Monday, December 31, 2018

The Sentence-Ending Preposition

If you don't think you learn something by reading obituaries you haven't been paying attention, or you haven't been reading obituaries. You do learn.

The Mobuis strip today takes us from the first woman to conduct a Broadway show full-time, 'Liza Redfield, Who Broke a Broadway Barrier, Is Dead at 94' to the Quiz show 'What's My Line'  to the host John Daly to Winston Churchill, to English grammar. That's a lot of tangents to accrue from one obituary, but here you have it.

The beauty of an online obit, or any story online these days, is that you can embed a link to something that is germane to the story. In the obit for Ms. Redfield you can click onto a 9 minute segment of when she was the a mystery guest on the quiz show 'What's My Line.'

'What's My Line' was a hugely popular quiz show in the 50s and 60s that aired on Sundays at 10:30 p.m. Watching any YouTube clip from the show can either remind you of the wit and formality that TV had in those days, or serve as an example of what a wholly other era was like.

The men were in tuxedos, the women panelists, generally the Journal-American columnist Dorothy Kilgallen and the actress Arlene France, were neatly coiffed and in evening dress. There is no comparison to a 'What's MyLine' set to say, 'America's Got Talent.' Different planets.

In that era my friend's father worked as a producer for CBS. Opening night for a Broadway show saw his father going to the theater in a tux. Many other male theatergoers were in tuxes as well.

Bennett Cerf held the third permanent spot, always on the end on the right. Mr. Cerf was the august president of Random House, then a stand-along, unmerged publishing house. The show was live. Mr Cerf was always witty and if born any earlier would have easily been in a chair at the Algonquin's Round Table with Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wolcott, Robert Benchley, and assorted other kibitzers. Think of them as a literary version of  'The View.'

Cerf became so well known for his quips that he produced a book of them. The rotating fourth spot generally went to a comedian who helped keep the yuks coming. The moderator was John Daly, another tuxedoed gentleman who had a deep background as a reporter. He and Bennett Cerf would riposte back and forth. Two verbal war horses.

The premise of the show was to have the mystery guest sign in, have their occupation flash on the screen for the television viewers and the studio audience, and challenge the four panelists to guess their occupation, or source of their notoriety through a series of questions that would be answered only with a 'yes' or 'no' answer. A 'no' answer ended that panelist's questioning and the interrogation moved on to the next panelist.

Each wrong, or 'no' answer required the moderator, John Daly to flip over the rolodex of cards staged in $5 increments. When the revealed deck reached $50, the questioning round was over and the panel was stumped. Mr. Daly acted a bit as a referee who clarified questions and whispered answer advice to the mystery guest. There was hardly any laser show or even electronic flipping of the $5 increment cards. The show was very manual, like changing a tire.

Aside from the narrative of Ms. Redfield's life in the obituary the nine minute segment of her appearance as a guest on 'What's My Line' lifts the obituary into a window of bygone time.

At one point in the show, John Daly grammatically corrects a sentence from Mr. Bishop, the comedian in the rotating spot, admonishing him a bit for ending his question in a proposition. I remember grammar rules from the 50s and 60s that considered it a solecism to end any sentence in a preposition. Rules of that era would not accept the spelling of judgment as judgement as correct either. No first e. Dangling participles were also verboten. (I think I still have trouble with that one.)

Given that Ms. Redfield's appearance (at the outset she's questioned if she is Miss. or Mrs; Miss is given as the answer) was in 1960 you have to realize Winston Churchill is still alive, and very much alive in his writing.

John Daly reels back a bit at the preposition wordplay and Mobius strip-like segues into telling all the story of Winston Churchill, who when presented with an editor's marginal correction that his sentence shouldn't end in a proposition, writes his reply to the grammar police that, "this type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put." Sir Winston saw nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a proposition. And frankly my dear, neither do I. (I think these days you can.)

The Broadway show Ms. Redfield made history with was 'The Music Man' and it was in that capacity as the show's conductor that her occupation stumped the panel. They got close. They established a Broadway show, but crashed and burned when Dorothy Kilgallen thought she had it when she asked if Ms. Redfield was one of the strippers in Gypsy. Oh, how things have changed.

'What's My Line' as the John Daly version ran for 17 years. It is hard to imagine anyone today on television that would offer up a Winston Churchill quote on how to correctly compose a sentence.

And try to imagine someone running a game show like John Daly whose second wife was the daughter of the Chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren.

No wonder they wore tuxedos.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Advance Obit

There are many things I like. Let me count the ways? Not necessary, other than to say an obit written by Robert McFadden is one of them.

Today's Sunday, so I scan the obits online. I don't bother with the print paper on Sunday. They deliver half of it on Saturday for free, so I don't bother with the rest. I get the Book Review section as part of that. That's good enough.

Mr. McFadden is retired, but I think still appears at a desk. He's written a flock of advance obits, so when one of his subjects becomes ripe for the page, one of his obits transitions from advance to the page of the day. Thus, most of his subjects at this point are quite advanced in age, like today's "Donald Moffat, 87, a Top Actor Who Thrived in Second Billings."

Mr. Moffat is hardly a household name, but his face should seem familiar, particularly to theatre-goers, as he's played an incredible range of characters, but is most famous for a Falstaff portrayal. Aside from Macbeth and Hamlet and a little Othello, I'm not much up on Shakespeare. But in the course of going through Mr. Moffat's roles we learn a good deal about Shakespeare's characters. Like any good obit, there's always something to learn.

I've always heard of the character Falstaff but didn't know he was so multi-dimensional: "Shakespeare's bravest coward, wisest fool and most ignoble knight." Mr. Moffat apparently handled nearly any role from any playwright, Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Pinter Beckett or O'Neill.

Mr. Moffat, was a transplanted Brit who lost his British intonations at an early age when he came to America as a 26-year-old Old Vic-trained actor. He worked many odd jobs, bartender and lumberjack out of Oregon before getting that out of system and returning to acting full-time, this time on Broadway.

Mr. McFadden recounts Mr. Moffat's most famous role as that of the president in the 1994 movie 'Clear and Present Danger,' the thinly veiled story of a president who is caught in a world wind of scandal who just happens to keep a jar of very colorful jelly beans on his desk. (Think Ronald Reagan.)

Mr. McFadden repeats a sample of the dramatic Jack Ryan/President Bennett dialogue. I loved that movie. One, because it reminds me of when we saw it, on vacation on Cape Code, and because of some other pieces of dialogue in it.

There is one presidential staffer sitting on the coach who astutely tells Ryan that the President wants what every president wants: a second term.

Then there is Ryan's advice to the President to get out ahead of the scandal that's forming by telling the press that yes, he knows so-and-so, they went to school together. They've played racquetball together. Don't deny knowing the man.

The president takes the advice and ducks being painted with the same brush. Funny how a CIA officer's advice to the president about getting out in front of something in a 1994 screenplay goes unheeded by President Clinton in 1998 when it comes to Monica Wilensky. Didn't Bill see the movie?


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Subway Etiquette

As anyone who is a regular reader of the NYT should know by now, there is a transportation reporter from Houston who is carrying the torch on the Metropolitan Beat on all stories MTA and subway related. The Times is fulfilling its role as a guardian of the public interest by incessantly pointing out the failures of mass transit in the Metropolitan area. They report on all MTA board and public meetings. They are on their tail.

New blood is hitting the keyboards at the paper whose motto is "All the News That is Fit to Print." This is evident when you can find the transportation reporter on Twitter, @Emmagf, along with a photo of a smiling young woman who represents the best kind of New Yorker: the kind that wasn't born here.

Along with youth, the new reporters bring Twitter feeds, emails and digital links to other media to enhance their stories. There are not many people whose Twitter sites I go to, But Emma's is one of them. I check her Twitter feed daily.

Emma has shared with her followers all things MTA, along with the name she gave her newborn son: Hudson. She is clearly adopting her new city. Naming your firstborn after a topographical site in the Metropolitan area sets a great precedence for subsequent offspring. Names like Brooklyn, Harlem, SoHo and Tribeca can be chosen from. Dumbo is not recommended. Nor is Kosciuszko, inasmuch as no one can agree on how it is spelled. The famous brand of brown of mustard uses a spelling of Kosciusko. There are extra points if you can identify who that person was. They spelled it as it is spelled on the bridge. Verrazzano, with two Zs is however settled, even if all the signs haven't yet been changed.

