Monday, September 25, 2017

The Winner for the 4th Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Middleweights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy Birthday

It is a strange, strange world we live in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yeah, very funny, laughing your ass off.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Down Memory Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Metal Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

One Less Wise Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Those British

Before the hurricanes hit, the nation's interest was directed toward the Mega jackpot, a multi-state lottery that was headed towards numerical heights that were going to propel the winner to a lifestyle rivaling Richard Branson's. If won singularly, (which is was) even after taxes, the three quarter of a billion dollar plus prize was certainly going to be a lifestyle changer.

Let it never be said that the mass media ever misses a potential story. Crews were sent to convenience stores and microphones were put in front of people asking them what were they going to do if they won. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I will admit, I only heard a few of these responses, but I can guarantee that none of them can match what Andrew Patrick in Britain said he was going to do with the whistle-blower funds he stood to pocket as a customs duty avoidance case of a British knitwear company makes its way through a Federal court in Maine. The intentful duty avoidance was accomplished by flying under the radar and splitting orders that exceed the threshold for duty into a series of smaller orders that put each order under the minimum amount for duty.

Whistle-blower cases can be BIG in this country. They gain their oxygen from a Civil War statute about cheating the government. The False Claims Act, a qui tam proceeding, has apparently recovered more than $4.7 billion in fiscal 2016 from defendants, and disbursed $158 million to 48 whistle-blowers.

In the life I had before this, I distinctly remember a lawyer attending our NHCAA (National Health Care Anti-fraud Association)  conference who told us he was looking for that one whistle-blower case that he could hang his hat on. One the female attendees, thinking in home and hearth terms, asked how his wife felt about his Captain Ahab quest. Do you get to eat while fishing?

Our country's zeal to sue is unmatched. According to Friday's NYT story by Anita Raghavan, when a U.S. law firm, Constantine Cannon, tried to convince the British that whistle-blowers should be monetarily rewarded, the British vehemently declined to start any kind of reward program. It would seem they have an elevated sense of "fair play" or whatever it might be in cricket that prevents them from acting like a nation of common plaintiffs. They probably call us ruffians. Might be that stiff upper lip that keeps getting in the way.

The law firm Constantine Canon apparently found a way around the British reluctance to award whistle-blowers by finding Brits who can snitch on companies that are doing business with the U.S. A successful recovery can award the foreign whistle-blower a legitimate  monetary award, and since it can be 15 -30 percent of the recovery, there is incentive to "drop the dime."

Forget Brexit. There is a Yank invasion flying over those white cliffs of Dover of hungry whistle-blower firms setting up shop in London and looking for litigation that can go back across the pond. Kim Philby died way too soon.

When my grandfather passed away in 1956, even though I was perhaps only in second grade, I distinctly remember my father and his three brothers grousing about the $4 or so that the undertaker was adding to the bill for each of the pallbearers. And there were going to six of them! Seems NYC, being a strong union town, had a union for pallbearers. If my father and uncles were to grab the handles they would be in effect strikebreakers, and my grandfather's burial might have been delayed by court proceedings and Federal injunctions. They relented and paid.

The amount of an award that Andrew Patrick stands to receive is still up in the air. The case has yet to reach a conclusion. But he is the only ticket holder to whatever reward might be generated from a company that shipped $126 million in cashmere goods from 2000 to 2016 to the United States, avoiding duty on nearly all of it.

We're here today with Mr. Patrick at the petrol stand and are asking him what does he plan to do with his payout?

Mr. Patrick, like all good sons, says he'll do something nice for his 77-year old mum. But after that blast of generosity, he envisions giving up his pallbearer job and perhaps having enough dough to buy a 3,000 to 4,000 quid auto rather than the 250 quid clunkers he's been driving for 20 years or so. .

Given even a high rate of exchange between pound sterling and U.S. dollars, what kind of rattle traps can the poor man be driving? Unsafe at any speed. Consider we've got people who are going to be knocking each other over to pay $1,000 for a new iPhone, and you have to wonder what kind of internal combustion engine can be had for what might really be a moderately expensive dinner (with wine) over here?

One shudders. We wish him well.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


As someone who was in Tower One on 9/11, 29th floor, working for Empire BlueCross and BlueShield, I thought I'd heard, or seen all the 9/11 stories by now. I was wrong. I didn't know about the movie documentary produced by Mr. Matthew Weiss, 'Man in Red Bandana,'  until I read Corey Kilgannon's story in yesterday's NYT.

If today is 9/10, then tomorrow is 9/11, and the 16th anniversary of the World Trade Center, Pentagon attacks and the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania when the passengers took control of the hijacked jet and kept it from the target the terrorist were aiming it at. The dawn of large scale global terrorism.

