Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Still Hiding Out in the Country

I don't have anything in my life that compares to the story the 85 year-old actor Michael Caine told Marc Myers in the WSJ about his early childhood growing up during the London Blitz by German bombers.

A 7 year-old Michael and another boy named Clarence were sent to live with another family on the outskirts of London when it became apparent the Germans were going to use London for bombing practice. Sending children away from the city was a common practice in that wartime era.

The story goes:

"At the start of the German bombing of London in 1940 I was sent to live with a family outside of the city. They seemed nice enough, but when they went away for the weekend, they locked me and another boy, Clarence, in a dark cupboard under the stairs with just enough food and water. I was 7.

"This went on for three successive weekends. When my mother arrived on the fourth weekend to pick me up, she found me covered in sores. She nearly was sent to prison for beating up the other woman."

Proof that we live on a Mobius strip is the current tale Michael tells that he still seeks out life in the country when he and his wife of 46 years, Shakira, leave their West London flat and head for their converted 200-year-old barn in Surrey. He realizes he's still shuttling back and forth from London and the country. But with no bombing.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Banished East of Eden

To show you how long I've been around and watching television, a cop show on TV used to be 'Car 54 Where Are You?' Of course there was also 'Dragnet,' but you would never confuse yesteryear for now.

It didn't matter what cop show you were watching in the 50s and 60s, the punishment threatened by the superior officer to the beat cops was that if they didn't shape up they would be pounding a beat out in Staten Island, or in some other similarly unpopulated terrain in Los Angeles county.

It always worked. Officers Toody and Muldoon shaped up for the Captain rather than risk banishment to the boonies. Nowadays, Staten Island would not be considered so bad, since so many of the force lives on Staten Island.

The retired NYC detective who hung out in the family flower shop confirmed the real-life punishment that awaited problem officers: Staten Island, or a punishing commute from their Bronx homestead to an outlier precinct in Brooklyn, guaranteeing hours of daily round trip commuting. Every workplace has their version of purgatory. Or even Hell.

Consider the recently deceased A. Ernest Fitzgerald who just left us at 92. Mr. Fitzgerald was a civilian Air Force employee who was an expert at identifying Pentagon waste involving planes and weapons costs. So much so that Senator Grassley of Iowa said, "Ernie was a sleuth for the truth."

Being a thorn in the side of those who were spending the money did not earn Mr. Fitzgerald many friends on the inside amongst the higher ups. He earned the enmity of President Nixon.

At one point he was relieved of his job identifying the costs of major weapons systems and was shifted to audit Air Force mess halls and bowling alleys in Thailand.

Considering this was the early 70s when Thai food was only popular with people from Thailand, and the Southeastern Asian country was hardly a tourist destination, the banishment might have even outrivaled pounding a beat in Staten Island.

It is imagined missing bowling pins from alleys might be a problem (imagine a 7-10 split with no 10 pin) and Thai food with only one chopstick per person could slow down consumption, there is no indication in the obituary that Mr. Fitzgerld had to personally relocate to Thailand to investigate missing inventory. Although he might have, and that indeed would have made the punishment cruel and unusual.

He did eventually make his way back into a job identifying waste and abuse with government military procurements. He admitted, "cost control is essentially an antisocial activity. Nobody likes an efficiency expert."

In all fairness to the Pentagon and to Mr. Fitzgerald's efforts at pointing out cost overruns, it is hard to imagine what the fair price of a project should be when the example given for excessive charges is said to be the $916.55 paid for stool legs that really cost 34¢ each.

Well, how many stool legs did they bill for? And if they were to bill the correct 34¢ each, how much less would the project come in at? It would take A LOT of stool legs to lower the cost of a multi-million dollar project even 1%.

The problem might be that unlike supermarkets and retail manufacturers, there are no coupons that the government can use to lower its costs. Boeing, Lockheed, et al do not issue coupons.

Imagine what the family tab from the supermarket might be if coupons couldn't be used? The savings from their use is palpable. My wife has gotten so good at shopping with them I tease her they are going to post her photo on the closed circuit feeds and consider her a pariah, not unlike a casino card counter.

She's taken to wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Joe Biden's Irish?

The NYT must be getting desperate if they approved my Maureen Dowd comment for publication today. They already had 662 comments when I dashed off this morning's comment. I was surprised the comment section wasn't closed, but it wasn't.

And I was further surprised when they approved my carefully constructed words for comment inclusion. Perhaps it was because I did soften up a bit and say that Biden is the only Democrat I would vote for if I were not to vote Republican. My vote is never a given.

Referring to Joe Biden as Uncle Joe is a poor choice of words. Joseph Stalin was referred to as Uncle Joe, and Biden and Stalin share no similarities other than having nieces and nephews.