Apparently, subway service and all other forms of mass transit are in the toilet if I read the reports every day correctly. It's not a complete breakdown, but there are needs to be addressed.  Fare evasion has become routine, ever since it was decriminalized from arrest. Police can still give a summons for it which carries a $100 fine. An estimated 4% of the riders are non-payers.
@NYTMetro: New Yorkers admit to riding the subway without paying. “Sometimes it’s easier to use the door. I don’t feel bad.”

@BenWeiserNYT: "So many people had entered through the emergency exit that one woman trying to leave was blocked by three entering commuters in a row." @emmagf, @edjsandoval report on rampant fare evasion in NY's subways.

I can tell you it is infuriating to watch those who either jump the turnstile or walk through the exit gate while you've just paid. In some cases, the exit gate is being held open by those who just want to announce it's now okay to evade. Throngs walk through at certain stations, sometimes even under the eyes of the police on duty.

Being retired, I no longer go into the city every workday. And even when I did, I was able to walk to my last job from Penn Station, eliminating any need to go underground. Prior employment required me to go to the Trade Center, and eventually Brooklyn after Manhattan became an airport on 9/11.

Thus, I've been somewhat insulated from the current problems of the subway. Emma has shared with us her F train stories when she apparently came to New York and lived in Brooklyn. Lots of transplants have gravitated to Brooklyn. Nearly all my daughter's upstate college classmates are now in Brooklyn.

Apparently, the F train drove her and her Bloomberg News husband to look elsewhere in the city for a place to live. They settled somewhere uptown in Manhattan in an area serviced by the A train, in the hopes that service would be a bit more dependable.

From recent Twitter postings this hasn't produced on time results. Emma's A train, the longest line in the system,  has been delayed by swing bridges getting stuck in the Rockaways.  Boats headed for the harbor. Captains and tides are not interested in Emma's ride.

Emma is not one to follow when she and her husband look for a place to live. Via Twitter, I have offered my own advice. Get close enough to work to walk. Even if it's a mile or more.

Emma shares stories, and along with other Times colleagues, even created a site where the public could post their own horror stories. The new medium of visualization affords photos to be added to this site. Nothing these days is complete without photo or video.

A photo-of-the-year award should go to Lauren Albergo who posted a photo of a cup filled with a mysterious liquid (likely urine) that someone had tucked in a corner on a station platform. The submitter apparently kept their eye on the pissy vessel for a period of time, and reported that the station must never get cleaned because the cup of fluid has not budged, and it was now December 6.  It takes a special kind of deputized investigative member of the public to photograph a plastic cup of subway urine. Shaming the MTA might work. Kudos to them.

From all I'm reading, subway service, and passenger behavior has gotten odd, and just plain inconsiderate, and even gross. Even dangerous, when cell phone video emerges of a fight breaking out between two women and someone actually makes a "citizen's arrest."

In a Twitter posting not solicited by the NYT, @bklynbckstretch posted a photo of two guys who brought their reptiles on the train. How nice. I guess they  didn't need to take a plane somewhere and needed to convince the airlines they needed companion animals on board.

On Sunday @bklynbckstreth posted a Tweet from @nyctsubway, with her reply, "I don't even want to know."

Southbound 1 trains are delayed while our crews isolate a car for an unsanitary condition at 28 St."

Here's another Tweet found on Emma's feed from @jdavidgoodman:

The good thing about everyone staring at their phones on the subway is that no one seemed to notice the woman on the E train who just woke up, took a piss between moving train cars, returned to her seat and fell back asleep.

The other good thing is that no one took her vacated seat while she vacated her bladder.

Emma posted a series of Tweets that created a chain of replies.

Well, here’s a subway first. The guy sitting next to me just took off his shirt (he was completely bare chested for 20 seconds) and changed into a polo shirt (for work?). That’s gotta be against the etiquette rules, right?

"Against the etiquette rules..." Emma is so wholesome. The rhetorical question garnered a reply.

@Naparstek replies:

I believe you're allowed to unbuckle your belt and unbutton your pants to tuck in a shirt while riding the train but you're not actually allowed to take off any clothing unless you're participating in the No Pants Subway Ride.

Huh? Where did you read that? Like the No Pants Subway Ride is a good thing too?

My own reply to Emma's discomfort at seeing her seatmate turn his space into the changing room at WalMart went along the lines:

Some women have that affect on men.

Did the polo shirt have an S on it? You know there are no more phone booths, right? Any identifying tattoos? You're making commuting sound like fun again.

Emma is still skeeved out. Replies to @nicolegelinas:

Unclear. Didn’t notice him until he took his clothes off.

Another reply. to: @davecolon:

Why?? Couldn’t he change his clothes anywhere else? Even subway platform or on the street would be better when you’re not in a confined space with other humans?

How quaint. Emma thinks when you're on the subway you're still a human. She is new.

I never met Emma. We traded some emails and phone conversations when she replied to an email of mine when the 2nd Avenue subway was getting ready to open up and my family's connection to 2nd Avenue.. She has already lost whatever accent would identify her as coming from Texas.

I know nothing of her family, but with the holidays looming I wouldn't doubt that a trip back home with the new baby will be in order, if not already underway.

William Sydney Porter (O Henry) and Damon Runyon, Gay Talese, and Joseph Mitchell became the best kind of New Yorkers as well. They were born elsewhere.

The stories Emma has for the folks back home.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Infernal Apostrophe

One would expect the quiz show 'Jeopardy' to make the correct use of the apostrophe. And they did, when they labeled Wednesday's closing category: Poets' Birthplaces.

This signified multiple poets and multiple birthplaces, and the following answer is going to relate to one of them. And it did.

5 Cwmdonkin Drive Was the Address of the Family Home Where He was Born in 1914.

I will boast I got it right, but not until I had to untangle the category, the apostrophe and the text. Given the name of the drive to be in a language harder to pronounce than Icelandic, and the date of birth that would correspond with the short life of the poet Dylan Thomas, I offered Dylan Thomas as the answer. So did two of the contestants who went all in, with the current champion prevailing by having more money to wager. It was Texas Hold 'Em with Alex Trebek as the dealer.

My first thought was the answer needed to incorporate the birthplace of at least two poets, since it was plural apostrophe. I was letting the category be part of the clue. I read the clue a little more carefully and came up with was the correct answer.

You don't have to watch 'Jeopardy' to get a daily does of the final clue. Every weekday the NYT prints the clue that will be the final part of that evening's show. The answer for the prior day's clue is given below.

I will say I get maybe 60% of the final clues right. I am pretty much useless with Mythology and Bible clues, however.

I once took the online 'Jeopardy' audition test they post in January for the New York area. Since they don't give you any feedback as to how you did, my own best guess is I might have gotten 80% of the answers right. No one called and said, "come on down."

I have to believe the people who get on the show must score at nearly 100% on the initial test. And with so many people I'm sure trying online, the producers have their easy pick of the Mensa and near-Mensa candidates who score extremely high.

The category was of course correctly punctuated. Poets' Birthplaces. But apostrophes are annoying and I always ask the question,"how do you pronounce one?"

And how could I initially think they made a mistake? Smug Alex would have caught it if they did. After all, we know he has all the answers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

We Gotta Beat the Rush

No one like to sit in traffic. Traffic seems to denote movement, but not when you plop the word 'sit' in front of it. You're stuck, for any number of reasons.

Go to any event that you also bring your car to, and not only do you have to leave the arena with a crowd of people, you then have to leave the parking lot with a crowd of drivers, inching your way forward to the choke point. It's no fun.

So, very often, people leave venues, particularly sports arenas, a little early, "to beat the rush." This is always a judgment call and rests on your soothsaying abilities to predict that the score as it stands now is not going to change drastically, if at all. The outcome is not in doubt. Hang up that W or L and let's see if we can't make it out of here a little early.

The "leave early" urge usually works out. Until of course if doesn't, and you've missed what everyone will be talking about for years to come.  Uh-oh.

Jason Gay is a sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal. That's right, the WSJ has a sports section. When Rupert Murdoch took control of the paper several years sago he introduced Sports and New York news to the paper.

The Sports section is not the typical page of agate results and standings, but instead a few feature stories on personalities, trends and results of games—all kinds of games. Jason Gay is the new type of sports reporter. He's actually a cycling enthusiast who started out writing for GQ magazine, so you know he's a different type of sports reporter who is hardly in the mold of Red Smith or Dave Anderson, both now deceased.

