Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Lede

In journalism, the lede is the opening sentence. I remember in grammar school they would tell us the first sentence of a paragraph is the "topic sentence." You needed a good topic sentence for the grade. Growing up, I never heard it referred it as the lede, yet I've seen the lead sentence referred to that way, generally by the people who write ledes.

I always thought it would only be spelled as lead. Yet, there it was, journalists referring to their lede. More than interesting to me is that a look through the Shorter version—two good sized volumes—of the OED, lede is not even there. My embedded spell checker doesn't recognize lede. No matter, I do not change it to lead.

I never went to journalism school. I never really worked on the school paper, other than to have pull with someone who did, who recorded me as having been there so I could buff up my extra curricular resume even further. A no-show job. Do not get too excited. My deceit didn't get me into Yale, or Harvard. One person in the graduating class got into Harvard, and he was the valedictorian. Public school kids didn't get into Ivy League schools.

If anyone remembers the 1958 movie 'Teacher's Pet' starring Clark Gable and Doris Day, he a hard-bitten newspaper editor who wears a hat, talks fast and drinks, she, a night school journalism teacher. If there's a category, it would be a "rom/com," because of course Clark and Doris start off as antagonists, and then of course...of course.

Anyway, Clark embeds himself in her class without her knowing he's a newspaper man. Doris tests the class's ability to write a lede by reciting a hypothetical story of a robbery and a shooting. See if they can turn the account into a newspaper story.

Students struggle. Heads down, pencils scribbling away at the page. Our hero Clark turns his effort in quickly. Doris smiles. How can he have done a good job?

Well, of course he did a good job. He's a pro. In one sentence he captures the whole event, and even of course adds some adjectives that bring it to life. He receives the adulation of his young classmates, and the slowly evolving respect of the teacher.

A real life 'Teacher's Pet', Jim Gannon, would be Robert D. McFadden. His conciseness has earned him a Pulitzer, and if I have it right, Margalit Fox, a former obituary reporter at the NYT, told me Mr. McFadden still shows up. He's 82. He's written so many advance obits that it is almost guaranteed that if someone leaves us past the age of 80, and has anything to do with NYC, there will be a McFadden obit in the paper.

And so today we have the obituary for Henry Stern, a former NYC park's commissioner who was sometimes referred to as Hug-a-Tree-Henry. (Not in the obit.)

Mr. McFadden's lede is flawless. Not only do we get a summary of Mr. Stern, we get a comment on Robert Moses, a former Parks Commissioner who is forever memorialized by Robert Caro's biography 'The Power Broker.' Mr. Moses is referred to as "the Napoleonic Robert Moses." It doesn't get more concise than that.

One of Mr. McFadden's obituaries is is forever etched in my memory when John V. Lindsay passed away. Lindsay, a two-term mayor and Silk Stocking district Congressman for seven years, was one of the city's most frustrating mayors. His administrations saw more strikes than half an inning at a ball game, was the city's mayor in what I'll consider my coming-of-age age.

The lede went:

John V. Lindsay, the debonair political irregular who represented Manhattan's Silk Stocking district on the East Side for seven years in Congress and was a two-term mayor of New York during the racial unrest, antiwar protests, municipal strikes and other upheavals of the 1960's and early 70's, died late Tuesday night at Hilton Head Medical Center, near his home in Hilton Head, S.C. He was 79.

The sentence at the end of the the paragraph simply grabs you if you knew anything about Lindsay:

...the riches evoked by his patrician manner turned out to be illusory, and he and his wife, Mary, lived for years in a one-bedroom apartment.

Anyone who was in the city during Mr. Stern's tenures as Parks Commissioner knows Henry was a character. He did look like a Jewish leprechaun at times when he had the goatee, resembling Ray Ralston as the devil in 'Damn Yankees.'

Henry loved trees. and the obit makes good note of that. He was responsible for attaching the botanical names to stately trees.  When I worked in the Madison Square Park area I always made note of the 'Ulmus Americana' near an entrance walkway. It is a stately elm.

If anyone knows anything about elms,you know that the Dutch Elm disease just about wiped them out in NYC. I forever remember the neighbor's elm in front of the house next door. I wasn't very old in the 1950s when they had to cut that one down, and another, from the lawn of the house next to them.

The 1998 funeral for a tree mentioned in the obit was held by Henry for the Weeping Beech tree in Flushing that had to be "euthanized" after years of keeping it on botanical life support. Henry got emotional. So did I.

This is the vegetable equivalent of an Egyptian pharaoh going into his sarcophagus surrounded by his adoring little offshoots.”

I remember that tree. My mother always took me to look at it. It was near the Bowne House, a historic Dutch house dating to 1661.

Funeral services for Henry are March 31 at the Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street. If anyone knows anything, that is just east of Central Park, which of course is full of trees..

No other information is given, but I hope Henry goes somewhere shady.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019


We know moms in any species are protective of their offspring. And with our species, humans, moms can really be protective of their sons. The son can do no wrong. If he's being tried for some heinous crime, moms can be found in court with their perhaps now better dressed son, offering moral support.

The news cycle on the young fellow who killed the reputed head of the Gambino family is still churning out stories, although there is little new.

Anthony Comello, who ostensibly greeted Francesco Cali at his door with a 12 shot barrage, hitting him 10 times, has been extradited from New Jersey and has been arraigned in Staten Island. He is being held without bail, and is heavily guarded because it is well known friends and family of reputed mobsters do not like people who leave a family member dead in the driveway.

Anyone who is following this knows that Mr. Comello, when waiving his extradition rights in New Jersey, appeared in prison clothes, handcuffed and chained, but showing off his palms where he had written some slogans on in blue ink.

MAGA (Make America Great Again), United We Stand, USA, and a letter Q, said to be the logo for QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory site on Reddit.

Mr. Comello's defense might be advanced that his thinking is influenced by right-wing ideology. In an early conversation with police Mr. Comello mentioned there might have been an attempted relationship with a niece of Mr. Cali, a relationship that Mr. Cali did not think highly of, and made clear to Mr. Comello.

Mr. Comello's thinking prowess is completely unknown. Is it even possible that he didn't know what activities Mr. Cali did for a living? After all, he might have only appeared to the 24-year-old Mr. Comello as someone who was a 53-year-old fart who was trying to tell him what to do—get lost. It's not as if every house in Todt Hill has a sign outside that tells you a reputed mobster lives within.

As for listening to his elders, Mr. Comello does adhere to some advice. When he appeared in Staten Island court for an arraignment his palms were clean.

Corinne Ramey, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal carries the story that Mr. Comello's lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, was asked if he had instructed his client to wash his hands and remove the slogans.

Mr. Gottlieb admitted there was a much higher power in Mr. Comello's life. "No, his mother told him that."

Lordy Lordy

Imagine a Downton Abbey series with the real occupant of Highclere Castle in the paternal role, rather than the benignly stuffy Lord Grantham played by Hugh Bonneville. The series probably would have run just as long, but would have had a good deal more sex and gambling in it. And as we all know, sex and money sells.

Refreshing the memories of Downton fans, Lord Grantham is Robert Crawley, the titular head of a bit of a sprawling family that occupies the big house in Hampshire at the turn of the 19th-century.  In English peerage, you have a titled name, and a real name apparently. The English love names. And hyphens, if you can get one in there.

Robert's mother is Dame Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, played of course by Maggie Smith. Lady Violet is so old she was at Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee. She is the eminence gris behind her son Robert.

One thing I find so quaint about these Britishers is that their name always tells you where they're from. It's almost as if they are a hotel key, that if found lost, wandering amongst the sheep, just ask their name and they will be able to be returned to the library at the big house. No postage needed.

Robert's wife is Cora Crawley, an American played by Elizabeth McGovern. Apparently, at the turn of the 19th-century American heiresses were marrying English lords. Love might have been part of it, but a merger of their inheritance from their American fortune in say, coal or beer, with the dwindling fortunes of the manor house, was seen as a way for the Lordships to keep the west wing open and heated with firewood. Also, to repair the roof. The roofs in these places always needed repairing.

Contrast whatever you enjoyed about Downton Abbey with the real occupant of Highclere Castle and you'd have a splendidly different tale on your hands.

Browsing through 'The Daily Telegraph Book of Obituaries, A Celebration of Eccentric Lives,' edited by Hugh Massingbred, I came across the 1987 obituary by Mr. Massingbred for the 6th Earl of Carnarvon.

His death of course greatly predates the Downton series. Highclere Castle is still in the family, with it now passing to the 8th Earl of Carnarvon. But it's the 6th Earl that seems to have had the most fun.

