Friday, February 23, 2018

Showing Off the Wrong Way

I'm sure we are all ignorant of something. Or many things. But when you reveal and cement your ignorance and it reaches Twitter, you might need to go into hiding.

Take the WikiPedia entry for Rebecca Morris, "a New York Times bestselling true-crime author and a TV, radio and print journalist who lives in Seattle, Washington," who wrote to her Seattle Times about the flag flying in her neighborhood, beneath the Stars and Stripes.  She gave enough information that made finding the neighbor's flag easy enough, and therefore photographing the offending flagpole even easier.

The photograph, for all the world to see now, is that the flag flapping under Old Glory was not the Confederate flag that Ms. Morris thought, but rather it turned out to be the Norwegian flag that Ms. Morris thought was flapping under Old Glory, being flown by a Norwegian-American whose father had been a tugboat captain.

Mr. Stangeland was flying the Norwegian flag (thoroughly mindful that if you're going to fly a flag along with the Stars and Stripes it has to go under the Stars and Stripes) to show his pride in Norway's huge success at this year's Winter Olympics games.

When told of her mistake, Ms. Morris explained that she looked it up on the Internet, and was convinced the Stars and Bars was flying. It seems red and blue can be so confusing.

I know nothing about Ms. Morris other than what I read on the Internet. She grew up in Oregon, which means she didn't grow up near the U.N. on First Avenue in New York City, or was taken there on a school trip. She also probably didn't collect stamps, and likely attended a school system that left geography out of its syllabus (not hard to do) and hasn't watched any Winter Olympic games in any quadrennial period. Norway has even medaled in curling, so even that's been on.

Whether late-night comedians inflict further embarrassment on Ms. Morris will probably depend on someone hiding Donald Trump's phone. Someone has already claimed on Twitter that Ms. Morris has withdrawn her petition to have a neighbor's garden statuary removed after it was pointed out it was a garden gnome and not a statue of a Confederate general.

Poor Ms. Morris.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Olympic Curling

Is there anyone in America by now who hasn't seen at least a minute of the Winter Olympics curling competition brought to us by those 'plausible live' folks at NBC and NBCSN by now?

Doubles, mixed-doubles, team, there are all kinds of permutations on how the sport can be configured. Even my wife, who eschews all sports broadcasting, by now has unavoidable seen some curling on television.

This is the sport where someone pushes a stone with a handle on top on an ice bocce court toward the logo of the Target stores, is aided by teammates who are either clearing the path so the stone glides faster, or doing something else to slow it down, so that it stops at just the right spot. Whatever that spot is.

The head-on shots of the "skip" who pushes the stone look like someone getting a floor robot started in search of a contact lens. NBC paid A LOT money to broadcast these games, and devotes TONS of hours on two channels to bring us the "action," so I guess we have to expect curling to be televised.

After all, there are fewer sports in the Winter Games than in the Summer Games, so we get curling, a sport that for four years we hear nothing of. Not even the NYT, which publishes some odd sport results in agate type, brings us curling results in non-Olympic years.

And we have even more reason to pay outsize attention to an otherwise obscure sport: someone tested positive for a banned substance!

That's right, both samples came back positive for the presence of meldonium in a Russian curler's bloodstream. Needless to say, the Russians are annoyed at this, and are opening a criminal investigation to how the curler's sample could have come back positive. Tampering is alleged.

It's like that Willie Nelson song by Chris Stapelton:

The postman delivered
A "past due" bill notice
The alarm clock rang two hours late
The garbage man left all the trash
On the sidewalk
And the hinges fell off of the gate
And this morning at breakfast
I spilled all the coffee
And I opened the door on my knee
Oh the last thing I needed
The first thing this morning
Was to have you walk out on me
The drug meldonium first came to light when Maria Sharapova tested positive for it after using it for ten years. Her team didn't get the email that the drug was now added to the no-no list. Sharapova sat out some time.

Now we have Alexander Krushelnytsky, who with his wife took a bronze medal in mixed-doubles curling competition, testing positive for the drug that does have some performance efficacy . It improves the blood supply, and therefore stamina. The reporters for the NYT tell us, curlers "must be accurate with their shots, sometimes down to the centimeter. Hard sweeping can also take a toll over the outcome of a long match."

Amazingly that they still market it, but Geritol is a vitamin tonic sold for years to improve your red blood cell supply. The red cells we know carry the oxygen. Geritol for years sponsored Lawrence Welk, who must have been on something to stay around with all those champagne bubbles while conducting his orchestra for all those fox-trotting grey heads.

So, now even curling enters the circle of tainted sports. Everyone is snickering that a sport like curling can produce a positive test.

It is probably the last sport on earth that I would expect drug testing to turn up a competitor who has ingested a banned substance. Well, maybe chess might really be the last sport.

Footnote to all this:

The South Korean women will sweep for the gold medal. They are being called 'The Garlic Girls' because the region they are from produces a lot of garlic.

The U.S. men have beaten Sweden for the gold medal. They might be called The Beer League. Can baseball-style trading cards be far behind?


I Swear

Books with profanities in their title seem to be all the rage these days. Specifically, that great Anglo-Saxon word for copulation that Richard Burton said was the greatest word in the English language seems to be the profanity of choice.

Take the current Hardcover nonfiction bestseller list, 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck' by Mark Manson. I checked this one out on an online Huffington Post and there's a picture of Mr. Manson, who is far too young for me to be a credible person to wax and wane on how to live life. But he's got a bestseller, for whatever reason, good or bad.

Then there's 'Fucking Apostrophes' with no attempt to disguise the word. Also, no author on the cover of this little baby, which is not much bigger than an address book (remember those?) There is an author, Simon Griffin, and is subtitled: 'A guide to show you where to stick them.'

The book is a guide dedicated to where to put the apostrophe, and might actually be a modern version of 'The Classic Elements of Style' by William Strunk Jr. It is also about the same size.

The examples and suggestions inside are legitimate. It is actually a good reference book, but one I don't leave out when the grandkids are over.

The text frequently adds the f-word to coincide with our frustration on trying to decide where to stick them. Of course, continued use of texting keyboards will eventually erode anyone's interest in using apostrophes at all, let alone correctly. But for now, the Twitter handle @fingapostrophe can be looked at for some posted examples of the misuse of what is probably the most demonic of all the  punctuation marks.

Take a recent posting that shows a British tabloid's headline about what I guess is their announcement of the latest sex scandal to befall one of their MPs, member of parliament.


Maybe it's me, but I think the headline would have been more appropriate if it turned out that the female was an archaeologist. Oh well. The British.

