Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hot Diggity Dog Diggity

I shouldn't really be surprised that the NYT did not choose to taste test Karl Ehmer hot dogs in their recent survey on the tastiest all-beef hot dogs. Despite assembling hot dogs from 10 different manufacturers, Karl Ehmer did not even make it into the ball park.

Not surprising, given that Karl Ehmer doesn't advertise, but certainly disappointing, The disappointment of this omission is further compounded by the fact that all three of the assembled judges are native New Yorkers. And one of them, the reporter who ties the story together, Julia Moskin, describers herself on her Twitter profile as a "Lifelong New Yorker. Fast Walker. Slow Eater."

I don't know what part of NYC Ms. Moskin hails from. Nor do I know where Sam Sifton and Melissa Clark will tell you what part of the city they're from. But my guess is that none of them grew up near a Karl Ehmer in Queens.

Once upon a time Karl Ehmer did advertise. But that was so long ago I think we only had a black and white TV and people were listening to Jerry from JGE (Jamaica Gas and Electric) telling anyone with a union card to show it at the door, and presto, you'd be in line to come in for discounted major appliances. (On-time delivery was questionable, though.)

The Karl Ehmer store that supplied our backyard franks in Flushing could be found on the south side of Roosevelt Avenue, just west of Union Street. Even after we moved to Wantagh (Nassau County) 25 years ago, we were still going into Flushing for those frankfurters.

Eventually, that store closed, and the remaining Queens store on Horace Harding Boulevard turned out to be not worth going to.  We now get the Karl Ehmer franks at a store in Seaford, one town east of Wantagh, in what is probably the only Karl Ehmer store left in Nassau county.

I like to think that if ever I were to move so far away that the franks couldn't be picked up in person, I'd be able to afford having them shipped to wherever I lived. Luckily, I haven't had to do this yet.

The franks are long, weiners, I think is their official size. Since I eat three in one sitting, my wife buys them in multiples of three, generally 15-18. We've had a hot dog schism in the family, and I'm now the only family member who enjoys them and insists on eating no other brand. My wife likes Hebrew National, which I see were rated one of the two favorites by the staff at the NYT.  Everyone has an opinion.

One of our now constant guests at the July 4th cookout became a convert to the Karl Ehmer franks several years ago. They are a picky Polish sausage eater, so they know their stuff. They remarked on the "snap" to biting through the skin. There is no hot dog "burp" that follows you around all day.

In fact, this year the cookout is scheduled for Sunday July 2nd, 4:00 o'clock, if any of the NYT judges would like to come out and sample some Karl Ehmers. You're invited. Nothing to bring. Eat and run if you like. Directions available if anyone is interested.

My wife's hamburgers are good as well.

Monday, June 26, 2017

World's Fair 1964

Could there be anything more than a blast from the past than a time capsule?

In today's NYT, the veteran reporter (probably someone who was eligible to take a buyout but ruled against it) James Barron, does a story on the relocation of the time capsule that was firmly implanted behind the Time-Life Building's cornerstone at 1271 6th Avenue (writing Avenue of the Americas still goes against my grain) in 1959, and is now being moved to the company's new headquarters on Liberty Street.

Woven into the story is a general description of what time capsules actually were and where some of the more famous ones have been placed and exhumed over the years in New York City. Thus, we get a story about time capsules at The New York Times buildings, and how Iphigene Ochs, whose father bought The Times in 1896, and who, at at 11 years-old in 1904 when the cornerstone was laid at Times Tower misspoke and declared the cornerstone to be laid "plump, level and square" rather than "plumb, level and square."

This was no doubt an intentful typesetting error perpetuated by a disgruntled union worker who wanted to make the owner's kid look stupid: substituting a 'p' for a 'b' on the text that was prepared for her to read. The letters are more alike than not.

But what really caught my interest was a description of what is in the time capsule from the 1964 World's Fair, held for two years in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Because of massive delays, the Fair didn't actually open until 1965 and ran for two years, one more than the originally scheduled one.

