Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Crowded Race

Who would have thought the machinations for England to leave the European Union would produce another entrant in the contest for the 'World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On?' But it has. It is a home run derby.

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has spoken up and said that if Britain is leaving the E.U., then Scotland wants a referendum on leaving the U.K. Oy vay! Is this the way the empire crumbles? Not with a bang, but a referendum?

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May has now formally signed the exit plans for England to leave the E.U. She is seen above, looking entirely magisterial--under whose portrait I have no idea--signing the paperwork required for the divorce proceedings to begin. An exit by 2019 is expected.

Into this breach Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked again for a referendum for Scotland to leave the U.K. This was proposed a few years ago, with the Scottish voters turning down the referendum to leave the Motherland.

Anyone who has followed New York City politics for any length of time will know that there were years that the borough of Staten Island said they'd like to succeed from the city. There were studies, but I don't think it ever reached the referendum stage to appear on the ballot. Whenever this would occur someone would point out that someone would have to reimburse the remaining part of the city for the land that they now wanted to be free and clear.

It was almost like Texas getting itself away from Mexico. But there, they went to war over it. Nowadays, it is attempted more diplomatically. But at what cost? No one has an answer.

In fact, until Jimmy Breslin recently passed away, I had forgotten that the mayoral ticket with Norman Mailer for mayor, and his for city council president, included a platform for New York City to become the 51st State. Their slogan was: "Vote the Rascals In." This was 1969, and Donald Trump was not yet an emerging force, so Trump Tower was never mentioned as a site for the capitol. (In fact, it had yet to be built.) Considering Mailer would have been mayor, then the Carnegie Deli might have been chosen.

Scotland is somewhat like Staten Island. It sits on top of England and is seldom thought of by Americans until it is time consider single malt or blended scotch as a beverage of choice, the answer  to, 'where is Sean Connery from?' or when they play the British Open. Then, because the origins of golf began in Scotland, do we get a glimpse of that craggy countryside.

It is not really expected that we'll see much more of Nicola Sturgeon in our papers. Theresa May has already given the expected answer "no" to a referendum request, telling Scotland to wait until Brexit is fully accomplished and the new trade life is understood better.

As we have portmanteau words that end in "gate,"  even 40 years after Watergate, the British seem to have adopted our approach to words and have added "it" to a variety of new words.

The Daily Mail, a British tabloid with the enviable readership  of 3.4 million, has published the above photo showing Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon seated somewhere in Glasgow. Of course there is a bit of an uproar for objectifying the ladies by running a story that asks the question, who has the best legs? "Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it" as their cover story on Tuesday.

There is even a third contestant in the photo, but she obviously is not an official entry in the legs beauty contest, probably because she doesn't hold an elected position in the U.K.

Over the years, I've heard all sorts of slang that is meant to apply to women's legs: gams, stems, pipes, and pins comes to mind. The New York Daily News in the 60s in its Sunday edition would run pictures of toothsome beauties seated on their luggage with their legs crossed, telling us that so-and-so was headed somewhere on their cruise. These were referred to as "cheesecake photos, since the exposed leg is thought to resemble the white of cheesecake.

As anyone who watches the cable news show HLN in the morning will tell you, there are segments where the three female broadcasters, host Robin Meade, business reporter Jennifer Westhoven and media reporter Melissa Knowles, will sit on a coach with their legs crossed. It is as predictable as rain. It is the cheesecake part of the show.

The Daily Mail is apparently like what our Daily News was, and like what our New York Post is now. Playful. The copy they are running with the photo gives a critique of the legs and the poses: what the body language is telling us.

Theresa May; "knees tightly together... opted for a studied pose that reminds us she is ever the vicar's daughter." (How Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might have sat and reminded us she was the "grocer's daughter" is left to other overheated imaginations.)

Nicola Sturgeon: "undeniably more shapely shanks...more flirty, tantalizingly crossed, a direct attempt at seduction. Her stiletto is not quite dangling off her foot, but it could be."

The reporter is a woman, Sarah Vine, someone married to a British politician who helped lead the campaign to leave the E.U.

It is a wonder the paper doesn't self combust before it is delivered.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Pull of Obits...Jack Ruby

You definitely have to be of a certain age to remember who Jack Ruby was, and not just from some public television documentaries of the assassination of JFK, but from the weekend of television and newspaper reporting that galvanized the country, during and after that fateful day in Dallas in 1963.

In a life that my creditors are rooting isn't nearly over yet, there are milestone events that I've borne witness to. And my kids, although roughly half my age, they have their memories as well. Think Newton, Connecticut school shootings.

After that Sunday's televised live shooting, with Jack Ruby suddenly filling the TV frame and fatally shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in the stomach, America has been awash in conspiracy theories. It's a common organized crime tactic to drop the shooter after the shooter drops the target. Add another layer of camouflage to the events. So, who was Jack Ruby working for when he pulls out his handgun and puts lead in Oswald's belly? I have been to photography shows where that image is on sale for beaucoup bucks.

I remember the interviews of the strippers at his immediately closed nightclub that told of Jack being profoundly upset at the death of JFK. He was besides himself. Since I was a teenager, and still upset over Marilyn Monroe's suicide, I was prevented from seeing what strippers looked like because of my tender age, I was fascinated with the ladies they were interviewing. But believe me, if they were to show up today looking like they looked in the 60s, no one would be making any money at a "gentleman's club." These women would have bent the pole if they twirled on it.

Looks aside, and our black and white TV, you got the overwhelming sense, or at least I did, that Jack was a small time strip joint owner who was upset about someone taking his president out in his city, and he was going to do something about it. He certainly did.

The reason Jack Ruby is brought to mind is the obituary of Gary Cartwright, 82, a Texas Journalist described as "irreverent." One of my favorite words. Aside from my desire to be remembered with affection, I also want to be remembered as being irreverent.

Mr. Cartwright knew Jack Ruby before the instantaneous notoriety. His apartment in Dallas was a late-night hangout for his friend and fellow reporter Bud Shrake, along with Jack Ruby, a stripper Jada, and others. Hey, Gertrude stein had her salon, Mr. Cartwright had his.

I have no idea if Mr. Cartwright was interviewed that weekend about his friendship with Ruby. I probably wouldn't have been interested unless Jada was also there. But consider what he wrote about Ruby and try and reconcile his description with the conspiracies attached to Ruby being a CIA operative who was in on the while thing, a very popular, and still prevailing conspiracy theory.

"If there is a tear left, let it be shed for Jack Ruby. He didn't make history: he only stepped in front of it. When he emerged from obscurity into that inextricable freeze-frame that joins all of our minds to Dallas, Jack Ruby, a baldheaded little man who wanted above all else to make it big, had his back to the camera."

I think his strippers knew him best as well.

In the Navy

A modern obituary writer will attempt to close the piece with a quote from the deceased, or a zinger from someone else. This adds a bit of humor to the obit, and serves to make the deceased even prophetic, they knew what was coming and met it.

If you read the end of the obit for Chuck Barris you will see this. It is but one example of the treatment at the end of the end.

Because of my family's background I always find myself paying attention to anything having to do with ships--the navy. My father was a civilian engineer for the Department of Navy, and spent a good part of his lifelong employment with them at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As a youngster I accompanied him for ship launches, and once got to ride on the elevator on an aircraft carrier, maybe the Ticonderoga, from the hanger deck to the flight deck. The carrier was a WW II ship that was probably in the Brooklyn yard for an overhaul..

