Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What Did He Just Say?

Anyone who knows anything about thoroughbred horse racing—at least East Coast horse racing—knows that the young trainer Chad Brown wins more turf/grass races than anyone these days. There used to he a French jockey Jean-Luc Samyn who won on turf so proficiently that the expression went, "Samyn on the green." Now it goes, "It's Chad's world, and we're just living in it."

Chad is the leading trainer at the current Saratoga meet. He's running away it, and will probably win by more lengths than what Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by. But pretty much, Chad wins wherever he shows up.

There is no better example of Chad's winning ways than the results yesterday from Arlington Park, where they ran the Arlington Million, the first race to offer a million dollar purse, started in 1981. It is a Grade I race, on the turf, for three-year-olds and up. Winning a Grade I race always boosts a horse's breeding value.

I had an uncle who came from the Chicago area who back-in-day told me that jockey Willie Shoemaker and Bill Hartack used to win a day's races so often that they nearly split the card between them. The Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose nearly do the same thing in New York.

In horse racing, the distribution of the purse money generally goes 60% to the winner, 20% for second, and various smaller percentages, sometimes giving something all the way down to even the last place finisher. Horses, trainers, jockeys and owners win races. Chad Brown nearly wins the entire purse.

Yesterday at Arlington Chad's horses ran 1-2-3 in the Beverly D, a Grade I $600,000 turf race for fillies and mares run at a mile and three-sixteenths. He did this for three different ownership groups. Chad's horses ran 1-2 in the feature, the Arlington Million, a race he has now won a record five times. There are times after the results are posted that you just want to scream at the 39-year-old guy from Mechanicville, NY, "Chad, let someone else win for a while, will you."

Anytime Chad is interviewed in the winner's circle he is always humble. He always reminds the interviewer of all the people on his team that work hard to make a horse ready for competition. And if you know anything about the backstretch, there are a good number of workers at various levels that work with the thoroughbreds, with the trainer having ultimate oversight of everything.

Chad also always mentions his mentor Bobby Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer Chad worked under and from whom he learned a lot. Frankel has passed away, but he himself learned from Buddy Jacobson, a leading trainer on the NYRA circuit in the early 60s, a magician with claimers, who eventually murdered his ex-girl friend's boyfriend, was convicted, and died in prison.

Jacobson himself was the nephew of Hirsch Jacobs, a legendary Hall of Fame trainer who trained Stymie and was at his heyday in the 30s, 40s and 50s, often leading the nation in wins.. There is a good deal of training wisdom that has flowed down to Chad Brown.

Into this enters Nick Luck, the NBC racing sportscaster who is decidedly British. Sarah Lyall, an America reporter for the NYT who lived in England for so long she became keenly aware of the difference between the common language separated by an ocean, tells us in her book "The Anglo Files"..."Englishman, with their thrilling accents, rumbled hair and ability to make even pointless banalities sound like brilliant repartee" can make a woman weak at the knees. (She admits she married one.)

Nick Luck would have to fit this description. In June he hosted five days of racing from Ascot, England, dressed in the required top hat and morning coat, on the air for a solid four hours starting in the morning. And while he's not really spouting banalities, he is enunciating so many phrases with such a soup├žon of insouciance that you would gladly follow him through fire.

Consider he closes the telecast on Saturday by telling us "...on a day that Chad left them all hanging..."

Did he just say that? A Britisher, 18 years! after the 2000 Presidential election that needed a Supreme Court ruling to decide who got Florida's electoral votes after so many chads were left hanging between Al Gore's name and George Bush's name on the paper ballots?

Its cleverness is only exceeded by the late sportswriter Dick Schaap telling a television audience in 1973 that Riva Ridge and Secretariat were the most famous stablemates since Mary and Joseph. (Boy, did Dick ever get in trouble for that one!)

I Tweeted Mr. Luck yesterday and asked: How long have you been waiting to say "Chad leaves them hanging." Does anyone else know what you said, 18 years after chads were hanging in the 2000 Presidential election? And you're not American."

Mr. Nick kindly replied: "Glad  you're with me."


I certainly don't know everything, but you might have to hold a seance and go back in time and ask long-buried horseplayers if they can call recall anything that matches this one.

Since we're talking about turf races, something happened last Wednesday at Saratoga that I have never heard of in all my 50 years of following racing. The starting gate for the 5th race was placed in the wrong spot, turning the scheduled one and an sixteenth  race into a mile and an eighth affair on the Mellon turf course.

I have heard of there being instances at non-NYRA tracks where they were not able to get the starting gate out of the way before the horses completed the circuit. Horses crashing into a starting gate is not something anyone wants to have happen. I know this happened at least once at Gulfstream and once at Finger Lakes I believe. The outriders were able to flag the horses and jockeys down before anyone got too close to closing in on the starting gate they were unable to move because of a stalled tractor. That was Oh Dear for the John Deere.

I remember once they started a race at a NYRA track with one horse left to load. Think of the surprised jockey who was trying to get to the gate only to have everyone take off on them. They don't shoot the starter's gun twice and bring the field back like in track. The race goes off and the horse left at the post is considered a non-starter. Accommodations are made for wagering, because every race these days is part of a multi-leg sequence, even Daily Doubles.

But putting the gate in the wrong position is a new one. Considering that turf races can have multiple starting points on the ovals for the same distance depending on where they set the rail, the fact that this hasn't happened before is a testament to the detail that is taken to ensure consistency.

The rail is the white fencing that is sometimes in place to help distribute the wear on the turf courses. If a rail is set at sat 18 feet from the inside circumference—generally the hedge—then it stands to reason that a starting point has to be determined to account for the desired distance. All races end at the finish line, but they start at various points. A different starting point for the same distance will be needed on a day when the rail may be set at 18 feet out from the hedge vs. a day the rail is set at say 27 out from the hedge. Saturday's Arlington Million had the rail set at an astounding 62 feet.

(The rails are portable, flexible, and are secured into the ground by the long spikes pictured above.)

The turf races at Belmont in the week prior to the Saturday of this year's Belmont Stakes—when  several top turf races were scheduled—were run on turf courses where the rail was set at 27 feet. This preserved the inner turf, so that on Belmont Saturday there were no rail settings. Races were run from the hedges as the inside, on fresh ground that hadn't been run on lately. They don't run tractors over the turf to groom it, like the dirt surfaces.

Les (Mr. Pace), our eminent mentor would often tell us before the races started that "the rail has been scrapped." This meant that they've done something to the track to enhance speed horses. It wasn't until 1985 when I ventured to the top of the stretch to take photos of the horses as they hit the turn, that I realized the track is banked. I would imagine if there was scrapping that perhaps the bank has been enhanced—like adding height to the pitcher's mound. 

We never knew how Les came across this information, but he held more information in his head than a hard drive. I remember seeing a chart on the main floor in our salad days, perhaps at Belmont, or maybe Aqueduct, that was a diagram of what the track superintendent and his crew have done to the track, If this lead you to believe there was "scrapping" then this might be where Les got his information. Or, unnamed sources.

I don't know if there is such a chart displayed these days. The NYRA online information board will tell you the expected track condition, and if the track has been sealed or harrowed. I have no idea if harrowing is scrapping the rail. Les has left us. We need a seance.

The misplacement of the starting gate was apparent to no one before the race was run. Not the jockeys, not the starting gate crew which works in the moments between races to position the starting gate, not the stewards, to probably even the most eagle-eyed fan in the stands. If there was an eagle-eyed fan, without a hotline to the men upstairs, whatever they were aware of stayed with them.

I must admit I've been late to factor in rail placements with my handicapping, and I've really never been able to draw a definitive reaction to their distances. Different placements change the shape of the turns, which may be a factor in the way a horse handles the turns.

When the fractional times started to come in for the race, 29.69, 53.50, 1:19.50 is was becoming apparent something was wrong. No level of horse on a NYRA track runs that slow through the quarter, half and 6 furlong splits. I've been going to the races so long I remember there were no fractional times for turf races; there were no telemeters set up to capture any splits for anything other than dirt races and finishes. It's a brave new world out there.

So consider that. the placement of the timing devices also has to be adjusted depending on where the race starts for turf races, and those placements will vary depending on where he rail is placed, or not placed. Frankly, I do not know exactly how they arrive at the fractional splits, and who might be responsible for placing them in the right spot for turf races.

With a race starting further back than desired, and the timing devices set up for a mile and a sixteenth race, the splits would naturally register more elapsed time. Unfortunately, by now the race has started, is in the books, but at the wrong desired distance.