That's it? Do you write your columns while between express stops on the Metro? Punch them out on your phone?

'Vanity Fair' again. I'll say this, you name your sources. I guess I'm way outside the Beltway because I didn't know about the affair with Beau's widow and his married brother.

As someone who usually votes Republican, Joe Biden is the ONLY Democrat I would vote for. The question will be can he empty out the elevator full of other Democratic candidates and press the buttons for himself.

At 76, it's worth a try.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Return to Sender

One of the more abrupt ways to learn someone has died is to have your letter to them returned to you with someone having drawn an arrow pointed at your return address with a handwritten, block letter message:

Addressee Deceased
Also, to have the envelope bear a yellow ticker from the post office:

I understand completely. I knew when I read on Tuesday January 22nd that Russell Baker had passed away the day before, that my note to him that I mailed on Saturday, January 19th would not have reached him. Monday, January 21st was a Federal holiday for the observance of Martin Luther King Day, and there was no mail delivery that day. No mail delivery, coupled with the weekend, no chance something was going to get from a NYC suburb to Virginia in time for anyone to read if they were to pass away on Monday. 

The obit said there were complications from a recent fall, so even if the mail was timed better, there was probably little chance it would have been read.

The handwritten note I mailed simply said 'The Solution.' It accompanied a copy of my then latest posting, 'The Shutdown',  about how the government shutdown resembled the newspaper strike of 1962/1963 and could be brought to a close by a cooking competition.

A Chef Ramsey cook-off was proposed between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump. If the president were to win, he would get the money to build the wall and the government would reopen. If the speaker won, the government would reopen and there would be no money for the wall. No appeals.

'The Solution' was of course a tongue-in-cheek offering. Satirical or not, it was but one of the thousands bits of advice volunteered about how to end the shutdown.

I once heard the question posed: does the earth gain weight? Does the planet weigh more at any given point in time than it did in the past? The answer is yes, the planet gains weight.

I have to think it gains weight because words have weight. And since there are so many words written and spoken on all subjects now, the planet is holding up remarkably well for gaining all the weight it does every day.

With the weight of all the words. earth should have trouble spinning and completing a revolution every 24 hours. When you get heavier, you don't move as fast as you used to.

But thanks goodness, not earth. With all the advice printed and spoken adding to the weight of the world, it keeps spinning. Even if no one wants to open the mail of someone who is now deceased.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

HIstorical Footnotes


A newspaper is sometimes referred to as the first draft of history. Today's events are tomorrow's history, and the newspaper is there to report on those events that eventually age enough to go into books. And the paper itself on which the news is written goes into wrapping tomorrow's fish.

Newspapers are not all about reporting today's events. They remind us of historical events all the time. Thus, if you're paying attention and categorizing what you're reading, you'll get news, history, and speculation on the future. A triple.

Take Monday's full page story on suffragist history and the search for a copy of the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York. The document has never really been found, but that doesn't mean the tree didn't fall in the forest. It did.

'Hunt for a Relic Revives Interest in Suffragist History' gets a full page treatment complete with photos and copies of key documents and...footnotes!

I cannot recall ever seeing footnotes in a NYT story. Footnotes are a pain to include in a document if you've ever tried it, even with modern word processing software. And if you ever tried to complete a paper in the 1960s with footnotes produced by a typewriter you might marvel at the resiliency of the human mind and body to overcome a task of epic difficulty.

In high school we had to produce a paper, a research type of paper, in English class. Where else? Certainly not the shop class.

I think my subject was Washington Irving and his Sleepy Hollow stories. One block from the family flower shop was Irving Place, a short street going north/south from 14th Street to 20th Street, past the house where he was supposed to have lived, and past the high school named after him.

As readers of this blog might remember, the family shop was a once on Irving Place and 18th Street, serving as the front to the speakeasy that was run by Peter Bellas. The bar restaurant is still there, now legal, and known as Pete's Tavern, the oldest bar in NYC I believe. O Henry wrote some of his stories while sitting in a booth at Pete's decades ago. Some have Irving Place settings.

Never mind all that. The NYT story on the Suffragist document and the history of the Suffragist Movement has 15! footnotes. (Don't call them Suffragettes.) The footnotes are so tiny sitting in an exponent position after the last letter of a word a sentence that it might even serve as a game if you can identify all the words that are linked to a footnote. Look closely. It's not easy an easy search.

I can't imagine it would have been possible in the linotype days of producing a newspaper that footnotes could have been introduced in the text. Alert readers, anyone?

An email query was sent to Sam Roberts, one of the reporters who shares the byline with Liz Robbins on the story, asking if the use of footnotes is the first time the NYT has ever used them in the text of a story.

