe has now moved into ex officio status. His name still appears on the letterhead, but we really don't know when we will see him again.

But two is better than one, and the resolute handicappers attacked the 10 race card with numbers, logic and a sense of what life is all about. A different setting was tried for the first time, the Belmont Cafe,  a ground-level facility past the finish line that offered tables, lots of TVs, dedicated TVs at tables, booths, food service, teller assisted wagering and lots of self-service betting machines. It was designed to please.

It also held such a complete domination of Jamaicans and Spanish speaking patrons that the lingua franca was seldom English, and was never spoken below a near shout, or anything below 110 decibels between at least three individuals who were speaking to each other simultaneously. You knew you weren't alone.

The first race went as expected. However, the top two horses were not closed off in an exacta bet and therefore a $22 exacta was left on the table. This is not a good omen. Having your handicapping go right but your betting going sideways is no way to start the day The second place horse had been played to win, with no bets made on the exacta. Ouch.

The drought lasted for several races, but was broken by Bobby G. in the 4th when he hit the exacta several times, had the winner solo, multiple times, and picked the triple cold for $60. Playing a cold triple is as near as you can get to being declared insane, but perhaps considering the other bets he made, Bobby G. was just flinging one out there. No matter. He was well rewarded with an aggregate payout that righted his sinking ship and gave him wind for sailing profitably through the rest of the card. This was the height of handicapping prowess.

Taking advantage of the new location for all it was worth, it was an easy stroll outside the Belmont Cafe to the apron and a rail-bird's view of the jockeys as they emerge from the tunnel under the stands on their assignments. I always said I wanted to learn enough Spanish to be able to speak (or curse) to the jockeys in their native tongue, but I never did. Of course there was someone who knew enough Spanish naturally who chirped a few words to Joel Rosario as he paraded by that a connection was made and Joel grinned and said something in return.

It was from this vantage point that a fellow who was standing next to me expressed his likeness for Kendrick Carmouche's horse Bancroft Hall in the 5th--the 8 horse. I also was on board with the chances for the 8, so we had something to talk about. As the hot walkers were going back through the tunnel leading ponies back to the stable one looked up at the fellow next to me and held up an index finger.

I asked my rail-bird mate if the guy was now just giving him the 1 horse? He said he was, and further explained that last week or so he have him two of Linda Rice's horses that resulted in nice exacta payouts for him. Linda Rice is an accomplished trainer who seems to have a knack with winning races run as turf sprint races. She also wins with dirt trips.

Linda's horse in this 5th race was the 1 horse, Professor Snape, running in a dirt sprint and was 3-1 odds. Bancroft Hall was similarly priced at 3-1, and had my money on him to win. No exacta bet. Again. Definition of stunad.

Linda's horse wins, mine runs second, and another exacta is left on the table, this time for $37. This is no way to go home even, or even ahead. After the race, my new-found friend spotted me and shrugged his shoulders. I guess I wasn't alone in not using Linda's horse. Tiny consolation.

Meanwhile, Johnny D. continues to get picked off by apparent winners who were run down just before the wire, or exactas that were split with 1-3 finishes. A 10-cent superfecta box was flung out for shits and giggles in the 8th, with the hope that Chad Brown's odds-on horse Engage would develop leg cramps coming down the stretch and finish worse than first was hit.

But Chad's charge did finish first, and the $2.40 box was a perfect reminder of the joke Stan Musial used to tell people that he knew how to make a $1 million dollars: first you start with $2 million, then you open a restaurant. The $2.40 wager became worth $1.21. Johnny D. was poised to finish the day with a voucher worth a penny.

But not before he once again roared back and leveled the playing scales by hitting the last race on the card. I have no statistics to back this up, but in his now very nearly 50 years of going to NYRA tracks he seems to hit the last race on the card the most often.

