Friday, November 30, 2018

Vertically Challenged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Grammar Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

It Gets Late Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

GoFleeceMe Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Online Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018


Perhaps the hamburger is not truly American in origin, but it certainly is part of nearly every American menu, in the home and restaurant.

I've never been much of one for fast-food meals. I used to quip that the McDonald's claim of how many burgers served is no indicator of how many were digested. I will admit when a McDonald's finally did open near our Flushing home I did get food there, but generally it was the fish sandwich and apple pie, such as they created it.

Before McDonald's there was a Weston's not too far from our home, on Northern Boulevard and 147th Street, having taken over a bosky corner site that contained a Hallet and Hallet funeral home. I may have gotten a burger there once in a while, but hardly regularly. The site became and still is a Burger King.

Of course the forerunner to all these places was White Castle, whose motto was to buy their greasy sliders by the sack. As a kid in the early 60s I remember someone connected with our house who brought a sackful back. It might have been the only time I've ever eaten a White Castle burger

The White Castle of that era is still there, on the corner of Northern and Bell Boulevards in Bayside. How this is possible is to me quite a mystery, but there are perpetual fans of White Castle burgers with each new generation that keep the flame broiling going. The bar crowd after closing.

We have a cat. An orange tabby who we swear thinks he's a dog. To us he's so much like a dog that we got his name stamped on a Snoopy tag on his collar. We don't purposely let him out, but he will scoot out if we've made a mistake with the doors. But we try and be careful. He is not declawed.

One of his escapes didn't go well and he got chased up a tree and came back with a bleeding leg. He recovered of course, but we tell him, quite emphatically, "Cosmo, you can't handle the outdoors." As he's gotten older, he's not quite as interested.

He pretty much acts like all cats, sleeps at least 18 hours a day, finds a sunny spot to stretch out in, and is basically interested in eating. But Cosmo does like to cuddle. He's very affectionate toward my younger daughter Susan who just got married, who first got the cat in 2007, and myself, who pretty much feeds him all the time. He purrs like a motor boat.

Some of the furniture fabric is a bit scratched up, but Cosmo gets a wide berth on discipline, because of course you can't do a damn thing about it anyway. He occasionally coughs up a hair ball, because of course they lick themselves silly and their fur comes off in their mouths. I'm the cleanup man as well as the can opener with legs.

The other night I watching 'La La Land' on cable. Not a bad movie, but too long, and short on stars who can actually sing. They did dance a bit, but they were not anywhere near the greats. Ryan Gosling swinging on a lamppost is not Gene Kelly, but Gene not with us anymore. Nor is Debbie Reynolds. But he and Emma stone make for pleasant eye candy with a story that to me should end with lyrics from Harry Chapin's song 'Taxi.'

Regardless, the living room is dark, Cosmo has been cuddling, and now he seems to be doing something else, but I'm not paying any attention whatsoever. Until I get hit pause and get up to go to the bathroom.

I don't know what gets into cats, but I do know what comes out of them. Getting up I find out that he's experienced reverse peristalsis and quietly let loose as if he's been out drinking all night, downed a sackful of White Castle burgers. and then gotten on a roller coaster, because boy, did he make a mess. And then, like anyone who that's ever happened to, he feels fine.

We still love him.

The Adage

The adage goes: first you do well; then you do good. Few people have done as well as Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. When I think what would I do if I went back in time—and not even that far back in time—what would I do? I'd buy Microsoft hand over fist.

Anyone familiar with Bill's story knows his efforts are now philanthropy. He and his wife Melinda run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the express goal of improving conditions worldwide. Massive efforts have been applied to wiping out malaria. New efforts are to build a better shitter. Because, Bill and Melinda Gates truly give a shit.

From here on in we'll be less crude and call it what it is. Improving sanitary condition worldwide through providing better toilet facilities. This is a thing? Yes.

Apparently worldwide, billions of people face unsafe sanitary conditions. This of course leads to disease, even death. About
4.6 billion people, more than half the world's population, are estimated to live without access to safe sanitation.