A response was received, but perhaps not an answer. "Like a law review!"

And there we have it. The NYT: current, past, future. And law review. All for $3.00 Monday through Saturday. A little more on Sunday.
4 Children's books with footnotes might really discourage reading.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Verbal Punctuation

"In writing, punctuation pays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard."

The above quote is culled from something Russell Baker wrote on punctuation. It follows an even better paragraph:

"When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly—with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashed, question marks. exclamation points, quotation marks s you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow."

Mr. Baker proceeds to not necessarily lay out rules, but rather solid suggestions—advice. He covers the most misused grammatical notation, the comma, and proceeds to include semicolons, dashes and parentheses, quotation marks, colon, and apostrophes.

Only the comma gets the full-Monty treatment, 11 bullet points. The other marks gets a surprisingly short narrative on their usage. And for the apostrophe, perhaps the most misused and misunderstood of all the marks, there are only four sentences of advice and examples to guide you through the shoals.

Given Mr. Baker's brevity with so confounding a subject as punctuation, you have to be amazed that there are people who have written books on the subject. But when you write about punctuation, it is easy to want to write about grammar. It is two subjects.  It's like what the comedian Alan King once  said about love and marriage: if you want to buy a book on the subject, you need to buy two books.

So consider the achievement of Benjamin Dreyer, who has just published 'Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.' And as if that's enough on the front cover by which to judge a book, consider the part where you get Mr. Dreyer's current job title: 'Copy Chief  Random House.' I'm not sure I've ever seen someone's job description on the cover to help sell a book.

Pay attention, and you'll pick up the misplaced tittle and apostrophe that go with the title. Lynne Truss's cover 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' cover had a built in faux pas for those who were paying attention.

It is a substantial, no nonsense book that is sure to wind up as required classroom reading at several levels. It has already registered on Best Seller lists, depending on whose list you consult, and what category you're dealing with. But face it, it is a hit book on grammar and punctuation. The least likely subject to generate a best seller. It is now in its 5th printing.

So, how do you become the Copy Chief of Random House and get your employer to publish your book? Well, you take a chance and tell the people who are offering a job at St. Martin's Press as a freelance proofreader, that yes, you know all those symbols because you have a ninth edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

This not quite as daring as telling the hospital administrator that yes you can do hand surgery because you read the book, but there is an element of a catch-me-if-you-can daring to the claim. But really, what the hell, what's the worse they can do to you? It's not like lying to the mob.

Up the ladder Mr. Dreyer rose, and of course on the way he acquired stories. Lots of stories, and lots of opinions on how things should be.

Oxford comma anyone? Where'd everyone go? I remember reading James Thurber's 'My Years with Ross' when I was in high school. And I remember the stories about the arguments he and Harold Ross, the publisher of The New Yorker had over the use of the comma and the word and in a series. Apparently they were pretty heated affairs.

Mr Dreyer doesn't shirk in his advice. The best advice I ever read was to take a stance and live with it. I let the sound of the words in my head help guide me in punctuation. (Mr. Dreyer believes in the Oxford comma. "Only godless savages eschew the series comma.")

I read a recent obituary of the writer Rosamunde Pilcher who has just passed away at 94. As in any good obituary, there is an anecdote at the end. This one goes that Rosamunde's daughter remembers when she was small and a friend was over, the friend commented, "look, your mummy's (British, you know) lips are moving."

The daughter was not one to be worried, and allayed her friend's fears that perhaps mummy was crackers by simply telling her: "Don't be stupid. She's writing."

I hear my writing in my head. I may not move my lips like Rosamunde did, but I do hear it being spoken. As such, I try and punctuate accordingly. A comma to me is a stage note to the actor to pause for a tenth of a second or so, before moving on to the next word. Take the slightest of breaths. If you can hear the pause, then you've got the comma in the right place. If you're out of breath, then you need a comma.

Pretty hard to try and introduce a writing rule by way of a breathing exercise, but that's the way I hear it working. I tend to use the Oxford comma. When I remember.

Other punctuation marks are discussed. Anyone for semicolons? My favorite semicolon story is when Jimmy Breslin was telling the TV media about the Son of Sam letters he was receiving in 1977. Son of Sam, for those who might not know the story, was the name an individual gave himself as he was terrorizing NYC with killings that were on a serial killer frequency. (He was caught and is still in prison.)

He admired Jimmy's writing  and wrote him handwritten letters with sharply slanted block letters. Jimmy proclaimed the man had to be highly educated because he was using semicolons in all the right places. It was the best use of semicolons he had ever seen.

Follow the advice on how to use them. Just don't kill anyone because you feel you've got it down pat.