Just because it was the last race and there was a deficit in the wallet, no change in plans on who to bet was made. This is where many horseplayers go further amok. (The first amok is going through the turnstile.) Stay on message, don't change your betting patterns, or suddenly ramp up the bet by flinging money on some longshot that will right the ship if it comes in.

Johnny D. liked the 5, and liked the 10. This is the Woolworth bet, the five and dime. The 10, New Jersey John, is a Linda Rice horse going a route on the grass, and is going off at near to 4-1. The 5 is Warm Springs, trained by Robert Reid and ridden by Dylan Davis, a trainer jockey combination that registers nothing on the win scale. Both are competent, but register low win percentages.

Since Bobby G. left Johnny D. after the 9th race, Johnny D. went upstairs to the peace and quiet of the third floor. Compared to the Belmont Cafe, the third floor is like strolling though a cemetery. If everyone there was herded into an elevator the passenger limit wouldn't be exceeded.

The now lowly $8.01 voucher was used to place a $4 bet on Linda's horse, and a $2 exacta box on the combination with Warm Springs. Johnny's numbers said this was the bet, and at this point, the ship is not being abandoned.

The transition from the Belmont Cafe to the third floor via a bathroom stop left little time for checking out the board for exacta payout possibilities. There is a new tote board at Belmont and it is much brighter and easier to read. The cloudiness of the nearly 6 o'clock sky made the tote board look even brighter, and is a favorite time of day at the track. It is nearly time to leave, the racing is nearly over, the shadows are longer, the leaves are falling, and Johnny D. has nearly won or lost. Again. A continuity of time hangs in the air as the tote glows ever brighter as the day darkens. It is nearly time to go home for the dinner that is always there.

But first, there is the  need to watch and hopefully collect. The 5 wins and the 10 is a close second, close to becoming third and ruining everything, but Linda's horse holds on for second by a neck, which is very nearly a half a length, and is plain to see from the stands.

The exacta ticket is good, but there is no idea of the payout. The second floor is where you have to cash out with the lone teller who will be there for possibly three whole minutes after the race is official. (The place is thinly staffed these days.) Otherwise, a trip to the first floor is needed, which is manned a little more because of the simulcasting bets being handled for the West Coast.

The ticket is inserted, and a whopping $51 return is lit up on the teller's machine. It's been a good day after all.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Return from Maine

As with any trip, the local newspapers are bought and read. In this case, with the somewhat remoteness of Maine, the papers purchased were weekly editions. Apparently, there is not enough news, or people willing to pay money for an edition, to publish something every day.

And what newspapers! The old sized broadsheets, that when opened present a full 28" wingspan. Since one of the destinations was Bar Harbor, two papers were available: The Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander.

Ellsworth is a mainland town you pass through on the way to Bar Harbor, a town located on the somewhat oddly named Mount Desert Island, a 110 square mile out-cropping piece of land just off the coast of Maine that is one of the 4,000 islands that are part of Maine, and one of the 14 islands that are inhabited. Mount Desert is the largest of all the islands

Mount Desert Island has several towns on it, and is noted for Acadia National Park, a preserve of wilderness and shoreline that was first set aside by Charles Eliot, and then John D. Rockefeller Jr. who contributed carriage trails and bridges to its design. The Rockefellers vacationed in Seal Harbor, a town on Mount Desert Island.

How does something so large off the coast of Maine come to be named Mount Desert? There is a 1,530 foot peak in Acadia Park that offers a stunning view of the land below. It is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. We took anyone's word that the sun came up. We didn't try and see it.

Apparently the name Mount Desert Island is translated from the French name the explorer Samuel de Champlain gave the area because of the treeless mountain tops, an island of bare mountains. And it is true. The top of Cadillac mountain has no trees on it. There is a cell phone tower that is visible, and does provide an ability to make calls. I tested it. It works.

But back to the newspapers. The Mount Desert Islander comes in three sections and is full of all the type of local news you'd expect from a maritime, vacation community.  The edition I bought ran 30 pages. One entire section is devoted to real estate listings, complete with color photographs of properties available. Also holds classifieds.