The Daily Racing Form chart is the Congressional Record of all that goes on in a race. A person who can read a chart can recreate the race in their mind. There are numerical designations that tell the informed exactly where a horse was at every "call." and where they were in relation to those in front of them, and those behind them. There is also a running narrative that describes the movements and the ease or difficulties the horses have had running the race. Nettlesome events like getting bumped, hitting the starting gate at the break, stumbling at the start, are duly noted;  Claims of foul are noted.

Odds, breeding, ownership, jockey, trainer, condition of the track, time of day, rail placements if turf, eligibility conditions that were met to enter the race, purse distribution, how weights were assigned, mutuel pool summaries, mutuel payouts, who might have been entered but was scratched, and who might have been claimed and who their new owner is if the race was a claiming race and the horse was entered for a "tag," are all part of the information found on a chart. It is indispensable knowledge when handicapping.

Anything unusual that happened during the race ,like a claim of foul is noted in uppercase letters at the bottom of the narrative. There is plenty of uppercase letters for the fifth race at Saratoga on August 8,  2018:


To put it bluntly, when shit happens, the management tries to alert the bettor that something happened. I don't know if there was any announcement made after the race. The race was declared official, and no declaration of the race being declared a non-betting race, and therefore necessitating refunds, was made. It might have been considered too late to declare a race as such if too much time elapsed from the completion of the race and the realization that something had seriously gone wrong with the gate placement.

To declare a race a non-betting race after say even 10 minutes had elapsed from its completion might have set off a stampede for Scotch tape at Staples to try and put those torn up tickets back together. Not everyone bets online where transactions can just be reversed. My guess is something like this occurred to the powers that be. Destroyed tickets are never cashed, and revert to the state as abandoned property each March 31. Any time-delayed declaration of a race as a non-betting race might have been seen as a grab for even more money than is naturally taken off the top. Might not have been the finest hour.

Because of the preponderance of multi-race/leg betting there are provisions that are stated and put into effect when there are late scratches and late surface changes. These are all designed to protect the bettor from being confronted with new information after their bet was placed. For the most part, they work, and are understood.

One thing you can bet on, they're working on this one.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Stan Mikita

This is what's going to happen. The hockey players I saw so much of in the 60s and 70s are going to start to pass away. Stan Mikita, at 78, is one of the latest. It's like when people get into their 40s and 50s and their parents start to pass away.

The headline for Mikita captures his playing spirit in one word: Feisty. Hockey players of the 60s and 70s, (and prior) were not very big. When I was a Ranger season ticket holder for 11 years in the 60s and 70s two of the biggest players in the league were Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito. They were listed at being slightly over 200 pounds. There were many players who got inflated weights attributed to them. Take Rob Gilbert, the Ranger right wing: he was listed at 185 pounds, which was very generous.

In Richard Goldstein's obit attention is directed at Mikita's use of the curved stick, perhaps even being the first player to use one. Whether he really was the first player to bend the blade may or may not be the case. But between himself and his teammate  Bobby Hull they popularized the curved stick.

Hull and Mikita, and others heated the blade and stuck the blade in the jamb of doorways and bent the sticks, sometimes to really significant curves. The slap shots became rockets, Hull especially feasted on the goals they scored with the sticks.

The blades became known as banana blades. Eventually the league adopted a standard of curvature that couldn't be exceeded. A bench penalty can be called if an illegal stick is brought to the officials' attention.

I distinctly remember one Ranger home game against the Blackhawks where Dennis Hull, Bobby's brother, came down left wing and got off a direct slap shot at Eddie Giacomin, the Ranger goalie. Eddie made the save with his mask and went down like the proverbial ton of bricks. He lay on the ice so motionless that you wondered if he was alive. He was, and shook off the effects of the shot, and continued play. No standard for possible concussion then.

I have a large photo of Eddie Giacomin in goal for the Detroit Red Wings in his first game back at the Garden. The trade to the Red Wings was highly unpopular. Every time the Rangers touched the puck they were vigorously booed. Everytime the Red Wings scored they were cheered. The Red Wings won the game to everyone's satisfaction.

The Daily News had a great photo of Giacomin wiping away tears during the playing of the National Anthem. That's the photo I was able to buy from The Daily News. His emotions were as high as the rest of the us. When you study the photo you get a sense of how little protection the goaltenders of that era wore. Their pads looked no more substantial than those worn by the Burek brother Paulie who played in goal when we gathered for Sunday roller hockey games. The contrast between then and now is as dramatic as football players in leather helmets and how the NFL players are dressed today.

Somehow Mikita got the nickname Stash from he Chicago fans. I always thought perhaps he was Polish because of that, despite his Slavic features. Mikita it turns out was from a town in what is now Slovenia, but in 1940 was in Czechoslovakia. He was raised since he was eight by an aunt and uncle in Ontario because his parents wanted him to escape what was becoming Soviet domination.

He was a slick center, a playmaker in the hockey world. There was also what for me is a most memorable game when the Black Hawks played the Rangers in a New Year's Eve game at Madison Square Garden.

A New Year's eve game you might imagine is not well-attended. And it wasn't. My friend and I caged great tickets near the ice from a scalper who had to sell below market value. Two things happened in that game.

The first was that the Rangers 4th line player Glen Sather got a penalty for having a hole in his glove. Sather as a player was a 4th line pest, sent out to be disruptive. He's now in the high up in the executive ranks of the Rangers, something I've always found incongruent with his playing.

There was one game on television when the Rangers were playing Montreal. There was one of the many melees that were part of hockey then. Sather and Mark Tardiff exchanged unpleasantries and each were sent to the penalty box. Tardiff's temper was not quelled, and Sather was able to goad Tardiff with a gesture of some kind to jump out of the penalty box and come after Sather some more. It was right out of the movie 'Slap Shot.' Needless to say, Tardiff got more penalty minutes, perhaps a game misconduct. Sather of course pleaded the victim. Sather's nickname was "Scamp."

I'm pretty sure Mikita was on the ice when Sather gets called for having a hole in his glove. There were players who created a hole in the palm of the glove so that when they grabbed an opponent's jersey or stick the official could not see that they were exerting a grip—holding—that would be visible from looking at the glove and seeing fingers bent. A hole in the glove would be just the thing a player like Sather would have to ensure he could be a pest.

I had never heard of a penalty for a hole in the glove. I think I had to rely on the next day's paper for an explanation of the penalty. I don't remember, but Mikita might have alerted the officials to the illegal glove. Whatever, Sather got a two minute penalty.

But Mikita wasn't finished tormenting the Rangers that night. The game is winding down, and it's tied. Games then ended in ties; no five minute overtimes; no shootouts till someone wins, just plain old tie games.

Someone on the Blackhawks takes a shot on goal. It misses, hits the boards behind the net, and comes out in front of Giacomin, a bad hop in baseball.

Mikita is in the slot, because he never stops playing, shoots and scores The Blackhawks snatch the tie game away from the Rangers, and leave the building adding two points to their standings.

A close examination the next day reveals the boards were not assembled right, and the bad carom was created by something out of alignment. Mikita of course was not out of position to take advantage.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018


I've learned some of the Tweet/Internet abbreviations. I suspect some of them might even make the OED, if they haven't already

We probably all know LOL by now: Laughing out loud. I pretty much have mixed feelings when I write something and someone tells me they got a kick out of it by adding LOL. I appreciate that I've probably made them laugh, but I have trouble really believing that after reading something someone has laughed out loud. It is likely way overused. There are times I've read something and laughed out loud, but usually I just mentally acknowledge something is funny. I don't go LOL.

Sometimes, if I've really hit the funny bone they tell me LMAO, Laughing my ass off. I have trouble visualizing this one. I take it means I've really made them laugh out loud, so such that their ass fell off. About that I'm concerned, but happy to have provided the hilarity.

Why isn't it IFOMC? Or IFDL? I fell off my chair: I fell down laughing. I can visualize those. I have laughed at some things so hard that I've slid off the couch. I once told my boss a joke about rustics going out for the evening but couldn't get in the roadhouse for the night's entertainment because there was a "two-tooth minimum." She was standing, and did laugh so hard she started to crouch down and nearly hit the floor. It was memorable. I can still see it.

Now TMI has nothing to do with laughing. It means: Too much information. It is usually attached to something someone said or wrote that was of a close personal nature, possibly in the hygienic category, something you didn't really know, or better yet, need to know, but now do, because they can't "walk back" what you just heard. Oy vay.

