Monday, December 31, 2018

The Sentence-Ending Preposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder they wore tuxedos.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Advance Obit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Subway Etiquette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@Naparstek replies:

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

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

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

Some women have that affect on men.

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

Emma is still skeeved out. Replies to @nicolegelinas:

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

Another reply. to: @davecolon:

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

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

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

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

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

The stories Emma has for the folks back home.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Infernal Apostrophe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

We Gotta Beat the Rush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

AP Obit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Handshake

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

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

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

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

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

To the victor goes the clothing. Imported or not.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Gone to Pot

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

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

Cannabis. Pot. Marijuana. MaryJane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We always live in interesting times.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Don't Give It Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Breaking Chops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had to be fun.