Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Man I Never Heard Of

When someone passes away at 94 and has been writing critical reviews based in New York, I'm surprised I never heard of them. But such is the news to me of the passing of John Simon, who by all accounts saw little in life that pleased him, and who used the the most acrobatic of phrases to register his dislike.

Mr. Simon wrote principally for New York magazine from 1968-2005, when they finally got tired of his congenital cynicism. It helps explain why I really never heard of him. I never subscribed to the magazine, and rarely picked it up in a doctor's waiting room, choosing The New Yorker, (cartoons) or Vanity Fair, or sometimes Vogue, for glossy, over-the-top photos of women I can never expect to see, over a logo that reminds me of the Sunday magazine section to The Herald Tribune, which is what the New York logo is: a leftover from the newspaper I still miss.

My all accounts, Mr. Simon was a hard man to please. There was a 'Weekend Interview, The Last Man of Letters' piece in the WSJ on November 2nd by Barton Swaim on Mr. Simon. At that point, Mr. Simon was still with us, and meets Mr. Swaim at Grand Central Terminal's Oyster Bar. What lead Mr. Swain to seek our Mr. Simon at the time is not disclosed. Mr. Simon arrives to the interview on his own, on time, and seems in complete control of all his faculties

It is fun to read Mr. Simon's recollection of being in a NYC restaurant when the the actress Sylvia Miles spotted him there and gets even with Mr. Simon, who called her a "gate-crasher," making a special trip over to his table holding a plate of steak tartare and dumping it on him and telling him that he can now call her a "plate-crasher." Mr. Simon smiles at the recollection.

Interesting to note, Ms. Miles did have a reputation as a gate-crasher. Her NYT obituary on June 12 2019 by Anita Gates makes special note of her party attendance reputation.

"She was, however, beginning to acquire a reputation for going to every party possible in whatever town she was in. She would “attend the opening of an envelope,” the comedian Wayland Flowers was said to have remarked.

In 1976, People magazine ran an article with the headline “What Would a Manhattan Party Be Without the Ubiquitous Sylvia Miles?” In 1980, Roger Ebert, the film critic of The Chicago Sun-Times, interviewed her at a publicity brunch in Los Angeles. “And if a brunch is a party, why then, of course that is Sylvia Miles in the corner,” he wrote. “She is dressed as a cross between an Indian princess, a hippie and a bag lady.”

The obituary writer gets the last word, and doesn't get food thrown at them.

Reading something from the man so short;y before the obituarists and critics take over makes the piece a bit of a treasure to read. That Mr. Simon passed away on November 24 makes the piece prescient to the tributes that followed his passing.

As we've noted in many blog postings, if someone of note passes away these days and they are over 90, Mr. McFadden has probably written their advance obit, waiting in the files for the trip upstairs to make into the paper.

Movies of all genres displeased Mr. Simon. He only favored works of a few directors, and only the good works from those directors. Mr. Simon also wrote for the National Review, and William F. Buckler Jr., the publisher, would quip that Simon "treated movies like pigeons treated statutes." To me, amazingly after using Buckley's picture in my last posting, and a decade after his passing, to read one of his quips, is one of those cosmic coincidences. God, I miss Buckley. The things he would say these days.

By all expectations, Mr. Simon probably hated Disney movies. Did he review 'Frozen?' Love to know what he thought of 'The Lady and the Tramp.' Apparently Mr. Simon's bile was never in short supply, and rivals FCC Chairman Newton Minow one-time assessment of some TV being good, but when it is bad it is a "vast wasteland." And now with a 24-hour news cycle there is certainly more barren ground filled with prickly cacti.

That Mr. Simon lived to be 94 surrounded by all things he didn't like is a testament to something. What doesn't kill you, does make you stronger. And live to be 94.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

If I Wasn't Already Retired...

...I'd want her job. Maureen Dowd's job, that is.

Just as President Trump is her most frequent target, Maureen is mine when I consider the divergence of who is a competent, or at least an interesting journalist and herself. Every Sunday I'm usually reminded of my dislike when I read her what, 400-500 words, probably written between rounds of 'Jeopardy,' on how much she dislikes President Trump and the toilet we're all headed down.

I usually only bat about .500 when it comes to my comments getting accepted for publication in the NYT comments section for her once a week exercise. I'm amazed at the column's brevity and that the NYT still keeps her on board, allowing her to cash a paycheck.

My batting average of .500 shows you I can find what Maureen writes well put together and can even consider it a gem. But it's not very often, and certainly should be coming more often from someone who won a Pulitzer, even if was what, 20 years ago? Prize fighters go on too long too.

Today's column had me going a bit. As I've said before , Maureen can usually be guaranteed to send me to the dictionary to look up a word she's used. So today her lede appears under a gigantic photo of The Donald (the larger the photo, the shorter the piece) with the words:

Donald Trump is a rodomont. Not to mention a grobian. And, of course, a Sinon suffering from proditomania.

Damn. I've got to go to the dictionary already? Am I even going to find these words? They look like they're plucked from 'Game of Thrones' characters, something she's done before.

Read on McDuff. Whew, she tells us she gets a word-a-day from an online feed, and lately has been fed the four words in the lede and that she's noticed a pattern, because they all seem to apply to President Trump. She tells us what the words mean.

Maureen being Maureen goes on, just a bit, because she doesn't seem like writing too much today. I don't read particularly fast, but the scroll hits bottom pretty quickly.

Trump is the gift that keeps giving when you're a journalist and you have the freedom—probably because of a Pulitzer earned 20 years ago—to write what you like and turn it in.  There was only ever one great sesquipedalian, and that was William F. Buckley Jr. I'm sure Maureen is glad not to be considered Bill anyway. I could stop reading Maureen, but then, I'd have less to write about.

Maureen touches nearly all the bases of Trump's week with the impeachment inquiry, and the testimony that is now helping promote the word "narrative" into common usage. I've already seen a cartoon of a little boy being read a bedtime story and telling his father that he thinks he's got the "narrative wrong." It had to happen.

Maureen closes with a Japanese word, seppuku, which translates to another Japanese word, hari kari, which of course is not the longtime announcer for the Cubs, but a phrase meaning ritual suicide for one who has brought dishonor onto themselves.

One thing is certain, The Donald will never consider anything he's done to be dishonorable. Maureen's Trump week omits the president's reversal of military judicial court-martial decisions. This has got to be unprecedented, I don't know everything, but I can't remember a president ever involving themselves with court-martial decisions.

The way is goes these days, we are now more likely than ever to get a president who has never served in the military. My uncle was a career naval officer in WW II and retired as a Rear Admiral. His son retired as a Commander. My father and mother both served in the Army in WW II. I'm always a little skeptical of what a Commander-in Chief might bring to the room when they haven't done a single basic training push-up. My view has always been to not antagonize the guys who control all those weapons and buttons. They are not called the Armed Forces for nothing.

Instead of closing a column with the word seppuku a more appropriate warning might be a movie title: "Seven Days in May."

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Things That Went Bump in the Night

In this case, the things that went bump in the night were two ocean liners that collided with each other in heavy fog off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts on July 25, 1956. The Italian liner Andrea Doria was rammed by the smaller Swedish ship, the Stockholm, and the event just might have been the first live televised coverage of a disaster.

I don't really know if it was the first televised disaster, but I do distinctly remember television coverage of what I'm sure was an image of the Andrea Doria listing and sinking, shrouded in heavy fog still. Between the two ships, 51 lives were lost.

It might have been CBS coverage, but I remember  seeing the ship listing in the fog that so often envelops Nantucket. Our television was of course a black and white set that was often in the repair shop. The words no kid liked to hear was the repairman telling his parents that the set needed to go "back to the shop." The memory of all this is kicked off by what, another obituary, of course.