9/11/2001 is not the only significant 9/11 date. I just followed a link someone sent me from a food festival they attended yesterday in Hell's Kitchen, or what is now more sedately called Clinton, a West Side section of Manhattan that used to be a rough and tumble neighborhood of Irish bars, warehouses, and tenement for the longshoremen and their families, close to the piers. It is now fully gentrified and ripe for 'once-upon-a-time' tours.

Turns out that on September 11, 1905 a  Sixth Avenue EL train that used the 9th Avenue EL tracks above 53rd Street, heading downtown, sped through a signal and switch, causing a derailment that sent the first car into a woman's apartment, and left the second car dangling from the EL tracks as if King Kong had come through the area and started tossing the toys around.

After we all met each other at a post-9/11 gathering the company held at a catering hall in Astoria, my manager, Vinnie LaBianca, who I came down the stairs with most of the way, commented that didn't I think all the firemen looked "glum." They did after all know more than we did, having started at the base of buildings, and were viewing what were really two horrific blazes that we had yet to see.

Mr. Kilgannon's story is an absolute heart-tugger. The person the documentary is about is Welles Crowther, 24, a volunteer fireman from Rockland County who wore a red bandana over his mouth to combat the dust as he led people to a staircase in Tower Two that lead then to another staircase and safety. He kept returning up the stairs to find other people until his DNA eventually proved he had died alongside other firemen when the tower collapsed.

The only service I attended after 9/11 was for my former director's brother-in-law, Richard Fitzsimons, who was working for Connor Security in the lobby, directing people out of Tower Two. He had only recently taken the job after retiring from the phone company. His brother Jack was a retired NYC detective who was my director's husband. Neither Jack or Pat were working at Empire at the time, and therefore were not in the building. Both have since passed away however.

There were services in Lynbrook, NY for Richard, even though there was as yet no evidence that he had died. A year or so later remains were found

I read all the 'Portraits of Grief' in the NYT.  
I even knew one of the faces, then the name, from someone who occasionally sat next to me on the train ride into the city each morning on the Babylon line, David Grimner.

I was only fairly recently downtown and took a walk through the memorial area. I spotted Richard Fitzsimons's name without even looking for it. A little known memorial consists of everyone's name written on a heavy-duty tape and stuck to the tiles at the 16th Street exit of the 14th Street subway stop  at Union Square.

The names are getting a little beat up, but when I'm there I always look for Richie's name and those of Abe Zelmanowitz and Ed Beyea, a pair of people from Empire who died when Abe would not leave his co-worker Ed, who was in a wheelchair. They were in the process of getting down the stairs with a firemen's help, but not in enough time. The firemen who was helping them, William Burke, was a lifeguard captain at Jones Beach who my daughter worked with.

At the Astoria Manor House work reunion a priest addressed us and said there was no six degrees of separation now in effect for anyone in the city now. "Everyone is connected to someone." He was right.

After Mr. Kilgannon's piece I will now look for the name Welles Crowther. Apparently, immediately following 9/11,  Mr. Crowther's family only knew he perished in the collapse, they didn't know anything about his heroic, selfless efforts to get others to safety until they read a New York Times story on Memorial Day 2002 about an unnamed rescuer in a red bandana. It turns out their son kept that red bandana with him ever since his parents gave it to him when he was eight. Young Welles hung out with his father who was a volunteer at the Upper Nyack fire department. He eventually became an adult volunteer, who was interested in becoming a NYC firefighter. The story helped them identify their son's movements in Tower Two before he died.

Mr. Matthew Weiss is a lawyer and the film's producer, heard about the story from his banker, who was Welles's father, Jeff. Mr. Weiss took on the project of turning the story into a documentary film, taking six years to do it. The film has just been released.

Sometimes the lyrics of songs forever stay with me. Mary Chapin Carpenter has a homage to 9/11 in her song 'Grand Central Station.'  Never mind it's really Grand Central Terminal, poetic license. If anyone remembers post-9/11 Grand Central and Penn Station they will remember the sections of photos and clippings of the people who were commuters who passed away that day. It was a long time before anyone moved those memorials and put them somewhere else.

My own lyrical effort about 9/11 is a poem I publish annually in this blog on 9/16 tiled 'Septembers.' The first three stanzas are about 9/11, the last one about 9/16/2002, the day my manager, Vinnie LaBianca and my co-worker Isabel Munoz, also a 9/11 survivor, were executed by our vice president at our temporary location, 1440 Broadway at around 8:20 a.m. The vice president, John Harrison, then took his own life, saving everyone a trial.

An In Memoriam piece is placed every five years in the NYT. This Saturday the 15th anniversary of that fateful day will again be remembered.

Using song or poetry to acknowledge an event is an almost natural reaction. I emailed Mr. Weiss if he was aware of a Nanci Griffith's song, 'Davey's Last Picture.' He replied he wasn't, but he would check it out.