British tribute obituaries are delightfully full of eccentric lives. It seems the higher up in peerage these people are, the more their behavior steps outside what might be the considered norm.

The 6th Earl, whose name is really a showstopper, Henry George Alfred Marius Victor Herbert, had the usual aristocratic start in life. He was educated at Eton and commissioned into the 7th Queen's Own Hussars in World War I, a cavalry regiment.

Any of these people were always officers who looked splendid in their uniforms, and were always attached to some legendary regiment that fought with valor against Zulus, or Pakistanis, or anywhere the sun didn't set on the British.Empire.

If you remember an early episode with Lord Grantham, World War I is breaking out and Robert pulls the uniform out he wore during the Boer War. He thinks they're going to need him. Robert is distinguished looking with his belt and cross-shoulder sash, and looks ever-ready to invade Holland, but it turns out he's too old for the war effort to be on active duty. Dash it all.

Robert is reduced to marching around his home in uniform when Highclere is turned into a rehab center in World War I for recuperating wounded personnel, who can be seen getting better while playing ping-pong. Robert certainly feels he's missing the action. Ping-pong. The world has gone soft.

"Porchy" the 6th Earl's nickname, became the 6th Earl when his father, naturally the 5th Earl, died from an infected mosquito bite while excavating King Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt. (When I'm really silly, I always see the king's name as if he were a wrestler: Two Tank Hamen.) Anyone who knows anything about Agatha Christie knows that her husband was an archaeologist who spent a good deal of time at Egyptian sites.

The blood poisoning death from the mosquito bite naturally gave rise to the curse of death if you pried into Egyptian tombs. But this is what the peerage did. They explored. 

Mr. Massingbred uses a string of 8 adjectives to describe the Earl, none of which would lead you to believe the guy ever had to show up at a 9-5 job and had a boss who would get mad if they were late. Soldier, sportsman, gentleman-rider, bloodstock breeder, landowner, clubman, bon vivant, and an "uncompromisingly direct ladies' man."

Best amongst the Earl's adjectives is his recounting on talk shows of the women he chased, and the husbands of the women who chased him through garden hedge mazes, trying to extract revenge for his conquering their wives. The guy sounds like Warren Beatty, or whomever Carly Simon sings about in 'You're So Vain.'

Mr. Massingbred describes this part of the Earl's life as his being "a direct ladies' man." How quaint. We would just say the guy was a major league skirt chaser, womanizer, or perhaps inelegantly, a whoremaster.

The lyric in 'You're So Vain' that refers to "...went to Saratoga and your horse naturally won..." could easily refer to the Earl since he bred and raced thoroughbreds, and won several prestigious races.

So imagine Downton Abbey with Robert running through the shrubs and going to the stables to check on the champions and what pedigreed offspring they are producing. Because when you're an Earl, you breed humans and horses.

The 6th Earl's first wife was an American, Catherine Wendell from New York who was not an heiress, but rather from a widowed mother who immigrated to England in hopes of getting her daughters "up-market pairings" to titled gentry. The matchmaking mother succeeded, getting her two daughters hooked up with titles.

Porchy and Catherine were divorced in 1936, with the Earl taking a Viennese dancer and singer, Tilly Losch as his wife, a disaster marriage that was dissolved in 1947.

The Earl was such a well-known rake with an international set of friends that Mr. Massingbred tells us that when the Earl stayed at the Ritz his preference was not necessarily a room overlooking Royal Green Park, but rather an arrangement that overlooked the rent. Porchy was comped.

The Earl did need his World War I uniform when he served in World War II, rejoining his old regiment and somehow attaining a Bronze Star from the United States Army.

Porchy held court at several gentlemen's clubs in London and played bridge at the Portland Club. He was known as a "raconteur" who apparently told the filthiest stories. Imagine Robert Crawly smoking, playing cards and telling the boys at the table of who he recently banged—and how. Would the ratings be even better?

It is probably just as well that Julian Fellowes gave us the Grantham family significantly different from the Earl's. There are more children, therefore more of their lovers, husbands and friends to build story lines around.

The 6th Earl retired to a nursing home and passed away at 89. His son, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, Lord Porchester, became a racing manager for the Queen. The 8th Earl currently runs the place, is considered an "arable farmer," and has made Highclere available for filming Downton Abbey and public tours for fans.

For Queen and Country.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Billions Downgraded to Just A Billion

Billions on Sunday night just plain wasn't that good. I'm downgrading it just a Billion. Too many dealings, too fast.

Chuck and Axe of course are the center of the machinations. Chuck works his system to secure an endorsement for the vacated New York Attorney General seat from the NYC Police Commissioner, who makes the announcement at the San Gennaro Street Festival. This is definitely not where endorsements are made. And not by NYC police commissioners. Never mind.

The episode ping-pongs its way from Taylor Mason's troubles raising capital in light of outside pressure by Axe, Wendy's source of sexual satisfaction, and of course Chuck and Axe exerting outside influence that defies gravity. But hey, but this is New York and it's only a show.

Most interesting is Bobby Axelrod's interest in what becomes his latest post-Lara separation, a venture capitalist named Rebecca, who quite honestly doesn't have the full visual appeal of Lara, but again, these business titans are not all models. She is however a female billionaire not named Oprah.

Bobby quickly becomes the one getting laid, not Wags, when he gets Rebecca between himself and the sheets at his penthouse. It seems Bobby has bought some of Rebecca shares in a private cleaning company, torpedoes Rebecca's cleaning company's competition with a Wall Street Journal exposé on mistreatment of immigrant labor, making the shares he maneuvered from Rebecca worth a nice multiple of what he paid her. Despite her realizing that Axe has made money for himself (what else?) that she could have totally made for herself, she likes doing business with the guy. Like Hyman Roth (Meyer Lansky) in the Godfather, Bobby Axelrod always makes money for his partners. It all shows  there can be pleasure in doing business with each other.

Look for more of Rebecca, because it seems Lara has been sidelined since the separation (divorce?). The actress, Malin Akerman, is starting an appearance on a new NBC show, but is expected to keep a recurring role in Billions.

Why President Trump doesn't take Bobby Axelrod on his trips to North Korea and use him in dealing with the Chinese over trade tariffs is mystery. Kim Jong-Un would gladly give up nuclear weapons if he could be promised a courtside seat next to Spike Lee at Knick games. Just tell him that Dennis Rodman sat there. Everyone has their price.

Chuck wiggles his way into getting the police commissioner's endorsement for Attorney General. This is done merely by talking to key players, but not in restaurants this time. Chuck's office, a park bench, and a meet by a pier are all Chuck needs to get the needed backing. As he explains to Richie Sansone, the police commissioner, he knows how things get done "in this town."

Meanwhile, Taylor Mason is having plenty of trouble getting investors. He has his own version of a Wendy, his attractive compliance officer, Sara Hammod, played by Samantha Mathis. Sara is almost a ringer for Lara, so blondes really do have more fun.

Taylor of course is not intimately involved with Sara because he/she is what, an unidentified gender?  Taylor though is a superb strategist and we learn of his prowess at Zugswang, a maneuver in chess that makes the opponent make a move they don't want to.

This tactic comes in handy when Taylor is put between a rock and a hard place and is going to be forced to accept money from Grigor's gangster buddies, a pair of slovenly brothers, the Kozlovs, a less than wholesome thought that would put Taylor completely subservient to Grigor's wishes. Not a pleasant prospect.

Ever since John Malkovich played Teddy KGB in Rounders, it is always a pure delight to have him play another Russian, in this case Grigor Andolov, an oligarch who likes to get his way. Who doesn't?

Now it's Taylor's turn to torpedo the Kozlovs and make them strapped for investment cash, so strapped they can't move a millimeter with an investment in Taylor's fund, an investment Taylor is all too happy see go away.

The post-chess-match meeting between Grigor and Taylor, in which Taylor is worried he'll get whacked by Grigor for blowing up his buddies, looks like it takes place in the Russian Tea Room, adjacent to Carnegie Hall. (Where else would a Russian oligarch spend his his time?) It is always Christmas in the Tea Room, and the decorations dazzle while Taylor explains to Grigor he can now get the Kozlov holdings for pennies on he dollar, and that he probably didn't really like them anyway. (He doesn't.)

What makes Billions so attractive a show? Sex, money, and views of New York as the center of all powerful people. And the skyline. No one is ever in threadbare surroundings.

