Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Mets

Fifty years is a significant amount of time. Except when you're looking back at it. Then, it's not so long ago.

Subtract 50 from any year and you're deposited in an era when things were definitely different than they are in the year you started with. Go ahead, try it.

If my father were to do this exercise in 1965, he would get 1915, the year he was born in a cold-water flat at 32rd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, the third of four brothers. The month was May, but the date is only an approximate May 22-24, depending on how long it took the birth to be registered by the midwife with the city's department of health. Very common.

Thus, we could be swept back from a Lyndon Johnson presidency all the way back to Woodrow Wilson. In his era and mine, we learned about the presidents.

And now that I've attained grandfather status and an age denoted by a 7 in the tens place, I can easily remember what 50 years ago looked like. Yes, the Mets did win the World Series in 1969; Cleon Jones caught the last out in left field in a televised, weekday day game not but 2 miles from where I lived in Flushing; Cleon kneeling while gusts off Flushing Bay blew some paper debris around him.

In Saturday's NYT Tyler Kepner gives a glimpse of the nostalgia that is going to grip New York City baseball fans as Opening Day approaches. It's going to be all Mets, all nostalgia, for the whole season as the 50th anniversary of the Met 1969 Miracle is celebrated.

Tyler interviews some of the Mets from that team, while reminding us that not all Mets from that era are still alive, and some are somewhat sick. "The 1969 Mets, forever young in their minds will be honored at the New York baseball writers' dinner, mingling with the stars of today—Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom, Christian Yelich—who are young enough to be their grandsons."

Clean Jones tells us what the lyrics to a Mary Chapin Carpenter song, "Come On, Come On say: "now you're older than they were then" when he remembers Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, and any other seasoned adult who was watching the youngsters pull off the miracle by the Bay.

I was slightly over 20, employed, but home on vacation that October week, watching the World Series and the improbability of the Mets, the freakin' Mets! demolish The Atlanta Braves three straight and then sail past The Baltimore Orioles for the title in five Series games. The team my father and I went to the Polo Grounds to see when they entered the league...they were the champions!

Bill Gallo's Basement Bertha team was No. 1. in the National League. To celebrate this before the Series the Daily News offered the above pin, a Bill Gallo cartoon, for 25¢ if you went to the their building on 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue. Since I then worked at 2 Park Avenue at 33rd Street,  the Daily News Building was an easy trip.

The euphoria in the city was so great that it was considered by political pundits to be so overwhelming and long lasting, that New Yorkers from the "outer boroughs" forgot their deep, deep-seated enmity toward Mayor John V. Lindsey and elected him anyway in the November election. After all, didn't Lindsey forget to have snowplows ready to scrape the streets in Queens after the February blizzard? Didn't his first administration have more strikes in it than a baseball game? Wasn't he Silk Stocking John who didn't know there were four other boroughs under his governance? That there were middle-class people and not just rich and poor people living in the city?

Jesus, it was exciting. Years later I remember Vin Sculley recounting the tale of when the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Yankees for the World Series in 1955, the only World Series Da Bums ever won. Vin Scully tells the story of traveling downtown through Manhattan's streets and there wasn't anything that would lead you believe history had been made, or that a home team had won the World Series. Brooklyn vanquished the dreaded Yankees.

That is until he came out of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and it was "Bed...lam." Horns were honking, people were cheering and dancing, and it wasn't because it was VE or VJ Day. The Brooklyn Dodgers were the champions!

Since I was only home with my mother my celebration was very contained. She didn't really know much about baseball, only enough to lean out the front door in 1955 and tell me as I was playing that the Yankees had just lost to Brooklyn. She was rubbing it in to a kid who then was following the Yankees but not watching television. Maybe the set was at the "the shop." It was often "at the shop" in the 50s.

The ticker tape parade was like all ticker tape parades, full of paper and steamers tossed out of the buildings along Broadway in Lower Manhattan, open-back limos full of players. At the time I was going to night school in the Royal Globe building off Fulton Street. Every tree, every spiked surface, was still covered in toilet paper from the downtown celebration.

Anytime I'm on the Belt Parkway headed for the Verrazzano Bridge and look over to see the Gil Hodges Little League field I can't help but think of the Miracle of 1969.

Not quite yesterday, but not all that long ago as far as 50 years go.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

I Knew This Day Was Coming

Russell Baker has passed away at 93; a man I never met, but knew.

Fittingly, the NYT advance obit that has been sitting in the morgue awaiting a trip up the elevator is written by Robert D. McFadden, a newspaper man who was a contemporary of Baker's. McFadden is a youngish 81, and still works the advance obit desk at the NYT. They both won Pulitzers for their newspaper work. Baker winning a second one for Biography. The print obit is a NYT 21-gun salute at Arlington: full page, photos, five columns.

Mr. McFadden describes Mr. Baker as "lanky and laconic" and compared him to the Jimmy Stewart reporter character in 'Call Northside 777' in which the dogged work of the reporter and newsroom photoengravers help free an innocent man from prison.

Looking through the many Twitter postings at #russellbaker and looking at some of the photos and watching and re-watching some video I can't help but see him as resembling the Ralph Waite father character in 'The Waltons.' Avuncular, soft-spoken, and both from Virginia. To me, they look alike.

My own exposure to Mr. Baker's writing occurred when I was in high school in the 60s. I was a daily reader of the NYT, and found enjoyment in his 'Observer' columns, as well as Buchwald's in the Herald Tribune.

Then, as now, I read newspapers voraciously. Only now there are only two newspapers left for me to read, the NYT and the WSJ. I do read the Daily Racing Form, but not daily, only on those days I'm in a betting mood and need to carry reference material (past performances) with me.

If in 1967 when I dropped out of college for the second time the high school guidance counselor sent me to a newspaper to get a job, I might have fallen in to that profession. Instead, I showed up at a health insurance company and  spent 43 years doing work connected with that industry.

Pete Hamill has written about the lengthy letter he wrote to James Wecshler, the New York Post columnist and editor, when he was a young man. The letter led to his employment at entry level into the world of New York journalism.

Mr. Baker's March 1967 letter to me telling me that college was the best way to prepare for the future didn't result in any third time re-enrollment, but the acknowledgment left a lasting impression. The letter, from his NYT Washington Bureau address on K Street, hangs on my wall in my home office in an oak frame I made myself.

Over the years I very sporadically would write to Mr. Baker. Once it was about my plans to create a book of quotes and newspaper outtakes that I found witty and worth preserving. He wrote back to tell me that this was a "commonplace book" and pretty much would find no market. He sent me some pages of his own abandoned commonplace book. There here somewhere if I look hard enough.

Several of the outtakes were from his columns. I've updated his observation that he's learned all he needs to know about the O.J. trial just by walking past a television to include that I know what all the talking heads are saying just my going past any TV in the house that my wife is watching.

And his observation on fruitcake being the only food that can be considered a "family heirloom?" I've blended that into some blog postings just like Mr. McFadden mentions Baker's take on fruitcake in his obit. It is a priceless opinion of fruitcake.

Surely one of the worst jobs ever is to be asked to give a commencement address. Years ago at my daughter's grad school graduation there was a speaker from the national laboratory at Brookhaven Labs on Long Island. I have no idea what his name was, but he was boring as hell. People started walking about, as I did, as he droned on, inserting something about how he didn't like President George W. Bush.