And since it seems things come in threes, the latest entry in the profanity title war is 'Swearing Is Good for You' by Emma Byrne, a light blue dust jacket with a depiction of a pill in the center with


carved in the center. The pill almost looks like one of those NECCO heart-shaped mints that make their way into our lives around Valentine's Day. Imagine a bag full of those with sentiments like



I'm not sure if someone is missing the market here or not.

But underneath the salty pill is the subtitle 'The Amazing Science of Bad Language' with the author's name. The operative word here is 'science.'

Our oldest grandchild is named Emma, and when I showed the book to my son-in-law I told him that perhaps this is what he had to look forward to: The now 10-year-old who grows into a swearing sailor.

But Emma Byrne is not some potty-mouth for the sake of competing with the most vulgar person you can think of. No. She is from the U.K. and has a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence and does work with robotics. She is primarily a scientist who quite seriously takes on the subject of cursing a blue streak.

Who but a scientist would categorize profanities into four categories: religious, copulatory, excretory and slur-based. Imagine those 'Jeopardy' categories.

There are 12 pages of footnotes...10 pages of Bibliography, and an index which does not lead you to the names of any comedians, alive or dead, you might think of who seem to favor salty sailor words in their routines.

My Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) daughter who is familiar with examples cited n Ms. Byrne's first chapter: 'The Bad Language Brain: Neuroscience and Swearing.' You might not think someone who survives a railroad spike going through their brain would give us someone who becomes a great study on where salty language comes from, but in 1848 when Phineas Gage take one clear through the noggin' while setting dynamite charges in a rail tunnel, science is there to pay attention.

In her introduction, Ms. Byrne explains how she was attracted to study the science behind swearing. when she read Dr. Richard Stephens was conducting an experiment on using volunteers to take a version of the "ice bucket challenge." His challenge was how long could they keep their hand in a bucket of ice water without swearing, or with only uttering a neutral, plain word, vs. keeping their hand in the water while letting loose with their favorite swear word, either audibly, or to themselves.

Turns out, the volunteers were able to keep their hands in the water longer when they were swearing up a storm. Swearing to high heavens of course would not have prevented Leonardo DiCaprio from freezing to death in the North Atlantic after he slid off the stern of the Titanic on that fateful night into the frigid, inky drink. There is only so much you can expect when you're letting loose with language.

Ms. Byrne repeats the experiment with a volunteer from the audience in a spirited January 18, 2018 Google talk in the U.K. found on YouTube. Proof is in the stopwatch.

Curing in the workplace is bad? Well, think again. Ms. Byrne reports that "jocularity" amongst team members actually improved team performance. Call your teammate a "Limey bastard," in a non-threatening way, and you might well have established a friend for life. A member of the club, rather than someone who is going to run off to HR and complain about you.

Will swearing extend your life? Consider Sonia Gechtoff, an abstract expressionist painter who has just passed away at 91. Ms. Gechtoff's husband was also a painter, James Kelly, and it led their daughter Susannah Kelly to remark that Ms. Gechtoff was "not an average mother in that we as her children learned to curse form her and to never hold back in our opinion." An email response from Ms. Kelly tells of her mother cursing at the TV whenever Lyndon Johnson was talking about the Vietnam war." (In that, she was hardly alone.)

Swearing and curse words do not cross all borders. The Japanese apparently don't really see a pile of shit as something that is a pile of shit. They think it's so cute they even made an emoji out it, something I wish I knew when we bought our granddaughter a Carvel ice cream cake with a poop emoji on it. So the Japs (jocularity) are creating all those emojis! Who knew?

Do women curse more than men? Where does swearing come from? Is it really okay to sound off? Read the book.

Bottom line is swearing has a place in our lives. Ms. Byrne concludes, "swearing is like mustard; a great ingredient, but a lousy meal."

Variety is the spice of life.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Message is the Massage

There is a good friend who I used to work with who this Christmas got me a Christmas gift. She likes to remain anonymous, so we'll call her Lady M.

Since Lady M. occasionally gets a massage from a local place, she thought perhaps I'd like one as well. Thus, I got a gift card, and even the tip to leave her favorite masseuse, Catherine. Nice. I'll try it. I know all those professional athletes get some time on a table and get a rub down, so why not, I'll try it. I used to be athletic.

After waiting several weeks for the holidays to clear, I called and made an appointment at Feel Well, right near where I live, in  very well-maintained corner house. The house could easily house medical offices, and in a way, massages can be seen as therapeutic.

The receptionist led me into a waiting room that I immediately recognized as a great place for a wake to be held. Missing from the room were the corpse, and the mourners in those chairs, but there was soft pink torch lighting at one end of a credenza where a coffin could have be placed, and there were couches and settees along the walls. Easy funeral parlor. Where are the tissues?

On entering, I immediately told the receptionist that the room had all the makings of a funeral parlor; all they needed was the corpse. She laughed. Scattered through the room where fliers and promotional posters for their upcoming Valentine's Day specials. 

It didn't take long for Catherine to collect me and take me into the room that was softly lit with a mural drawn on the wall of a forest scene. There might have been a candle here and there, but some kind of soft music was playing, the kind that has no tune to it and no melody. Nothing to hum to.

Catherine talked a bit about our common friend/customer, trying to get to know where to concentrate her efforts on me. Catherine asked if there were any special spots to work with.

Lady M. told me she'd ask this, so I explained there were so many that I figured I might run out of spray paint if I marked them that way. Better for me to tell her.

After naming and pointing to at least five areas of my still breathing corpus, Catherine politely asked me if I got there by ambulance. She patiently told me, "now I'm not Jesus." I replied I didn't think so, inasmuch as she had no beard. Catherine told me Lady M. told her about my sense of humor.

She also asked if I ever had a massage before. I said no. "After 42 years of marriage I've still not had a massage." She said she was happy to be the first one to give me one.

The room seemed to darken a bit and I got between the sheets on a softly padded tabled. I must say, the attention to my back and shoulders felt good. Catherine told me I had a lot of tight spots. No surprise there.

I repeated my funeral parlor observation and after laughing she said she didn't know if the place had actually been one before. There is however no parking. I told her I didn't know, but the houses next to the place were fairly new, so perhaps once upon a time the place did hold a hearse and a corpse. Maybe a few corpses.

Small talk ensued about nasty weather, snow. her husband, Vietnam vet, and other observations, none political, thank goodness.

When I had to turn and and lay on my stomach Catherine told be to put my head in the horse collar at the edge of the table. It does provide comfort and keeps your head steady, but it also made me think of a toilet seat and throwing up.

