Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You Should Have Taken Uber

The NYT metropolitan mass transit reporter, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, recently had a piece on how ridership has fallen on the city's subways and buses. (I love the part of someone from Texas being assigned to write about the region's transit systems.) Several reasons are given, and Ms. Fitzsimmons gives space to some of the official explanations, like people are using Uber, and to how the everyday commuter is coping with what is perceived to be deteriorating service, especially on weekends. One person in Brooklyn is quoted as saying they bought a car! because they got tired of all the delays.

Luckily, I no longer have to rely on the system for daily commutes. One of the people she quoted was waiting for an N train. This reminded me to tell her that perhaps she knew this, but the N and R trains have been referred to as Never and Rarely for their poor on time performance.

It's enough to hear stories from your colleagues and neighbors about poor service, or read about it, but imagine hearing a reference to it in a TV drama series. But that's exactly what happens in the latest 'Homeland' episode.

The casting in that series is pitch perfect. So, when there is a Russian rezidentura spymaster set to meet Saul Berenson, the CIA spymaster, you get a well-acted and well-voice inflected portrayal of a Russian, speaking heavily accented English.

Saul, bushy, hairy Saul has arranged to be met at what is clearly Coney Island, at a bench, as he sits in the sun and stares out at the water. It is winter, so the beach is empty. Saul fits in perfectly, A Jewish man at the tip of Brooklyn in an overcoat, looking at the water on a sunny, off-season day.

Saul waits, and his Russian counterpart finally comes across the sand, more than a little miffed at being late, and explains to Saul that the damn trans are a pain to take to Coney Island. He's obviously complaining about the service. So even on 'Homeland,' the script writers are salting in comments about the state of NYC Transit from a Russian spy.

Coney Island is at the tip of Brooklyn, and is serviced by lines that have the absolute longest routes in the system. There are trains that come from the northermost parts of the Bronx, down to Brooklyn. I reminded Ms. Fitszimmons that mass transit doesn't necessarily guarantee rapid transit.

It would have been leg-smacking, fall off the couch funny if Saul reminded his Russian counterpart that if he took the N train to Coney, didn't he realize that it stood for Never, and that most people take Uber anyway these days?


The Donald and The Times

You would have to be coming back from 9 months at the Space Station, or just emerging from a coma--medically induced or not--not to know that the NYT and President Donald Trump are not buddies. And that's definitely understating the enmity between the two.

The Times didn't like him as a primary Republican presidential candidate; they didn't like him as a presidential candidate; they didn't like him as president-elect, and since January 20th came and went with no cataclysm, other than who was taking office, the Times doesn't like Donald Trump as president. Without saying it directly, the only good thing about a given day, is that it is one less day they have to envision him in office.

There is a daily barrage of words that come out against President Trump. But to frame a story around what a now deceased mayor had to say about him 30 odd years ago is taking the cause and raising it from the dead. Literally.

In today's A section there is a story from the veteran reporter Sam Roberts, the NYC maven of the newsroom who has written about New York City, and whose book, 'A History of New York in 101 Objects' someone was thoughtful enough to give me one Christmas. I was happy to see he included a public school door knob as one of the objects. I got a custodian to filch one for me years ago and I use it as a paper weight--solid brass with the wording 'Public School' on one door knob, and 'Public School City of New York' on its mate. Growing up, I don't know how many times my hands touched one of those knobs.

Mr. Roberts has joined the obituary desk and does duty informing us about the departed, so a story with quotes from a deceased seems to fit right in with his daily assignments. A seance of sorts has been held.

Anyone who lived through the Koch years knows that Mr. Roberts's lede is true gold: "When former Mayor Koch was alive, he was so unconstrained that he was considered unavoidable for comment." The story appears on page 20 today, under the tells-everything-headline: "Even in Death, Koch Shows Contempt for Trump: 'One of the Least Likable People.'"

There is the photo of  The Donald, cutting a handsome, almost boyish pose with his first wife Ivanka, shaking hands with the mayor, in 1983. There is a photo of the ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly restored Wollman ice skating rink, a project that dragged on for over a decade with a series of failed contractors until The Donald said he could do it, and do it on time. It was done swiftly, and under budget. Friction emerged when The Donald suggested they rename the rink after him. That didn't happen.

Mayor Koch passed away in 2013. He has mayor for 12 years, after having been a congressman, then went to work for a law firm. He passed away at 88, without ever really having retired. My wife, when asked when she might retire tells everyone, "I'm like Mayor Koch." Most people don't know what he hell she means.

So, here we have a highly liked mayor being quoted from his papers about someone he really didn't like--Donald Trump. And we are reminded that Trump had a mouth on him even then, when he expressed disappointment with the mayor: "He's presided over an administration that is both pervasively corrupt and totally incompetent." (The mayor did have some scandals that plagued his years, notably the Parking Violation Bureau one that led to a borough president committing suicide, but that's another tale.)

Koch's papers got a fresh review from his family, and out jumped some beauts about The Donald. The era that their paths intersected saw Trump become a major player in Manhattan real estate development, with strong desires to get his name on everything he touched.

The story highlights several events that saw the two sparring with each other, but the absolute gem is one not from Hizzoner himself, but one he affirmed of something a deputy mayor said, Peter Townsend about The Donald's credibility and integrity: "I wouldn't believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized."

Some things are too good not to remember.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Nooner with Pay

Two words guaranteed to get the attention of most people are "sex" and "money." And when a legislator in Sweden, in complete seriousness, suggests giving municipal employees an hour off a month to go home and have sex with their spouse, or other, then you can imagine a lot of people worldwide will chime in with opinions.

I don't know what the late-night comedians across the globe did with this one, but a 42-year-old councilman from the northern town of Overtornea, Per-Erik Muskos, made the suggestion with the earnest goal of increasing the birth rate amongst Swedes, or whomever they were proposing to send home from the 550 employee municipality workforce, with an hour off once a month, with the objective that they would have enough unprotected sex that the Swedish birth rate might take an uptick, rather than continue the downward trend it is having.

The story I read appeared in this past Friday's NYT. The reactions to the proposal and the up and downsides are given their due in what is a six-column story, complete with a photo of dancing Swedes in period costume during a midsummer festival. They are seen dancing on a lawn with five grammar-school age children in the foreground. The editor's allusion to using that photo is, I guess, to intimate that the children will what there will more of if the councilman's proposal is adopted. And everyone will be happy about it.

The story is also accompanied by a helpful map that shows you just how far in the north the town of Overtornea is. It is hard by the Arctic Circle, bordering Finland. My guess is the town might not really need any more darkened rooms, probably already getting six-months of daylight, and six-months of night, in varying shades.

When NYC experienced the total electrical blackouts of 1965 and 1977, there was documentation that the birth rate amongst city inhabitants took an uptick nine months later. I remember so such report after the blackout of 2003, indicating perhaps a far more widespread use of contraceptives.

In addition to all that is mentioned about what is right or wrong with the proposal, are two aspects of Swedish life in Overtornea that I find interesting. An hour off to get home and get back must mean these people don't work far from where they live. Being municipal workers, living in the town might be a requirement.

Traffic must not be bad at all. Even if taking the extra monthly hour were dovetailed with lunch hour, this would still only give the employee two hours to get home and back, hopefully after taking a shower. But there is no mention that there would be any way of enforcing that.

The other aspect of the proposal is that it implies the person who would be at home to greet the sex-conscripted employee, would also have an hour off to devote to the activity. Either this means the entire town works for the municipality, or that the spouse or significant other doesn't have to work to help provide two incomes to the household. Swedes are doing well, if that's the case.

The company I once worked for had a CEO who was hired at a low point in the company's finances, and had to objective of turning things around. One of his mantras, repeated often and in many formats, was that, "we are short on time." His implication was that everyone's time was needed to be pointed toward insuring the success of the company; You shouldn't devote time of any significance to other activities.

There are at least two vice-presidents who guarded their work time so seriously that they didn't get a room, they had their extra-curricular sex in their offices, lest they waste time checking in and checking out. Eventually their enthusiasm for not wasting company time on leaving and returning to the building came to the attention of others and they were fired. Rather unfairly, I thought.