Wendy is frustrated that Chuck needs all the toys in the box to enjoy himself with Wendy, when Wendy would really like a night off from the role playing and just go at it like newlyweds in a motel room. Chuck can't seem to dial it back, and insists on all the weaponry. THANK GOD we don't have to look at that, only to the extent of what the box once held that is now spread out on the floor and the bed, as Chuck, now fully satisfied, is sleeping like a baby. Jesus, it looks like more than they used in the Tower of London.

Anyway, Wendy is glum. Her man is a "sexual panhandler" who won't revert to be a female friendly lover. She goes for a long run along the West Side to get the urges out of her. Her way of taking a cold shower.

Obviously, look for more Chuck, Wendy, Taylor, Wags, Richie Sansone, Bobby Axelrod, and Rebecca machinations leading up to...what? I don't really care. So long as we get Grigor either once again singing the lyrics to Mighty Mouse in his thick Russian accent and dancing goatee, or getting him to repeat the introduction to Superman..."able to leap tall buildings in a single bound..."

I can't wait.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Last Words

Anyone who might be interested in obituaries will know that besides the daily tribute obits that appear in the NYT, there are collections of obits that come out every so often. The greatest hits, if you will.

These range from those compiled by the New York Times, The Economist, and The Daily Telegraph (British). And that's just the ones I own. My guess is there are more.

The Introductions to these tomes are themselves splendid essays. I can never remember the source of where I read that Pete Hamill so beautifully observed that "life is the leading cause of death." After you read that, all else follows.

The lives recounted in The Daily Telegraph are of course British lives, and were all written by Hugh Massingberd. Absorbing British writing and lives takes you away from the species generally acknowledged here in the States to an array of aristocrats and titled peers whose walk through life is completely unlike what we're used to reading about. Take the Earl of Carnavon, Henry George Alfred Marius Victor Herbert, "Porchy, "a most uncompromisingly direct ladies' man" who liked staying at the Ritz, not necessarily with a room overlooking the park, "but rather one that overlooked the rent."

From these compilations are not necessarily the last words that will ever be written about these people, but are the last words written immediately after they've died. Some people will it seem never die. We're going to keep hearing about them for decades, perhaps centuries, depending on their place in history.

Take former president Lyndon Johnson. He's been dead since 1973, but as long as Robert Caro keeps pumping out words, the man will never leave our consciousness. There must be a biography published about Winston Churchill almost annually, and he left us in 1965.

Very few of us ever reach the perpetual exalted heights of notoriety. And very few of us even reach a bylined obit in any newspaper.

The current observed form of a NYT obit is to leave us with a final word, something said by the individual themselves, or said about them, that leaves us with an appreciation of how their life was lived.

I've been reading obits now for decades, but lately I've become very aware of the age of the deceased in relation to my age. Once upon a time they were always older than me. Now, not necessarily. Those that are at least 10 years younger than me really get my attention. I re-read the cause of death, if given. It is often suicide. This always adds an extra element of sadness to the obit. Someone checked themselves out, yet had accomplished enough to get a tribute notice.

Take Alan B. Krueger, an economist who reshaped policymaking, who has passed away at 58, apparently of a suicide.

Mr. Krueger gets a full six columns, along with two photos, one of which is his standing next to President Barack Obama as he's being introduced as the Chairman of Economic Advisers in a Rose Garden ceremony in 2011.

I like to read about leading-edge scientists, Nobel Prize winners and noted anyone who was a stand-out in their scientific field. Economists are particularly appealing to me because they don't just try and tell where the market is going, (if they are even doing that) they create studies that try and explain behavior driven by economic conditions.

Studies done by economists always entertain me because they seem to be trying to answer questions I certainly never thought of. 

Should tax credits be given to businesses that offer new employment? Does poverty cause terrorism? Does raising the minimum wage cause there to be a decrease in low-wage employment? Do occupational licensing rules rules impede workers from seeking better-paying jobs?

Mr. Krueger did plenty of research driven off extensive surveys. He had an absolute Ivy League pedigree, wife, children, and success and respect that leave you wondering what was it that made him take his own life? Of course, that question is not part of the obit, and reminds me of the great W.H. Auden poem,  'The Unknown Citizen,' that ends with:

Was he free? Was he Happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

The obit closes with words from Mr. Card, a frequent contributor with Mr. Krueger:

"He had headlights that went a lot further in the dark than anybody else."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Two of a Kind

You have to now be of a certain age to have been old enough to remember the events of the assassination of President Kennedy and the aftermath of the apprehension of Lee Harvey Oswald, and then his murder the Sunday after the assassination in the Dallas police garage by Jack Ruby. The times were sure a changin' that weekend.

The conspiracy theories have certainly slowed down, and now have a bit of an amber glow for those who absorbed all of them through the news cycles of the day. When I attended a 50+ high school reunion, I met no one from my home room, but each graduating classmate asked of the other what did you remember when Kennedy was shot. Were in school that day? We all were dismissed from school that afternoon. Lots of common ground.

Now, the assassination of Francesco (Franky Boy) Cali, the reputed head of the Gambino crime family less than two weeks ago is certainty not on the level of the assassination of a president. But there are some similarities.

Mr. Cali's assailant, the 24-year-old Anthony Comello, was caught on the Saturday after the hit in Brick Township, New Jersey, not really far from Staten Island, where Mr. Cali was gunned down in front of his home in the Todt Hill section around 9:15 p.m.

The police report Mr. Comello's fingerprints were found on the license plate from Mr. Cali's Cadillac Escalade that became dislodged when Mr. Comello created a fender bender with his pickup truck. Surveillance video also showed his image handing the plate to Mr. Cali.

The aftermath of the hit is now what is in the news. What was Mr. Comello's motive for the attack? Today's NYT keeps the story going with the headline: The Mystery of the Gambino Boss and the Cipher Accused of Killing Him.

Believe me, Lee Harvey Oswald was a mystery, and remains a bit of a mystery, despite all that's become known and all that's been written about him. Oswald of course didn't live very long to feed the speculation about him after killing JFK. He was gone within 48 hours or so.

Mr. Comello has lasted a bit longer—so far. The people who run organized crime have never been portrayed as taking a hit to their leader kindly, no matter who does it. Because usually it is a so-called "sanctioned" hit that has been agreed upon by other well-placed crime family members to create a void at another family's leadership to help promote upward mobility for others.  The assailants are either never caught, or are themselves eliminated by others,who in turn are never caught. It's sort of like an anonymous HR outplacement proceeding that leaves little to no trail.

Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended quickly after the assassination, found in a movie theater. Mr. Comello was found not far away three days after. Neither seems to have considered how to disappear without a trace—how to escape apprehension. They do not seem to have had a plan in place for putting distance and time away from the site, hardly the trademarks of a professionally sanctioned and executed elimination.

Lee Harvey Oswald was believed to have been influenced by left-leaning politics, having spent time in Russia, and advocating for Castro's Cuban. He was said to have had a grudge against the Navy for giving him a dishonorable discharge. Intended victim or not, Oswald did manage to wound the Secretary of the Navy, Harold Connally, riding in the same limo with JFK and his wife Jackie.

Anthony Comello has presented his palm to show right-leaning slogans and symbols, like "M.A.G.A." Make America Great Again and QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory that the nation is being run by pedophiles that President Trump will eliminate, and Democratic politicians are not to be trusted.

Thus, both individuals have been analyzed for being radicalized, or influenced by a movement. How the assassination of a reputed mob leader might advance the efforts of what is viewed as influencing Mr. Comello is not known. It has been reported that perhaps he had been told to stay away from Mr. Cali's niece by Mr. Cali. Mr. Comello was not seen as a suitable suitor by a protective uncle. And that may be the motive and the rest is tangential.

Mr. Comello certainly started showing extremely odd behavior last month by being disruptive in a federal courthouse, looking to make a citizen's arrest of Mayor Bill de Blasio and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The U.S. Marshals escorted him out, but it is not clear what event put Mr. Comello's fingerprints on file that made the match to the dislodged license plate possible It is reported, he had no real interactions with law enforcement prior to that. He did show up at Gracie Mansion the day after the courthouse incident, but left the property after the police recognized him as a potential source of trouble.

The politics of the day do not seem sufficient to create an impression in someone's mind that President Trump would like to see organized crime figures eliminated. Or course, the proviso might be a rational mind, not the way Mr. Comello is seeing the world these days. He supposedly was high on marijuana when he shot Mr. Cali. How could you reasonably expect Nancy Pelosi and Mayor de Blasio to be occupying the same space at the same time in a federal courthouse?