The Wall Street Journal A-Hed pieces are gems. They are always on an offbeat topic, likely nothing you ever thought anyone would take the time to write about, but once reading them, you're glad you they did.

Take a recent one, July 25, 2018 that carried the heading and sub-heading:

Brushing Teeth in the Shower—Just Fine or totally Gross?
Fans say it saves time and conserves water; opponents say...'sickening'

If you get the feeling you're about to get TMI about some people, who are not anonymous, but fully named, and even photographed, you're right. The great thing about news stories online are the pictures that accompany the text. Great digital photographs, in color, that just aren't in the print edition because of space considerations.

Thus, the online edition of these A-Hed piece shows in glorious color two female college roommates who are on opposite sides of the shower-brushing-your-teeth divide. Pictured above are Cassie Special on the left and Annalise Hoffman on the right; shower/not shower brushers.

The girls are happy, smiling, showing off sparkling teeth. They could be in ads for dental products or HMOs. Since both sets of teeth seem clean despite the venue of brushing, what are the pros and cons of shower brushing about? You asked a great question: time, and water conservation. If you do anything to conserve water you're newsworthy, even if there are those who seriously doubt your efforts contribute to maintaining reservoir levels.

The A-Had piece contains several stories of those who do and don't brush their teeth in the shower. Frankly, I never heard of anyone brushing their teeth in the shower. When Annalise realized her roommate Cassie was a shower brusher she was freaked out.

Again, the great thing about the online story is the picture of the sealed holder Cassie keeps her toothbrush in in the shower. Since the girls are five in their dorm suite, keeping things separate and labeled is important.

Mouth rinsing in the shower is discussed. The jury is still out on whether anyone actually saves water when they brush in the shower. Saving time is a possibility, and it reminds me of the lyrics to the Broadway musical "Pajama Game" where one of the cast members, who is a time and motion expert, sings of saving time by going to bed dressed and sleeping in their clothes. "My suit gets mussed, but think of the time I save." He further presents his case for time saving by telling the audience he shaves in bed as well..."the lather drips and the bed gets wet...but think of the time I save."

The musical is from the 1950s, so I have no doubt that brushing your teeth in the shower is anything new. Reporting on it might be. But that's where the fun is.

The A-Hed piece is full of TMI. But it is a fun read, but closes with even more TMI than you might imagine.

Dustin Guillotte, a 30-year-old hotel worker from New Iberia, LA shared his brushing habits by telling the reporter Patrick Thomas that he started brushing his teeth in the shower eight years ago when he was working at Chili's to save time and not be late for work. It worked so well he became a permanent convert.

When Dustin's boyfriend noticed the tooth brush in the shower he couldn't believe it. But Mr. Guillotte made a convert of the unnamed boyfriend, and since they married, there are now two toothbrushes hanging in the shower.

TMI. There is no end to what people will tell you.


Monday, August 6, 2018

It Was 1941

As with so many things, one thing lead to another.

I read of someone who was a Rear Admiral, and it was further noted the rank is equivalent to a two-star general, a Major General. I know there are four levels of flag rank for the Army, Air Force and Marines, ending with a full, four-star general, but if a Rear Admiral were a two star, what happened to one-star? A Rear Admiral is the first level of Naval flag rank.

This only attracted my attention because one of my father's older brothers, George, was a career naval officer and retired as a Rear Admiral. I do remember when he was buried in Arlington in 1968 he got a 19-gun salute. I said to myself, yikes, two more volleys and was the president.

The whole Rear Admiral query sent me to the website developed by his son's wife. George Jr. was also a career naval officer, and retired as a Commander. Janice assembled an array of information of dates and photos that I still sometimes reference.

It turns out that prior to 1981, a Rear Admiral was considered equal to a Major General. After 1981 two levels were instituted, lower and upper Rear Admiral—one and two stars. A Vice Admiral would be three stars, and equal to a Vice General.

If finding this out ended there, there is no posting. But along the way I came across the NYT society page of November 7, 1941 (Friday) where it was described that my uncle and his bride to be were the guests at a New York party hosted by Dr. Harrison I. Cook.

That would be his first wife, Mildred Martens, the daughter of the Martens family that started Mount Airy Lodge, a once thriving resort in the Poconos. As told by my father, the Martens were Hungarian refugees who started the resort from a small motel.

The column in the Times starts with the headline: Mildred Martens Is Feted at Dinner; sub-headed, She and Fiance Lieut. George De Metropolis Are Guests of Dr. Harrison I. Cook; Bride-Elect is Hostess

Their party is the lead to a summary of several parties that were held the night before, on November 6,  1941. There is no photo, but the guest list is given. My grandparents, George's parents were there, his older brother Angelo and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Martens, numerous other people who I don't know, some of whom are other naval officers and I assume the ones who held the archway of swords in the photo I remember of George and Mildred leaving the Hellenic Greek Orthodox Cathedral on 74th Street, off Second Avenue on Sunday, November 9.

My uncle's youngest brother Jimmy is not listed as a guest, nor is my father, Ted, who wasn't married at the time. There is one guest described as Dr. Thomas Gavaris. Now Gavaris is my grandmother's maiden name, and she had a brother Tom, but he wasn't a physician. He owned a luncheonette/candy store in Perth Amboy that I remember visiting, Tom's Sweet Shoppe, a name that I'm sure today would not be used.

My great-uncle Tom's name precedes the name Dr. and Mrs. Reginald O.B. Queenan. Perhaps he got a social standing promotion through a typo.

There are 25 other names listed aside from the recognized names. Covering an event like that must have been be a bit of a reporter's nightmare with all those names and initials to get right.

My oldest cousin Connie tells me of being a flower girl at the wedding. Her father, Angelo, was the oldest of the four brothers. My uncle George (also my Godfather) was born in 1909. His wife Mildred was born in 1902, therefore older. I sometimes find it hard to think of anyone born over a hundred years ago as once having been young. But I'm sure my 1940s birthday creates the same feeling in others these days.

Another piece of family history is that the famous picture used in the Mount Airy Lodge ads for decades is that of Mildred. The bathing suit/beach ball photo could be counted on appearing every Sunday in the NYT travel section. The ad became so iconic pop artist Roy Lichtenstein created a pop-art poster of it in the 1980s.

My wife and I once stay at Mount Airy in the 1970s soon after we were married. It was a very popular resort at the time. I remember a giant oil painting of Susanne Martens behind the reception desk. She was the wife of John Martens, the couple who built the resort up from a tiny motel/resort.

The society page notice is found family gold—at least for me.  Just think that on a weekday there was space devoted to social events. Aide from the word "feted" in the headline there are other wording conventions that you would not see today. Mildred is referred to as the "bride-elect." George is referred to as "the bridegroom-elect." Married women are Mrs. and plural single women are Misses.

My uncle and Mildred did not stay married for long. I don't know the full story, but just think of the date of the notice: November 7, 1941. The next 7th of a month the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and the world is forever changed.

My uncle spent the war commanding destroyers in the Pacific. I have no idea what leave he got, but he and Mildred parted ways with no children. My uncle remarried in 1951 and started a family with Maria Clarke.

But for one moment in 1941, the bride-elect and the groom-elect were feted in the Trianon Room of the Ambassador Hotel in NYC.


Sunday, August 5, 2018


Nothing like an obituary to resuscitate the past, in this case the 1950s. The 50s were so long ago I sometimes wonder if I was really alive then. (I was.) You mean you remember Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show? Yep, and remember the adults talking how the world was definitely going to hell in a hand basket. We've been going to hell in a hand basket for so long I wonder why we're not really there yet, bringing back souvenirs and Tweeting up a storm. Regardless, the 50s saw TV catch on, and game shows were the rage.

The 1994 movie "Quiz Show" so lovingly recreated the era. The movie opens with people in NYC rushing up out of the subway, women and men in hats, women wearing white gloves, all anxious to get home in time to prepare dinner and sit down and watch "Twenty-One," or "Tic-Tac-Dough." The country was in game show frenzy.

Popularity of game shows comes and goes, and they all have their life cycle. If anyone remembers "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" hosted not all that long ago by Regis Philbin on ABC, you can understand the fever. The show was on initially once a week, and quickly spread like a disease to three nights a week. Regis would kid his show saved ABC from financial ruin. He was probably right. All networks need a hit, and '"Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" was one.