Guido Badano, a junior officer on the Andrea Doria has passed away in Italy at 92. The Andrea Doria, a luxury liner was sailing toward New York from Genoa, Italy when she was rammed on the starboard side by the bow of the Stockholm. The Andrea Dora was carrying 1,134 passengers and 572 crew members, quite a ratio of crew to passengers. The Stockholm was carrying 747 passengers and crew members. Ocean travel across the Atlantic in the '50s was still quite an industry.

Despite the damage to its bow, the Stockholm still had it own power, damaged but seaworthy, and aided in rescuing passengers from the Andrea Doria, as did other ships that quickly changed course and came to the rescue. Amazingly, despite not being able to use its lifeboats, there were only 46 fatalities from the Andrea Doria, 5 from the Stockholm.

The fact that the Andrea Doria—of course considered unsinkable—took 11 hours to finally completely descend into the sea, was greatly responsible for so many people being rescued. The collision occurred at 11:45 p.m. despite each ship having radar. The fog was cotton. and the shipping lane was busy.

Mr. Badano, 29 at the time of the collision, would often tell stories of the event and of Captain Piero Calamai, who didn't go down with the ship, and with whom he was in a lifeboat from the Stockholm, watching the Andrea Doria sink.

Mr Bodano would always recount how the incident affected Captain Calamai, who passed away at 72 in 1975. The Captain may not have gone down with the ship, but his mind did when he asked as he was dying if everyone got off the ship.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Another Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 56th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. And through the cycle of the calendar, this year, 2019, aligns with 1963. November 22nd was a Friday then, and is a Friday now, and Thanksgiving is a week from today, as late as it can be, the fourth Thursday in November.

Fifty-six years ago is a long time. I don't know what percentage of the population wasn't even born then, but my guess it is probably over 60%.

William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, NY in 1901. Add 56 years to that, and you've got 1957. There were the old guys who hung out at the family flower shop who were old enough to remember the McKinley assassination, as well as JFK's.

There was a 1951 movie on Turner the other day, 'The Tall Target,' starring Adolphe Menjou, Dick Powell, and a very young Ruby Dee. It is a story about a fictional NYC sergeant who has infiltrated a gang of plotting assassins who are looking to keep President-Elect Lincoln from taking the oath of office for his first term in 1861. The plan is to get to President Lincoln, coming to Washington on The Night Flyer Express, and aiming for his head as he makes a scheduled stop for a speech in Baltimore. The assassination conspiracy is true and was known as the Baltimore Plot. The police sergeant upsets their plans.

The movie gives a name to the police sergeant played by Dick Powell: John Kennedy. Remember, the movie is 1951. Alan Pinkerton, the founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency has learned of the plot to assassinate the president and thwarts it by having Lincoln cancel a speech-making appearance in Baltimore, Maryland, a state that has already succeeded from the Union, and of course the state that produced John Wilkes Booth, who did assassinate Lincoln in 1865.

Only in the final scene when Lincoln looks out of the train window and laments "did ever any president come to his inauguration so like a thief in the night," did I remember that sometime, a long time ago I saw the movie before the other day on Turner.

When JFK was assassinated there were all kinds of crazy connections being juxtaposed with his  assassination and Lincoln's.  It was no different that immediately following 9/11 words of Edgar Cayce—The Sleeping Prophet— were being pumped through the Internet as proof that all this was predicted.

Well, the post-9/11 utterings proved to be hooey. I can only remember a few of the match-ups after Kennedy was shot: Did you realize that Lincoln was shot in Ford's theater, and Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln? [car] Get it? Ford's a car; so is a Lincoln.

Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861 and JFK was inaugurated in 1961—100 years later. Can't argue with the math.

But never as high school students do I remember anyone making a comparison to 'The Tall Target' and that a NYC police sergeant named John Kennedy was portrayed as saving the day and thwarting the assassination of President-Elect Lincoln.

It turns out there was a somewhat famous John Kennedy who became a NYC police superintendent in 1863 and who was in charge of quelling the NYC Draft Riots during the Civil War.

Screenwriters. The original prophets.

Those Were Always the Days

The Tweet was a response (@coreykilgannon) to reading what someone (@jeremybowers) Tweeted in response to a story in the Harvard Crimson about the system crash of using your cell phone to pay for things at Harvard—Crimson Cash—one weekend. Vending and washing machine systems were down, and needed to be fed with coinage, principally a fistful of quarters to do a single load of wash and dry, and somewhat fewer for a can of soda (diet, I'm sure.)

Suddenly, the New Millennials needed some jingle in their jeans, and they were annoyed. I mean, a dozen quarters to make your way through a single load of wash and a single dryer load and you might have to go to the bank and get a roll of quarters for $10. Considering the fact that there are 40 quarters in a $10 roll, there might have been a black market that developed for those who took the trouble to get the coins, selling the unneeded ones at a premium to those who needed them. It had to happen.

A friend of mine who rented an apartment in a three-family home in Queens did her wash in the garage, where a washer and dryer was set up for the tenants, along with the need to feed the machines quarters to activate. Now, she has her own stacked washer/dryer units in her utility room of her new condo. No more quarters.

Once upon a time there was a need in tenements to "feed the gas meter," in order to get gas into the apartment for cooking and heat. Pay-as-you-go.

The Tweet from @jeremybowers, a director of engineering at the Washington Post, pokes fun at students' distress by telling them:

My dudes, let me tell you about a time when you had to pay with quarters to talk on the telephone.

Mr. Bowers is certainly older than a current student at Harvard, but not old enough to remember 10¢ pay phone calls and 15¢ NYC subway tokens. His youthful Twitter profile photo confirms his tender age.

The old-timers at the family flower shop who gathered in the morning in the early '60s to discuss the weather and politics could always be heard to talk about the 5¢ subway fare, where you actually shoved a nickel into the slot for your ride. These guys were born in the 1890s. I am now as old as they were then. And it's a funny feeling.

As for telephone calls, they were once 10¢ at a payphone and x number of message units from what we now refer to as a landline. A message unit?

Yes, a message unit was about 7.1¢ on your phone bill. But how many message units did the call use? That was the secret sauce of telephone billing. You could, if you read your phone book (another vestigial organ) find out how many message units you were using when you called certain numbers. They were clustered by "exchanges." (Also a vestigial organ.) But who would take the time to read their phone book?

It was nearly 30 years ago when I added the phone company's voice mail capability to our account. I called and asked if when I called my number for messages, did that count as using a message unit? The guy laughed. Yep.

Of course, all that was then, and this is now. Flat rate, unlimited calling "plans" abound. As do now the fees, taxes, and extortion charges for what ever "benefits" the community, or helps the MTA build a bridge. A phone bill of under $5 is certainly a thing of the past.

The NYC subway is already phasing in turnstiles that take a phone swipe for the fare. Eventually, the MetroCard will be a thing of the past. It is a stark realization of where does the time go when you are informed the MetroCard has been around for 25 years now,. It is old.

The NYC token was made necessary when the fare went to 15¢ from 10¢. Since the turnstiles took U.S. coins, and there was no 15¢ piece, a token was devised to pay for the fare. Subsequent fare increases generally, but not always, required a new token size to be used. Even "forever" stamps go up in cost. Such is the definition of forever.

I already see people on the commuter trains show their activated phones to the conductor as proof of their ticket. I'm not a complete Luddite. I'm moved past a flip phone, getting a hand-me-down from one of my daughters. I do still favor a desktop computer and still use Windows 7.

I read a piece about the writer John le Carré, who is 88, and who writes his works in longhand, having it transcribed by his wife to the computer.

