Saturday, September 28, 2019

Vincent Patrick

Dear Mr. Patrick,

Google and Wikipedia tell me you're 84 now and living in The Bronx. The page was last edited in 2019, so I'm going to believe you're still with us, and obviously, haven't left NYC. Congratulations on that.

To someone like myself who grew up and lived in NYC until they were 46, (now 70) and then moved to Long Island while still commuting to Manhattan every work day until 2011  my instincts tell me that anyone at 84 still living in NYC has a sweetheart of a deal on rent. I wouldn't move either.

But this is not about rent, it's about Pete's Tavern, an establishment I'm convinced you know more than something about. The back of the dust jacket for the hardcover of 'The Pope of Greenwich Village' shows you with a very large dog in front of a place that starts with a P, has what looks like an E following, with a coach lamp behind your right ear: Pete's Tavern.

I've been writing a blog since 2009, something I started at the suggestion of an obituary writer Marilyn Johnson after we got in touch with each other after she wrote 'The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries.' Marilyn knows Pete's Tavern as well.

Sorry for being so late to read your book that was published over 40 years ago. It's not that I'm a terribly slow reader, it's that I remember the movie, and I remember Charlie and Paulie in the car coming back from Atlantic City I believe, when Paulie's horse ran second.

Truthfully, I just started the book, and sought out a hardcopy from a used book Internet site. Sorry, there will be no extra royalty check coming because of my purchase, but I'm sure you understand. I'm not even up to the race part in the book, but I recounted that scene in a posting I made about a horse owned by someone I know that recently ran second, paying a huge place payout. The owner and a friend of mine only had a win bet on Kelleycanrun. Schnooks. They obviously didn't see the movie, or read the book.

But this is about Pete's Tavern, an establishment I'm greatly familiar with. The family's flower business, the Royal Flower Shop, was the legit business cover for Pete's during Prohibition, covering perhaps 15' of depth when you used the Irving Place entrance.

When my father (b.1915) was a small boy he used to wind the huge regulator clock on the left as you come in. He told me he would get up on a stool and wind the clock after school.

The clock no longer works, its parts having been cannibalized by a repairman who ran off with the gears. Or so the story goes. I've mentioned to the management at Pete's several times that I'd help start a Kickstart campaign to get the clock fixed. There are people who I could direct them to who could do the job.

No interest from the management. Phyllis Freeman? one of them. Anyway, the family flower business moved to 18th and 3rd, SW corner, then the NW corner, and remained in the family until 1975, or so. It became my father's shop, but he had a full-time job with the DOD in Washington as a civilian naval engineer, and could only run the business by proxy. And not run it well.

I basically spent highly formative years growing up in that shop on the NW corner and went to Stuyvesant High School while living with my grandmother on East 19th Street. I knew Pete's from the 60s, saw Callahan sitting in the corner, and knew my father's boyhood friend Phil Negri, the bartender. Their photos once graced the place, but were taken down. I still go back there to catch a meal and some memories.

Years ago I was talking to one of Pete's managers, Manny, about the family connection to Pete's. (I got comped dessert). He told me the story of the guys in your book, Charlie and Paulie who worked at Pete's, but then stole the recipe for the sauce and gave it to Sal Anthony's, a restaurant across the street from Pete's on Irving Place, up a nice flight of stair from the sidewalk.

Doing a little web research, I see that the owner and chef of Sal's Anthony, Anthony Macagnone once worked at Pete's. Maybe he "stole" the recipe. Who better than the chef? It was probably his anyway. Unfortunately, I see he's recently passed away from esophageal cancer in January of this year, at 79.

As we probably both know, Sal Anthony's moved to the lower East Side but I now know is proudly back at 3rd and 19th Street, at least since 2017, with or without the recipe from Pete's. I used to go to Sal Anthony's so maybe I'll catch up to them on 19th Street and ask. I don't really expect anyone to answer truthfully, if at all.

Aside from standing in front of Pete's for your dust jacket photo with the dog who looks like he could eat you, I suspect you had ties to the area. Con Ed workers workers getting a Paulie "discount" on dinners can only mean to me that you went up and down Third Avenue yourself.

My father, never being discouraged by not making money, bought the Skoal bar on 14th Street, across the street from Con Edison. He was perhaps the bar's best customer, so he wrongfully figured the place would fill up with Con Ed executives getting sloshed at lunch. That didn't happen, and because people expected to get paid, my father's ownership quickly tanked. Thank God. The site became a Florsheim shoe store.

Maybe we can share a meal at Pete's or Sal Anthony's. We can find out about the sauce from Anthony's son.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Clock Doc

My family and I have been visiting Vermont for decades, usually around the so-called leaf-pepper season in October. Some of the visits have been with wife, kids. Uncle John, and sometimes just a fishing trip with Uncle John. Many combinations of the above.

On one such trip, probably around 2001 or 2002, John and I took a side trip into Middletown Springs, near where we were staying in Vermont, which was probably in the Lake Bomoseen area. There had been a story in the Rutland Herald of the Clock Doctor, Allen Grace, who lived and worked in Middletown Springs.

The story was a nice piece about Mr. Grace, his work, and his hope of selling a grandfather clock he had in the showroom so he could pay for some upcoming college tuition for one of his children. I think he was asking somewhere in the $17,000 neighborhood for the clock.

My wife wasn't with us on this trip. but John and I went to Middletown Springs to see what clocks Mr. Grace might have for sale. My wife and I have a few antique clocks, all working, and all giving us an approximation of the time, within a few minutes. If it's 5 o'clock our clocks won't necessarily agree at the same time that it's 5 o'clock. We have 5 o'clock a few times before it's 6 o'clock.

The trip into Middletown Springs was a little dicey because of a flooded road from a recent heavy rain, but it wasn't that many miles from where we were staying, so we made it in good enough order.

Like most of the towns in Vermont, there is a graveyard just as you're entering, or leaving the town, and Middletown Springs is no exception.  We slowed to take a look and seemed to attract traffic. It was almost like in a Western, riding into town as strangers and having everyone come out and look at you.

Not the people in the graveyard, but suddenly more breathing residents of Middletown Springs needed something at the store than I thought really needed something at the store. No problem.

The town is beyond simple. The center of it is the intersection of two straight roads, that become South Street, North Street, West Street and East Street, taking you respectively in those directions from the center. If you get lost, you're a moron.

The Clock Doc's address was 41 South Street. Not hard to find. Unfortunately, he wasn't in at the time, but his wife was only too happy to show us the showroom, which was really a section of the house that had numerous clocks jammed into it on the walls and on the floor.

We spotted what I've later learned was an advertising clock, advertising Calumet Baking Powder. John and I, being racing degenerates, traded looks with each other since Calumet is a storied thoroughbred racing stable that has produced several Triple Crown winners and other high profile winners over the years—it's earlier years, not now.

But the original owners of the farm, the William Wright family, made their money in Calumet Baking Powder, a key ingredient in early 20th-century kitchens for all the baking that was done by the housewives. This of course was before the era of the supermarkets and ready to eat baked goods.

The clock was rather huge, but attractive in its own way. There was certainly no place to put it in our home. There was another clock I took serious interest in, but without the other household vote I could only look and report back. (Reporting back, the vote was no, and a trip back up to Middletown Springs never came off.)

Vermont Life magazine was always subscribed to, but toward what became their end, they were nothing more than ads, with little content. We switched our allegiance to Vermont Magazine, which I never knew has been around for decades. Vermont Life recently folded, having been published by the state of Vermont for eons. Vermont Magazine buried it.

The 2019 fall issue of Vermont Magazine has a two page spread on Middletown Springs. Anything on The Clock Doc?

I eagerly fast forwarded to page 94 and got the usual stories about some businesses in the town, a bakery, a wood working design shop, and a pottery place. All nice thumbnail sketches, with addresses, websites, hours and directions. But no Clock Doc is mentioned.

Through Google you can find web links to the Clock Doctor, but none of them are from the business itself. Apparently Mr. Grace either has no website, or perhaps may not be with us anymore.

A call to the phone number from one of the links does however get answered by a living and breathing Allen Grace, who tells me he has a few clocks for sale, but mostly does repairs. No Calumet clock is available anymore. Asked why he might not have been in the magazine he theorized that he "may not advertise enough."

If you do make a trip to Middletown Springs because of the Vermont Magazine story, add a trip down a few houses from the center of town to 41 South Street and check out what Mr. Grace might still have available.

The time will be right.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Cop and J.D.