My father's older brother and my godfather was a career naval officer and an Annapolis grad who commanded destroyers in the Pacific during the war. He retired as a Rear Admiral, Flag rank, my father would always say. Name read into the Congressional Record.

As for myself, I always imagined being in the service and being in dress whites on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The service didn't want me based on something medical, and perhaps it was all for the better. While I was imagining a navy where you weren't in danger, I also didn't know about the backwater patrol boats in Vietnam that sprayed the defoliant Agent Orange on he shoreline, a chemical from Dow that was later found to cause a high rate of cancer. An admiral's son died from it. So much for dress whites.

I read most obits, usually leaving the ones about ballet out. Zero interest prevails there. No names are familiar.. So when I saw an obit by Sam Roberts for a Texas Congressman with the attention grabbing name of Kika de la Garza I took in a read.

Mr. de la Garza was a 16-term Congressman representing South Texas. His last name is Mexican, and his first name from a favorite uncle, dropping his birth name of Eligio. And who could predict that Mr. de la Garza's obit would end with something about the navy?

He was a long-time chair of the Agriculture committee who liked to tell the story of a submarine commander who asked him how long did he think he and his crew could stay underwater. I once visited the sub USS Nautilus in Groton, Connecticut. Every time I see a stack of banged up green drawer file cabinets I imagine the stacked space afforded three sailors for sleeping on that sub. An MRI machine looks like it gives you more clearance. You had to really be tired to fall asleep under those conditions.

The sub commander, seeking an answer to his question to Mr. de la Garza, gets the reply "I don't know, one year, two years, three years?"

Yikes, any one of those seems like an long time. Which one is right?

The sub commander gets Mr. de la Garza's confirmation that he is on the Agriculture Committee, and therefore knows something about food. Yes.

The sub commander replies, "We can keep this submarine under water as long as we have food for the crew."

Thus, Congressman de la Garza was shown the military importance of food. I'm sure air and water help, but you get the idea. There was no EPA when the question was asked.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Perhaps it was inevitable. The countdown displays in the subway are displaying signs about subway etiquette.

I get the biggest kick out of the fact that the mass transit reporter for the NYT, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, is from Texas. I've never been to Texas, but I did root for the "masked man," the Lone Ranger in the 50s, who with his Indian sidekick Tonto and his famous horse Silver could get all the bad guys to flee into "Box Canyon" and have to give up. A police chase on horseback. It was great.

The above photo is from a Tweet that Ms. Fitzsimmons has recently posted. In case you don't know what "manspreading" is all you have to do is look at the display and realize it has to do with guys whose legs don't offer their adjacent seatmates as much room on the subway bench seat as they should. It is considered uncivilized to sit like that.

The scooped out seats on a subway train are absolutely no approximation of what space someone seated needs to have to be be reasonably comfortable. They are calibrated for naked, anorexic Asian women. Then you can get 8 people in the row.

Anyone who has ridden the subway twice can attest to seeing "manspreading." It is usually a male in what should be a two-seater who is feigning sleeping. They might really be sleeping, but whatever, they are hogging the space.

I will admit seat hogs are annoying. Add winter puff coats, and the acreage per butt is greatly increased, no matter the gender of the passenger.

I've looked at myself seated on the train and I've realized I do not "manspread," at least not as depicted, but I do take up more space than a female. I attribute this to the difference in anatomy between females and males: inside vs. outside plumbing. Most males don't cross their legs like females, either.

So fine, post whatever you like about males who hog space, "dudes," in the current lexicon of  the language. Why not "shout-out" "Yo." No matter. As long as there are little etiquette displays about Bloomingdale bags on the seat and back packs on all. Signage is a great thing.

I think it's great to have someone from Texas in the NYT describing what riding the subway can be like. Goodness knows, few officials have ever taken notice before, so Ms. Fitzsimmons's Tweeter feeds and byline are a great communicative tool. Sort of like a public complaint department.

Emma tells us of the F Train (her train, I think) that runs with so much head time between trains that it arrives at the station already filled to the gills with passengers, the proverbial cattle car. The Texas cattle car.

She sees things we've all seen, and then some new ones. I will admit I've never seen what she just described in a recent Tweet as seeing:

Never seen this on the subway before: A woman plops on the floor in the middle of the train and sits cross-legged eating pasta with a fork.

Frankie No at Rao's has passed away, but apparently it is still just as hard to get a table at Rao's as it always was.


No, not the selection on a jukebox, but rather the answer to my algebraic obituary equation. With Chuck Berry passing away at 90, and then Jimmy Breslin passing away at 88, who is going to pass away at 86, with a last name starting with B?

Having a Twitter handle is like having a HAM radio license. You never really know who is reading your call letters. I have so few followers that if they were materialize in one spot they could all fit into a hospital elevator, as long as there was no one else in there on a gurney.

So, I was genuinely surprised when someone Tweeted an answer to my question: F. Lee Bailey! He's still with us? Turns out he is, and will be 84 this June.  It is no small wonder that you might think he's already passed on. His law license has been revoked, and the big cases, even the Dream Team membership at O.J. Simpson's murder trial is ancient history. So, if he passes June 2017, and expires before the next June of 2018, he will fit the equation.

NOTE: In my Tweet I misstated the number. I wrote 84 rather than 86.

I have no wish that someone shuffle off just to fulfill my obituary equation. And anyway, my thoughts were someone who might be the third one soon after the second one, not having to wait till June 2017 for eligibility, and then only still qualifying for the next 12 months. That's stretching it.

But it does show you that the respondent to my Twitter question (@davetarrantnews) did have a handle on who might be the possible answer to B-84, even if I meant B-86.

The New York Times has set a record of having four straight days of front page obituaries. It started with the poet Derek Walcott, continued with Chuck Berry, followed by Jimmy Breslin and yesterday with David Rockefeller. All worthy of front page notice, but the consecutive days of their passing is probably statistically off the chart of probabilities. We may never see that again.

In fact, it has been remarked that obituaries are not fake news. If anything even approaches the current record of four, then Donald Trump might get knocked off the front page, which would be an absolute first. Much is being made of President Trump's first 100 days. I think 100 days is a nod to a book about JFK, but no matter, People like the number 100. It is the largest denomination of U.S. currency you can carry around, and certainly lovely to see when you cash your voucher out at the race track.

Without being too political, I think there were actual days when President Obama's name did not appear on the front page. Therefore, I think the 100 days is not really about administrative accomplishments, but rather smashing Joe DiMaggio's consecutive hitting streak record of 56, and going for the 100 hole in skee ball. Stay tuned.

Sometimes I scare myself. I've already mentioned I had Jimmy Breslin's name in a blog posting, and two days later he's dead. I propose an equation with B-86 as the answer and what do I hear this morning? Chuck Barris passes 87!

He won't I'm sure make the front page of the NYT, but he will make the obituary page. Now, if only I could be that close to picking horses at the race track I might take home more Benjamins than I do. A hundred is a great number.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Jimmy Breslin

It is easy to wonder why I might take the time to write these postings. I am not paid to do so. There are no ads, so I don't get any advertising revenue. I have only a small core of committed readers, one of whom I was glad to hear is my old boss, who I met a little over a week ago and who said something about the volume that appeared in February and what I had to say about the Super Bowl and Lady Gaga.