At one point, as I was taking a tour of the landscape, I could still hear him on the pa system and he said something that he identified as a Russell Baker quote. Hey, maybe he's not a complete nerd. I started to listen again.

Looking at some of the #russellbaker Twitter posts there are several people who recount writing to Mr. Baker—and like myself—getting a reply. Either he really didn't get much mail, or he stayed up late at night, but it seems he could be counted on for an response.

There is the 2001 response, also framed and in front of me as I write this, that gave me his opinion on the disappearance of hyphenated words from text.

"After awhile it no longer seems worthwhile to keep fighting. I surrendered to hyphen idiocy years ago before leaving the Times.

I confess that I still rage against the jamming together of words to form corporate entities as in PBS's NewHour, for instance. There are more born every day. It's a byproduct of internetaddresstalk.gabble, I guess. When one one these appears I think you can be excused for shooting on sight without asking questions."

Mr. McFadden offers his own example of the Baker wit that would burst onto the page:

He once wrote a Jonathan Swift-like satire on the advantages of public hanging, arguing that a society pleased with capital punishment might do well to cut off thieves’ hands and notch the noses of incurable double parkers.

Baker was of course kidding. But his bad opinion about capital punishment was solidified when he had to attend a hanging when he was a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

My last framed letter from Baker was his March 2011 response to the hard copy I mailed him of my January 12, 2001 blog posting (he admits to just getting  around to January's mail) that I sent him where I recalled the fellow he once worked with who turned in his report on the weather that was never published. John Carr was sacked after he wrote: "Every day we have some weather, and yesterday was no exception."

Mr. Baker's short note updated me on Mr. Carr, who he was glad to be reminded of. Carr went onto be hired by GM as an executive in the public relations division, an employment that Mr. Baker affirmed to him "how badly run was GM. Three minutes with Carr and you knew that he would be the world's worst p.r. man. He hated public relations, especially public relations men.

Anyhow, among the perks was the right to use the company airplane to travel the nation. When Buick finally discovered their mistake and fired him, they explained it was because he didn't use the company plane often enough. To be precise, He'd never used it. Couldn't think of any place important enough to justify ordering up his own airplane, he told me."

Without anyone holding anything over his head, Mr. Baker seems to have found time to provide answers to letters. The story goes that the Pendergast gang back in Kansas City, Mo. told Harry Truman after he was elected Senator and got to Washington he should keep his head down and make sure he answers his mail. I dedicated my 2012 collection of 'Onofframp' blog postings to Russell Baker and Dave Anderson because they were men who answered their mail.

There are many images his words have brought to light. The prior tenants at his Nantucket rental that somehow wedged a foreign beer bottle into a crevice in the attic. The perennially unpaved Hudson Street in NYC that no doubt was nearby his apartment when he took his life into his hands and lived in NYC. There is a quote of his that appears on a charging station LinkNYC kiosk near Foster Avenue in Brooklyn.

And with the City Council even now considering allowing e-bikes and e-scooters with a 15 mph maximum, the dangers can only increase exponentially, even if these conveyances are meant for the street. Ever see someone riding their bike on the sidewalk?

Living in New York gave him a chance to write a column titled 'Potato Mashes Man' after a hefty spud was apparently hurled in his direction from the roof of the 48-story building near where he lived in Manhattan. The potato missed, and thus he got to write about it, rather than giving the N.Y. Post another coveted headline: 'POTATO MASHES MAN.'

People in New York meet death in various fashions. Strangers get cut down by stray shots meant for others, or even no one in particular, other than a missed target. The potato gave Mr. Baker a fresh awakening as to the infinite number of ways you can go in this town:

“After a certain age most people probably speculate occasionally on the manner of their ultimate departure, but the possibility of becoming a potato victim was one that had never occurred to me, and I did not like it,” Baker mused in his next column. “On a slow-news day, it might merit a paragraph or two on the Associated Press wire: ‘Potato Mashes Man.’ ”

There is the reference to the Buick that he must have brought with him to NYC that he refers to as his "rustmobile." And that airplane travel is hurtling through space in a "tin can," in decided contrast to the ocean-going days of crossing the Atlantic in 5 days and wearing a tux to dinner.

Missing from the obit however is that Mr. Baker was on the the cover of Time magazine in June 1979, 'The Good Humor Man.' A typical Time magazine play on words.

I've made several references to Mr. Baker in past postings, and even fairly recent ones when I would take Maureen Dowd to task for turning in one column a week and going a month or so on several occasions without writing a thing. I would contrast her output with Mr. Baker's who maintained a three times a week schedule nearly right up to retirement on Christmas Day, 1998.

I can't watch Edward G. Robinson clutching his stomach after he's plugged in the movie 'Little Caesar,' wondering, "is this the end of Rico," without remembering the start of the President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal when Mr. Baker wondered if this was going to be the end of President Clinton—"is this the end of Rico"—and trying to imagine a man who helps himself to the office help.

The Twitter posts at #russellbaker are piling up. I'm adding my own. There is Adrienne Lafrance, a reporter who grew up in Baltimore who did an interview with Mr. Baker for The Atlantic a few years ago at his Leesburg, VA home.

Asked who might he a humorist, Mr. Baker mentions Maureen Dowd, only to say, "she has a sharp tongue, and she had a gift for phrase making cruel stuff. But I wouldn't say she's a humor columnist." Ditto that. She's never made me laugh.

Going through some papers the other day I came across a response I hadn't framed, so I therefore forgot about it. Rather than continue to compile outtakes from newspaper stories I took to writing a blog at the suggestion of Marilyn Johnson, author of 'The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries" who tired of me constantly emailing her and suggested I start a blog. I did, and have now been at it over 10 years with over 1,250 posting to my dubious credit.

The shared interest was obituaries, and has since given way to that, and more. Back in 2009 I apparently sent Mr. Baker a few hard copies of my first blog postings, telling him no doubt I abandoned the commonplace book idea and supplanted it with one that lets me write, something I enjoy.

One of the January 2009 postings was about a just published obituary of Bill Werber, the oldest living former major leaguer, who has passed away at 100. He was teammate of Babe Ruth's and could tell you the story of his being on base when Babe, following him in the batting order, belts one over the fence. As a youngster, Bill is so excited he runs around the bases and steps on home plate. Babe follows with his patented trot and later in the dugout tells the still excited and out-of-breath Bill that he doesn't have to run around the bases when the Babe hits one.

I recount the story of my father telling me he saw Babe play in right field at Yankee Stadium with an arm so strong he could throw a catcher out at first who might have just hit a single. I also marvel at the connection to the past Bill Werber represented—the human linkage to the past. Paul Mellon's father was 10 years old when Lincoln was assassinated. Imagine being brought up by a father who was 10 when Lincoln was killed.

That's the thing about obituaries: The linkage backwards. Scrolling through the #russellbaker postings is one Linda Gartz, a writer, who puts a quote out there from 'Growing Up,' Mr. Baker's Pulitzer Prize winning biography that I of course read. I don't remember the passage but it goes like this:

"We all come from the past, and children ought to know what it was that went into their making, to know that life is a braided cord of humanity stretching up from the time long gone, and that it cannot be defined by the span of a single journey from diaper to shroud."