And it wasn't just this country. The Australian series 'The Dcotor Blake Mysteries" on PBS  is set in the 1950s, with Dr. Lucien Blake, a police surgeon, smartly dressed with a great looking hat and impeccable manners, acting as a police surgeon for the constabulary in Ballarat, Victoria, a town that sprung up during the gold rush of the 1850s.

Dr. Blake solves crimes through forensic analysis. His wife, an Asian, is presumed dead, someone he met in Malaya when he fought in WW II. His daughter is also presumed dead. His household is his deceased father's old house that he practiced in, he also a police surgeon. Living in the house is Jean, who was the father's receptionist and housekeeper. Jean is a widow, whose husband was killed in action in the WW II.

Maddie, a district nurse, also rooms in the house. Some episodes have one of the young male members of the Ballarat constabulary also living there as well. Meals are boarding house family style, cooked by Jean.

One episode has everyone excitedly gathering around the TV to watch the evening's game show. I don't know what the show was, but this is Australia in the 50s, and the period settings in the show are accurate. And that's what is was like everywhere. Game shows were popular all over the world.

The obituary that kicked off this wave of nostalgia was for Howard Felsher described as a "game show fixer" who has passed away at 90. I never heard of Mr. Felsher, but reading the obit you can see that he was a bit behind the curtain. He was a producer of the popular show Tic-Tac-Dough, a show that was just what it said, placing Xs and Os based on getting questions right. Think Hollywood Squares without the celebrities wising off.

"Game show fixer" doesn't mean someone who took a poor performing show and helped it along by making production changes and jazzing up the set. Although, Mr. Felsher did help goose the ratings by having the contestants fed the answers beforehand in order that the show might generate "excitement, tension, pace, drama, suspense." Make the show more popular.

There were two shows, a daily daytime show and a once a week nighttime prime time version. It was the prime time version that Mr. Felsher was boosting. And popular it became. But then the hearings came around that revealed the rigging. Mr. Felsher never thought what he did was terrible wrong, but he did lie about it to grand juries, and did coach contestants to lie under oath about knowing the answers ahead of time.

Mr. Felsher was never criminally charged, and later came back, somewhat like Nixon, and produced the highly successful show "Family Feud."

The damage to "Tic-Tac-Dough" was collateral to the absolute explosion that occurred to the show "Twenty-One" when contestants went on record admitting they had been fed answers, or even worse, went into the tank like a mob-controlled fighter and let their opponent win. The two shows had common producers.

This was news. This was bigger than U.S. Steel. In the 50s I remember the Kefauver hearings that dove into organized crime that were televised. It was in these televised hearings the godfather Frank Costello calmly toll the committee that, "I pay my taxes," lest anyone think he was Al Capone and could be had for income tax evasion. Frank was a business man. Frank was cool. As a kid my friend remembers having his father, a CBS producer, introduce him to Frank at Toots Shor's; just to say hello.

The lid came off the top when one one of the contestants, Herb Stempel, a wildly successful returning champion (think "Jeopardy's" Ken Jennings) revealed he went into the tank to let Charles Van Doren win. The disclosure came well after Herb purposely misnamed the Academy Award winning  movie of 1955, mumbling out "On the Waterfront" rather than "Marty." Down goes Frazier.

This was 1956 and the earth shook. The show was rigged. Contestants placed in isolation booths by twin models, fitted with clumsy headphones were sweating and wiping their brows, all as part of an act. They had been fed the answers and were pretending extreme thought and outsized relief when they answered correctly.

The "Payola" scandal of radio disc jockeys getting pay for play hadn't yet hit the fan, but when it did, it was revealed to be a widespread practice all across the country in the 1950s. Dick Clark was perhaps the most recognizable figure in the scandal, but he, like Howard Felsher, survived and went on to other things in the media business.

It is almost provincial that congressional hearings of the era centered on game shows and choice of rock n' roll radio programming. We've come a long way baby.

Mr Felscher is seen in the accompanying photo adjusting the game board for "Tic-Tac-Dough" behind the scenes. It shows how mechanical things were then.

Mr. Stempel is still with us, at 91. He became the whistle-blower that shook the game show industry. He described the shenanigans in congressional testimony and in interviews. He expresses annoyance that he is seen as the culprit because he exposed Van Doren's and the show's dishonesty.

The show's producers had figured Herb had his run. The ratings were "plateauing" and they needed to introduce a fresh contestant/champion.  Charles Van Doren had a pedigree. He wasn't a Jewish postal worker from Queens wearing black-rimmed glasses. He was connected to an eminent academic and literary family, and was himself an English professor at Columbia University. His father, Mark Van Doren, was a Pulitzer Prize-winner who also taught at Columbia. Charles Van Doren was getting the shot at the title.

The movie question proved crucial to the "downfall." Three tie games had been rigged in order to goose the ratings. And goosed they were. Listening to the questions you realize they were complex, multi-part questions that usually required the contestant to ask for the question to be repeated. They don't ask questions like that anymore.

Charles Van Doren is also still with us at 92. At a 1959 Senate committee hearing he apologized for his role in the scandal. Thus, all the obituaries surrounding the quiz show scandals have yet to be written. Who gets the bylines?

I remember watching "Twenty-One" with my father. After the scandal broke my father wondered out loud how someone knew the names of two obscure islands in the Pacific in Micronesia. I don't know if it was a Van Doren question, and I don't know what the question really was, but my father, who had served on Guam during WW II for the Corps of Engineers making maps from surveillance photos, expressed some after-the-fact surprise that anyone could name those two islands. At the time he didn't scream "rat" but it was starting to make sense.

That the islands are small doesn't begin to describe them. But they are populated these days, and for the first time athletes from there were represented in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia ,not that far away from them. Nine hundred athletes competed in 12 sports from the Federated States of Micronesia: they came from the island states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. There are many  more islands than those four. If anyone was left at home after 900 athletes went to Australia is not known. Guam is nearby, and remains a U.S. possession.

The American bubble of fair play was broken by the scandal, and others that followed. When I used to watch "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" I always smelled a rat when it seemed too many people from a very affluent part of Nassau County were introduced in the Lightening Round, the rapid fire, finger clicking round that contestants had to get through in order to stay on the show. Things seemed skewed.

I always imagined the Manhattan DA's office was watching. I imagined I'd eventually hear that the producers would be caught selling access to the Lightening Round. It never happened, but my guess is people had friends in the right places.

"Tic-Tac-Dough" and "Twenty One" went on to other iterations, and without scandal. There are plenty of game shows today that one might think askance of, but there's probably little chance anything of  real fraudulent consequence is going on.

The audience base is there. We love the shows.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Now You See It, Now You Don't

If anyone has a memory of a not-so-long-ago TV sitcom 'Frazier,' you might remember Frazier Crane's brother was Niles Crane, played by David Hyde Pierce. Both Frazier, placed by Kelsey Grammar and Niles were psychiatrists. Not the point.

Both brothers are divorced or separated from their wives. Niles had been married to a woman named Maris, a character that was referred to often, but never seen. The producers saved on a cast member and never had anyone play Maris.

Maris came from a very wealthy family. A family apparently, much to Niles's astonishment, that made their fortune in producing urinal cakes, those round discs that look like moth discs found inside urinals in men's rooms nearly everywhere. The nearly everywhere part is obviously how a family can make a fortune, especially if you've got the corner on urinal cakes.

Urinal cakes act as a bit of deodorizer to stanch the stench of urine, even though must users flush. And nowadays, if they've installed hands free equipment in a bathroom, the urinal flushes itself after the user zips up and steps away. It is very hi-tech when it works.

Anyway, self-flushing or not, urinal cakes can still be found. Niles, on learning where Maris's money comes from, starts to have a hissy fit. Niles has lots of hissy fits. Aside from that, the episode always got me thinking that the lowliest and most prosaic of products might be the source of someone's fortune.

The NYT more than anyone is keeping the art of writing obituaries alive. They are advancing the art with their daily devotion to space. There can be days when there are 6 bylined tribute obits in their pages. Lately, perhaps because of some guilt-trip trying to tip the scales that favored men getting all the attention when they reached Do Not Pass Go, they are featuring freshly written obituaries on notable women who in the past did not get even a notice of their passing, much less the full-monty of words and context of their times. Their story was never told. 'Overlooked' is the heading for these obits.

These are great, not only because they are part of what for the Times I'm sure is a noble. long overdue effort, but because they are so damn interesting to someone like myself who reads these things as if they were past performances in the Daily Racing Form. In some ways, they are past performances. The difference is the person is not entered in any activities for the day. But then no one is who has passed away.