Ms. Griffith's song appears on her 2012 album 'Intersection' and was co-written by Nanci. I have no idea who the song is about, or if it a generic 9/11 lyric.

Little boy spots a fire  truck,
Mom can we stop,
That's what I want to do
When I grow up.

There were a lot of  little boys who became men who died that day.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

It's a Great Game for Radio

There is of course the expression that someone has a great face for radio. That's the way I feel about tennis.

I never thought I'd have back-to-back postings about the back and forth game with the strange scoring, but the NYT apparently has kept their reporter Sarah Lyall stationed out at the Billie Jean King tennis center at Flushing Meadows for what might be the duration of the U.S. Open. I'm sure some people would be envious of this assignment.

Tennis at this site is a big deal here in New York, as I've already noted. This has to be true given the coverage the Times is giving what to me is a nice sport to play for exercise and bragging rights, but has absolutely no interest for me to plop down in front of a TV and watch.

To show you how tennis ranks in the interest of the NYT editors consider that there were two stories I think filed from Saratoga's recently completed 40 day meet.

Of course I'm sure there are those that don't know what goes on in Saratoga Springs for the 40 day meet that starts in mid-July and runs through Labor Day. It is horse racing, once the most popular spectator sport.

I'm not bitter about this, but I really don't like tennis. Ms. Lyall's latest piece comes on the heels of her prior piece about IBM's artificial software called Watson selecting video segments to compile for tennis highlight segments, with advertising, of course.

Ms. Lyall latest piece is about two radio broadcasters who are providing play-by-play of the U.S. Open for BBC 5 radio. That's right, radio, which seems to still be a medium that those across the pond absorb a good deal of. Ms. Lyall, who lived and worked there for many years before coming back to her New York roots, knows the English. She's tried to explain them in a book, 'The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British.'

So, when she tells us, "The U.K. is a radio-loving nation," with BBC 5 garnering 10 percent of the adult population weekly, five million listeners, she knows of what she speaks. This number seems entirely consistent with the image I have of Brits, even if it only comes from Masterpiece Theater and Masterpiece Mystery, brought to us by Darlene Shiley (heart valve money) and Conrad Prebys and Debbie Turner, and "other viewers like you."

Those "other viewers" are never me. I haven't been giving PBS money for over 40 years, ever since Crane Davis brought us Team Canada hockey in 1972 when no one else would. I can imagine the Brits listening to radio and remembering WW II, getting bombed daily, rationing, Winston Churchill, and jars of jam, washed down with a pint of something that's not milk.

The British broadcasters, Gigi Salmon and Russell Fuller, are perched high in a broadcasting booth at Arthur Ashe stadium. "High" is a word that barely describers the level they're at. They could be in the control tower at nearby  LaGuardia Airport directing plane traffic on the two runways.

The described play-by-play of the announcers reminds me of listening to Marv Albert bringing us the Ranger games on radio in the 60s. There was no cable TV then, and Ranger games were usually only broadcast on Saturdays on Channel 9, always an away game. Marv's long-time sponsor for these radio broadcasts was Devoe paint, and to this day when I use the paint (it is good paint), I can't help hearing Marv tell me where Harry Howell is with the puck.

I can't imagine radio tennis gaining any listeners in this country. The sponsors for tennis sell things visually. Imagine trying to induce you to buy a Rolex, BMW, or a Mercedes on the radio? Perhaps in England they do ads for bubble and squeak, but not here.

Ms. Lyall seems to be a welcome new contributor to the Sports page, having now come back from across the pond, and her repatriation in the homeland. Once the U.S., Open is over perhaps she'll find Belmont and Maggie Wolfendale and Gabby Gaudet, along with Paul Lo Duca. She can skip Andy Serling. The price (odds) is never right for Andy.

To repeat, I do not like tennis. But I will read about it now and then.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tennis Highlights

I've added the two words in the above title to what list there may be of oxymorons. 'Tennis highlights' is right up there, perhaps just below 'curling replays.' (Did you catch how that ice was just pushed aside allowing the stone to knock the beejeebers out of the opponent's stone? Can we see that again?)

Obviously I'm not a tennis fan. I tried to learn how to play it once, and that was enough. Did you know there are tennis courts high in Grand Central Terminal? That's where I started to learn from a Hungarian woman who wore all white. And I finished there. Over 40 years ago.

As for watching it...well that's not a pastime either. It is incredibly repetitive, with swings and grunts and thawacks, then some groans, applause, sweat, towels, and they do it again until the score says the match is over. And that scoring. Each point earned looks like the last point earned. The scoring system is from where I don't know. The Norman invasion? 1066? Any game that starts at zero, adds 15 twice, then ten, then I don't know. Somehow they stop at 6 games per set, needing to win by two games. When I think of tennis I think of Set Theory, pun intended.