China in particular, with its population in the billions living in rural settings, suffers from poor access to sanitary conditions. A quarter of Chinese families are considered to lack toilet facilities. Outhouses a hundred yards away from dwellings, with planks of wood and a hole serve clusters of residents.

Reading this reminds of YMCA camp in the 50s, Camp Pratt. You have to remember that the 50s were populated with adults who had either just served in World War II, or were affected by the conflict. I distinctly remember our tent for six boys and a counselor was a U.S. Marine Corps tent, somewhat like what you would see in the show MASH. It was mounted on a platform and served its purpose of keeping us dry.

The prank was that when it rained, if you pressed your finger against the canvas and held it for a while you would create a drip. Creating drips over the counselor's bunk was a given.

The bathroom was called a latrine, and while not 100 yards away, it did require you to go outside to where there was a trough for urine, and planks of wood over holes where you sat and aimed. No partitions between the holes. Conversation and visibility were guaranteed.

Properties in Suffolk County on Long Island in the 60s still had outhouses standing, although they were no longer used for their original function. The doors with the half moon opened to a shed with gardening tools.

China's toilet needs are so acute that they have attracted the Gates Foundation's attention. Bill has sponsored a Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing. The story, was featured in Friday's NYT, complete with photos.

It's always interesting to me that something that I'm thinking about seems to be what others are thinking about at the same time.

Yes, of course we have toilets, but after staying in a hotel with a dual flush option, less water for just urine, more water for poop, I've started to think seriously about installing one in one of our two bathrooms. The shape of the bowl aids the disposal of waste with whatever flush option you choose. Things disappear.

The foundation has apparently already provided $200 million, with another $200 million promised if progress is made to design affordable toilets that do not necessarily need to be hooked up to plumbing. There are prototypes that are solar powered; ones that recycle urine into potable water; ones that turn the solid waste into fertilizer.

Bill doesn't just sit at a desk and forward his money, he actually attends the expo. He holds up a specimen glass jar (sealed) of solid human waste and informs the audience of the germ count in this matter. "Human waste is disgusting, containing 200 trillion rotavirus particles and 100,000 worm eggs. among other organisms." This is certainly why telling someone to "eat shit" is such a naughty thing to say.

There are serious organizations devoted to solving world-wide sanitary problems. There is a Singapore-based World Toilet Organization (the WTO?); the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the African Development Bank have said they could commit $2.5 billion in financing sanitary solutions.

There is even a bit of a gadfly organization, Vermont-based, Toilets for People that provides "off-grid" toilets that is critical of high-tech efforts that never get out there and actually do the job.

Hard to imagine that what we so easily take for granted is so rare in regions of certain countries. And even though you might think there's nothing to improve in our sphere, you can always count on eventually bumping into something new.

Certainly by now you've encountered hands-free faucet and paper towel dispensers in public facilities. Some people are confused by them, but they are becoming more prevalent. The latest innovation in a bathroom facility is the combination hands-free faucet AND hand drying air jet attached to the faucet fixture.

After many years of having the absolute worst men's room in the world on the Amtrak level of Penn Station, the recent renovation has to be marked as an innovative success. Mirrors have been reinstalled over the sinks. The prior renovation removed them and stuck them on the back wall with airblowers.

When I recently went in there I was aware I was hearing the distinctive sound of air blowing something dry. But where were the wall-mounted units that usually made all that noise as you impatiently twirled you hands under the air jet to get them dry.

Turns out at one end of the faucet bar, under the water icon, there is a hands-free faucet that delivers a pre-mixed stream of nearly hot water to wash with. At the other end of this U-shaped faucet bar is the air drying unit under an icon denoting moving air. Thus, every faucet has an air drying unit built in. You no longer have to pick up your stuff and deposit yourself at a wall-mounted unit and let the wind do its thing. One stop hand cleaning.