Of course I shared this, and then launched into the story of how my wife recently got a replacement toilet seat at Home Depot for $4.98.

"4.98? How did she do that?"
"Well, first you pick out the toilet seat for $29.98. In this case a white Kohler, "soft close" seat that doesn't require you to bend down to get the two parts closed. All you have to do is get either, or both of them off the perpendicular, give them a little push forward, and voila, they close down all by themselves. No batteries required."
"Nice. But how does the $4.98 come into play?"
"Well she gets to the register, and it must be slow, because the cashier asks her if she wants to open a change card and get $25 off the first purchase. My wife explains we already have a Home Depot card. The cashier tell her 'no problem, you can have up to 5 credit cards.' My wife of course tells him to sign her up."
"I didn't know you can have so many credit cards from the same vendor."
Well, I guess Home Deport lets you, so next time you're there, if you've got the time and they're offering $25 bucks off with the first purchase, go for the brass ring."
"We will."

This is a typical conversation in the suburbs. What's at Home Depot.

I must say, I think I did relax, and listen to the music and stare off into the forest on the wall. Even though my glasses were off. I could still see the wall.

The 50 minute massage time expired, and I struggled to get up, since one of my spots is a very bad back. I have to leverage myself on and off beds.

Catherine was pleasant, and told me not to be a  stranger. Come again. Well, that part is not going to happen, not because I didn't like the attention, but really because I don't need all that "relaxing" stimuli. Soft lighting and meditation music is not for me.

I least no one said "namaste."

Friday, February 16, 2018

I Spy

Anyone who is a fan of spy novels had to love the front page, above the fold article in the NYT on Saturday, February 10.

U.S. Spies Paid Russian Peddling Trump Secrets

This was a real-life account of the meetings, handoffs, deception, betrayal, and payoffs of spies in action. And a contemporary one as well. Even the picture after the jump shows a bleak landscape of what it looks like around N.S.A. headquarters in Fort Meade, Virginia— a chilly nighttime expanse of an empty road, glowing street lights and a fire hydrant. It is dystopian. Is the microfilm in the pumpkin nearby?

The reporter, Matthew Rosenberg, so immediately saw the story's similarities to all the spy stories ever written, that he describe the principals meeting in small German towns, "like those described by John Le Carrè." As most people know. Le Carré did once work for MI6, and has written more than a few classic spy novels. His last, 'Legacy of Spies.' can however be skipped.

The story basically revolves around the hacking of N.S.A. computers and the theft of cybersecurity software, and the N.S.A.'s attempt to get it back, or at least find out how it was done.

Without knowing more, it does seem odd that there would be a pursuit of stolen software and an attempt to get it back. Can't is just be copied, even if it is given back?. You wind up trying to buy the pictures back, but not the negatives. (When there was film.)

It seems there was this Russian who told N.S.A. he could deliver. There were meetings in isolated German villages, handoffs in swanky hotels in Berlin. The individual was tracked back and forth to Berlin, and to Vienna, where he  rendezvoused with his mistress. Spy stories usually have a dose of sex.

The Russian also went home to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg, Vienna, Berlin, the Bermuda Triangle of spy cities. You can see the letters being typed across the screen now, in all those Bourne franchise movies, and in all those copycat TV series, Berlin...Vienna...St. Petersburg, accompanied by postcard shots of the cities.

This is straight out of the latest spy novels to emerge, those by Jason Matthews, a man who did once work for the C.I.A., and who has now produced a trilogy, Red Sparrow, Palace of Treason, and the just published, The Kremlin's Candidate.

Red Sparrow has now been turned into a soon to be released movie starring Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Dominka Egorova. It will remain to be seen if Ms. Lawrence attempts a Russian accent. The trailer gives us no clue to what accent she might affect other than her body.

Perhaps a year or so ago Mr. Matthews and his wife, who also worked as an operative for the C.I.A., were on a morning show with the now fired Charlie Rose.

The banter went back and forth with Jason telling the story of how he wanted to name the book Red Swallow, but the Sparrow title was thought to be better. Dominika is a former Russian ballerina who was spitefully injured by a rival, (Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding?) who climbs through the ranks of the Russian secret service, the F.S.A., the K.G.B. replacement agency.

After her ballerina career is over and Dominka joins the F.S.B. she is sent to Sparrow school, where she is trained on how to use her obvious feminine charms to trap rival agents in "honey pot" compromises. So, a movie with sex is guaranteed.

The C.I.A. operative is Nate Nash. Mr. Matthews's wife told Charlie Rose and others on the show that she was hoping Ryan Gosling would be cast as Nat. Apparently didn't happen. Joel Edgerton gets the nod.   

Mr. Rosenberg's story after the page one jump gets a full six columns for more than half a page. The narrative is pure Le Carrè or Jason Matthews.

Apparently, the information peddling Russian was not acting in good faith, which in that line of work is something I'm sure is hard to expect. He delivers "chicken feed" and annoys the C.I.A and the N.S.A.

The story is a great read, with damaging Trump stories woven in. As for the blurb for Mr. Matthews's latest tale, The Kremlin's Candidate tells us, it is "ripped from today's headlines," Mr. Rosenberg's tale is the headline.

And how does it end? Not with a bang, but a whimper. All the stereotypical expectations of spies is somewhat deflated when the final meeting with the Russian operative is described.

"The Russian...took a sip of the cranberry juice he was nursing..."

Cover blown? No, the image.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Least Wanted

Ever have your picture taken? Silly question to ask of anyone who is living in an era when people are pointing phones at themselves to record themselves in front of something, or with someone. Selfies.

Certainly passports and drivers licenses bear an image of you. But if the police take your picture it is a mug shot and is because they suspect you did something. One of the most ironic of these mug shots is the picture of Kitty Genovese, the unfortunate woman who was stabbed repeatedly one night in Kew Gardens in 1964, in a crime that became synonymous with witness apathy, when it was erroneously reported that 38 people witnessed the stabbings and did nothing, called no one.

In the documentary 'Witness' Kitty's younger brother Bill, who spent years sifting over the events and producing a film, explains that the widely circulated photo of Kitty, seen above, after her murder was when she was arrested for holding numbers receipts, policy slips. Her brother explains that a close look at the photo reveals the lanyard that was around her neck that held the arrest number, name, and other identifying information.

It just shows you that whatever happens to you, there can sometimes be a mug shot that is hauled out to identify you.

Take today's online story by the NYT reporter Dan Barry, who gives us a great piece, complete with mug shots of the Rogues Gallery that was part of NYC policing in the late 1800s. It would seem Mr. Barry's muse for the article might be his watching 'The Alienist' on TNT, the mini series version of Caleb Carr's 1994 novel of the same name.