I once shared some postings with Walter Zinsser, a reporter for the old Herald Tribune whose kinds words made me fell good, that writing for the sake of writing is reward enough. I tend to agree.

Was it merely coincidence that I mentioned Jimmy Breslin's name in a very recent posting, and now he's passed away at 88? I don't want to think I'm a hex, so while I mention Mr. Zinsser, it should be noted he has already passed away, and I've promised to keep names of the living who have also encouraged me out of my postings, if only so they can live long enough to see how the next presidential election turns out. If the recent one doesn't do them in, then what doesn't kill you certainly makes you stronger.

There is no attempt to equate myself to Mr. Breslin, but we do share some traits and experiences. We both grew up in Queens and started reading the Long Island Press/Long Island Star-Journal, a borough paper that carried Queens news as if it were another city. And it was.

In the video, 'The Last Word' that accompanies today's NYT obituary on Mr. Breslin, Jimmy remarks that when he read about baseball games in that paper as kid he imagined all the faraway places that there were: St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, etc. Any city with a team (No West Coast then.) He said he liked to go to Sunnyside Yards and look at all the Pullman passenger train cars there and imagine the places they could take you.

I used to go through the old Penn Station upper level where the Pennsylvania Rail Road trains would depart for places like Cincinnati and watch the departure signs change at the gates. The Sunnyside Yards of Breslin's memory and mine are no more the nation's largest rail yard. In face, there are only a scattering of trains stored there, and some are New Jersey Transit.

Long Island City, the area around the yards is undergoing so much construction of offices and high rise apartments that when I go into the city and look up as the train coasts through the area, just before entering the tunnel, I can count at least six! buildings, all close to each other, going up with large cranes alongside.

Jimmy never learned to drive, and also stopped drinking for over 30 years. Check. I never worked for a newspaper, but I like to think if the high school guidance teacher I met with after dropping out of college for a second time had sent me to a newspaper for a job, I would have never left unless asked to do so.

I remember something Breslin said about high school and shop class. He said any kid who had anything near a German-sounding name, say Schroeder, they were assigned to shop class and attached to a lathe. Germans were woodworkers, and so the NYC high schools of the era were usually intent on turning out the next tradesman. There were numerous high schools of that era that were the apprentice shops for anything vocational, and generally unionized.

(I only have a smidgen of German heritage, and nowhere near a German sounding name, but our shop teacher ducked teaching us anything about the lathe and I've always felt something was left out of my upbringing.)

Dan Barry's obituary today is written a bit like how Breslin himself wrote, with a lede that evokes Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley, and a description of a finger-pecking reporter who pounds out a story. Life imitating Hollywood.

Usually, I see Dan Barry writing about sports, so it is fitting that he got the Breslin obit, with Jimmy starting out as a sports reporter, even seen in the video alongside Red Smith. Not bad company.

I'm going to admit I never read much of anything Breslin wrote as a newspaperman. This is because I seldom got past the sports section of the Daily News and relied on the NYT for that as well, and the rest.

Much is made of Breslin's gravedigger piece in connection with the burial of President Kennedy in 1963. It is a great piece of reporting, but no different than the photographer who took Bade Ruth's picture from behind, bent over, old and sick looking from any angle, at his retirement ceremony at Yankee stadium. Go where the others aren't.

Also, Jimmy was from Queens, where grave digging used to be almost an industry, with the borough holding numerous cemeteries. Plus, I had heard him once discuss granite vs. marble headstones and which ones are better to use if you're buried near the salt air of the Rockaways, another section of Queens. Plus, any Irish Catholic has more than a passing interest in internment. It was a piece he was born to write.

Breslin was Bo Dietl before Bo Dietl, the former NYC detective now private security firm owner who wants to run for mayor. Jimmy and Norman Mailer in 1969 actually did run for the top city jobs, Mailer for mayor, and Jimmy for city council president with campaign buttons that proclaimed: VOTE THE RASCALS IN. Their overarching pitch was to make NYC the 51st State. You had to love them.

I remember that 1969 election, and it was 'Saturday Night Live' before there was such a show. Mailer was running on some promise to create neighborhoods aligned with ethnicity; someone else campaigned for bike lanes. I'm not sure if William F. Buckley Jr. made another "run" for the job after his 1965 "bid" but there were more declared characters running than not. Mayor Lindsay was supposed to be vulnerable because he forget to get the streets of Queens plowed after a February 1969 blizzard that paralyzed the borough. Lindsay was reelected. The Mets won the World Series, that being what would now be the modern equivalent of there being a Second Avenue Subway and the Cubs winning the World Series.

I remember going to Belmont race track that summer and someone who was running for mayor was appearing at the races that day, because there was Gabe Pressman, a dogged city TV reporter, who was leading a camera crew up to the gate I was going in. Gabe was sporting a terrific black eye. Hazards of the job, I guess.

Mention is made of Breslin being contacted with handwritten letters from the Son Of Sam, the name the serial killer gave himself as he terrorized Brooklyn and Queens by suddenly jumping out at people and killing them with his .44 caliber handgun, 'The .44-Caliber Killer.'

1977 was a fearful summer. I lived in Flushing, and Son of Sam struck not all that far from the house, at a disco on Northern Boulevard, Elephas.  It was around July of that year that the police connected enough dots to realize they had a serial killer to deal with.

People were truly frightened. I remember the kids hanging out at the Murray Hill train station fooling around with each other that one of them was Son of Sam. After the last shootings in Brooklyn no one was seen hanging out and pretending to be Son of Sam. He was too real.

It was interesting to read that The New Yorker magazine was critical of Breslin in acknowledging the letters. They claimed he was enabling the killer to do more. Typical New Yorker in name only. I'm surprised they knew where Queens was. Breslin of course was doing what the police asked him to do, in the hopes of creating usable clues to the killer's identity.

It was a follow-up to a parking ticket on a car that was parked near the last shooting that cracked the case. Why was someone from Yonkers parked on Shore Parkway at about the same time as the shootings? Visiting someone they knew?  Who? Seeking the answer led the police to arresting David Berkowitz as he was leaving his Yonkers apartment with weapons he said he was going to use to shoot up a disco in the Hamptons. A terrorist before we used the word. (The parking ticket angle has become part of police investigative procedures.)

Not reading Breslin the columnist didn't mean not reading Breslin. I read 'The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.' when it came out. Breslin made the Mafia look like it was filled with incompetent hoodlums with cute nicknames, like 'Kid Sally.' What he was writing about was the Gallo-Profaci factions in South Brooklyn, and some of it was true.

Go through New York newspaper reporting in the 1970s and you'd think New York was Chicago, there were so many mob rubouts. Breslin with his tongue in his cheek made the mob look almost cuddly. Of course they weren't. Crazy Joe did have a lion in the cellar and a dwarf gangster did take it for walks. And when they aimed at someone they didn't want to live anymore, they weren't left breathing. The cops called mobsters killing mobsters a "community service."

Breslin's biography on Damon Runyon contains some of the best prose you'll ever read and is the source of several favorite passages that I hold onto. The atmosphere of what newspaper reporting was like in the 50s and 60s is well summed up when Breslin says, "the sins being committed at typewriters were greater than the ones being written about."