This is one of the best things I've seen in bathroom design. Bill, if you had  anything to do with this, please take a bow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Charles Aznavour

Getting to the small pile of clippings and I reach the bottom where I tore out the obit for Charles Aznavour. For some reason I didn't make a posting when I read of his passing.

My first reaction was the "he was alive yesterday?" one. Of course I knew of Aznavour, and I even knew what he sounded like when he sang, but I didn't know he was of Armenian descent.

I did what I usually do when someone musical passes away: I check iTunes for a song or two to download to my iPod. I still use an iPod, even though my new son-in-law tells me they are passé. Everyone is "streaming" these days. Well, certainly not everyone. It's fairly amazing that you can be my age, use something that you associate with being cutting edge, only to find there are those who will put you in the Luddite category. I ditched my flip phone and accepted my daughter's hand-me-down iPhone 5, or something like that. Compared to what i see other people enthralled with, I am a Luddite. They're watching a hand-held television.

Regardless, the day Aznavour's obit appeared in the NYT and I learned of his Armenian descent I was in the city and made a pass by the men's department of Saks on Fifth Avenue where I used to buy decent clothing when I was working.

I knew one of the salesmen who worked the Canali section who I knew was also of Armenian parentage. His name ends in the more typical "ian" that Armenian names end in. Kris gets to attract attention when he tells of his upbringing that had him singing in Metropolitan Opera productions in the children's chorus. He was very familiar with the woman who had passed away not that long ago who was the director of that  group of youthful voices, Elena Doria.

I had already planned to stop by and say hello anyway, so in addition to just some chatter I shared the surprise at the news that Aznavour was Armenian.

Kris of course knew that, and knew of Aznavour's commitment to Armenian causes. He told me of the time he and his wife saw him at Carnegie not all that long ago when Charles was basically just talking his way through his songs, but not disappointing his fans one bit. He was adored.

I told Kris of once reading that someone said they could always tells if someone in their building had just broken up with their boyfriend by the continuous Charles Aznavour music that could be heard coming through their door. He was the three-pint ice cream breakup.

I never knew that Aznavour wrote the sing "Yesterday When I Was Young." It was one of the few songs I downloaded in his memory.

As with some obituaries a nugget of information pops up that jars my memory. One thing leads to another, as the Mobius strip motto goes. Frank J. Prial, who wrote Aznavour's advance obit, (himself now passed away in 2012; the "wine guy" at the paper) tells of the time in the 1940s when Aznavour was touring with Edith Piaf  and staying in New York in 1948, living on the West Side and eating in Hector's Cafeteria in Times Square.

Hector's! Jesus, I forgot about Hector's. I ate there several times in the 60s. You got a ticket when you walked in that had money denominations arrayed on it. It was like a New York State Turnpike ticket. As you got food and put it on your tray the person behind the counter took your ticket and punched an amount that you now owed based on what you were adding to your tray.

Start with the entree, x amount was punched. Add dessert, and a higher amount was punched. In order to sit down you had to present the ticket to the cashier who rang up the highest amount punched. They didn't have to spend time ringing up each item. They just read and rang you up.

I seem to remember there were two Hector's in the Times Square area. I don't remember when they disappeared, but that whole Automat, cafeteria-style of eating went out as fast food places took over.

As for Aznavour, yes he was alive the day before his obit, and he lived a long life and lived it performing nearly right to the end. He's quoted in the obit, "We live long, we Armenians. I'm going to reach 100 and I'll be working until I'm 90."

He passed away at 94.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Breeders' Cup 2018

Unless you're a superstar trainer or jockey, or a deep-pocketed patient owner who perennially has been raising thoroughbreds most of their adult life, your chances of ever entering a horse in a Breeders' Cup race generally range from zero, to perhaps a needle pushing high of once. Winning a race is even more unlikely.

But slim to none doesn't kill optimism. Horses eat hay, oats and barley. Owners, trainers, jockeys and bettors eat optimism. And horse racing is sport fueled by optimism.