Jason is lively, funny, off-beat and to me has secured his place in sports reporting with his now annual list of rules to follow when the inevitable family touch football game breaks out before the big meal on Thanksgiving. Anyone who can describe Bill Belichick as the 'Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain' has my attention.

Jason's touch football rules could be made into a book, complete with cartoons that would I suspect make at least a seasonal stocking-stuffer. I'm eagerly waiting for the first autographed edition.

Just recently Jason did a story about a family of four who went to the Miami Dolphins-New England Patriots game in Miami and left early to beat the traffic. It seems the father grew up being raised by a father who took him to games, but always felt compelled to leave early to beat the traffic. Matt Yale tells the story that it was years before he ever realized baseball games went past the 5th inning.

The Yale family as pictured in Jason's column is so wholesome looking they would be every advertiser's dream family. They could pitch anything: HMOs, unlimited cell phone minutes (talk and text), cable, Wi-Fi access, music streaming services and military-grade aluminum pickup trucks (for safety). 

At Matt's behest, the family skirted out of the stadium with four minutes to go and New England ahead 30-28, having just scored. The Miami loss looked inevitable. The  'Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain' was going to hang another win to his career record.

What happened in the minutes after the Yales left the stadium is now so well known that the news has probably been translated into Russian for the Space Station. Miami came back to win on a "razzle-dazzle" play that consisted of a long pass reception and two laterals, with the final ball holder making a broken field run to the goal line worthy of someone who has evaded machine run fire.

The Miami Dolphins win, and the Yales are in their car, but not sitting in traffic. They're moving, and quite well at that. They get the news on their car radio what any fan hates to hear when they've left early from what they felt was a lost cause: their team won in SPECTACULAR fashion. Matt later tells those who are still listening to him that they made it home in record time.

The new age of digital sports reporting gives you text and links to YouTube video. Jason's column is a delight to take in and sympathize with (just a bit) the Yales.

But their pain is self-inflicted. They made a conscious decision to leave the game early for logistical reasons. People leave all types of events early all the time. But what if the event leaves the fans early? The Heidi game.

Jason is not old enough to remember seeing the Heidi Game, but I'm sure he knows of it, when NBC terminated its broadcast of a Jets-Raider game in 1968 at exactly the time (7 p.m.) it was due to start the broadcast of the story of Heidi, the lovable orphaned Swiss girl who lives with her grumpy grandfather.

The termination of the football game broadcast was so abrupt that when Margalit Fox did the obituary of the producer of Heidi, Delbert Mann, she characterized the broadcast transition as "ultrapunctual." NBC went from the game to Heidi with space launch accuracy.

I was watching the game and left the house after they went to the Heidi broadcast. Later I learned what everyone else learned: there were two touchdown scores by the Raiders in the waning minutes, that when time fully ran out, the Jets lost the game (43-32) they were ahead in with a minute to go, 32-29. The fans hadn't left the game early, the network left the game.

The Heidi Game is the most famous example of game abandonment by anyone. The Yale family shouldn't feel all that bad.

Monday, December 17, 2018

AP Obit

Most of the obituaries that appear in the NYT as tribute, or news/editorial obits come with a byline. The Times can sometimes have 5-6 of these obits on a given day, all bylined by someone different; occasionally, one person does double duty and they have two bylines.

AP, Associated Press obits are not often seen on the NYT obituary page. Aside from not having a byline, you can immediately tell the difference in how they're written. They stick to a formula: deceased did this, born there, parents were so-and-so, survived by. They're informative, but dry a toast.

And so it went with Mari Hulman George, 83 Speedway Leader, the woman who intoned "Gentleman start your engines" at the start of the Indy 500. Not being a race car fan I never knew there was a woman who did this sort of thing, as her long-time association with racing is told. She was the daughter of Anton (Tony) Hulman Jr. who purchased the the Indy Speedway in 1945 and saved it from being demolished. She was born to the engine's roar.

"Ms. Hulman George's son Tony is the current chairman of the speedway.

In addition to him, she is survived by three daughters, Nancy and Josie George and Kathi George-Conforti; a stepdaughter, Carolyn Coffey; seven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren and her longtime companion, Guy M. Trollinger, known as Lum..."

It's these parts, whether in a bylined obit or news service obit that I tend to gloss over and look not at the names but rather see how many generations they are survived by. Naturally, the older the subject, the greater the chance they will have great-grandchildren. On only a few occasions have I ever read that the deceased has great-great-grandchildren.

The text drones on: "Mr. Trollinger shot and killed her husband Elmer in 1976 in what newspapers at the time described as a 'love triangle shooting.' A grand jury found it was justifiable homicide."

WHAT! WTF! That wasn't in the lede, or anywhere near it.

The next three paragraphs give us the details: Ms. Hulman would describe Mr. Trollinger as her boyfriend. After Ms. Hulman George filed for divorce...her husband Elmer broke into Mr. Trollinger's home and confronted him..gunfire erupted...Elmer was armed with a handgun and was mortally wounded by five shots from a .22-caliber rifle...the grand jury decided that Mr. Trollinger had shot Elmer in self-defense and the charges were dropped.

Never underestimate what you might read about in an obituary just because there is no byline.

(The above photo that accompanies Ms. Hulman's NYT obit shows her in 2009 at the Indy Speedway starting that year's race.)

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Handshake

It was declared official a few postings ago. Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May wins the title of 'The World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On.' Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel finishes a fairly close second. Now comes the photo op in the Winner's Circle.

It may not yet have the historical significance of the linking of the transcontinental railroad in the "Last Spike" ceremony on May 10,1869 in Promontory Summit, Utah, when the Eastern rail portion was joined with the Western rail portion, but give it time. Even though Great Britain and Germany are considered Western countries, Germany might still be considered to have recent Eastern origins due to once being an East and West Germany. It is of course now united.

With Brexit pretty much dominating the news coming from Great Britain, we can fully expect to see more of Prime Minister May than of Chancellor Merkel.

The Prime Minister just recently survived a vote of "No Confidence" and achieved a bit of a reprieve, but is by no means out of the woods yet.

However Brexit turns out, and who is happy with it and who isn't. one thing can be counted on: Prime Minister Theresa May will continue to look smashing as the 'World's Most Photographed Woman with Clothes On."

To the victor goes the clothing. Imported or not.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Gone to Pot

Years ago someone suggested the flower of NYC should be a sooty geranium to celebrate the soiled flower in window boxes.

Now, the windows don't open because of air conditioning and there are a lot less window boxes perched over the heads of pedestrians. So what should be the horticulture symbol now?

Cannabis. Pot. Marijuana. MaryJane.

If you are reasonably up-to-date on NYC news, then you probably have heard of the proposal to have New York State legalize recreational marijuana and use the proceeds from a tax on its sale to help pay for subway improvements.

All kinds of numbers are being thrown around, none of which provide all the money needed to fix things, but in the eyes of the proposers represent a very good start. There are other proposals being made to raise money, congestion pricing being a favorite one that keeps rearing its head up out of the water.

I haven't read of raising the bottle redemption fee to 10¢, like what it is in Michigan, but I'm sure that's on someone's list. Of course, money is currently raised and earmarked for expenses from unredeemed bottles and cans. This counts as abandoned property. The weakness of the 10¢ proposal is that with a fee that high more bottles will be redeemed, and thus the abandoned property pile of cash will be lowered, in effect directing even less money than what is now directed toward who-knows-what.

It is interesting to note what proposals are not being made. So-called sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are not being prominently mentioned. Gambling seems off the table as well. These categories are likely saturated with taxes that are being directed to who-knows-what, and any attempt to raise them even further will push the whole equation into the territory of diminishing returns, an area to be avoided.

In yesterday's NYT, the Metropolitan reporter Emma G. Fitzsimmons outlines at length all the proposals. Give everyone credit, they are all thinking outside the box.

I'm no economist, but it always seems to me that the price for things increases as the pool of money to pay for them increases. Institute student loans and make lots more students able to pay for college...raise the tuition to capture the newly available funds.

Drugs? Collect money through the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and have the drug companies come running to collect vast sums from them. Mortgages? Expand the sources of income you use to calculate the funds available for the owners to borrow, and the price of the real estate will rise to capture that money being pumped into the system.

Improve the subways? The opposite is true right now. No money to pay for things. And the price is out of reach. This seems like the best time to get things done. Lower the price to match the money available. Raise more money, and the price is sure to rise.