In the 1980s when Mayor Ed Koch ruled over New York City, he commented on the guard dogs that were set out at night to protect the subway yards from vandals, particularly graffiti artists. The mayor pointed out the male and female dogs found each other, with the result that the female German shepards gave birth to litters of pups. The mayor, never one to miss a beat, declared that was an example of increased productivity.

Sweden, you weren't first.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Never Too Late to Say You've Died

The most unusual of all obits appears in today's NYT. It is an obit, in a way, for a man who passed away in 1996, but who was first reported dead in 1969. The story about the circumstances is not in itself very long, but two reporters got bylines telling it.

It turns out Grady O' Cummings III, a black Harlem politician in the early 60s, reported his own death to the Times and the Amsterdam News in order to convince the Black Panthers that he was no longer among the living. He had been getting death threats from them, and supposedly his wife was attacked. He hid out in Buffalo, New York, and then reemerged in public four months later. Why it only took four months for the Black Panthers to lose the scent is not known anymore. Mr. O'Cummings finally did pass away in 1996.

It is interesting to me that the news item obituary that Mr. O'Cummings managed to get the Times to print does not appear in their doorstopper print and online compilation of all the NYT obits ever published.  It didn't make the cut, or was scrubbed from obit existence.

Today's "obit," actually a story about the fake obit, and the obit he never got when he did pass away, shows a sharp black and white 1963 photograph of Mr. O'Cummings talking to a group of Harlem youngsters. Mr. O'Cummings has one foot resting on a garbage can of the era, as he leans in to the boys telling them something. All the boys are black, save for one white youth seen off to the right. That by itself is interesting, but it's the garbage can I love.

That's right, those heavy as hell, even when empty, steel cans with reinforced rims and bottoms, that were set out on the street for the Sanitation Department to pick up. Every building of the era set those out. Even with lids.

There were no plastic bags then. No heavy rubber, yet light barrels. The garbage cans, sometimes referred to as "ash cans," because in buildings where the furnace might have been coal, ashes were set out in the can at the curb.

But my real favorite part of the reporters' story is that even after Mr. O'Cummings managed to report his own death and get several column inches devoted to his life to appear in the NYT, (talk about fake news!)
he was able to reappear in public four months later and give a news conference in Brooklyn, a news conference that the Times admits it didn't attend, despite the contradiction that a "dead" guy was talking to the press. (The Amsterdam News covered it.)

To me, it is completely understandable why the NYT may not have attended Mr. O'Cummings's news conference, even after he had gained notoriety as a presidential candidate in 1964 for the National Civil Rights Party, It was held in an "outer borough."

Although "outer borough" is not at all mentioned in today's story, it is the elephant in the room. Anyone who has read any of these posting knows I love it when I can point out what has been the Times's Manhattan-centric approach to the city's news. All those outlining precincts connected by bridges and tunnels, are often referred to as "outer boroughs." I love it.

I know. I grew up in Flushing.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

James Thurber

No, James Thurber did not just pass away. He passed away in 1961, but an obituary writer for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Chawkins, has memorialized Thurber once again when he complains in an article in what looks like an online Harvard Magazine, Nieman, that obituary writing is a dying art, while at the same time giving us some beautiful prose about it.

Mr. Hawkins's article was gleaned from a Tweet that landed on the @ObittheFilm Twitter site that I check out daily. In true Mobius strip fashion, one thing leads to another, and brings you back where you started.

Mr. Hawkins himself can be reached at the Twittter handle @schawkins. He did not post a link to the Nieman piece on his own site.  In fact, his last posted Tweet is March 8, 2016. @Niemanstoryboard Tweeted, and @obittheFilm gathered the link to the article in the Nieman Journal. "Storyboard" is a section of the journal. No matter, we're there.

Oddly, at about the same time as the @Obitthefilm site retweeted the @niemanstoryboard Tweet (still with us?) The NYT published a weekday edition that contained an astounding 11 obituaries that appeared on four pages. This might well be a record for any day's paper. Nine of the 11 were bylined. Some of the veteran Times reporters seem to have migrated to the Obits section, that long ago stopped being a destination for the punished.

The Storyboard piece contributed by Mr. Schawkins is a beaut itself. It makes frequent reference to the NYT Thurber obit in 1961, that, standard for the era, went unbylined.

I find the best part of Mr. Schawkins's piece is the disclosure that a young Truman Capote was assigned to help Thurber around town since he had lost the vision in one eye at an early age to a brother who shot him with arrow, and was now, in his later years, suffering from a cataract in the other eye.

The Truman Capote piece of information was not in the 1961 obit, nor was the disclosure that the young Truman also accompanied Mr. Thurber on his weekday visits to his mistress, and once thought it would be great fun to help Thurber dress himself, and possibly give away his extra-curricular assignation to his wife, by helping him get dressed and turning his socks inside-out.

This is a devilish prank to play on a nearly sightless guy who might have trouble finding his way around, but no trouble whatsoever in finding other things. There were backups singers to the blind Ray Charles who dubbed themselves the Raylettes--you had to "let Ray" do what he wanted if you wanted to be part of the recording, or show.

Certainly men of any era have led some duplicitous lives. Didn't a New Yorker chief editor, William Shawn, famously bounce between two apartments and two woman, one his wife of 64 years, the other one who raised an adopted son of his? I mean, Charles Lindbergh raised two families on two continents, so why not?

My own introduction to Thurber started when as a teen-ager I read 'My Years with Ross,' his biography of the legendary first editor of the magazine, Harold Ross. To me, one of the more memorable vignettes from Ross's life as described by Thurber, was that Ross always carried a good deal of change in his pocket, so that the next time the cabby needed to be paid and tipped, he wouldn't be overpaid and tipped because Ross couldn't produce payment with bills that the cabbie claimed he "couldn't break." No one wants to be hustled.

But back to Thurber's wife. He divorced his first wife in 1935 and later married Helen Weismer, a "Mount Holyoke graduate who had edited several pulp magazines prior to marrying Thurber." Apparently Thurber referred to his second wife as his "seeing-eye" wife.

It is hard to believe a pair of inside-out socks, probably either solid-colored blue or black, could trip up a philanderer to a wife, even if she was referred to as the "seeing-eye" wife. The Thurber obit does not directly mention the second Mrs. Thurber as a survivor, but you get the impression she was, and probably still married to James. Some things might just go overlooked.

Trying to cause trouble, that naughty Truman.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Up and Coming

It might not really be a two horse race after all between Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May for the title of 'The World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.'

She's always been around, but Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund has entered the race, seen here with Chancellor Merkel discussing Greece's debt and how to deal with it.

Ms. Lagarde, despite some legal trouble back in her home country France, still manages to get in a picture here and there. She is ALWAYS seen with a deeply tanned bronze face that in my mind can only come from perpetual skiing. I don't know if Ms. Lagarde actually does ski, but my guess is she at least hangs out where they do ski, and where the surroundings are nothing less some place in St. Moritz.

It's the romantic in me.


ABB Hit by Fraud in South Korea

Having spent the last 18 years of my
43-year employed life working at detecting health insurance fraud, I tend to react to the appearance of the word "fraud." So, when I saw the above headline in Wednesday's WSJ I had to read on, despite not knowing what ABB stood for, and not really having any connection to South Korea, unless it is in the living room and might be the flat panel TV. I'll have to check later.

The story goes:

ABB Ltd. said it would likely book a $100 million charge related to a "sophisticated criminal scheme" it said was orchestrated by the treasurer of its South Korea unit, who has gone missing.

The Swiss engineering company said it suspects that the treasurer forged documents and colluded with third parties to steal from the company before disappearing Feb. 7. An ABB spokeman said the company uncovered the alleged theft Feb 9.

In a complaint filed with South Korean law-enforcement authorities, ABB alleged that the treasurer stole 35.7 billion won ($31.2 million) by sending money to his personal bank accounts in a series of transactions, according to an official at Cheonan Seobuk police station in South Korea.