Basically, the same thing keeps going on and on in tennis. But people like it. People play it. And obviously there's a good deal of money there for everyone to take a piece of. A good friend of ours works for a garden/landscaping place, Garden World/Keil Brothers in Flushing who supply all the plants and flowers at the tennis center. When tennis comes to Flushing Meadow every year for two weeks, it is a BIG story.

People in Manhattan in particular seem to gravitate toward attending the matches. The crowd looks different than that at a ball game. Half the people seem to have a light sweater tied around their neck, draped down their back, a pose I associate with people who want you to think they have money. And how could you have any money at one of those events if you buy something there? Worse than a ball park.

I was once on on a train going to Washington and it was about the time Mayor Bloomberg was pushing hard for a West Side football stadium to house the Jets. The idea never really went past someone building a model of what the place would look like.

I was talking to the woman next to me and the subject came up for some reason. I told her I thought it was a good idea. The white wine/shrimp set could collide with the bratwurst, ribs and beer set and try to get along.  That alone she said should be reason enough to build the stadium.

Of course there is no West Side football stadium, but boy has there been construction in Flushing Meadow for that tennis center! I used to commute to work from my Flushing home on the 7 Train and saw that area of Queens go from the remnants of two World's Fairs to Tennis Central. Stadiums, domes. The place is an industry for two weeks every September.

In yesterday's New York Times, Sarah Lyall, a reporter back from her stint as a London correspondent, did a story on how IBM's artificial software, Watson, is creating highlight video. Video of anything is of course what rules the world these days. And the tennis people do not want to be left out. You've got to believe it, there is a managing director for digital strategy at the United States Tennis Association.

Sponsorship at tennis events is a big deal. And IBM is right in there because the people who are likely to be going to these matches might be software/hardware decision makers. Nothing happens by accident.

Before retiring, my former company had me working with IBM on developing/enhancing their health insurance fraud detection software. Watson was just coming in as I was going out. My former boss now works for IBM and he tells me Watson is a big part of everything IBM does these days along the lines of providing software solutions for business. BIG. It is in all the commercials.

Ms. Lyall's piece tells of how the Watson software assigns excitement numbers to video: cheers, applause, grunts, (I suppose) tossed rackets, aces, match points, screams, moans, chest thumps, fist pumps, struts. Make of it what you will, but I wonder if the boys and girls at IBM are going to start rating movies. Maybe even porno movies. That would be interesting. I think I'd like to read about that too.

There can be as many as 87 matches played in one day at the tennis center. Watson creates an "excitement level" number. The high number of course is 1.0. A recent match scored a .809 for highlights. Like I said, movies (of all types) have to be next. With this number earned, a highlight from the match was posted on the Open's website and app.

There is no limit to what an app can do for your life. And possibly attendance.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The End...Maybe

After being about a year and half behind the rest of the world, I've finally finished watching the final episode of 'Downton Abbey.' It of course ends on all happy notes, with everyone in the cast paired off like socks in a drawer with their already beloved, or soon-to-be beloved. It is happily every after, or at least until the future they don't foresee turns into WW II. They think they've seen change now, just wait.

Weddings. A staple of shows like Downton are two in number in separate episodes when Lady Mary finally realizes she loves Henry Talbot, despite his non-titled self. And Lady Edith, the somewhat plainest looking of all the sisters, who has had a child Marigold out of wedlock delivered undercover in Switzerland with her Aunt Rosamond riding shotgun, marries Bertie, the Marquess of Hexham. Edith thus becomes the Marchioness of Hexham, making her higher in rank to the rest of the Crawleys. A Marquess is lower than an Duke, but higher that an Earl, what her father Lord Grantham is. It now coyly gets pointed out that now Lady Mary has to curtsy to her sister. Yeah, right.

And speaking of Lady Mary, a character who provides a room with the as yet uninvented air conditioning, did anyone catch Michelle Dockery playing a parolee in 'Good Behavior' on TNT? I mean, an actress that can go from the plummy voice of British aristocracy to someone alone in a cheap U.S. motel room who makes a crack pipe out of light bulb and whose boyfriend is a Dark Web hired assassin, and makes you like her, is certainly a versatile actress. More Michelle.

If anyone things the Crawly estate is grand at Highclere mansion, pictured above, then they should see Bertie's pile in Hexham, Brancaster Castle. That place looks like where Prince John, as played by Claude Rains in the 1938 film 'Robin Hood,' is restricting Maid Marian's movements, at least until Robin Hood and his band of merry men come along and get her out of there and get Claude thrown in the dungeon. Life can sometimes be fair.

It now seems to be 1925, 13 years since the newspaper was delivered and ironed to dry the ink before being brought to his Lordship's grasp in the library. The paper then told of the sinking of the Titanic, and the affect it had on the peerage status of those left behind. Awful, simply awful.

