Monday, July 30, 2018

Now You See It, Now You Don't

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 27, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you imagine if he said "narrative?"

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Polish Melody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Down Under Racing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 20, 2018

Comrade Poppins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Inflatable Donald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Barbato Sinatra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her answer was impeccable:

'After Sinatra?'"

You can hear the Jersey City accent.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Twin Glasses at Belmont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Exiting A Stage

She didn't pass away. She merely announced that after writing more than 1,400 obituaries for the New York Times, Margalit Fox is leaving the 'Paper of Record' and will now concentrate full-time on writing books. All kinds of books.

That Margalit came to write what might be a record number of Page 1 bylined obituaries for the paper is of no surprise to Marilyn Johnson, who in her book 'The Dead Beat,' recounts the story of having Margalit in her Columbia University obituary journalism class and recognizing she had talent for the craft.

In Friday's edition of the Times Margalit gets to write her own sendoff. She traces her beginnings at the paper, joining the staff on the Sunday Book Review in 1994 as a copy editor. From what I can tell, a copy editor is a nearly extinct job title. Staff reductions at all the papers and magazines have shifted the task of getting the nits right to the writer themselves.

While doing this pretty much thankless work, Ms. Fox feared her her own epitaph was going to read: "She changed 50,000 commas into semicolons." But if anyone knows anything about punctuation, the semicolon  is one of the trickiest to get right. So, if Margalit accomplished introducing 50,000 semicolons into Book Review text, she should be lauded just for that. Fifty thousand is a biblical number.

I've been reading NYT obituaries for decades. I distinctly remember arriving at work one morning and telling co-workers they had to read that day's obituary by Robert McG. Thomas Jr. on the Goat Man. They laughed at me. Who reads obituaries? "You will when you read this one."

And it was like that when a Margalit Fox obit hit the pages. There was an almost signature lede. In her own sendoff she tells us she hopes she didn't tick too many people off. I'm sure you can't write anything in the paper that doesn't raise someone's hackles. Her lede for the passing of the Cosmopolitan magazine publisher Helen Gurley Brown went:

Helen Gurley Brown...died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.

There were  people who were ticked off at that one. I just thought it was hilarious.

Margalit will let her subterranean sense of humor rise to the surface, often with the choice of a single word.

In the obituary for film director and producer Delbert Mann, Ms. Fox recounts the sequence of events that lead NBC to leave a 1968 telecast of a Jets-Raiders football in the final minutes, with the Jets leading 32-29, in order to achieve an ultrapunctual presentation of Delbert's production of 'Heidi' at 7:00 p.m.

If the score had remained the same, few would have complained and we would never have what came to be known as the Heidi Game. But The Raiders scored two touchdowns in those remaining minutes and went on to defeat the Jets 43-32. No one watching TV saw that, thanks to pre-empting the game for the network's telecast of Heidi.

Ms. Fox was featured, along with other NYT obituary writers, in Vanessa Gould's documentary on the editorial obituaries in the NYT, the sometimes lengthy obits that recount the life of the now deceased, but the nevertheless famous-for-a-reason, subject.

In several shots, Ms. Fox can be seen at work with a paper coffee cup in front of her. It is not a Starbucks cup, but one of the most ubiquitous cups of all time: the blue and white "We Are Happy To Serve You "Anphora design rimmed with a depiction of a Greek frieze. That coffee cup might be more New York than the Empire State building.

When the man credited with designing that cup, Leslie Buck passed away, Ms. Fox got the call to write his obituary  It appeared on Page 1, in the lower right hand corner. So its appearance in the film in front of Ms. Fox cannot be a coincidence. There are no coincidences in Ms. Fox's life.

So, is this the end of Margo? Hardly. Her final obituary to appear in the paper—while she was still employed at the paper—was for Dovey Johnson Roundtree, a black female civil rights lawyer.

Yet to appear in the paper will be the advance obituaries she has written for the famous-for-a-reason people that will appear when they pass away. Thus, we can still be treated to a Margalit Fox byline even after she's left the paper.

Writing and updating advance obits was Ms. Fox's last assignment at the obituary desk. There are probably 1,500 or so of these advances awaiting promotion to the page when the subject's breathing is confirmed to have stopped.

Ms. Fox makes mention of someone's advance obit that she has been updating several times a year, an unnamed American scholar who is still going strong in his 90s. When it is time to read about whomever we will probably be able to deduce whether they outlived their money or not. I don't know about you, but I always like to hear of those who don't outlive their money, and how they might have done it. I'm trying to enjoy a similar fate.

Ms. Fox, in her farewell piece gives us a taste of how she liked to be remembered. I've met her, and even from the math in her piece you can deduce she's not particularly old, and doesn't I'm sure qualify for a reduced fare MetroCard like the one I carry around in my wallet.

She does go on a bit, but basically says she wants to be known as someone who "didn't get too many thing wrong."

Funny, I've told one of my daughters I'd like my headstone to be inscribed: I Got Most Things Right.

(And that would include editing what I write; there is no separate copy editor here in the house.)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Maternity Leave

I read lots of obituaries. And every so often I wish I had been able to know the subject.

Take the recent NYT obituary for Anne Tolstoi Wallach, 89, a writer who worked in advertising, by Neil Genzlinger.

Ms. Wallach strikes me as thoroughly likeable women who is pictured working at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in the 1950s alongside two things you won't find in an office these days: a typewriter and an ashtray. She's also wearing pearls

Ms. Wallach's major claim to fame is that in 1981 she wrote a book, "Women's Work," about a fictional woman working in the advertising industry who becomes an executive in the thoroughly male-dominated ranks of that workplace, that received an $850,000 advance. It was a stupendous amount for a first time author. And while the book initially didn't do well, it eventually did when it was released as a paperback, allowing Ms. Wallach to write other novels.

She was married three times, the last marriage coming when she was 80 and George Maslon was 84. That was in 2009. Mr. Maslon passed away in 2013. They had known each other from their college days when he was at Harvard and she was at Radcliffe.

Along the way she had three children, two sons and a daughter with her first husband, Ronald M. Foster Jr. Both sons were born when she was working, and her "maternity leave" at the agency was her two week vacation, then her three week vacation for the second son, a longer period because of her longer employment by then.

I worked in an office during some of the same decades as Ms. Wallach, and I remember the maternity leave policy taking many forms. There was the incredibly progressive fully paid leave for six months, guaranteeing the same job on return; the whittling away of that benefit when overall pregnancy was viewed as a disability, ranked alongside abdominal surgery, allowing a four week paid leave. I'm sure there were other varieties of leave, but I no longer paid attention to them after my working wife had our second child. 

I do distinctly remember a time in the 70s when one of the audit managers teased another audit manager who was pregnant that she really shouldn't have her pregnancy designated as a disability when in fact it was a self-inflicted injury.

She thought that was funny. Somewhat.