Mr. Comello remains what he is called today: a mystery, a cipher. The best question will be how long will he continue breathing? So far, he's already beaten Oswald's record.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Billions Infomercial

If anyone is interested in these things, the Showtime series Billions resumed on Sunday for Season 4. I like the show, and I do not freaking believe it, but the end of the show is as big an infomercial for Sparks Steak House as I've ever seen.

Anyone who knows anything about New York knows this is where the Mafia boss Paul Costellano  got his pink slip. Not in Sparks of course, but right outside it. It was 1985 and it was the last mob hit in New York City until it wasn't when Francesco Cali got what was thought to be his pink slip in front of his Todt Hill Staten Island home last Wednesday.

It turn out Mr. Cali was was gunned down by a 24-year-old smitten lover of Mr. Cali's niece who was upset Mr. Cali told him to stay away from the young lady. Mr. Anthony Comello, didn't like the brush off and on Wednesday night caused a fender bender with Mr. Cali's Cadillac Escalade parked in  front of the Cali home.

Surveillance video shows Mr. Comello ringing Mr. Cali's bell and handing him the license plate that he knocked off his vehicle. Words were exchanged, and Mr. Comello pulls out a handgun and hit Mr. Cali with anywhere from 6-10 shots, ending his life

On Saturday, Mr. Comello was arrested in Brick Township, New Jersey. telling the arresting officers he was high on marijuana when he confronted Mr. Cali and feared for his life, so he shot him. No weapon was ever presented by Mr. Cali.

Mr. Comello had now probably set back efforts to legalize marijuana, but has probably given President Trump a plug that he is tough on organized crime, since Mr. Comello showed off things he had written on his palms, one of which was 'M.A.G.A.', the Trump 'Make American Great Again' slogan.

Mr. Comello reminds me somewhat of the time when I was working and we were doing an audit of the health care expenses for the Drywall Tapers Union on 14th Street. The group's experience—their health care costs—had sky rocketed, sending the group into a large deficit and earmarking them for a significant rate increase.

We knew the name of the individual whose claims had caused the spike, but we needed to verify they were indeed a union member, and not just someone who was placed on the group's rolls who suddenly needed insurance.

The group's administrator was still fuming over the lovesick Yugoslavian who was jilted by his girlfriend and who attempted suicide by sucking on a tail pipe with the engine running.

The poor fellow probably didn't have access to a garage, or hadn't yet watched enough movies, because after starting the engine and getting the exhaust going, he bent down and tried to keep the tail pipe in this mouth to take in the fumes.

Well, at this point the tail pipe is quite hot, and the young man couldn't keep it in his mouth. He abandoned his plans, but not before he had given himself significant burns on the mouth and face. The surgery and subsequent health care costs were expensive, but paid by his coverage. The group administrator swore he would never allow a lovesick Yugoslavian to become a member.

Mr. Comello has in effect so far survived his own suicide attempt. But as anyone knows, especially the law enforcement people who are heavily guarding him, it's not over yet. He might not last as long in incarceration than a transferred Whitey Bulger.

Any regular follower of Billions knows, Chuck Rhoades, the character played by Paul Giamatti is no longer the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. He was ousted when his plan to unseat the U.S. Attorney General—his boss—backfired big time. Chuck is now ensconced in an office being billed as a power broker, someone who can get you the connections to what you need.

The show opens with a potential client looking to get a carry permit, a gun permit in New York City. New York City is especially tough on legal carry ownership, usually reserving the permits for former law enforcement people.

Also, as anyone knows, the shows these days are full of soundtrack songs. Chuck plays something from Al Green and launches into a story that Al Green plugged an acquaintance in his home accidentally, all because the gun was handy. He tried to instill in the potential that guns are not really safe to have around, but how about this parking placard, "you can even park on the sidewalk; even the cops will have to walk around."

The supplicant explains he owns horses, and carries large sums of money to and from the race track (Weather any of this money is reported as income is not germane to the story.)

Chuck dances around the request, but the man in front of him is frustrated, and walks out, telling Chuck he's a bit of a toothless tiger.

And as anyone knows, Chucks dad, Chuck Sr., is still very much in Chuck's life. When he hears of the failure to gain a permit for someone he referred to his son, he gives Chuck a tongue lashing. Even Ira, who's in the room, expresses his disappointment with Chuck. Chuck is disconsolate.

Wendy of course, Chuck's wife, the life coach, gives check the spirit of the lyrics of Bing Crosby singing 'High Hopes' to Chuck as he prepares to face a day without sunshine. Why the song isn't now playing is only because the people connected with the show don't know who Bing Crosby Crosby is, and have never  heard a line from the motivational song, "Just remember the ant/Oops there goes another rubber tree plant." Sad.

Chuck, now invigorated sets off on a daisy chain or meeting contacts who are movers and shakers in the great land of Manhattan, who during daylight hours can all be found eating somewhere.

Thus, we get Chuck making the rounds of the eateries where the mover and shaker animal spends their time. The first stop is the most obvious one, someone connected with the Police Department.

Here we have Chuck meeting either the Commissioner, or the head of the Police Benevolent Union, Richie Sansone, beautifully played by Michael Rispoli. I didn't watch Sopranos, but apparently Mr. Rispoli had a recurring role in that series. He also appears in The Deuce.

Chuck isn't even asked to sit down. He's met with fairly instant enmity since he did nothing for Richie when he was on the throne, so what can he possibly now do for him?

Well, Chuck's a human wiretap, because just prior to sitting down he overhears the conversation that Richie is having with a beefy coach-like individual about the problem they're having keeping a kid who is a stellar pitcher on the Police Athletic League (PAL) baseball roster. It seems the championships are coming up, and they can't use the kid because he's considered too old; he's just past the birthday cutoff.

Chuck's rebuffed, but not without options. He sets out for Barney Greengrass, the Sturgeon King's restaurant to sit with another mover and shaker who he hopes can do something for him. The mover and shaker can't do anything right now. He needs two tickets to Central Synagogue's Children's Hanukkah services, not the overflow section. ( I know nothing about synagogues, but this sounds like standing room. Yuk.)

This mover and shaker obviously plans far in advance. It's not even cold out, because Chuck is working up a sweat schlepping around town in just a suit (with a tie). It seems the shaker's ex-brother-in-law, who is on their board, is being a prick and is keeping him out. Chuck of course doesn't have these tickets on him—he's still walking around with the parking pass which keeps getting turned down—but he's going to work on it.

This takes him to someone who is still chowing down at another famous eatery, E.A.T. As luck would have it, that individual is going to be skiing that weekend, and won't need his tickets, but would of course like to have preferred priority VIP lift tickets to his favorite slope—for the season. This is getting really challenging.

Undaunted, Chuck tries to gain access to the ambassador from the Dominican Republic. Why, will eventually become apparent.

Getting an introduction to the ambassador is difficult; he's dealing with problems with his stepson. But, Chuck can secure an introduction if he talks to the guy who is friends with the guy at Barney Greengrass.

As for the lift tickets, Chuck gets a corner table—the Godfather table— at whatever restaurant now occupies the old spot of The Four Seasons (Chuck at least still knows maîtres-de). Chuck is with his wife Wendy, who apparently has a very flexible schedule and can get away for lunch with her husband at a high-end eatery.

Over at another table, not quite as good a table as Chuck and Wendy have, is the fellow who has the priority ski lift tickets. Given that Chuck's prosecution of the individual resulted in prison time, Chuck is reluctant to approach the fellow in so public a setting. Wendy to the rescue.

Wendy glides over to the table, looking every bit as desirable as can be, and after a brief discussion which Chuck can only see, manages to get the commitment to the ski lift tickets. What did Wendy exchange for it. She smiles. "A session."

Now, since Wendy and Chuck are into a little family S&M, Chuck is a bit baffled by this, but correctly figures it's a psychological session, since Wendy is a well-known life coach for Bobby Axelrod's crew.

The dam is burst. Chuck can now bestow the lift tickets to the guy who has the Central Synagogue tickets for the guy who can get Chuck to the guy who will introduce him to the Ambassador. Chuck's day is getting better.

By now it's boozing time in Manhattan, and chuck meets to guy who should be able to arrange an introduction to the Ambassador, but he's currently pissed off at the city for committing a stretch of block in from of his apartment to CitiBank's bike rack program. They've glommed up several legal spots and now is stuck where to park his chariot.

A smiling Chuck has the kryptonite, pulling the park-anywhere pass from his jacket. A meeting with the Ambassador ensues, but the Ambassador is very pre-occupied by his stepson's trouble emanating from his having sex with an underage girl, who clearly didn't look 12, but who has now landed his stepson on the sex offenders list. As if that's not bad enough, they want to build a Charter school within the radius of where his stepson lives, thereby making his stepson within the no-go radius for registered sex offenders within a school's zone. Jesus, New York doesn't give anyone a break.