I always check out the obit page. And in this case it only took up most of one page. Three notices with photos of the deceased with biographical stories; another with no photo. In addition, 11 Death Notices. The youngest was 68, and the oldest  97. Five of the 11 were nonagenarians. Salt air and fish the likely factor to longevity. None of the biographical notices offered anything really funny or quirky about the deceased. I don't think the retired fellow who daily observed Happy Hour (5-6) on his porch stands out as unusual. I'm sure they will all be missed.

Now The Ellsworth American was another story. Same broadsheet size, three sections and 36 pages. One entire section devoted to real estate and classifieds. A weekly, coming out on Thursdays.

Obituaries? Sure. Two full facing pages. All local. Eleven biographical, 10 with photos. Ages are skewed younger than those in the Mount Desert Islander; youngest 34, oldest 95, the only nonagenarian.

Death notice listings are from two counties, Washington and Hancock. A total of 32. With that many reported deceased, and a population of under 8,000 people, you would think Ellsworth is losing people faster than they're being born. They're not. The census reports the town is growing.

Aside from the woman who was described as enjoying pulling a "good prank" on her children, (not described) none of the biographical sketches reveal anyone to be particularly eccentric or quirky.

So what does stand out after a deep dive through two local papers? No one is immune to having their identity stolen or being the victim of con artists. A headline in The Ellsworth American tells us:

Sympathetic grandma out $8K trying to aid her "jailed" grandson.

An un-named woman on Bayside Road in Ellsworth was convinced by the "grandparent scam" that her grandson needed $8,000, cash, via UPS, so he could be released from police custody at week's end for having drugs found in his car after the police stopped him.

The story was of course 100% bogus, but through clever conversation, the con artists were able to convince the woman her grandson really needed to be sprung, My wife's elderly aunt got such a call when living in Hyannis, Cape Cod. Only through the intervention of her attentive daughter was she presented from forking over  thousands in cash.

The beat goes on no matter where you go.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Winner for the 4th Time

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is in the news again, and of course that means her photo is hitting all the media outlets.

Ms. Merkel, you will remember, is locked in a battle with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May for the title of the 'World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.' For a while there it looked like Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was going to challenge the top two contenders, but she's fallen way behind.

And then there was Jacinda Ardern, a candidate in New Zealand for prime minster. The election was just held there, and she didn't win. But since her party holds the second most seats in their government, we can expect Ms. Ardern to perhaps join the top two ladies in the race.

Seen below, Ms. Ardern looks very Theresa May as she heads for a meeting. She's 37, and is the youngest of the entrants.

But for now, it is all Merkel. She just won her fourth four year term. There is some concern in Germany for her center party, with the far-right gaining a greater percentage of seats than expected. Immigration concerns plague the German leader.

We will have to see if we start to see a bit more of Theresa May now that summer is over. She's been busy over the Brexit terms and hasn't been seen much of in our news media. We hope she gets out soon. The sun doesn't seem to shine too much in Britain, so getting outdoors whenever you can is important.

And is important to be seen so that upstarts don't start to gain on the leaders.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Middleweights

I was about a decade or so too young to have seen first hand what might have been the Golden Age of boxing--the 50s, which of course followed the 40s, 30s and 20s, the other Golden Ages. My becoming a boxing fan started in 1971 when I had last row tickets to see Ali-Frazier I at Madison Square Garden.. Being a boxing fan ended when Tyson bit off Holyfield's ear in 1997.

The adults at the flower shop talked of Louis and Dempsey, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, and always Sandy Saddler and Willie Pep, the featherweights who fought four times. I think I heard their names the most.

I don't remember hearing Jake LaMotta's name too often, despite his fighting Ray Robinson six times. In those days you didn't have the alphabet soup of sanctioning organizations with their bank accounts out for replenishment. You had one champion in each division, and the rest of the boxers were "contenders." And who got to be a contender was often determined by which gangster owned a piece of who.