It is a dark series because it was a dark book, that took over 20 years to hit a screen of some kind. But the depictions of New York in the late 1800s are so enthralling that anyone who has their eye on the city's past can't wait for the next episode in the series.

In the story, the New York City police are faced with a serial killer of boy prostitutes. The groan of the precinct's floors leave you thinking you are transported to the era when Theodore Roosevelt was the head of the police, not the commissioner per se, but President of the Police Board. An appointed do-gooder. A "goo-goo" in the parlance of the day.

The muse bites Mr. Barry well enough that he collects an array of mug shots and gives us a story about the police detective Thomas F. Byrnes who starts techniques that add what would be considered modern procedures to the usual ones of beating suspects into confessions. Confessions, absent eye-witnesses, were the one means the police secured convictions. The forensic incriminating evidence was just germinating. Fingerprinting was only just gaining traction.

Of the few comments Mr. Barry's piece produced there is a great one from New York's current Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, who tells us Detective Byrnes could have a place in his office today, but would have to reform his interrogation techniques.

Another comment is one that can only be considered astounding. A reader from New York, Narcieri, tells us the woman shown on the left at the beginning of the article is their grandmother's aunt, Sophie Lyons. Narcieri doesn't tell us why the mug shot was taken. There is no caption to the picture in the article, so one might assume Sophie's mugshot might have been framed and placed on the mantle or piano in an ancestor's home. Your mug shot defines you.

Not all mug shots taken by the police are official records. In one of my first blog postings I tell the story my son-in-law's father, a retired NYC detective, told at one Christmas gathering of the technique his mentor used to keep crime down in the precinct.

When he encountered a neighborhood trouble-maker who he wanted to make a crime deterrent impression on, he took the subject to Woolworths. Woolworths was everywhere, so no one had to go far.

Woolworths had everything including what today we would call taking selfies. There was always an instant photo booth where you could get a wallet-size strip of black and white pictures taken of yourself, or yourself with others, serious, joking, sticking your tongue out, whatever amused you, for a quarter. I think today these booths can be hauled out at weddings. Why I don't know.

Tim's mentor woulds plop the subject down in front of the booth's camera, extract a quarter from the subject themselves, and take a series of photos for his own mug shot collection. He would write identifying things on the back of the film strip and tell the now 25¢-less miscreant that if there was any trouble, he'd know who to look for.

The number of laws this would now break would be considered a field day for a defense attorney, but back then, the 50s and 60s, it was "community policing."

And since everything reminds me of something, I emailed Mr. Barry to tell him of the book 'Least Wanted' a 2006 collection of mug shots compiled by Steidl Kasher and Mark Micealson.

The mug shots are from all over the country, usually of those who were not famous then, and who didn't become famous after, the 'Least Wanted.' No Billy the Kid, John Dillinger or Patty Hearsts here. Most of the photos have no captions, but are explained in the back.

Clearly the photos are from a bygone era, but some are accompanied by their index cards that give height, weight characteristics, and any other significant features, like tattoos, scars, etc. One of my favorites are three pages of photos accompanied by pink index cards. The crimes? Communist and Communist (Red Literature) Source of the term pinko-commie? Likely.

Not all the photos are accused of petty crimes. There is one suspect whose crime bears an eerie resemblance to the perpetrator of the Ettan Patz murder.

The mug shot for G.B. Westel, a waiter, also known as Franz Joseph at Rankin's on the Bowery is a suspect in the murder of Katie Tritschler, a 8-year-old girl whose "terribly mutilated" body was found in a cellar at 203 First Avenue, NYC on July 25. There are newspaper clippings accompanying the photo of the suspect, but it is hard to determine a year. However, the digital Times archive tells us it is 1907

And while most of the crimes are of the variety of what I guess would now be called "quality of life," like "contraband dice, weapon and obscene pictures," there is one for someone who certainly was not 'Least Wanted.'

There is a mug shot of Bruno Richard Hauptman, age 35, carpenter, who was arrested on March 19, 1934 for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son. A dapper Bruno, photographed on September 21, 1934 in NYC, is seen in a double breasted suit with shirt, tie and hat, standing next to a measuring stick which would put his height at 6' with his hat on.


The $5 Million Punctuation Mark

Is there an alert reader out there, who before reading this any further, can tell us what does the revised Maine state law that lists exempted tasks from being eligible to be paid at time and a half rates to truckers, and David Berkowitz, the still living, incarcerated serial killer who called himself 'Son of Sam' have in common?

Give up? Semicolons.

Maybe you need to be a New Yorker to have latched onto something the Daily News Pulitzer prize winning columnist Jimmy Breslin said of the anonymous letters that were being forwarded to him in the summer of 1977 by the self-described 'Son of Sam' as he was carrying out his serial killings through NYC.

After the apprehension of David Berkowitz for the 'Son of Sam' murders Jimmy declared that David was the first serial killer he knew who knew how to use semicolons.

Maine, in an effort to plug up a punctuation loophole that led a Portland dairy to pay three truckers who sued the Oakhurst Dairy in 2014 for $5 million for unpaid overtime pay over a four year period, inserted a series of semicolons to replace commas in the text of what became an issue that reached the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a ruling last year. That's right; it became a Federal case.

Because of what was ruled a missing Oxford comma, the court ruled that there was enough ambiguity in the exemption language that the court was siding with the truckers.

For those who don't know what the Oxford comma is, Daniel Victor's lively piece in today's NYT tells all. In short, the comma is seen as required by certain keepers of the flame when you're creating a list, a series of items, such as:, blue, and white. The second comma is the Oxford comma named after the Oxford University, an arbiter of such things.

This makes me think of anyone I was in school with who might have written the second comma when tested, only to have points taken off in red ink (usually 2 points) by a teacher who was subversive to the Oxford comma, and did not abide by the University Press.

This also reminds me of the George Carlin routine that had people in Purgatory for eating ham sandwiches on Fridays before the Vatican's Ecumenical Council revised some of its rules for Catholics to eat by. Do they get released upward now that rules have changed? Do my penalized classmates get their grades revised for their heresy?

Mr. Victor gives us the Oxford comma rules as stated by another arbiter of style, the NYT. The Times takes the stance of saying there is no need for the second, or last comma before the conjunction. Thus, red, blue and white is all right. (For the record, I don't agree.)

Years and years ago I remember James Thurber's 'My Years with Ross,' his remembrances of life with the legendary editor of The New Yorker, Harold Ross. Thurber and Ross apparently had opposing views for the inclusion, or the exclusion of the comma. They had titanic arguments over it, likely over scotch. (I don't remember which side either man was on.)