I couldn't ever have put "linkage" as eloquent that.

The second posting I put in the envelope was the one, 'A Sit-Down at Woolworth's.' It is a story told by my daughter's father-in-law who is a retired NYC cop who told us at a Christmas gathering of how his mentor, when he came on the force, would tell him of the times he would collar a perp and take him into the photo booth at Woolworth's, and make him fork over the 25¢ needed to produce a strip of black and white photos, what today would be a selfie on paper. His mentor then would write the perp's name and vitals on the back of the photo and tell them he was keeping it as a reminder of what he looked like, and that if he ever caused any more trouble in the precinct he was going to run him in. The cop was keeping his own database. and of course in his own way, hoping to prevent further incidents.

Mr. Baker responded warmly to my offerings with a hand-written one-page letter that said he enjoyed the blogs. He further told me to check out the stories of of  Carl Furillo, the right fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers who had a howitzer for an arm. He wrote the Times did a story on Carl years ago and found that he was an elevator mechanic at the World Trade Center in NYC in the 70s.

He also said he enjoyed the story of the cop at Woolworth's. He said Joseph Mitchell would have turned that into a 20,000 word profile for The New Yorker. (Something surely out of my league.)

How gracious can you be? With Baker's retirement from 'The Observer' columns in 1998 I've often felt deprived of what he might have been writing about events since then. Surely he's thought about them. Wouldn't it be great to have Nat King Cole still be around and listen to him sing songs that were written after he passed away in 1965? Or Sinatra in 1998?

So when I wrote a recent blog 'The Shutdown' about the closing of the Federal government that is still going on, and I compared it to the 114-day NYC newspaper strike that started on December 8, 1962 and ended on March 31, 1963, and the principal antagonists, Betram Powers for the union and Amory H. Bradford for the publishers, I could think of no one I wanted more to write about the shutdown than Russell Baker.

Since this wasn't going to happen, I figured the best I could do was send him my offering of how the shutdown should be resolved: A cook-off referred by Chef Ramsey between President Trump and Speaker Pelosi.

I knew Mr. Baker was into his 90s. The last correspondence I got from him was a hand-written scrawl that stated that since he was now in his 90s he didn't feel he needed to answer mail. I fully understood. I think I had sent him the posting, 'The Work Ethic'  a criticism of Maureen Dowd, who I only read to ensure I stay mad at her. And reading her is easy. She only writes once a week, and probably not even 10 months a year.

My dislike for Ms. Dowd stems from her sort of inheriting the spot that 'The Observer' was in. Her first columns were under the banner of 'Liberties.' She certainly takes them.

But the Shutdown is the daily story that keeps the news going right now. So, knowing full well I wasn't going to get a response from Mr. Baker, I still sent him a hard copy of 'The Shutdown' in the hope he would get a kick out of my comparing the shutdown to a historic labor dispute that he would have been affected by. I felt it might have been a connection he would himself make.

I mailed the piece on Saturday, and since Monday was a mail holiday, there is no chance he would have been in a position to read it, since he passed away on Monday after complications from a fall.

McFadden wrote that Baker was like Mark Twain. I never read much of Mark Twain. I read Russell Baker. And now I miss him even more.


Monday, January 21, 2019

The Loo

I'll use the British convention for bathroom in the title. It makes bathroom sound so much cuter. The OED tells us the origin of loo is "unknown, mid-20th (1930 -1969) century, a water closet, lavatory." It does sound so very British.

Years ago there was a book I got several copies of, "The Toilets of New York."
The slim paperback has the longest sub-title I've ever come across: "A Handy Guide to the Best (and the Worst) Public and Semi-Public Relief Stations for those with a Need to Know. Includes Walking and Trotting Maps."

The book is useful, if not by now a bit dated. It's a 1990 publication compiled by Ken Eichenbaum that I've never seen an update to. And sine 1990 is sufficiently long enough ago that it predates the Internet, it also predates apps. The information you could gain from an app as to where to go is invaluable in time of need. And it could be generated by your phone's GPS, with advertising of course. Someone should be onto something.

I got the book as a gag gift, and apparently gave it to some co-workers who were leaving. One of those co-workers, my good friend Lady M., happened to be at my surprise birthday party the other night and reminded me about the book I gave her when I came out of the men's room at the restaurant and told any of the male attendees that they had to use the bathroom; I'd never seen anything like it. I described it for the females.

I've written about loos before. Everyone can understand a bathroom. In my kindergarten days at P.S. 22 in Flushing I distinctly remember the Kindergarten kids had their own bathroom. It was a toilet, not a urinal in a bit of an alcove. I also remember that there was a partition, but if you stood back far enough the teacher could still see the back of you doing your thing. (Even as kids in Kindergarten, boys liked to see how far they could stand back and still hit their mark.)

I remember making the motion of lifting the seat before taking my wee. And I remember the teacher, a woman, telling the rest of the kids in line that if you're a boy you should always lift the seat. It's a courtesy for the girls. She didn't say anything about putting the seat back down, so until I was married and subsequently lectured by my wife, (many, many times) I never put the seat back down. Bathrooms can cause such emotional harm.

I remember being with my boss on a business trip to a client in Pittsburgh and while we were waiting for our meeting to start he took a call from his wife. It was not an emergency of any kind, but after the call he told me Laurie wanted him to talk to with Danny or Shamus, perhaps both, that they should take better care of where they peed. Their aim has to improve. Since I had two girls I told him we don't have to have that conversation in our house.

So, what was so special about the men's room at the restaurant Del Frisco's in Huntington, New York at the Walt Whitman shopping mall?

There were two urinals, one a little lower for the younger lads, but both with a rectangular grating over drains where your feet would stand. I'd never seen that before. Thus, the misses and the drips would hit the drain and not leave the next user standing in a puddle or spray of where you were.

This is unique. And since Del Frisco's is in several cities, my wonder is naturally are all their bathrooms built to these specs?

The urinals at P.J. Clarke's have already been mentioned in a prior post, but what I always found interesting is that once P.J. Clarke's was expanded to other locations they still kept the original urinal design. Thus, when I went to a P.J.'s in Chicago and a P.J.'s near Lincoln Center, there were the same sarcophagi porcelain fixtures that looked like upturned bathtubs. Imagine, the urinal is part of your brand's image.

So, someday I might find myself in the Del Frisco's near Rockefeller Center and I'll get to check out the bathroom. Perhaps it will fall to me to update 'The Toilets of New York.'

I'm ready to serve my fellow man.



Robert Frost wrote that the world would end by fire or ice. T.S. Eliot wrote that it end with a "bang and a whimper." The end of the world is one of those philosophical thoughts. For myself, I think it will end with a typo.

A typo seems like a rather small thing to cause such a cataclysmic result. What I really mean is the typo will end someone's world, not the world for everyone.

I once had a manager who basically rewrote everything you wrote. I once threw my copy at the wall in front of him. I can still see his pinched "corrections" inserted over or under my text. Arrows and bent connecting lines when there wasn't enough space and the margins were needed. He sweated over text. And we were only auditors writing a report. If he were a newspaper editor he would still be cobbling the story about the sinking of the Titanic.