From there we are treated to the lives and stories of the upstairs and downstairs inhabitants who go through all of life's joys and misery, unexpected deaths, births, marriages, affairs rape, homosexuality, theft, blackmail, the effects of WW I, jealousies and of course acts of human kindness. The upstairs crowd is certainly not all bad.

All is light-hearted and gay in the final episode. Lady Edith has confronted Bertie's stern mother and told her the truth about Marigold. The  courageous act has spun Lady Pelham sideways, but she hurdles the bad news of Edith's 'immorality' with the positive spin that Edith is not trying to gain Bertie's wealth and title "by deceit." Edith is after all a highly ethical person. The world in early 20th century England is surely "a changin.'"

The kitchen maid Daisy learns how to use an electric blow dryer, and gets a do coiffed by the helpful Anna that finally gets her reluctant love interest Andrew to notice her in a new light. Mrs. Patmore has beaten back the innuendos about her bed and breakfast being a "house of ill repute" when a guest stays there with his mistress and is later chased down for adultery. The Crawley family engage in damage control and an early form of public relations work when they visit Mrs. Patmore for tea and are photographed by the local paper as setting foot in the place..

Cousin Isobel and Lord Merton are next to walk down the aisle. His lordship learns from Dr. Clarkson, the Marcus Welby of 'Downton,' that those expensive Harley Street docs got the blood work wrong. His Lordship does have anemia, but not the deadly pernicious anemia, but rather iron deficiency anemia that can be treated with diet. This is great news for the actor playing his Lordship, since if they ever do an expected extension of 'Downton,' he will have a job.

Lady Cora's work as head of the hospital finally gets her husband's respect. Robert, the flexible fuddy-duddy takers a peek at Cora's presentation with the villagers and comes to the conclusion that his wife is worthy of the position and he better not fight her on it, She should however consider getting a different hat to wear. The headgear she favors could provide a nest for eagles.Their marriage steers clear of the rocks, if not bird nests.

Butler Charles Carson is developing "palsy" in his hands. Apparently it is hereditary, having been running in his family for generations. He can't be relied on to pour the claret without spilling it. He's beside himself.

A solution emerges that of course shows his Lordship's problem solving acumen. The man belongs settling conundrums at the highest levels of government. We of course remember Robert's help at the household when it was turned into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during World War I. Robert grandly strutted around in his Boar War army uniform. The officer's leather belt and sash of course made him look like he was ready to invade Poland, or write speeding tickets on the New Jersey Turnpike. Robert was ahead of his time.

His Lordship suggests that Carson retire to a cottage on the estate and draw his pension, while Thomas Barrow, the under-butler who had to move on to a position at a household where he's being bored to tears to work in can step up and fill the vacancy. Barrow for Butler. It's All in the Family.

With Carson out to pasture he might learn how to cook and appreciate Mrs. Hughes's domestic skills better. He might become less of a chauvinist. With no television, he won't be ale to soak up Rachel Ray and start to whip up those TV meals, and learn how to fold clothes and reorganize a closet, but it will be a start. He is a good guy.

Tom Branson, the departed Lady Sybil's husband and former family chauffeur (Irishman to boot) has long since become a member of the family. His interest in cars and mechanical skills have provided him an opportunity to hook up with his brother-in-law Henry Talbot, a former race car driver and Mary's new husband, in an enterprise first selling used cars, with a new car dealership in the offing. Tom and Hank will soon become as big as Potamkin Cadillac.

And Mosely, the history buff who takes exams and becomes a teacher in the village school. His first day is not really good. He can't control the little darlings with dates, and seems to have walked into the same tough East End school that Sidney Poitier did in 'To Sire With Love.' Surely they're going to tie old Mosely to a chair in that classroom and set the place on fire. But like Sidney, he turns it around when he starts to explain his humble roots.

Joseph Mosely is all part of the general theme of the writers as they wind the show down. The characters are moving on. The grand English household filled with servants "in service" is in decline. Change is a comin'.

Mosely and one of the maids, Miss Baxter, are developing an easily seen fondness for each other. They will be another pair of socks in the sock drawer, and will certainly be around if the show becomes the expected sequel.

And Anna Bates, the valet's wife who has been through so much. Rape, miscarriage and married to John Bates, who was falsely accused of murdering his first wife, Anna has stood for the strength of women everywhere. She has stood by her man, and stood by when her water broke in Lady Mary's bedroom and audibly spilled on the carpeting.

Anna of course gives birth in Mary's bed just before midnight on New Year's Eve to a healthy boy, aided by the ever wise and ever awake Dr. Clarkson. By 1925 the United States has a personal income tax, and one wonders, if at that point, Inland Revenue operates the same way by allowing a personal deduction to be added if the birth is anytime before midnight, December 31. If so, the writer's have once again created an even happier ending because the Bates family gets an added deduction for someone born on the last day. Things are really going well at Downton these days.