Imagine a New York City police officer—the Chief of Detectives no less—being a best friend of Jerome David Salinger, the ultra-reclusive author of  'The Catcher in the Rye,' a seminal novel for the generation who now listens to Joe Namath and Tom Selleck pitch reverse mortgages and for whom the drug ads that flood television have real meaning. The pills are in the medicine chest.
In their 20s, John L. Keenan, who at 99 just passed away, and J.D. weren't then known for what they later became known for. The were soldiers in the U.S. Army during WW II, getting shot at overseas during D-Day at Utah beach, and at the Battle of the Bulge, no doubt wondering if there was an end to all that that had them coming home alive.

But they did. John rejoined the police force he had joined in 1941, and J.D., well, he became famous for writing 'Catcher in the Rye,'  and then perhaps staying even more famous for not wanting to be famous, living in New Hampshire until he passes away in 2010.
After the Army their lives couldn't have been any more different, but they remained lifelong friends, with J.D. coming to John's police retirement in 1978 at Antun's in Queens Village and telling whomever would listen that John was the best person to be in a foxhole with. Comrades in arms.

J.D. and John had more than trying to stay alive in common. John's mother and father were of Irish descent, living in England, and J.D.'s mom was born in Scotland, of Irish descent. (Salinger's father was the son of a rabbi.)

Can you imagine how many literary types would have loved to have been at John's retirement amongst 300 cops? Certainly, finding Queens Village would have been an adventure for them, but I have no doubt they would have all tried to take a taxi.

As J.D. has derived lifelong notoriety from 'The Catcher in the Rye,'  working on it while in the service, John's career was capped by something famous as well: the manhunt for Son of Sam, the serial killer who scared the crap out of New Yorkers in 1977, killing six, and wounding seven others. Five of the six killed were women.

Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, prowled areas where couples might have been making out in their cars at night, surprising them with a combat stance while aiming a .44 caliber handgun their way. He was deadly.

Chief Keenan was born in 1919, the same year as J.D. and they served together in a Counter Intelligence Corps unit of the Fourth Infantry Division. John Keenan rose through the police department ranks,  stopping at Chief of Detectives. He later worked as a VP for the New York Racing Association, where his name was slightly familiar to me since I save all my track programs and always read who the officials and executives are. It wasn't hard to find an old program from the '80s with his name in it. I go back more than 50 years with those.

The other day one of the HLN newscasters, Susan Hendricks, was split screen interviewing a lawyer about what, if any, are the legal obligations for those who might be witnessing a crime but who do not intercede. The subject is a current one because of the deadly stabbing of a high school student in Oceanside, NY while other students just looked on and took video from their cell phones.

The lawyer brought up what he was calling the "Kitty Genovese" effect of being a bystander and not making any attempt to alert the police. Susan said... "in the 70s..." and the lawyer agreed, "yes, in the 70s." One just made the other make the same mistake. The famous Kitty Genovese murder was in 1964 when I was in high school, when neither Susan or the lawyer were alive.

John L. Keenan's NYT obit today is headlined: 'Chief Who Led the 'Son of Sam' Manhunt." I always find it interesting that some things that I remember so well—such as 'Son of Sam'—that may have happened 40 and 50 years ago, are so unknown to people around me.

But, I shouldn't really be surprised at that. I'm sure my father and mother remembered quite well the story behind the Leopold and Loeb murders, and the details of the Lindbergh kidnapping. We all have our points of reference.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Automated Money

The Assembled Class of 2019 was due to meet on the 3rd Floor of the Belmont Clubhouse area. on Saturday. This is our common rendezvous point. Only this time, Bobby M. got there first, and Johnny D. got there second, around 12:15 for a 1:00 post, on a 3rd Floor that had no lights on, no information board turned on, and only one lone TV tuned in to Andy Serling and Anthony Stabile going over the day's card.

Even acknowledging that on-track attendance in New York is in the toilet, this was a sparse crowd, when two members of the Stalwart Four were the only people you could find.

Spotting Bobby G. on a bench, our own deliberations on the card commenced. Neither of the first two of us there noticed there were no machines in the bays of any of the windows. And when Johnny M. got there, we still didn't think anything was too strange, until Anthony Stabile came down from the outside broadcast perch, walked past us, and informed us, "Gentlemen, this floor is closed."

Truer words were never said. I don't know how Anthony's picks went on the day, but he certainly had that one right. The floor was closed, and he directed us to the 2nd or 4th Floors.

The 4th Floor was picked to go to, and Johnny D. went down to the photographer's office in the basement to buy the dead heat photo from Alabama Day at Saratoga, the 9th race, Lake Placid, that took the placing judges over 10 minutes to decide the winner of, hampered by the suddenly black. rainy sky and no light at the finish line.

I knew the photographer's photo was not the finish line photo, but I wanted to see what he captured, as well as have a souvenir of the day's very unusual events. Dead heats are rare, but ones that take 10 minutes to decide, and ones that the judges basically couldn't definitively declare a winner of are even rarer. Because of the the poor quality of the finish line photo and the inability to separate Varenka from Regal Glory, both were declared the winners.

At the moment Adam Coglianese took the photo. being right at the finish line, standing on the turf, the inside horse Regal Glory appears to have the narrowest of noses in front. But after they traveled perhaps another foot, Varenka closed even further into Regal Glory's position, prompting the dead heat call.

To me, unexpectedly, the track photographer's photo shows a leaden sky in the background, but one that is a good deal lighter than the blackout shot captured by the finish line camera. Thinking about this, I can only concluded that Adam's shot is on a horizontal line toward the horses, capturing some lightness in the sky, while the finish line photo is shot from overhead, not putting any sky in he picture.

When I caption the photo it will join other racetrack photos in the home office, one of which is a framed page from the 5th race program from February 11 1983 (Presidents' Day) that of course shows the entries for a race. I keep the page because that's a race that was never run because they closed the track after the 4th race.

The two John's, completely oblivious to weather predictions and the fact that it was snowing heavy, were at Aqueduct's Equestris and weren't giving ground conditions any thought whatsoever until they were told us the track was closing.

And boy was it  ever snowing when we got outside! We nearly missed the bus back to Flushing. That storm turned out to be a blizzard, dumping over 15" of snow. (We got rain checks for a fresh admission.)

Coming back up from the basement I went looking for Bob and John on the 4th Floor. No one was there. anywhere. The Garden Terrace restaurant was closed. The place looked like the 3rd Floor, only the lights were on.

Without cell phones, we might have never become The Assembled, but Bob and John called me with their 2nd Floor location, that I relayed to Jose, who is always there a little after the 2nd race. Jose met us, as expected, right after the 2nd race. The Assembled assembled.

There is no better feeling than betting the first race and hitting a $40 exacta. As it turned out, that euphoria eventually melted away as a ticket wasn't cashed on any of the 10 races that followed. Modesty in betting always assures minor damage, even if nothing is hit. The balance at the end only put a small sent  in the opening $60 voucher, so moral victory was declared.

The bonus on the day was the alignment of our being at the track on the same day Richie P's Kelleycanrun was competing in the 7th race, a race they were second choice to win at 2-1.

The Assembled met in the paddock and wished Richie well. If anyone remembers, Kelleycanrun last appeared in a similar Maiden Special Weight race on August 24th, Travers Day, finishing an impressive 2nd at 37-1 behind a Chad Brown monster firster, Magic Star, who exploded and overtook Kelleycanrun inside the 16th pole. A good effort was expected on Saturday.

Some things aren't meant to be, and Kelleycanrun, with a different jockey, Jose Lezcano replacing Junior Alvarado, was a little too far back, too long. The sweeping move around the final turn with nothing in front of her was either started too late, or just didn't come with the same effort as back in the last race. She finished a fast closing 3rd. Win bets, boxed tris and a boxed exacted were wiped out by Chad Brown's horses. It's Chad's world, and we just live in it.

Was it Lezcano's ride that compromised Kelleycanrun? Her 3rd place finish was behind two Chad Brown trained horses this time, Shelter Island and Balon Rose. The winner, Shelter Island was a firster, owned by Peter Brant. Does Chad Brown have to win nearly every turf race, and does owner Peter Brant need to keep winning as well? It looks like the best we can hope for in the next outing for Kelleycanrun, is that Brant and Chad Brown are somewhere else. Home, maybe.

Richie's ownership is who the Assembled vicariously live through. Richie has real skin in the game— ownership. I once asked his longtime friend Bobby G. why didn't he ever go in with Richie on a horse partnership?

Bobby, who is a retired surgeon, sharp as a tack, who naturally thinks in medical terms, replied, "It's bad enough one of us has the disease,"

The 7th race was a downer, but, there are still four more races. Wounds are licked, tickets discarded, and fresh opinions are formed. Unfortunately, even with a nice price exacta for $1 for Jose, the wheels had come off The Assembled's handicapping. The first race victory and payout now seems an eon ago,

While handicapping, I put together some numbers that could answer my question of what percentage of favorites are winning. Watching the telecasts, favorites seemed to be clocking in at something above the universal 33% victories. And above one-third it is: 45%. That is a significant average for the meet so far.