Wives tales are punctured, so it is possible to feel good abut yourself for doing things the way you've been doing them. Yes, start a sentence with and if you want; end a sentence with a proposition if you have to. And if you like, split that infinitive. You might no longer need therapy.

Need help with affect/effect? It's here. I once had an audit manager who tried to set us straight with that one so she didn't have to cringe when she read our reports. She wrote two simple examples that have helped me ever since. She had a degree in English.

Confused about the meaning of peruse? An argument is made that a deletion from the English language would help us all. Benjamin can be your new main man.

And then there's that lay/laying/laid/lie/lying/lain usage thing that makes me cringe. I remember perhaps the 3rd grade teacher writing on the board that the next day were were going to learn about their usage. I was out sick the next day, and have forever been scared of those words.

I have to say, reading about them in 'Dreyer's English' I still break out in a bit of a sweat. I've learned that when in doubt, look it up. But, you might not understand the explanation. What then?  I duck. I take a detour.

Thus, I wrote in a preceding sentence that my audit manager "wrote two simple examples" rather than write, "she laid out two examples," which might be right, but I'm not going to get a ruling on the field and I'd like to finish this piece as best as I can.

I am, after all, my own copy editor. How naked can you get?


Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Clubhouse

The recent obituary for James R. McManus, 84, reported to be "the last of the bosses of Hell's Kitchen," stirred some memories.

Quite a few years ago we as an auditing group at Empire BlueCross and BlueShield were  treated to a presentation by Matthew Troy, a former City Councilman and a Queens County leader. Air brushed from his introduction was the felony conviction and jail time he received for misappropriating funds from one of his clients. My colleagues were basically all younger than I, or didn't live in either of the New York City boroughs, so they were completely unaware of what I was aware of.

The loose theme of the presentation was ethics. Mattie spoke with no notes, extemporaneously for nearly an hour. He was funny as hell and told some stories that really were about ethics.

I knew from an audit I had done that Matthew Troy was the benefits manager for the Long Island Gas Retailers Association (LIGRA), one of our insured groups. He had emerged from prison and was working his way to getting his legal license restored.

He was pretty much an Irish Buddy Hackett, spinning one tale after another. He said he lived by the motto: "I always tell the truth, unless I can't." He related the time when he was Queens County Democratic leader and a retired police captain came into his office with a briefcase filled with cash. The police captain wanted to be appointed a judge. Mattie, ever vigilant on vetting candidates for judgeship said, "Fine, are you a lawyer?"

No mention was ever made of the decision, no names were given, and the sum of money was never mentioned. He was making a point about the temptations placed in your path. There was of course no mention made of any obstacles he placed in that path.

Mentioned in the obituary for James R. McManus was the role county leaders had in nominating, or even appointing judges. Not many people realize there is this layer of influence that exists beneath elected officials.

The domination of West Side, Hell's Kitchen politics goes as far back as James's great-uncle, who at the turn of the last century defeated George Washington Plunkitt for the district leader's job. Plunkitt was not shy about how he operated. "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

That is somewhat like the Townes Van Zandt song about Poncho Villa that goes, "he wore his gun outside belt for all the honest world to see."

You have to imagine that Thomas R. McManus's ascension was not on a reform-minded ticket. It was for continuity.

James R's guiding light was "honest graft." "I wouldn't do anything for money that I wouldn't do for free."

In that early 20th-century part of Manhattan there were any number of gambling halls and brothels, many of which were on the West Side in the district referred to as Hell's Kitchen. When you read about Lieutenant Charles Becker, the only NYC policeman executed for murder you get a sense of the graft-driven era.

One policeman was so happy to be promoted or transferred to the area that he proclaimed he had been eating chuck steak off his extra-curricular earnings where he came from, but now that he was on Manhattan's West Side where the action was, he was going to be eating tenderloin. Apocryphal or not, the district did come to be known as The Tenderloin. In the 1960s, a retired police detective who hung out at the family shop still referred to the area as The Tenderloin. In the 1960s there was even a Broadway musical with that title.

I never really knew the political affiliation of my family. I suspect they were Republicans. I only say this because there was an East Side Republican Club I used to see on Second Avenue, one flight up. The district leader was Vincent F. Albano, a clubhouse politician not unlike James McManus. Albano was a protégé of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. We did the flowers for his daughter's wedding.

At one point, my father was jealous of the florist three blocks up the avenue, Sakas, who annually was the polling place on Election Day. Until one year, out of the blue, we got to be the designated polling place. For some reason my father  thought being the polling place would be good for business. It was an experience being in the middle of voting machines, paper ballots, and Board of Election people with their giant ledgers.

As for creating business, we didn't make a single sale the entire day. We had the polling place for one year. One and done. I can only imagine we got the designation through some political influence, perhaps Mr. Albano's.