The treasurer has been identified as Oh Myung-se, the person said. Mr Oh couldn't be reached for comment. 

You don't say.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quick, Spell...

The name of the military Polish-Lithuanian engineer who came to the United States in 1776 and helped the Continental Army build fortifications that helped defeat the British was Thaddeus Kosciuszko.

You might be able to say the name, but can you spell it? Not many people can. And that includes life-long New Yorkers who might be expected to know these things.

But why is the mustard spelled Kosciusko? No z. Is it because the Kosciuszko family didn't give their permission to memorialize their hero on a jar of 'spicy brown' mustard? Whose picture is on the label in the front, depicted in a small cameo, in between those those two words?

It happens to be great mustard, and we always have several jars in the house. It's great on the Karl Ehmer hot dogs, and the kielbasa that we include in our dinner repertoire.

There is of course the Kosciuszko bridge that spans the Newton creek that separates parts of Queens from Brooklyn, two boroughs of New York City that are often referred to as the 'outer boroughs' by the New York Times. The New York City marathon route takes runners over the bridge, so how 'outer' can those boroughs be? No matter.

The Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint and the Queens neighborhood of Maspeth are connected by the bridge. Greenpoint (pronounced Green-pernt by true New Yorkers) is a predominately Polish neighborhood. Thus, the name of the connecting bridge makes sense. Traditionally, window washers in the city came from Greenpoint. The urban legend says there are no dirty windows in Greenpoint.

The old bridge is in the process of being replaced by a more elegant looking span, and when the new bridge is completed, the old one will be blown up, according to Governor Cuomo. It's not sure if this demolition will be part of any July 4th celebration or not. Stay tuned.

The whole correct spelling of Kosciuszko was brought to mind when I read a piece in the Times that tried to trace the urban legend that there are alligators in the city's sewers. Apparently, the paper of record reported on February 10, 1935 the story of some youngsters who the day before were shoveling snow that revealed an alligator caught in a storm drain.  It was fished out.

This was near the Harlem River, in East Harlem, on 123rd Street. If anyone is familiar with this area, they will know that the famous restaurant Rao's is nearby. Perhaps only by coincidence, the alligator, on being pulled out of the storm drain, was whacked over the head repeatedly with shovels until it no longer had a pulse. Talk about a De Niro movie. That's how tough the neighborhood always was.

There is actually a date on the calendar, February 9th, that Mr. Miscione, the official borough historian of Manhattan, designates as Alligators in the Sewer Day to honor discarded or escaped beasts. (It is not known yet if there will be a Wild Steer Day to commemorate in the future the escaped steer that got loose in Queens yesterday.)

There is an actual gathering of people who turn out for this event and meet at the Greater Historical Historical Society in Queens. A trivia contents on city history is held, and one question was to correctly spell Kosciuszko. Apparently, no one got it right.

Yeah, but did someone who might have spelled it as it the name appears on a jar of mustard, Kosiusko, file an appeal?


Fill In the Blank, News

The word 'news' is itself in the news these days. Usually preceded with the word 'fake' in front of it. Fake news. The mantra of the Trump Administration and what it has to overcome to serve its mandate from the American people. Agree or not, you can't escape hearing about 'fake news' these days.

But how about another kind of news? 'Missing' news. No, not about unreported stories, but about stories that have been reported but not printed. Censorship? Good heavens no. Something wrong with the presses.

My current demographic definition puts me squarely in the 'old man' bracket. I once read that advertising executives would claim that you can't sell anything to anyone over 50 through an ad. I don't really know if my purchases from the time of my crossing the 50-year yard line were influenced directly by advertising, but my credit card statements indicate that I have been buying things. (And paying for them.)

But back to 'missing news.' I get very reliable home delivery of the NYT and the WSJ. I have probably been reading the print edition of the Times every day since The Herald Tribune went out of business. My favorite paper. Still. News, sports, editorial cartoons, and comics, with Our Miss Peach. You can look it up when The Tribune crashed after the famous 1963 newspaper strike.

Thus, it's a long time. My wife teases me about my reading the Times. She will at least once a week utter her long deceased father's opinion of the paper; "that pinko, commie rag." Patrick Brennan was an IRT motorman on the Woodlawn Line and proud member of the union, and considered Mike Quill a deity. But he didn't like the Times, and his emphatic opinion of the paper is not the only one I've ever heard over the years.  He immigrated from County Sligo, Ireland, and loved the United States. He laughed at the Irish back on the Isle, but the Times was always "a pinko commie rag."

It is no use continually telling my wife that I can read the paper, but not agree with the paper. I never read the editorials, but I know where their hearts lie. I don't care. For my now discounted print price I get a good overview of the world, including sports, while usually not agreeing with anything they're leaning towards. It is thoroughly possible to do this. I've been doing it for decades. Maybe you can call it 'objective reading,' I don't know. I don't care.

All this a long preamble to telling anyone who cares to read this that I'm' quite familiar with the paper and its layout. So imagine my surprise yesterday when I turned the pages, got to the last page of the first section and saw that the Op-Ed page, page 23, was opposite a story about Joe Piscopo wanting to run for Governor of New Jersey.

Where is the Editorial Page that I ignore? A story about Joe Piscopo with a picture of the comedian at a restaurant with wine and food in front of him is not the lead editorial. (Maybe the next day, without the picture.)

It was then I realized that page 22 is missing. Missing news. And if the sheet of paper that contains page 22 is missing, I'm also missing three more pages from the broadsheet: pages 21, 3 and 4. I'm missing news. And no one on any news show is talking about this. 'All the news that's fit to print' didn't all get printed. Alert the media. I did.

I wrote to the Public Editor and told them of the missing pages. The subject of my email was 'Collating Mishap.' Maybe it will be the title of a mystery book someday. I know the Public Editor is really what I once heard the first Public Editor, Daniel Okrent, describe as the 'Complaint Department.'

I explained I wasn't going to report a missing delivery, because the reliable people who deliver the paper would probably only bring me another paper that also had the pages missing. I've actually got a rare stamp. The newspaper equivalent of the inverted Jenny airmail stamp of 1918. An edition of the paper with a missing sheet. E Bay? I'm definitely saving it.

Today's Correction section does not acknowledge that there were editions that had missing pages. Missing news. I'm not going to appear on a talk show as a talking head to discuss the missing news. Charles Krauthammer and Matt Lauer are not calling.

I know the Public Editor does not respond to the emails they get. But perhaps there are alert readers out there who received similar editions with the missing pages?

Missing news. You heard it here first.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Empire State Building

The recent NYT  story about a Boston bombing survivor who plans to marry the fireman who attended to her immediately after the bombing, reminded me of several things.

The backdrop to the story was the picture of Roseann Sdoia participating in the 40th annual Empire State Run-up with her fireman fiance Michael Materia. Neither of them was going to actually run up the stairs to the 86th floor. They were going to walk up the 1,576 stairs, she in running attire, with her prosthetic right leg, he in full bunker gear, complete with oxygen tank on his back.

Their participation was to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organization that played a huge part in Ms. Sdoia's recovery.

I shook my head to realize that the Run-up was the 40th annual one. I remember when they started it. Several times the winner of the actual running up the stairs was a native American from New Mexico, or Arizona. I made a posting February 1, 2011 to relate the story of the Empire State lobby men who used to have to keep an eye out for athletes who wanted to run up the stairs in the era prior to the sanctioned Run-up. Their vigilance as acute when there was one of any six of the indoor track meets being held at the old Madison Square Garden.

Foreign athletes in particular wanted the challenge of running to the 86th floor Observatory. It seems very strange to think in the post-9/11 world vigilance was still needed to prevent people from getting access to the stairs, even if their intentions were merely benign.

There is only one major indoor track meet now, and it is held at the Armory on 168th Street in Washington Heights. Lobby and stair access in most NYC buildings is controlled post-9/11 with an identification check-in process.