Boxers and thoroughbreds competed what would now be considered an ungodly number of times. Jake fought professionally 106 times. Sugar Ray fought 199 times. Each would often fight just weeks apart from their last fight. Thoroughbreds could have over 100 starts in their lifetime. And why wouldn't they? Those were two popular spectator sports, with boxing starting to be televised as the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports on Friday nights, a broadcast I can remember hearing come on as I was supposed to be sleeping in the 50s.

LaMotta fought Marcel Cerdan, the French middleweight, who he beat for the title.  Cerdan was killed in a plane crash as he was coming back to the States for a rematch. Cerdan was married to the French singer Edith Piaf, who on hearing her husband was killed in the plane crash still went on with her night's performance in France. Marcel's son, Marcel Jr. was a boxer for a while, and carried his father's bloody gloves in his equipment bag after his father's death.

From the movie 'The Raging Bull' we learn of LaMotta's nightclub and acting career. What I didn't know until I read the obituary was that Jake played Big Jule in a revival of 'Guys and Dolls' at New York's City Center in 1965. Big Jule's character famously plays Nathan Detroit craps with his own dice, dice with no pips on them. Big Jule wins whenever he wants to because he knows where the "spots" are.

I saw that revival when I was in high school. Jake must have either just finished playing the part, or hadn't yet assumed the role, because the night I saw the show B.S. Pully played Big Jule, the original actor from the Broadway show.

Not hearing LaMotta's name too often may have been because he was rough around the edges, to say the least, in and out of the ring. His boyhood friend Rocky Marciano, also a middleweight champion (they never fought each other) seemed to be more the man-about town, appearing on the Johnny Carson show and doing commercials for Breakstone's yogurt, where he turned a punch drunk patois into plummy English because eating Breakstone's gave you culture.

On a Carson show I remember Rocky remarking he wouldn't get work doing commercials unless he spoke in "dee and does" speech. He also said that growing up with Jake they used to steal anything with an "a" in front of it. A car, a bike, a truck...

As if to prove what he said, consider a Wikipedia entry that goes:

"A couple of weeks into amateur fighting, Graziano was picked up for stealing from a school. He went to Coxsackie Correctional Facility where he spent three weeks, with boyhood friend Jake LaMotta and then he went on to the New York City Reformatory where he spent five months. After he..."

"A school." The man didn't lie.

What I learned about Jake LaMotta I learned from the movie 'Raging Bull,' a movie I did see in the theaters. It is one of Scorsese's best, coming from his knowledge of the era and the characters, growing up in Little Italy after moving from Long Island at an early age.

I never saw Jake LaMotta anywhere, but a neighbor described seeing him at a Local 3 IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) gathering, signing autographs. I did see Graziano though, at his pizza place on Second Avenue in the Kips Bay apartment complex. One lunch hour I saw him just about dancing behind the counter, reaching up with the paddle to handle the pies, in and out of the oven, all the while bouncing on the balls of his feet, as if he was skipping rope. He was still in the ring.

Before leaving, Rocky was at a table showing someone's young son who he knew a boxer's hand exercise, alternately flipping either hand on the table and and using the other hand to hit it when the palm was up. Boxers have very fast hands, and Rocky still had something in the tank.

Why I didn't get an autograph I'll never know. Probably just didn't want to bother him at work.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy Birthday

It is a strange, strange world we live in.

Has anyone picked out a Carvel ice cream birthday cake lately? They come in a variety of shapes and decorations, easy to choose from in the store's freezer showcase. There are football shaped cakes, smiley faced cakes, cupcake looking cakes, and then there's the one my wife and I picked out for our 6-year old granddaughter on Sunday in Pleasantville.