Take Discreet Lover, trained by Uriah St. Lewis, a hard-knocking owner trainer from Trinidad and Tobago, who gets so few owners to have confidence in him that he just goes out and buys his own horses when he can and trains them for himself. His training record does not instill confidence, with only 14 victories in 231 starts in 2018. This equates to an anemic 6% win rate. The world does not beat a path to his door.

The race prior to Discreet Lover's entry in the Breeders' Cup, the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on September 29, Discreet Lover's chances were so dismissed by the public that when the gate doors opened he was popping out at odds of $45.50 to $1. This is a true long shot.

Betting odds are different from probability of winning. Those odds are not found anywhere but in the subjective math of handicappers who mentally assign a number to a horse's chances of doing well enough to warrant a wager with their money.

Most handicappers would have assessed Discreet Lover's chances of winning at zero, and kept looking elsewhere for a home for their money. Trainer/owners are handicappers, and they can genuinely feel there is a reason the races are run on the track and not through someone's head.  Their probability assessment can vary widely from the public's. Thus, when the gate doors sprung open for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Uriah St. Lewis had his horse entered, and piloted by a decent journeyman jockey Manual Franco.

The neck victory in the 1¼ race over two starters who would come back to race in the Breeders' Cup Classic (one finished third) touched off a pandemonium of excitement for the connections of Discreet Lover (read the owner, trainer and family) that it was impossible for anyone watching not to be joyful as well, despite what might have been their own losing bet. (A winning bet would have earned an invitation to the hugging party that was jumping up and down on the way to the winner's circle.)

A interview with Uriah disclosed the news he had bet a $100 across the board on his horse. At $45.50 to $1, with the favorite running out of the money, this is known as a nice payday.

Will this 5-year-old horse with 46 starts, 7 firsts, 7 seconds, and 7 thirds, and now with over a $1 million dollars in earnings go to the Breeders' Cup Classic? We'll check him out and wait and see.

And so it came to pass that Uriah St. Lewis entered Discreet Lover in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The  horse's ascension was too irresistible a story to pass up. Even the NYT found it in their interest to run a story in Saturday's paper about the owner/trainer and horse. "I am 60 years of age," St. Lewis said. "I might never have this opportunity again. I'm going to enjoy it."

Barring a dead heat, there would only be 14 winners, 14 seconds, and 14 thirds in the Breeders' Cup races over a two day period. Way more horses than that are entered. Full fields are everywhere. The purses are so high, ranging from $1 million to $6 million and the distribution so generous, that even 8th place can pay 1% ($60,000) in the $6 million Classic. There were 14 horses entered in that race.

In the optimism charged atmosphere that is horse racing, it is no wonder that Richie Pressman, majority owner of Cassies Dreamer, found himself itching to go to Louisville on the first Friday in November with his 2 year-old filly entered in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly race, a race that often proves to be a harbinger of great things to follow. Or not.

Even superstar trainers, like Bob Baffert who make winning big races seem like a daily occurrence, can be buffeted by the vagaries of racing. As many times as Bob has entered a horse in the Derby and won the Derby, to say nothing of two Triple Crown training efforts, Baffert has never had a winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile for Colts even make it to the Derby. And the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner is always the early favorite for the Derby. In case you don't know, Baffert won this year's Juvenile Colt race with Game Winner.

And consider this for atmospheric optimism. Cassies Dreamer was claimed by Richie and a minor partner after the horse's first race, a $50,000 maiden claiming race, the horses' first start, that the horse won by a bit over two lengths despite a slow start.  Thus, Richie hadn't even taken hold of the reins and guided the horse into the winner's circle himself. The initial owner got the honors with that first race win.

Cassies Dreamer went on to finish third twice in subsequent Grade I races and established a bit of reasonable optimism for herself and her owners that she could run with her age peers, and perhaps even outrun her humble origins. Horses from the claiming ranks are considered to be from the other side of the tracks when it comes to other horses whose genetics and connections are considered superior.