Of course the text wasn't greatly improved—if at all— by his additions, corrections rephrasing and subtraction of contractions. It was a waste of time. I used to joke that Harry was going to be done in by a typo.  He was done in by something, because eventually he went on long-term disability and was never seen again.

I just got my annual compilation of blog postings that are printed in a hard cover book by Blog2Print. For me, the annual vanity costs about $60 after the "act now" discounts. No one pays retail. Price becomes dependent on the number of pages it takes to print the collection. The paper is a nice vellum, there is a table of contents, and the photos used in the postings are reproduced.  And you can use photos on the front and back covers. It makes for a nice presentation.

It also makes for a nice set of volumes to stack or get on a shelf. Fill the shelf. I've now completed 10 years of writing the blog, and there have been over 1,250 postings. And they're all compiled in hard cover volumes of the same design. It is my memoirs.

After writing a posting I do spell checking and proofreading. I re-read a few times, walk away, give it some time, and then come back to the copy. The approach usually ferrets out the bad phrasing, the typos, the bad spelling and the errant punctuation. I don't like doing this, but I have no editor. After my review, the "publish" button is pressed and the posting is out there.

I can of course always re-edit the piece. Sometimes after a look-back I still find something that's not right, and because it's online, I can still make the change and save it.

But once the postings are compiled and printed, they really are "published" and you can't go back and make a change to the paper copy. I cringe when I re-read some of my work that's been compiled and I still find a typo, a bad alignment, or an awkward phrase. How the hell did I miss that? I'm going to be done in by typos and suffer Harry's fate.

An example of what suddenly became glaring was the spelling of compliant when I wanted to spell complaint. The words are much alike. I know the limitations of SpellChecker, and that's one of them. Both spellings are correct, but only one spelling is the one I want to use.

"Back at he safe house..." "after the first their is no other..." JESUS CHRIST! I let that one slip by? It can be humiliating to re-read what you thought was good copy, only to find glaring mistakes.

Not every posting has need of further corrections. Lots of the copy is clean. But it amazes me considering how much copy there is in a newspaper such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal that they are free of  bo-boos. And I think they did away with many editor positions. Thus, the onus to get it right lies more heavily on the reporter these days, and reading your own work with the aim of finding errors is difficult, and often not successful.

One of my most glaring errors, this one at spelling, made it into testimony in Federal court. Twice. I had to prepare a computer report detailing claim filing activity for the defendant. The printout became part of the prosecution's evidence. As the creator of the report I got to name it. Nothing lofty, pretty straight forward, but since the defendant was a Ob-gyn physician I misspelled Obstectrics in the heading, a heading that is produced on every page of the large report.

At the first trail the assistant defense attorney seemed to try and poke holes in the report since it contained a misspelling. I was embarrassed, but it went nowhere since I explained the heading was a free-form narrative created by me, not by data from the files. I misspelled it, that's all.

The first trial ended in a hung jury. There was a second trial and I asked the AUSA if I could correct the spelling. They agreed and I produced the same report, but with no misspelling. Obstetrics replaced obstectrics.

The defense team was different, and being well-prepared (or not well-prepared) they again asked me about the misspelling. I said, "I thought I corrected that." The lead counsel made the assistant sit down. I stepped down.

But not all errors are bad. They can be funny. Years ago our vice president was leaving and it fell to my co-worker to call in the cake order. I can still remember her talking to the bakery people and telling them to spell out FAREWELL LOU. I think she even spelled it out for them.

Well, the cake comes and Lou looks down and says, "Who is this fellow named FARWELL?" They still managed to blow it.

On Saturday I was truly surprised by a surprise birthday party at a restaurant, Del Frisco's Grille in Huntington. An excellent place.

I will for the record tell you that one of the balloons with the number 70 on it did accurately announce my age, despite my telling the cute waitress is was a lie. I was half that age plus 10 years  (45) and that I wasn't really there with my wife. I did this after she said I didn't look 70. Bless her heart.

The cake wasn't from the restaurant, but was brought in by my family. It was a standard birthday cake with the two wax numerical candles that affirmed I was 70. I joked that why does this number keep coming up?

The script icing however contained a typo. It read "HAPPY 40th BIRTHDAY."

All typos are not bad.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Shutdown

"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

The line is of course from 'Cool Hand Luke' starring Paul Newman, a movie that was released in what is hard-to-believe over a half-century ago in 1967. It basically sums up the difference between the inmates on the chain gang and the shotgun toting prison guards.

Anyone who is my age or older and grew up in New York City should remember the 1960s, when New York City's nickname went from "Fun City" to "Strike City," enduring strikes in that decade of the newspaper typographical union, the transit workers, the teachers, the police, the firemen and the sanitation workers. There were probably more. I think the bridge tenders went out as well, taking the tools with them that left the city's draw bridges in an permanent upright position for weeks, making it tough on traffic.

Dick Schaap appropriated the term "Fun City" when the newly inaugurated mayor, John V. Lindsay took a helicopter ride over the city during the 1966 transit strike, landed, and declared that he still thought it was a "fun city." Dick ran with it, and so did everyone else, eventually renaming the metropolis "Strike City."

In chronological order, the typographical union's shutdown of the city's eight! newspapers for what became a 114 day strike, going from December 8, 1962 to March 31, 1963, was the first one I remember in my formative years. It was devastating.

A great read of what is now a much analyzed impasse between labor and management is Scott Sherman's piece in the November 30, 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, fifty years after the start of the strike.

The head of the International Typographical Union No. 6 (The Big Six) was Bertram Powers, a man described by a government mediator as "honest, clean, democratic—and impossible." The strike grew out of the impending automation that was going to do away with linotype machines. I remember reading the obituary many years later for Bertram Powers who admitted he had already seen the future at an exhibit in Miami, Florida where is was demonstrated that computers could set type. He knew the union he grew up with was facing extinction.

On the other side of the table was the Publishers' representative, Amory H. Bradford. His ancestors didn't come over on The Mayflower, but they may as well have. His name was meant to adorn an Ivy League dormitory plaque. When he passed away in 1998 Robert McFadden's NYT obituary caught the essence of the man, describing him as an impeccably dressed 6'4" Ivy League aristocrat (Yale 1934; Skull and Bones) who was "accustomed to snapping orders to pliant subordinates." Bertram Powers was a high-school dropout, described by Mr. McFadden as "a tough, relentless negotiator, the embodiment of a gut-fighter up from the streets." Powers and Bradford were "natural enemies from the start."

(Mayor Lindsay, elected in 1965, was a Yale man as well, and likewise met his match with union leaders of all stripes.)

The Tines labor reporter, A.H. Raskin in his post mortem of the strike, recounts that "one top-level mediator said Mr. Bradford brought an attitude of such icy disdain into the conference rooms that the mediator often felt he ought to ask the hotel to send up more heat."

Today marks the 28th day of the U.S. Government shutdown, a shutdown that is being portrayed as political, a feud between a divided country of Republicans and Democrats. It only looks that way. It is a labor dispute. Twenty-eight days is the length of rehab. It is time to get back to work.