Bobby G. uses his phone to make bets, getting track odds with no municipality's surcharge.. Jose goes to a teller. Johnny M. and myself use a voucher with a starting amount and then use the self-service SAM (system activated machines) machines to make our wagers. SAM machines have made redundant a vast number of tellers who used to work the windows. On Saturday,there were two teller windows open on the second floor, with probably 12 or so bays open that had SAM and voucher machines.

So-called SAM machines have been around for decades now. They allow you to put in a voucher, a ticket that you've put an amount on, follow the icon prompts, and self-enter your bet for however many tracks they're taking action on. And there are a lot of tracks.

Yesterday I missed touched the touch screen at the outset of a race and was presented with choices in Australia. I started over.

The machine subtracts the amount of your bet from the voucher and calculates your new balance. As it's done this, you've pressed icons that have produced your tickets, the same tickets you would have gotten with a live teller.

With the advent of the SAM machines, obviously fewer tellers are needed. There are still enough people who do not use the SAM machine, and wait in a line for a teller. Since the track these days is hardly overflowing with people, there is little wait for a teller. And for the SAM machine, there is usually never a line to use them. It's as if you've got your machine.

If your bets win, you can bet off them as if they were a voucher, or you can combine their payout and get a single ticket. The machines make no math errors. But you can a HUGE one..

There is a very important step in using a SAM machine. Press the lower right icon to get your voucher back. Your money. The machine is not a robotic ATM that will flash and beep if you forget to take your card, money, or receipt. At Saratoga one year I took $100 out of an ATM and got six 20s, for my $100 withdrawal, $120. I remember counting the flutters as the bills emerged and realized there had been six phtttts. I've never had an an ATM before or since that screwed up.

In Monopoly, when you pass GO you get $200. At a SAM machine, if all you do is take the tickets representing your bet, and do not hit the RETURN BALANCE icon in the lower right corner, you will in effect leave your money in the machine for the next bettor. You have metaphorically dropped your money on the floor for someone else to find. And it does happen.

I once realized way too late that I didn't press the icon to get what should have been a $12 voucher. Someone else using the machine, when they checked out, got my $12 added to their voucher. Fair game.

Leaving the track, Johnny M. starting asking me if I remember when I first instructed him on how to use the machine. He always remembered me emphasizing to him that you have to hit that RETURN BALANCE icon.

Sometime around the 8th race Johnny M. tells me he used the machine, checked out, and suddenly had a voucher worth $200 or so more than expected. He knew it wasn't his, but there is no way at this point to find the person who forgot their RETURN BALANCE voucher.

He was confused at first. Where did this extra money come from? He hadn't hit any bet that returned $200. I told him I remember sitting next to him and hearing him mumble something on and on, checking tickets in his hand. Someone talking to themselves at he race track is common. I thought perhaps John was reciting the rosary without the beads, hoping to appeal to spiritual sources for a winner.

He already had a winner.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Colossus of East 37th Street

My uncle Jimmy was born in 1916, a year after my father. He was the youngest of the four brothers, all of whom are of course gone now.

In 1986 my great-uncle Peter passed away and was waked in what had been the old neighborhood, East 29th Street, near Second Avenue, at the Gannon Funeral Home. Peter was of course Jimmy's uncle, his father's brother, my grandfather's brother. I love it when I can understand aunts and uncles. Cousins are a whole different story.

Peter was a good bit younger than my grandfather John. The best I was ever able to peg Peter's age was from an Ellis Island ship manifest that shows him entering the country from  Greece, with my grandfather, in 1912. My grandfather had already been in the country several years, and had already started a family, by then having two sons.

The manifest showed the age for Panayouti, Greek for Peter, as 18, so the feeling is he was born in 1894. He would have been 92 when he passed away.

My uncle Peter and his brother were the brothers in the family flower shop, Royal Flower Shop on East 18th Street, on three different East 18th Street corners for over 50 years. Peter never married, and being a bachelor when WW II rolled around, he was drafted, even though he was over 40. If you had a pulse and were not married with a family, you were drafted.

Peter never was sent overseas, but he did complete his service time in Kentucky in the Quartermaster corps, getting an honorable discharge with the word "excellent" as to his character.

The family's beginnings were 32nd Street and 2nd Avenue,. To the best of my knowledge Peter lived with his brother and sister-in-law and his nephews. He never learned to read or write English, and I was never sure he even knew how to read and write Greek, but he of course spoke both languages.

When my uncle Jimmy reached Gannon's he was 70, and I remember him remarking that he didn't recognize the old neighborhood—"there are so many tall buildings now." When Jimmy split from family's second apartment over the flower shop at 148 East 18th Street, he lived in Brooklyn. Of course he would come by, but not often. If there's one thing my father's family was, it wasn't close. Everyone had their own orbits.

Since my retirement in 2011 I do not go into the City every workday. I might go in now every 4-6 weeks for medical and dental appointments, with a haircut thrown in, and some shopping. I'm never gone so long that things look totally new, but I do take in things I might not have when I traveled in every day.

I'm almost like a tourist who finds themselves looking up; looking up at the number of construction cranes; looking at the number of construction sheds I have to walk under; the latest piece of street real estate that has been blocked off for pedestrians. Just the other day I became aware of two steel ping-pong tables with metal nets that were set up in the Herald Square area. Regulation, full-size 9' x 5' tables. No balls or paddles. Bring your own and start to play. My guess is someone will want to play "winners" next.

On my way to a medical appointment on East 37th Street, hard by the Midtown Tunnel, just off 2nd Avenue, I happened to walk east on a block I hadn't walked east on for a while. I purposely try and do this so I can see what's new. It was in doing this I came across an East Side building, two buildings really, connected high up by an enclosed walkway that were my best guess just east of First Avenue. One of the buildings was significantly slanted high up.

There isn't any building being built in New York that doesn't try and promote "water view" of either the East or Hudson Rivers. Even a sliver of flowing water is enough to justify charging more. Thus the height of these buildings. All are trying to out jump, or shoulder out a competing view.

Even an empty lot I passed on 36th Street and 2nd Avenue showed a rendition of what they expected the view to be of the East River: twinkling lights, bridges lit with necklaces of lighting, vast views east showing stretches of Queens, and more lights; certain sophistication guaranteed. Act now to buy a condo.

I laughed. The East River never appealed to me aesthetically. Grey water. Perhaps the nighttime sky is nice. After all, New York does look better in the dark, but the views seemed way over-hyped. How long before your view from the 33rd floor will just be another view? But your expenses will still be the same.

When I worked at One World Trade Center 29th floor, my cubicle was right by a south facing window. I actually had a decent waterway view, and sometimes would pay attention to a mammoth cruise ship coming up the Hudson, but for the most part, it was just where I worked.

The biggest kick I used to get was when the robotic window washing machine descended up and down the panel of windows, before moving on to another section. The apparatus was guided by tracks on the roof. And on the 29th floor, there were 81 stories above me, another thing that I got a huge kick out of. I wasn't even very high up.

The medical office I visited was in the Corinthian, at 345 East 37th Street, an incredible large building that is straining to give its tenants a view of the East River and Queens. And of course traffic going in and out of the Midtown Tunnel, because that's right by the front door. Someone I'm sure has taken time lapse photos from their window of the moving red and white lights, usually not moving very fast.

NYU Langone seems to be in more places in NYC than Starbucks. They have the first three floors of this building, and a separate entrance apart from the residential side.

Walking east to my appointment and looking up I couldn't help think I'm now as old as my Uncle Jimmy was in 1986 when he came into Gannon's funeral home and remarked on the buildings in the old neighborhood.

Con Edison saw horses at excavation sites used to say: "Dig We Must For A Growing New York." The joke used to be New York will be a great place to live whenever they finish it.

That's not going to be anytime soon.

Monday, September 16, 2019


The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

Seventeen years. Still true.
No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

These people left many things well begun.
And on 9/11 and 9/16, these people became memories.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Skin in the Game

Of all the sports there are, horse racing is unique because the public can own the horse and the public can bet on the horse. Sometimes ownership and betting intersect, but that's allowable.

The only public ownership in football, baseball, basketball and hockey might be seen as the season ticket, or a "seat license," a contrivance to get more money from the season ticket holder. In all my years of being a season ticket holder for the New York Rangers, I never  once left with more money than I came to a game with. Any way you put it, the owners of these sports are families, or corporate behemoths. You don't walk up and plunk down money and buy a right wing.