For all the colorfulness of the McManus life, there is not a single word in the obit that refers to an indictment, a conviction, or jail time. The only transgression mentioned was the use of the family funeral home address as the residence of nine family members signing a nominating petition. The signatures were thrown out.

Jimmy Breslin has been on my mind lately because of the recent HBO documentary on his and Pete Hamill's life. Hamill is still with us, but Jimmy passed away in 2017. One of the segments touched on Jimmy running for City Council president in 1969 on the ticket with Norman Mailer running for mayor. There were a lot of moving parts to the 1960s.

In that era, Election Day was a holiday, and the bars were closed until after the polls closed. Jimmy apologized for being a part of the process that required the bars to be closed on Election Day.

From earlier pieces on Breslin I knew that he lived on the West Side, perhaps in the Lincoln Center area. His second wife was Ronnie Eldridge, who was a former member of the City Council. Could Breslin have been buried out of the McManus funeral home?

The question was posed to Sam Roberts, who wrote the obit. He answered that he didn't believe Jimmy was waked out of a Hell's Kitchen funeral parlor.

But interestingly enough, James R. McManus wasn't waked out of the family funeral home. But Crestwood Funeral Home is still in Hell's Kitchen.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Super Bowl LIII

There's one advantage to having been around ever since the Super Bowl started: no one has seen more than I have. I've seen all 53, as I'm sure others have. But I must say, anything that I've seen 53 of can no longer be considered special, or super. It's just another football game on a Sunday night that is going to keep me up past my bedtime/reading time.

As for who sings the anthem, my view on anthem singing is that there should be a Federal law passed that mandates that all anthems are sung by a Robert Merrill recording. That way, you can insure a consistent performance, free of flourishes and political overtones. No controversy.

If there's a local boys and girls singing group that you want to feature, let them sing 'God Bless America' before the anthem. No sense cutting everyone out of the singing part. They'll always then have something to tell their friends and kids about.

I don't give a wit about the commercials, And the halftime show means nothing to me. I must say I did get introduced to Bruno Mars a few years ago and did download 'Uptown Funk' to my iPod. I did like the young man's energy.

I wandered into the living room during halftime after dessert last night and saw what I guess was the half-time show, someone called Maroon-5. I fully face it, at my age there can be no half-time music by any artists I listen to. They are either dead, have already done a Super Bowl (Springsteen, Mary Chapin Carpenter) or would never in a million years be called on to jump around on a stage. Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' will never make the cut.

Did someone say the commercials can be the best part? No way. A rumpled Harrison Ford yelling at his dog who is portrayed as ordering dog food via Alexa, who gets greeted with a curbside delivery of a pallet of 100 pound bags of the stuff for his pug, to me is sweet justice for anyone who puts Alexa or Siri in their house and talks to it. You deserve the unintended consequences such devices bring to your household.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges as the Big Lebowski ordering Stella Artois in a restaurant, rather than getting something other than her 'Sex and the City' Cosmopolitan and his White Russian? Weak. Two people who you can't imagine ordering Belgium beer. Well, maybe Jeff.

The only creative one that made me think someone was really earning their ad agency money was the Hyundai one with people in an elevator going down and getting off on floors that spelled discomfort: jury duty, root canal work, the middle seat on a six-hour flight next to someone sneezing, the parental facts of life talk, the surprise vegan dinner party. Car shopping with Hyundai sent the elevator up, presumably from the levels of Hell.

Verizon stuck to tributes to first responders who you can believe were gotten in touch with because the cell phone calls summoning their help were connected by the Verizon wireless network. Budweiser of course reminded us that their beer was once delivered by Clydesdales.

The game? There was one. A tug of war played at mid-field that had an anemic score at halftime, and still ended with an anemic score favoring the New England Patriots who should be called 'America's Team' if the Dallas Cowboys didn't already lay claim to that title.

No one-handed passes caught, no end zone passes caught, no controversial calls. Tom Brady threw three good passes in a row and then a touchdown was rushed in from the 2 yard line. The only touchdown. Only the gamblers were sitting on the edge of their seats, and they might have even been bored.

The good news for the Rams was that they held New England to 13 points. The bad news of course is they were held to 3, tying the 1972 Miami Dolphins for the lowest score by a Super Bow team. Yawn.

You have to believe the Rams defense was worn down by the fourth quarter. And apparently more tired than the Patriot offense was. Yawn, yawn.

As for the continued use of Roman Numerals to designate the edition of the game we're being hyped toward, from an op-ed piece in the WSJ on Friday by Gregg Opelka, a musical theater-lyricist we get the annual plea to stop using them. Of course he has a point, especially when he hauls out how the game for year 2399, which he claims will appear as CDXXXIII. Huh? 2399 is MMCCCXCIX. No matter. The point is made.