The NYT Style book that Mr. Victor refers to states on page 67:

  • In general, do not use a comma before and or or in a series. Thus, no Oxford comma.

And as with anything to do with grammar, there is a comma used, when for example you might be writing:

  • A martini is made of gin and dry vermouth, and a chilled glass is essential. Note the comma after vermouth and before and.
This of course gives you insight into what the editors at The Times are thinking of come 6 o'clock and it's time to make plans for the evening.

I remember the teachers telling us in the 60s the jury was out on using, or not using the comma. Just be consistent. If you use it, use it throughout whatever your writing. This seemed like good advice.

No writing about the comma can proceed without mentioning Mary Norris who wrote the book, 'Between You & Me, Confessions of a Comma Queen.'

Ms. Norris's book, although fairly recently published, was written before the dairy/overtime case in Maine became a Federal case. Ms. Norris, like all worthy New Yorkers, came from somewhere else, in her case Cleveland. The employment that probably financed her life and provided her with enough material to write the book springs from working in the copy department of The New Yorker for over 30 years. Those years however did not coincide with the Thurber/Ross years.

Ms. Norris, on page 93 of her book declares she is a "comma apostate." She feels a comma preceding and is redundant. "Isn't the and sufficient? After all, that's what the other commas in a series stand for: 'Lions and tigers and bears.'"

She doesn't feel ambiguity is present or not present when the comma is used or not. She goes on: "Pressed to come up with an example of a series that was unambiguously ambiguous [meaning definitely ambiguous] proved so elusive that I wondered whether perhaps we could do without the comma after all." This of course would put her on the opposite side of the First Circuit Federal Appeals court.

The original passage in the law concerning overtime went as follows:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

  1. Agricultural produce;
  2. Meat and fish products; and
  3. Perishable foods.
Mr. Victor explains that "what followed the last comma in the first sentence was the crux of the matter: "packing for shipment or distribution of."

The court ruled that is was nor clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the three categories that followed, or it exempted packing for the shipment or distribution of them."

Huh? As many times as it read it I can't see the ambiguity. In programming, when using Boolean expression the use of the word and means that both condition on wither side of the word and have to be true for the instructions to proceed.

Thus, select balls when = to blue and white means the balls have to be blue and white (true on both sides of the and to be selected. If they aren't, they don't get selected.

If the statement reads select balls when = to blue or white the condition is much broader. Less restrictive. The balls can be blue or white white to be selected. 

I've read it described as if you use and, then two bridges have to be crossed. If you use or, then only one bridge has to be crossed.

Given that logic, it would seem the law as originally written has no ambiguity. If any of the described conditions on either side of the word or are true, then overtime pay does not apply.

Apparently the court did not come down with a ruling that would cement the need for an Oxford comma in all wording. A $5 million settlement was achieved, and everyone seems happy that the wording now makes use of semicolons (thus the commonality with the serial killer Son of Sam).  Semicolons! Can you believe it? Probably more bedeviling than apostrophes.

The text of the new wording goes:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing; for shipment; or distribution of:
  1. Agriculture produce;
  2. Meat and fish products; and
  3. Perishable foods.
It is probably too early to tell if we will now have the "Maine semicolon" to contend with. The lawyer for the truckers, David G. Webbert, readily admits that if there had been a comma after "shipment" the meaning would have been clear. "That comma would have sunk our ship."

Lynne Truss, the author of 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves" whose book humorously tackled punctuation rules, dedicated her book:

"To the memory of the striking Bolshevik printers of St Petersburg who, in 1905, demanded to be paid the same rate for punctuation marks as  for letters, and thereby directly precipitated the first Russian Revolution" (She undoubtedly purposely leaves the period out after St. to see if we're paying attention.)

For the want of a horse the kingdom was was lost. For the want of a comma the Oakhurst Dairy had to cough up $5 million in back overtime pay.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Bard

Is sin the only original thing left?

I'm not sure why the discovery of a likely source for some of Shakespeare's works and characters is not getting more attention. Probably because Shakespeare is pretty much forgotten these days?

There are people I expected to see Tweets from regarding the news that an unemployed 53-year-old non-academic (his wife works) has found wording in another text that strongly suggests Will got some ideas from someone else. And really, what would be wrong with that. He didn't write in a vacuum. Everyone is influenced by things they've read. Take people on Twitter. Will would have loved Twitter. Especially the birdie logo.

The story did break on page one of Thursday's NYT, below the fold, but its placement might have only been caused by a slow day at the White House. I must say, despite whatever the NYT is about, they are at least about the arts and sciences as well.

No one is outright accusing The Bard of flagrant plagiarism, but apparently Dennis McCarthy, using anti-plagiarism software, has identified several passages from a few works of the great man that come nearly word-for-word, and sometimes are word-for-word from a text written by George North, 'A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels' in the late 1500s.

Bill and George were contemporaries, and perhaps Bill picked up a copy of George's manuscript at the corner herb store. I'm sure Bill liked to read.

The story is a great read for anyone who has had to read anything from The Bard. So Will really did have his own set of Cliffs Notes like the rest of my contemporary high school buddies who consulted Cliffs Notes for explanations as to what the hell was meant by "out, damned spot, out."

I can still see those yellow and black covers of Cliffs Notes. With all the online sources these days, my guess is no one shells out their lunch money for these things anymore.

As for myself, Shakespeare and I got along well enough that I actually did read the assigned texts when Othello, Macbeth and Hamlet were being trudged through in class. I always did like Macbeth the best, and once saw Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson in a production of Macbeth on Broadway.

I never saw a staging of Hamlet, but did watch Mel Gibson, I think, on television take on the role. And Othello. Saw the Lawrence Olivier 1965 movie with Maggie Smith no less. The same Maggie Smith that we would see tapping her cane on 'Downton Abbey' as the Earl of Grantham's mum, Dowager Princess Lady Violet. That's durability.

My only failure to read something through to completion was when we were assigned to read 'The Scarlet Letter' by Nathaniel Hawthorne. At some point reading the book I fogged out and went into class thoroughly unprepared to discuss the book. When it became apparent to me during the discussion that Reverend Dimmsedale knocked up Hester Prynne, I leaned over to the kid next to me and expressed disbelief. "You mean the priest knocked her up?" To which my now unknown classmate responded, "You didn't read the book, did you?"

This failure didn't seem to cost me anything gradewise since I always did pretty good in high school. It was a bit embarrassing though to have missed what might have really been the good part, I still didn't go back and then read it.