But the biggest kick I get out of the stories of what-cost-what-when is from a member of "The Assembled, " our coterie of race track handicappers who gather several times a year and do our best at equine prophesy. Sometimes with life-altering results.

The oldest member, who has now crossed another Rubicon and entered his 80s, Bobby G., will sometimes remind us that when his continuity in life was interrupted by Uncle Sam, and he found himself a Captain in the army after he was drafted when he was between his medical internship and his residency, that condoms from the vending machine in base men's room required a 2¢ purchase.

I've yet to ask Bobby G. how many pennies did he walk around with.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Indianapolis, Indiana

The delayed news out of Indianapolis, Indiana was comical, at least until the part where two people were seriously shot and wounded, and required extensive medical care to recover.

The news was no doubt reported locally when it occurred on April 30, 2019, but it took nearly seven months to become a national story and be reported in Saturday's New York Times. One thing about reading a story that's seven months old, all the facts are in.

Up to the gunshots, the story pretty much runs the course of four people—three males and a female—in this case all judges and a magistrate, of the Indianapolis Courts—all middle-aged, and all sufficiently loaded after hours of drinking, having assembled for a conference, heading for a strip club at 3 a..m, only to find it closed (even pole dancers have to rest), who then get the reflexive idea that just about all partyers get when they've spent hours drinking, head for a White Castle at 3 a..m. (surely rush hour at a White Castle) to get something in their stomachs other than drinks before calling it a night.

This is where their story resembles thousands of stories of partyers who end up trying to eat something after a night of downing whatever it is they were downing.

Spirits are a great uninhibitor. They work so well that Ogden Nash once noted their efficiency in breaking the ice in social situations in a classic two-line poem titled "The Ice Breaker."

Candy is dandy.
But liquor is quicker.

But only one of the four actually enter White Castle. The other three cluster in the parking lot, possibly smoking, when an S.U.V. with two guys in it drive by and shout something out the window.
Given what happens next, there is no doubt these gentlemen are feeling the effects of alcohol intake themselves.

Maybe spurred by seeing a woman with two guys, whatever it was, they shouted something toward the three and gained a middle finger response from the female judge, Sabrina R. Bell, who later admits at the station house that she can get a little "mouthy" when she's drinking.

Never mind, the guys in the S.U.V. head for a parking spot at White Castle and take their "beef" toward the three judges, I'm sure not knowing they are judges, because nothing in their behavior has suggested they might be. The wrestling match that ensues is still within what happens when people drink, yell at each other, and then disagree with something.

Only this time, one of the judges, Andrew Adams kicks one of the disgruntled—likely pissed at being flipped the bird by a woman—and pins him to the ground. The downed S.U.V. fellow pulls out a gun and plugs judge Andrew Adams and Bradley B. Jacobs. Their wounds are very serious, but they recover and face the disciplinary consequences meted out by their employer, The Indiana Supreme Court.

They are all contrite and apologize for their behavior. The shooter faces eight felony and six misdemeanor charges and awaits a January 13, 2020 trial. The other S.U.V. occupant received a yearlong sentence that was mostly suspended.

Say what you will about the series of events. Even with the shooting thrown in, there is nothing that you might not expect to happen when:

  • people devote hours to drinking and remain standing...
  • it doesn't matter gender or occupation, all drinking can lead to untoward behavior...
  • flipping the bird to strangers at 3 a.m. when there aren't a lot of other people around can inflame their inner-self and create a violent reaction that escalates...
  • people carry weapons and might use them when they are not sober...
But to me, the greatest takeaway from all this is to learn there is a White Castle in Indianapolis. Who knew?

I thought the last one on earth is at the corner of Bell Boulevard and Northern Boulevard in Bayside, (Queens) New York, where they have been serving burger sliders and upsetting stomachs for over half a century.

The things you learn when you read a newspaper.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Hoax U.K. Style

The obituary for "Frank Giles,100, British Editor Fired by Murdoch Over 1983 'Hitler Diaries' Hoax" appeared in the NYT on the morning after I watched the last episode of 'Press on Masterpiece.' Press, as I have already written is a BBC mini-series on the the inner workings of two rival newspapers in London: The sensational tabloid Post, and the more newsworthy left-leaning Herald. The Post is making money hand over fist; The Herald has mouse traps in its hallways.

The big story that has come both their ways through different avenues, is about a government program called 'Resonance,' a highly secret, approved by the Prime Minister, eavesdropping technology designed to identify terrorist activity, the "chatter" we always hear about.

The Herald can do a story on it. A whistleblower from MI5 has come forward and is willing to go on record and blow the whole thing wide open. The Post, while not having the benefit of the whistleblower talking to them, wants to keep a lid on the program because George Emmerson, the media titan who controls vast media holdings in the U.K. wants to oblige the PM, who he is on speed dial with.

There is of course a meeting of the senior people at The Herald, where  "go", "no-go" opinions are expressed. The story goes to print. This of course is television, but it could be about any newspaper's decision to print The Pentagon Papers, The Panama Papers, WikiLeaks, anything. Decision are made.
Every day decisions are made what to put on the front page; where to put certain stories; run, don't run.

And so, this is what Mr. Grimes is known for, as an editor at The Sunday Times of London who in 1983 became convinced that the Hitler Diaries they had in front of them were genuine—some 60 volumes— and they were going to print them for the world to examine.

Mr. Grimes had help in coming to that decision to print. Hugh Trevor-Roper, a former member of British Intelligence during the war, and someone who in 1947 wrote a highly regarded book on Hitler's last days in his bunker, "The Last Days of Hitler," examined the diaries and came to the opinion they were genuine.

Along the way, however, Mr. Roper started to have second thoughts that perhaps these handwritten diary entries were not genuine. What gave Mr. Roper that idea is not disclosed in Mr. Grimes's obit, but Mr. Roper told someone at a sister paper of The Sunday Times of London that he now felt the diary was a hoax.

You wouldn't know these guys were in the communication business, because Chicken Little talked to Henny Penny, but Henny Penny didn't talk to Ducky Lucky and Mr. Grimes went ahead and published. Rupert Murdoch, who owned the papers agreed. Uh-oh.

Turns out the diaries were a forgery perpetrated by a prolific German forger Konrad Kujau. He sold the diaries onto Der Stern, a German magazine, and Der Stern offered the rights to The Sunday Times of London The media had been had. It was Howard Hughes's autobiography all over again, a 1976 hoax that nearly fooled McGraw-Hill Publishing that Clifford Irving had found Mr. Hughes's autobiography.

When Mr. Roper learned more about the chain of custody he apparently got a funny felling. As Mr. Giles and his senior staff were patting themselves on the back and congratulating themselves, no doubt with very good Scotch, Mr. Giles took a phone call from Mr. Roper.

The phone call is re-creted by Katherine Q. Seelye in the NYT obit. You can only think of an early Bob Newhart telephone bit. To those who were there in the room, it went like this.

"Well naturally Hugh, one has doubts. There are no certainties in this life But those doubts aren't strong enough to make you do a complete 180-degree turn on that?

"Oh, I see. You are doing a 180-degree turn."

Chicken Little was right. The sky is falling, and fall it did. Since they had closed The Tower of London to all but tourists, the British were no longer lopping off heads. But they were lopping off employment, and Mr. Giles was out after a long and distinguished career, now known for one disaster that would provide the lede to his obituary, even if he did live to be 100.

I remember a quote from David O. Selznick who claimed that when he died the credit he earned for being the producer of the movie 'Gone With the Wind' would accompany his name. It did. Do something big, and it follows you.

When the forgery was acknowledged, things in the diary became suspicious. Hitler's arm had been injured in the attempted assassination bombing, thus his handwriting from that point on should have shown a deterioration.  It didn't.