I will make no claim I remember all 53 Super Bowls. My claim is I've seen all of them. I remember getting a haircut on the Monday after the first Super Bowl (then not even called that), that saw the NFL Green Bay Packers beat the rival AFL Kansas City Chiefs. League parity was a big thing then, and that the score was 14-10 at halftime was giving oxygen to the claim that the AFC wasn't all that bad, despite losing the game. The talk in the shop was who's still the best.

What I do remember for a lot of them is not so much the winners, and possibly the score, but where I was watching a give year's edition: a friend's house, my house and who was over and who wasn't, a restaurant, who I was with. I remember segments of games, especially involving the Giants.

What I laughed at at the end of last night;s game was the mob scene on the field after the game. THat many media people has passes to be on the field? Poor Tracy Wolfson was going to get trampled to death trying to ask Tom Brady some banal questions on how did he feel? How the fuck do you think he feels?

And then the gauntley the Lombardi passes through before it's taken up the stair to the pressnetation platform, a temporary wooden piece that's somewhat bigger than a scaffold.

Anyway, players and wqhoever get to kiss the trophy; honorary bearers get to hold the trophy and walk it through the gautnlet, passing it off relay style. I laughed out loud when Joe Namath got to be the last person to parade the trophy. Joe of course identified as a Hall-off-Famer who took the Jets to that massive upset in 1969 over the Baltimore Colts.

I don't think there is a single player who can be remembered more for one game 50 years ago than Joe Namath. Jet season ticket holder should remember it's been 50 years since they've been in a Super Bowl. We love you Joe.

A lifetime ago John Updike published a book of his poems. I still have the book, a collection from two of his individual prior books of verse. The compilation cost 75¢ in 1965.

Like any book of poems, there are favorites, and in this case there is one on the use of the work "super." It is titled 'Superman' and the first and last stanzas go:

I drive my car to supermarket.
   The way I take is superhigh,
A superlot is where I park it,
   And Super Suds are what I buy.
Superphosphate-fed foods feed me,
    Superservice keeps me new.
Who would dare to supersede me,

Why Super Bowl LIV of course.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Andy Hebenton, New York Ranger

I love the obits about former New York Rangers. Andy Hebenton at 89 has passed away. He was playing for the Rangers before I ever went to games on a consistent basis, and quite frankly, I never heard of him. But anyone who could score 33 goals in a season for the Rangers in that era had to be some kind of player.

I love the black and white photos of games played at the Old Garden, where I first was introduced to the game the night Jacques Plante came out wearing a mask for the first time after being injured in the first or second period. I've already written about that.

In the above photo, said to be undated, Andy is closing in on Chicago Black Hawk players, with Stan Makita appearing in the upper left of the photo. Makita had the chiseled features of a Slav and was nicknamed Stash by the Chicago fans. He was a fantastic playmaker for the Black Hawks.

Interesting in the text, Andy is described as being small at 5'9" and 180 pounds. Small by today's standards, but not back then. The weight was probably exaggerated, but the height might have been right. In those days, I doubt anyone was listed as being 200 pounds.

Also interesting to be is that I can tell Andy is a left-handed shot. His left hand is closest to the blade. Normally, a left-handed shot would have played left wind; a right-handed shot would play right wing. The coaching then was very rigid in the approach to the game.

It took the Russian coaching to make the NHL realize that a left-handed shot on right wing, and a right-handed shot on left wing had more net to shoot at as they skated toward the net. They weren't in the way of their own shot.

The greatest scorer of that era was Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, who played for the Montreal Canadiens. He was a left-handed shot who played right wing, and scored many of his goals on the backhand. A backhanded hockey shot floats somewhat like a knuckle ball and often fools the goaltender. The Rocket had the then record for scoring 50 goals in a 50 game season.

That Ranger fans wanted blood and lots of fights rings true. I remember being at games in the 60s and 70s when there was so much fighting you wondered if they were ever going to finish playing the game. There was a wrestling match feel to the crowd.

I particularly remember the enforcer Bob Plager at the Old Garden who had a reputation for pounding his opponents. The fans started screaming when he got on the ice. They wanted action. The Rangers pretty much stunk then, but they were always willing fighters.

That Andy Hebenton came from the Western Hockey League and won a Lady Byng for gentlemanly play belied the reputation of the players from that region. The Eastern Canadiens from Quebec were small French-Canadiens who were very fast and typically small. They could skate like the wind and stick handle like basketball players dribbling. The bigger guys thumped them pretty good trying to slow them down.