Decide for yourself who is President Trump and who is House Speaker Pelosi, but their personalities have long been etched on the faces and actions of management and labor as seen over the bargaining table.

They are both getting petty, and nasty. Today's Times is putting in words what everyone already knows: they're not playing well in the sand box.

Again I will invoke the settlement strategy of the recently departed co-founder, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Herb Kelleher of  Southwest Airlines who proposed he and another airline's CEO settle their tag line dispute with an arm wrestling match. Despite losing, the match, Southwest was allowed to keep the disputed tag line, "Just Plane Smart," all because of Mr. Kelleher's personality.

Considering body weight, an arm wrestling match, winner take-all between the President and the Speaker is probably out. So, how about a Chef Ramsey refereed cooking contest?

The White House kitchen is being vastly underutilized these days, with Federal employees not there. Witness the fare served up to the college championship Clemson football team—a college student's delight—fast food from McDonald's and other heavily advertised food emporiums.

Nationally televised, the President and the Speaker would square off in equally equipped kitchens, making an entrée from scratch following Chef Ramsey's recipe. Chef R. would decide who prepared the best meal. Winner take all. No appeals.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Putting One Over

A score in gambling terms is a huge win. Although, from the size of the $1 exacta payoff on the 4th race at Aqueduct on Saturday you really can't tell if it was a huge score. But you can bet it was something.

It's winter, and I'm basically in racing hibernation. My friend (Fourstardave) however, despite no longer having the interest to pursue the horses, still looks at the results. It is apparently an involuntary reflex. He gets a paper that still prints the payoffs, New York's Newsday.

Out of sheer habit, he scans the prices. He told me yesterday there was a "real bomb on Saturday, a $160 horse." This is exceedingly rare, no matter what track you're at.

It was the 4th race, a 6½ furlong New York Bred Maiden $30,000 Claiming race, $30,000 purse. Pretty much the proverbial "bottom of the barrel." A field of 8 made it to the gate, with three unraced entrants. Odds on the board ranged from 3/5 to 80-1.

There are strange things done in the winter sun, but one of the strangest was the 80-1 shot winning the race by 4½ lengths, going away, ridden by a Finger Lakes jockey A. S. Worrie. My successful stint at Saratoga this past summer included a  long shot winner piloted by A.S. I said to the other John, "look, this trainer is using a Finger Lakes jock, it's his only mount on the card. He'll take the lead and try and hang on."  And that's just what happened. Being right is a lovely thing.

So, the unraced Warrens Vengeance (there are no apostrophes in names), trained by Ralph D'Alessandro wins and pays $162.50. Because that's what 80-1 shots pay when they win.

Second, goes to one of the other unraced entrants Tousled, trained by James W. Ferraro, another Finger Lakes trainer. Finger Lakes, an upstate track near Rochester, is closed for the winter. So, Finger Lakes comes down for some winter action. Certainly the purses are not stellar, but they are certainly more than the nothing that's being carded upstate.

Tousled is 2½ lengths ahead of the third place horse at odds of $68 to 1, the second longest price on the board. Thus, the finish for the first two spots is the reverse of the ascending order of the odds. The last shall be 1-2.

Now, you might think that a $1 exacta payoff on these two of $1,016.50 is a nice payout. I'm sure of one thing. It's an accurate payout, but someone loaded up on either wheeling the top horse up and down and got extremely lucky that a 68-1 shot finished second.

A general rule of thumb is that an exacta pays the win price times the place price of the second place horse. Since Tousled paid $44,20, this would put an expectancy out there of a $2 exacta payout of approximately $7,182 for a $2 bet. This is a far cry from the $1,016 for a $1 exacta that was the payout.

There is no mathematical formula that states that the exacta will always be a multiple of win and second place price. It will generally be so given unskewed betting patterns. The underlying distribution of money always determines any payout. If Warrens Vengeance is flooded on top with exactas, then the large number of tickets using their number on top will drive the exacta payout down. And boy, did it ever get driven down.

Exacta wagering has long ago emerged from the total darkness it once was. There are now screens at the track that approximate payouts based on "if" results: if the 3 wins, there is a matrix that will tell you the approximate payout of the 3 with any of the other entrants. The screens are refreshed, just like the win odds right up to post time.

Outside of being there, or mutuel room reports, there is no visual of what those exacta approximations were showing as the betting was being made on the 4th race. Was anything with the 3 always a bomb payoff given the 80-1 odds, or did the approximation suddenly dip after someone bet a bundle on a wheeled exacta? A speculation in itself.

If you're good with numbers, you can spot prospective payouts that are completely out of whack with what the win odds are showing. Anomalies in wagering. I try to spot them, but I don't admit to being great at it.

Certainly someone was convinced Warrens Vengeance was going to race well. So called "smart money" is not always smart, given Andy Serling's Tweet about the action on the board. Andy is a former commodities trader, and is someone for whom the price and value means everything. He works as a broadcaster/analyst  for NYRA now.

Shortly before the 4th race Andy Tweeted:

Midnitesalright goes from 7:5 to 3:5 in a blink of an eye.

Immediately after the race, Andy Tweets:

Late money or not ( see, it doesn't always know ), Midnitealright was a no excuse 4th after making an easy lead. Warrens Vengeance blows the field away at 80:1 to take the #Aqueduct 4th.

The exacta payout anomaly goes unmentioned.

None of this is meant to imply the race was fixed. Winners are tested for drugs; beaten favorite are tested as well.

Given that racing is barely written about, there is no way we're ever going to know who did what, or if anything was looked at given the results.

What someone doesn't know is if their money might have been better appropriated with strict win and place bets on Warrens Vengeance. After all, the place payout was $62.50. A successful wheeled exacta with an 8 horse field guarantees you're going to buy 6 losing exactas for each multiple you're putting through the system. And if you "back wheel," with the 3 second, all your bets are losers.

Sometimes, even when you win, you can't be sure you should have won more. It is a tough game to beat.


Monday, January 14, 2019

The List

A few albums ago Rosanne Cash produced an album titled 'The List.' The tracks were all songs that were part of the list her father, Johnny Cash, gave her when he started performing, telling her these were the 100 songs you have to learn. Considering that when Johnny was starting out he would approach record producers, and in that baritone/bass voice intone, "hello, my name is Johnny Cash, and I know about a thousand songs," a list of 100 to his daughter was nothing.

At one of the performances I saw of Rosanne she explained about the legacy her father left her with. She added that there was "one more song" that should be on the list, and she sang it: 'Ode to Billie Joe.'

This was a mega-hit for Bobbie Gentry in the late 60s. It told the story of young lovers were were seen on the Tallahatchie Bridge throwing something off the bridge. Later, the male, Billie Joe throws himself off the bridge, committing suicide.

Everyone concentrated on what was thrown off the bridge. And theories abounded. It was "who shot JR" before Dallas on TV. Who was Carly Simon singing about? Generally, most people believed a fetus was being thrown off the bridge. I remember on one show they even staged a reenactment, what would later be called a video, of the family sitting at the kitchen table, callously discussing Billie Joe. "Ain't never had a lick of sense."

Bobbie Gentry explained in an interview:

“Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”

It is no wonder Rosanne would include the song on her list of songs to be able to sing. And when she sang the song, she owned it.