The story of Mr. McCarthy's quest to see if Shakespeare's works could be traced to contemporary sources reads a bit like a forensic detective tale. Mr. McCarthy used open source anti-plagiarism software, called Wcopyfind and compared Bill's works against a digital file of every published work in English from 1473 to 1700, a scant 17 million pages of text.

Mr. McCarthy found several instances of passages in Will's works that corresponded to text written by George North. Mr. McCarthy teamed up with a bona-fide academic, Ms. June Schlueter, professor emerita of English at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Together, he and Professor Schlueter and a "manuscript detective" traced a 1927 mention of George North's 'Rebellion and Rebels' to a mislabeled shelf space in the British Library and found the manuscript.

Is all this a fluke? Not when you consider that Mr. McCarthy found 8 words in an opening soliloquy of Richard III that are part of the hunchback's speech: proportion, glass, feature, fair, deformed, world, shadow and nature. He also found 6 words to describe dogs, words like "noble mastiff" and "trundle-tail" from North's work that appear in King Lear and Macbeth.

Matching these words, especially a word like "trundle-tail," is like hitting a Pick 6 honestly with  Valponi on Breecders' Cup Day in 2002 and taking home the entire pool. And a Pick 8? They don't even have those.

Based on preliminary reviews from other academics it would seem Mr. McCarthy and Professor Schlueter are going to be considered spot-on. Software in the past has revealed some other sources for Shakespeare's works, so this is just the latest, but perhaps the biggest mining so far.

We always knew Shakespeare had help.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Russian Prince

It took the death of a famous French restaurant owner, Andre Surmain, 97, to put his name back in the newspaper, but there it was, Serge Obolensky, the Russian prince and former OSS agent whose name was forever in the gossip pages of the New York Post, attending Park Avenue Armory, Metropolitan Opera galas, and anything else festive where the chairs all look alike, with his Social Register 400 and Squadron A buddies.

I once worked with a woman who loved to show me the latest copy of the New York Post and point out that there was Serge, resplendent with a medal or six from Russia or the United States honoring him for his derring-do in WW II.

This was long before the days of the Internet, so finding out who Serge Obolensky was took more than a few strokes of a keyboard. An effort to find out more about Serge was never made by Tina. She just loved to laugh when his name appeared, and it appeared often.

His name is mentioned once in the NYT obituary for Andre Surmain, described in the obit's headline as someone: 'Who Fed the Elite in Epicurean Splendor at Lutèce."

You nearly have to be of a certain age to even know about Lutèce and the other very high-end French restaurants that were once open in NYC. If you can name "Les Six" then you surely have no problem naming Santa's reindeer or Snow White's little buddies.

Once upon a time in Manhatten there were these six French restaurants, Lutèce, La Grenouille, La Caravelle, La Côte Basque, Lafayette and Quo Vadis. Never ate there? Neither have I.

Lutèce was so high-end that there were two menus, both in French, with the assumed host the only one who was given the menu that included prices. It will have to be assumed the prices were quoted in dollars and not francs.

I once read a story that Henri Soulè of Le Pavillon (apparently not in the vaunted six) once listened patiently to a patron complain about his prices, then tore up the check and told them to never come in again. Apparently this must have been a French thing, because Andre Surmain is described as doing the same thing.

If only Julie Andrews in the movie Victor Victoria knew about this when she beat the bill at the restaurant she was plowing through food like a hungry Buffalo. She only needed to complain about the prices she had no intention or means of paying rather than release a sack full of cockroaches in the place. Complaining would have been much classier.

Whatever reputation for stuffiness French restaurants have attained can surely be shown to have its origins in dinning at "Les Six."

Serge enters the picture as having been a partner of Andre back in the post-war days when Andre was struggling to establish himself as a major foodie. Andre had his war stories like Serge, when both were OSS agents and who both parachuted into occupied France, getting shot at while dodging Nazis, Serge doing it when he was 53.

As might be expected of man born in 1890 of aristocratic birth who marries Tsar Alexander II daughter, Princess Catherine Yurievskaya, Serge was a ladies man. His second wife was his mistress during his first marriage. Serge got around.

Oddly enough, there is no day of NYT obituary for a Serge Obolensky passing away in 1978. There is a short archive summary in 1978 which lists his passing, along with many others.

There is a tiny obituary item in a December 6, 1960 edition that describes a Serge Obolensky living in exile in London, 81, who had a son, Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky, who was a "near-legendary" English rugby player, already deceased. His exploits can be found in a British rugby link.

Alexander was a member of Russian aristocracy, stemming from the Rurik dynasty. His father, the one in the 1960 obit, was Prince Sergei Alexandrovich Obolensky, an officer in the Tsar's Imperial House Guards. Apparently the family name derives from the ancient Russian city of Obolensk. His family fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Thus, given the popularity of the name Sergei and the number of people who came from Obolensk, there were a probably more than few Serge Obolenskys, probably not related. Our version of John Smith.

Amazingly, there is YouTube footage of Prince Alexander scoring twice in 1936 in a rugby match against New Zealand's All Blacks, always a tough opponent. Young Alexander was killed in a training accident flying for the RAF. He was 24.

The father of the Serge who was partners with Andre was born in 1850, Prince Platon Sergeyevich-Neledinsky-Meletzky, who passed away in 1913. Where the Russians would have put that name in the phone book is a mystery.. Thus he wouldn't be the one dead at 81 in 1960. One does wonder if he was surprised to see his name in the obit section in 1960, and if Serge of the OSS ever knew Serge the Exile.

The Serge we've read about passed away in 1978 in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, far from Park Avenue, but I'm sure in good surroundings. His life was as they wrote, "reads like a work of fiction." No wonder he was always in the paper. Even in a old friend's obituary 40 years after his own passing.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

There's a New Word in Town

Well, the word itself isn't new, but its use seems to be new. Have you spotted it? Existential. It's everywhere these days.

It is showing up in news articles, by different reporters, so much so that I'm wondering if there is an internal website at the NYT that advises reporters on new words to use. Certainly it is being blessed by whatever role the editors are playing these days.

A long, long time ago the card store that was in the same building as the flower shop on 3rd Avenue carried the usual layout of newspapers, some magazines, candy, of course, and an array of paperbacks that always caught my eye.

On shelves over the newspapers the owner had the paperbacks of the latest bestsellers and also a wide array of the classics, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain. These all had attractive covers that resembled paintings. I think they were published by the American Library.
I bought and read many of them, particularly Steinbeck. 