By league decree at the time, the Montreal Canadiens always had the No. 1 draft choice from the Quebec Junior Leagues, considered the best in Canada. This served to fill their roster with the speedy French-Canadiens.

Obviously with the kind of consecutive playing game streak that Andy held he was more than durable. And to have played until he was 45 in the minors when the young guys were trying to make a name for themselves has to be a testament to his talents.

I wish I had seen him play when I was older and paid more attention to the game.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Graduates

It is no secret I devote a good deal of my reading time to obituaries. I love reading where the subject came fro, where they went to school, etc. My interest perks up when I read of someone who went to the same high school as I did, Stuyvesant, now being referred to as an "elite" school that has too many Asians in it—at least according to Comrade de Blasio, New York City's mayor.

When I went the word "elite" was never tagged onto the school, nor when my father went there 30 years before me. It was always one of the three city high schools you had to take an admissions test for. There was no such thing, and still isn't, anything that would resemble legacy admissions, or hardship, diversity admissions.

When I went, the school, then still all male, the students were maybe 65-70% Jewish. No one cried that it needed to be more "diverse." Now the mayor is proposing that 20% of the students come from black and Spanish middle school students who didn't pass the test, but who should get extra instruction to enable them to go there. There is of course controversy over the plan, and Comrade Bill will probably be out of office before anything along those lines gets enacted.

A recent newsletter tells of the StuyPrep program, "sponsored by the Alumni Association to help students in underrepresented neighborhoods on New York City gain admission to the specialized high schools."  Admission is highly competitive. It is reported 30,000 8th-graders took the exam last October. My guess is there are 1,000 or so admitted.

Aside from all that, the school has a very active and influential alumni. There is a quarterly glossy newsletter produced that is mailed to dues paying alumni.

Typical class notes and In Memoriams are posted. I renewed my friendship with a classmate when he put a notice in the newsletter looking for contacts from the Class of '66. I think I was the only one who got in touch with him. We were in the same home room, seated alphabetically. My surname with a D and his with an A put us a row apart, and close enough to talk to leaning over. I never really became friends with anyone whose last names were after the letter G, because they were too many rows over.

Because of its heavy math and science curriculum, there are a good number of the alumni who went on to become engineers and doctors. Several alumni are Nobel Prize winners. There are a lot of familiar names that can be listed, in science and the arts, whose high school education was attained at Stuyvesant.

When someone of distinction passes away and they rate a tribute obit in the NYT, I always attach more interest in their passing because of the common high school. Thus, when Elias M. Stein, mathematician of fluctuations passed away i January at 87 I took interest in the tidbit that he went to Stuyvesant. It was described that to join the math club at the time he had to "read an advanced mathematics textbook and steal a math book from Barnes and Noble's flagship store at Fifth Avenue and 18th street." Mr. Stein admitted in an interview in 2012 that he stole what was not a very valuable book.

I was a math tutor but never tried to join the Math Club, so I have no idea if that initiation was kept in place. I did get a kick of the Barnes and Noble store being described as a "flagship" store. It was their only store, and was the go-to place for all levels of textbooks, and all kinds of testing review books, Regents tests, civil service exams, anything you needed to study for any exam.. Popular literature was not there. Nor were note pads, Godiva chocolate, or T-shirts.

The Stuyvesant connection is strong. In 1986 my father was in St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, New York awaiting a mitral valve replacement. I visited him the night before (surgery went well). The fellow in the other bed was a Stuyvesant grad and the fellow who just passed away and was being noted on the TV was also a Stuyvesant grad: James Cagney. At that moment, there were four of us in a hospital with a high school in common.

My daughter works in Long Island hospitals as a speech therapist and sometimes tells me of someone who she found out is also a Stuyvesant grad. There was a judge in his 90s, and just recently my mechanical drawing teacher was being treated.  She talked to his son, who gave her the personal bio information. Mr. G. had a withered hand that he always kept in his pocket. We never knew anything about it. His son told my daughter of his WWII service, and now I can imagine he suffered a war injury. After all, by the time I started high school the war wasn't even over for 20 years. It was still a current event.

The most recent passing of a Stuyvesant grad is someone of such high, but bygone notoriety that I'm somewhat dying to see if they mention his passing in the newsletter. He might get listed, but I doubt they'll do a bio. But, who knows how the passing of Morton Sobell at 101 will be treated.

Mr. Sobell, for those who the name rings no bells, was the third defendant in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage trail in 1951. The Rosenbergs were found guilty of passing atomic bomb technology to the Russians and were executed at Sing Sing in 1953. Mr. Sobell got 30 years for conspiracy, spending 18 years in Federal prison that included Alcatraz.