The other aspect of the story that hit me was remembering the woman who was trapped under a construction crane for 6 hours in 1985 while rescue crews worked frantically to get her free. The story of Brigitte Gerney is remarkable for the recovery she made, without having her legs amputated, and for the second tragedy that befell her when her fiance, an orthopedist, who was part of her recovery team, Dr. Peter Rizzo, was killed in the workplace by a disgruntled fireman on disability who aimed a saw-off rifle at his head.

Mrs. Gerney son, Arkadi, wrote a moving piece on gun control, 'Guns and My Mother,' that appeared in The New Yorker April 9, 2013. His mother lives in Southhampton, NY.

You can only wish that good things continue to happen to Ms. Sdobia and Michael Materia.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day is not one of those holidays that usually holds or creates lot of memories. The greeting card industry has been hard put to create cards for the occasion. Who would you give the card to? That's what they say, so there is no Presidents' Day section that appears in CVS after Valentine's Day. St. Patrick's day takes over.

I can think of three Presidents' Days that hold somewhat memorable events in my life. And I think one of them was really George Washington's birthday before he and Abraham Lincoln were conflated into one holiday honoring their birthdays, in what is really earmarked as a day to sell cars, appliances, and whatever else the American consumer might need.

A 'Pepper and Salt' cartoon in Saturday's WSJ depicts an angelic Abe and an angelic George sitting on a heavenly cloud with Abe telling George, "What we did for our country was pretty amazing, but wat we did for retailers exceeds my wildest dreams." Any day off from work is a good day, and commerce is good. To be embraced.

It wasn't until I was reading a piece in today's NYT about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by Sarah Maslin Nir and Nikita Stewart, two reporters who I know were not around in 1993 to remember the event first hand. Not a requirement to do a story, though.

The article was spawned by the recent death of the blind Muslim cleric, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of planning attacks that never came about. Attacks that were aimed at New York City's infrastructure of buildings, and tunnels. The sheikh, 78, passed away in a federal prison in North Carolina. He had been sentenced to life in prison.

The story, 'Cleric's Death Stirs Memories of a Seminal Attack,' recounts memories and quotes from Port Authority officials who were in 1 World Trade Center at the time of the blast, on February 26, 1993. The port Authority had its headquarters in
1 WTC.

At the time, my office was on the 27th floor of 622 Third Avenue, at 40-41st Streets, and we could plainly see the smoke coming from the building, hearing reports that a 'transformer went.' It was a grey, almost snowy day. As the day wore, on theories of terrorism were creeping into the possibilities of what happened.

February 26 was not Presidents' Day, but Presidents' Day 1999 was around the time the company I worked for, Empire BlueCross BlueChield had moved its offices from 622 Third Avenue into
1 World Trade Center.

I distinctly remember the Presidents' Day of 1999 because we had off, but I decided, like some other people, to come in a day early and spend some time to unpack, and get a little set up in our new digs. My cubicle was a decent size, and faced south, rimming the windows. We were on the 29th floor, having taken 10 floors in the building, 400,000 square feet. Each floor in the Trade Center towers were about an acre. I remember some of the other people I encountered that day as we setup. I also remember looking at our space and thinking that it was more than decent, and that I could easily put in another 10 years in the company I had then already worked 31 years for.

Incredibly, the 1993 bombing only killed six people. They were memorialized by a plaque that I never took a look at. Some had, but I don't even remember where they placed it.

My ten-year plan was certainly interrupted on September 11, 2001 when I sardonically joke we became a lower Manhattan airport. I distinctly remember that there were people coming down the stairs from floors above us who were talking about having already gone through an evacuation in 1993.

Some of the 10 floors that Empire had leased were still vacant from the 1993 bombing. Specifically a large tenant, the accounting firm Deloitte, never moved back in, instead opting for replacement space in the World Financial Center on the other side of West Street. Thus, we were in space that was vacant for six years. I think we got in for $29 a square foot.

Many at Empire were not at all happy about moving into the Trade Center. It was felt we were moving into a building with a bull's-eye on its roof. Some senior staff were giddy about taking floors near the top, providing themselves with spectacular views. One vice president was a little more practical and said lower floors were better because staff would not lose so much time getting on and off elevator changes to get to their job. Luckily, that view held, and the 10, mostly contiguous floors we had, didn't go above the 33rd floor. One elevator trip was all that was needed.

There were also those who believed we were moving into the safest building in New York. Security was greatly enhanced at the site since the 1993 bombing. The place was believed to be Fort Knox.

I'm not a student of military tactics, but I remember reading that as soon as there were airplanes that could launch attacks, forts were no longer strategically important. And certainly, the trench warfare of WW I would be completely useless against aerial attack. So, while the Trade Center security was being tightened so tight that no one was going to get a bomb-filled Ryder Truck into the building's basement, someone in a cave somewhere was planning to fly planes into it, rather than enter the fort on wheels. The rest is history.

I never did get that 10 years in. The circumstances of 9/11, combined with the fatal workplace shootings of 9/16/2002, upset the apple cart so much that by 2004 I was out of there completely.

I recently read that Spotify, the digital music company, has signed a lease for space in one of the Trade Center replacement buildings, 400,000 square feet at $80 and change a square foot. They were getting too crammed in their space in Chelsea.

Imagine, a digital music company takes as much space as a major health insurer. I hope someone there gets their 10 years in.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

In Memoriam

Anyone who is familiar with the NYT obits page will know of the paid notice section where, for a sizable expense, people can post photos and their own obituary text for a loved one. Some of these are quite lengthy, and I'm sure quite expensive. Newspapers certainly lost the gravy train when classified ads went online, but the obit page is helping to claw back some of that revenue. People want to tell you either about themselves (Facebook) or about departed loved ones (Legacy.com). And if you fork over enough moola, you can memorialize someone in the NYT.

I always make a habit of glancing over to the 'In Memoriam' section. I do this because for five years running I took out a sentiment for my murdered colleagues. At the ten year anniversary I did it again, and now, with this being the 15th year since 9/16/2002, I'll be doing another one. It is a bit costly, but something I've vowed to do as long as I can.

In today's paper there is one of the lengthiest postings in the 'In Memoriam' section I can remember. It is literally five and a half column inches long, and since cost is based on the space you take, it couldn't have been cheap to run.

The sentiment acknowledges the passing of Peter M. Cukor, who would not be much older than myself if he hadn't passed away on February 18, 2012. Thus, Andie and Xan are displaying a five year anniversary tribute for Mr. Cukor.

Other than the length, the text itself doesn't attract attention. It is the use of a P.S. and what it says that grabs you.

First off, you have to be of a certain age, of which I am, to even know what the hell a P.S. is. It stands for postscript, and denotes something that is written after the body of the text above. If it were in a play, it would be an aside. The P.S. goes:

You wouldn't believe who won the World Series! And you REALLY wouldn't believe who's president!

I love thinking you can tell the dead something. I love thinking about what would they think about an event that is occurring? I love believing they might already know, but just can't tell us they know.

When there was all the hub bub about the opening of the Second Avenue subway I wrote to the metropolitan transportation beat reporter, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, that since my father was born in 1915 in a cold-water flat on Second Avenue and 32rd Street, and there was an elevated Second Avenue line that rumbled past his windows when he was growing up, I was going to hold a seance and tell him they finally got around to replacing a mile and a half of the line as a subway, at a cost of $4 billion, but it only had three stops,72nd, 86th and 96th Streets. I know he wouldn't be impressed.

As I've posted here, the reporter called me and asked about my father, and was I really going to hold a seance. She suspected not, but wanted to be sure. I confirmed there would be no seance.

I'm going to keep glancing over at the 'In Memoriam' section and someday see that maybe someone will be telling someone about the Second Avenue subway. It really is some trifecta: Cubs, Trump and the Second Avenue subway, even as short as it is.


Maureen and the Donald

Anyone who has read some of these postings would remember that I sometimes seem to have a bone to pick with the NYT columnist Maureen Dowd. I do. She doesn't work very hard.