The cake made Olivia and her older sister laugh. My daughter laughed. Our other daughter laughed when a picture was sent to her on an iPhone. Our son-in-law didn't laugh, but he does work a good deal, and likely doesn't spend as much time online as they seem to. Are there any alert readers out there who know what is depicted on the cake we picked out? I'll give you a hint. It is an emoji. That's right, there's a cake with an emoji on it. No labeling on the box telling us what the emoji means, however.

And so, what does that brown emoji represent? Poop. That's right, we picked out a cake decorated with a poop emoji.

Carvel ice cram cakes are good, and since a good deal of it was consumed despite what the brown swirls were trying to represent, there was no chance to get our money back. And frankly, I wouldn't have anyway. The experience of buying a poop emoji cake for a 6-year old grandchild is way too good to be wiped by by a refund.

Of what use is a "poop" emoji? Tell someone symbolically you feel shitty? A Google definition tells us it is generally used to signify bad content (restaurant reviews on Yelp?) or self-deprecatingly. I
mean the poop is smiling, so how unfriendly can this emoji be? And how realistic? I've looked back. We've all looked back. Have you ever seen your poop smile back at you? Make smiley faces at you? I didn't think so.

Emojis of course are the millennial hieroglyphics for the 21st century. Who issues them, anyway? A control board, like they do for domain names? I know recently a new batch has been made available. Do users get updates?

I always had a cellphone that took pictures, but now I have my daughter's iPhone 5s after she upgraded to a higher number. Now Dad gets the hand-me-downs. Stick around long enough and life is a boomerang.

I learned how to forward the picture of the birthday cake to a friend I used to work with, and asked if she could identify what was depicted on the cake. This person is nearly a generation younger than I am, so I felt there was a good chance they would know what it is. Response?


Yeah, very funny, laughing your ass off.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Down Memory Lane

I was there when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes in 1973, when he become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Penny Tweedy was there, of course. She was running Meadow Stable, and was the owner of Big Red.

Penny Tweedy Chenery has just passed away at 95, but certainly the memory of Secretariat, and even Riva Ridge, will not pass away anytime soon.

The Marlboro Cup was inaugurated so that Riva Ridge and Secretariat could appear in the same race. Mrs. Tweedy said afterward it broke her heart to see Riva Ridge lose, even if it was to his stablemate.

They handed out red caps to everyone that said 'Marlboro Cup' on the front. My friend and I wore ours several times, notably once in Vermont when we were playing golf. A woman in the clubhouse told us she was wondering who those two fellows were with the red caps. She thought were part of a team. She couldn't have been paying any attention to how we were playing. No team would have had us. I wish I still had the cap.

When Mrs. Tweedy was in the racing news in the 70s I remember her telling a reporter that the farm hands didn't want her to witness the actual breeding of a mare, when the stallion is teased and led to mount the mare. The male population of a stable didn't think it was becoming for a female owner to watch that. She did of course, and found nothing really untoward about it.

Secretariat was a horse for the ages. 1973 is now quite a while ago, but it can be yesterday when I'm at the computer and I look up at the framed black and white 16x20 photo I have of Ron Turcotte on No.2, cruising to the finish line in the Belmont Stakes as Ron is looking at the tote board. It is a famous photo, and is now so long ago that it contrasts with the the other color racing photos I have.

Ron of course is not looking at the tote to see what price the horse went off at, he's checking out the fractions, which were astounding. (Secretariat paid $2:20 to win, but $2.40 to place, a quirky payoff caused by a long shot, Twice a Prince finishing second.) As Big Red crossed the wire I pounded on my friend's shoulders and kept screaming, "Look at the time. Look at the time!" Ron certainly was looking at the times.

I keep a framed chart of that race on another wall in the room where no more pictures can be hung. I sometimes look at it and still marvel not only at the final time of 2:24, a track record that still stands, lowered from Gallant Man's 2:26 3/5, but at the fractions, that got the "tremendous machine" there:
23 2/5, 46 1/5, 109 4/5, 134 1/5, 1:59. There were no Beyer speed figures then, but a retro-assignment of a number gives Secretariat a Beyer of 139, the highest ever achieved by a horse to date.