There are lots of lists. Grocery lists, To -Do lists, New Year's resolutions, and probably the most commonly stated, Bucket Lists.

I don't like to think in terms of Bucket lists, even if I am turning 70 tomorrow. I just think of things I'd like to do. Same thing, without the deadline.

One of the things I've wanted to do is go to The 21 Club, a famous bar, restaurant at 21 West 52nd Street that was a speakeasy during Prohibition, but stayed around long enough to become a power broker's eatery.

It is a distinguished place famous for the toys hanging from the ceiling in the bar area, gifts from famous people, to the the lawn jockeys out front that represent the silks of some very famous stables.

Speakeasies flourished during Prohibition. These were bars and restaurants that were behind a single door that was opened when someone told the fellow on the other side of the peep hole what the "password" was. You spoke the password "easy," thus the joints became known as speakeasies, and NYC, Manhattan, had plenty of them.

There were known by their addresses. There was no signage that said liquor was available. The phrase to "86" something came to mean in a restaurant that the item had been run out of. The "86" stemmed from the back exit at a speak named Chumley's. When a raid was imminent it was announced to "86" the place—run out the back to the exit at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village.

My grandfather's flower shop was the entrance to the speak Pete Bellas's, at what is now named Pete's Tavern on 18th Street and Irving Place. The menus used to describe the role the Royal flower shop played as a cover (many flower shops of the era were covers), but they've adopted new menus and scrubbed out the past. It was an ongoing flower shop. You could still buy flowers. If no one did, the family would have starved.

My oldest daughter turned 40 recently and as part of what seems to be the continuous celebration, my son-in-law took her to 21 for dinner along with tickets to 'Hamilton' this past Saturday. Certainly a double treat.

I was envious of the 21 part of the deal, and told all assembled at dinner shortly before New Year's. But, no one was asking Dad to come along on the date. Even without the theater tickets.

The pair of them knowing my history of paying attention to thoroughbred racing for over 50 years, sent me the following photo of the jockeys on the staircase in front of the place. I've passed the restaurant many times, (I was never inside.) but probably forgot the lawn jockeys are holding lights that work—what would originally be lanterns.

It's a great sight, and I appreciated getting the email with the photo. I responded that I've probably bet on all the horses whose jockeys were wearing those silks.

But there were two photos in the email from my son-in-law. Old bars and speakeasies have their innate charms. P.J. Clarke's on 3rd Avenue and 56th Street was of course once a speakeasy. And the men's room, like that at McSorley's Ale House on 7th Street, is graced with urinals that date to the year of the flood, huge porcelain sarcophagi that look like upended bath tubs.

My son-in-law is playful, and certainly not above some potty humor. So, I got a picture of what was on the wall above a pair of the urinals at 21.

I was surprised that in this cautious era a cartoon like that would still be around in a place frequented by so many movers and shakers. But of course it's in the men's room, and no one's been complaining.

I've seen photos of Eloise at the Plaza, and the Monkey Bar at the Elysee Hotel, but I was not prepared to know the men's room at 21 could also be an attraction.

I now have a Bucket List.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Coffee Beans

I am a product of baby-boomer television. Television came of age as I came of age. I don't remember the very early shows—the early 50s, like 'Show of Shows'—but I did catch up sometime around 1954 or 1955. Rin Tin Tin in 'Fort Apache', 'Lassie,' 'The Long Ranger,' 'Our Miss Brooks,' 'My Little Margie,' 'The Gale Storm Show'...

Commercials have always been a part of TV shows. And of course still are. Right now there are so many commercials for a core category of products that I consider myself to have completed the first year of medical school for the knowledge I've gained watching Big Pharma make their pitch for my bowel and mood movements. I've also had to beat down the urge to buy a truck that "has raised the bar...it is the bar, baby," with "military grade aluminum and advanced torque," and of course beer.

At ten-years of age I no longer believed in Santa Claus, but I did believe there was this Spanish guy in Colombia, who with his trusty burro, picked the world's coffee beans, the "world's richest coffee," Juan Valdez.

Juan is no longer with us, but it is the second Juan Valdez who has passed away, Carlos Sánchez  83, "Colombia's Juan Valdez" as reported in today's NYT obit section.

The Juan who I grew up with was apparently created in 1959 by the advertising firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach and was played by Jose F. Duval, a Colombian actor. The campaign was of course to promote coffee beans from Colombia, and tried to offset the perception of a country that gave the world cocaine and drug cartels. Growing up, this perception was not that strong, if indeed there was any such perception. It did however become so.

Here was Juan, roaming those Colombian high altitude hills with his burro Conchita, carefully picking every bean and laying it down in his sack. I'm sure at some point I believed Juan was the only guy picking the beans, and that the whole beans at the A&P that people could grind up themselves—8 O'clock Coffee—all came from his efforts with his burro. Juan worked hard.

Those ground beans at the A&P sure smelled good. The A&P in the neighborhood had the grinding machines—three I think—right at the entrance. No wonder people drank coffee. It did smell good.

Carlos Sánchez was an artist  and actor who got the gig to play Juan in 1969 and retired from the role in 2006. The role of course defined  his existence, and was sorely missed when he stopped playing Juan. I can't say I've seen any Juan Valdez commercials lately, but apparently there is a third Juan currently played by Carlos Castaneda.

Strong identification with characters and pitchmen in commercials is nothing new. A parlor game might be to see how many you can name. The Marlboro Man would surely be one, as surely Flo would be for Progressive insurance.

My favorite these days is Jan who is pitching Toyotas. Jan wears red, and is so identified with Toyota  they even had her in there pitching when she was pregnant, something that decades ago would be unheard of.

I have a good friend who I used to work with who occasionally picks me up in her new Totoya red Rav 4 for a lunch date. I can't help but think of Jan. I want to find the dealership she's at and ask how she and the baby are doing.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tale of the Tape

Since retiring, my trips into the City are no longer daily trips. I now only go in when there's a medical appointment, or need of a haircut. I'm staying with my barber.

As such, I always dovetail a trip into the City with some other errand, usually a shopping stop somewhere. My latest trip in was last week when I had a physician's appointment that I dovetailed with a stop off at the Staples on 34th Street, just west of Madison Avenue.

Turns out, the Friday visit was going to be the last at that Staples location. The store was closing, and the nearest one was at 39th and 5th Avenue. Good to know for the next trip in if I need any office items, which I can no longer get from the grey storage cabinet at work. I have to  buy by own Magic Tape these days. And file folders. Plan ahead for retirement to account for office expenses you never used to have. And health insurance.

As such, the shelves looked like a convenience store in Key West hours before the hurricane was going to hit. They were pretty empty. No problem, I found what I wanted. Or, I found way more than what I wanted. I needed calculator tape, 2¼".

Found it. Aisle 14. But there were only jumbo packages of the tape. Twelve rolls was the smallest number of rolls I could buy. With my 70th birthday fast approaching, my thought was that 12 rolls of calculator tape was going to be something I was going to have to put in my will. Who is going to get what's left? In all actuarial projections, I'm not going to outlive 12 rolls of calculator tape.