Were Dear Abbey and Ann Landers really guys? No, they were twin sisters, but the female advice columnist on Lady Edith's publication is really Septimus Spratt, her grandmother's butler. Spratt has been leading a double life: tending to his domestic duties for the Dowager Countess of Grantham as well as writing pen name answers to women's question for advice to Lady Edith's London publication that she inherited from her relationship with Marigold's father, Michael Gregson.

Actually, Spratt has one more thing he does: fence with Gladys Denker, the maid who is Sylvester to his Tweety. Denker is always trying to get Spratt in trouble with Dame Violet, but it always backfires. When Dame Violet finds out through Denker that he is leading a double life she laughs as hysterical as an octogenarian can without keeling over, and tells Denker she is going to ask Spratt's advice on choosing her wardrobe next time. Spratt is really Liberace in livery.

Perhaps last, but by no means least is the Earl's mother, Lady Violet, played by Dame Maggie Smith. Throughout all the episodes she has had some of the best lines and the best pearls of wisdom you might expect from someone who was in attendance at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. When asked by Cousin Isobel at Lady Sybil's wedding service why do the English behave the way they do, the Dowager Countess of Grantham chalked it up to the weather. Well, something gave them their stiff upper lips.

I am going to miss this bunch.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Valponi Effect

Horse racing has a notoriously checkered past. Even a checkered present, but not nearly as colorful as its past.

In the "old days" there were instances of "putting one over," substituting a faster lookalike horse for the slower one, and then betting heavily on the substitution, who was invariably getting long odds, since their chances were considered slim.

Jockeys "pulled" horses. That is they kept them from winning, either because they were setting the race up for someone else to win, or were trying to hide good form that was going to be unleashed in a subsequent race when the odds would be longer.

Trainers doped horses to run faster. Even in the current era there was something known as "the milkshake" when a carbonated mixture was hosed into a horse to expand their lungs and help them run faster and longer.

Better attention to security and drug testing has helped mitigate a good deal of the shenanigans that were pulled by the intentful. But that never keeps those from trying.

The other day at Saratoga they ran a race named in honor of P.G. Johnson, a venerated trainer on the New York circuit who passed away in 2004 at 78 years old.

Naming a race after a trainer is not unheard of. Johnson achieved that accolade ahead of Woody Stephens, who passed away in 1998 at 84. Woody's achievements were of a higher nature than P.G.'s since Woody won the Belmont Stakes five consecutive years in the 80s. And since the Belmont is a Triple Crown race it is limited to three year-olds. Thus, Woody won the race with five different horses, an achievement as unlikely to be repeated as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, John Wooden's seven consecutive NCAA basketball titles, and Ted Williams being the last hitter to finish the season batting .400. Some things transcend everything.

P.G. Johnson deserved having a race named after him, just as H. Allen Jerkens, who got a race named after him this year on the Travers card, when the Kings Bishop was renamed in his honor. Jerkens was another legend who was known as 'The Chief' and 'The Giant Killer,' a name he hated, for his prowess at sending out horses that upset legends like Kelso and Secretariat. He was 84, and had been training horses since the 1950s.

Prior to the running of last week's P.G. Johnson race at Saratoga the turf writers invariable repeated the Johnson record, the horses he trained, and the stake races he won. And these were notable, especially for his horse Valponi winning the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic at odds of 43-1. Anyone who wins the Classic is nearly automatically a legend.

But it is not for the trainer's or horse's effort that I remember Johnson the most. It was because Valponi's win helped expose an attempted betting coup that was being engineered by insiders who were literally at the controls of Autotote and changing numbers on tickets after the results were known. This is moxie.

When I was first going to the races there was a story that was being circulated that someone was in the bathroom at Aqueduct printing winning tickets after the race results were in. If anyone can remember these tickets they will recall they were printed with a swirl, came in different colors based on the denomination of the bet, were printed on a heavier weight paper (a pasteboard, pictured above) that the cashier tore a corner off of when he the ticket was presented for cashing to authenticate the paper, and with a series of letters and numbers that were control codes for the race. The cashiers displayed a facsimile of a winning ticket in their little window that was visible to the bettor. If your ticket didn't look like that one, get lost.

The bathroom printing story was of course nonsense. I used to look at the stalls in the bathroom and laugh, imagining one of them holding a printing press. (Where's the plug going?) There were no laser printers then, so producing a bogus ticket in color would have been a real achievement. And one that was not happening, but it sounded good. An urban legend.