I've previously mentioned the older fellow who we learned a good deal about racing from, Les Barrett, aka Mr. Pace, who wouldn't even stay and watch Secretariat's race, despite our having saved a seat for him. Les was so in love with his Citation he couldn't bear to see another horse become his equal, or better. This despite it was Les who told us that when we saw Secretariat's first victory in a maiden race as a 2-year old that, "they're expecting big things from that horse."

Today's NYT obit is adequate, but because the achievement of Secretariat was so long ago it is hard for anyone who wasn't part of that era to realize the big deal his Triple Crown achievement was. Even mentioning that the horse appeared on the covers of three news weeklies, Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated lacks punch because it doesn't tell you that Secretariat's appearance on the three covers was after the Preakness, but before his Belmont victory. The king was crowned before the ceremony.

I always thought this was ballsy hings to do, and I viewed it suspiciously. Superstition. Even though by 1973 I hadn't yet seen as many races as I have now, I knew enough to know that anything can happen in a race. Just ask the people who backed Arrogate in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar recently. Ouch.

Fittingly, there is a bronze statue of Secretariat in full flight in the Belmont paddock. I've had my picture taken there. On Belmont Day there is an array of white carnations placed around the pedestal, making it seem as if he's buried there. He's not.

I'm hardly the only one who holds onto Secretariat memories, or memories of his owner. The racing journalist Teresa Genaro tells us in a Tweet that she won't get rid of her landline because she's saved a voice mail message from Penny Chenery.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

Anyone who might a regular reader of these posts might remember that I usually pick a bone with Maureen Dowd about her work ethic. She just doesn't seem to write often enough to deserve her position as a NYT columnist. She's more of a somewhat frequent Op-Ed contributor.

And if wasn't for Donald Trump, it would seem she would have nothing to write about. She's great with snarky one-liners that cut to the quick. A stand up comedian who doesn't have to stand up.

But lately, after another hiatus in filing a "weekly" piece of output, Ms. Dowd seems to be traveling over the waves and setting her sights on the Old Country, the U.K. Last week she gave us a nifty profile of the newly elected Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who at 38 is young, admittedly gay and of half-Indian descent. Hardly an O'Brien.

It was a good piece, and I wrote a comment to that effect. Unfortunately, my comments never seem to get published, despite filing them before the comment section fills up. Perhaps it is because I comment more about Maureen than the topics she has flapped her wings about.

Take today. Two weeks in a row for Ms. Dowd to file a piece, and this one is about Britain's Tony Blair, Nigel Farage and Brexit. The dateline is London. Maureen is still overseas and filing expense reports for meals presumably.

And again it is a good piece. Some digs of course to the folks back home, but a little more nuanced. Knowing that Ms. Dowd's column appears online as early as 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night, I was surprised, no shocked to see that this Sunday morning when I caught up to it, there were only 70 comments filed. It currently, at this Sunday dinner hour of 7:00 p.m. has 152. None of them are mine. Again. This despite telling Ms. Dowd I liked the piece.

The low comment count of course means the readership doesn't want to read about U.K. politicians with names like Leo and Nigel, but wants domestic spears thrown at our own. And if The Donald is the one the spears are being chucked at, all the better. Sex sells. Trump sells better. Ask Steve Colbert and his ratings.

Of course I did suggest that when she's not railing against The Donald her ratings suffer. Only 152 souls were stimulated enough to make comments, whereas if The Donald were being discussed the comment room is full and closed with something like 600 or so comments filed by very early Sunday morning. This of course means that when you give people something they want, a raking of The Donald over the coals, people will log on for it.