Anyone who was alive then and witnessed the simultaneous construction of Shea Stadium, the Fair Grounds and the attendant roadways knows that there are probably people still entombed at the Rodman Street Long Island Expressway exit who were trying to get home on a summer's Friday evening. In fact, there should be a memorial to the Unknown Commuter. A distant cousin has been missing all these years.

Having lived in Flushing from 1949 through 1992, I always found all things Flushing related interesting. So when there was an ad hoc museum's display in a three-story brick house on Union Street telling the story of the World's Fair at Flushing Meadow Park umpteen years ago, I went.

I distinctly remember seeing what were described as the contents of the 1964 time capsule that was buried at the Fair Grounds. Mr. Barron makes mention of some of these items to be a bikini, birth control pills and some Beatles records.

I remember seeing what was a Beatles 45 rpm record--likely 'A Hard Day's Night'--and an American Express credit card. I don't know if what I was looking at were examples of what was in the time capsule, or what were the actual items from the time capsule. Mr. Barron's description makes it sound like the time capsule is still there, and awaiting an opening 5,000 years after its burial.

Despite a high water table in that area that makes you wonder why park water fountains were never found to be working, it is possible that the 1964 time capsule will be retrieved intact in 6964. There is a decaying wooden rowboat that has been sitting in Flushing Creek surely since Truman has been president. It is generous to consider Flushing Creek (somehow now considered Flushing River) to be a body of water and not congealed mining waste, but it is somehow liquid enough to be tidally affected by the moon, For decades I've seen that rowboat from passing LIRR Port Washington line trains somehow not completely disappear.

The Beatles may well last forever.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Baby, It's Cold Up Here

The name of the town reads like the bottom of an eye chart as it sits nearly on top of the world. The town, Kangiqsujuaq is in northern Quebec, Canada and if you go there you can get a demonstration on how to build igloos. And then you can live in one.

It is not the latest destination hotel or travel gimmick. It is an actual town of nearly 800 people, with some buildings and snow-covered roads that Google Earth seems to have only viewed from above. You are very much on your own for directions, but like San Francisco, it is a town on the bay. In this case, Hudson Bay.

Thursday's NYT did a story on the town and Adam Sakiagak, a 57-year-old Inuit whose parents were born in an igloo, and who now shows the younger generation how to build them. If you're out there on the ice hunting and fishing, the igloo is your tent.

There is no mention of cable, Wi-Fi, or any other form of electronic connectivity. When Mr. Sakiagak has finished building an igloo you are able to stand up in it and sleep on what is really an upper level on the inside where the temperature gets to be 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while it is 30 below outside. A relative sauna. If 40 degrees above zero is still not warm enough for you, you are stuck. There are no pipes to bang on and no super to complain to for more heat.

The landscape around the igloo can look like a frozen version of the surface of the moon with a bluish tint. In the photo above that accompanies the story, it is easy to see there are two igloos side-by-side, looking somewhat like Brunhilde's giant breastplate buried face up in the snow.

Development. There goes the neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's a Secret. Don't Tell Anyone I Told You

The good thing about reading a good newspapers is finding things out about things that may not quite be the main part of the story, but once learned, certainly do add to your ability to hold a conversation with reasonably intelligent people at a later date. Your "chat" quotient rises considerably.

Take the story about the 25 year-old N.S.A. contractor, Reality Winner, who is alleged to have released secret documents to an Internet news source. The story is of course about the documents released, who released them, and how she was arrested. Ms. Winner is now the story.

But take in the story in the NYT that reports the news item. and we learn for instance that there are a plethora of intelligence agencies that now operate within the U.S. Government, 11 by last count, a number that swelled after the attacks of 9/11. Whether this is good or not is not the point. There are 11 agencies charged with keeping the citizens safe. Anyone who remembers any aftermath of 9/11 should remember that problems were caused by the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. not sharing information prior to the attack. There are now more agencies that can keep things to themselves. Or, do they?