The opening of the book finds Breslin in Texas, going through the morgue copies of the Hearst newspapers the Journal and the American, afternoon and morning editions that were later combined in the Journal-American, the paper I remember. Damon Runyon wrote for the Hearst papers.

The caretaker of the morgue is complaining to Jimmy about how things are organized. For example, he pulls a file drawer open for M and sees a card that directs MENTAL HEALTH to

Breslin, who also worked for the Hearst papers, explains that that says everything about the "Hearst system of thought and filing."

There is another passage about the gun battle between two mobsters that offers the best example of Breslin's descriptive style, filtering in a sports viewpoint with life's narrative.
Chink approached Dutch Schultz’s table. Schultz got up and fired a gun.  This was the first of three occasions on which Schultz and Chink resorted to weapons during these years.  A year or so after this, Chink lost the third and most decisive gunfight by a wide margin.  But this time at the Club Abbey he hit the floor breathing.
Jimmy Breslin and Dick Schaap were both reporters at The Hearld Tribune and sat next to each other. It is a shame Schapp is not here to talk of Jimmy, but his son Jeremy is, so I'd expect something from that quarter.

Dick Schapp in his memoir, 'Flashing Before My Eyes' writes of how Jimmy influenced him to write and think outside the box, do something outrageous. Schapp had drifted into broadcasting and in one segment in the early 70s he commented on horse racing.

There were two horses from Meadow stable, Riva Ridge, winner of the 1972 Derby and Preakness, and Secretariat, winner of the Triple Crown in 1973: famous horses known to even the non-racing fan.

When horses come from the same stable they are called stablemates. One night on the 11 o'clock sports wrap up Dick Schapp followed Jimmy's advice. He called Riva Ridge and Secretariat the most famous stablemates since Joseph and Mary. Phones started ringing.

Because Breslin gave comfort to the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable, he had enemies, people who disliked him enough to threaten to kidnap his kids. I know one retired detective, born in Queens who worked as an investigator for the Queens DA John Santucci, who would tell you that when Breslin would go into a station house there were cops who would boo him. It all depended on what he last wrote. It wasn't always a love fest.

When the company I worked for, Empire BlueCross nd BlueShield was constantly in the news in 1993 for its mismanagement and the CEO's grand salary and creature comforts, Breslin wrote something about 'blood money' when the CEO was finally ousted. He didn't have a clue what he was writing about, but it sounded good to pounce on the guy at the top, who did deserve to be ousted, but was not someone who was the devil incarnate.

I'm reading some online tributes to Breslin and one from Michael Daly who now apparently writes for The Daily Beast, an online newspaper, and who worked with Breslin. I'm learning Breslin is to be cremated, and is reposing at Campbell's Funeral home, where anybody who is anybody who passes away in Manhattan and is not Jewish is laid out. I delivered many a funeral piece to Campbell's.

I have no idea of plans for a church service, but I suspect they will emerge. But whatever happens, it does seem Jimmy Breslin will have achieved the best you can do in this life: to be remembered with affection.

The Race

You would think that when Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the White House last week and met with President Trump that she would score enough style points to widen her lead over Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May for the title of 'The World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.' Not so.

Much is being made of the fact that President Trump and Chancellor Merkel did not shake hands when asked to by reporters as they sat for their photo-op in the Oval Office. Supposedly, Trump was unwilling. This was seen as a slight to the Chancellor. Anything can be turned into something, but perhaps The Donald just didn't want to do anything the press wanted him to do. No surprise there.

The best way to compare the ensembles for the two women is to show them appearing with a constant, in this case President Trump. Consider the prime minister's look: a spiffy coordinated look with a tucked in scarf accenting her hair color.  Head-to-head, the prime minister is winning, and might even be overtaking the chancellor. She has definitely ranged up alongside, and as they say about an oncoming competitor in horse racing, they're at the "throat latch."

Friday, March 17, 2017

The New York Times and Porgies

It can be easy to make fun of newspapers when they get something wrong. Misspellings, incorrect years, while annoying, are not alone reasons alone to condemn. Every day there  is a Corrections section that atones for the previous mistakes. And considering the sheer volume of words, ideas and facts that are in a daily paper the size of the NYT, the volume of errors is minuscule, and often unnoticed. Nearly subatomic.

As any steady reader to these posting should know by now if they're up-to-date, I took the Times to the woodshed yesterday for telling us that NYC spends $1.8 million an inch to remove snow. All you have to do is realize someone is way out there uncontrolled on a controlled substance or realize, well, they made a mistake.

That was yesterday, and in today's paper there is no correction. Please say it isn't so. $1.8 million an inch to remove snow? How many miles are there of streets in the city? You mean to tell us it costs $1.8 million an inch to remove snow? Okay, a mile? Still a number too large to fathom as being accurate. We obviously need warmer snow to fall. The kind that melts as soon as it lands so we don't run out of money.

A segue from the print edition to the online edition yesterday revealed that the word "vertical" had been inserted in the online copy, $1.8 million "per vertical inch" to remove snow. And this makes it better?

A vertical inch of what? Hold the ruler up and down it is vertical; hold it left to right it is horizontal. What the hell is a vertical inch?

It took a bit, but maybe the word they were looking for and should have found was "snowfall." $1.8 million per inch of "snowfall" would have cleared the picture up. (Maybe even the snow.) And isn't the news supposed to be clear?

Adding "vertical" to the text doesn't do a damn thing to understanding what they're trying to report. I must be dense, I guess. Revised, it reads:

The cost of clearing the city streets of snow and ice is about $1.8 million per vertical inch, according to the city comptroller's office.

Reporting like that can get you to hyperventilate about a municipality's expenses. Could create some phone calls as well.

The Times has reported they are undergoing newsroom changes. Less layers of editors (read less staff). All well and good if they can still not confuse us. Jimmy Breslin used to make fun of the Times reporters and their long sentences. He equated it to showing off that they went to college, and usually in most of their cases they did, to an Ivy League college.

Take a recipe that I once cut out of the paper that called for the grilling of porgies to be done after making "three equidistant cuts." I showed it to my fisherman neighbor once, someone who was with me the year before on Cap Cod when we hauled in an endless stream of porgies (scub in New England) in, fishing off a jetty in Falmouth,

My neighbor, an electrician, and someone who I knew never read the NYT, looked at the recipe, repeated the words "equidistant cuts" and asked me if the clipping came from the New York Times.

Jimmy should have been there.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The World's Richest City

Immigrants have always arrived in New York City convinced the streets are paved with gold. I can no longer ask my father's parents--I can no longer even ask him--what they might have thought they were anticipating when they boarded a French ship to immigrate from Greece. Imagine that, you couldn't even get a Greek ship in the early 1900s to sail from a country with perhaps the most miles of sea coast on earth.

I don't really know if there is going to be a correction of some kind in tomorrow's NYT, but I just read in today's paper a story by Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Kate Taylor that the city's comptroller's office estimates it costs the city $1.8 million an inch to remove snow and ice from the city's streets. We obviously need warmer snow and ice. The kind that melts on contact.

The story is on the back page of today's first section, and is themed around the city's play-it-safe strategy that did the job on the late-winter blizzard we just got that really was nowhere near as bad as it was expected to be. That's the good news.