There were references to his inner circle that didn't jibe with what was known about what Hitler would say. I would love to know if the German forger wrote that Hitler called someone a dummkopf.

But most telling about the diaries was that the paper, ink and bindings being more contemporary than something that was supposedly written in the 1940s.

Chalk that last investigative oversight up to the lack of C,S.I. shows on television in the 1980s. No one was thinking of forensic testing.

There is always a great contrast between American and British obituary writing.  When Mr. Roper passed away in 2003 The Guardian gave him an effusive obituary that mentioned the Hitler diary hoax in the heading, but didn't really get around to writing about it until well into the text. And then they put a fell-sorry-for-him spin on it.

For Mr. Giles's obit, The Guardian concentrates heavily from the get-go on the hoax and Mr. Giles's gullibility, along with Rupert Murdoch's. Rupert, who is still very much with us at 88 (his mother lived to be over 103) and now married to Mick Jagger's ex, Jerry Hall, only admitted in 2012 his mistake in publishing the diaries. Apparently, he never liked Mr. Giles, despite appointing him the editor, so he had no problem in letting him carry the blame for decades. What a guy.

The obits for the forger, Konrad Kujau are very direct. He passed away on 2000 at 63. The NYT obit gets it right out there; The Guardian gets it right out there but provides oodles of more information as to how the diaries came to be in existence, and the role a Gerd Heidemann played in duping Der Stern. It is rich reading, and even, in an Elvis-like speculation, allows for the possibility that Konrad is not really dead.

The newscaster Dan Rather became convinced several years ago he had the smoking document that the then current president, George W. Bush had avoided the draft. There were people who doubted the authenticity of the document, and it was pointed out that such a document couldn't have been typed when it was claimed because there was no way to make a subscripted ordinal designation, e.g. 26th, with the "th" raised like an exponent. There was no word processing software then that could do it at the time it was purported to have created. However Dan Rather and his producer kept at it, and were eventually fired.

The urge to believe something is true is a powerful emotion. It drives our daily news. And sometimes it is true. The only question is when?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Press on Masterpiece, Part II

God, I hope there is a Season 2. A six-episode Season 1 is a very short series to end on the sixth episode. Right now, Season 2 is a possible maybe. People on both sides of the ocean love the show, but the producers are apparently non-committal at this point with one more show to air. Fingers crossed.

With only six shows in Season 1, the penultimate show just aired and really gets down to the business of smear, spinning and the real-life consequences felt by those who wind up on Page 1 of a tabloid screaming about their life.

The sex hookups are out of way: Holly (Charlotte Riley, above) with a rival reporter from The Post, Ed; Peter and Amina, Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief at The Herald. Holly has switched sides and joined The Post, upset at the inertia of covering stories at the financially weak, and somewhat seedy offices of The Herald. There are mouse traps in the hallways.

Holly's been lured by the editor at The Post, Duncan Allen, a man for whom the truth means whatever he says it is. He's been quoted as saying, "I decide what the readers are interested in. They have no idea."  He's been trying to get her to join the staff by sending presents, (e.g. a laptop) but Holly has so far just returned then.

Thoroughly pissed at The Herald, Holly solicits and gets an offer from Duncan that she feels is good enough to jump ship. For her first day on the job she changes her appearance from a jean-wearing, ponytail, graduate uni-look, to that of a more attractive woman, wearing her hair down, applying some makeup, and even going so far as to wear a skirt, a surprise ensemble that startles her former colleague at The Herald when he sees her heading from the plaza coffee cart that sits between the two buildings and strides over to the rival's offices.

Everything about The Post exudes success. The building is nice, the lobby is nicer, the elevator is probably even better; the hallways don't have mouse traps set out. But Holly is not about creature comforts and "looks" she is about the story.

Having snared Holly to come work for him Duncan hardly fawns over her. He tries to exclude her from the morning meeting of senior writers and editors, despite her status as a "special correspondent" who reports directly to him. He rebuffs her initial story idea and instead tells her his agenda. Well, he is after all the boss.

Holly is no puff piece, and she walks into the meeting anyway. Duncan is setting out the turf for the continued coverage of a 17 year-old kid whose social skills are zero and who put three kids in the hospital at school.

Holly feels the story has exhausted itself. She's not asked, she just says so. She makes unwanted suggestions on the coverage, "look into the lad's background, upbringing" and gets others in the group to agree with her, even the Deputy Editor. Duncan pulls her aside and strands on the outside of the office door, goes back in and continues to hammer away at what's needed: More Page 1 treatment of the "monster."

Holly has been shown her desk, or actually a work-space by Duncan's assistant, (Holly is "sorted"). And she does rate. She's not positioned near the toilets, and has natural lighting at her back. If she turns, she has a view, apparently not a common accommodation in the warrens of modern office space.

Duncan has given Holly a napkin he's pulled out of his office safe where the bombshell stories might come from. The napkin has one word on it, "Resonance" and some numbers. Holly asks what does it mean, and Duncan tells her that's her job to find out. Duncan's been given the napkin by someone at one of those "boozy" lunches Fleet Street is supposedly famous for.

Meanwhile, the office become transfixed with the televised news that the 17 year-old lad, the bully,  has committed suicide, likely caused by being depressed at how he's been smeared over the newspaper as someone who might be sub-human.

Holly was right. The Post had already gone too far. Now what does Duncan do? His coverage is going to be the story since the kid offed himself while staring at the front page story on his iPad of himself with blurred photos of giving the press the finger as they scrummed at his front door.

Duncan is at a loss for how the paper should react to the suicide. An apology is out of the question. Holly, again not asked, offers Duncan what apparently they call on Fleet Street the "reverse ferret" strategy.

Internet to the rescue: Reverse ferret is a phrase "used predominately within the British media to describe a sudden reversal in an organization's editorial line on a certain issue [volte-face]—and generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position." In other words, having it both ways.

Rupert Murdoch's reversal on telephone hacking in the wake of being caught at it in the phone hacking scandal of messages on the phones of the Royals is offered as a prime example of "reverse ferret."

Duncan's "reverse ferret" consists of the paper taking a stand against bullying; start an anti-bullying campaign; get the boy's mother to join the paper and come out against bullying.  This isn't what Holly had in mind when she suggested a "reverse ferret" to Duncan. But it is what Duncan has in mind.

The Post camps out at the mother's door, gets her on Skype after a reporter offers her £5,000 to read/recite a statement The Post has crafted for her to come out against bullying. Her son as well was a victim of bullying. Duncan has spun, and Holly wants to vomit.

As all the hub bub is swirling around the "bully monster" story, Holly has brought in a Syrian refugee who has a story of tremendous atrocities committed in Syria. The young male adult would like £5,000 to tell the story. It is a whopper.

Duncan has insisted that he met the individual before paying for a story. The fellow gets impatient waiting to see Duncan, and just plain leaves.

In what has to be perhaps the shortest time on record for being a Post employee, Holly disappears and strides back over to The Post and asks for her job back. Amina has just announced to the staff that they're going to be a free paper, wrapped in advertising, there will be some online access, but they are building a paywall on a subscription basis. They are going to be different.

Holly doesn't beg, but she apologizes for harsh words on leaving. Amina tells her she should have always been a reporter, and that  she'll in effect be one The Herald.

Absent any "no disclosure agreements" being in effect,  Holly gets to tell Amina and the Deputy Editor about the napkin fetched from the safe by Duncan. In an earlier episode, it just so happens that a colleague at The Herald,  James Edwards, has met with a source from MI5 who cryptically sat in a car and merely mentioned the word "resonance" to him. No more details than that. Now, through the short speech by Duncan, Holly has been told "Resonance" could be very embarrassing to the Prime Minister. (It doesn't matter which Prime Minister. Just the PM) Obviously, there's a story here somewhere.