What's the name of the school they're proposing? Chuck checks things out, and notices Bobby Axelrod, his now new best buddy, is on the board. Can the school's site selection be moved Bobby? Short answer: yes.

By now it's really later in the evening, (Chuck's feet must be killing him.) and New York movers and shakers are drinking after work. And not just anywhere, but at Sparks Steak House!

And who is Chuck expecting to meet at Sparks? Well, certainly not Bryan Connerty and his second in command, Kate Sacker, who are at the bar. Sarcasm is exchanged, since Bryan was instrumental in ousting Chuck and who has now been sworn in as the new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, witnessed by none other than "Jock" Jeffcoat, the U.S. Attorney General Chuck tried to oust. Oh, the irony of all things.

The end of Chuck's odyssey of contacting movers and shakers is at the bar, Richie Sansone, a little unhappy to see Chuck turn up again. "Rhoades, you keep popping up like a turd that won't flush." Ouch.

Off they go to the end of the bar for a quiet chat, Sparks's interior being somewhat shown off as the quintessential New York high-end streak house, soft amber lighting, leather upholstery and mahogany everywhere.

Chuck tells Richie he understands his star PAL pitcher is having eligibility problems. Chuck to the rescue. "Five and a half months too young; five and a half months too old, it all balances out." Chuck scrolls up the kid's birth certificate on his phone. Hits delete.

Our comes a blank Dominican Republic birth certificate form from the same pocket Chuck has been trying to unload a parking pass. "Go ahead, fill it in. Whatever you want. Make the kid eligible to pitch for the next five years. I don't care." When you fill it out, get me the original and there will be no blow back. Guaranteed.  Commitment for the gun permit is now granted by Richie.

(If they make a kid who is now just past 12 suddenly seven, he's going to be the biggest freaking kid on the mound from the DR that the Mets don't know about in five years. That of course will be Richie's problem. If he even cares.)

Is this what power brokers do? Get people gun permits? Is this what Mayor Koch did when he left office and took up with the connected law firm of Stroock, Stroock & Lavan? Is this what Preet Bharara is doing after being ousted by President Trump from the U.S. Attorney's office—the same Southern New York District as the one Charles Rhoades was in charge of?

We know what power lawyers like Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort do, thanks to their association with Donald Trump, but is this the fate of public sector attorneys? Gun permits and parking placards?  Sad state of affairs. But perhaps highly lucrative.

The evening for Chuck and Richie must have gone on a bit, because by the time Chuck and Richie emerge from Sparks and stand under the restaurants' red sidewalk awning, they're both a bit tipsy, likely from downing doubles of top shelf 12-year-old scotch and putting it on Chuck's tab.

Richie asks Chuck if he remembers "the Costellano hit." "Of course." "Yeah, John Gotti has Paul rubbed out. And his driver Tommy Bilotti."

Chuck say he was a heavy drinking "pross" (prosecutor) at the time. Richie says he was a beat cop just out of the Academy. Chuck then proceeds to open the passenger door to his car, or Richie's. Richie re-enacts shots. Chuck falls down pretending to be dead, half in the passenger door, half on the sidewalk. Like it really happened. Richie walks over to the diver's side and plays dead just like Chuck. They have re-enacted the hit! Albeit without weapons.

Not only that, but the producers have managed to play a song while all this is going on: 'King of New York' by the Fun Lovin' Criminals. "La de dah de/Free John Gotti."

I do not freaking believe it. It's not even a week since Francesco Cali is gunned down, his assailant is caught ,and Hollywood is giving us a memory lane of two tipsy power broker guys who are missing the "old days" when things were done with "a handshake." And apparently ammunition.

This has not gone unnoticed. There are stories on the Internet about how prescient the producers are. Can you imagine their glee when the Cali news hit and they're sitting on a show in the can that features Sparks? Can you imagine how happy Sparks is? When you do a Google search under Sparks Steak House a potential answer is returned: "Sparks Steak House mob hit"

The hit was 34! years ago and it's still being talked about! And Sparks is still basking in the notoriety. I doubt the Federal Government will anoint the building with a National Historic Places plaque. But the City's Landmark's Commission should surely consider marking the turf where what is now New York's last sanctioned hit occurred

Almost makes me want to book a table at the restaurant and ask if anyone there was there that night. Have they got a little blurb on the menu that this is where mobsters like to eat, if they can get past the assassins that lurk outside? My grandfather's flower shop that served as a Prohibition cover for Pete's Tavern was for years referred to on the menu at Pete's. At least until they printed new menus and left the story off. I never got one of the old menus either. (I'm mad about that.)

Like Reggie's three homers in the World Series Yankee win over the Dodgers, I'm sure by now there are way more people who say they were than there at Sparks that night than really were there.. (I was at the Stadium that night. But not at Sparks.)


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Life on the Strip

Life on the Mobius strip that is. How recently have you read or heard of Bonnie and Clyde, the 1930s bank robbers portrayed in that all-time 1967 movie classic, 'Bonnie and Clyde?'

Well, if you read obits, you learn of Ralph Hall, 95, Who Ended 36-Year Career as Oldest Member of House of Representatives.

Mr. Hall was from Texas, born in 1923 with the distinct memory of working in a drug store when Cylde Barrow and Bonnie Parker would come in, "buy two cartons of Old Golds, two Coca-colas and all the newspapers we had."  If you remember scenes from the movie, the pair liked to read how they were portrayed in the newspapers after one of their bank robberies.

Old Gold was a cigarette of the era that I remember people smoking even in the 1960s. Each pack had a coupon on the back, and a carton had an extra four coupons inside the carton's lid. Coupons were redeemable (I don't know where) for household merchandise. It would seem with their cigarette habit that Bonnie and Clyde could have easily accumulated many Old Gold coupons. Redeeming them was probably something they had no patience for. Why collect coupons to get a free toaster when you're knocking over banks and shooting people?

One mention of Bonnie and Clyde would be just that, one mention. But today's movie review section gives us 'The Highwaymen', a tale of the two ex-Texas rangers who are pressed into service by the governor to end the scourge of the Barrow gang.

The ex-Rangers are played by Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner, and the governor is played by Kathy Bates. So, in 1930s Texas, the governor was a woman, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson. It was her second term in office, 1933-1935. She had previously served as the first female elected governor in 1925-1927. Her husband John was an impeached governor serving in 1915-1917.

Apparently when she was campaigning she openly flaunted her association with her husband, even having him make the speeches after her introduction.  Texas would get "two governors for the price of one," echoes of Bill Clinton extolling his wife Hillary's virtues as he was running, and George Wallace's wife Lurleen taking over the helm in Alabama. Must be something about the south.

"Ma" Ferguson has disbanded the old Texas Ranger network and replaced it with a state police that mimics J. Edgar's Hoover's nascent F.B.I. The two old-timers are brought out of moth balls to lead the pursuit the old fashioned way. Drive around in a car wearing their hats and grumbling. It is a Netflix release.

Incidental to the obit of Ralph Hall is the nugget that the record for the oldest member of the House of Representatives was previously held by Manly Stedman of North Carolina who died in office in 1930, at the age of 89.

Eighty-nine in 1930. Do the math and you have a man who was 19 when the Civil War broke out and became the last veteran of the Civil War to serve in Congress. He fought for the Confederacy.

Imagine, somewhat deep into the 20th-century there is someone serving in Congress who was carrying a musket under the Stars and Bars battle flag.

Obits and crime hold our interest. Consider the killing of Francesco Cali, the reputed leader of the Gambino crime family outside his Todt Hill Staten Island home the other evening. That particular section of Staten Island houses a fair number of reputed mafiosi.

It was either an example of extreme road-rage when someone in a pickup truck backed into Mr. Cali's vehicle parked in front of his house at about 9:30 P.M, or it was a planned hit. Mr. Cali, sensing an act of "disrespect" came out of his house and confronted the individual. Perhaps not immediately, but after some jawboning, the individual pulled out a semi-automatic and killed Mr. Cali with 12 shots, striking him at least 10 times.  If anyone remembers a scene in the movie 'A Bronx Tale', that's some reaction to a parking space.

Road-rage, or gangland hit, Mr. Cali was dead, and New York had its first mob rub out of a top figure in several decades. And this is just a day after two reputed Bonnano associates were acquitted in Brooklyn Federal Court of conspiracy and extortion charges after the defense successfully presented a case of selective prosecution of Italian-American who might talk with their hands, but who otherwise do not qualify as being gang members, because basically there is no such thing as organized crime. Was it the novel novel defense that secured the acquittal? Something convinced the jury to let them walk.