There was also several feet of books of many titles, by Jean-Paul Sartre that always caught my eye. They too had an attractive look. This was the 60s, and I think Jean-Paul's philosophy was big then. All I knew about it was it was Existentialism. It sounded too avant-garde for me.

In high school I distinctly remember the English teacher reading a passage aloud from Macbeth, which of course we were devoting a good part of the term to.

"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

She let it sink it for a few seconds, and then with pride told us, "You want existentialism? Try Shakespeare."

It always made an impression on me, as I liked Macbeth way more than Hamlet. It is also where my definition of existentialism was formed. So, all those books with all those titles by Jean-Paul Sartre that I see all the time can best be summed up by a few lines from Shakespeare? Works for me. I never had an interest in the Sartre books I kept seeing in the store. Never picked one up and never read Sartre at all.

Now I see the word existential used in all sorts of articles, like today's online story of the cab driver who committed suicide in front of City Hall to protest the livelihood drivers like himself were losing to the ride-hailing services like Uber. Certainly a sad story.

The article opens by recounting testimony Bhairavi Desai, the executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance gave in front of the Taxi and Limousine Commission that the reporter Gina Bellafante described as evidence of the "mounting existential difficulties" facing members of the Alliance. 

Certainly her testimony was prescient about how hard the drivers were being affected by the likes of Uber. And to call the hardships as "existential difficulties" does add the intended gravity to the problems. What can be worse than "existential difficulties?"

But I can't square the OED's definition of 'existential' and my own, formed so very long ago in that high school English class, with what cabbies and other driver are experiencing. It certainly is not good, but "existential?"

Certainly I'm no William Safire, or any other of the word pundits who dissect chosen words of speech, but I have to think the word is being used because it is thought to add gravity to what is being described. I'm sure the newsroom these days is likely filled with millennials who never wondered what the hell Jean-Paul was all about.

Take a recent NYT Editorial Board opinion essay on the conflict between New York's governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City's mayor, Bill de Blasio, and how it is putting the city's mass transit woes in the middle of waring parties.

After giving examples of nations that put aside their differences for a while to fight a common foe, the Editorial Board, in its second paragraph tells us:

"So is it too much to ask the mayor of New York City and the governor of New York to work together in the face of a crisis bordering on the existential for their citizens?"

Wow. Strong language right? An existential crisis is falling on all of us who take mass transit. Where's Batman? I have to tell you when I was pissed that the No. 1 train wasn't coming a few Sundays ago and I forfeited my fare and took to walking to Carnegie Hall from Penn Station, I did not think anything 'existential' was going on. I thought what was going on was that the train didn't show up. Was that because it couldn't find its inner self?

I read in other stories we are "facing an "existential threat." It sounds like it's coming from outer space and it's going to wipe us off the face of the earth. Star Wars.

Certainly Shakespeare and the Bible are two examples of literature that are not widely read these days. What the hell. Using existential in a sentence is just a fad.

And who reads Jean-Paul Sartre these days anyway?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Castros. Not the Sofas

It was in the 1950s when the local news of the era was that Fidel Castro's son was attending P.S. 20 on Sanford Avenue in Flushing Queens. I was attending P.S. 22, also on Sanford Avenue, about a mile east of P.S. 20.

This was the era when United States was wooing Fidel, and the island of Cuba had yet become an annex of the Soviet Union, soon to hold missiles aimed at the United States, setting off the nuclear war showdown now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Until all that happened, Fidel's son, whose name I never knew, was just somewhat of a celebrity in our midst. He and I were about the same age. We never met in either schoolyard.

Now I read Fidel Angel Castro Diaz-Balart has committed suicide at 68, having been hospitalized recently for depression. The dateline of the obituary comes out of Mexico City. Mr. Castro was a nuclear physicist, holding a Ph.D. in physical-mathematical sciences from Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. 

I suspect unknown to any of us at the time, including my parents, was that young Fidel was the subject of an intense custody battle between his father and his mother. Apparently, after some intense maneuvering that included a professional kidnapping staged by by Fidel's mother, Fidel Jr. was sent to New York City to live with her for about a year. It was at this point in this life that he went to a local school in Flushing. Eventually, when Fidel Sr. rose to power, the mother was convinced to let young Fidel move back to Cuba.

One can imagine  the father's concern for his son living in a country that he was soon going to piss off big time. Young Fidel would have probably been kidnapped by the CIA and held as a bargaining chip against Fidel Sr. Watching too many movies? I don't think so. The world would have been treated to a precursor to an Elian Gonzalez custody battle.  A Bay of Pigs-style  invasion might have been aimed at Flushing.

The obituary doesn't fully explain the use of the Diaz-Balart surname, but as young Fidel was growing up he hid his real identity from his classmates, likely taking the name from his mother's cousins, who he also lived with. He had little contact with Fidel Sr. and absolutely no interest in politics.

The P.S. 20 building, seen above, is still the same red brick building that young Fidel attended. It has the look all NYC elementary school buildings had. My coal heated P.S. 22 was replaced by a "modern" building so long ago that I'm sure the students and staff think it is the old building now. I have a photo of the old building. It looks stately.

The original P.S. 22 had two entrances for the students, that long before I went there, were designated BOYS and GIRLS, carved over the entrance archways. I don't know if the classes were co-ed or not then. When I went they were phasing out the K-8 grade elementary enrollment and building Junior High schools for the 7-9 grades. These would now be called middle schools, I guess. I was aware of boys in the neighborhood who had been 8th graders at the school.

Funny how the death of a Cuban linked by birth to Fidel Castro can resuscitate grammar school memories.

We live on a Mobius strip.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

In Memoriam

At this point it should be no surprise to anyone that I pay attention to obituaries, news featured bylined tributes, paid obits, and In Memoriams in the NYT.

For each of the first five years I anonymously took out In Memoriam sentiments to mark the deaths of my two colleagues at Empire BlueCross and BlueShield who were murdered by our suicidal vice president on September 16, 2002, itself only a little over a year after we as a group survived the collapse of Tower One at the WTC. Now at each subsequent five year anniversary I take out another In Memoriam. The only In Memoriam I've ever seen that pairs two people in one sentiment.

So there;s always a glance at the In Memoriams. Up until last year there was always an annual one taken out by Gail Levin, mother of Neil Levin, the Port Authority Director who was killed in Tower One. I knew of some people who worked for the Port Authority who did make it out in time. Their offices were about 30 floors above ours.

This year, on 9/11, there was no In Memoriam for Neil. I have to wonder if Gail passed on. I tried, but came up with nothing.