There are strange things done in the city's sun
  By the men who run the trains.
But the strangest yet might be to let
  The public smoke out their brains.

We always live in interesting times.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Don't Give It Back

It's nice to write about the memories of someone who is still with us. Certainly no longer playing left wing for the New York Rangers, but certainly breathing enough to be at their own jersey raising ceremony as their number was retired —again—at Madison Square Garden on Sunday in ceremonies before the game against the Winnipeg Jets.

When someone a good while ago complained in a letter to the NYT that the Garden stunk at playoff time because it was sharing arena time with the circus and the odor of elephant dung hung in the air, the president of the Garden, Mike Burke, wrote back that if you're interested in nice smells then you should glide past the perfume counters at Saks Fifth Avenue. In other words: stop complaining.

I wasn't at Sunday's game, and it might be questioned if the Rangers were themselves at the game, giving up a three goal lead in the third period that allowed Winnipeg to tie the game, playing scoreless through the overtime, and then losing the game in a shootout. A lousy end to what should have been a better memory.

The Rangers have had way more bad years than good years. When I first started going regularly to games at the Old Garden on 8th Avenue and 49th Street, I was in high school, and you could get in for 50¢ with your high school "GO" card. "GO" stood for General Organization and it allowed you to buy a $1.50 side balcony ticket for 50¢. The trouble with the side balcony at the Garden as it existed then was that for hockey, the views of the ice got increasingly more obstructed as you got past the first row. Rob B was already giving you an eclipse of the ice. Go right to the top, and you saw half the ice, lengthwise.

I had a friend who had a season ticket to the Rangers when we were in high school. Mike was a celebrity, being hunkered down in Row A with an absolute beautiful unobstructed view of the ice, almost hanging over it from his balcony perch. I would get in for my 50¢, seek Mike out at his seat, and grab the seat behind him in row B, and peer over his shoulder. It was nearly as good as being in Row A.

You see, the Garden was originally built for boxing matches, and if you were to stick a ring at what was center ice, you could appreciate that the sight lines were perfect for watching punches being thrown.

Not that the style of hockey played in that era was without more than its share of fighting. The joke was, "I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out." Jesus, did they ever brawl in those days.

And Vic Hadfield always was on the card in either the main or preliminary bout when he could be counted on to drop his gloves as soon as the puck was dropped from any face-off that contained Henri Richard opposite him,

Henri Richard was the younger brother of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, who was an absolute hockey legend who retired in 1960 from the Montreal Canadians.

In that six-team league era you played the other five teams 14 times, seven home, seven away. The players grew to hold massive grudges against their opposing number. If they didn't settle their score in one game, they didn't have long to wait to try again. There were often home and home games.

Henri, dubbed "The Pocket Rocket," also playing for the Canadians, for some reason rubbed Vic Hadfield the wrong way. Or Vic rubbed Henri the wrong way. It really didn't matter which way anyone was rubbed, because you could count on Vic Hadfield dropping his gloves and vigorously thumping Henri's head with his fists, (no helmets then) as they each tried to pull their sweaters over the other guy's head. There was no added "aggressor" penalty then, so they were both sent off with matching penalties. It was always fun to watch the other 8 players on he ice who had been holding each other off by the scruff of their sweater collars and somewhat waltzing each other around in tight circles to now go and find their gloves and sticks and get ready to resume play. Games could take forever to finish.

It seems obstructed views are in the Garden's DNA. The most recent renovation has seen a catwalk of sorts constructed over the ice that goes the length of the ice. Since you need to hold this up, there are now enough struts in the way that the rafters and display of retired jerseys are blocked from the view from certain sections of the top rung of seats.

This was again pointed out by a season ticket holder who writes the blog, They are a Rangers fan, a racing journalist, as well as a teacher who points out that certain sections would have been unable to even see the retired jersey once it was raised to the ceiling.

And not seeing something of course reminds me of the time that Vic yanked the mask off the Toronto goaltender Bernie Parent as he wandered into a scrum of fighting players. Goaltenders tend to stay in their crease when any fights break out. But this Ranger/Maple Leaf game produced a new level of unsurpassed brawling.

In this instance, after Parent stuck his face in the fray, Hadfield reached over and pulled Bernie's mask off and flung it, and I mean flung it, high over the glass and deep in to the seats, many rows back. Parent is now without his mask, and though they hardly resembled what they are today, they were important and custom made for each goaltender.

Someone in the crowd now has Bernie's mask. And then the chant starts: "Don't Give It Back." Don't Give it back..." The fracas is eventually dissolved, but the chant continues. There is no indication that the mask is coming back to the ice. And it doesn't. Ever.

And neither did Parent return to the ice. A substitute finished the game for Parent.

As much as I remember the incident, I had the context completely wrong. I thought it was during a Philadelphia Flyers game played on a Sunday afternoon, rather than a first round playoff game against the Toronto Maple leafs on a Thursday night, April 8, 1971. Bernie Parent had by then already played for the Philadelphia Flyers. He would latter return to play for them as well.

Vic was of course a linemate of Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert, the GAG—goal a game line—that seemingly played tic-tac-toe with the puck and one another, passing it between themselves with seeing-eye accuracy until it often landed in the back of the opponent's net. They were a joy to watch.

Even though Vic tended to be the first to come off that line and head to the bench, raising his stick to indicate he was gassed, he did stay on he ice long enough to become a 50 goal scorer and achieve that measure of greatness that few players ever achieve, even in today's game.

I was there the afternoon Vic scored his 50th goal. It was against Denis DeJordy, the Montreal goaltender substituting for Ken Dryden. The Rangers were scheduled to play the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday, and Dryden was getting a rest.

Ken Dryden, was that giant of a goaltender who regularly played for the Montreal Canadiens and who Phil Esposito once screamed at when, as a Bruin, Ken stopped one of his tip-in attempts. Phil got so frustrated at Dryden that he slammed his stick blade on the ice and yelled at him, "you fucking giraffe."

Vic entered the game with 48 goals, got his 49th in the second period and his 50th with five minutes to go in the game, and the regular season. He was the first Ranger to ever score 50 goals in a season. It is still an accomplishment, and a testament to how well the GAG line worked in those great early 70s seasons that still couldn't produce a Stanley Cup.

There was a great 'Sports of the Times' column by Dave Anderson that I actually found in neat files I kept of 1970s hockey stories. The very yellow hard copy is titled: From the Butcher Shop to Leather Coats. The December 4, 1971 piece leads off in terrific Dave Anderson prose: 

When the Rangers play a game at Madison Square Garden, they gather at noon for a short meeting with Emile Francis, their short general manager and coach, who is long on organization. After it, some of the players break a sweat in a brief skate and gather again at a nearby hotel for a ritualistic steak. Then they are free to snooze or stroll until they return to the Garden at night. After a recent noontime briefing, Vic Hadfield looked around at his teammates:

"I'm going over to that coat place," the captain announced. "The good leather coats, like mine. Anybody want to come?"

Several players joined him. But the access of expensive leather coats at a celebrity discount symbolizes the ascent of the Rangers into New York's most successful sports team. As the leaders of the National hockey League, the Rangers have achieved status unknown to them in the Old Garden during so many seasons of frustration. There, after a practice, a nearby Ninth Avenue butcher shop was the border of their celebrity status.

"I'm going to the butcher's," any of the might say in those years. "Good meat, good price,"

Reminded of the butcher shop, Rod Gilbert laughed. He appreciated the symbolism of it all.

"I remember that," the right wing said. "Now the guys can afford to go out to dinner instead."

Vic apparently exhibited leadership on and off the ice as he took some Rangers shopping for the good stuff they now could shop for.

And I too shopped for something. When I was watching Sunday's game I noticed coach David Quinn was wearing a lapel pin that was a replica of Hadfield's now retired jersey. Did they hand them out at the game? How can I get one?

I tweeted the Ranger season ticket holder, racing journalist and teacher and asked. Alas, she wasn't at the game, but did suggest trying eBay.

Success. For $18.95 that included shipping, I could buy the pin. I did, and it arrived in one day.

And one day, sooner or later, or maybe even much later, the Rangers will win another Stanley Cup, the last coming after 54 years of emptiness in 1994.

Hell, they're almost half way through the next 54 years.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Breaking Chops

My father would have called her, "quite a gal."