Thus, I lately learned there was a real Fanny Farmer who wrote a famous cook book, sometime around the end of the 19th century. I always thought Fanny Farmer was the candy company. Well, apparently someone paid to use her name when they went to produce candy. It is a line of candy I still miss. There once was a Fanny Farmer shop in the lower level at Grand Central Terminal. Ancient history. The company is out of business.

Sunday is my online day to read the NYT, and I always head to the obituary section first. Aside from the obituaries for people who have freshly passed away there is another one for historical women of note. The latest one is for Bette Nesmith Graham, who invented Liquid Paper, that potion in a tiny black and white bottle with a nail polish brush in the cap that all typists would resort to when they needed to correct a typing error. It was originally called 'Mistake Out,' which is exactly what it did. Now you see it, now you don't.

Ms. Graham, a single mom who took a typing job in 1954 in a bank had serious trouble being a good typist. Her mistakes multiplied when a new typewriter with more sensitive keys was introduced, and when the fabric ribbon went to a carbon ribbon. Erasing typos created smudges. Her output was turning into a mess.

Her mother was an artist, and Graham was also an artist, who knew artists covered up their mistakes with other paint; they didn't start all over. With this in mind, Graham, like many inventors, started experimenting in her kitchen, mixing tempera paints and finding ways to get the formula just right so that it could be applied to a page and then typed over.

Her prototype formula poured into nail polish bottles was so effective at work that other typists were asking her for a supply. She worked into the night at home to produce a supply for them and herself.

My office career began in the late 60s (1960s) and I remember the typists, all female (few men typed in those days), either had a bottle of Liquid Paper, or a pink wheel eraser with a brush at the other end that they would use to correct their typos.

I remember typing letters, poems and short stories at home on erasable typing paper that wouldn't smudge when you made an erasure.

Ms. Graham's idea took off. Patents, production buildings, offices, soon had to be built and dedicated to the company's product. Business boomed to the point of producing 25 million bottles of the magic stuff a year. Ms. Graham became rich. Every desk had one in the drawer. I still have a bottle in my desk drawer of a competitor's brand, "Wite Out, Quick Dry Correction Fluid," made by BIC, even though like many people, I do not use typewriter any longer. I barely use the correction product either.

Ms. Graham was fortunate enough to be able to sell her company after a protracted fight with her second husband, to Gillette for $47.5 million in 1980, just before the disruptive technology of the computer, printers and word processing software was being introduced in offices everywhere. The BACKSPACE key on a computer keyboard was going to be the death knell for the product. 

Ms. Graham's product, even though not as important today as if was a few decades ago, was an example of someone coming up with a solution to a common problem, in this case, typos.

The effort and product is no different than the invention of kitty litter by Edward Lowe. Edward Lowe passed away in 1995, but his obituary by Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. has become a classic.

McG's obituary is sub-headed 'Cat Owners' Best Friend' and recounts how Mr. Lowe took sawdust from his father's sawdust business and mixed it was kiln dried granulated clay to produce an absorbent product that a cat-loving neighbor came back begging for more of. Kitty Litter was born.

There are tremendous similarities between Mr. Lowe and Ms. Graham. Both made the initiative to solve a widespread and vexing problem. One was, despite sawdust and sand used for a cat's litter, the stench of a cat's concentrated urine, a product of their evolution from a dessrt animal whose "efficient use of water produces a highly concentrated urine that is one of the most noxious effluences of the animal kingdom" made keeping a cat as a domestic animal a challenge to the nostrils. (Think of the problems of living with a camel.)

Ms. Graham also solved a common problem that afflicted typists: typos. Her correction fluid came to the rescue. Both Mr. Lowe and Ms. Graham used their wealth to create foundations, Mr. Lowe to help entrepreneurs avoid problems with family members who become part of the company, and Ms. Graham, who created two foundations to help striving women.

But we're not done. Obituaries dispense tidbits and connections we would not otherwise know. Consider Bette's second name in her surname, Nesmith. Yep, she was Mike's mom, Michael Nesmith of the band The Monkees, that 60s TV band, created to copy the Beatles using Americans.

"Hey, hey, hey, I'm a Monkee. My mom invented Liquid Paper." And without 'Overlooked Obits' we would never know what Mike's mom did.


Friday, July 27, 2018


Let me officially go on record: Justify is a bum. Or at least he's not a champion.

How can you say that? He won the 2018 Triple Crown, won over fast, sloppy or muddy tracks, went undefeated, won four Grade 1 races over four different tracks, was the first horse to win the Derby who didn't race as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882, how is he a bum? Because he's not a champion. He's just another horse that won some races.

Was Buster Douglas a champion? They declared him one. Sure, he knocked out a thoroughly out-of-shape Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990, but was he a champion? No. (I saw Buster's father, Billy, dismantle a much younger up-and-coming heavyweight, Pedro Soto at Madison Square Garden.) It is always who you beat and how often you beat them that makes you a champion.

There are those that will tell you that without a 4-year-old campaign you're depriving the fans of developing a fan base with a horse. Bogus. There is no real fan base in racing, outside of those who show up at Saratoga. It is now just a millennial flash mob that will turn out if there's enough sunshine and publicity surrounding an event. And maybe a band or two. The cell phones that were raised to take American Pharoah's picture at the finish might still be in the phone, with perhaps the ones that took Justify's picture.

Secretariat and American Pharoah never raced past three. But they were champions for their still standing track records, and at least sticking around for the Breeders' Cup and defeating older horses. (Even if by November the 3-year-olds are really almost 4-year-olds.)

Secretariat did have his problems defeating older horses, failing in the Whitney, and failing in the Woodward, both times losing to Allen Jerkens trained horses. But it was his fast times, and style that made him a champion. And he went out winning a turf race in Canada.

American Pharoah had a less complex ownership arrangement than Justify. Ahmed Zayat is a rich guy with the soul of a horse player. He bets with both fists and told the crowd that after the Belmont they owned the horse.

American Pharoah, like Secretariat and Justify were offered for breeding before the end of their racing campaigns. Secretariat's $6.6 million "windfall" seems anachronistic when compared to Justify's $65 million. But there are years, decades between them.

The ownership of Justify is complex. I once saw a photo of all the lawyers that were assembled in a room when the Empire State Building changed hands. The ownership was complex.

That Justify is worth $65 million to a vast group of people to go out and create offspring is just a sign of the times in breeding. There's money in them thar thighs. If I had a vase worth $65 million would I carry it on the subway? Or drive it over potholes?

No, what's happened to Justify is what I thought would happen with Justify as soon as he crossed the finish line in the Belmont—win or lose. Someone asked me when was he going to run again. I replied that I'd eat a piece of paper if that horse runs again. Now I don't have to.

I'm not annoyed at the horse. I'm annoyed that there are those who are fawning over him. He basically won a boat race in the Belmont. As the race unfolded, I got the feeling they were letting him lead, paving the way for a win. Audible, probably his best competition, was kept out of the race because WinStar owned him, and owned a piece of Justify. When two brothers reach the Golden Glove boxing finals in the same weight class they are not allowed to compete against each other. Mom doesn't have to see that.

But when Marlboro initiated the Marlboro Cup for older horses, Secretariat was entered against his stablemate Riva Ridge. Mom Penny Tweedy watched her two boys duke it out, with Secretariat prevailing over Riva Ridge. She said later it tore her heart out to watch them compete against each other.

The other Bob Baffert-trained  horse in Justify's Belmont, Restoring Hope, while not serving as a blocker as was later claimed by the conspiracy theorists, raced second, wide entering the Clubhouse turn, then, as the chart caller wrote, "appeared done by the three-eighths pole and was allowed to steadily back away." Justify, at the get-go, "had a loosely contested lead."

Justify will easily be an Eclipse Award winner. Certainly leading three-year-old, and justly so. Probably even Horse of the Year, which is nearly funny, since his year was from February to June. That's not even two financial quarters, but certainly enough financial quarters for those who have a piece of him. And there are A LOT of pieces.

WinStar farm, China Racing Club, Head of the Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing. It looks like the registration list at a racing convention. That put plenty of people in the winner's circle photo.

I've often imagined the horse I'd like to own. Owning a horse is not in my future, but I'd like a horse that put me in the winner's circle lots of times. This would of course mean a horse who races past three, likely a gelding, but maybe a hard knocking mare.