Then there's the one that celebrates the violinist Issac Stern, a men responsible for keeping Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball. That was before Penn Station was demolished. But think of the guilt that would set in have set in if on looking back both had been replaced!

In tribute to Mr. Stern the auditorium at Carnegie is named after Issac Stern. There is a large oil portrait of Issac hugging the entrance to the cafe at the main level. Sandy Weil hugs the other side. Another tribute that appears annually is an anonymous In Memoriam to Issac stern on the anniversary of his death. "Fiddler" playfully follows his name.

Then there's the annual appearance of an In Memoriam taken out by Arthur Zankel's wife, Judy. Mr. Zankel was a protege of the financier Sandy Weill, another major Carnegie donor,  and was instrumental in converting the movie theater under Carnegie Hall into a performance space, now named in tribute to him, Zankel Hall. Most tragically, Mr. Zankel committed suicide just before his wife could track down his whereabouts.

There might easily be other annual In Memoriams I'm missing, but I didn't miss the one on January 31, 2018 taken out by Lou Linder for Frank Pellegrino, with the sentiment pulled from Don McLean's elegy to Buddy Holly: The day the music died. RIP Frankie.

You might remember Frank Pellegrino was a co-owner of Rao's, that East Harlem eatery that was and is so hard to get a reservation that Frankie became known as 'Frankie No' for the number of times he turned down someone's request to dine. Raos' and Frankie were so well known to New York's movers and shakers that there was a bylined obit in the NYT for Frank by Sam Roberts.

After reading the obit I emailed Mr. Roberts and asked him if he ever ate at Rao's. He shared that yes, he had eaten there once.

So who is Lou Linder? Certainly a good friend of Frank's. Google search turns up a likely person who has a Hemingway-looking white beard who is involved in advertising? There is a photo of Mr. Linder with some attractive females and a now former New York Knick, Amar'e Stoudemire. The backdrop is definitely Rao's.

What do all In Memoriams have in common? We all still miss someone.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

At the Rail

At this point, anything that is in the print media that refers to, relates to, or is about thoroughbred racing catches my eye, if only because anything written about racing outside of the Daily Racing Form is rare. The sport is not dead, but it does operate somewhat behind the curtain. It occasionally emerges onto the main stage when there is a BIG race, but that is not often. The NYT has all but stopped writing about it, assigning their last racing reporter, Joe Drape, to other assignments. Joe occasionally gets to report on what he sees through his binoculars, but it is rare.

So when there is an Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal! that contains a headline about "Railbirds" attention must be paid.

And then there's the out quote that pulls you in: "Racetracks may be the most democratic places in America, even if there are fewer of them now." Yikes, I've got to read this one.

The Op-Ed piece by Alan Pell Crawford relates a story about meeting and talking to Sergei Tolstoy at Laurel Park, a racetrack in Maryland in the 1980s. Sergei it turned out was Leon Tolstoy's great-grandson and was in attendance with someone who seemed like a bodyguard.

Despite what might seem like forbidding circumstances, Mr. Crawford tells us Sergei was only too eager to talk to him and tell him who was going to win the next race. When you're at the track, there is always a next race, until the last race, and after the last race, there is usually a tomorrow, if you;re still alive. The horses run around an oval, and racing revolves around Earth.

Talking to a Russian Count tickled Mr. Crawford's sense of equality and accessibility to all types of people, made possible by watching horses in the paddock and sharing the goal of picking a winner.

When I was a young lad at the flower shop I always heard stories about the people at the racetrack. Someone would always say that you'd see well-dressed people at the $2 window, and people who looked like bums at the $100 window (That was the time when there were separate windows for the size of your bet.)

This year marks my 50th anniversary of first going to the track, Belmont, on Belmont Day when Stage Door Johnny won the Belmont Stakes. To my father's great consternation I loved handicapping and loved going to the track. He always feared I'd become a degenerate I guess. It didn't happen.

If Mr. Crawford was younger he might have gone to Bowie and talked to J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Hoover liked the racetrack and could be found there often. (The gangster Frank Costello was said to brag that he had to fix races so Hoover could pick a winner. This may not be true.)
Whether anyone actually felt comfortable enough to talk to perhaps the most feared man in America at the time is another story. I don't know. But J. Edgar was there, and accessible.

I must admit, Mr. Crawford is right. I've always talked to someone who might have directed a comment in my general direction. None have been Russian Counts however.

I do remember our mentor Les, mentioned often in these racing posts, who would sometimes leave us at the seats and opt to go stand at the bottom of the aisle to better see the race. Aqueduct has the best sightlines over Belmont, but even better if you can get to the bottom of the aisle. Right now, that is no problem, but in the 60s and 70s, the place was packed. Even the aisles were packed.

There are several times Les would rejoin us at he seats after the race and tell us he was just talking to Jack Dreyfus, the Wall Street tycoon who was head of the Dreyfus Fund, one of the few mutual funds at the time.

Jack Dreyfus was also an owner of Hobeau Farm and a NYRA trustee and sometimes chairman of NYRA. But he could be found at the bottom of an aisle, and Les recognized him and would talk to him. About racing, not stocks.

Les would also sometimes point out Mrs. Phipps to us, a somewhat shabbily dressed older woman who was seen scurrying for the exit after the last race. Mrs. Phipps was Dinny's mom, and was the matriarch to a considerable fortune. Partners of Andrew Carnegie.

There was the Belmont Stakes when Air Forbes One was pretty much carried across the finish line first by Angel Cordero and I spotted the former hockey player, and soon to be manager of the New York Rangers, John Ferguson. As a player, Ferguson was a nasty fighter, and a look at his nose confirmed he should have breathing problems. In person he did seem a lot smaller than I expected, but then again, he wasn't wearing skates.

Anyway, after spotting John and then being a Ranger season ticket holder I asked him if we were going to have a good team this coming year. John said "yes." (No we didn't.)

Another time I spotted the former Montreal great and former New York Ranger, Boom Boom Geoffrion stuck on the $10 Win line, hopping around and nervously smoking, trying to see why the line wasn't moving as fast as post time was approaching. I yelled out "Boom Boom." He nodded, but was only interested in making the bet.

The last time I was at the track the last fellow I talked to told me that the hot walker that just walked by who held up one finger was telling him that Linda Rice's (trainer) horse was a good bet—perhaps a shoe-in—in the next race. My new found friend and I were however backing another horse in the race.

The hot walker was right, and after the race when Linda's horse won my friend and I exchanged "what-are-you-going-to-do gestures."

I never considered the banter at the track to represent admission to a democratic place, but I guess it is. However, with greatly decreased attendance you can find yourself just plain talking to yourself—and perhaps a seagull.