So, how does a 43-1 shot beak up an attempted betting coup? The origin of the horse's name is not obvious from his breeding. It sounds like an Italian dessert, but I've never seen it on a menu. But that's hardly important. What is significant is that by winning the race, Valponi produced a Pick 6 result that was recorded on one Catskill OTB phone account, and was in effect bet six times. Thus, there was only one person who had correctly bet all six winners! This is huge. This is cornering the market. But it gets even better.

And they did it six times! And they did it by picking one horse in the first four legs of the bet--what is described as 'singling'-- with two of those singles long shots, and therefore horses that one would unlikely single as a bet. Unless of course they knew what the result would be.

A Pick 6 wager is a so called exotic wager that requires the bettor to pick the winners of the six consecutive races designated as Pick 6 races. The bet is extremely popular because it can produce astronomical payouts, especially when some long shots come in and decrease the number of people who might have winning tickets in the pool.

At NYRA tracks, the minimum bet is $2. Generally, betters don't just try and pick six horses "cold," which is only picking one horse in each race. Trying to win a Pick 6 pool like that is a sniper shot at 1,000 yards. Most bettors bet several horses in each leg, perhaps singling a horse in one race, maybe two races at most.

Betting more horses in each leg increases the permutation count, which when multiplied by $2 can get up there in the money needed to make the bet. Usually, when there are significant Pick 6 carryovers-- days in which the Pick 6 pool is not hit--syndicates, or ad hoc partnerships of bettors form on the spot and play into a significant number of those permutations in hopes of bringing home the Pick 6 pool. Multiple winners of the pool share in the final payout, It becomes split amongst them.

Previously described in this blog is the story of The Assembled, who once bet one horse in five legs, and two horses in one leg, producing a ticket that held 2 permutations and cost $4. Another ticket was purchased with single winners picked in 5 of the races, and a different race with 2 horses picked, again costing $4. Thus, amongst four of us, we bet $8 in the Pick 6.

We hit. We hit the consolation prize, in this case $11. Heavy favorites won 5 of the races. We were second in the first leg. My estimate was that a perfect ticket for us would have probably only yielded $70 or so. Still better than splitting $11! four ways, which we did.

Pick 6 bets at the track once were required to be placed by filling out a betting slip, which resembled an SAT test, in that the circles next to the numbers had to be darkened and submitted to the cashier who fed the piece of paper into the betting machine that produced a ticket. This was very much similar to how lottery numbers are bet.

Lots of the betting has changed from the days when I first started going to the track. The Pick 6 bet is now entered by the bettor at a self-service SAM machines. The screen displays are easy to follow, and complex Pick 6 tickets having multiple selections are easily assembled.

Telephone wagering has also changed to allow for automated, touch-tone betting. No person needed to talk to. If your fingers are up to it, you can bet this way quite easily. When using the phone, I generally opt for touch-tone wagering.

Years ago, there was no such thing as a telephone at the racetrack. There were no pay phones on purpose, and cell phones were decades way. The tracks kept telephones out so as to discourage bookies from doing their business on the grounds.

In fact, the premise for establishing OTBs was to 'fight back' and put bookmakers out of business.
This was a glorified reason for the state to make it easier to take money in the form of takeout percentages from dollars wagered off-track. Eventually they even cut themselves in on taking a percentage of the winnings. A 5% surcharge. Talk about a hungry house.

Since there was never really a census as to how any bookmakers there really were, no one ever really knew if OTBs were accomplishing their stated purpose. How many Radio Shacks closed we know, but non-existent bookmakers? Not so much

It is now so long ago now that I'm sure no one even remembers why they were established. In New York City the OTBs were such a source of political patronage and kickback deals on the infrastructure that Mayor Bloomberg was able to just plain get rid of them. They were actually losing money. They had been around since 1971, but now no longer exist in NYC since the beginning of this century. Other regions of New York state still have their OTBs, but at the high watermark in NYC there were once perhaps 110 outlets throughout the five boroughs.

Telephone wagering produces no ticket. You call, talk to someone, or make your bet using the touch-tone system. You don't have a ticket, but there is an "electronic" ticket of your transaction in your account.

However, in 2002, using extensive inside knowledge, an employee of Autotote, the firm processing bets across the nation for approximately 65% of all wagering, on-track and off, was able to bypass controls you would have naturally thought would be in place.

The employee, Chris Harn, who helped set up the Catskill OTB system for Autotote, knew that there was no record kept of the touch-tone wagers. Thus, with the right access, they could be changed electronically.

But surely once a bet is made, it is transmitted to the track. It can't be altered after it is placed, right? Well, not really, not then.

Pick 6 wagers were not transmitted by Capital District OTBs in real time. They were held in the system until after the fourth leg of the bet, then transmitted. Thus, if someone could wipe out the original bet, substitute the winner of the race because it is now known, then the losing ticket could be a winning ticket, right? You're catching on.