I love the records of Say Florida Sandy. Black Tie Affair, Royal Haven, Stallwalkin' Dude, Career Lady. There are others. You can spot them in the high level allowance races, or minor Black Type stakes races. They've raced over 20 times...they've won over $500,000...they may have even been claimers. They are the so-called war horses.

I don't wish Justify anything bad. I joke that President Trump is going to raise the tariff on his sperm to annoy China. One thing I know is I'll always keep in mind when any of his offspring hit the races and the track turns up sloppy. Bet them.

But when you consider the word "champion," use care who you put on the list.


As I Was saying...And Saying...And Saying

We know language is fluid. It is constantly expanding, even contracting. The lexicon grows to the extent that new entries to the OED are even announced. Perhaps not on the evening news, but announced just the same. The Hall of Fame adds such and such.

And nothing promotes new words and phrases more than the televised media. Talking heads.

I once read something where a talking head after being invited to offer their opinion on something was invited back to sound bite other issues. The producers liked them and asked them back. The talking head actually went to a joke writer so that they could sound profound and witty when asked to discuss something.

The scroll, chyrons and bumpers underneath their names tell of some exalted job description as "Senior Election Analyst", "Terrorist Specialist" or other jobs and titles that don't really exist. The ones I like the best when I pass the TV that's on in the other room, is when the speaker is younger than my daughters. It is amazing to me what they've been through and what they know. It's just a tad above zero. I love when they say "back in the day." But they do look good saying it.

My wife likes to listen to talking heads. They drive me crazy. I pretty much hate all of them, so thank goodness for multiple TVs in a household that has remained together for over 42 years.

It wasn't all that long ago when she told me they were "walking something back." What? The dog? No, a statement that was made, on where else, a talking head show.

"Walking back" has become the way to say, "taking that back." It is used so often these days that you wonder why something was said in the first place if it was so quickly "walked back." Nearly as good as "misspoke" which of course President Trump recently did when he discussed "would" and wouldn't after the Helsinki Summit with President Putin.

Another one, that's perhaps got whiskers on it but is still being uttered is, "having said that." Saying "having said that" announces that now, after their breathless analysis of something that if it were written down would span several lines of pint, adorned with clauses and phrases that if analyzed by diagramming the sentence would give you a picture of a sentence so cantilevered it could be a bridge.

After a breath is taken, the next part is the best. They say the opposite of what they just said, again using several lines of verbal print. It's as if someone has them by the cojones and they had to say the first part in order to stay alive. The next part is really what they want to say.

I think "transparent" is my new favorite. Everyone professes transparency, or thinks that's what we need. I take it it means the word is used to denote that there's nothing to hid. That's a big goal. Claude Rains in "The  Invisible Man" was very transparent, and only got tracked down by footprints he left in the snow. So, if you're transparent, are you not wanting to hid things, or are you wanting to hid things that no one will see? We'll see.

I do listen to talking heads. The talking heads that accompany any televised racing program. And there are daily racing programs if you tune into TVG, or lately MSG, my favorite, for racing from Saratoga for the next five weeks, then Belmont. MSG and FoxSports1 have signed a deal with NYRA to televise 100 racing dates. That's A LOT of dates.

A daily MSG broadcast right now includes commentary from 6! people: Greg Wolf, Maggie Wolfendale, Gabby Gaudey, Paul Lo Duca, Andy Serling, and either Tom Amoss or Frank Mirahmadi. Never have so many spoken so much to so few people. But I love it.

Greg Wolf is the "news anchor." Everyone else is connected to racing to some way. Paul LoDuca is a former Met and Brooklyn Dodger catcher, always introduced as such, but has ancestral ties to racing by virtue of his father taking him to the track when he lived in Brooklyn growing up. There is no better education received than that from a racetrack regular.

They are the glibbest people you could ever met. The Daily Racing Form is their teleprompter. Anyone who knows anything about racing can spew out a breathless analysis of a horse's chances in the next race. They go over the whole field in so many ways, naming everyone, that you really have to know what you're listening to to figure out who they like.

The phrase "having said that" must have been first uttered by a horse player. No one worth their $2 ticket will ever tell you the straight poop. They will hedge, hum and haw and circle back so much that you might as well not have asked them anything. They never talk about Russia, Stormy Daniels, Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, tapes, tariffs, the C.I.A., the F.B.I., President Putin, Donald Trump, Melania's clothes, immigration, or babies (other than horses). I love them all.

Reboot is another great word. Its meaning is to give something another try. A sequel, or take an old idea and rework it for contemporary audiences. It is usually uttered when the discussion is entertainment, movies, TV shows, recordings. But you can hear it on the more "serious" segments of MSNBC, CNN and FoxNews, GMA, and the Today Show when they want to tell you that something is being given another try.

Perhaps the best buzz word at the moment is "narrative." We are told that such and such is the "narrative" unfolding. Their "narrative" is not very compelling. "They need another "narrative."

The use  of "narrative" cannot escape parody, from the best of those you do parody, the cartoonists. The following was recently published in the WSJ as part of their 'Pepper and Salt' feature, now always found on the editorial page.

"Look, the product is okay; what it lacks is a compelling narrative."

"Narrative" of course is story. Story is too short, and doesn't have enough gravitas as "narrative." If you are old enough and hold onto memories of absolutely trivial things like I do, then you might remember the TV commercials "back in the day" for JGE, Jamaica, Gas and Electric.

These were the best. Jerry Rosenberg would tell the audience to come on down, "show us your union card at da door and you're in," in store for the best discounts on major appliances. Jerry, who had the bearing of a Brooklyn born cab driver and the patois of a punch drunk fighter, built quite a business with his 30 second pitches.

It didn't take long for there to be A LOT of JGE stores, dealing in all kinds of merchandise, usually shoddy, that was being offered at low prices. He was the Crazy Eddie of anything that wasn't audio equipment. JGE came and went fairly quickly, shut down by an avalanche of consumer complaints.

One thing you could count on, the commercials all ended the same way. Just like Jerry Carroll's ending fro "Crazy Eddie," "his prices are insaaaaaaaaane!" Jerry Rosenberg, (he eventually opened a short-lived disco) in a hard hat and T-shirt that rode up and showed his belly button when he raised his hands heavenward, JGE's commercials always ended with Jerry answering the question from the chorus, about what's real..."That's the story, Jerry?"..."thaaaat's the story."

Can you imagine if he said "narrative?"


Monday, July 23, 2018

A Polish Melody

I love the British shows. They love to recreate eras. Who else is better at costumes, customs, scenery, and language than the British when they want to? They NEVER forget WW II.

What are the chances that the only two times I've heard the phrase "safe as house" Haley Atwell has been in the shows?

The first was 'Restless' a great spy TV movie from 2012, based on William Boyd's novel. A possible conquest at a bar full of British officers almost spills her drink but she catches it and tells him "no, problem, safe as houses."

Huh. It's a British idiom meaning houses are a safe investment. Thus, if everything is all right, then it can be said you're "safe as houses."

The expression comes up again in another production Ms. Atwell is in, 'Howards End.' The British excellence at recreating an era is again on full display here. The male lead. Matthew Macfadyen, playing the wealthy Henry Wilcox,  tells Haley's character Margaret Schlegel that yes, such and such is a good company, "safe as houses."

I've always enjoyed Polish music, particularly that played by Jimmy Sturr and his orchestra. Jimmy has won so many Grammies for the category that they no longer hand out that award.

I don't need DNA testing to tell me anything about my heritage. I can go back far enough to know that my mother was born here, as were her mother and father, but they were of Polish and German ancestry. The other part of me is from my father, also born here, but from Greek parents. Thus, I claim three nationalities coursing through my veins, in addition to being native born.

I came to know of my mother's heritage somewhat late in life when she blurted out one evening that her father, whose name was "Cook" was really a name shortened from Cookorski, a Polish family from Chicago that settled in Tampico, Illinois, where my mother was born. If you know anything, you know Chicago boasts a good number of people with Polish ancestry.

Her mother's last name was Kirst, German. True Midwestern stock. Polish and German. My mother's oldest brother, Howard, who was in the same class with young Ronnie Reagan in Tampico, was a bit of an amateur musician. He had a band in Tampico.

When I was fairly small and on one of the trips with my mother to see her folks, we made our way to Tampico. I will always remember my uncle playing the banjo one evening as we sat on someone's steps. It was the liveliest music I had ever heard. I love the banjo (but not Steve Martin) because of that.