The bad news is reading the estimate that it costs $1.8 million an inch to remove the stuff once it lands. That's an awful lot for sand, salt and labor, even considering it is union labor, to do what I do for free every time it snows so that a member of my family can get to work with their vehicle. I am vastly underpaid.

I can only imagine a future New Yorker cartoon that shows a phalanx of sanitation trucks with dollar signs on their plows as they make their way up Third Avenue, or any street in the city, even an "outer borough" street. I have always wished I could draw a decent picture, especially a cartoon.

The story from a transportation reporter and someone else assigned to the story, tells us that the even better news about the late-blizzard is that since there hasn't been a great deal of snow to remove so far, there was money left in the budget to deal with Tuesday's storm. That is some war chest. Or snow chest.

I feel better already. And better still I don't live in New York City.

The Birds

When Alfred Hitchcock's movie 'The Birds' came out in 1963 it was advertised with the blurb, 'The Birds Is Coming.' The English teachers were having a field day. The posters that were appearing on buses and in subway stations showed a picture of black birds filling a sky, a picture of Hitchcock pointing to them, and the ominous warning. The above image is close to what those posters looked like, but is not exactly as I remember them.

No matter. It is the wording of the warning, or the announcement, that had the English teachers using it as an example of subject/verb agreement. Now class, should it be 'The Birds are Coming?'  Birds after all is plural.

Is this just using bad grammar in order to draw attention to the movie? Certainly, but it turns out not bad grammar. Grammar with a loophole, if you will.

After the class offers their is/are opinions the teacher explains that 'The Birds' is a proper noun, a title, and is singular, so therefore "is" is the correct subject/verb agreement. No matter how wrong it sounds, it is correct. Teachers loved the ad.

Now nearing the completion of my sixth year of retirement I can point to many "old man" type of activities that I've fallen into. The last two years have seen me add feeding-the-birds-when-it-snows to my retirement activities. And for several years now I've taken to adding bird houses I've built to the yard. I always say I'm providing affordable housing.

Even my wife has gotten into the activity, although a little less directly than myself. She has suggested the mixture of seed and suet pellets to buy for their diet. Home Depot has a dedicated section to those who engage in this activity. Alone, I'm not.

Let me tell you, they don't all fly south for the winter. In fact, I wonder if any fly south at all. Perhaps robins. I don't see any robins right now.

Yesterday was the first day after the nor'easter that blew through here and dumped about six inches of snow and sleet, that has now turned into a hard crust of ice. I don't even leave footprints in the snow right now, the top has frozen into such a crust. It would seem you could almost go ice skating on it.

Thus, yesterday's feeding attracted more birds than ever. When my wife came home from work she asked if we got any visitors. Did we ever! I think they came from out-of-state there were so many. I immediately thought of the movie 'The Birds' because the snow-covered-picnic table at times was covered with birds of several species: sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, juncos, mocking birds, crows, I think, and some I really don't know.

They ate so much yesterday that so far today I'm only going getting squirrels, not the photogenic flock I now want to take pictures of. Cardinals are beautiful, and really stand out in the winter. My guess is they are now so heavy they can't fly, but instead need to lighten their load and poop on the snow. I'm sure this is not really the case, since I do see some flying around. They are just not hungry right now.

Right now, the birds are not coming.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Cousin Vinny

The WSJ in a recent A-Hed piece by Jacob Gershman reminds us the movie 'My Cousin Vinny' was released 25 years ago, and that it has become a staple in presentations in law schools and has been referred to in judicial wording. It is a classic, rivaling 'Casablanca,' and sitting alongside legal classics like '12 Angry Men' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' It is one of my favorite movies of all time.

The New York, Italian, wise-ass portrayals are so endearing and accurate that you can't help but fall in love with Joe Pesci as Vincent La Guardia Gambini, a fresh law school graduate, former mechanic, who has yet to pass the bar exam, and his Italian princess fiance, Mona Lisa Vito, who can pour her figure into a dress and cause head-turning, male whiplash.

Vinny and Mona Lisa are so perfectly cast and dressed in the basic black of New York that the only part of the nation they can blend in is Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Outside of that enclave they do stick out.

There are judges who state they have seen the movie at least 50 times. Law school professors use scenes from the movie as examples of how to be an effective trial lawyer. The Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once made reference to the movie as 'My Uncle Vinny.' While this drew some laughs, it was completely understandable that Justice Scalia could have changed the family relationship in the title, himself being of New Jersey, Italian heritage who probably did have an Uncle Vinny in the family. Perhaps in the same house.

For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, or who has somehow forgotten it, it revolves around Joe Pesci as the Cousin Vinny, who is called upon to defend his cousin and his friend who have been falsely accused of killing a convenience store clerk in Alabama. The evidence is highly circumstantial, but a guilty verdict will lead to the death penalty.

Initially, Vinny is barely competent, having never tried a case and never having passed the bar exam, despite the five attempts. He is even clueless about the Discovery phase of the trial that would allow him to review the evidence the prosecution has.

His fiance, Mona Lisa is no dummy, despite her Brooklyn gum-chewing accent and mannerisms of always feeling slighted. What are you looking at? She reads and guides Vinny in how to become a good trial lawyer.

Vinny of course adds his street smarts and the tide gets turned in the trial. Along the way we are treated to expert testimony by Mona Lisa on Chevy transmissions and her smarts as to identifying a "bogus question" as the prosecution tries to trip her up. She steals the movie, and the actress Marisa Tomei walks off with a best-supporting actress Oscar.

Mona Lisa, like Adelaide in the musical and movie 'Guys and Dolls,' is a suffering fiance to a serial, non-committed fiance for so long that she eventually explodes into a hilarious foot-stomping lecture to Vinny about her " biological clock" that leaves him speechless. The movie is a first class hoot.

As much as I love the movie, I'm not sure I'm in love with being reminded it came out 25 years ago. I remember the exact moment when someone at work, on our floor but from another area, came through the door and started to announce to her co-workers that she saw the funniest movie that weekend, 'My Cousin Vinny.'

I remember the name of the young women who talked of the movie. I couldn't help but hear her praise of the movie as she told her co-workers about it. Until that point, I don't remember hearing of the movie, or reading a review, despite trying to pay attention to new releases.

1992 as a year had meaning for me because it was when I started work in the Fraud Unit. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I heard of 'My Cousin Vinny,' and right now I can't help but replay in my mind the highlights and the lowlights of life ever since 1992. 9/11 is far, far away. The first attack on the World Trade Center has still not happened. You could get on an a airplane without taking your shoes off and without going through body scanners. I'm not sure the people who were murdered in my office on 9/16/2002 were even on staff in 1992.

'My Cousin Vinny' is a great movie. And 1992 was a good year.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Andy Warhol

The teaser box on top of the Arts section in the NYT the other day caught my attention. There was a story about the death of Andy Warhol on Page 3. Andy Warhol's death? He passed away in 1987 after gall bladder surgery, what revisionist theory were we going to read? Well, there is one. A medical one.

The headline to the piece is: Andy Warhol's Death: Not So Simple. A photo accompanies the piece, showing Andy lounging in a chair in a sparsely furnished room, hands clasped over his chest, wearing his trademark sunglasses, looking like he's listening to music. He might be in an office part of his place East 33rd Street place, 'The Factory' where he published a magazine. The building had once been an IRT sub-station, a place where dynamos provided electricity to the nearby Lexington Avenue line.