But, what's this? The 12 rolls were 50¢! That's right, a little more than 4¢ a roll  Who can resist? The 12 rolls would have regularly have been a little more than $16.  Bulk buying works.

Since Staples was my first stop, before the doctor on 37th Street, I had to carry the 12 rolls with me. After the physician on 37th Street and 1st Avenue I was planning to do some shopping at Brooks Brothers on 44th Street, and then take a subway back to Penn Station. These trips into the city are planned out like a bank robbery. Paper in bulk can be heavy, and the 12 rolls weighed me down a bit, but really, 4¢ a roll was worth it.

Perhaps I can off-load some of this extra paper to others who might need it? Turned out, my physician didn't need it, the two people who waited on me at Brooks Brothers didn't need it.
I'm now still toting my briefcase along with my Brooks Brothers purchase and 12 rolls of calculator tape (and some Magic Tape), I'm on 44th Street, and my arms are getting tired.

There's one more stop I can make. My optician is on 44th Street, just west of 5th Avenue. Maybe they can use a few rolls.

The folks at Dell & Dell have gotten used to me over the years, but I don't think they could anticipate my offer of free rolls of calculator tape. Bingo! Pulling a sample from their calculator in the back proved to be a match: 2¼". I punctured the wrapping and quickly gave them three rolls, and immediately felt my burden get lighter. I was still in all great statistical likelihood not going to outlive even 9 rolls of calculator tape, but there were still the kids to make offers to.

My new son-in-law laughed that anyone could still need calculator tape. I said I thought your accountant Joel might take some. My daughter explained that Excel was probably the calculator of choice these days.

I really can't see that, but perhaps live long enough and you will straddle all types of technology. I remember using a ratchet, gear driven adding machine that you had to pull a handle down on the right after making your entry. It was almost a slot machine. But, you worked with a paper tape, and you could check your entries.

The ratchet gave way to chip calculators when Texas Instruments started the sea change of using calculators that didn't rely on gears. And now, calculators are passe? Who knew?

In the spirit of something always reminding me of something, the 9 rolls of calculator tape, when  placed on their side, reminded me of the Daniels and Kennedy trucks I used to see slowly going up 3rd Avenue in the 60s when I looked out from the family flower shop. The shop was on 18th Street, and the Daily News was on 42nd Street near 2nd Avenue. The D&K flat-bed trucks were loaded with MASSIVE rolls of newsprint, headed for the presses on 41st Street. Since in that era the Daily News printed over a million copies a day, they used a lot of newsprint. The trucks rolled up 3rd Avenue several times a week.

I have no idea where the paper came shipped from. I didn't know of any paper mills in NYC, but obviously the newsprint was produced somewhere and shipped to the isle of Manhattan, like so many other things.
Stacked another way, the 9 rolls resemble the Corinthian apartment house where my NYU physician has an office, a massive building overlooking the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

It is amazing what the imagination can do with a 50¢ purchase.


Monday, January 7, 2019

A.O.C. and the President

I've been a Mauren Dowd reader ever since she was given  her own column titled 'Liberties.' two decades ago. I was missing the recently retired Russell Baker and was looking for a replacement. I certainly didn't get a clone, but then again, how many of us are alike?

Baker's column was titled 'The Observer' and was a tightly worded, beautifully written discourse (a ballet in a phone booth as he wrote in his last offering) on the hot-button comings and goings of the day. Always with class and grace.

Ms. Dowd is still one of the few writers who can send me to the dictionary. I keep the two volume shorter version of the OED in front of me and still delight in looking words up. In a book. I keep the much smaller 'Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary' within arm's reach when I feel the word is not too obscure and I don't want to do the heavy lifting.

Today's words are: midichorian and lacunae. Look them up if you have to. I did.

Ms. Dowd has become less appealing to me to read as the years have passed over all of us. Her columns can be snarky, filled with one-liners, and sometimes just completely off the wall. Like playing golf in the bathroom.

And she rarely works these day. My man Russ churned out three-a-week columns until he retired on Christmas day in 1998. To paraphrase Don McLean, 'the day the writing died. Bad news on the doorstep.' That was the last column.  He is still alive, a nonagenarian living in Virginia.

Ms. Dowd is down to one-a-week, with long breaks for I guess vacation and rejuvenation. She doesn't work very hard, but I guess the Pulitzer she won two decades ago ago insulates her from unemployment. (Mr. Baker won two; Commentary and Biography)

But we're not here to bury the lady, we're here to praise her. At least for today. The first column of the New Year, 'Boogie Down Bronx Lady,' is a winner, and is worth reading in the best tradition of Russell Baker.

Ms. Dowd has crowned Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected Congresswoman representing the rough edges of The Bronx and Queens, as A.O.C. It is worthy shorthand for a somewhat long, hyphenated name. Ms. Ocasio is obviously Latino, good looking and turned out in nice clothing. She photographs well, and has a winning smile. And she Tweets.

She is a media magnet because of her good looks, much like Sarah Palin, and she can be relied on to give as good as she gets. She's another New Yorker in the sand box. Will she play well with the others? What do you think?

Anyone who is not currently in a coma knows Federal employees are now into their third week of not being at work, the result of an Oval Office pissing match with the now Democratic leadership in the House. It's becoming a little unseemly out there, like wearing the same clothes for over a week. Things are starting to smell.

Oval Office is of course shorthand for the president, Donald Trump, a five-year-old who doesn't play well in the sand box with anyone. Ms. Dowd refers to him as a Neanderthal, and as I usually stay away from politics, I'm starting the feel the burn.

Ms. Dowd recognizes the changed dynamics of the gender ratio in elected representation. She also recognizes the incivility of a newly elected representative from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, who is the first Muslim elected to the House, who with no reprimand uses coarse language in an interview in calling President Trump a "mother-fucker" who should be impeached. Ms. Tlaib is no Henry Clay, but rather Andrew Dice Clay. It was just a rehearsal. She's next on 'Saturday Night Live.'

George Carlin pointed out seven words you shouldn't say on television, and that is a solid variation of one of them. If her utterance were in Congress, how would the Congressional Record handle it? Print it verbatim, or would they use a string of *****?

There was a recent A-Hed piece in the Wall Street Journal about the clerks in the House of Commons who enforce the rules apparently laid out in a book from 1844 called Erskine May, written by Erskine May. In the 1,097-page book rules of conduct are outlined. Some are significantly outdated, like leaving your sword at the door...snuff can only come from a special box.

Other riles of decorum are not outdated, such as no speaking ill of your opponent. No personal attacks, or using inappropriate language. Examples are, but not limited to: git, guttersnipe; swine; and stool pigeon. (Those Brits can really hurl some insults.) My guess is you have to get the full text to see if "mother-fucker" is in there, but my guess is also that in the spirit of not using coarse language, that word would qualify for censure.

The story goes that it was thought the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called Prime Minister Theresa May "a stupid woman," A certain no-no.

Lip readers were employed to see if Jeremy's claim of really saying "stupid people" was what was actually uttered. The initial ruling on the field stood, and no action was taken. No definitive proof of the "stupid woman" utterance.

Ms. Dowd astutely warns the newly elected: "The brat pack may want to avoid getting too far over their skis while their learning curve is steep."

Is there a solution for the current stand off?  Read obituaries. Now who's off the wall?