But you can own a race horse. A bad one, a so-so one, a good one, a great one if you're blessed. The sport is filled with ownership from all walks of life: the incredibly rich to the just middle class, to the fractional ownership available to the pedestrian via racing syndicates. That kind of ownership brings it down to a waiter, waitress, or letter carrier. Photos from winners circles these days can resemble a high school class graduation photo.

For myself, the only skin I bring to the game is what's in my wallet when I go to track and the value of the voucher I purchase to bet from. Ownership, even fractional, is not how I enjoy the sport of handicapping and trying to predict an order of finish, hopefully leading me to cash out with more than I came with. That part doesn't always happen, but I've been coming back for over 50 years now, The next race is a new race, and a new opportunity to win. I look forward to it.

Certainly things happen at the races that are not always pleasant. Horses break down and are euthanized. The rate at which this happens varies greatly, but lately, at Santa Anita it took a big spike upward.

Jockeys are thrown and can be severely injured. Sometimes permanently. Some have even died after a spill or hitting their head in the starting gate because of a fractious horse. And these things can happen in training, not just during a scheduled race. The contact is with the ground.

Add to this, the recent revelations by Joe Drape of the New York Times of positive drug tests that were ignored, and allowed a horse, Justify, to proceed through the Triple Crown races and win it all. The public part of racing that is the ownership side gets to ask some very good questions about the level of the playing field.

The upshot of Justify's victory in the Santa Anita Derby is that the victory and the purse winnings of $600,000 remain distributed to Justify's connections and not to the second place finisher, Bolt d'Oro, owned and trained by Mick Ruis. (Owner/trainer combinations in thoroughbred racing are not common, but of course are allowed.) Second place to Mr. Ruis was worth $200,000, not bad, but it is kissing your sister compared to first place.

Racing is not a complete zero sum game. Purse distribution usually awards 50-60% to the winner, with the other finishers getting money, sometimes past 4th place.

Mr. Ruis's stake in the game is way different than mine. He's as close to the sport as you can get, being an owner and a trainer. The lack of established protocols in the handling of Justify's positive drug tests after the Santa Anita Derby effected him the most. A lawsuit certainly will be filed.

The governance of racing in all states is highly political. Racing Commissions and Athletic Commissions are filled with political appointees. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is Michael J. Del Giudice, former governor Mario M. Cuomo's right-hand-man, with the current governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, being the former governor's son.

Will Justify's victory in the Santa Anita Derby be voided and the purse redistributed if Justify is considered disqualified? Keep breathing. Holding your breath is not good for you.The pari-mutuel aspect of the game won't change. The part of the game people like myself live in. The betting results will remain as is. Even if established protocols were followed, there is no retroactive redistribution of the betting pools after a positive result and disqualification. All that happens too long after the race is made official to change the results,

So what is the outcome? Racing is left with an undoing project. There is no alternate universe that can be called up where Justify is not in the Derby.

For myself, I'm completely unaffected, even from a pari-mutuel aspect, because I didn't play the Santa Anita Derby. I did however hit the exacta on the Derby, and that of course was because Justify finished first and was declared the winner. If Justify isn't in the race, do I hit the exacta? A hypothetical question.

"If" is the most freighted word in the English language. I only handicap who is in the race, not who should or shouldn't be in the race. If their pps aren't in front of me, they can't possibly be the winner. My part of the game.

My own feelings about Justify before any of the drug testing was revealed, is that his accomplishment was thin: six lifetime races, two wins in the Triple Crown over sloppy tracks, and a boat race victory in the Belmont.  All over a very weak bunch of three-year-olds. And then he disappears into the breeding shed. Adios.

I have the winners circle photos of American Pharoah's 2015 Belmont and Triple Crown victory, and the 2018 photo of Justify's Triple Crown and Belmont victory.

Maybe I'll just put masking tape over Justify's name in the 2018 photo. How much of life can you unspool and start over?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Uniquely Insular

California Thoroughbred racing is about to slide into the Pacific ocean without the aid of a seismographic recorded earthquake. It is nonetheless an earthquake that has hit the state's sport when the front page of the New York Times today—above-the-fold—carries a story by their racing reporter Joe Drape, headlined: "Justify Failed Drug Test Before Triple Crown Run."

If there's one thing even non-racing fans know about, it's the Kentucky Derby and the road to the elusive Triple Crown. And Justify, in 2018 won that Triple Crown, becoming the 13th horse to do so in 100 years, and the first to do so without racing as a two-year-old. (The Triple Crown races are only for three-year-olds.)

The story is a thunderclap over a sport already reeling over horse fatalities. And even though the most recent Del Mar meet was concluded with no horse fatalities, the story will now follow the sport as administered in California for some time.

The simple timeline to understand is that after the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, 2018, Justify, who won the race, tested positive for scopolamine, a banned substance. Winning the race meant Justify had met the points and money won criteria to be in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, May 5th. Without the Santa Anita victory the horse wouldn't qualify for entry in the world's most famous race.

The testing lab sent notice on April 18th that there was a positive test for scopolamine. Word of the positive result reached Justify's trainer Bob Baffert on April 26th. The testing for a second sample was requested by Baffert, as is his right to a second opinion. The results came back May 8th, confirming the first results, but three days after the victory in the Kentucky Derby.

What is laid out so well in Mr. Drape's story is that the first positive results were not publicly announced, and in wasn't until  August 23rd that the Commissioner of the California Horse Racing Board announced there was a positive test, and a confirming positive second test. The protocol for that announcement was revised and the matter was not pursued. The goal posts were moved.

Mr. Drape points out in succinct wording what is true of most racing jurisdictions, they are "uniquely insular." In California's case, the chairman of the Racing Commission has an interest in horses trained by Bob Baffert. Other board members "employ trainers and jockey they regulate."

The story is well worth reading for anyone who ever tries to play the game of horse racing. The ripple effect of Justify's positive testing will be a tsunami to the breeding rights value, since currently the breeders collect $150,000 for each of his three-a-day tricks. The $60 million paid for these rights has already been recouped, and the horse still has a lot of loving left in him.

If you follow racing, and what is great TV coverage for a sport that is attended by so few, (Other than Del Mar and Saratora meets) The FoxSports2 show is sponsored by Run Happy, a Breeders' Cup sprint champion who is currently being bred by Claiborne farm, a storied farm with a rich history. The Run Happy people help sponsor this year's Travers to the point of having the race named "The Run Happy Travers." There were even infield signs put up like billboards on the turf course to remind anyone watching that this was "The Run Happy Stakes."

The jockeys protested the appearance of he signs on the basis that the horses were not used to seeing them in any workouts, etc, on the track. The signs were quickly pushed down by the maintenance crew before the race. Ogden Nash's, "I think that I shall never see/A billboard lovely as a tree." came to mind,.

But the advertising for Run Happy is omnipresent. I hate to think where the show would be without Claiborne footing some of the bill. If you know nothing else about Run Happy from the ads you know they use the fact that the horse ran "drug free." Put that in your breeding shed.

Racing has always had governance overlapping with ownership. In California's case, the role of the conflicted governance is likely to become a huge issue. For years in New York you can always point to the Board of Trustees for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) and see names of prominent owners amongst the Trustees. The people who own some of the best horse race them at facilities they have oversight of.  The current alignment of NYRA calls them members of the Board of Directors. They are not, however racing officials.

It is probably hard to get qualified people involved in the sport without a smudge of conflict of interest. It's where that conflict lies. Little League teams wind up being coached by parents with kids on the teams. It becomes a matter of who can provide coverage for all that is involved in running the sport.

Is the dreaded asterisk deserved on Justify's achievements? In 1968 when Dancer's Image won the Kentucky Derby they were disqualified after the race after testing positive for butazolidan, a drug now permitted. Forward Pass was post-race declared the winner after the Derby. Forward Pass won the Preakness, and if he ran better and won the Belmont, he would have earned the Fickle Finger of Fate, the asterisk.

Forward Pass didn't win the Belmont,and the fight for the purse distribution of the 1968 Derby took decades and vast legal fees. Clearly, any retroactive disqualification of Justify at this point would keep this story alive well past the 2024 election. Yes, 2024. The one without Trump in it.

Up to now, I only ever associated scopolomine with "truth serum" administered by Nazis in war movies when they wanted a reluctant prisoner to talk. "Ve haf vays."

Wikipedia does mention that aspect of the drug's use, but mentions more its therapeutic effects for treating nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness. According to a vet interviewed by Mr. Drape, Dr. Rick Sams, scopolamine in horses "is a bronchodilator, expanding airways and optimizing a horse's hear rate, making the horse more efficient."