You know you're about to read the obituary of a certified character when the headline goes: Lady Trumpington, 96; Busted Codes and Chops.

And the 2005 photo of her Ladyship in the center of four of Britain's Yeoman's Guards—the guys on the label of Beefeater Gin—gives you the further clue that she was British.

The dateline of the obit is London, and I'll assume Palko Karasz is the byline of a London based reporter for the NYT. The entire obit, headline and all, is from across the pond. As playful as obits have become, I doubt anyone in this country would refer to "busted chops" in a headline.

Jean Alys Campbell-Harris—Lady Trumpington—was Anglo-American in heritage, with an American heiress for a mother, who married a Brit who had been a Bengal Lancer. It has to be the American half of her that acted up.

It is interesting to note that an example of her wickedness is to recount the time, when at 89 and in the House of Lords, she made "a two-fingered gesture of contempt to a fellow peer, Lord King....after he referred to her age during a televised debate."

And what is a two-fingered gesture? The middle finger of each hand directed at someone? No. It is two fingers of one hand held as a V and directed at someone. And this is bad? Churchill did it all the time.

Unreported in the obit is that a V flashed at someone with the palm facing outward is the V for victory sign that Churchill gave often. Palm outward is a nice V. Palm inward, facing yourself, and flashing a V sign with a somewhat upward motion is to in effect say, "up yours." The palm inward is the V that Lady Trumpington flashed to Lord King.

I'm only aware of his because of the movie 'Darkest Hour' starring Gary Oldman as Churchill. Churchill, unaware of the distinction, is photographed flashing a V sign, palm inward, but fully meaning it to denote victory.

There is a scene in the movie that has Churchill's secretary, a young woman who is more than a little frightened of Winston, feeling compelled to pull him aside in the deep tunnels of the war room and tell him the gesture he was photographed making in certain quarters of Britain means "up your bottom."

Churchill finds this hysterically funny and breaks out in fits of laughter. He does though, in the future, flash what becomes his famous V sign with the palm outward. Whether he reserved the other greeting for Stalin is unknown.

Several examples of Lady Trumpinton's fun behavior are offered: dancing on tables, jumping into a pool fully clothed at her husband's school, and keeping up her bad girl image..."I smoked and drank, and did everything naughty."

Her code breaking came from her youth at Bletchley Park, where she was a cipher clerk, typing translated intercepted messages from the German Navy. She was fluent in French and German.

Her American heiress mother's fortune was from a Chicago paint business. After the war, Lady Trumpington had her own paint business in effect, painting Paris red with her last-night carousing. "Oh, I had so much fun in Paris after the war."

She only retired from the House of Lords last year, expressing a desire that debates should be short. This too had to be the American in her.

She had to be fun.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Vertically Challenged

Face it. Tweets are here to stay until THE NEXT BIG THING rolls around. Someone found a 140-byte buffer in cell phones and turned it into Twitter, which now sports a 280-byte message length, and more, if you shoehorn in text from an attachment. Morse code has come a long way.

We now have a president who Tweets. Incessantly. If he didn't there would probably be less news, because when he tweets, others tweet right along.  And they tweet whenever he says or does anything.

I find it amazing that two years into the presidency the Tweets of President Trump haven't been compiled into a book in time for that special stocking stuffer. Maybe it has something to do with copyright laws—who owns the Tweet? I have no idea, but I think someone is missing out on a major marketing opportunity.

President Trump isn't the only world leader who Tweets. But he is setting the record for inanities. Barely a day goes by without something being said about someone or something that is head scratching. He has a thing about pointing out attributes that have nothing to do with the subject. It is too grand a title to declare he is "a master of deflection." Master of the belittling non sequitur is more like it.

A recent example is a Tweet put out there by @saraeisen, a financial reporter for CNBC. She Tweeted a quote from a news report that claimed President Trump liked the Federal Reserve Chairman, Janet Yellen who was appointed by his predecessor, and might have renominated her, but openly questioned if she was up to the job because of her height, which WikiPedia puts at 5' 3".

Given his reservations about her height, the President appointed Jerome Powell, a figure whose height is not revealed by WikiPedia, but who obviously stands at something over 5' 10". Thus, the President is clearly equating height with ability.

Why his inner circle isn't filled with retired basketball players, say, Bill Russell, at 6' 10", is a complete mystery. Perhaps growing up in Jamaica Estates, the son of a wealthy builder, the young Donald didn't shoot any hoops in the schoolyard, so he may not even be aware of Bill, or even what basketball is.

My own guess is that The Donald is confusing Dr. Janet Yellen with another short Jewish woman, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the talk show sex therapist who is so well known that Dr. Ruth is all the name recognition you need.

Dr. Ruth, (4' 7") with her thick German accent, has the perfect persona to excel at sex therapy. She sounds like what we imagine Sigmund Freud would sound like, and we all know that Freud associated a lot of behavior with sex and dreams.

Having a Chairman of the Federal Reserve that is a scant 8" taller than a 90-year-old radio talk show sex therapist is not the image the President wants to make in his promise to Make America Great Again (MAGA).

It is also possible that President Trump is looking for certain numbers and is inversely associating them with height.

Chairman Powell has been on board for an economy of health, with an expansion rate at 3.5 percent annualized during the third quarter, coupled with an unemployment rate that has fallen to 3.7 percent.

It is possible that President Trump doesn't believe short people can keep such important numbers low. You need someone who can press down on them from a greater height, have more leverage, than someone who is only 5' 3", as Dr. Yellen is.

If this theory holds, then think of what numbers Bill Russell might attain bearing down from a 6' 10" height.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Grammar Lady

Both our girls grew up with an education. Both graduated college graduate, and one is within inches of her Ph.D. Her "hooding" ceremony is scheduled the day before next year's Preakness. Despite this, I strongly suspect neither of them ever approached anyone at four or five years of age asking what a "gerund" is. If I had been asked, I would have said, "you mean a gerbil?"

Maybe on the Upper West Side there is a different curriculum in early education. How else can you explain the story of two boys, brothers, approaching The Grammar Lady at her sidewalk table and asking, "what is a gerund."

Today's NYT brings us the story in its 'Styles' section of  Ellen Jovin who sets up a grammar table at different spots in Manhattan and fields questions on grammar from all-comers.

It's a slice-of-city tale that perhaps can only come from New York. Ellen Jovin has decided to reach out to strangers, old and young alike, and attempt to answer their questions on grammar and punctuation. She keeps a small pile of grammar books at her side to help her.

I have to say I'm not familiar with the reporter's byline Katherie Rosen, but she spins a nice story. Her only faux pas I can see is to tell us Ms. Jovin sets up in Grand Central Station when I'm sure what she really means is Grand Central Terminal, since she mentions "under the eaves." This is a common mistake made even by seasoned New Yorkers. She quotes the grammar lady as trying not to be a grammar snob, but I tend to be a NYC snob when it comes to pointing out the distinction between the nearby post office, Grand Central Station, and the train shed, Grand Central Terminal. It's just me.

Aside from all that, it's a fell-good tale of someone's attempt to get the public to concentrate on writing and not reverting to ancient Egypt and adopting hieroglyphic emojis as their form of communication. You got to start someplace.

Grammar gets a boost from best-selling books like, 'Eats Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Truss, Mary Norris's 'Between You and Me, Confessions of a Comma Queen,' and Simon Griffin's 'Fucking Apostrophes.' All three are entertaining reads, as well as good reference books. One of my complaints has always been Ms. Truss's insistence of making a big deal out of the apostrophe and 'Two Weeks' notice. a movie title as well as a term for resigning.

Why argue over the apostrophe when you can simple say "two week notice?" Likewise, when a retired reporter asks about using an apostrophe and shows off by telling the Grammar Lady his knowledge of Latin (that guy's got to be my age, old ), that "a friend of  Donald Trump's" is a redundant use of the possessive "of" and the apostrophe, I have to also disagree with the Grammar Lady who says it's conversational, so it's okay. Perhaps. But again, why not just "a friend of Donald Trump."

"He's a friend of Donald Trump" is all you need.  My rule about the apostrophes is try and follow the rules, but when in doubt, duck. And if the sentence above is true, you also need another friend.

Monday, November 19, 2018

It Gets Late Early

The Assembled met yesterday at Aqueduct for what would be the final on-track meeting of the season. We had a quorum. Three of the four members made it to the 3rd Floor of Equestris and placed themselves where they've placed themselves before, sitting on uncomfortable chairs at a warped table with a bad TV screen, overlooking the track through a dirty window. But hey, you get in for free these days, and if you know where to park, you can do that for nothing as well. Overall though, things don't change for the better.