So, other than optimism in the ozone, what connects Discreet Lover and Cassies Dreamer? Nothing really. Both were capably ridden by Manuel Franco on Friday and Saturday and both ran with absolutely no threat to the winners. They were both double-digit long shot prices on the board.

Discreet Lover finished 8th and took home 1% of a $6 million purse. Cassies Dreamer ran 5th, and took home 3% of a $2 million purse and made back the pre-entry and entry fee for the owners.

Richie, having finally followed Bobby G's advice (one of the Assembled) in buying a young filly who can become a possible breeding mare, now has a young horse whose continued good races (in 4 starts the horse has earned nearly $200,000 with only one win) and possible winning races are still ahead of her. Water in the pool has all depths.

With 5th and 8th place finishes, is this the last anyone will see of these horses on a race track? Don't bet on it.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Grocery Guy

There is a friend of mine who I haven't been in touch with for over 30 years. We spent formative years together going to the same high school, and a good many post-high school years continuing to play pool, drink, go to the race track and attend Ranger games. Like many male relationships we drifted apart as females drifted in.

I remember that one of his claims was that the fellow who did the Pathmark supermarket ads also played Patty Duke's father on the 'Paddy Duke Show.' I always said this wasn't so. It was William Schallert who played Patty's father. I have no idea who that guy on the Pathmak ads is.

We never bet who was right. But we were both insistent that we were each right. In some circles this is probably known as an impasse.

This would have been the late 60s, early 70s, when we might have been in a bar on Broadway, or watching TV at his apartment when a Pathmark ad would come on and he'd insist that it was Patty Duke's father who was pitching groceries. And the guy came on often. There were a lot of Pathmark ads on TV in those days.

I don't know when, but at some point he came to admit that I was right, the guy in the ads was not Patty Duke's father, and therefore was not William Schallert. I have no idea what finally brought him around. I took some satisfaction in this because he seldom ever admitted he might be wrong.

I certainly never made an attempt to find out who the guy in the Pathmark ads was, and I suspect my friend didn't either. There certainly was no Internet to lean on then. The one thing we could now both agree on it was not William Schallert doing the ads.

I don't consider it a mystery solved, but now these 45 or so years later there is documented proof who the guy in the ads was: James Karen. He just died. At 94 his obituary was in Friday's NYT.

James Karen apparently was a familiar face, but not from the 'Patty Duke Show,' although he did lots of TV and movies as a character actor, some 200 according to the obit. He was considered a classic character actor who paid a lot of bills pitching Pathmark, a Northeast supermarket chain, despite the fact he lived on the West Coast.

In the obit he is quoted as having said, "I go to New York every two weeks and run off 20 30-second commercials at a time. This is the best job an actor can have. It pays very well, and it's steady."

He certainly came to New York often, because those Pathmark ads ran from the late 60s into the 80s. The supermarket chain is no longer in business, going belly-up in 2015. It is doubtful that Jimmy had anything to do with that.

There are times I've given thought to wondering if it will be possible to observe whoever shows up for my funeral and listen to what they might say. This part of the afterlife especially intrigues me. Apparently I'm not alone.

At the end of Mr. Karen's obit we learn that George Clooney, at his own American Film Institute lifetime-achievement ceremony this year, told the story of years ago being contacted by Jimmy's wife and being asked to write Jim's obituary. She explained he's not doing well and he requested that he write his obituary. This George did that very evening and sent it off to Jimmy's wife Alba Francesca.

Some time rolled on, and George Clooney realizes he hasn't heard anything about the demise of Jimmy. Finally, after four years he worked up enough courage to call Alba and ask, "how is Jimmy doing?"

"He's doing fine. He says hello. He asked several people to write his obituary to see what they might say about him." Thus, Jimmy got to read his obits before his demise. A neat trick without illegally pretending that you're dead.

It is a good thing James Karen knew George Clooney and not my friend. Otherwise, he would learn he was William Schallert and that he played Patty Duke's father on the 'Patty Duke Show.'