Monday, October 30, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fats Domino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Brexit Exit

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Shadows Lengthen, The Leaves Are Falling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Return from Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beat goes on no matter where you go.