She files one column a week that she claims takes her 7 hours to put together. That's not a lot of work for what I'm suspecting is a full-time position with the paper that includes benefits. Consider the gang at the obits desk, Sam Roberts and William Grimes who might each have 4-5 bylined, lengthy obits a week on deceased people from incredibly varied walks of life. Sometimes multiple obits on the same day.

Then there's Margalit Fox and Robert McFadden, who are updating the "morgue" obits, or the ones that are getting pre-written as best as they can be for the sometime-soon expected departed. Their bylines appear more often than Ms. Dowd's column.

When Ms. Dowd first hit the Op-Ed pages in the mid 90s I loved her take on many things.  And obviously she came to the attention of others, because she won a Pulitzer for commentary.

While to me she could never replace Russell Baker who had retired, her 'Liberties' column was a good breeze through an open door. Now, she writes like a standup comedian dispensing snarky one liners, that can actually sometimes be worth reading. I'm not kidding. The one about Trump soon entering an office where the pictures on the wall aren't all of him is priceless. But there's no
essay-like continuity to the remarks before the next snark is dropped. Baker did create a ballet in a phone booth, as he once described his efforts.

Obviously, I'm holding her to a higher standard than she can achieve. Now that I am a home delivery print subscriber I get to read the paper online as well. I take this opportunity on Sunday's to read Ms. Dowd, if she's filed anything. She tends to disappear for weeks at a time.

And online delightfully offers you the opportunity to post some snarky comments of your own if you get there in time. Wait till Sunday morning and you get shut out, they are flooded with too many Dowd comments to review for content and possibly post.

Some of mine have gotten in there, for whatever it's worth. They generally congratulate Ms. Dowd on finally showing up with a good one, or once again calling one in from her cell phone while riding in an Uber car going somewhere. Shopping, or eating out, maybe. She has told us what she's eaten at a meal.

Ms. Dowd takes an obvious hard stand on The Donald, but then again, who at the Times doesn't? When President-elect Trump met with the mucky-mucks at the Times in their board room he made the offer for any of them to call him anytime--except Maureen, who he said is too hard on him. No problem with that. Hard can be deserved.

Ms. Dowd doesn't really like anyone. If she even likes herself, we don't really know. She might only like her wardrobe. I have no idea. Whoever is there gets shot at. No problem there. We all need targets, and I seem to have one too.

So consider last Sunday's one liners that I commented on before the space filled up. I'm not so full of myself to believe that a great number of people read anyone's comments, but they do act as a safety valve that keep you from punching a hard object, or worse, kicking the cat who insists it is time to eat--again. (No Cosmo, it is waaaaay too early.)

Maybe it was the word 'sex' that kept my column from appearing. Maybe it was my continued criticism of Ms. Dowd's work ethic, but my comment did not get published, even though they were still taking comments. It is possible that my comment was so far back in the line that by the time they did get to it, they were full up. You really just don't know. It's like taking the test for the show 'Jeopardy.' They don't tell you how you did. If the phone don't ring, you know it's them.

I always send my comments to my daughter just in case I don't make the cut, for whatever reason. My oldest daughter likes to read to read Maureen to see how hard she's been on The Beaver. I tell my friend what I wrote as well. He tells me, "you really don't like her, do you." I tell him I don't like that she gets away with so little effort.

Anyway, for anyone who cares about how I replied to last week's Dowd routine, I offer it as the following. You will of course need to read or reread her Sunday, February 12 column. Who knows what she'll come in with this week, if she's even working. The Donald's press conference might be turned into a new reality show of its own. Stay tuned.


Brava Maureen! You turned in another good one, a week apart from your last one. That's almost like working. Although, picking on Trump is way too easy, but you do do a good job of it and point out the relevant uprising awareness amongst the population.

I'm glad the Times is doing well again financially. You're worth more than the $3.00 WSJ. And at $2.50, with rising online income, you might stay in print for the rest of my life, which at this point I've measured to be about 15-16 years from now. Way to go. I wouldn't want to go before 'All the News That's Fit to Print' were to disappear.

I do worry that Melania is in New York during the week. I think The Donald does need someone to grab on weekdays to soothe his rough edges. There's nothing like Tuesday morning sex with the likes of a super model to make even Sean Spicer appear to be well dressed.

Keep up the good work. With The Donald in office you'll never be without something nasty to say. 


I guess I can be snarky too. However, my pay is way below Maureen's.


Friday, February 17, 2017


You might reasonably conclude that someone created the dumpster. After all, it's not found in nature, so someone had to first come up with the idea of creating large steel bins to hold garbage of all kinds, that can be hoisted in the air, be made to tilt their lids, and dump the contents into a garbage truck. The heavy lifting is mechanical. All you have to do is drop the stuff in the dumpster. Gravity takes over in filling it, and gravity takes over in emptying it. Einstein might have been impressed.

Uncle Albert was certainly alive in the 1930s when the Dempster brothers first came up with the idea of a heavy duty commercial trash receptacle, now known as a dumpster. The patented it as well. Imagine that, your family name is forever linked to garbage, It can be a dream come true for some.

I learned all this when I was reading the weekly column in the WSJ that gives us the origin of phrases, or words that have become hot ones, repeated often by all forms of the media in the preceding week. The column, 'Word on the Street' by Ben Zimmer was giving the reader the origin and the meaning of 'dumpster fire.' Apparently, President Trump, who has done more for the media just by waking up and talking or Tweeting than anyone before him, ran a 2016 campaign that the media has characterized as chaotic, or a 'dumpster fire.' Agree or not, the theme of the column is to describe where the word dumpster comes from, and what does a 'dumpster fire' mean?

For me, the revelation that a family's name is the origin for 'dumpster' is enough to get me going and add to my list of eponymous names.

Take the Outerbridge Crossing. Is it called that because the bridge was placed in a remote area, linking New Jersey and New York's Staten Island? You might well thing so. But in reality it is named after Eugenius H. Outerbridge, the Port Authority's first chairman. The Port Authority, being a bistate agency that builds and maintains bridges, as well as running the region's three major airports.

The Holland Tunnel, that links Manhattan and New Jersey? 'Holland' because the Dutch settled in New York in the 1600s and bought Manhattan from the Indians for a song? No. The tunnel is named after its chief engineer, Clifford Milburn Holland.

Frozen peas? Frozen carrots? Birds Eye frozen peas? Bird Eye frozen carrots? Clarence Frank Birdseye II is considered the father of fast frozen food, creating an entire industry that freezes fresh food for later consumption without losing the quality of freshness.

Recoating your driveway? Applying a coat of fresh McAdam? McAdam is named after a Scottish inventor who perfected paving roads with a layer of tar-coated rock and gravel.

Arm trouble? Having Tommy John surgery? The surgeon who advanced the surgery that repaired the UCL, the ulnar collateral ligament, found in the elbow that gets strained by a high count of pitches thrown, is named Tommy John, right? No. The first major league ballplayer to undergo the surgery advanced by the orthopedic surgeon Frank Lobe was Tommy John, a Los Angeles pitcher who after the 1974 surgery went on to win 164 more games from the 124 he had already won prior to the surgery. The surgery was an obvious success. UCL repair is now known as 'Tommy John' surgery. Think of being known in baseball annals, as well as in medical journals.

While law firms might not be considered truly eponymously named, they do carry the names of partners who are no longer associated with the firm. Thomas Dewy, rackets-busting Manhattan District Attorney and presidential candidate who lost to Harry Truman in the 1948 election, became part of the name of one of the biggest white shoe firms, Dewey Ballantine.

Crime families in New York seem to keep the leader's name, long after they are in jail or dead. Take the Genovese crime family, whose name comes from a boss named Vito Genovese. Vito is no longer with us, having died of a heart attack in 1969 while serving time in a Federal prison in Springfield, Missouri. The family named endured, even after the leader was John Gotti, who himself also died in the same prison in 2002, of throat cancer. Even after that, the Genovese name still endures even after its leader is said to be Frank Cali, who succeeded John Gotti.

The law firm Dewey Ballantine, as prestigious as it was, merged with another law firm, Le Boeuf and became Dewy LeBoeuf, which later went into bankruptcy and later completely dissolved when three of its former senior attorneys were tried for conspiring to manipulate financial records. So far, there's been one mistrial.