I also did point out that she spelled Ivanka as Javanka, unless of course I missed the joke and she was making a portmanteau of Ivanka and Jared, and she may well have been. I attributed it to the Times getting rid of layers of copy editors and other editors in a recent downsizing. This may not have been at all the case. See what happens when you don't know the whole story?

I did have one comment germane to the piece when I said ISIS is at war with us as much a we are at war with ISIS. It takes two sides to make two sides.

Perhaps it was my suggestion to Ms. Dowd that with two consecutive columns about politicians from across the Pond she might consider staying over  there and retaking a position of someone who writes columns rather than phones them in while in Uber cars. She might learn to like bubble and squeak and curry takeaways. She did once receive a Pulitzer. There is a path to former glory.

It also may have been my suggestion that she's a good interviewer, and maybe could take the place of the long departed David Frost and work for the BBC. Additionally, I suggested that since the Times reporter Sarah Lyall came back to this country that she, Maureen, might be able to gain access to whatever space Ms. Lyall vacated and work from there. I bet it was nice.

Maureen could then become the player to be named layer in the transatlantic deal of switching correspondents. All of course before the trade deadline.

At this point I might of course have answered my own question as to why no one includes my comments anywhere.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Metal Man

A crude form of poetry is often referred to as doggerel, defined formally as "burlesque verse in irregular rhythm...trivial pedestrian verse." It is not going to win any awards and its authorship is generally unknown.

One piece of doggerel that has stuck in in my mind is a rhyming quatrain of lines I remember reading when I was an adolescent that someone wrote on a bathroom's stall walls.

Some come here to sit and think
Others come to shit and stink.
But I come here to scratch my balls, 
And read the bullshit on the walls,

Given that this piece of verse was probably constructed many years before someone scratched it on the stall's wall, it is doubtful that the originator of it was actually in the same stall I was. There are knock-offs everywhere in life. It was like a fake Bansky.

Bathroom verse used to be somewhat common, along with phone numbers, ostensibly from gay guys who could be called for sex. Or numbers of straight guys who had friends who were practical jokers who scrawled their friends' names on the walls. Get any funny calls from guys lately? I guess everything is online these days.

Another piece of verse, not at all raunchy, that has stuck in my mind, and surely countless others, is by a legitimate writer, the M.I.T. educated Gelet Burgess, who in 1895 wrote...

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to be one.
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see and than be one.

Great rhyme, probably introduced to a lot of us when we were children.

M.T. Liggett, 86, a folk artist who skewered politicians with wood and metal artwork has passed away in Wichita, Kansas. He lived his entire life in the rural farming community of Mullinville. His NYT obituary by Richard Sandomir is a good one in the print edition, but even better if you can take advantage of reading and seeing it online. There's video from a segment of a show on the History Channel, 'American Pickers.' There are more 'YouTube' segments that are a pure delight. The Wall Street Journal did an A-Hed piece on Mr. Liggett's art, and others in Kansas, somewhat of a cauldron for welded art.

Mr. Liggett was indeed a character, who created acres of metal and wood sculptures that were in effect political cartoons. He portrayed Hillary Clinton as having a swastika for a torso, and labelled her "Our Jack-Booted Eva Braun." This particular piece appears in a photo taken in 1997, when the Clintons were in the White House. It can be seen in the above photo at the extreme left. Hillary thinks people are tough on her now.

Then president Bill Clinton is portrayed as a bright red hog (Arkansas, remember/) with the label, "Razorback Draft Dodger." Mr. Liggett had been a career military men in the Air Force.

Not just Democrats. Mr. Liggett could be said not to like anyone who was elected, despite his own efforts to run for local offices, finishing last every time.  President George W. Bush was excoriated for ties to Big Oil. And the hits keep coming.

Mr. Liggett held many jobs and supported himself and his family in many ways. One of the occupations described is that of someone who "custom-cut wheat." No idea what this is. Is this where we get steel cut oatmeal from?