I don't know what my uncle played, or if there were others playing other instruments, but I remember it was fun. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

When my mother passed away the Catholic priest at the funeral home asked me if there were any poems or prayers that my mother liked and that I might like to be said. We think my mother was Catholic, but I never really knew for sure. I was baptized Greek Orthodox and went to a local Episcopal Sunday school, which I enjoyed because the Sunday school teacher once took us to the circus at the Old Garden. The era when there was a sideshow of bearded and tattooed ladies, midgets, dwarfs and tigers and some other "freaks."

Thus, we've got a Irish Catholic priest looking at my mother in her green suit with her greying red hair, and I'm convinced he thinks she was Irish, thus the poems/prayer question.

I very quietly thanked Father Hannon for his question, told him no, she didn't have any favorite poems or prayers, and that she was German and Polish, and that I doubted very much they wanted to play a polka or a march during the services. The poor man tried not to burst out laughing. He had to get away from me. I understood.

Safe as houses. I love the expression, Is there another one?

If you ever saw the first 'Home Alone' movie you might remember the scene where the mother somehow gets herself stranded somewhere and has to rely on the kindness of a polka band to get her back to the Chicago suburb where her son has been left, yes, home alone.

I don't think anything could be safer than to be in the back of a Polish band's truck with John Candy telling you everything will be all right. They're going to get you home safe to be with your son.

"Safe as being in the back of a Polish band's bus with John Candy." The phrase is a bit longer than "safe as houses," but just as secure.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Down Under Racing

One of the joys of the Internet is its ability to connect with people from truly distant places. Like New York and Australia. HAM radio has been replaced. Through Twitter and an interest in obituaries I have been a Twitter follower of @jenking for several years now.

Jennifer King is a retired OR nurse who has taken up a career in journalism, specifically broadcast journalism working for ABC. That's not our ABC, it's Australian Broadcasting System, but it's their public, PBS style station.

Jen works out of Brisbane, and lives in a nearby suburb. I met her once in Penn Station when she and her husband were traveling through the states and leaving New York for a Washington D.C. tour. Through her press credentials, she got to be photographed in the White House briefing room. She stood where Sean Spicer was then running the show from; now Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Australia has always been intriguing to me ever since I saw the Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr movie the 'Sundowners.' in the 60s. I always liked the music of ' Waltzing Matilda' and completely know what all the bits in the song refer to.

My daughter visited her college friend who was teaching in Sydney one year. The two of them hooked up with some others and climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, a bridge that is a replica of the Hell Gate railroad bridge that connects Queens with the Bronx and services Amtrak trains headed north from Penn Station. It was a sanctioned climb, not a stunt, but did require head gear harnesses and safety ropes.

When Susan left for Australia it was the day after Christmas, and when she finally got there and settled a bit, she sent us photos of everyone on the beach. It was of course summer Down Under.

When I met Jen and her husband for that brief time before they got on their D.C. train they had been staying in the Flatiron, or Chelsea area of the city with friends. They got a kick out my telling them atop Penn Station is Madison Square Garden and later that evening 20,000 hockey fans were going to be watching a Ranger game over their heads. Steve looked up. New York is a vertical city.

I love seeing the photos Jen Tweets with. I get constantly amused and scared at the animals that insert themselves into even urban, or suburban life. There have been photos of kangaroos hopping down their suburban street; photos of very long snakes that have slithered out from under refrigerators, and of course spider and reptiles that sit on cars in the parking lots.

Jen likes to make me especially aware of the more outstanding examples of the incursion of Australian wildlife. Just recently she Tweeted about camels in North Western Queensland where she is currently on a brief assignment.

Camels. In Australian. Do they race the camels? Yes. Two years ago the NYT racing reporter Joe Drape was at the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs where he was discussing his latest book 'American Pharoah,' the horse that in 2015 had just won racing's Triple Crown, the first winner in 37 years.

Joe gave the audience a little of his verbal CV telling the audience that he has been to, I don't remember, perhaps hundreds of racing venues all over the world, including camel racing in the Middle East. I don't remember Joe mentioning Australia, but he did tell us he bet on camel racing.

Jen linked me to a story someone in the newsroom had done about the camel racing in Boulia, a dot of a town in north western Queensland. Australia is the only country to be also classified as a continent, and a good part of it is sparsely, or not inhabited at all. There are deserts. Most of the population rings the coastline of Australia. Jen writes that Boulia is three hours west of where she in currently working, in Mount Isa, Mount Isa a comparatively larger town north of Boulia that doesn't look like it should take three hours to get to—until you look at the terrain. There must be a lot of Range Rovers in the Antipodes.

An Australian atlas shows a direct road from either Rockhampton or Townsville, two north Queensland coast cities. The first part of the road looks like it might be a four lane highway; but the final approach is on something that looks to be two lanes—at best. But you can get there. Eventually.

And apparently the camel racing is so popular that when it is being held, the tiny dot of Boulia swells with tourists. The photos from the link show how desperately hot it must be in these outback regions.

The outback is something else, Jen has retweeted photos, with quotes from the locals, that a 9 hour drive to go to someone's party is not a big deal. When you go to the store you better have a good list and forget nothing.

I suspect camel racing doesn't come with past performances and a great deal of informed analysis. I doubt there is a tote board, or even instant replay. I'd love to hear Maggie Wolfendale try and tell us in a paddock report how good a camel's coat (pun very much intended) looks, I have to say, I doubt I'll ever get to Australia, but the place does look like a good deal of fun.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Comrade Poppins

A few days ago I exchanged email with my son-in-law. We were talking about the movie 'Red Sparrow,'  based on Jason Matthews's spy novel. My son-on-law and I have read Matthews's three books and could be considered fans. The World Cup entered into the "conversation," and the number of goals scored from set pieces. It turns out it's half. I know he tried to work while all the matches were on. How much he worked only he knows. And now there's the British Open. Even less work will get done.

One of his comments made reference to Matthews's next book... "the next book could be about Putin's umbrella." I didn't know what the hell he was talking about until I saw someone's Tweet that had the above photo in it.

It is pretty funny looking. One of the Russian security people has an umbrella over Putin's head so the champagne and Perrier doesn't get all over His Excellency after the championship World Soccer Cup game. Putin is seen greeting Croatia, who lost to France.

Someone at my daughter's wedding was telling me the story about some Middle Eastern mucky-muck who was playing at the golf course he works at. Apparently the story went the mucky-muck got something on his shirt and lost a button as well. One of the entourage raced back to the clubhouse and got so-and-so a clean shirt. It's great to have people looking out for you.

My take is that if the soccer people where celebrating with vodka the umbrella wouldn't be needed and someone would get Vlad a straw.

There's likely no chance President Putin is going to show up at this week's British Open. If he were to the British tabloids would have a good time calling him Mary Poppins. My son-in-law has already labeled him The Putin Popin,


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Inflatable Donald

The media, print, online, broadcast, televised, whomever, tries to tell us ALL sorts of things. But not all the things I'd like to know about. Take helium-filled balloons. Specifically, a yellow/orange helium balloon shaped like Donald Trump in a diaper holding a cell phone being pulled through a crowd of President Trump protesters in London on Friday.

It seems no one has learned much from the Jimmy Breslin example of interviewing the JFK gravediggers as the plot in Arlington was being prepared that fateful weekend.

Or from the photographer who took the picture of a cancer weakened  Babe Ruth from behind, leaning on his bat, as they were honoring him at Yankee Stadium. Everyone else was in front. Nat Fein's photo in 1948 was worth the thousands of words written about the Babe.

The missed story is this: where did activist Leo Murray, the reported balloon creator, go to get his idea made into something that can released into the air? Who has the pattern that can depict Trump in a hilarious 19-foot inflated height, holding a cell phone while in a diaper? Where do you go when you have the idea? I mean, who makes custom helium balloons? Can they make another? I've never seen one at the card store in the shopping center where I buy the birthday balloons.

Did a group of people across the Pond call Macy's and ask, "hey, where can we get something that looks like America's president, in yellow/orange holding a cell phone, in a diaper? There can't be many places that can fill an order like that before Trump flies up to Scotland. There's a deadline there.

Saturday's NYT, The 45th President/Foreign Policy page, A14, shows us Donald floating, (in a black and white photo) having his picture taken by more cell phones per square foot than clicked away when American Pharoah and Justify won their Triple Crowns in 2015 and 2018.