So, how permanent is a name? So far, pretty good when it involves garbage bins, a bridge, a tunnel, frozen food, paving material, a surgical procedure and organized crime. Not so much if you're part of a law firm.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Meanest Mobster

I have long since developed a deep respect for the obituary writer whose assignment it is these days to turn in copy of subjects that can be as wide ranging as Nobel Prize winners to scoundrels of organized crime.

Fairly new to these ranks is Sam Roberts, a veteran reporter for the NYT who lately finds himself at the obituary desk. My suspicion is he either survived a layoff, turned down a buy-out, or did something that allowed his career to progress to writing obituaries--the new form that carries the information of an encyclopedia entry and the personal descriptive nuances of a character in a novel. His transition, for whatever reason, is our gain.

Where but in an obituary entry can you get to use an Al Capone quote that you've probably been keeping locked in your memory for decades? The death of the South Jersey mobster Nicky Scarfo Sr. has allowed Mr. Roberts the opportunity to show us what he's probably been saving up for years.

By all descriptions, Nicolas Scarfo was an unpleasant character. He seems to have acquired a combative personality that came to the notice of adults at least as early as his high school graduation, when his yearbook entry included the phrase "out to lick the world." Before he learned to use a firearm, he was probably tested for rabies, Likely more than once.

To say he was a career criminal makes it sound like he entered the life because he liked the benefits, rather than when he was genetically conceived he was destined for the life he led. He was born in Brooklyn into an Italian immigrant family, that despite having a father who was considered free of mob tires, the rest of the family was considered to have strong ties to the Italian mafia. His family was from Naples and Calabiria, with Calabria being a Italian town immediately across from Sicily that might be considered the West Point of organized crime. Italian magistrates in that town have taken to placing children of mob parents in foster homes in the hope of keeping them from graduating into the Black Hole of the Black Hand. Supposedly, there's been some progress.

Consider some of the highlights of  Nicky Scarfo's resume as summarized by Sam Roberts, in his NYT obituary of "a mob boss for the 80s."

Mr. Scarfo died at 87 in a Federal prison where he was serving 55 years for "racketeering and participation in a criminal enterprise that sold drugs, murdered nine people, attempted to kill four others, and engaged in loan-sharking, extortion and gambling." It was considered a death sentence since he was not scheduled for release until 2033.

After high school, Mr. Scarfo was an amateur boxer with a mean streak, who quickly became mob-connected in Philadelphia under Don Angelo Bruno, nicknamed the Gentle Don, or Docile Don. Rising in the organization after a stint for murdering a longshoreman and becoming indicted in a Federal racketeering case involving the death of a uncompromising local judge, the South Jersey-Philadelphia mob was labeled the Bruno-Scarfo crime family.

A biographer, George Anastasia, described Mr. Scarfo as a "mob boss for the 80s, a greedy, ruthless despot whose family coat of arms could have been a pair of crossed .357 magnums, mounted on a blood-red shield embossed with the words ' Kill or Be Killed.'"

Scarfo had a hair-trigger temper that made him so disliked, even amongst his associates, that his nephew, Crazy Phil, himself a member of the gang and second in command, turned state's evidence and helped convict him, placing himself in the Witness Protection Program, where he is today.

The psychological source of Mr. Scarfo's anger is not described. What made him Mr. Grumpy Pants? Was it is derived from his being only 5'5"? Apparently, as described by Mr. Roberts, Nicky Scarfo idolized Al Capone, perhaps the most famous gangster there was, who was born in Brooklyn, like, Nicky, but later moved elsewhere. In Capone's case, famously to Chicago, in Scarfo's case, to South Jersey and Atlantic City.

But their personalities differed widely. Capone was considered charismatic, who had a wit about himself that lead him to say, "You can go a long way with a smile: you can go a lot further with a smile and a gun." (The quote is not in my hard copy edition of Bartlett's, the 15th edition.)

Mr. Roberts deftly points out Nicky Scarfo only carried the gun.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Bread and Clams

Michael Wilson writes a 'Crime Scene' column for the NYT that highlights unusual crimes committed in New York City, usually something offbeat like purloined fruitcake, or the confidence game of gypsy fortune tellers, or three-card Monte operators.

In one case of a gypsy fortune teller, the amount that was filched from the victim reached the stratosphere of three-quarters of a million dollars. Heavy going.

The amounts are not usually that high. Purloined fruitcake would have been hard pressed to crack the $1,000 level needed for the crime to be classified as a Class E Grand Larceny felony. And even then, it has to fit inside the range of $1,000 to $3,000. The perpetrator can always work there up through the penal code, however.

The most recent incident involving a theft that hit the 'Crime Scene' column is the lifting of seafood, specifically sacks of clams, oyster and mussels, from the back of a delivery van. Also the hand truck. Value declared in the police report: $350.

The delivery van was making its rounds through the restaurants of Tribeca when the driver realized a delivery earmarked for a specific restaurant was no longer in the van. The driver admits to not locking the van when making the deliveries to restaurants, which often require him to take the sacks of seafood on a hand truck and enter the cellar of the restaurant. He's working alone, so the truck is left unattended.

His initial working theory is that some junkie might have seen an opportunity to take something and perhaps fence it. Maybe they were inspired by the fellow who reached into the back of an armored truck who made off with a bucket of gold flakes weighing nearly 80 pounds and worth $1.6 million. He certainly could have used a hand truck. (That perpetrator was later apprehended; the gold was not recovered.)

The junkie theory certainly has merit. If anyone can remember the very early Al Pacino movie,'Panic in Needle Park,' you might recall that Pacino, with a killer heroin habit, simply reaches into the back of an unlocked van and pulls out a television set. This is a 70s movie, so the set is small, and likely a black and white set. Seen in today's context, the value of that TV seems to be less than a weekly MetroCard.

Back in the 60s, at the family flower shop on Third Avenue and 18th Street, we sometimes had spring plants on the sidewalk, usually pots of geraniums. These sometimes proved tempting for some of the Bowery bums, as they were known then, who happened to wander north of 14th Street, to scoop up a plant or two and head for the gin mill down the block to convince the bartender that the plants were worth a drink or two. It usually fell to me to follow the poor soul down the block, confront him, and get the plants back. Always without drama.

The driver of the seafood van shakes his head at the fencing theory, wondering who in their right mind buy shellfish that "fell off the truck," without knowing how long it's been away from refrigeration. Of course, the perpetrator could be advertising it as "fresh" off the truck.

Another theory that later occurred to the driver was that he was the victim of a planned heist. Weeks before he spotted a Jeep that was surely following him as he was making his deliveries in the area. Their tailing of him lasted three hours, certainly longer than any 'Homeland' episode as Saul Berenson tries to evade hostiles in Beirut.  The driver became so suspicious of the vehicle, thinking it might be someone who was trying to poach the route, that at one point he took a picture of the vehicle and the two men in it.

Perhaps the men in the Jeep were reasoning that oysters always had valuable pearls in them, so a heist of a sack of oysters might be like scoring some pearl necklaces. Who knows what they might have been thinking. That clams, as a slang for money, meant that the guy was really driving an armored car?

After the reading the story I immediately thought of a cartoon I saw in 'Playboy' eons ago. It showed a very hippie looking duo, one with a gun holding the driver of a FINK bread truck at gunpoint and his partner coming out of the back of the van telling the other the bad news: "Hey man, it really is bread."


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Big Board

Half a century ago, when I was a young and callow fellow, I worked on Wall Street. Well, really in an office on Broad Street, but it was work for a Wall Street firm, Burnham and Company. It was clerical work, and the boss was a total prick.

In those days "The Street" was still very much awash in paper, Actual stock certificates were delivered between firms with "runners," retired guys, who were making extra money. The New York Stock Exchange was sometimes referred to as The Big Board. The American Stock Exchange was still referred to as The Curb, because in their early days they had no building and were flashing buy/sell orders from the street, the curb.