He was from a farming background. His parents were sharecroppers who were eventually able to buy the land they worked. He described himself as "poor, poor, poor." He recounted the story of being mocked in grammar school by the teacher when he drew a purple cow with the only crayon he had--purple, What a moron teacher. She never heard of a purple cow? Luckily for the world, his sensitivities to being mocked only temporarily discouraged him from creating art.

There are three photos accompanying Mr. Liggett's obituary. Two are credited to Terrence Moore, NYT, one showing Mr. Liggett's pieces, and the other showing a 50s/60s looking tail-finned Chrysler convertible parked on the shoulder of the rural road that runs past his place. The passenger door appears open. Someone is likely paying a visit to the acreage of wood and metal pieces. Mr. Liggett explains that he uses quarter inch iron to ensure that his pieces will outlive him by a wide margin.

My guess is no one went out to Kansas to take recent photos of Mr. Liggett's outdoor spread.
This tells that perhaps the Times did an earlier piece on Mr. Liggett, when was alive. Bingo! They did.

'The Gospel According to the Grouch' is a May 4, 1997 piece that appeared in the Sunday magazine under the category labeled Art. The piece is not bylined, but it is a lively piece that incorporates a description of the man that would have been useful if it had been put into the obituary. There's even a quote by the subject that would have made a great ending.

Mr. Liggett is described as a "prairie philosopher, folk artist, supremely disgruntled citizen." His life's philosophy is summed up by...

"If you live your life worrying about what somebody's going to think, man, you might as well kill yourself right now. If you like me, fine. If you don't like me, that's still fine."

And what now might be a perfect sentiment in this age of Twitter and memorialized Tweets and video segments turned into news stories...

"A man is never remembered for words he did not say."


The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

Fifteen years. Still true.
No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

These people left many things well begun.
He didn't put an end to you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

One Less Wise Guy

If the name Frank Vincent doesn't conjure up a face, then the face certainly will conjure up a wise guy who has inhabited several modern gangster films. Frank had a face made for an indictment.

I never really watched the 'Sopranos', so I wasn't aware that Mr. Vincent had made his way into that TV series as, what else, a wise guy. One look at that kisser and head of slicked back grey/white hair and you knew you were in trouble if he was mad at you. And in several movies he was very mad. When people wound up dead, or plopped into shallow desert graves. Frank's character was behind it.

In fact, I saw enough movies where Mr. Vincent's character offed someone that I feared for my own life when I saw him, even if it was only on the small screen. He was a most menacing figure.

Even in the cop movie 'Cop Land', where he plays a police union official, we are introduced to his character where he spends his quality time: at a grave, in this case a burial in a cemetery, rather than a plot dug in the middle of the night with a borrowed shovel.

It seems the director Martin Scorsese saw Frank and Joe Pesci in a movie, 'The Death Collector', and immediately used both of them in 'Raging Bull.' Mr. Vincent was part of the stable of actors who lived as gangster goombas in his films.

No one could look bad look more authentic than Mr. Vincent wearing a pinky ring, drinking espresso in a social club, sporting a pocket square and wearing a piece of gold jewelry around their neck. He was born for the parts.

Mr. Vincent was a actor, who has now passed away at 80. Somewhat amazingly, his NYT obit appears right next to another actor, Gastone Moschin, 88, who memorably played Don Fanucci, who as a Black Hand boss, controlled his Little Italy neighborhood, at least until the young Vito Corleone, as played by a young Robert De Niro, puts a violent end to his shakedowns and influence. Vito is well on his way up the Mafia ladder.

But Mr. Vincent is just playing those roles. He started out as a drummer, even playing with Joe Pesci, who played guitar. They even once had a comedy act, proving that mobsters really can make you laugh.

Apparently Mr. Vincent appeared in 30 'Sopranos' episodes, after initially being bypassed for a part in that series. Perhaps fittingly or not, Mr. Vincent passed away in New Jersey, at an undisclosed location.