If organized crime doesn't exist, then we are awash in fake news, because even the New York Times devotes two full pages today to the Cali killing, with an extensive story of the events, complemented by two more stories, one of which describes the area of Staten Island where reputed members live, the very upscale Todt Hill section. The area must be authentic to something, because the wedding scene in in the 1972 movie 'The Godfather' was filmed there. With permission, of course.

In addition to the two adjacent stories is a recap of the greatest hits, starting with the 1957 rub out of Albert Anastasia in a barber chair at the Park Sheraton hotel in 1957 in Manhattan. My manager in the fraud unit at Enpire BlueCross BlueShield told me the story of his father, who was a detective at the time, who was supposed to be following Anastasia at the time. Even police presence in the area couldn't prevent the more than close shave Mr. Anastasia endured under the hot towels. When your face in covered in warm, wet towels, you see nothing in the mirror. It's something you might need to remember some day.

Thumbnail sketches of four more hits are recapped, along with photos. What strikes me about the spread is that I remember all of them. Just think of the age I've attained. I can remember all the hits that go back to 1957. I am an old guy.

Not included as a hit is the death of Carlo Gambino, the aged Don who strode through his Brooklyn neighborhood in his trademark fedora and full-length overcoat, looking every bit the courtly eminence gris that he was.

Carlo is reported to have died of natural causes at 74 in 1976. Or, perhaps it was the flu shot he succumbed to that his eager-to-assume-command associates might have convinced him to take, hoping the side effects would topple the Don who was already in poor health. When there was a fuel crisis and President Ford was telling Americans to forgo Christmas tree lights, the streets of Little Italy shone bright during the San Gennaro festival in the '70s, courtesy of what was referred to as 'Gambino oil.'

The best, and largest photo shows Carmine Galante being carried out of Joe and Mary's restaurant in 1979 on a stretcher in a body bag. I forgot the collateral damage there was to that one, with the owner of the restaurant getting killed, along with his 17-year-old son being seriously wounded.

I can never get over the irony of the restaurant's sign that is over Mr. Galante's body as he is being carried out.

Joe and Mary's
Italian-American Restaurant
We Give Special Attention To Outgoing Orders

The photo will forever remind me of something Pete Hamill wrote in an Op-Ed piece when the Red Lion bar in Greenwich Village was closing. (It has since reopened.)

Pete was reminiscing about his rowdy days of  drinking there, and how on this evening of its closing he wasn't going to be there because he has since given up drinking. The '50s and '60s saw many folk groups get launched there, the Irish group Clancy Brothers for one. I was never there.

Apparently, Pete remembers one evening when a nearby patron just plain dropped dead at his table. Face down, massive heart attack. Not to miss a beat, someone told the waitress they didn't want to have whatever if was he was having. How unlike 'When Harry Met Sally.'

The Paul Castellano hit, the oldest one in the recap, will forever give free publicity to Sparks Steak House, since that's where Paul and his entourage was headed when he was gunned down. Sparks is still there, just off Third Avenue on 46th Street, a high-end steak house that I remember was once just west of Pete's Tavern on 18th Street, where my father and I went at least once.

It has been at its Third Avenue location for decades now, and I'm sure gets a ripple of conversation through it whenever it is mentioned as being the location for Mr. Castellano's pink slip. Because after all, it might be argued that organized crime doesn't exist and that it merely resembles corporate America, but you have to admit there is a rather permanent outplacement policy in effect.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Balcony Idol

You don't hear the phrase "matinee idol" more anymore. It would refer to a unusually handsome male lead, or co-star in a Broadway show, usually a musical, who the Wednesday matinee crowd, generally composed of large groups of women—married, single or divorced—would swoon over.

Richard Burton and Robert Goulet in 'Camelot'; 'Gordon MacRae' in 'Oklahoma'; Robert Preston in 'The Music Man' would all be examples of matinee idols. You don't hear the term much anymore because Broadway shows are more ensemble casts with leads that are not purely identified with one individual. Now, the parts are played by more generic actors who can be replaced without sacrificing the show's appeal.

But now I've invented the term 'balcony idol' to recognize the Ranger defenseman, Harry Howell, who has just passed away at 86 in Hamilton, Ontario.

Howell was one of my favorite players who I would see from my side balcony, or end balcony seat at the old Madison Square Garden. The old Garden offered great views from the side balcony as long as you weren't in any row other than A. After that, your view of the ice became increasingly diminished as you went higher up. This has already been discussed in prior postings. End balcony seats gave you a full view of the ice, no matter what row you were in. But like any seat, the higher up you went, the smaller things looked.

I can still see Harry Howell behind the Ranger net holding off two opposing players, trying to work the puck out to any teammate who seemed like they could take it. Harry would look around in frustration for any other team member who might help him out. Often, his teammates were stuck in neutral.

Harry was one of the best members of Ranger teams that were perennially not very good. The NHL then was only six teams, with the top four in the standings meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You don't have to me too good at math to realize that if you start with four teams you get to two teams with one round of playoffs. The first round was always the semi-final. In Howell's 17 years with the Rangers he was never on a team that advanced to the finals.

Noted in the obit was Howell being awarded the Norris Trophy after the 1966-1967 season for being the league's best defenseman. And he certainly was. Not mentioned in the obit is that when Howell won the Norris Trophy he said it was a good thing to win it before the Boston rookie defenseman Bobby Orr did, because Orr was going to keep winning it in years to come. And Orr did. For the next eight years. The best player of the era.

Howell was part of the era of "blue line" defensemen, rarely straying into the offensive zone inside the other team's blue line. Defensemen were not encouraged to get inside that blue line. Once upon a time you had to carry the puck over your opponent's blue line. There was no dump and chase tactic. Thus, defensemen were there to interrupt puck handlers. At the opponent's blue line they there to quickly drop back and take out the opposing player who had the puck. Tim Horton, first of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then the Rangers, was one such defensemen who played in that tradition.

When Horton joined the Ranger team, Eddie Giacomin, the Ranger goalie, won the Vezina trophy for best goaltender for the 1970-1971 season, largely in part because Horton kept the puck from being shot at the net. That is the same Tim Horton who started Canada's famous donut chain.

In the early '70s when I was part of a contingent of ragamuffins that met every Sunday morning to play roller hockey in the 32nd Street school yard just off Third Avenue, If the five Burek brothers didn't show up, there weren't enough guys to choose up sides.  There also would be a missing goaltender. I wore Howell's No.3 on my Ranger jersey. When Howell was no longer with the team, the No. 3 was nearly just as good because now Ron Harris wore it.

I wasn't there for 'Harry Howell Tribute Night' at the old Garden on January 25, 1967. But thanks to the NYT digital archives I can re-read Arthur Daley's 'Sports of the Times' column that appeared that morning in the paper. 

Arthur Daley fittingly recounts Howell's long journey as a Ranger and that he has now passed a milestone 1,000th game with the club, a record that Howell still holds at 1,160 regular-season games. Howell has now been awarded the bronze Medallion of the City of New York, presented by John V. Lindsay at a City Hall ceremony.

Highlight goals and opponents are remembered in the column. One of the best recounts is when Mr. Daley tells us the Bruins "derricked their net-minder" for an extra forward in the waning minutes of a 1-0 Ranger lead, only to have Howell shoot a 160' shot that caromed off the boards into the empty net to finish the game with a 2-0 Ranger victory. "Derricked the goaltender." Never remember hearing that being a phrase for pulling the goalie. The OED cites derricking as meaning "hoisting," so in a sense I guess the Bruins hoisted their goaltender, pulled him from the net. You certainly get the idea no matter how you say it.

In an accompanying piece right next to Daley's column is a news item about the upcoming game with the Bruins that evening. At the end of the story it is acknowledged that the night will honor Harry Howell for his 15 years of service to the Rangers. The presentation starts at 7:30, with the game following at 8:00.

Clarence Campbell, the league president advises Harry Howell to get a "good tax lawyer" to help him get the goods he is going to receive across the border back home to Canada. "When you take that stuff they're going to give over the border, the guards will be waiting for you."

The following day's story about the game tells us to the Rangers beat the Bruins 2-1. Alongside that story is a much longer one with photos on the night's tribute to Harry Howell for his 15 years with the Rangers. Howell was going to be playing in his 1,002nd game that evening.