Until recently, The Big Board could be meant to mean the arrival and departures board in Penn Station on the Amtrak level, pictured above. The Big Board was electronic, but not an LED display. Letters and numbers rotated within their spaces to update travelers of the status of their train. You would heard the ratcheting driving the movement of the characters as they spun somewhat like a slot machine. If you were lucky, the next spin might tell you what track to descend to. Bad luck meant you were delayed, or cancelled.

The Big Board was visible from either side, and hung over the staircase to the lower level. I remember the old Penn station when a green chalk board was used as the arrival/departure board and someone would come out from behind it and write in chalk what the status was. I also remember the sliding metal destination signs that were hoisted at the gates to the tracks below, to tell you where the train was going. I remember as a kid watching the signs change, and seeing what I thought were faraway places be posted: like Cincinnati.

In those days my mother and I took the Broadway Limited to Chicago to reunite with her Illinois relatives., The train left at 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon, and was due in Union Station, Chicago by
9 o'clock the next morning. My mother went off the idea of flying ever since the United Airlines plane we once took couldn't make it past Toledo in a terrific rainstorm on night, and we had to land and spend the night in Toledo, put up in a hotel by the airline. Imagine that. We weren't made to flop in the Toledo terminal. Planes then couldn't fly above the weather, so you could be in for some real knuckle rides. Too much for my mother's nerves. Trains, thereafter.

Like meeting under the clock at the old Biltmore Hotel, The Big Board was an easy mark to tell someone where to meet you. It was under The Big Board that I told my Australian Twitter buddy @justjenking where to meet me before she and her husband got on the train headed to Washington, when Jen got to tour the White House with her press credentials, and even have her picture taken at the podium used for the daily news briefings, briefings that in the Trump Administration have become so popular that Maureen Dowd in her column today describes the press secretary, Sean Spicer, as a star of daytime "must-see TV." Every time I see the podium I think of Jen as the press secretary. She's better dressed.

But The Big Board is no more. Jen sent me a link to a story that reports on its replacement, and wonders where we would meet now if the situation came up again. She was here perhaps once, and already became nostalgic.

What actually happened the day we met, I had instructed Jen and her husband to be under The Big Board. It turned out, they weren't, but not really their fault. Replacing The Big Board was already underway, and they had installed one of the new "video screens" at the south end of the station, the 31st Street side. The Big Board was still there, but now there were two arrival/departure boards.

I cursed when I realized there were now two boards, but luckily Jen saw me first with the agreed upon red cap I would wear. (I have an Australian cricket cap, but I opted for a more domestic marker.) They were under that south side board.

There is now a matching north side, or 33rd Street side "video Screen" hung near the bathrooms, which even after a fairly recent prolonged renovation are a sorry use of porcelain. The new video screens of course do not make noise when things change. No one comes out from behind it with a piece of chalk and writes in beautiful handwriting the status of the trains, and they are not visible from either side. They are TV screens, after all.

Will a rendezvous meeting place be harder to describe these days? Sure. I think now it will have to be "near the Hudson News place."

I sat near the owner of Hudson News once in the Trustees Room at Belmont race track once, Robert Cohen. His horse won that day.

The racetrack was another place the green chalk board and attendant with the beautiful handwriting was replaced by blinking lights. He posted the winners and their payouts.

Nostalgia is the residue of progress.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Now Children, How Much is that per Mile?

It has been a good number of years since my wife and I were raising school-age children. And the school-age I'm thinking of is when they are in either elementary, or middle school.

I'm old enough to remember when there was no "middle school." The building I went to growing up was Public School 22 (P.S. 22) in Queens, and when I was there there were kids in the 8th grade. They went from K-8 in that building, and although it was then co-ed, there were entrance archways marked BOYS, and entrance archways marked GIRLS. With a distance between them. It was heated by coal.

Sometime on my way to fourth grade, the city started a Junior High School designation to hold the kids in 7th, 8th and 9th grade, These were new buildings, and quite large. They were the equivalent of what is now called middle school. No matter.

As parents, real-life situations were presented to our kids as something to learn from. For me, I tended to think in terms of math, so I usually translated something that was happening to a math word problem. And right now, I can think of no better problem to present to any child that should be able to answer it, and any adult for that matter...

If New York City builds a subway that runs for a mile and half for $4 billion, and China helps Africa build a rail line that goes 466 miles for $4 billion, how much per mile is each builder spending?, and who is getting more for mileage for their dollar?

Of course, the projects are not directly comparable, since New York City's is a subway, completely underground and through an already heavily populated area of Manhattan, and Africa's is a surface rail line through open, often unsettled land, but there is a numerical answer to the word problem.

The cost of the Second Avenue Subway reminds me of the Westway project was was supposed to replace the elevated West Side Highway that ran along parts of Manhattan's West Side, hugging the Hudson River.

Driving on the old West Side Highway was like driving on the Great Wall of China, if you were allowed to do so, and if a car could fit. I remember watching them demolish the old highway near the World Trace Center in the 70s.

The Westway project's expense projections increased every day, somewhat like a debt clock. At one point it was going to cost $1 billion per mile. (A billion is a thousand millions, but is really now the new million.) I distinctly remember a Russell Baker column that pointed out that was a lot of money to create a road that would allow Wall Street brokers quicker access to 42nd Street to buy pornography.

I don't know why he picked on Wall Street people as being customers of the bookstores and peep shows that were part of the Times Square of that era, and that they would drive to get there, but he did.

Environmentalists complained of what it was going to do to the striped bass population in the Hudson River. I'm not sure striped bass were being fished from the Hudson River and landing on plates in New York City restaurants, but it shows you the variety of arguments that were presented to try and convince the powers in place that Westway was a bad idea.

Eventually, even after a huge cardboard check of an ungodly amount representing a down payment was presented to someone to get the project rolling, the project was scrapped, and an ordinary repaving job was put in place. Westway became NoWay. And of course, a far as Times Square being the epicenter for smut, that too disappeared and went online. Time changes a lot.

In all fairness of course, the Second Avenue Subway cannot possibly be compared to the Djibouti/ Addis Ababa rail link. On the Second Avenue Subway, a conductor opens and closes the doors, with fares collected by a MetroCard swipe at the turnstile.

On the African rail line, and because China helped finance the line as part of their $1 trillion (a thousand billions!) Silk Road initiative intended to cement ties with international trading partners in developing countries, Chinese conductors will run the rail line for five years.

Kids, what would our unions say about that?


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Simply Smashing

The two most photographed women with clothes on were seen side-by-side in Malta last week discussing trade and world affairs, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. If this were a horse race, the two in this photo would be declared to have finished in a dead heat.

On style points Mrs. May would have to be declared the winner, with her turquoise unbuttoned jacket vs. Chancellor Merkel's buttoned-up top.  The snappiness of the prime minister's jacket is enhanced by what looks like its buttonless drape. Her necklace looks a bit chunky, somewhat like an abacus on steroids, but she gets away with it because of its coloring.

Chancellor Merkel doesn't really come in too far behind on style points, however. Her jewelry is more subtle and less distracting. It will really be something if France elects a female president, perhaps Marine Le Pen. A photo of those three together would be fashion's equivalent of the famous 1944 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in which there was a triple dead heat for first.

These are exciting times. We can only hope.


Monday, February 6, 2017


I've seen them all. All 51 Super Bowls. And thankfully, we're back into Roman Numerals that we can easily translate into numbers. L for 50; I for 1. Looks like the abbreviation for Long Island.

I'm hardly the greatest football fan there ever was, but I do enjoy a good game, and last night's game was easily a good game. A Great Game.

Commercials? A telephone sex Verizon commercial that missed badly, and really should have only been shown if the game went past 11 o'clock.

Then there was the Lunber84.com commercial about getting across the wall. Only, the wall wasn't there. Fox wouldn't let the full commercial run. It is of course out there on the web for all to see.

Lumber84's website crashed because everyone was trying to find out more about them. Turns out they are an American building supply company, the largest privately held supplier to professional builders. As expected, there is controversy from those whose reaction is that illegal immigration is being encouraged, and would benefit Lumber 84. You do have to wonder about any commercial that ends with a a message that it "will be continued."  Given short attention spans, it seems strange to offer a commercial that is its own mini-series.