There a recently deceased man who I wish I had met. And after reading the obituary of Herb Kelleher, 87, "Who Let Southwest Airlines Fly With Vision" you will easily recognize the solution to resolving the impasse of  Trump's Wailing Wall and pay for Federal employees.

Arm wrestling.

Mr. Kelleher was apparently that rare combination of character and astute businessman who built a start up airline into a major carrier with decades of continuous profit and good relations with unionized employees. Glenn Rifkin in Mr. Kelleher's NYT obituary tells us has was "a hard drinker with an ever-present Kool cigarette in his mouth, he liked to dress like Elvis Presley or other characters at company meeting and maintain a level of fun in the workplace."

Unmentioned in the up-beat obit is the campaign that Southwest became famous for when their flight crews were encouraged to become stand up comedians in their cabin announcements. The advertising approach was heavily parodied by real stand up comedians, as I sat through a routine once at Chicago's Second City. It was hilarious.

But buried in the obit is thing we'd like to see in the way of settling an impasse. In the NYC Police Department two officers who might be having a pissing match with each other are encouraged to put boxing gloves and head gear on and take their "beef" into the ring and settle their difference in an athletic contest. There can sometimes be no greater friends than those created after a fight.

A true testament to the legend of Mr. Kelleher's popularity and success of his leadership is that the Southwest employees and retirees placed a full page notice of appreciation for his leadership in the Wall Street Journal. Few CEOs get that kind of adulation.

In the delightful dancing skit a Little Sidestep in 'The Best Little Whore House in Texas' as performed by Charles Durning as the Governor of Texas, he calls for the settlement of Mid-East differences: "It behooves the Jews and the A-Rabs that they should settle their difference in a Christian manner." Mr. Durning was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his evasive dancing approach to problem solving.

And Mr. Kelleher? What do we learn from him? Well, apparently in 1993 Southwest and Stevens Aviation were each using the same advertising tagline, "Just Plane Smart." Typical of all disputes, litigation was considered as the only approach to solving the impasse.

At least until Mr. Kelleher, as the colorful character he apparently was, proposed that he and Kurt Herwald of Stevens Aviation settle the dispute by arm wrestling rather than through the courts.

They did. Mr. Kelleher lost, but Mr. Herwald let me keep the slogan because he liked to guy. You win when you lose. That's a smart guy.

So, how do Federal employees get to go back to work and the issue of the Wailing Wall goes away?

Obviously A.O.C. and The Donald, the Prez, have to line up for an arm wrestling match. Two New Yorkers, poised to settle their "beef."

Fair contest? Hell no. No holds barred. Just like when the Jets and Sharks met under the old West Side Highway in 'West Side Story,' someone has to bring a gun, just like Geno did for the Skarks.

You're saying someone should be shot? Hell no. The plan should be for A.O.C. to position her arm on the stand, lock eyes with The Donald, and at the whistle, immediately reach under the platform and grab The Donald by his goodies. Men love it when attractive women grab them by their goodies.

So simple it can make you cry.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bernie Gunther's Women

Anyone who might be paying attention to these posting will remember when I wrote I was getting a kick out of reading books with Philip Kerr's character Bernie Gunther, the SS investigator who is not a Nazi, and who solves crimes while still pissing off those around him, especially the ones in authority. He is a also private eye, of course. And of course there are women.

From the title alone, 'The Lady from Zagreb' promises lust. And with a cover that shows a blonde looking over a rainy nighttime scene in a foreign country, you can guess that Bernie sometimes has his clothes off. But the novels are not filled with such activity; just when it fits the plot.

Consider 'The Lady from Zagreb,' where a young film star named Dalia Dresner possesses such beauty that Joseph Goebbels is gloriously smitten. Bernie is entrusted by Goebbels to seek her out and get her to return to Berlin to make a movie. She's playing hard ball about making the next film. She's now in Switzerland. Bring her back to Berlin and get her on the set.

Mr. Kerr at the end of his novels gives the reader an update on the real life characters Bernie encounters. Mr. Kerr admits the The Dalia Dresner character is a composite of Pola Negri and Hedy Lamarr, two screen sirens, from different eras, of Polish and Austrian ancestry that made heads spin.

Most film buffs would easily recognize Hedy Lamarr's name but perhaps not Pola Negri who was from the silent era who did transition to talkies. By all accounts Pola made the rounds of bedding the best, Charlie Chaplin and especially Rudolph Valentino. She is described as being of exquisite beauty who passed away at 88 in 1987. She was a favorite of Hitler's to the point that he overruled Goebbels who thought her to be not a pure Aryan.

Hedy Lamarr, who passed away in 2000 at 86 was another film siren who starred in a movie called 'Algiers.' She blew smoke so seductively that Charles Boyer, as Pepe le Moko, a figitive jewel thief, was impossibly smitten, so smitten it made him drop the protection he was enjoying living in the maze of Casbah area of Algiers and venture out to his eventual capture and death. Cherchez la femme and you die.

There is so much smoking in 'Algiers' that you feel you might have to open a window. In real life, Hedy was credited with working with her husband (first of 6) as they developed an anti-radar jamming device. The device received a United States. patents, but never proved lucrative for the couple. The United States used the concept after the patent expired.

Mr. Kerr creates the perfect composite character in Dalia who is sultry and brainy, who desires to quit film making and go off to the university to study mathematics. Her math skills are shown off when she provides the answer to the sum of the numbers between 1 and 100 by quickly calculating it in her head. ((101...(1+100...2+99...)...times 50 pairs, equals 5050.)) So simple it could make you cry.

The Pola Negri reference struck a chord. I heard of Pola from an early age in the 1950s when the Greek school my father placed me in for 5th grade was located in a repurposed house in Beechhurst, a section of Queens not far from where we lived in Flushing, a house reportedly lived in by Pola Negri herself.

My father was smitten. Whoever told him Pola lived there made his day. Beechhurst was a pretty upscale section of Queens, not far from Astoria, where they did make films back in the 20s, 30s and 40s and have since started making TV shows at Kaufman and Silvercup Studios. Pola would have a short trip home by limo after a hectic day of looking great. And by all accounts she did look great.

By the time the house, which was a bit of a mansion on 11th Avenue off 150th Street was repurposed, it was a bit dilapidated, but served the function of becoming a school with a tiny enrollment. A room had even been converted into a small Greek chapel.

My education at St. Andrew's was basically my middle school years. The school grew in enrollment to the point that a second mansion was purchased, on Riverside Drive in Beechhurst, where the upper classes were held. Since the mansion was on the water, the Long Island Sound, the school came to be pretentiously called "St. Andrew's Academy On-the-Sound," complete with breast pocket patch on the blazer. We were marked.

It turns out a good number of movie stars of the era lived in the area. The mansion that was Rudolf Valentino's is still in Bayside, refurbished into a restaurant and catering venue, initially called Cafe on the Green, now Vivo's.  When we closed on selling our house in Flushing in 1995 our agent took us to lunch at Cafe on the Green.

Mr. Kerr has thus created a movie star Dalia that not only grabs Goebbels by his club foot, but Bernie by his lips.

Bernie of course nearly gets killed, but it is always dangerous when you're around pretty women in a novel.