The Blarney Stone that I frequented was just abound the corner on Madison, and once, after a Ranger game, coming back to the car we saw a giant rat running up the side of that building. But that was before Andy had repurposed the space.

But back to the death and the story. A medical historian and retired surgeon Dr. John Ryan provides more background to Mr. Warhol's condition and the fact that the surgery was not as routine as it was portrayed in the press.

What I do remember in the aftermath of his death was that a private duty nurse was not doing her duty and did not react in time to his changing post-op condition. there was a lawsuit, and somebody got money for the negligence. That part is not mentioned in the brief story, but the 1968 incident of Andy being shot by one one models is.

The shooting incident is not expanded on, but again, I remember much more of that too. My memory is that wounded Warhol was pushed out of cab as if he was in a Cagney movie, dumped on the sidewalk in from of Columbus Hospital on 19th Street, a half a block from where I lived at the time.

I made many a delivery to Columbus Hospital in my family flower shop days, It was a block and a half from the store, run by the Catholic Health Services. It was an old building that was later expanded to become Cabrini Medical Center, but that too was eventually closed.

As Columbus Hospital there were always one or two nuns at the front desk as you entered. In those days the nuns did look like penguins, long black habit with a white band headpiece. I always had to scoot past them so that I didn't have to use the service elevator. The  regular elevator was bad enough. You never really knew if it was going to move, and when it finally did move, making very unreassuring sounds, you were never confident the door would open again. It was a typical 1960s hospital elevator.

There were perhaps three steps that led to the entrance of the hospital. It was not brightly lit from the street, and looked rather dingy, which it was. When I read (or think I read, or heard) of Warhol being dumped out of a cab one evening, shot in the stomach by what I'm sure was one of his spaced-out entourage, I always wondered who came out and got him?

This was the front entrance. Not an ambulance ER entrance. Did the penguins come out for him? Did he stagger in and tell them he was shot? I always imagined it like a scene you'd see in a Cagney movie, where he dead mobster is delivered back as a message. Only Andy was instead badly wounded in the gut.

A search of NYT does come up with an initial story of the shooting; also a report on January 18, 1969 that the suspect, Valerie Solanis, is jailed in lieu of $50,000 bail. The story goes on the tell us that after several hours of shooting Warhol on June 3, 1968 she surrendered to a traffic policeman in Times Square. The short piece tells us Warhol was released from Columbus hospital on July 28. Therefore, he was in there a good while.

The NYT gave the shooting story front page coverage on June 4, 1968. Warhol had been shot three times, quite critically. At one point he was pronounced dead, but was resuscitated. (Robert Kennedy was assassinated two days later, in California. The wonderful 60s.)

The Daily News gave the story big play, as they were the type of paper that lives to cover sensational stories. No mention is made of Warhol being delivered by cab. Urban legend? The picture of the ambulance might be the one who took a colleague, who was also shot. Another chronology tells us an ambulance took both victims. The NYT tells us an ambulance was called.

The severity of Warhol's wounds play into Dr. Ryan's assertion that the gall bladder was not routine, that Warhol was damaged goods from the shooting, as well as from his use of drugs. Surgery after the shooting took five and a half hours.

In 1968 Warhol was quite well-known for his Campbell Soup can renditions as well as his "underground" filmmaking. Ms. Solanis was one of the actresses in one of those underground movies, 'I, a Man.'

I don't know if by 1968 Warhol uttered the still-repeated quote: Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

This is 2017, 30 years since his death. He is still famous.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Nor Hell a Fury

Since I do not get the print edition of the Sunday NYT,
I would not get to turn to an Opinion page and see Bruce Weber's take on a movie Shirley MacLaine stars in, 'The Last Word.'

I do however check the Obituary section online, and because the editors thoughtfully put Bruce's Sunday piece in the obituaries section, I did get to read his take on Shirley's movie.

It's not a movie review per se, but rather a reply to Shirley and the character she plays in the movie, a woman who is shopping for someone to write a favorable obituary about her when she dies. Say nice things.

Anyone who knows anything about Shirley MacLaine knows she believes in reincarnation. Mr. Weber points this out in his piece, and alerts us to the irony of Shirley playing a character who believes the end is really the end.

It was quite a few years ago, but probably coincided with a book by Ms. Maclaine on reincarnation that she was hawking that I distinctly remember Don Imus rendering a comment about Shirley. In Don's rumbling baritone he intones that he knows what Shirley needs. "Shirley needs a truck driver." There is nothing that is off limits when you are a celebrity.

Aside from being the title of the movie, 'The Last Word' is also the title of a book that comprises a collection of New York Times obituaries. It is almost a common description of the art of obituary writing, the art that Mr. Weber feels compelled to discuss and set the record straight aside from any movie--or Shirley-preconceptions. He has always taken his craft seriously.

Mr. Weber, in his open opinion of Shirley's character in the movie, questions why a woman of Ms. MacLaine's background and achievements would take such a part, and why do they get so much wrong about how an obituary writer goes about their task. Mr. Weber admits to having written an advance of Ms. MacLaine's obituary that will appear, updated, when needed. Advance writing of obituaries is common for well-known people who might be approaching the end of life as we know it.

There is a 2016 documentary movie, 'Obit.' that is making the rounds of film festivals worldwide and that will this summer be in local art house theaters. The film, produced and directed by Vanessa Gould, is a behind the scenes look at the obituary desk at the New York Times, how they approach the task of putting together someone's life story, sometimes on deadline, that provides the reader with a historical capsule, almost a short story, of their life. I haven't seen the film, but have seen an out-take that tracks Mr. Weber on the phone, getting details from family and friends on someone who has just passed away. He is listed as a star in the movie.

Mr. Weber takes Shirley to woodshed a bit about her role in the movie. It has obviously grazed a nerve of his. Ms. MacLaine's motives for appearing in the movie are questioned. While the movie was surely completed before the recent Oscar ceremonies, it is possible that Shirley is hedging her reincarnation bets, and just in case the end really is the end, then she would like someone to create nice words about her.

And that is probably not a bad idea, considering her blind-as-bat brother Warren Beatty, who couldn't tell he'd been handed the wrong envelope for the Best Picture, the ultimate award of the Academy, and who had a hand in announcing the wrong movie as the winner last month and creating a memorable moment in Oscar history.

As anyone who has a pulse by now knows, Warren stared at the envelope's contents, paused, demurred, and handed it off to his 'Bonnie and Clyde' equally blind-as-a bat co-star, Faye
Dunaway--blindness no doubt caused by the fact that neither she or Warren were looking in a mirror--who just glanced at the movie title and announced 'La La Land' as the winner, when in fact Pricewaterhousecoopers flubbed the hand off and gave Warren the Best Actress award envelope, which was Emma Stone, for 'La La Land.' Best picture actually went to 'Moonlight' when the stage bedlam was sorted.

Warren Beatty is now 79, and his sister Shirley is 82. Mr. Weber tells us now he's going to have to update Shirley's obituary to include this poorly thought of movie. Warren Beatty's obit, whoever has written it, will have to be updated to include his contribution to the Oscar flub.

Pricewaterhousecoopers will no doubt increase the font size on the award cards by several points to the equivalent of VERY LARGE type, hopefully to ward off another catastrophe.