Prior to reading the article, if a multiple choice question were framed asking you to pick how many people out of the 330 million citizens of the U.S. (children included) would you guess have access to classified information, my guess is you wouldn't even be close. I could play the test-maker and list four possibilities and one none-of-the above, but I'm going to guess no one would believe the number is reported to be four million government employees and contractors who are considered to have classified clearance. And of that, 1.3 million have top-secret clearance, like that once enjoyed by Ms. Winner.

That does sound like a lot of people to have access to what are being considered to be secrets, top shelf or otherwise. And with 1.3 million people with TOP SECRET clearance, you do wonder if they all can access the same pieces of information, or are there only different "rooms" they can go into?

You don't have to take sides to absorb what are hoped to be accurate facts. Now, whether it is generally perceived by those who are closer to this than us that perhaps four million and 1.3 million is a tad high, I don't know. But consider this.

In today's NYT there is a story by Timothy Williams who writes extensively about the adjusting of qualification standards going on nationwide as major cities struggle to fill their vacancies on their police forces.

Again, words in the story tell another story. Consider that Mr. Williams writes about the numerous hurdles a candidate has to pass through before becoming an officer who is licensed to use deadly force:

"The process of becoming a police officer is still onerous--it might be easier to get top-secret clearance than to be hired as a rookie cop. Evaluation can take more than a year..."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Theresa May and the Election

Well, that tactic may not have worked too well.

You might  recall the British Prime Minister Theresa May, a little more that a month or so ago, said she was calling a special "snap" election in the hope of widening her party's majority in Parliament. Their government is somewhat like ours, and majorities are welcome, if you're the majority.

The lower chamber of Parliament is analogous to our House of Representatives. But where we have 435 congressional seats to represent 324 million citizens, Britain has 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent 65 million citizens in four regions: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. This means their representation density is waaaay greater than ours. And since the U.K. is geographically smaller than the U.S. it also means there is greater representation density per square mile. Take the Tube, and you probably go through numerous election districts above.

And as anyone who follows this stuff might know by now, the prime minister's Conservative party did not add to their slim majority. They lost their majority, and because there are several parties in the U.K. no one has a majority right now. It is what they call a "hung parliament."

I've often said that terrorism will influence elections, and the recent multiple attacks in England are a likely cause for Prime Minister May's current difficulties. If she is to stay in office, she will need to create a coalition government, needing a deal with the party in Northern Ireland.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who see the irony of the
Irish--any Irish--helping to prop up the government in Westminster. "The world is a changin'."

But the really sad news behind all this is not what it means for the British Pound, and not what it means for Brexit, but that Ms. May may no longer stay in the running for the 'World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.'

It would be a real pity if she were to scratch out of the race, when she is easily the best clothes horse a nation could want.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Caractacus's Uniform

To give you an example of how long ago it was we saw a Broadway revival of 'The Pirates of Penzance' starring Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline, consider that the tickets we bought were $17.

It was the first Gilbert and Sullivan show I had ever seen. At the top of the curtain were two cameo shaped images of two men, who looked to me to be presidential candidates from the 1880s. Turns out the ovals were Gilbert and Sullivan. Who was on the left I couldn't tell you. Shows you what I knew.

The production we saw also featured George Rose, as the Major General. George Rose was famous for this part, which of course included the soliloquy, 'The Very Model of the Modern Major General,' an effort so lengthy and filled with screwball rhymes that an elephant's memory and a scuba tank full of air is required to get through it, that, when completed, is a guaranteed show stopper.

In the show we saw George Rose actually started to flub some lines. He knew he was in trouble, so he simply stopped and told the audience he was going to start again. This was met with applause, and even more applause when he got through it the second time. I mean, who doesn't like to hear it again?