False positive results apparently can occur when testing for scopolomine because the straw eaten by horses in California might contain jimson weed, which contains the substance. It is however thought that the level found in Justify was extraordinarily high, and would preclude environmental contamination of the straw.

Will they take down the 13th Triple Crown sign in Belmont's infield now? Will the parking guideposts by the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga that denote the Triple Crown winners now have Justify's sign yanked up? Spray painted over? You can't hold your breath that long.

Does Bob Baffert enjoy Favorite Son status in California amongst the ruling bodies? Harry Truman said if you want a friend in Washington, you should get a dog.

If Joe Drape wants a friend in California, he should get a horse.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Legal Advice

Which of the following is sound legal advice to follow?

a) Possession is 9/10th of the law.
b) Finders keepers losers weepers.
c) My ship came in, and I was there to greet it.
d) Follow the advice of the Community Chest Monopoly card and keep the $200 ($120,000) error the bank made in your favor.
e) Nothing like that.

In a story that has more links than a chain of an aircraft carrier's anchor, by now the WORLD has heard of the couple in Pennsylvania that went on a spending spree when they noticed that $120,000 mistakenly went into their bank account, only to realize that whatever "legal advice" they claim to have received —"we took some bad legal advice"—did not really apply to the bank's mistake, and no, they can't keep the money, and if they try, it's fraud.

The knuckleheads in PA bought all kinds of things, including giving $15,000 to their friends, probably the same bunch that advised them to keep the money based on the first four articles of legal possession outlined above.

Growing up as annoying children, there was always someone who would claim when they swiped something of yours that "possession is 9/10th of the law" when they wouldn't give it back. Well then, this punch is 100% mine.

There was also the snot who chimed in, always an annoying pitch, "finders keepers losers weepers." They too found them themselves the recipient of a punch, unless it was a girl, who only got the item wrestled away from them. (This of course lead to the mistaken stereotype growing up that women were easy—they were the "weaker sex," right? Dad said so—and all you had to do was apply a little pressure and they'd cave. You learn A LOT growing up.)

The couple, Robert and Tiffany (no wonder this happened) Williams of Montoursville, PA*, just outside Williamsport, home of the Little League World Series went on a two-and-a-half week spending sprees before the bank , BB&T told them of the error.

But before the real world came crashing back into to the life of the couple, they had bought: a camper; a race car; a Chevy SUV; two four-wheelers; a trailer; as well as gave friends of theirs $15,000 (charitable) and paid off some bills (noble).

In the rear-view mirror of life, the couple is accused by many, including a neighbor, Robert Pinton, of being stupid, "I'm not that dumb, but some people do stupid things sometimes."

As much as it can be admitted that the couple acted rather recklessly, they at least pumped up the economy, and paid sales tax, I'm sure. They didn't head off to the nearest racino and start pumping the slots, or playing video poker or blackjack, or treat them themselves to a Las Vegas junket and blow the whole wad. By the time the bank got to them, they still had $13,000 left, plus of course some tangible assets that I'm sure will be returned, with some depreciation assessed.

They were foolish, but still charitable, by giving needy friends $15,000, maybe even greatly overpaying for the legal advice they received.

Mae West said "too much of a good thing in wonderful," but she probably wasn't talking about bank errors.

*Onofframp can boast of at least one alert reader, their son-in-law, who, by virtue of being a lifelong Yankee fan, knew immediately that Montoursville, PA was the birthplace of Yankee Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina. It takes an extremely alert reader to point these things out.

The baseball connection might mean that the people the Williams family gave money to, or took legal advice from, might be Mike's relatives or themselves his old neighbors. Mike would have been way too smart to give such unsound legal advice himself.

But the possibility is raised that working out of the back of his pickup truck in the Walmart parking lot, Lenny Dykstra might have been in the area attempting to resurrect his reputation as a financial wizard.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

They Already Made this Movie

Art imitates life, and vice versa. But what about when life imitates life?

The 2018 movie The Old Man & the Gun tells the story of Forrest Tucker, a gentleman bank robber who cannot seem to stop robbing banks, not with violence or safe cracking, but with kindness and a smile, and just a small display of the large handgun in his waistband. No one ever gets hurt, except the bank's balance, and the take is generally small, only being what a teller or bank manager can manage to stuff in the bag.

Forrest is obviously old, and therefore disarming. The earpiece he wears is taken for a hearing aid, but is really a radio tuned to the police band, alerting him to how soon the cops are going to get there  His escape is well planned, with another stolen car planted somewhere that he drives the initial getaway car to. He sometimes has partners. In one year, they knocked over 60 banks. That's quite a weekly average.

The movie is delightful, produced by Robert Redford, who also plays Forrest. Forrest, has been caught over the course of his decades of crime, but he's also managed to escape from San Quentin and remain on the loose. Surely no small achievement. The real Forrest Tucker died in prison in 2004 after being sentenced at 78 years-of-age and sentenced for the last time in 1999. The movie is based on a 2003 New Yorker story by David Grann.

The movie of course is art imitating life. It adheres very closely to Forrest's story. And now we have life imitating life, with the capture of an octogenarian cat thief responsible for decades of apartment heists where tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry was transferred to a new owner.

Sam Sabatino, 82 has walked past his last doorman and taken his last elevator ride to the penthouse and gotten into his last apartment to fill his black bag with tens of thousands of dollars of watches and jewelry, all because the last doorman he tried to slip past knew a cousin named Suarez was not a building resident.

For decades, Mr. Sabatino has been guilelessly cruising past doormen, following tenants back into their apartment house lobby by chatting them up about their dog (In Manhattan, people love it when you talk to them about their dog.) Mr. Sabatino would then take an elevator to a floor and look for signs that someone might be away on the particularly holiday weekend he has targeted, generally Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day weekends. He also worked other cities besides New York, doing his thing in California, Pennsylvania and Arizona. You repeat what works, and for Mr. Sabatino, all this worked fine.

Mr. Sabatino was finally arrested when he came back out of a high-rise Manhattan apartment house when the doorman met him at the elevator and told Mr. Sabatino, that there is no cousin of his named "Suarez" living in the building. Mr. Sabatino was met on the sidewalk with an empty black bag and was arrested by the police.

There was no disclosure on how the police came upon his alias, and thus the car that was registered to the alias. But anyone who's watched even a sliver of television cop shows—American or British— knows there was a BIG white board in a precinct somewhere covered in photos and arrows helping the detectives track Sam's movements.

It was not by chance that he was met by the police as he emerged from a target building and was arrested. He was sought for years and years after jumping bail after a string of robberies and arrests. Mr. Sabatino's bail jumping got lost in the system, and allowed him to keep up his burglaries.

His alias was known, James Clement, and his car was tagged with a GPS tracking system. Thus the police knew he was in New York on the recent Labor Day weekend.

The police say Mr. Sabatino would try various doorknobs on various floors in buildings he gained access to, looking for ones that opened. Signs of being away, newspapers at the door, or packages, were the obvious clues that someone was probably away. The rest was easy.

And this is where not everything seems to be told; by the police, and by the reporters. People in Manhattan who might have untold riches inside didn't lock their doors? No mention is made of burglary tools. Finding that many doors unlocked just seems implausible.

I once got a peek at an insurance agents rate sheet for insuring jewelry in the metropolitan area. The insurer might have been Metropolitan, but that doesn't matter. It clearly showed various rates per thousand dollars of insured to be widely different depending on the insured's location. Manhattan, to my surprise, had by far the lowest rate.

I didn't ask why, but my thinking was that with high-rise living, the only way in is generally through the door. After the first floor, windows are out. And access to that door is probably protected with double, or even triple locks. And then there is the doorman and the CCTV surveillance cameras. Burglary just might not be the thing in Manhattan luxury buildings. Or, at least it would seem.

Nevertheless, our Man Sam got in like Flynn and made a livelihood stealing, and I'm sure fencing jewelry. When the police reached his daughter in Florida she shrieked into phone, "But he's 81." The newspaper account has him at 82, so Trina, given the news, just can't do the math in her head that fast, or, she missed the old guy's birthday. No matter now. Bail has been set at $1 million because he's a flight risk.

Thanksgiving dinner just might be somewhere else this year.

Monday, September 9, 2019


Looking for one thing and finding something else that you didn't know you had, but were just thinking about, is the best.

When I read Gerry Murray's obit there was an outtake from something Gay Talese had written about Gerry in 1958. When I read that, I thought, I'd like to read the whole thing of where that outtake came from. Then I forgot about it.

I have books and magazines on my nightstand. Perhaps unlike how other people have books on their nightstands. My nightstand is a bookcase on its own. The truth is, I have no room to build another bookcase. So I stack.