I've met Mr. Weber, although I suspect he would not remember it. It was at a book launch for something his colleague, Margalit Fox wrote about translating some ancient text, 'The Riddle of the Labyrinth.'

Mr. Weber is an affable man, who I suspect is not prone to violence. He is not a small man either, so if confronted, my guess is he could at least give a basic defense of himself.

Shirley on the other hand gives you the impression she could turn into a Rhonda Rousey, a mixed martial arts competitor fighting a UFC match in the Octagon. Mr. Weber's Twitter site shows his dust jacket photo from his fairly recent book, 'Life is a Wheel: Memoirs of Bike Riding Obituarist.' In the photo, Mr. Weber is wearing a cyclist's helmet. If Shirley comes after him, he might need it.

With the advantage of a hard copy 'Bartlett's Familiar Quotations' book I was able to get the exact wordng to what I was thinking, something from William Congreve, who so accurately wrote in one of his plays, 'The Mourning Bride:' (For the true scholars among you, take in Aristophanes and Nietzche. There seems to be eons of agreement.)
  • Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
Could add a former obituary writer to that.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Contest

The ladies who are unwittingly competing for the title of  'The World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On' haven't been seen much of lately. Germany's Chancellor Angela remains in the lead, despite some recent appearances by Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. France's Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, remains solidly in third place, several lengths behind the front running duo.

Chancellor Merkel extends her lead a bit by appearing in Brussels yesterday, and is seen here with French President Francois Hollande.

The Chancellor is in Brussels more often than I am in the bathroom after going to bed for the evening. A lot of this has to do with the simple fact that Brussels is the headquarters for the European Union (EU). The EU of course is what the British have filed divorce papers on, with the remaining nations trying to figure what life is going to like without the Brits after their voter-mandated Brexit, British Exit, takes full effect in two years.

Chancellor Merkel is seen here in her customary solid colored pantsuit. Without either of the other two ladies in sight, Chancellor Merkel inches ahead once again in the race for the title of 'The World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.'


When you read the obituary page like a sports page, you can't help but notice the paid death notices. These are notices paid for by the deceased's family and or friends. They can be lengthy, and they can also even have a photo. At the rates these go for by the inch, this is a profit center for the newspaper.

When there is one unusually long, and with a photo, I sometimes take a glance and read about the virtues of the deceased. They are always virtues. No hatchet jobs here.

On Friday in the NYT my attention was drawn to the notice for Auchincloss--Catherine Manning Hannon, known to all as KK. The notice is a full 10", accompanied by a stylish photo of the deceased, holding onto her stetson, with her scarf billowing in the breeze. She's probably on horseback.

I glanced just a bit at the wording and caught that the decease passed away at 89. and was married several times...John Hay Whitney was godfather to her only child, a son named John Whitney Kelly.

My memory pulled up that John Hay Whitney was the publisher at one point of The Herald Tribune, and who had a sister Joan Payson, who co-owned the New York Mets from their inception, and whose Greentree Stable sent Stage Door Johnny out to win the 1968 Belmont Stakes on my first day at the races. After reading to that point, I lost interest and moved on.

Saturday's paper has arrived and been ransacked a bit for ideas and information. KK's notice is there again, in all its length, with photo. I know a bit of what these things can cost, so the large expense that was Friday's has now been doubled. And since the services are Monday, I suspect Sunday's paper may carry the notice again. Triple the expense.

Now KK's got my full attention. Consider the information, consider the tributes, consider the virtues of her life.

  • was a vivacious, intelligent and strong woman with a unique joie de vivre...
  • was a famous beauty from an early age, charming and spirited...
  • Born with an artistic eye...
  • designed clothes and jewelry for Tiffany's...
  • married John Simms "Shipwreck" Kelly...
  • had her only son John Whitney Kelly. whose godfather was John Hay Whitney..."
  • a second marriage to Philip Larkin, whose great-grandfather Captain Richargd King founded the King Ranch of Kingsville, Texas...
  • had a brief marriage to James Overton Winston III after Mr. Larkin passed away at 41...
  • her fourth and final marriage was to James Douglas Auchincloss, who passed away in 2000 after 20 years of marriage... 
  • KK made beautiful homes...
  • at 87 renovated a Norman chateau in Brookville, NY...
  • involved in many charities...
  • had her portrait done by many artists, including Jamie Wyeth and Andy Warhol...
  • she was fun and funny, adored dancing and catching a man's eye...
  • as a hostess, she entertained with flair, loved intelligent conversation and sophisticated wit...
  • she was interested in imagination, and what sparked it...
  • always chic, KK dressed impeccably...
  • she will be sorely missed by those who love her...
I never met KK, and I never knew of her, but I miss her too.

Friday, March 10, 2017


I don't know if this is really a problem, but I have noticed that after someone passes away you can no longer get a great quote from them. Or any quote, really, for that matter. They've said it all, and nothing after the death certificate is going to get them to chime in on current events.

I always see this as a shame. But understandable. Often I think about a deceased singer and how lovely it would be hear them sing something that was composed after they passed away. I think like this often when listening to Nat King Cole. But we're just not going to hear him sing 'Michelle' unless someone does a voice synthesizer and gets past all the copyright hurdles there surely would be.

Luckily, there are the recordings of the songs these people did sing, so we're at least left with something. The same goes for people who have been a source of great quotations. Winston Churchill stopped giving the world his frameable utterances the moment he died. As did William F. Buckley Jr. But we have their writings, and other people's memories of what they said or wrote.

Ever since William F. Buckley Jr. ran for mayor of New York City in 1965 and remarked he would "demand a recount" when asked what he would do if he actually won the election, From then on, I knew he was someone I would always enjoy listening to. To me, his answer has continued to be one of the all-time great responses to what was probably really a silly question. No matter, the response was golden.

The tongue-thrashings that he and Gore Vidal had on the TV show 'The Firing Line' were the stuff of legend. No split screens heads talking to the camera, but two people actually on the same stage at the same time. Two verbal-grandmasters against the TV clock, vying for the last, best word. When Bill Buckley passed away in 2008, at least two obituaries used the same word to describe the type of man who had just passed away: a "sesquipedalian."

So imagine how nice I thought it was that in yesterday's NYT Arts section a reporter led off their story about an emerging conservative quarterly publication with something WFB had said. Jennifer Schuessler reminds us of something he once said about his preference to being governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston phone book, rather than by the faculty of Harvard.

As with anything WFB said, you had to look where he was planting his tongue. I know nothing about the context of this remark. You might think it disparages Harvard because he went to Yale, but I doubt it. His 1951 book, 'God and Man at Yale' wasn't too kind to the school he had graduated from only the year before.

I suppose WFB was saying, in what would certainly be his way, that being governed by 2,000 people, as terrible as that sounds, would be far better than if the government were comprised of Harvard academics. Die a thousand deaths, type of thing. Never mind that all Harvard academics probably didn't have unlisted numbers, and might therefore perhaps be amongst those first 2,000 people in the Boston phone book, with Boston being next door to Cambridge. Sometimes, you just can't get away from the enemy.

The quote is a terrific lede to a story about the launching of a conservative quarterly, 'American Affairs' that was announced at the Harvard Club toward the end of February. Bill Buckley founded the conservative 'National Review' in 1955, and was considered a founder of the Conservative party. Bill Buckley's crowning moment came when Ronald Reagan captured the presidency for two terms, 1981-1989.