Now we have the title of the last episode: Resonance. Coming attractions give an indication that Holly and Duncan might face off somewhere in court? Will "resonance" prove to be connected to the Syrian's story? At the close of Episode 5, Holly has tracked the refugee down and offered an advance from her own money, plus the remainder of the £5,000 from her own funds when the story breaks—at The Herald, of course.


Well, the sixth and final episode of what I hope will be more seasons has aired: Resonance.

The MI5 source about the highly confidential program has come out, met with the reporters at The Herald, and given them enough information that it is necessary for them to offer him safe passage to Ecuador. He's got to get out of the country. He is after all violating the Official Secrets Act and could be thrown in prison. He's sacrificing a lot by offering information.

Ecuador. If any of the plot lines in 'The Press' resemble the NSA, WikiLeaks, Harvey Weinstein, Joel Epstein, Edward Snowden and the sequestering in the Ecuadorian Embassy, you wouldn't be wrong. Don't the British have their own homegrown problems? I guess they're staying away from The Royals.

Nevermind. A good story is a good story, even if it shows that the U.S. and the U.K. are two countries with more in common than a common language with different pronunciations.

The Resonance program is a version of our NSA private citizen spying revelation where any device in a person's home or hand can be turned into an active wiretap—without a warrant. The program has anti-terrorism on its mind, but does it stop there?

The guy who really knows everything in these episodes in George Emmerson, the Rupert Murdoch portrayal who has incredible sources. He tells Duncan that The Herald is doing the story on Resonance.

Holly at The Herald at the same time is preparing a Duncan Allen take-down piece that will be her revenge for watching Duncan turn troubled young man in a suicide victim because of the incredible press coverage of his bullying. Okay, he put three kids in the hospital, but the coverage was over the top by Holly's standards. And the reverse ferret tactic smelled as bad a skunk.

Holly and Duncan met—twice—in the Journalist's Church, a real-life church, built in 1672, designed by Christopher Wren, named St. Bride's. It is located on Fleet Street in the City of London and has been the sendoff place for many press and media types over the years. There are plaques on the walls. It is the Westminster Abbey for scribes.

Holy and Duncan met there for Holly to tell Duncan about the take-down piece. It is going to be a torpedo, concentrating on Duncan's more than aggressive manner in telling a story, his tax returns, his dysfunctional family life, his paid to live-in escort Krystyna, a statuesque Russian or Serbian blonde who looks as if she made her country's Olympic team throwing the discus, and who could easily satisfy any man no matter what their stamina is. She is the gift that keeps giving.

Journalist's Church. The British. Full of history and tradition. I don't know of any American equivalent other than St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Church and Barclay in Lower Manhattan, two blocks north of the Trade Center.

The Church Street side of the church now has a piece of steel that resembles a cross from the World Trade Center ruins. There is also a plaque honoring the newsboys, the "newsies" who hawked newspapers for pennies at the turn of the 18th and 19th century. These ragamuffins were the unwashed kids who lived in squalor in the Lower East side.

These kids actually went on strike in 1899 and convinced the major newspaper publishers, William Randolf Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, to buy back the unsold papers from the bundles they bought for 85¢. The closest New York ever had to a Fleet Street was Printing House Square, near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge where several newspapers had their buildings.

Duncan has learned the whereabouts of the whistleblower and threatens to get him arrested if The Herald goes ahead with their story. He knows they're going to try and get him out of the country.

Duncan has been promised a massive promotion to editor-in chief of all of George Emmerson's media holdings, huge amounts of money to help him counter the nasty divorce he's going through, a football field-size office, and the undying love of Emmerson if he can get The Herald's story killed.

Duncan offers Holly that he won't call the police in and get the source arrested for violation of the Official Secrets Act if Holly kills the piece. Holly gives Duncan a Winston Churchill-type speech in her soft Scottish accent about journalistic responsibility, democracy, and what kind of journalist Duncan used to be before he became a garbage collector.

What happens? Spoiler alert. Duncan calls off the planned police notification, Holly's story runs, and Duncan gets ready to pack up and leave his employment because he couldn't fulfill Emmerson's mandate to kill the story. Duncan caved.

Oh yeah? Duncan is a cornered animal, who in a flash of media instinct, smears Holly on the front page of the next edition of The Post as being an ENEMY OF THE STATE for exposing a program designed to keep the country safe from terrorism, but now has been brought out in the open and with the inevitable dismantling, puts everyone's life in Britain in certain danger from terrorists. They will win.

The shots of war have been fired. Duncan gets all that Emmerson promised him. Emmerson is tickled pink at the ENEMY OF THE STATE headline. Holly appears in front of The Herald's building and faces a scrum of reporters who have descended on her. It is a repeat scene from the first episode where she was in the same position. She introduces herself. The scene fades away.

If ever a series deserved to keep going, this one does. We'll see.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Oh Dear

Twenty-seven years ago is not a milestone anniversary, like 25 or 50 years, but it is an anniversary, and seems to be enough for a tabloid news show, 20/20 to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Amy Fisher, Joey and Mary Jo Buttafuoco shooting incident on Long Island, when the youthful Amy Fisher suggested, and received the green light from her older boyfriend, Joey that taking Joey's wife, Mary Jo out would be a good idea. Thus, Amy shot Mary Jo in the face. Mary Jo survived. And the tabloids didn't go out of business.

Amy was a 17 year-old high school senior and Joey, an auto body body shop owner in Baldwin (Nassau County) New York were having an affair. No real news there until the impressionable Amy thought the best way to keep Joey for herself would be to murder Mary Jo. For some reason, Joey didn't seem to think that was an idea to be discouraged. Or, be didn't know that Amy got a small-caliber semiautomatic handgun and was willing to make her man her own. It was a variation on the song Frankie and Johnny.

Amy went to school and then cut class and confronted Mary Jo on the steps of her home on May 19. Mary Jo was at first in critical condition, but pulled through the surgery and is alive today with some facial and nerve damage. She and Joey remained married for 10 more years, then divorced.

To say this was a sensational story is to undersell it. The tabloids went NUTS. LONG ISLAND LOLITA became the headline, and Amy's nickname. Joey, 38, being a bit of a thick-headed beefcake, was BESIEGED by reporters.

The story was so big that even the NYT covered it five days later, on May 23 on page 28 of the first section, under METRO NEWS when Amy Fisher was charged with attempted murder in the shooting. The NYT, never a paper to exploit sensationalism had given in and pulled out a Hagstrom map (pre-Internet) and claimed the Buttafuoco's lived in Baldwin, when in fact they lived in Massapequa. (Their Adams Road West home is described as being in an affluent "waterfront community in Baldwin.") Both towns are in Nassau County, an area so uncovered by The Times that it is probably understandable that they'd get some facts wrong. After all, all the suburbs look alike, right? Massapequa is several towns to east of Baldwin.

Regardless of their compass, their coverage probably started when a Manhattan-centric editor realized that Massapequa, or Baldwin, was on the train line they took to the Hamptons (no Hamptons Jitney then) then figured they could take a chance and try and find Nassau County. When The Times left Manhattan in those days they were somewhat like Christopher Columbus looking for India. They are only somewhat better now.

Twenty-seven years is a long time, but he story got its renewal when Jessica, a daughter of Mary Jo and Joey, now 36 appeared on ABC's 20/20. Shows like 20/20 need stories like the Fisher-Buttafuoco saga for their oxygen.

Amy got seven years in prison and is now a single mom, with a different name, with three children. For  awhile she wrote a column for Newsday. Joey was not charged in any crime stemming from the 1992 shooting, but did get fined and placed on probation in 1995 for solicitation of a prostitute. In 2004 he was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation for auto insurance fraud..