And in that stack was a collection of garden magazines that I now want to give to my daughter Susan who just bought a house with her husband. Almost still newlyweds. She plans to be an ardent gardener.

Spine out, "The Silent Season of a Hero" by Gay Talese, a collection of his sports writing. Inside are essays on sports and sport figures. Length varies greatly. Did Gay include anything in there about Gerry Murray, a Roller Derby Queen? He certainly did.

"It's a Wonderful Whirl to Gerry," page 55. A short piece written in 1958 when was 26. (He's now 87 and still with us.) As much of the NYT as I've read, I have to admit I wasn't reading it in grammar school, which is when his piece on Gerry appeared. But there in the second paragraph is the outtake Richard Sandomir took to describe Gerry and I put in my prior posting on Ms. Murray.

But in the elegant Talese piece, there are many more nuggets that describe Gerry and the world of Roller Derby as it existed in 1958.

The setting is the 9th Regiment Armory in NYC, located on West 14th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. The armory was demolished in 1969, like other armories in the city. There used to be a 71st Regiment armory on Park Avenue at 34th Street, where I went to many stamp shows as a kid. and had high school track workouts on the drill floor. The school's rifle team also used the shooting range there. I tried out for that team as well, but didn't make it. That armory was torn down in the '60s as well, and the site is now occupied by an office building, 3 Park Avenue, where the company I worked for had office space.

Gay's first paragraph could have been used as well to describe Gerry: "a curvsome woman pushing 40 with the gentility of a waterfront bouncer, elbowed and bumped the New York Chiefs to a 21-17 triumph over the Chicago Westerns in the opening of the roller derby season..."

Gay describes how the scoring works: "to score, a player must circle the entire field and then pass a member of the opposing team." This lead skater is called the "jammer" and they wear a helmet that identifies them as such. Each team on the track has five skaters, drawn from the 16 players on a team—eight men and eight women. The match alternates the men and women on the track.

The popularity of the sport in 1958 is acknowledged, having been built up by nearly a decade of televised matches. That would put Roller Derby right up there with Milton Berle, when TVs came into homes in the early '50s. I never remember watching Roller Derby at that early an age, but I did see it still on television when I was a teenager.

Gay recognizes the warm spot the crowd of 2,380 has for Gerry, the star of the evening. "I skate because there's action," Gerry says. "As a girl back in Iowa I played with the boys and I never read cookbooks. I played softball with the boys and I guess I was a tomboy."

On that evening, Gerry's 17 year-old-son, Mike Gammon, competed. The step-father Gene Gammon also competes for the Chiefs.  Mike has been on skates since he was two. If Roller Derby were to get a boost, it might be an Olympic Sport, given what now becomes an Olympic sport. "Ultimate," a Frisbee  (flying disc) throwing game is trying for inclusion. It's "a mixed gender sport" Hmm. Sounds like Roller Derby.

Talese can't help but recognize the crowd's demographic, "because of the dramatic appeal, more than half of last night's audience were young girls. between 16 and 19, many of of them pony-tailed and noisy."

"We like the game for the speed," says Pat Cotter, 20, of Queens. "There's action," explained Terry Scarpati, 20.

"This is one sport where women feel needed," said Pat Dillon, a television actress and the wife of James A. Farley Jr,* the owner of the Chiefs.

Robert Lipsyte in 1971 recognized the appeal of Roller Derby to women. The young ladies in the crowd that Gay Talese writes about are now grandmothers to the audience at Taylor Swift concerts, and probably just as noisy.

As the world turns, so does Roller Derby.
*Mr. Farley passed away in 1986 at 58 from complications of heart-bypass surgery, and unmentioned in Mr. Talese's piece is that he was the son of the former Postmaster General,  James A. Farley. James Jr. was on the New York State Athletic Commission, as was once his father. The Farleys were huge in the Democratic Party, the father being FDR's Postmaster General and the national chairman of the Democratic Party (and the originator of a special series of stamps that became known as the "Farley Issues.")

The main post office in Manhattan is known as Farley Station, and when it finally become an Amtrak railroad station (perhaps before I pass away) it will be known as Moynihan Station, in deference to New York's Senator Patrick Moynihan who allocated funds for the conversion a lifetime ago, himself passing away in 2003.

†Somehow in the Twitter world I came across @janesports, a young woman whose profile reads:
Director Marist's Center for Sport Communication, New York Daily News sports columnist. Also Roller Derby, ESPN, The Journal News, Columbia J-School.
(Since she obviously went to college, Jimmy Breslin would have understood if she used semicolons.)

Roller Derby! That stood out. Until I read Ms. Murray's obituary, Roller Derby was waaay back there in my memory. And here's someone who is obviously into sports, and whose whose Twitter feeds are almost a play-by-play for the now concluded U.S. Open, listing Roller Derby in their profile!

Jane lists Roller Derby! Did Jane make a Tweet of Gerry Murray's passing? No. Perhaps she's not into reading obituaries, despite her news background.

Was Jane's mother/grandmother in the crowd at the 9th Regiment Armory when Gerry was kicking ass and taking no prisoners? I'd love to know.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Sky Above

Anyone who lives long enough will always mark the passage of time with some reference to a major event in their lives. My parents would always remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My high school classmates will at any reunion I've been to discuss when we were released early on November 22, 1963, not yet knowing the president had been shot.

And so it goes. I'm sure there are those younger than myself that might remember when they heard the news that John Lennon had been shot. It's usually an act of violence that etches itself in our memories, and 9/11 is right up there.

In this weekend's edition of the WSJ Tanku Varadarajan reviews two books, Garrett M. Graff's "The Only Plane in the Sky," along with "Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11" by Mitchell Zuckoff. It's 9/11 season. The 18th anniversary is just days away.

I remember Mr. Varadarajan's byline in the WSJ years ago. He is now an executive editor at Stanford University's Hoover Institute. He has a way with words.

He opens his book reviews with a  lede that tells us the professional weather people called the sky that day "severe clear." To me, that's like saying "you're awfully nice." but I'll go with it. I never heard "severe clear" before..

Mr Graff's book is described as containing an oral history of the day, as told in 64 slim chapters. It sounds like a "Portraits of Grief" spoken by the soon to be victims of the attacks, as well as by those who survived the attacks.

Mr. Varadarajan calls them "curated" stories, assembled for the future adults. He tells us the incoming college freshman of 2019  were not even alive when the planes hit.

One of my daughters who is an Associate Professor at Hofstra, is well of aware of the continuum of time that keeps putting faces in front of her her were born x-plus years after her.

Mr. Varadarajan tells us in Mr. Graff's book how people describe the sky: "a gorgeous blue;" "deep blue;" "deep, deep, blue;" "cobalt blue;" "cerulean blue;" "the bluest of blues;"  They're all good descriptions, and accurate, but after coming out of Tower One from the 29th floor I 've just always called the sky, "the 9/11 sky."

There had been a heavy rain storm the night before 9/11. And like any day after a storm, the weather is beautiful.The Yankee game had been rained out. I mentioned this to someone from Legal who I met on the stairs who I knew was huge Yankee fan, as we made our way down the stairs, as the fireman were making their way up the stairs; one lane in each direction.

Particularly at this time of the year, as fall starts to settle in here in New York, I look up at what might be a clear blue sky. I judge it's blueness, its cloudlessness, and rank it with the 9/11 sky. Only the other day coming back from the store there was a morning sky so close to the 9/11 sky that I looked at my watch and remembered where I was at that time on September 11, 2001. Because as anyone who was as close to the events of the day as I was—and the estimate is there were 25,000 people in the two towers, not to mention the other surrounding buildings in the area—you remember everything about that day.

Mr. Graff did his research, and constructed his oral history from recordings of the victims, to interviews with the survivors. I don't feel bad be never reached me. Anonymity has its perks.

I remember going to work that day, wearing a somewhat new sport coat and thinking about our New Assistant Vice President, John Harrison, who had just started the day before, Monday, coming to us from Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Newark.

But my 9/11 was just the beginning of another reference point in my life, September 16, 2002, when that same John Harrison, a person I had grown to dislike and was very wary of, became the assassin of my co-worker Isabel Munoz and my manager Vinnie LaBianca, before thankfully taking his own life in his office right next to where I was sitting, in our temporary location necessitated by the collapse of our workplace.

You won't read about that from me, but you might follow the link to the NYT story that was almost tucked away in the second section, albeit the front page of Section B. I'll only say that the speculations of a love triangle are completely off the wall. John Harrison was an arrogant, misogynist man who held a grudge at not having his advances reciprocated. He was also a man jealous of his manger's popularity.