Apparently, there is someone named Julius Krein, pictured above, who has started the quarterly as its founder and editor. Mr. Krein is a 31 year-old Harvard educated political philosophy major who barely looks a day past 12. But then again, Mr. Buckley, in 1955 was 30 years-old, and presented a similar clean-shaven, youthful, unwrinkled look. Given authentic id, Mr. Krein should be able to be served in New York State.

There are those who speculate what WFB would think of the Trump presidency, but that's all it can ever be: speculation. In 2017, we don't get to hear from someone who passed away in 2008. But it is still nice to hear what they did say cleverly placed in a contemporary context.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Ring

It really was a long time ago, the first Ali-Frazier match at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. All day yesterday I was trying to remember what significance March 8th held for me. And it wasn't until just this very moment, when thinking about Lou Duva, that I remembered it was the date for that first of the three epic battles between the two; the first time undefeated heavyweight champions met. It was doozie.

It was a Monday, and was also the day Aqueduct shook off its winter hiatus and thoroughbred racing returned to the NYC area. And ever since that March 8th date when my father and a friend of mine from the office were at that fight, last row blue seats, $20, obtained in the mail directly from Madison Square Garden, that I started to really follow boxing.

For decades I was hooked on boxing. Attended fights in as many places as I could, live and theater pay-per-view. Boxing can attract a crowd as tough as the guys in the ring. Once at the Felt Forum, often referred to as Madison Square Garden's finished basement, a bartender from Gallagher's Steak House was fighting someone from Philadelphia, someone...Kid Chocolate (honest). I really don't remember who won, but I suspect something was going badly for the bartender at one point because chairs were suddenly taking flight. Things settled down, but I remember reading in the paper the next day that the bartender was never asked to fight again at anything the Garden was promoting.

My father never talked too much of what fights he might have seen growing up in Manhattan, but I'm sure his world was dominated by the radio broadcasts of the big fights. The German Athletic Club was half a block down the street from the family flower shop, over Joe King's restaurant at 190 Third Avenue. I'm sure he might have seen guys being groomed there, or probably watched his older brother, who was an amateur boxer and fought collegiately as a midshipman at the Naval Academy. My uncle George was also my godfather, and I do remember he had a nose that had a bit of bashed in look.

One of my enduring memories is of my father spotting a guy one evening at the 16th Street entrance to the BMT's Broadway line who was unloading newspapers from a truck. My father got excited and told me that was Paul Berlenbach, a light-heavyweight champion from the 20s. Considering the man we saw in the early 1960s was not wearing a pair of boxing trunks or gloves, I'd have to say my father's memory of what the guy looked like was very good, nearly 35 years later.

And because the ring can be a dangerous place to be, it is always good to keep your mind on business. There was one fight at the Garden between Christy Elliott, a good light-heavyweight prospect and someone else. Christy was having his way with his opponent. Christy, being of Irish persuasion, and likely looking forward to the end of the sexual-abstinence period that was legendarily imposed on fighters until their match was over, nearly got decapitated when he stopped punching his opponent just long enough to look up and wave to a pair of young ladies who had jumped up in the crowd from about 10 rows back, waving an Irish flag and blowing him kisses. There's a time and place for everything.

It's been a while since I've gotten even remotely excited about boxing. So, when I read today that Lou Duva passed at 94, a flood of boxing memories came back. There are some great quotes from Duva, but to me, surprisingly the obituary writer, Richard Goldstein, who does so many of the NYT sport figure obits, didn't seize on Duva's nickname, Fred Flintstone, because surely Lou's squat, hefty stature and hair, did remind you of the cartoon character.

If you've ever been to a boxing match then you might know that at the end of any fight, the ring suddenly seems to be holding more people than a car on the No. 6 line during rush hour. Where they all come from is amazing, but suddenly you can't see the bottom of the ring there are so many pairs of legs jumping around.

As mentioned, a boxing crowd can a tough crowd. Consider the mention in the obituary of when excitable Lou jumped in the ring when Andrew Gulota was disqualified for repeated low blows. Bedlam.

Lou was carried from the ring on a stretcher when his portable cardiac unit gave him an unwanted electrical shock. I distinctly remember as Lou was being attended to and carried from the ring on that stretcher there were people reaching for his arm trying to take his watch.

Sometimes, you just get no respect.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sitting on Pins and Needles

I'm going to guess that anyone who would label themselves even a casual reader of NYT obituaries would not be fooled by Sam Roberts's referring to "shpilkes" as being the clinical term for "ants in your pants." Mr. Roberts does this in the close for his obituary for Fred Weintraub, who has passed away at 88 and who gave the world of entertainment many things, notably The Bitter End coffee house and Bruce Lee movies.

Mr. Roberts was quoting Mr. Weintraub, who said he was amazed at his wildly varied lifetime accomplishments coming from a kid born with "incurable shpilkes."

NOTE: By the placement of the quotation marks, it is possible Mr. Weintraub is actually telling us "shpilkes" is "the clinical term for ants in your pants," However, I don't buy it. I rather suspect Mr. Roberts is pulling Yiddish wool over the reader's eyes.  I don't think I'm wrong.

Once while waiting for my doctor to come in and exam me, I became aware that I had been staring at a "restless leg syndrome" poster that of course claimed the symptoms could be alleviated by the intake of a certain prescription drug. My guess is the ailment never caught fire, because I've never heard of the drug, or the syndrome, being advertised at any time on television. And now the poster is gone.

Three spelling variations for "ants in your pants" were found: schpilkes, shpielkes, and shpilkes. They all pointed to Yiddish, and not the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Edition, (ICD-10).

Further, a web page offered that the person most likely using the word would be a "Jewish person, middle-aged, or older." I've seen Mr. Robert's photo on a dust jacket, and "middle-aged or older" is a shoe that fits.

Reading of Mr. Weintraub's life I would wager he would approve of the closing quote at the end of his obituary. In fact, my guess is he would even surprised he got 6 columns, with photos.

As for Mr. Roberts, he once again posts an obituary double on the page. Lucky for us, he has restless writing syndrome.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Left, Right, Left, Right...

I can't really claimed to have dined out on this story, but I have told in contexts it made sense to tell it in. I don't know why these things occur to me, but this time it was probably driven by looking for socks. Socks are connected to feet, and feet are connected to shoes, so there you are.

It was a loooong time ago when I read a piece in the Sunday NYT magazine by the reporter Anthony DePalma. If you're adventurous, you can explore some of his pieces about the docks through the following link.

Whichever one it was, the piece contained a story about his father who was a longshoreman on the Jersey side, I believe. He describes his father as completely legit, and not in any way under the thumb of organized crime, or even sympathetic. He remembers his father telling him that after a day of stacking cargo out of ship's hold you knew you had done an honest day's work.

Anthony gives a tale from his father's days on the docks that pre-dated containerized cargo, the era depicted in the movie 'On the Waterfront.' Goods are moved by winch and hand, and pilferage is rampant.

The story goes that one Italian shoe manufacturer was completely fed up with the shrinkage of his shipments. So fed up that in one shipment he shipped only the left shoes.

Two weeks later he shipped the right ones.