Joey tried to capitalize on his name-recognition and tried some acting and wrestling. His fame quickly faded. Not even De Niro cast him in anything. Mary Jo remarried, then divorced. Everyone is still with us.

I think I did hear a promo announcement on ABC that there was an upcoming look back at the Buttafuoco stroy, '"Growing Up Buttafuoco." But my juices were really primed when a NYT reporter, Corey Kilgannon posted a Tweet (@CoreyKilgannon) that the show was going to air on Friday, and that he was not going to go out that night. He didn't want to miss it.

I'm sure it was a tongue-in-cheek Twitter announcement, but I don't know if I'd admit to not having a DVR. His Tweet posted the above photo, showing Mary Jo and Joey holding hands sometime after the shooting.

1992 was a significant year for myself and my family. Despite the news coming from Long Island, we moved from Flushing in November to a Nassau County town. We've always been glad we did, and it was on Veterans Day, 1992 that we did actually move. So, we're having a 27-year anniversary today.

There's always news, and not too long after we moved in Joel Rivkin, was stopped for no license plate, or no light shining on his truck's license plate; a traffic stop on June 29, 1993.

Joel was an East Meadow landscaper. When the police circled his vehicle they detected a strong odor coming from the back of the truck.  One thing lead to another, and they discovered a woman's body under a tarp. As you might imagine, one thing lead to another, and it was later determined that Mr. Rivkin, along with killing the woman in the truck, a prostitute, had been killing them on a somewhat regular basis. He was a serial killer.

This is big news too. Joel, labelled by tabloids as JOEL THE RIPPER, was convicted of killing 9 women, with a belief he was probably responsible for eight more bodies that he dismembered and scattered. He got a 203-year sentence and is still alive and in jail.

Since June in the 'burbs is grass cutting season—and there are those who might tell you I'm a congenital wise-ass—when I was mowing our front lawn I caught my neighbor's attention, Otto, a Nassau County cop, and in all seriousness asked him if the fellow I bought he house from ever used Joel for any landscaping projects. I mentioned that I'd hate to lose the lawn to a search warrant. Otto didn't reply.

When I think of the third story I have to tell, I now realize how dull the place has now become. But not before a middle-aged married couple and the husband's brother coming back from a night of serious partying in the City were arrested for disobeying a Long Island Railroad conductor to stop having three-way sex on a 6:05 A.M. train from Penn Station on the Babylon line in the early hours of September 22, a Sunday.

The three were doing it, doing it, doing it so intently that they ignored the 25 other people in the car, ignored the conductor to stop, and were later pulled off each other when the police separated them at Merrick and charged them with public lewdness. Supposedly the wife continued to kiss the brother-in-law at the station house as they were handcuffed, claiming she liked "to keep it in the family." Oh my. A plea deal eventually resulted in class B misdemeanor convictions.

The couple were the parents of two school-age children. At least they were married to each other. I'm sure the kids had to endure significant hazing at school when the story broke, because it was EVERYWHERE, names, occupations, residences etc.  The tabloids couldn't jam in enough double entendres to their stories: "new meaning to riding the rails," and on and on.

Kids always have a problem envisioning their parents having sex, especially after they're born. And to have Mom doing it with Dad and an uncle, doing it together in so public a manner had to be thoroughly mortifying. There's an anniversary I bet they'd like to forget.

So, here were are, in the suburbs where nothing ever happens, until it does.  But boy, when it does.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Pint-Sized Big Gulp

Anyone who reads these posting knows I rarely have anything to say politically. At least in print, I refrain. There is SO much of it out there, what can I add? Well, here goes.

Maureen Dowd today harkens back to her best writing when she won the Pulitzer. And she has former NYC Mayor Bloomberg to thank.

For anyone who doesn't hear or read the news, Mayor Mike has not really announced he's running for president in 2020, but he's filed paperwork to compete in an Alabama primary. This is prescient, since Alabama's football team has more home games left.

Mayor Mike was to New York City what Rudy Giuliani couldn't be: a three-term mayor. During Rudy's tenure the City Council revised the City Charter and set a two-term limit on serving for mayor. A revision that was in effect, until it wasn't.

Mayor Mike convinced the Council to waive the the two-term limit, allowing to run for a third term. He didn't have to win, but go ahead, name his opponent and you get a MetroCard good for a month. (Not from me, however.)

In physical stature, Mayor Mike is short. Vertically challenged they would say these days. When NYC shook from an earthquake a few years ago the joke went that Mayor Mike took cover standing under his desk. Then held a news conference. Mayor Mike loved news conference.

And our current president loves to pick at physical attributes. In the primary, it was "Little Marco Rubio." The news of Bloomberg's interest in running already has the president referring to his former mayor as "Little Michael" as if he's Little Richard or a youngster named Micheal Jackson. Or maybe even the youngest member of the Corleone family about to undertake his first hit.

Mayor Mike, like most mayors who hit their third term, gets remembered for the near-last thing they did, and for Mayor Mike it was his proposal that the city ban 20 oz. Big Gulp soft drinks. Too much sugar. Obesity. Diabetes. Mayor Mike was looking out for the health of his fellow New Yorkers and suffered ridicule for it.

It is not quite the same thing, but consider New York City's banning of pate fois gras. What's that you say. Pressed goose livers, a staple of French cuisine.

Geese or ducks are purposely fattened so that their livers become enlarged and a more desirable part of the bird than their other parts. The forced feeding is considered cruel, and therefore is banned in California and New York City. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) says beef should be banned as well. Oh boy.

So Mike wanted New Yorkers to watch their diet. The current administration wants them to curtail their intake of foie gras, as if you can get it at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium between innings.

There were a few other instances of misapplied mayoral desires and wrong-headed ideas. Take the plan to build a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan for the New York Jets. The Jets have been co-tenants at Giants Stadium ever since they left the dinginess of Shea Stadium decades ago.

Nowhere is it written that every football team has to have their own stadium, but they do. They need their identity. The air rights over the railroad tracks could be used to build a stadium for say 60,000 or so badly clothed souls for eight winter dates (plus some pre-season) in the winter, no?

This of course would not be a stadium reached by auto, but rather by mass transit, or walking (what's that?) in what would be a new heart of Manhattan. The sanctified rite of tail-gating would have to take on a new format once the white wine and shrimp set from the U.S. Open crowds mixed with the  the grilled bratwurst and Budweiser crowd wearing bright numbered clothing and face paint.

The stadium only ever appeared as a model, one of those great looking scale things that HO trains should run around. West Side stadium plans? DOA.

Less ridiculous, but just as coolly received, was Bloomie's plan to show the world that NYC was an international art center, equal to the sidewalks of Paris, by allowing the artistic husband and wife duo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude to install 27! (a marathon) miles of orange laundry suspended from metal frames throughout Central Park in February 2005; an installation called The Gates. The color of the fabric, paid for by the artists and donations, nearly matched the color of Jeanne-Claude's hair.

This was part of Bloomie's bid to impress the Olympic committee to award NYC the rights to hold the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in NYC in as many locations as it would take to accommodate 100 meter dashes, rowing and badminton competition. Very wishful thinking. London got the games.

Mayor Mike is also a billionaire many. many times over whatever billions The Donald claims to be worth. Bloomberg is an audited financial statement. He lived in his townhouse rather than Gracie Mansion because home was better than living in a colonial home in Carl Schurz Park, surrounded by oil paintings of former mayors, good and bad.

Mayor Mike needs no donors. He financed his mayoral campaigns on his own, and there is every likelihood he'd finance a presidential run on his own.