The list of gifts is about six column inches long, heavily detailed, starting with a Mercury Cougar car and ending with a "supply of cheese from Finland and Polish hams." In between are expensive and inexpensive gifts: Ben Hogan golf clubs; an electric frying pan. Also gifted was a moving van trip that would transport all the gifts to Hamilton, Canada, tax free, since the ruling is that they are gifts, not compensation. This is verified by the Ranger president Bill Jennings, a lawyer.

Howell played in the era when the players didn't wear helmets. As he got toward the end of his career with the Rangers, I remember Howell's head of  hair that was turning a wavy silver. He was a good looking guy on skates, holding a stick. If he were on Broadway, he'd have been a matinee idol.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Test

Quick. Name the five New York city crime families. It's one of those trivia questions that hasn't quite caught on with the same traction as trying to name Santa's reindeer or Snow White's dwarfs, but one that you should be able to answer if you're getting ready to apply for Medicare coverage and have lived in the any of the five boroughs for at least two decades after high school.

Can't name the five families? Turn in your MetroCard, or sign up for at lest an online subscription (online and print is better) to the New York Times, because mob reporting is back. By the way, the five crime families are: Bonanno, Lucchese, Gambino, Genovese and Colombo.

I became aware of the trend with yesterday's story that defendants in a mob trial, John Zancocchio and Joseph Cammarano Jr. were being portrayed by their legal team as victims of prosecutorial stereotyping, alleging they were on trial because they were, well, Italian, and talked with their hands.

Anyone who knows anything about the names of the crime families knows that no one at the helm is named after the founding godfathers. Like a prestigious white shoe law firm, there is no original partner named Millbank, Tweed, Hadley or McCloy at Millbank when you get off the elevator. But they soldier on regardless.

Take the two defendants named in the current trial. They are alleged to be members of The Bonanno family, with Mr. Cammarano in control as the boss. It is not known if the family stationery is ever revised. Mr Zancocchio is considered the consigliere, or adviser.

In this weekend's WSJ, the columnist Ben Zimmer gives the word consigliere the William Safire treatment and discusses its origins in language and where we've been reading and hearing the term in books and movies, principally 'The Godfather,' which introduced us to Robert Duvall playing Tom Hagen—very much a non Sicilian—as the consigliere to Marlon Brando's Don Corleone. The simplest definition of consigliere and shorn of adjectives is counselor.

And then we have today's paper, with the blockbuster front page, below the fold with photo, obituary for Carmine J. Persico, 'Teenage Hit Man Who Rose to a Mob Throne,' who died in prison at 85 while serving a 139-year sentence. The color photo of Mr. Persico is from 1986 and bears a strong, baggy-eyed resemblance to New York's former Governor Mario M. Cuomo.

The NYT has been putting more obituaries on the front page when the editors at the afternoon meeting agree that someone who has passed away merits a good deal of acknowledgement, no matter what their deeds.

Mr. Persico is not the first crime boss to achieve a front page sendoff.  The more well-known and flamboyant John Gotti got a front page notice in June 2002 when he passed away in prison. Both obituaries were written by Selwyn Raab, a retired NYT investigative reporter whose specialty was crime and crime families.

Mr. Raab wrote about NYC crime so long ago that his reporting on the 1963 Janice Wylie, Emily-Hoffert murders was turned into a TV movie, 'The Marcus-Nelson' murders that morphed into 'Kojack,' starring of course the lollipop sucking, Greek detective played by, 'who loves you baby,' Telly Savalas. Mr. Raab's name would appear on the 'Kojack' credits, and at 85 Mr. Raab is still with us.

I remember the reporting on the Wiley-Hoffert murders in the '60s and believe it or not, it led people to realize they shouldn't keep their windows open by the fire escape when they were sleeping, even though the girls' apartment was on the third floor with no reported fire escape access.  Though the nine-story building had a doorman on duty until midnight, the eventually identified and convicted perpetrator, Richard Robles, was a junkie burglar who had committed over a 100 burglaries and had gained access through an open kitchen window. He was described as a cat burglar, who thought the apartment was empty.

New York was always a edgy place to live, but now it was felt to be unsafe to keep a fire escape window open for some night air. And sleeping on the fire escape was even more dangerous. Air conditioning wasn't as prevalent then. When asked, "what were the '60s like?" I've always said, "the '60s were hot!"

The front page obit for Mr. Persico jumps to page A18 and a nearly full two-page spread, with photos. It is a sizable obit by any standards, and its length approaches that we usually see reserved for astronauts, actors, and Russian writers. The notorious seldom get a 21-gun sendoff.

The photos in the rest of the obit are black and white, mostly because newspaper photos of the era were always black and white. Color is a far more recent innovation.

I love one photo that shows Mr. Persico and his body guard, Hugh (Apples) McIntosh, leaving a social club (members only). Mr. McIntosh is described as being 6'4" with a frame like a tree trunk, alongside the much smaller 5'6" Carmine. There are appropriately or not three garbage cans in the photo as well.

The three cans are of the ribbed, steel variety, trimmed at the top with a band of iron, that were heavy as hell to lift even when they were empty. The three lids are secured to each each other by a length of wire or rope.  One can is significantly overflowing, but still with a lid balanced on top.

The lids would be popped off the cans by the sanitation men grabbing the rope, or wire. The cans would then be dragged to the truck, lifted and tilted with the contents dumped into the back of the truck.

In January 1968, when NYC went through another one of Mayor John Lindsey's municipal workers' strikes, the sanitation workers walked off the job. This left nine days of trash on the city's sidewalks that went uncollected until the strike was settled. Governor Rockefeller wouldn't declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard to collect the garbage on the premise that the guardsmen were not in good enough shape to be NYC sanitation workers. They weren't deemed strong enough to "lift that bale." Luckily, it was a cold January, and the trash didn't ferment on the city's sidewalks in the heat. An all-out health hazard was avoided by the cold weather.

Mr. Persico was first arrested at 17 for murder, and became a "made" mob member at 21—an unusually young age. No one issued mob trading cards like baseball, so there is no highly valued rookie card in existence.

He was considered highly intelligent, and despite being a high school dropout he did get judges to allow his self-defense at some of his trials. His grasp of legal concepts and strategies was considered highly formed and was perhaps acquired growing up when his father, Carmine Sr. was employed as a legal stenographer at Manhattan law firms.

In reading Carmine's obit, I find out I live in the same suburb Carmine was holed up in when he was grassed out by his cousin's husband for a $50,000 reward in 1985, a bit before we moved here. I'm not aware of any civic pride that is displayed as our being a hamlet that housed Mr. Persico as he attempted to evade arrest. I also never met the husband who got the reward. He might not have lived long enough to spend much of it.

The '60s and '70s was the era of the Gallo-Profaci gang wars and a 1962 incident might have made a chapter in Jimmy Breslin's 1969 book 'The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight' if it had happened a little later.

Turns out on August 20, 1961 a police sergeant walked into a Brooklyn bar and his presence interrupted two men who were in the process of depriving Larry Gallo of the ability to breathe by the process of tightening a rope around his neck. Sensing a member of the law was now present, the two assailants abandoned their oxygen deprivation of Mr. Gallo and ran out the door. One of the assailants was identified as Mr. Persico, but the charges were dropped when Mr. Gallo was unwilling to make a complaint. It is not reported what he told the police the two men were trying to do to him. Perhaps seeing how long he could hold his breath in order to be casted for a small part on a popular TV series of the era, 'Sea Hunt,' alongside Lloyd Bridges.

But do not for a nanosecond  think that just because the mob seems to be aging out of existence with old guys passing away in Federal prison hospitals with IV drips in their arms that the colorful stories will ever leave us.

Perhaps not mob related, we do have the story out of Chicago of Jussie Smollett who tells us two guys were trying to wring his neck with a rope, but he got out of it.

The beat goes on. Only the names change,

Friday, March 8, 2019


The fraudsters that used my credit card to purchase merchandise from Kenneth Cole and other retail clothing outlets mistakenly used my address to send some of their ill-gotten goods to. Thus, I received 5 pairs of distressed men's skinny jeans from FashionNova. I wrote about this a few postings ago.

I haven't been skinny for years, trying to hold the fort at a 38" waist. Four pairs of the jeans were 36", and one pair was 38". (These is no rule in this blog that I have to accompany this posting with an image of a guy wearing skinny, ripped jeans.)

The first email to FashionNova made them aware that I got a shipment of jeans I didn't order, the credit card was credited, and would they please send me a return shipping label so they can get their merchandise back? Not very complicated. A return, please.