Outside of that, there was nothing that seemed worth remembering as "iconic." Perhaps Melissa McCarthy trying to save the environment in a wide variety of fashions might enter some sort of advertising Hall of Fame.

I even watched the halftime show...with the sound on. The music was not anything I'm going to download, but the logistics and energy to pull off that show were astounding. At the outset I started to think we are now going to have a new version of Peter Pan, with Lady Gaga being suspended by visible cables, unlike the thin wires that floated Mary Martin across a Broadway stage.

This show looked dangerous. Miss the mark and the fall might kill you. The fireworks looked like the shelling of Fort Sumter. It is hard to believe that not all that long ago Mary Chapin Carpenter and her band were the halftime show and the top song was the Cajun-flavored 'Down at the Twist and Shout', perfect for the New Orleans Super Bowl setting.

But it's the game, the game, the game, and this one was a doozie. From my years and years of watching horse racing and backing my selections with modest sums, I've come to learn to gravitate toward the winners when trying to make a pick. Proven track record sort of thing, from either the horse, the jockey, the trainer, or all three. .And who better than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to personify winners?

Coach Bill wasn't even in his gray sweet hoodie. He almost looked like he was in formal attire. Playing indoors in a temperate climate I'm sure had something to do with his wardrobe selection. He actually looked like someone you would buzz through a locked jewelry store door. Especially when he smiled.

The owner of the Falcons and his wife looked stranded on the sidelines, having come down from their viewing box waaaaay too early, anticipating victory.  Arthur Blank and his wife looked like a pair of polar bears marooned on a piece of ice with nowhere to go. They couldn't swim back up to their box. but had to instead slink away like they were never there. Almost sad. Glad they stopped showing them on camera.

The two-point conversion for The Patriots with the direct snap was pure play calling. Atlanta was out-coached, plain and simple, and their defense was left gasping for air. It's a 60 minute game, that sometimes needs a little more time to decide a winner. Winning the coin toss for the overtime period didn't hurt The Patriots either.

Usually it would be the Giants in the Super Bowl that would get my complete attention. But last night's game held mine, not just for the come-from-behind excitement and overtime, but perhaps because I do have to figure I'm not going to be around for Super Bowl C.

So, with the 51st Super Bowl we've crossed the mid-century mark. How high will I see the numbers go?


Saturday, February 4, 2017

It's Back in the News

We're getting near that time of the year when the starchy grammarians are going to remind us how Presidents Day, Presidents's Day, President's Day, or Presidents' Day should be spelled out. Apostrophes might be the most reviled punctuation mark. It is so hated that a British writer has devoted a whole book, a small, almost hymnal edition, titled 'Fucking Apostrophes.' That's right. That's the title. Spelled out.

The WSJ recently devoted an A-Hed piece entirely on the trend in publishing that sees vulgarisms become part of the title--completely spelled out, and those that duck under some fig leaf asterisks.

Some of the titles do duck under some asterisks, which prevent the entire word from being spelled out in broad daylight. It's almost ironic that in a forward to his 'Fucking Apostrophes' book that the author Simon Griffin, gives us an entomology lesson in how the word apostrophe came about.

Typical, if a word origin isn't from Latin, it is from Greek. Apparently he aspostrophos in Greek, means turning away, or an elision, the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking. Mr. Griffin tells us a printer named Gregory Troy introduced into the French language in the 15th century.

One of the apostrophe's roles is to show us that something has been taken out. So it is nearly doubly ironic that books with vulgarities in their titles that do not choose to spell the word out using all the letters, instead replace key letters with asterisks.

Thus, there are titles out there sitting on the book store tables that are: 'F*ck Love'; 'There is No F*cking Secret; 'Get Your Sh*t Together. The irony is that if you follow Mr. Griffin's origin of the word, the letters that are subtracted (from anything) should be replaced by an...you guessed it, an apostrophe.

Thus, his own book could have been printed with the title 'F'cking Apostrophes.' Sales however might have suffered.

I will admit I bought the book, two in fact, one as a gift, because I have this sentiment about apostrophes that they should be eliminated altogether. No one ever seems to advocate that. Instead they offer, like Mr. Griffin, and Lynne Truss, and the Chicago Manual of Style, examples to help you wade through the rules.

Basically, I say "f'ck the rules." Does an apostrophe get pronounced? Is "it's" pronounced any differently that "its"?

Book stores have taken to being careful where they place the books that have a vulgarism in their title, whether completely spelled out, or coyly hiding behind an asterisk. Books at eye level for children to see are raised to higher ground, or placed behind the cashiers. It's almost like the old days of buying a dirty book when they would put it in a plain brown bag for you so the title is not visible. Now of course it's flaunted.

Of course apostrophes taking the place of omitted letters in contractions is one thing; apostrophes showing possessive, plural or singular, is where Mr. Griffin has the right title: 'Fucking Apostrophes.'

Lynne Truss, in her book 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' made great play of Two Weeks' Notice/Two Week's Notice. Mr. Griffin does as well. I say "f'ck it." Two-week notice, where two-week is a modifier to notice. When confronted, duck. Rhymes with fuck.

The other day I wanted to know how to handle making Ph.D. plural. Someone has achieved two Ph.D.s? Ph.Ds? 'Chicago Manual of Style' took care of that example and showed me it's Ph.D.'s. Yes, apostrophes are fucking with your mind.

In the weekend edition of the WSJ there is a column by Ben Zimmer, "Word On The Street,' where he gives the origin of a hot word of the week. This week it was "vetting" due to President Trump's order on '"extreme vetting" of immigrants from seven nations. Forget what you think about the order, concentrate on the word "vetting."

The sub-heading got my attention: 'Extreme Vetting and Horse Races.' I already knew that "to be called out on the carpet" sprung from the stewards at Newmarket Racecourse making a jockey stand on a square of carpet as he offered an explanation of what went on during a race and why he shouldn't be disqualified for a riding infraction. The jockey is "called out" to explain.

Vetting's origin in horse racing seems to come from Latin roots involving veterinum, beast of burden. Veterinarian comes from the same root. Horse doctors came to be called "vets" as early as 1848. Vetting came into use to signify that a horse had been examined by a veterinarian.

According to Mr. Zimmer, vetting as applied to humans came into play around the time of the Reagan administration: careful evaluation of people and proposals.

Last week, I wish I could have vetted California Chrome a little better and asked him how he felt about running in last Saturday's $12 Million Pegasus Invitational, the world's richest horse race held at Florida's Gulfstream Park. If I could have found out how he really felt about what was being asked of him with Victor Espionza on his back, I might have saved myself $6 in wagers that included him to run no worse than second. He ran a very distant 9th, clearly not very interested.

And to show you what a perfect storm words and apostrophes can present, consider the the 1848 book that Mr. Zimmer refers to that first used the word vets: 'The Pocket and the Stud: Or Practical hints on the Management of the Stable" The author of the book of advice tells the reader, "...again comes the veterinarian...so of course comes the vet.'s bill." Grrr. An abbreviation of veterinarian gets a possessive with an apostrophe.

It is unlikely that today vet would be considered an abbreviation requiring a period after it. Thus, we would probably see the above typed as "vet's bill." I can handle that.

As I mentioned, Mr Griffin is British, so he doesn't weigh in with a Presidents' Day example. But he does tell us Fathers' Day would be correct if there were two fathers involved. Clearly, these days there can be.

And in case there is any wonder who is seen in the above photo, it is Mr. Grffin's 9 year-old daughter helping to wrap his books. (In what surely looks to me like plain brown paper.) This was only after he sat her down and explained a little bit of background to the title, and no, she couldn't haul the book in and show it around the classroom to impress the teacher. Not meant for the general 9 year-old student population.

And to offer further proof that Mr. Griffin is not corrupting the young, his book is dedicated: For Matilda and Maurice Please remember that swearing's not big or clever. 

But it might sell.