Of course being a billionaire makes him fodder for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who tell us billionaires are the worst kind of species. Elizabeth's funding proposal for her Medicare-for-all program would whack Bloomie and his kind mightily.

But everyone else gets whacked mightily as well. Everyone in America would be placed on a financial diet. (Since I never gave a hoot about Big Gulps, I'd much rather they be banned rather than my money.) Elizabeth Warren, when pressed on the cost of her proposal retorts that what does a wall between the United States and Mexico cost?

It's a great retort for those who don't know that one proposal is an figure followed by billions (a thousand millions) and that Medicare-for-all is followed by the word trillions. A trillion is a thousand billions; 10 to the 12th power. At that point, we're not taking about real money, we're talking about the distance to stars. Or terabytes.

Mike's concern for New Yorkers' diets earned him the nickname Mrs. Doubtfire, a nanny to the world. The editorial cartoonists and writers will have endless hours of fun writing about him. One Twitter wag (@thomaswright08), a senior fellow fellow at the Brookings Institute, has cogently suggested that Mayor Mike buy Fox News as he runs for office.

This is the kind of learned commentary Mayor Mike will attract: credible advisers from think tanks. Think of Mayor Mike's cabinet. The quality of the Tweets alone will improve.

And Maureen Dowd will once again be worth reading.

Friday, November 8, 2019

He's Baaaaack She's Baaaaack

There are people who get excited about 'Jeopardy' shows. I've read that Phil Donahue and his wife Marlo Thomas sit down every night and make sure they watch 'Jeopardy.' I'm sure there are others just as devoted to watching the show. After all, it's been on the air since 1964, when LBJ was president. Now LBJ is a question/answer.

The show of course gets a major viewership boost when there is someone who starts to win often. Very often, as James Holzhauer did earlier this year, when he ran his streak to 36 games and won over $2.4 million—a perfect measurement of success for someone who is a professional sports gambler.

Jim was tripped up by a librarian, Emma Boettcher, who instantly became Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson in Tokyo. Talk of the town. New York Times bio piece. The giant killer.

And just like Buster Douglas she disappeared, winning only the next two nights, and tripping up over a Woody Guthrie question/answer.

But the producers at Jeopardy are inventive, and they concocted a 'Tournament of Champions' to bring big winners back on the show to further polish their bankrolls and bragging rights. If this were horse racing, it would be last week's Breeders' Cup. Right now, we are in the quarter-finals of the 'Tournament of Champions,' top winners from this year.

If this were a horse race ,the condition would be written to only allow entrants who have been winners in calendar year 2019. And of course, Emma and Jim fit that bill. And others.

Last night was the third quarter-final round and pitted Jim Holzhauer against Alan Dunn, a computer developer, and Lindsey Schultz, a physician/analyst/researcher. It was the 1973 Belmont Stakes all over again. Jim/Secretariat glided to victory.

As James was pretty much running the board, I kept thinking of the recently watched straight pool match between Luther Lassiter and Cisero Murphy, in which Luther ran 85 balls to beat Cisero for the 1966 World Title.

I wrote of the match when I wrote a recent posting about the last episode of 'The Deuce.' All pool players play for position, to try and get the cue ball right where they want it for the next shot; to make the next shot a routine shot, not a difficult one. That goes for the Nine Ball ball-bangers and the nearly extinct straight pool players.

And when you watch a high caliber straight pool match, you watch the masters generally produce high double digit runs before they miss. Just like James cutting his way through the 'Jeopardy' board. When a straight pool player is on a run, their opponent can only sit and watch. And two nights ago, Jim basically turned his opponents into spectators.

What makes 'Jeopardy' so enjoyable is the quality of the question/answers. And the twists. Jim's round contained a category where the answer had to be used to turn the initials of the name into Roman numerals, and the translated into normal numbers. Thus, an answer that might be Calvin Coolidge to "jazz-age president" became the initials CC, then the number 100, since two C's means 100 in Roman numbering. No wonder their empire folded. No one could count. There are very few softball question/answers on 'Jeopardy.'

I didn't watch, but Emma won her quarter-final match, setting up a possible rematch between Emma and Jim.

Jim was his usual calm, squinting self, getting control of the board with the most effortless buzzer technique; a good pool player with a good stroke. Lindsey Schultz knew many of the answers, but was a fish flopping on the deck because she was strangling the buzzer. Jim was an automatic weapon.

So, who will be in the 'Jeopardy' smack-down? Keep tuning in. I will.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Rosanne Cash at Carnegie. Again

Rosanne is almost a regular now. Not many non-classical performers get to play Carnegie twice. Her first appearance was February 20, 2016. She since ran one of Carnegie's Perspective Series of events, and on Saturday night was back with Ry Cooder singing her father's songs to a sold-out audience.

She's been teaming with Ry on and off all year, performing her father's songs after being convinced by Ry that she should give up her 40-year reluctance to do his music. In the program notes Rosanne talks of shedding the reluctance. As much as not many people get to Carnegie twice, not many children of stars get to be their own star.

We've already noted Rosanne is a New Yorker. She reminded the audience that her favorite gig is getting on an N  train and in 20 minutes being at Carnegie. I rode the same train she did because my wife and I came up from the Greek restaurant Periyali on West 20th Street. I'm sure she took the train a little earlier than we did. She has a brownstone somewhere in the Chelsea area and has lived in the city now for nearly 30 years.

I follow Rosanne on Twitter and she posted a photo of herself just outside the Maestro dressing room at Carnegie. Tickled pink. And because I follow her, it's not hard to know about her total anger at the current administration.

I halfway wondered if she might make a comment from the stage. But she didn't. She was smart enough to keep politics out of the evening. She let Ry do it for her.  Ry Cooder, on the other couldn't resist talking about the photos in the dressing room. My guess it was his first Carnegie appearance.

He mentioned the Pete Seeger photo and that the DAR once kept him from performing at Carnegie, and that "thankfully, we no longer have the problems like that." It was of course a joke, but I was surprised at how few people seemed to get it. I'm not sure they even knew who Pete Seeger was. Or what the DAR is.

The DAR is of course the Daughters of the American Revolution, and is solid right-wing organization, Pete being left-leaning and a former member of the Communist Party, was considered persona non grata. He did prevail, and eventually did get to perform at Carnegie in what is now a historic June 1963 concert.

Rosanne nearly arranged for her own upstaging. With Ry Cooder and husband John Levanthal's guitar playing Rosanne was almost reduced to being a member of the audience.

Hardly being an expert. but Ry might have been a bit over-amped when he was filling in the part of singing John's lyrics. And sometimes Ry forgot to be plugged in, or it slipped out, but no one seemed to mind, especially when Rosanne, certainly used to being on stage when slip-ups occur, told the audience, "at least you can't say we're over rehearsed."

In her 2016 appearance, Rosanne alluded to a musical that she and her husband John were working on. I think they then might have performed a song from their project. The program notes tell us they are working on music and lyrics to 'Norma Rae,' with the book by John Weidman.

Roget Miller wrote an award-winning score for 'Big River: The Story of Huckleberry Finn' that was on Broadway. Norma Rae is a story of a union organizing textile worker in the South. Maybe they'll borrow a Woody Guthrie song. Union Maid would certainly fit.

In the program notes, Rosanne explained her reluctance to perform her father's songs. She told the Boston Globe, "I refused to do 'I Walk the Line' on [the first show]. I thought it was too much. I just can't walk into my dad's territory that far."

To me, Rosanne has the most expressive hands. Her fingers create a spirituality when she points upward, or outward while performing. I don't know how long her fingers are, but even from the back of house in row X they seem to grow from her hands.