There are many things I remember about 9/11. And the color of the sky is just the beginning.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Round and Round They Go

I had a small pile of newspaper clippings that needed trimming and dating. With so much online access to archives, it seems I might be clipping less these days. But I still do it because the tactile touch seems to bring back more memories.

I didn't fully think of a posting when I read that Gerry Murray a "Speedy Skater and Stalwart Star of Roller Derby" passed away at 98.

The obit was in the NYT on August 20 and written by Richard Sandomir. Since Mr. Sandomir is fairly new to the obits desk, my guess is the piece was written on deadline. Anyone who passes away at 98 is usually is sent off with an updated advance obit that is generally written by Robert McFadden, Margalit Fox, or Bruce Weber. No matter.

Gerry is a woman who started skating in the Roller Derby as far back as the late '30s. It occurred to me, and probably Mr. Sandomir, that there is likely a very huge segment of the population that knows nothing about Roller Derby. Maybe they've heard Jim Croce's song "Roller Derby Queen," but probably have no idea what the sport looked like. And it was sport, with teams comprised of males and females, skating separately, but on the same team nonetheless. In that sense, Roller Derby was waaaay ahead of any movement that  exists today.

As with almost any obituary I read, I come away knowing something I didn't know before. In this case, there is a children's book that came out in 2014, "Roller Derby Rules" that depicts the on-track rivalry between Gerry Murray and Midge (Toughie) Brasuhn.

I was looking for a sport-themed children's book for my 8-year-old granddaughter who definitely shows signs of being competitive, if not somewhat aggressive, when  as early as 4-years-old she told some older kid who wanted her to get off the swing that, "No, I was here first. Wait your turn." Schoolyard rules learned and applied early. Roller Derby with an elbow in the ribs might just be the sport she'll be looking for.

Turns out Gerry and Toughie were enemies on the track, but friends off the track, even though Toughie once sent Gerry flying into the rail giving her a serious leg injury. Roller Derby, much like hockey, permitted fighting, even encouraged it for crowd appeal. And like hockey, it was penalized. There were actually penalty boxes the skaters could be sent to, a three-side cardboard enclosure with a stool in the middle of the rink. Roller Derby might have been a bit hokey with a wrestling atmosphere, but the fans loved it.

Roller Derby came to Madison Square Garden in 1971, playing to a packed house that already knew everything about the sport from the broadcasts on Channel 9. I was there, and so was Robert Lipsyte, a NYT sports reporter who wrote a piece in the Sports of the Times column the Thursday after the Sunday afternoon event.

Lipsyte was one of my favorite sports writers. You never really knew what angle he was going to take. Perhaps he was a "Gonzo" journalist, but that doesn't matter. His take on Sunday's event had nothing to do about the teams that were competing, or even the score. There is only one skater's name mentioned, and it's Mike Gammon, who is mentioned as being as being Gerry' son, a then-current star who even skated with his mother on the same team when he was a teenager.

Bob spins a beautiful column that is more about the psyche of the crowd—"that screamed and jumped without stop"—than the sport. He theorizes that women (there were plenty in the crowd) love the sport because they can show aggression.

In an exchange with Jerry Seltzer, the son of the founder of Roller Derby, Leo, Bob adds his interpretation to the story that Jerry tells of the wife of an executive, suffering from tension and sleepless nights who was able to stop seeing her psychiatrist after watching the matches from her box seats for a year.

Bob: "Are you saying Roller Derby is a sexual experience for women?"

That was Lipsyte. Reading him was like playing golf in your bathroom: you never knew where the ball was going to come from.

Laugh, but Lipsyte was more right than sexist. Gerry Murray is quoted in her obit as admitting that as a female who was shy and athletic..."the kid wakes up and learns it's great to bounce, people off their feet and onto their heads." All the things you'd like to do in the subway, but would probably get arrested for. No wonder the Garden was filled that Sunday afternoon.

I of course saved Bob's piece. Re-reading it he tells of how the portable track was placed in the center, over the covered ice for Ranger games. The cold popped screws out of the assembly. But they were fixed, and the match proceeded.

Being a Rangers season ticket holder at the time and someone who just about got their mail at the Garden, it occurred to me how small the track looked, seemingly not much bigger than the center ice face-off circle.

A banked track is a doozy to skate on. I never got the opportunity, but an older fellow we played Roller hockey with, Tony (older: wife, two kids), who was a smooth skater in the schoolyard, told us of trying out for the Roller Derby and falling flat on his ass. He didn't make it. Couldn't handle the banked track. Armories were generally where matches and tryouts were held.

Gerry told the story of trying out on the banked track at a fairgrounds and didn't believe she could ever get good enough to compete on it, did, with encouragement, get good enough to become a star on the circuit.

In Flushing, there was neighbor across the street whose son I used to play with, who told me his mother tried out for the Roller Derby. She didn't make it, but she had the right name: Dorothy, known as Dottie. The Roller Derby was filled with women named "Dottie, Joanie, Shirley, Wanda, and like wrestling, they generally had nicknames.

The names I remember most are Charlie O'Connell, Joanie Weston and Ronnie Robinson, the son of the champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Roller Derby was big in the '70s, even seeing Raquel Welch in a movie, Kansas City Bomber. Raquel is perfectly casted. Gerry Murray had red hair as well.

Serious people wrote about the sport, even as far back as 1958, where Richard Sandomir in Gerry's obit quotes from a piece by Gay Talese of the NYT describing Gerry:

"a female terror swishing around the track at 30 miles an hour, hipping her opponents, zigzagging recklessly, her red hair, tied in a ribbon, winging along behind her."

Frank Deford had a book in 1971, "Five Strides on the Banked Track." There was a documentary,  "Derby." I saw that documentary in the theater. Charlie O'Connell stands in Madison Square Park (23rd Street, Flatiron district) and points to the pond's iron-fenced oval that he skated around as a kid. He tells us that is where it all started for him.

The pond is still there, and whenever I go by it I see the iron fence that is no longer there and think of the Roller Derby. I can see why someone would skate in circles around it. But the kids are in the fenced in playground, dedicated to a deceased female police officer who died in 9/11. Kids still play.

I remember how the match ended that Sunday, between the two teams whose names I can't remember—Bombers-something for sure—when the "home" team was behind and miraculously won when all the team members squirted through the "picket fence" defense, ducked down low on the inside, and scored the winning points.  We win! We win!

The ending had all the makings of something that was fixed. Lipsyte writes:

[The press] were surprised to find themselves lifted out of our seats, as if by overhead magnets, in the closing moments of the Roller Derby.

But the crowd loved it. Robert Lipsyte was right.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Life of Firsts

Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids in the district I now live in. It has no bearing on my wife and I anymore since our girls are quite grown, out of the house, married, one with two daughters.

Yesterday was the first day for the youngest of the granddaughters, Olivia, who started third grade. My daughter cannot believe Olivia is going to be eight in a few days. It does seem remarkable. The other granddaughter, Emma, starts seventh grade today.

We got a picture of Olivia in front of the house with her backpack in front of her. The backpack looks nearly as big as her. It looks heavy. Of course you can't see in it, but it looks like it is filled with bricks. What the hell do you take to school on your first day? Shouldn't be books. You get those on your first day, no? Maybe lunch. Or maybe they need the backpack to bring stuff home? I have no idea.

Of course neither my wife or went to school with a backpack. When Obama became president I was convinced we were then going to see presidents from here on it who went to school with backpacks. It's going to be impossible to elect a candidate who is so old they didn't go to school with a backpack. Right? Then along came Trump, who is just a little bit older than myself. So much for the backpack theory.

Olivia was smiling, and looks completely ready for her first day. Aside from the backpack observation, it was plain the see she was wearing shorts. She goes to a public school, and not a public chartered school either. "They can wear shorts to school." Yep. Not much of a dress code other than you shouldn't arrive naked.

My wife went through her education in Catholic schools, so she always wore a uniform. I went to public schools (aside from a stint in Greek school where I too wore a uniform) and never wore shorts. The girls in the photo of my second grade class are all in dresses.

Aside from the backpack and the shorts, I started to think if I remember any of my first days at school—any grade? Nope. Even college, I can't remember the order of the classes on my first day.

And I got a chance to have two first days of college since I dropped out of the first one and enrolled in New York's City College, CUNY.

I don't remember the first class I went to there, either. But I do remember delaying my attendance to the point that I showed up for what might have been the third session of the French class I was supposed to be in. I can still remember handing the instructor my admittance card and her annoyance that I was just now showing up.

I took my seat in one of those tiered seating classrooms and listened to everyone talking French. I had to take a language. I had already taken five years to complete three years of French in grammar, and high school, and now realized I was thoroughly not ready to go through that crap again. I never went back to the class, and soon after after added CUNY to the list of places of higher education that I dropped out of. (The count remained at two.)