We get The Donald in orange today when we read Maureen Dowd's weekly effort at writing when her piece leads off with the headline, 'Trump, Having a Brawl in Europe.'  Cute headline.

Maureen, as irrelevant as ever, starts off telling us she had lunch with other invited journalists in the summer of 2000 with Vladimir Putin at the 21 Club. Somehow, she doesn't tell us what she ate.

The only other satiric helium balloon I've ever seen on the street is when some union is protesting an outfit that is housed in some building in Manhattan over their not hiring union labor. They plop a giant inflatable rat in front of the place and chant. The same rat shows up at these things. It's Rent-A-Rat.

So, will Sarah Lyall, the NYT reporter-at-large, who has contacts across the Pond, try and find out who is the go-to person for Trump helium balloons? Jimmy won a Pulitzer with his approach.

I think the right size balloon would sell out at the neighborhood card store.


Nancy Barbato Sinatra

That didn't take long. Margalit Fox's last day at the NYT writing obituaries was June 29. The first of her advance obituaries to bob up to the surface was in today's paper, for Nancy Barbara Sinatra, 101, Frank Sinatra's first wife, and the mother of his three children.

I had forgotten his first wife's name was Nancy. I knew the oldest daughter is named Nancy, and I knew I always liked the song 'Nancy' so much that my wife and I named our first daughter Nancy, after Frank's song.

Frank also sang about Emily, and Elizabeth, but we liked the song 'Nancy.' I've always liked a 'smiling face.'

And according to Margalit, Frank and Nancy, the wife, always liked a smiling face—each other's smiling faces, long after they were divorced in 1951, and long after Frank had his way with countless women, some of whom he even married.

The jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton once remarked that we wouldn't have all those great Sinatra torch songs if he and Ava Gardner hadn't split up. Ava being who he chased and married after Nancy. Over the years, Ava was the one subject Frank would never discuss publicly.  She was off-limits.

Perhaps it's like the Dylan Thomas poem, "after the first their is no other." I once heard the director Peter Bogdanovich tell us that Cybill Shepherd left Elvis Presley for him. She later left Peter, but he could always say she left Elvis for him.

Frank never had any children with anyone other than his first wife. And his first wife apparently never settled for anyone other than Frank. Obituaries can end with a final word. And Ms. Fox lets this one end with Nancy's.

"Let Mrs. Sinatra, who hewed so long to steadfast midcentury propriety, have the last word. As Pete Hamill reported in his book "Why Sinatra Matters," first published in 1998, she was asked, later in life, why she had never remarried.

Her answer was impeccable:

'After Sinatra?'"

You can hear the Jersey City accent.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Twin Glasses at Belmont

You'd think they we're giving something away. Oh wait, they were.

Yesterday's weather in the New York area was as nice as anyone could ask for. Sunny, comfortable temperature, no wind, no rain, no humidity. It was a good day to go to the races.

And that's exactly what two of The Assembled had now planned for over a week to do. The date, July 7 was circled on the calendar, and weather permitting—meaning nothing washed off the turf—that's where Johnny M. and Johnny D. were headed.

It was a surprise it was also a giveaway day. The schedule had been looked up, but nothing was noted that would indicate anything was going to be offered for free. So it was nice surprise to pay for admission and get a coupon to redeem for what turned out to be two nice water/beer glasses, that had 'Stars and Stripes Festival' stenciled on their sides, packed in a sturdy box. Suitable for wrapping and giving away to someone, if you were so inclined. Which I wasn't.

Much as I don't like having to carry anything extra around with me during a day at the races, the box didn't prove to be too difficult to manage, along with the clipboard, printed past performances, and binoculars slung over the shoulder.

And there was a crowd, or what these days passes for a crowd, for something other than the Belmont Stakes. It was noticeable. Were all these people still trying to leave the track after the June 9th Belmont? No. But a good number of them hardly looked prepared to play the horses. There were few with programs, even fewer with anything that looked like they were using past performances to enable their picks, and certainly almost no one with binoculars. I'm not not sure you can even rent them out there anymore.

Nevertheless, it was a crowd. And it was reported to be over 16,000, wagering a healthy $24.6 million on the 11 race card. Of course that includes simulcasting, the bloodstream these days that keeps racing going. But money is money. Track management had to be feeling good.

There weren't so many people that they created bottlenecks anywhere. I never waited to use a SAM machine, or had to line up for the bathroom. And since I don't bother with food or refreshments, I never wait on line for any of that anyway.

That announced crowd was paid admissions. I don't know how long the supplies lasted for the boxed glasses, but it didn't seem there were too many people walking around with them. What there did seem to be plenty of were credentialed track photographers. My God, there were pictures being taken left and right.

Aside from the usual scrum that floods the winner's circle, there was a semi-circle of shutterbugs that formed in an area carved out for them near the stairs and platform where a patrol judge can be seen climbing up to before the races begin. What this individual is responsible for noticing from that perch has been beyond me for decades. They are not one of the stewards, so I don't know if they alert anyone to an infraction, much less are capable of seeing one, despite the binoculars.

My own guess is that this is the paddock/patrol judge who makes their way from the paddock to the platform as the horses are ready to race. In the paddock they are responsible for ensuring that the stated equipment is being worn, or not worn by the horse. If they are supposed to be running with blinkers, are they there? If the blinkers are off, are they not there?

I will never forget one of the very few times I was ever in the paddock with a group of people who had a horse in the upcoming race, when the owner's trainer, Colum O'Brien, was called to the paddock office because the stated blinkers were either there, or not there on his horse. An infraction, which probably resulted in a fine to the trainer.

Thus, I had inside information that there was unpublished information about the horse's eyewear. This did me absolutely no good. The trainer was a low percentage trainer—near zero percent trainer—whose horse did have four legs, but was not able to move them with any sufficient speed to keep up with the field once the gates were sprung open. No change of equipment was going to help that horse win anything. I had a polite deuce on it to win, just in case.

But getting back to this extra area for photographers, it was there for the winning jockey and horse to pose before heading off the the winner's circle. It seemed to come into use when it was one of the five featured stakes races, a large part of the appeal of the day. Rich races, good horses, solid competition.

After a race, there is so much activity just outside the winner's circle on the track that you might think there was an accident of some kind. Grooms and assistant trainers duck under a rail to greet their charges as they return from their cool down. Like seconds in a boxing ring, these people have water and sponges to wipe the horses down before they are lead back to the barns. Instead of waving a towel or draping a robe over the fighters, a blanket is sometimes slung over a horse's back after they are unsaddled. The swirling activity fairly quickly ebbs as the attention goes to the winner's circle, and more photos. More photos than ever are taken these days. As racing attendance has declined, photos are up. Everyone has a camera these days.

So, how did the two Johns do on this great day of racing?

Mistakes are made in the afternoon shade
That are those that are repeated.
So often now it is a wonder how
The amnesia tank is not by now depleted.

This is an attempt at a poetic way of saying that after decades of playing the horses the same mistake is made.

The afternoon started well, with some early winners, even in the first race, always a good sign. Johnny D's numbers might not have been exactly humming, but damage was slight, and there was a surplus on the voucher heading into the last two races.

The plan was to only stay through the 10th race. And it was adhered to, The bets for the 9th and 10th races put the voucher at a value below its purchase price, but not by a great deal. And there was still the running of 10th race to make things better.

What causes one to ignore their by far two highest numbers—numbers that put two horses into what screams a boxed exacta bet—shuts down their senses and renders them deaf, with no memory of how these things usually turn out, to make them place a $6 win bet on Aidan O'Brien's Hunting Horn, forsaking the repeat exacta of Analyze It and Catholic Boy, is a force that comes from somewhere, perhaps from the Devil himself. The Devil made me do it.

Catholic Boy and Analyze It put on a rousing stretch finish that was a repeat of their finish in the Pennine Ridge on June 2nd. A looked for angle is to find if there are two horses in the current race who have just run 1-2 in a recent race.

If such a pairing is found, then it is in your best financial interest to look at this very closely and bet on the chance of its happening again. Because just like the advice given at the outset of the musical 'Guys and Dolls' about betting against a guy who claims he can make cider from a deck of cards squirt in your ear, you do not bet against this man, because if you do, you will have an ear full of cider.

Just like if you bet that Catholic Boy and Analyze It are not going to once again finish 1-2, you will not go home winning $35.40 for a $4 boxed exacta bet. Your voucher will still be worth less than what you put on it. Guaranteed.

Wipe the cider out of your ear. It happened again.