It promised to be a bit of an off-kilter day, with the three turf races moved to the main track—even the Grade III Red Smith—and the track was starting off as Muddy, but progressing quickly to Good and Fast, as expected.  Scratches were everywhere, as there always are when the carded surfaces shift, and the track starts out as off.

Even with all that upheaval, The Assembled didn't feel too bad about their prospects. No one ever does until they start to lose a few bets.

Early first race post, and early last race post guaranteed a short day at the office. Nine races squeezed in between 12:20 to 4:17. As Yogi said, "it gets late early out there."

The two Johns were first on the scene, with the arrival of Bobby G. anticipated, most of all for his company, but also because he promised to wear the swag his friend gave him that grew out of Cassies Dreamer being entered in the Juvenile Filly race on the Friday Breeders' Cup card at Churchill Downs.

A custom Cassies Dreamer hat and a Breeders' Cup windbreaker were sported by Bobby G. The windbreaker has the Breeders' Cup logo for the 35th running on the left, and Cassies Dreamer's name stitched into the fabric on the right. The hat has a fleur-de-lis symbol on the bill, with other gold touches. Both hat and windbreaker were royal purple. The sport of kings.

It was nice to see Cassies Dreamer's name spelled without an apostrophe. I've always said, how do you pronounce an apostrophe anyway? Breeders' Cup of course has stayed with it. Bobby G. was talked into posing for a cell phone photo. After all, living vicariously through his friend's ownership has to have some reward for the rest of us.

The tales coming out of Bobby G's friend's attendance at the Breeders' Cup proved we do have a vicarious ownership of Cassies Dreamer.

She's going to spend the summer being trained at Ocala training center by Barclay Tagg. She may be tried on the turf, but basically look for her to start down in Florida at Gulfstream as a 3-year-old.

Bobby told us that someone who he didn't know offered his buddy $350,000 for the horse. The offer was turned down. Richie is like Rick in Casablanca, turning down all sums of money from Victor Lazlo for the Letters of Transit in order to get out of Casablanca.

Bob, the offsite stable manager and consigliere for the Pressman stable, further told us Richie went 50% with Rusty Jones in buying a yearling colt, as yet unnamed. Since January 1st is every horse's birthday, the unnamed colt will be a 2-year-old next year, and when the name is known we will know. Tickler file at the ready. Expect a Florida appearance as well, trained by Barclay Tagg. Love it.

I can only imagine that being at a Breeders' Cup as an owner, even a part-owner of an entrant, has to be like be invited to discuss the global economy with world leaders. Everybody's there. A summit meeting of breeders, trainers, jockeys, owners, media and high rollers. No wonder Richie emerged with even part of another horse. The talk has to be fast and furious.

As for Saturday's card at Aqueduct, we knew going into the day that the races were off the turf. Thursday saw the New York area get 6" of wet snow followed by heavy rain. No turf on Friday, but Saturday as well?

NYRA is a bunch of pussies when it comes to running on what turns out to be a less than a firm turf course baked by sun. The 8th Race was the Grade III Red Smith and was supposed to go on the turf at at 13/8 miles. Only the NYRA jurisdiction would pull a Grade III turf race off the turf and run it at the backup distance of 11/8. The race scratched down to 6 horses and was won by a Todd Pletcher trainee, Village King, by the cells on its nostrils over Soglio. Village King was lightly raced, but all on turf, beyond a 2nd start dirt race labeled "heavy" in Argentina last year. Two starts in North America in 2018 saw Village King with no starts beyond a 11/16 mile on the turf. Village King fooled few, and paid $11.80. A Pletcher/Costellano pairing gets looked at.

Even with the other two races pulled off the turf, the card wasn't that bad, although it did run cheap, starting off with a $10,000 claimer. This sparked some down memory lane between the two Johns before Bobby G. got there that 50 years ago Johnny D. remembered the bottom was $5,000 claimers. Johnny M. went back a little further and remembered $3,500 claimers. And they both remembered seeing claimers at Green Mountain Pownal VT. (Bennington County) go for $1,500 in the pp's of the Morning Telegraph.

The football Rooney family bought Green Mountain at some point, ran trotters and dogs there I  believe, then folded the place. Never made the trip.

The two Johns clicked with two winners, but the prices were small, and neither ever did get that third winner that usually can spell profit. The day ended with a $30 loss for Johnny D. and a somewhat smaller loss for Johnny M.

Bobby G. arrived a little late and missed the first race at the table. He did however try and make a bet en route on the horse who did win, but was thwarted by no signal on his cell phone service. Traffic held him up. It was an omen.

Frustration set in like cloud cover when the 7th race rolled around, a turfer puller off and run at the backup distance of 1 mile. It was the afternoon's only bomb, and sent the Pick-6 into Carry Over mode for Sunday.

Bobby G. was giving himself internal injuries for not betting Holiday Bonus, the horse who did win at 44-1. The horse had decent form for the turf, but nothing showing on the dirt. The pp's summary box did reveal a first and second in three starts on the dirt, but the races were off the page for the horse who was sporting 19 starts. Bobby G. liked him, but didn't notice the dirt summary. (No one did until after. Amazing how well you do on the eye chart after they cross the wire.) and passed on him.

The overcast day broke into golden sunshine as the afternoon approached sunset. Th unused turf looked golden. The last race was carded for 4:17 and of course finished as the lights went on at the finish line.

I've always loved seeing the lights go on at the finish line as the evening crawls in. In 1971 I went to the races at the track 31 times, going to Aqueduct until the middle of December. The place generates many memories and serves as a bookmark for the passage of time.

When I saw the movie 'A Bronx Tale' and Sonny and his boys are sitting in the seats at Aqueduct and Mush comes bounding down the stairs with his "winner" and Sonny tears up his tickets before the finish because Mush is the kiss of death having picked his horse, and it turns out he is the kiss of death as Sonny's front-runner backs up and fades out of the money...I've sat in those seats.

The subway token pictured above is from the Subway Special, a one stop special train that left 8th Avenue and 40th Street, stopping at Hoyt/Schermerhorn in Brooklyn before pulling into the Aqueduct (North Conduit Avenue) stop on the A Train line. They used the really old cars for the Subway Special. When you descended the stairs at 40th Street by Parsons School of Design you passed under a metal shaped horseshoe for luck.

That always made me laugh. At the flower shop we had what were called "forms" in the shape of wreaths, pillows and hearts for funeral arrangements. Those got used. But also in the cellar was a horseshoe, not for a funeral, but for a store opening or something celebratory that was in the shape of a horseshoe. The ribbon would say Good Luck, but we never got to use it. I always imagined some mobster was going to come in and order one for an opening, but no one ever did order a Good Luck floral arrangement. I wonder where they put that metal arch thing after the service ended. I wonder if it's in the Transit Museum.

I don't remember when the service ended, but OTB was making inroads to on-track attendance. It's hard to believe that the 2nd Breeders' Cup was held at Aqueduct in 1985, before it ever got to Belmont in 1990. The series started as 7 races in 1984 at Hollywood Park.

The Breeders' Cup will likely never return to the New York area at either Aqueduct or Belmont. Rain and cold weather have soured the sponsors on bringing it back to Belmont. And anyway, the infrastructure at Belmont is threadbare. There are no high-end areas like Millionaires Row at Churchill. The Trustees Room is an awkward vestige for its occupants.  No luxury suites.

Three Breeders' Cup events have been held at Belmont, the last in 2001. It's not on the schedule for the future either. And forget Aqueduct. Saratoga would have a better chance, but the capacity is small. and it's not enclosed. They are building a high-end venue at the Clubhouse turn, The 1863 Club, that will open in 2019. The drawings make it look like what Churchill has, luxury suites for 30-40 people Corporate all the way. But Saratoga will never be anointed either.

In what should be in the TV Hall of Fame, the late Pete Axthelm and Harvey Pack co-hosted the 1985 Bredders' Cup telecast and started the show off by showing you how you could get to Aqueduct by the Subway Special. They passed under the horseshoe. I remember guys lighting up and smoking on the train. It had several departures each race day, and swore it would get you there in time for the Daily Double, the only exotic bet there was when I started going, and a bet that had to be in 10 minutes before the first race post. Now the odds change after the race starts.