First email reply was to:

Hey Love,
(Right now I'm not getting a good feeling about this.)

Thank you for choosing Fashion Nova! I'm glad to assist you!
(Oh boy.)

Regrettably we do not offer pre-paid return shipping labels at this time. The customer is responsible for paying any return shipping costs. Please see our Return Policy...
(I've reached an airhead. Clearly, they didn't read my email)

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

I explained again. I am not a customer. I've got your goods. If you want them back, send me the postage. The order was fraudulently placed. You've got an opportunity to get your goods back. The credit transaction has been backed out. At least you can get your jeans back and not lose.

Second email from the vendor:

Dear Novable:
(It's from a different airhead)

To resolve this issue immediately, please reply to this email with a clear photo of what was received with a description of the issue at your earliest convenience.

I was so thankful they weren't going to give me a deadline on providing a PHOTO! A what? You f*ing people, (I didn't really write that out.) I gave you the packing slip number, look up what you mailed me. I'm not taking a picture of 5 pairs of jeans! The window is closing on your getting these back if you can't send me the shipping costs.

Third, and last email from the vendor:

Dear John,
(Same person as the second email, but I've acquired a name.)

We made our research and you can keep the package and it is not require [sic] to be returned.

Well, that's it. I've got five pairs of jeans. Four pairs I cannot fit into. Nor can anyone else in my family of women. The 38" pair had a shot, but distressed jeans, pre-ripped/shredded in four places, is not my style. In fact, jeans are not my style.

No doubt nearly anyone with a credit card in this country—or even the world—has probably had their identity stolen. What was unusual here was that I got the goods. Usually, fraudulent transactions don't involve a shipment to the legitimate card holder. Thus, when someone tried my card out for pizza somewhere in Florida, I'll assume they got the pie and ate it, without offering me a slice. But that transaction also triggered an alert from the same credit card people that my card had been compromised. No such alert was received this time. Why? Who knows? For them to figure out.

And as anyone who knows the drill, report it, the card gets cancelled, you're not out the money, but they will have to send you a new credit card. Comes express mail, so it gets here fast. My third card in a year.

Which of course means I have to go to all the accounts that have recurring charges and notify them of the new card. A chore, but not one you want to slip up on, ever since I once failed to notify E-Z Pass of a new expiration date and my wife got flummoxed at the toll when the disk wasn't read. You don't want to flummox my wife at a toll. You tend to hear about it. She wants to sail through. Who doesn't?

Regarding the unordered jeans, an offer was made to an alert reader asking if they wanted any of the jeans. Different colors were part of the order. Take your pick. I'd gladly mail any of them. No charge.

No interest. So, there they sit on the bedroom floor, five pairs of jeans, retail value over $200. Soon to go to Goodwill.

Why couldn't the fraudsters make a mistake and ship me a 72" Hi-Def television? Maybe Best Buy wouldn't want it back?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Hey Man

It is one of my favorite cartoons.

Sometime in the 60s Playboy published a single panel cartoon showing a bread truck getting held up by a few guys with very straggly hair. Whether you would call them Hippies or Beatniks I guess would have depended on your definition of what either of the genus would look. Little matter.

The slang for the era, either from Beatniks, Hippies, or just people talking "cool," was to refer to money as "bread." Use it in a sentence? Sure. "Man, I just plain don't make enough bread to pay all these bills." You could probably still say today and people would understand you.

The cartoon shows one of the Hippies or Beatniks pulling something out of the back of the ruck and looking at it and declaring: "Hey man, it really is bread."

The cartoonist's message is that the perps were so stoned they held up a bread truck thinking it was an armored truck. They did get a lot of bread, but not so much they could pay off any bills they owed.

It's taken a long time, but in a sense, this scenario has played out in real life. It's a pretty recent incident of the two people who snuck into what they thought was a fully abandoned dwelling in order to smoke some pot in private. It doesn't matter what state they were in, or whether the pot was legally acquired. They simply went into a place to smoke a joint. Or two.

The garage seemed like an easy place to get into, but not a good place to stay and smoke. Why? The individuals encountered a fully-grown tiger in a cage in a corner of the garage.

The news story reports they reported the presence of the tiger via a 311 call to the police, who in turn referred the call to Animal Control Officers (BARC). How they transmitted the call, via cell phone or pay phone (good luck finding one of those) was not disclosed. Only that the animal control officers met them at the site.

But it took a little convincing of the control officers that they were really going to find a tiger in a cage if they investigated. The report was met with skepticism of the first order because the person making the report sounded stoned.

The officers on arriving were rewarded with finding a genuinely caged tiger and a reaction that went: "Hey man, it really is a tiger."


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Herald Tribune

It is hard to believe that any adult who was associated with The Herald Tribune could still be alive  on Friday, only to pass away on Saturday at 93. But Ogden R. Reid, 'Editor of Storied Newspaper and a U.S. Representative.' has passed away at his home in Waccubac, New York, an exclusive hamlet in Westchester County.

A good deal of Mr. Reid's obituary is devoted to his political career, which spanned 12 years in the House of Representatives and several appointments by governors and presidents. But it's the timeline tossed out for The Herald Tribune that to me is the most interesting.

Ogden's Reid's grandfather was the editor and principal owner of the New York Tribune. His son, Ogden's father,  merged the Tribune with the New York Herald in the 1920s to form The New York Herald Tribune, the newspaper I still love, even if it did cease publication in the 1960s.

Ogden Reid was the president and editor of the paper in the 1950s. But even then, newspapers had financial trouble, and a controlling interest in The Herald Tribune was sold to John Hay Whitney in 1958. Whitney had been the ambassador to England, and had a sister Joan Payson who owned the winner of the 1969 Belmont Stakes, Stage Door Johnny, and who was instrumental in getting a National League baseball team back in New York, the Mets, The Metropolitans. Mrs. Payson owned a portion of the ball club.  They were sporting people.

But as a newspaper, The Herald Tribune had it all. Although I'd buy the Times as a teenager, I'd also buy the Herald Tribune, and liked it more. Its layout wasn't as dense, there were comics, Our Miss Peach, The Wizard of Id, B.C. editorial cartoons, and of course sports with Red Smith, who later went to to The Times when The Tribune folded in 1967.

I loved reading Dick Schaap and Walter Lippmann in the paper. The Sunday paper spawned what is still a magazine, New York. But newspapers in New York were contracting after the 114-day newspaper strike of 1962-1963. The Herald Tribune merged with the World Telegram and Sun and the Journal-American in the mid-60s to become the short lived World Journal Tribune. A New Yorker cartoon of the era depicted a newspaper delivery truck that was elongated like a stretch limo in order to be long enough to carry the name on one line: The World Journal Tribune.

 It was a long, long time ago, and I can still remember...

Friday, March 1, 2019

Credit Cards

Is there anyone in the United States—perhaps the world—whose credit card has not been compromised by identity theft?

The latest compromise of my credit card manifested itself when a soft-wrapped bundle was plopped into the vestibule last night by the UPS driver. Since The Maltese Falcon has just been on 'Turner Classics' earlier in the week, I naturally thought I was now in possession of the bird. I got worried.

When something comes in my name I play a memory game and try and remember what I ordered. I always keep track of my online purchases, as much to track the delivery as well as cross-check the item against my credit card statement when it comes.

Nothing came to mind that I could have ordered from, a Vernon, California company. Opening the package revealed men's jeans, men's skinny jeans, some of which looked already frayed at the knees. Boy, they got the wrong guy.

I waited for my wife to get in from work before taking further action. Did she, or my daughter, order something and somehow just use my name for shipping purposes? No.

My wife advised me to check my credit card. I did. I found the transaction that generated the skinny jeans delivery, plus found four other transactions that I didn't make. I guess whomever was responsible for those transactions at least got the addressee to their liking on those shipments. I didn't receive anything from Kenneth Cole.

Calling the credit card company (who didn't flag the multiple online purchases) has become so routine that I feel like a suspect who often gets arrested by the police. I know the drill.

Of course they'll back out the transactions; they'll send me a new credit card via overnight express mail, graciously waiving the $6 fee for overnight delivery. Gee, I feel like a VIP.

My email to the people who sent me the skinny jeans has not yet been answered. There is no phone number. Being a California company and the EST/PST time difference, it is [possible they are not yet open to review their emails. We'll see. They should be glad I'll send the jeans back as long as they generate a prepaid shipping label.

One of my tag lines for the blog is that we live on a Mobius strip. I should add to that we are sieves, leaking out all kinds of information whether we want to or not. We emit radioactivity for others to capture.

We are our own  Kryptonite.