After graduating Stuyvesant, Mr. Sobell went to City college to study engineering. It was at that time he joined the Communist Party, which in the 30s was seen as an attractive ideology. After release from prison he taught engineering and worked at a medical supply company developing a low-cost hearing aid. The obit is full of information.

Not in the obit, but something I gave thought to, was if Mr. Sobell used his name after release from prison, or did he go under another surname? He was living on Manhattan's Upper West Side when he passed away.

Sometime in the 1960s I can still remember my father spotting Alger Hiss, a convicted Soviet spy, who lived in the apartment house, 157 East 18th Street that housed the family flower shop on the corner at 206 Third Avenue. There was no Hiss name on the building's buzzers. The Hiss obit acknowledged he lived in the area.

Stuyvesant: lots of graduates; lots of stories.


As I Was Reading

I don't remember who wrote the essay, Frank Sullivan or perhaps Ambrose Pierce, but it was about the certainty of clichés in journalism. I'm not going to try and find it, and I don't have my own compiled list to share.

A quick one that comes to mind is that when something bad happens when it's not dark it's always been done in "broad daylight." I know this is meant to emphasize that someone should have seen it and stopped it. After all, daylight was "broad" and there were no concealing shadows. Unless of course the groundhog saw his shadow and then, keep the woolies out.

When I wrote my posting on the passing of Russell Baker I told the story of creating a "commonplace" book of newspaper writing and quotes that were especially pithy. I abandoned the idea and went down the blog road instead.

But now that I think of it, I'm going to start to collect phrases that are replacements for cliche writing. When the reporter didn't stoop to the hackneyed phrase and instead came up with something quite original and worth hanging onto.

With my antenna raised, I found two articles on the same day that contained great language.

The first involved Wednesday's reporting on the El Chapo trail in New York Federal Count. Anyone who is even slightly abreast of the news knows that the drug kingpin (it's always a kingpin) has been accused of being a major drug trafficker, murderer...the indictment goes on.

Well, the prosecution has presented testimony that has gone on for 10 weeks. The defense  took 30 minutes with one witness. But key to the reporting is that the NYT reporter Alan Feuer wrote: "...for more than 10 weeks the government buried the defendant in a Matterhorn of evidence." Damn that's good.

The second instance of expressive language was found Wednesday as well in the WSJ. They have an op-ed page as well, and nestled in the lower left corner was a story headlined: "The Senator Who Became a Pop Star"

Occasionally in this corner a story such as this appears. This is about the Illinois senator Everett Dirksen, from Illinois, who in the 1950s and 1960s cut an oratorical figure in the Senate that could have earned him credit for being America's answer to Winston Churchill.

Dirksen was distinguished looking with a good-looking suit and a full-head of hyacinth grey locks. In that era, anyone of distinction, or even low distinction, wore a necktie, not like Roget Goodell, the NFL commissioner who makes what, tens and tens of millions annually, but wears an open collar shirt and jacket to a Super Bowl news conference. He's not alone with the open collar, but it does sort of lower the opinion of the guy.

Anyway, Dirksen did have a rumbling, sonorous voice that immediately made you pay attention. Every utterance was carved out of the silence that preceded it. He was a joy to listen to, even if you didn't like anything he said.

My favorite Dirksen utterance is when he laid out what a questionable expense something was. I do not remember what it was he was talking about, but he said something to the effect..."millions and millions. Pretty soon you're talking about real money." (the quote is reported to be "billions" and the attribution to Dirksen is sketchy but one he was more than willing to accept.) In that era a million was an astounding sum. Now a single billion hardly creates a batted eye.

The article informs us Dirksen once cut a record that made it into the Top 40, the radio playlist of the era that actually played 40 songs in a four hour radio show. There was lot less blather and commercials on the airwaves then.

Dirksen voice is described as having "a voice deeper than the lower ranges of a tuba." "....ocean- floor voice..."

The song, 'Gallant Men,' if it can be called a song, consisted of Dirksen reciting words to the accompaniment of muffled snare drums, "Down through the years there have been brave men—brave gallant men..." The song was apparently co-written by Charles Wood, "who while in the service in the 1950s had been the official military announcer for the U.S. Army Band." Charles Wood became known to many of CBS "Sunday Morning" viewers as Charles Osgood.

Those of a Medicare age might remember Barry Sadler's "Green Beret" song, another spoken work tribute to the Green Berets of the Vietnam era set to martial music. It was a HUGE hit.

Rob Greene, whose piece appears in the WSJ has written a book about the 1960s, "All Summer Long." The article is an excerpt from the book.

Dirksen was a senate legend. who by 1967 he had been elected to the Senate three times, after having been a Congressman for seven terms. He passed away in 1969 after complication from lung surgery. The Senate office building is named after him.

Worth million or billions, Roger Godell can't seem to find a tie.