Aqueduct is now dominated by the Resorts World electronic casino, something I've never been interested in. It's been there for years, but they're still building parking lots. Go figure. The place is still a mess of outside construction. We had to walk through the casino to get to the track after parking somewhere near Rockaway Boulevard. But at least the parking was free.

Aqueduct in my mind has always been a better configured track than Belmont. Make a bar bet which track has the longer stretch, Belmont or Aqueduct? Collect when you tell the sucker it's Aqueduct. The sight lines at Aqueduct are better because the track is not truly parallel to the stands. At Belmont you can get blocked by one patron standing up near you to your left.

Sure, Belmont has the mile and a half oval, but that spells awkward starts for anything that's a mile and a quarter, and makes what might be two-turn races one-turn affairs from the chute. I remember mile and quarter races that would start at Belmont on what is now the training track. A one-turn mile and a quarter!

They only lately restored the second turf course at Aqueduct, giving up on the winter racing, inner surface.

Not that NYRA sees any reason to run on the turf courses.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

GoFleeceMe Page

With the speed at which news travels these days, I suspect most people have heard about the woman  who claimed a homeless guy helped her with his "last $20" when she ran out of gas on an exit ramp in New Jersey. She and her boyfriend started a GoFundMe page for the good Samaritan and unbelievably raked in more than $400,000 for the "charitable cause." Talk about generosity.

I last worked as a fraud detection specialist ferreting out health insurance fraud, first for a major insurer, and last for a consulting firm that did the same thing for health insurer clients. Even though there can be those who will say that's like  shooting fish in a barrel, there are subtleties to it. I will say I was pretty good at it.

I won't say I had a total negative reaction to the first sentence in this posting, when the good Samaritan news story broke, but I will say my antenna went up. First, there's the story of a "homeless" guy who in admirable good deed supposedly give his "last $20" to a woman who ran out of gas while exiting a highway.

The first thing that is suspicious is that the guy had $20 to begin with. A nice round number, single piece of currency evenly divisible by ten. I've never been destitute, but my guess is if you were to frisk someone who is truly homeless, or ask them to empty their pockets, you wouldn't find a nice round number of money in their pocket. Or maybe any money.

I looked for fraud using many hooks, one of which was to look for pricing what was a nice round, large number, evenly divisible by 10. When people make up number, they tend to fling out hundreds, even thousands that are nice round hundreds and thousands. And one of the hallmarks of fraudulent reporting is to make up services and claim they were done, usually attaching a bogus large charge to them.

Another clue was the chances of such an encounter playing out: a homeless guy with $20 is in the exact spot that a motorist runs out of gas who has no money in their possession. Not even a gas card? Actuaries do not publish a book on the chances of this happening, but if they did the probability would be several places to the right of the decimal. Try off the chart.

The couple who launched the GoFundMe, Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico, and the "homeless" guy, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., were in fact a trio of conspirators who made the story up with the hopes of using the money from the GoFundMe campaign for themselves.

I'm not familiar with GoFundMe pages, but it looks like they set a goal of getting $10,000 to help Johnny out for his act of kindness. Instead, they suffered what I'll call the Valponi effect. Charles Ponzi gave his name to a method of fleecing that remains with us today. Valponi is the extreme long shot that won the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic and touched off a Pick-Six and consolation payout that was awarded to a sole ticket holder—one person took down the entire pool. Luck that was manufactured from the insider who past-posted the early bets on the ticket after the results were in. A lot of shady things were happening with that bunch.

The betting done by that "person" was a group of fellows who crawled into the betting system's software, (one worked in the IT shop that processed the bets) changed bets, made bets in remote off-track betting parlors, and found themselves ashen-faced when they emerged as the only ones winning the payouts. Ding, ding, ding. Bells went off.

Valponi was such a long shot that there was only their winning ticket, and their consolation ticket. Thus, they collected the entire pool. If a more modestly priced horse were to have won the Classic, then there would have been multiple winners across the country who would have been claiming the payout that would have been significantly smaller since it would have been shared by many.

Homeless guy parts with last $20, news media parades the feel-good story several times to counteract the news of mass shootings, politics, forest fires, hurricanes and floods. Aim for $10,00, hit national news with the story, and collect $400,000 plus. Talk about stepping in do-do. Printing money. Ding, ding, ding.

Obviously I'm not the only one who thought the trio of  Kate, Mark and Johnny might be telling a story. Turns out the couple hatched the plot having met Johnny in a casino. After the money came in like a tidal wave and the couple weren't giving Johnny what simple math told him he should be getting, Johnny started complaining that he wasn't getting all the money they collected. A different kind of attention started to be drawn to the trio. Turns out, he got $75,000 and Kate and Mark started living large and hitting casinos "hard" with the rest. Poof, gone is the money.

Didn't this bunch ever see the movie 'Goodfellas' or any other crime movie on Turner Movie Classics? In 'Goodfellas' after the Lufthansa score a participant is roughly scolded for showing up with his girlfriend sporting an expensive fur at the mob watering hole. Wasn't he told not to go splashing money around, especially on broads? You're supposed to lay low and not attract attention.

And then there's the "no honor among thieves." Johnny's not getting the one-third cut, or one half cut. He's being chiseled by the chiselers. He starts talking. Where did my dough, go? Loose lips sink ships.

News shows spent some time trying to inform the public about charities and charitable causes. Contributor beware. My wife has a distant cousin who started a GoFundMe page to supposedly help pay for her husband's workplace injury that may or may not have occurred. With no national attention for a sprained ankle, she collected $250. No Valponi effect there.

The showman P.T. Barnum famously said "there's a sucker born every minute." And now they log on.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Online Edition

I'm not sure I ever liked the reading comprehension portion of all those tests you needed to take before they let you out of high school, as you tried to qualify for college. I can be dense with names. I often skip over them in news articles and the parts of obituaries that start to tell who the relations are and what their names are.

But I do try and follow the threads. If I come across a name in a story that I don't think has been identified in something I've already read, I dive back into the story and try and find who that person is. Invariably, I find it's a name that has already been identified early on, so there really is no mystery as to who it is I'm now reading about. I just forgot I already read their name. This is annoying, because I'm of an age where short term memory is declining a bit—just a bit—and I'm getting what I think is further proof of the speed it is progressing.

NYT obituaries are considered the Gold Standard of obituary writing. It is a deserved title. I've read, and observed that they are keen to establish who notified the paper, or confirmed the passing of the subject. They do this for obvious reason. They have been embarrassed by having reported the death of someone who it turned out was alive. This hasn't happened often, but once was too often. Confirmation is needed.

So, the person who did this confirming is usually found in the second paragraph. So and so and who they are confirmed the passing. The protocol keeps a loose end from flapping in the wind. It's tied down.

The obituary for Stan Lee, the force behind the force of adventure comics, leads off with the acknowledgement that Stan was indeed The Man. Growing up, I will admit I never liked this genre of comics. I went for Illustrated Classics, Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. Archie could get my attention as well. I might have been in love with Veronica. (Okay, I was.)

Comics for me in the 50s and 60s can only bring back the memory of Siegal's Candy Store on 149th Place and 41st avenue in Flushing, across the street from the Murray Hill stop on the LIRR's Port Washington line.

The corner Queens candy store was the nexus of any neighborhood. Over the years it became Lawlor & Clooney, then Angie's General Store. Newspapers, candy and lots of lottery tickets. Siegal's was a bit of a dusty place that was only half used. The store ran deep, and seemed to be a storage place for something. You didn't go into the back half. The building had been a bank before I was born, and there were still bars on the windows on the 41st Avenue side. (No longer windows now.) The building is still there, but the neighborhood is solidly Korean now. The candy store has given way to yet another deli and grocery store.

Aside from the candy counter, Siegal's could be counted on the have a full display of comic books arranged in slots on the wall. The Illustrated Classics were on a stack that I went through to get to a new title.

Newspapers were a given, and there was an assembly process when they had to put the Sunday Times together, melding all the sections as they were delivered. The Sunday papers were a big deal then. Siegal would mark on a blotter a stroke cunt of which ones were sold. He could be counted on the save a paper for you as well.