The point is, I have absolutely no memory of any first day of school. There is one photo of myself and a few other neighborhood  kids standing at the curb just next to a school bus door. We were being bused to kindergarten, since the school we could walk to had too many kids in kindergarten. It was a post-war baby boom.

I don't even know if it was a first day, or not. My mother didn't write on the back of the photo, and I think I only remember one of the kids. We were standing there with our names on a card that was hung from our necks with yarn. The bus driver needed to know who got off where, since we probably had no clue.

I do distinctly remember my first day of work at the company I took a job with, the third company I started with after my exposure to higher education.  That one has stayed with me, perhaps because when I was directed where to hang my coat up, and seeing the rack was filled, I wisecracked to the secretary, "Is everyone in today because it's payday?"

Turns out it wasn't. The secretary explained that Friday is the start of the pay cycle, and all new employees start on Friday. It was great to have a first day immediately prior to a weekend.

I'm so old now I can't remember any first days of school at any level, only the start of the third place of employment. I stayed with that company 36 years, so it was a long time before I had another first day on the job. And I do remember that one. And the first day of the next job. I remember the last days as well.

We are born on our first day. We've been living a series of first days for quite a while.

Monday, September 2, 2019


Covfefe is the name of a fairly accomplished thoroughbred. It is also a "word" invented by President Trump, that due to his propensity to Tweet, has seen the enshrinement of  the combination of 7 letters into what is seen as the downfall of the English language. Oh my.

What President Trump's Tweets have accomplished is full-time employment and enjoyment for those who love to laugh at someone's gaffes. And quite frankly, the president is, if he is nothing else, entertaining.

Sarah Lyall of the NYT in a recent piece, 'Trump's Twitter War on Spelling,' about President Trump's Twitter style and his seemingly obliviousness of even rudimentary rules of usage. It's a decent to-date collection.

The president has used "their" instead of "they're." I remember when in second or third grade the teacher wrote the three forms on the blackboard: there; their; they're.

Yes, when I went to school it was a slate blackboard, written on with chalk, and wiped clean with a felt eraser that required the favorite student to "clap" two together when the teacher wanted to rid the felt of the accumulated chalk dust. Nowadays it's a whiteboard, written on with colorful markers and erased with some kind of solvent, or dry eraser. Chalk dust now would be seen as an environmental hazard that would easily close the building for a month while the contractors vacuumed the air. It would be that or wear surgical masks. But as usual, I've jumped the track.

At this early age when Eisenhower was president and Nixon was his vice president, we were instructed on these three forms, they're, their, and there; how they differed and how to use them properly.

We also learned the difference between its and it's and you and you're. We learned that contractions, like it's were written in place of it is; you're in place of you are. The use of the apostrophe was there to alert us that something has been subtracted, eliminated.

And of course the bugaboos, two, to and too can always be counted on to be misused. I've educated a few email writers on the correct usage. They've been thankful.

I've received email from educated adults—albeit younger than myself—who misuse the variations. The Millenials on their cell phone have effectively flattened the you're/your dichotomy by just typing ur, which of course when you say it, doesn't require you to spell it. Perhaps they are onto something.

Of course The Times loves anything disparaging about President Trump. Ms. Lyall's piece got front page placement yesterday, A1, Sunday, September 1st.

And of course there is a fair litany of presidential Tweets that are head scratchers. Presidents after leaving office publish memoirs. I've often wondered, since the Tweets are transmitted through the Internet, are they in the public domain? Could an adventurous publisher collect all of them and put out a stocking-stuffer book? I mean, Chairman Mao had his little red book; The Donald can have his utterances memorialized in traditional print.

Aside from recapping the president's greatest gaffes to date, Ms. Lyall rolls out the quotes from the language experts, those with all the right credentials and books to comment on the president's baffling "style."

One such expert, Bryan A. Garner, the author of "Garner's Modern English Usage." goes so far to propose a Federal job that could pay $75,000 a year for someone to be a Presidential Proofreader. Already on Twitter there are those who feel this is waaay too little compensation for having anything to do with the president. (I would think with health insurance, the salary and some other perks, it might just be right.)

Other credentialed names and their curriculum vitae are presented to the court of public opinion to convince us (as if it were needed) that the president might not just be harmful to NATO and the environment, but to the English language as we know it today. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

And Trump is not the only whose gaffes are mentioned. Clinton, George Bush, and of course the famous Dan Quayle spelling of potato as potatoe. Everyone laughed at Christopher Columbus, and that one.

The vice president was also chastised for his mailbox that apparently proclaimed it belonged to "The Quayle's." I forgive anyone who blows the correct way to use an apostrophe, Sure it should just be "The Quayles" but my oldest daughter two years ago sent out her Christmas cards signed "The O' Connor's." (She heard from me, my wife, and her sister.)

But while potato got the biggest laughs I still have to take exception to it being considered wrong that potato can be spelled potatoe. Again, back in the Eisenhower, black and white era, I distinctly remember we were allowed to spell potato potatoe, with that trailing e that everyone laughed at. My wife remembers as well.

And judgment. Does anyone remember when judgment had to be spelled with no e between the g and the m? Now it's either way which doesn't seem fair since I've invested a part of my memory that clings to judgment as being the only correct spelling. 'The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage' agrees with me.

If the president were to never Tweet again, his offering of the 7 letter combination of letters that "spells" Covfefe will be his everlasting legacy. It's equivalent to Orson Wells and the word "Rosebud" in 'Citizen Kane'.

No one knows what the hell he was saying there. My first thought was that he transcribed some lettering from that block of granite, Kryptos, that sits in front of the CIA that has all sorts of characters on it. Code. The challenge being for someone to crack it. Attempts have been made, and cipher experts have gotten close, but then the agency announced the stone cutter made a typo, thus invalidating codebreakers' efforts so far. Imagine: "Not Calais, Normandy" being mixed up by the Allies. Oh boy.

Thoroughbred owners and breeders love a good pun, or a play on words that combines spelling features from the foal's sire, mare and even their sires and mare.

Thus we got American Pharoah,[sic](Trump's not the only one who can't spell) the 2015 winner of the Triple Crown, from Pioneer of the Nile. A list of examples can go on and on.

But say it's 2016 and the mating of the sire Into Mischief with the mare Antics, herself from the sire Unbridled, presented you with a healthy foal that needs a name to be registered with the Jockey Club.

And say President Trumps plays stump-the-world with the offering that Covfefe is a word. Wouldn't it be a hoot to name a horse Covfefe? It sure would be.

Turns out Covfefe is not just any thoroughbred, but a rather good thoroughbred, who had won races at the highest level of competition, Grade 1, not once, but twice, earning  $483,300 to date.

The president, always quick to bristle at his critics, tells us in Ms. Lyall's piece, "After having written many best selling books, and somewhat priding myself on my ability to write, it should be noted that the Fake News constantly likes to pour over my tweets looking for a mistake."

Ms. Lyall points out he's dangled a modifier and misspelled a four-letter word, all in the course of a single sentence.

"Written best selling books..." Who is he kidding? A small cadre of writers, copy editors, and proofreaders helped produce anything that came out with his name on it as the author. This troop of people can be referred to as ghost writers, and for good reason. Their names do not appear anywhere near the title.

I can spot the misspelled, or rather misused version of the word pore. As for the "dangling modifier," I'm ls lost as The Donald. If it were a split infinitive, I'd be lost as well.

I just finished the book 'Colon' by Cecelia Watson and wrote about it in the prior posting. One of Ms. Watson's last footnotes related the story of being in Grand Central Terminal, feeling very thirsty and very frustrated from a lengthy conference, and ordering "two gins and tonic" from the bartender before getting on the train to New Haven (to Yale, of course).

This cause puzzlement on the bartender's part, and they needed clarification from Ms. Watson on what her drink order really was. Quite honestly, I would too.

The server offered "two gin and tonics" as the solution to the perceived misspeak.This frustrated Ms. Watson, who eventually got her drink order as she assented and told the bartender, "Sure. The gin is more important to me than the tonic" rather than try and educate the server on the pluralization rule.

This confuses me. Did the server then give her two separate gin and tonics—one for her and one for the assumed person she is probably getting one for as well—or, did she really want a "double" gin and tonic, two pours of the gin with one part tonic, in a single cup? Since her conference was stressful, I go with the "double." And of course gin, since Ms. Watson is British.

President Trump doesn't drink, so there's little chance his drink order will be open to interpretation. But with a "pluralization rule"* on the books, what if he's Tweeting North Korea's Kim Jong-un about missiles? One big one, or two little ones?

Jesus, we're fucked.

*I have no idea what the rule is. Alert reader please help.