One of the silly things done by The Assembled is to write over a losing ticket the winning number. This of course is never presented to anyone, namely because nothing would happen. The betting machine would read the codes, match it to the bet that was made, and reject the ticket. Altered tickets are worthless. Unless you are an Autotote employee who is bent on larceny and working with a Catskill telephone account. Bets can be altered before they are batched and transmitted to the host track. You are the virtual mythical guy in the bathroom at Aqueduct who is printing tickets after the race. You are invincible. You exist.

Chris Harn's strategy was sound. Have an accomplice, in this case a friend Derrick Davis, establish a Catskill phone account. An easy process. Stuff it with money, and be ready for action.

Since a Pick 6 bet stretches over six races, the winner, or the prospect of a winner, is not known until at least 5 races are run. You of source can't create a Pick 6 ticket after the first race in the leg has been run. But, with the knowledge and system access Chris Harn had, he in effect could.

Fraud detection is a science and an art. You can have system algorithms search for oddities, or you can try and spot them on your own. The algorithms are created based on programmed instructions, so in effect the system is looking rapidly for what you already know might be suspicious. And when six tickets in one account are the only ones to have the Pick 6 result, and four of the first legs are 'singles,' and two of the winners are longshots, then eyebrows go up.

In order for what turned out to a trio of twenty-somethings to succeed, they of course needed the winners of the last two races. Well, every race has a winner, even two sometimes if there is a dead heat. Betting 'ALL' is such a tactic that there is an ALL button on the betting machine's screen. Pick every horse in a race and you have to win. You may not of course win money, since generally a winner's payout will not exceed $2 times the number of horses in the race, but you might get lucky.

But when you are working with a Pick 6 pool on racing's biggest day, you can be sure there will be a sizable pool accumulated, and there will be several people who will have the winning combination, but not too many, splitting the pot. So why not just use your talents and be one of the several who will win, take your split, and blend off into the sunset?

And how do you win even if you're changing the result of the first four races on the electronic "ticket"? Why, just bet ALL on the last two legs, and you have to produce the winning ticket. It is math. But won't this cost you more money than the bet will return? Not with the size of this pool.

Thus, single the first four legs, which is 1 multiplied 4 times, equaling 1, bet ALL in the last two races, which have 12 horses and 8 horses, which translates to 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 12 x 8, for 96 combinations, at $2 a combination, and you have a Pick 6 ticket costing you a somewhat reasonable $192, but most importantly, one that cannot lose. The four singles are four aces up your sleeve. You've cornered the market.

Tracks love exotic wagers. There is an abundance of Pick 3, 4, 5, and 6 designated races on the card. There are rolling Pick 3s, there are multiple Pick 5s, early and late, as if you are betting in the daytime and the nighttime. There is however only one Pick 6, since generally a card is never more than 10 races. The takeout of these bets is hefty, but who cares when a life-altering payout can be hit? What are taxes if you're still rich?

Cornering the market is exactly what the trio did, trying their tactic out first on some races where they could in effect past-post their exotic wagers bets. Balmoral harness track proved to be one, and in a rehearsal, the trio gained $100,000.

Having worked in fraud detection for a major health insurance company, there is a saying that goes the fraudster never works their way down from stealing a million. Meaning, whatever their first score, they are going back for more. And the trio, former fraternity brothers from Drexel University certainly did, appearing on the stage for the biggest betting day in the nation with a way guaranteed to win.

Like any good heist movie, something goes wrong. And what went wrong in this case was P.G. Johnson's horse Valponi, a 43-1 prospect entered in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the marquee race on the card, the mile and a quarter test that can influence who is named Horse of the Year. Win this puppy, and you've won the boldest of the black type races. Breeding rights beckon.

There are strange things done in the Breeders' Cup sun
 By the men who make bets of a fashion.
The horsey trails have their secret tales
 That would turn your faces ashen.
The tote board lights have seen queer sights
 But the queerest produced no baloney,
When a single ticket held the winner
 Because of a horse named Valponi.

Alarms went of in the counting room of the racetracks. Supposedly NYRA officials alerted the Arlington Park people, where the Breeders' Cup was being held that year, that there was a funny looking "ticket" emanating from the Catskill OTB that was due to be paid $3.1 because it correctly picked six, and then some, and did it in a somewhat suspicious way.

Money is now frozen. Another fraud indicator is an employee who never takes a vacation. They are always there to make sure no one spots their fraudulent transactions. They might work late, they might work early. They just might always be at work.

When Autotote started their investigation they found that Mr. Hain, the inside guy, wasn't supposed to be at work on Breeders' Cup Saturday. Aside from the enormously lucky ticket that picked no losers in the first four races, the inside guy wasn't even supposed to be there that day. Oops. Confessions and jail time all around.

And that's what I think of when I think of P.G. Johnson.