Still, a spread like Stan's gets your attention. A color image of a Marvel Comic book cover, 'Amazing Fantasy 12¢' on the front page, below the fold, followed by a page and a half inside with more color covers, a sample comic book page from the 'Incredible Hulk', a color photo of a thoroughly contented looking nonagenarian (95) Stan taken this year at his California home, and you have proof that Marcel Comics didn't need the 12¢ from my pocket to help Stan amass some bucks. Thanks to TV and movies, his creations have been popular through the decades. 

I like it when I notice things that I'm reading make be pause to look for the prior reference—the oncoming short-term memory loss is not completely here yet. This occurred when reading the print edition of Stan Lee's obituary.

"In addition to his daughter, he is survived by Ms. Lee and his younger brother Larry."       

The prior paragraph mentioned he only had one surviving daughter. Who is this other Ms. Lee? 

I was getting all set to post a comment to Bill McDonald, the obit page editor, when I read the online version of the obit. The sentence had been corrected to read:

"In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his younger brother..."

Mr. McDonald returned with an email explaining that the unfortunate error was being corrected and that it has already been corrected online.

Newspapers correcting errors is nothing new. A later edition could always be relied on to print corrected text. But with the advent of online editions, the correction can be immediately applied. The publication might acknowledge that a prior online version had an error and that it has now been corrected. Online, the concrete never hardens.

I don't know how many editions of a daily paper the Times prints. There used to be a City Edition that would hit the Manhattan streets at 10:00 P.M; a Late City Edition, and then maybe even the Late City Edition. I was once told the number of periods in the upper left corner of the first page, where the VOL. and the No. appear were indicative of the earliness, or lateness of the edition. More periods between these goal posts, the earlier the edition.

Since my home delivery is suburban, I usually see four periods between these designations:
VOL. CLXVII....No. 58,145. Four dots. Early edition. Understandable for a suburban delivery.

I don't know what edition is selected for the digitization, or what used to be the microfilming of the paper. There have been a few occasions when I sought to look up an old edition on microfilm to confirm something I'm certain I read, only not to find it.

Take Columbus Circle. Since something always reminds me of something else, when I looked past the stage of the Mary Chapin Carpenter performance in the Appel room at Jazz at Lincoln Center venue, my view of the Columbus statute brought back at least two memories.

The first was when they built a temporary enclosure around the statue that provided a living room around the top of the column, allowing you to go up there and see Chris as if he was a very large bust plopped in your living room. It was an effective piece of temporary art that I have always kicked myself for not taking in.

The other memory that hit me was the Columbus Circle demonstration that Joseph Colombo arranged to acknowledge Italian Solidarity Day in 1971. Mr. Columbo headed one of the five Mafia families that controlled New York City but was insistent that the mob didn't exist. He campaigned for an Italian Solidarity Day to show the world that all Italians were not members the mob.

This was reminiscent of when the 1960s TV series 'The Untoucbables' was popular and all the mobsters were Italian, Al Capone clones. The Italian defamation people complained and soon after some of the mobsters were Greek. Diversity before there was political correctness.

Joe Colombo created an effective campaign, because on the day of the rally there were no pizza places open in NYC. Imagine not being able to buy a slice of pizza! Pizza on that day was as rare as a #10 envelope from a stationery store on Yom Kippur, when all the stationery stores were closed for the Jewish holiday and there wasn't yet a Staples.

Not all family members liked Colombo's idea of Italian solidarity. They didn't like the publicity. There was so much dissension in the ranks of the mob that Crazy Joe Gallo did something about it.

Crazy Joe was the subject of Jimmy Breslin's book 'The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight,' a tale of the Gallo fraternity in South Brooklyn, especially their keeping a lion as a pet and walking it (on a leash) so it could do its business.

Well, Crazy Joe was fairly fresh out of Sing Sing, where he recruited someone to take Joseph A. Colombo Sr. out as he spoke at the rally. Colombo was wounded with two in his head. Surgeons at Roosevelt hospital only gave him a 50-50 chance of survival. He did survive, and lived for many more years, but was basically in a coma for the rest of his life. He was 48 when he was shot.

The man who shot Colombo was a 25-year-old black man, Jerome Johnson who was wearing Unity Day identification. He was quickly dropped from behind by also receiving two in the back of the head. Only he died at the scene. It was later ascertained that Crazy Joe knew Johnson in Sing Sing and gave him something to do after his release from prison. Hire a fellow felon.

If you read the newspaper in the 70s you read about a lot of mob rub outs. The 70s put a good deal of these guys in the morgue. Well, Crazy Joe was not held in high esteem by other family members and met his demise when he was done away while having a very late night meal at Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy.

I forever believed I read that Jerry Orbach, the eventual 'Law and Order' actor, was at the table with Joey and his entourage and escaped any harm. I believe Crazy Joe's body guard, Pete Diapoulas, was also wounded. It's almost like the bit of dialogue that Robert DeNiro says in the movie 'Analyze This' when he recalls witnessing his character's father getting whacked in a restaurant. "I knew the bus boy's pants were too good."

Microfilm searches revealed no mention of Jerry Orbach being at the table. Did I read it wrong, or did it get air brushed in later editions? I'm likely to never know unless there's a retired Times reporter who reads this posting and gets in touch. It turns out at the time Jerry Orbach was very good friends with Crazy Joe and Crazy Joe and his wife were staying at Jerry's apartment when he got out of prison.

Corrections are part of the job of putting a newspaper out. Nothing wrong with that. But with online revisions it is possible to render the past not even the past.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Photo

Will this photo ever become as "iconic" as that say of Churchill, FDR, and Stalin at Yalta taken during WW II? Will it ever even achieve iconic status, given all the photos in all the media, in all the world, in all the minutes, in all the seconds, in all the hours of the day?

The photo is of course of several world leaders and their wives at an outdoor ceremony in France marking the 100th anniversary of the WW I Armistice.

From left to right:
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Morocco's Prince Moulay Hassan, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, U.S. First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Governor General Peter Cosgrove | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Melania Trump is hard to spot. She is mostly blocked out by her husband, U.S. President Trump leaning forward to get a better look at whatever has really caught their collective attention. Morocco's Prince Moulay Hassan is blocked out as well by his king, Mohammed VI. 

Of course there are several other captions you could assign to the photo. World leaders at an outdoor fashion show in which Anna Wintour couldn't secure a front row seat wearing her trademark sunglasses. How that woman sees anything indoors amazes me. But that might be the point. Nothing she looks at is really worth looking at. The joke is on everyone else.

Obviously no one in the photo got an aisle seat, despite their hefty clout and control of nuclear missiles. Everyone is somewhat monkey-in-the-middle. They almost look like they're watching the people to their left take their turn in attaching themselves to the cable in the transport plane and jumping into Holland. Their turn is coming up. Be ready.

Not seen in the photo is Theresa May, the British Prime Minister. She was at the proceedings, but didn't make the cut in the the photographer's frame. Could be the Brexit deal has put her on the sidelines in the leaders' view. Odd man out sort of thing. There's always a country or two missing in these things.

The Yalta photo does not show anyone from France. Of course France was partially occupied by the Germans at the time, so that might be the reason. Charles de Gaulle and Philippe Pétain didn't make the trip.

The photo is sort of a Mount Rushmore with overcoats. It is doubtful any country is going to turn the photo into a commemorative stamp. And certainly not coinage or paper money. But, it is historic.

Group photos are great to eventually look back on. There's a bar on 33rd Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, on the north side, closest to Seventh, a shot glass toss from Madison Square Garden, The Blarney Rock, that used to display a 70s team photo of the New York Rangers.

The Rangers of the early 70s were the team I saw most often. I had season seats. The Rangers were very good then, always challenging in the playoff, but only once reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 1972, only to lose to the Boston Bruins in six games. Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and the gang were too good for the Rangers in that series.

The team photo was displayed by the bar's cash register. As the months and years rolled by and players were traded or retired, someone would put an X over their face. Eventually, the entire photo was covered in X's over faces.

I don't remember when the photo disappeared. The bar is still there but no longer has the steam table typical of a Blarney Stone bar for food. No hand carved corn beef or pastrami sandwiches. My mouth is watering with nostalgia.

The reason so many establishments were called "Bar and Grill" is because way back in the day, after Prohibition, NYC required them to be able to also serve food as well as beer, wine and spirits. You didn't have to eat, but it was there. Eventually, even a microwave and a Stewart sandwich qualified as food. There is no such requirement now.

But the point is, like any team photo, eventually there will be X's placed over all the assembled faces. The only thing that lasts forever is the desire to look back.