Gilbert and Sullivan were famous for their patter songs. After the performance I bought several D'Oyly Carte CDs of their Gilbert and Sullivan shows and delighted in 'short, sharp, shocks."

All the references in 'The Very Model of the Modern Major General' can be looked up. There was a Caractacus.  Of course there was Aristophanes, and Heliogabalus, and all the other names that are rhymed with.

One stanza includes, ...and when I know precisely what is meant by a commissariat..." (There is such a word.)

So consider when I was reading about Bob Dylan's required lecture to the Swedish Academy for his Nobel Prize in Literature in yesterday's NYT and I came across the word commentariat that I couldn't help but think of commissariat, and therefore 'The Pirates of Penzance,'

The reporter Ben Sisario, used the word to describe the literary crowd and media who are still wrestling with the award and the recognition that song lyrics are literature. The endless summer. And just like commisariat, there really is a word commentariat.

And while we're playing with words that rhyme, how about secretariat, that administrative body within the U.N, and of course the 1973 winner of the Triple Crown.

And of course, one of my favorite "ariat" rhymes, Ogden Nash's homage to Will Rogers.

With gum and grim and lariat,
He entertained the proletariat.

If it weren't for Gilbert and Sullivan getting there first, Bob Dylan might have easily written 'The Very Model of the Modern Major General.'

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Stump Speech

There's an expression "dining out on" which means pumping something notable that you did and reaping the rewards of acknowledgment or adulation. This can be in the form of a free dinner, drinks at the bar, or some other form of congratulatory gift bestowed on you, even if it is only interest in someone listening to your story.

Athletes, typically baseball players, used to hit what was known as the 'rubber chicken circuit" in the off-season, speaking at perhaps a dinner in their honor for some milestone feat they might have accomplished in the just completed season.

But you don't have to be a professional athlete to enjoy dining out on something. I know a salesman at Saks that used to love to tell people that he worked with a guy who was in the children's chorus at the Metropolitan Opera. They both were now selling suits. Expensive suits. The point is that the teller of the story was living a bit vicariously through his colleague.

Years and years ago I read a Russell Baker piece that talked of his working with a reporter at a Baltimore newspaper, who when asked to do a story on the weather filed a short one: "we had some weather yesterday, and we're going to have some tomorrow." He was fired.

I've dined out on that story about John L. Carr's weather observation whenever I make fun of the attention given to the weather by the televised news, especially when they're quoting rain in tenths of inches.

I once wrote to Mr. Baker and told him of my continued appreciation of Mr. Carr's succinct accuracy about the weather. Mr. Baker wrote back that he got a kick out of someone remembering the story, and that John L. Carr left the newspaper business and became a public relations executive for General Motors.

Mr. Baker further supplied the information that this showed how bad off General Motors was, because Mr. Carr was the least likely person to add anything to being a public relations man. He couldn't puff up a narrative. In fact, he was given access to a company plane, but couldn't bring himself to figure out where to send himself on company business. Eventually, G.M. made that decision for him.

I have no way of knowing if Mr. Baker has dined out often on the Carr story, but I know I have, just a bit. But I do know someone who has "dined out" a great deal and over a long period of time on something that happened to them in their young adulthood. New York's senior senator, Charles (Chuck) Schumer.

It was 2004 and Senator Schumer gave the commencement address at my daughter Susan's graduation from Geneseo college. Somewhere in his speech he worked in the story of pursuing a girl, and not getting the girl, and being consoled by his mother.

It was such a cute story that my wife became a huge Chuck Schumer fan. Chuck was Charlie Brown: he didn't get the red headed girl. But he didn't let it ruin his life.

It is commencement address time again, and I suspect Chuck has been asked to give an address somewhere. It turns out that my daughter knows friends who have heard Chuck tell the exact story, even 10 years apart, at different commencement exercises.

Chuck's life may have moved on, but he's still telling the world about not getting the girl. He's been dining out.