Between John and Ry's guitar playing they created a new way to hear Johnny's chestnuts. There was sonic force to the live music coming from the stage. When they introduced a song with a lead-in you couldn't tell where it was going. But you did find out. It you came to hear Johnny, you should have stayed home and played records. This was coming to hear his music.

Of all the numbers, I wasn't familiar with 'Cotton Pickin' Hands.' Rosanne explained that her father never glamorized the drudgery of picking cotton growing up. But the song is so lively I was wondering if the melody was 'Skip to My Lou'. It is not.

In most concerts I've attended, Rosanne mentions "The List" her father gave her of the 100 country songs that she should know of, or sing. One concert I was at Rosanne talked of "The List" and said the next song, Bobbie Gentry's 'Ode to Billie Joe' belonged on the list. Rosanne even recorded a fairly recent album titled 'The List.'

Coincidentally or not, just before the concert, the WSJ ran a story in its weekend edition about the to-do lists of 10 famous people, and square, front and center, was her father's famous handwritten list that lead off with "Not Smoke, ahead of the second reminder: "Kiss June," his second wife. For whatever reason, Rosanne didn't mention the Journal's acknowledgement of putting her father's to-do list first.

Aside from the encore, gospel song 'I'll Fly Away,' the last number in the set was 'Ring of Fire.' the song June Carter and Merle Kilgore wrote for Johnny.

There were no fanfare trumpets, but John, Ry and Rosanne performed the song like it was never performed before. It was a sonic force of nature, with Rosanne's hands keeping you from meeting the Devil.

The reluctance to sing 'I Walk the Line' has melted away, and Rosanne did perform the song. In the Ken Burns recent documentary of America's country music, Rosanne explained that the song— about marital fidelity, written by her father in 1956 when he felt he needed to keep his devotion to his first wife Vivian, her mother—Rosanne wistfully adds that well, we all know "that didn't happen." Daughters know their fathers better than they know themselves. And probably forgive more.

Johnny walked his line, and parallel to it, Rosanne walks hers. And we get to enjoy it.

The Deuce

The Deuce is the name of a just completed three season series on HBO that centers on Times Square of the '80s, pulling in all the characters and elements of prostitution, gay bath houses, gay bars, straight bars, peep shows, porno film makers, and all the efforts to oust the skin trade for a hoped for cleaner Times Square.

My friends and I were very familiar with this area—somewhat earlier, in the early '70s—but no less different than depicted in the series. Streetwalkers, pimps filled doorways; movie marquees brightly lite the titles of the XXX rated films, gay and straight, peep shows and porno book stores were hardly hard to find. Times Square was Sin City.

It has always been bawdy. And always attractive to crowds, whether they're there for the dropping of the ball on New Year's Eve, legitimate theaters, bars, restaurants, or just plain strolling. The Great White Way.

I was in the city Saturday night and took a train from 23rd Street to 57th Street. The train was somewhat crowded at 6:30, but virtually emptied out when we got to 42nd Street/Times Square. People of all stripes, ages and ethnicities got off. Their commonality was where that got off, and that they all were holding cell phones.

My early adult enjoyment in the district consisted of playing pool at Broadway Billiards, an immaculately clean pool hall underneath the penny arcade, run by Mr. Monaco. There were even billiard tables. There were perhaps 25 tables, and refereed, official tournaments were held, with the leading straight pool players of the day, Cisero Murphy, Machine Gun Lou Butera (he played fast), Irving Crane and Luther Lassiter.

Straight pool ruled. It was even televised on ABC sports with Chris Schenkel providing his hushed tone play-by-play. There were world championship tournaments held at the Commodore Hotel (now the Hyatt) on 42nd Street above Grand Central Terminal. The perennial world champion, Luther Lassiter, can be seen on a YouTube segment playing Cisero Murphy, winning a World Title with a score of 150-111, running out at 85 balls. There is not a Nine Ball player alive who can sink 85 balls in an inning.

In the '70s, the ball-bangers of Nine Ball had not yet been born. Broadway Billiards, Julian's on 14th Street by the Academy of Music, and McGirr's on 8th Avenue were the pool emporiums of the day. They're all gone. Our Broadway Billiards made way for the Novetel Hotel. I can never go past that spot and not look down where the entrance to the pool hall was. I don't know where you'd go to watch, or even play, straight pool. Perhaps somewhere near Gramercy Park. And certainly no tournaments.

The other destination, a few blocks north of the pool hall was the Spotlight Bar, a narrow place, with booths in the back, but no food, that basically kept the pit musicians of Local 802 from ever dying of thirst. Joe Harbor and his wife Sarah ran place, and generally the bartender was Gene, a one-time singer who once had a bit part riding on a sled in an Abbot and Costello movie, 'Hit the Ice.' Show biz. The Spotlight closed in 1972. It remains in the background I think of Al Pacino's movie 'Panic in Needle Park.'

I never heard the area referred to as The Deuce. It must have been a cop term for the area of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the strip—or stroll as one of the hookers refers to it as—that was filled with peep shows and XXX movie theaters. Hooker heaven. Or hell.

Into this series we get James Franco playing two parts, twin brothers Frankie and Vincent who in their own fashion contribute to the area's reputation with dance bars, peep shows, drugs, and 'massage parlors,' the code name for brothels.

Characters swirl around then. Vincent's gal pal Abby who drops out of NYU and takes up earning a degree in 'New York' as a bartender in Vincent's High Hat joint.  Abby is attractive, bisexual, and eventually committed to helping the hookers earn a different living. That doesn't always work.

Vincent is sensitive; his brother Frankie is reckless. Frankie is eventually killed by a very disgruntled, and made member of the mob. Vincent gets even, but not without the underbelly of organized crime inserting itself in payoffs and skims from the joints they control. There's money there, and it's cash.

The city meanwhile is on a campaign to clear the area of the skin trade blight and get developers in who will build hotels and theaters that will push the skin trade to the entrance of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. And it does go there. Legal action is taken against the shell companies that own the buildings to get hem demolished and make way for the first entrant, the Marriott Hotel.

None of this is fiction. The City, under Mayor Koch worked as hard as they could to tear down the buildings the skin trace thrived in, the seedy SROs, single room occupancy hotels and the message parlors.

Getting control of the buildings where the undesired activities flourished was a tactic. And it worked. And it wasn't just Times Square where this condemn and re-build efforts were made.

When Citibank built their headquarters building between Third and Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street there was a porn bookstore on the side street, Wink's. Citibank didn't sign on for development to find itself adjacent to a porn emporium. I don't remember how long it took, but Wink's disappeared.

Even into the new century I remember being able to see the sign for Fun City from my temporary office at 1440 Broadway, where we were after after the collapse of the Towers on 9/11. Fun City was a porn bookstore, peep show still in operation. It was closer to Sixth Avenue.

To me, the funny thing about the sign Fun City was that it reminded me of how Mayor Lindsay described New York City after  he emerged from a helicopter tour of the city at the start of the 1970 transit strike.

The reporter Dick Schaap heard the utterance and ran with it. In the midst of a crippling transit strike the mayor still thinks this is Fun City. It became a popular phrase to describe NYC, along with The Big Apple. Johnny Carson used it often in his monologues.

Mayor Koch is mentioned often in the third season, and much is made of what everyone knew of his being a closeted gay man. It was the '70s, not 2019, and sexual proclivities were not openly revealed, especially when you wanted votes. Since the good mayor has passed on, I guess things can be openly mentioned in a screenplay.

Ploys and legal maneuvers accomplish a bit. There is pushback. There is progress. Anyone who knows anything of the history of this area knows the night and day difference between what's there now and what was there then.

Prostitution has just about literally moved online. There's got to be an app. Porn has gone to DVDs and the Internet. It's off the street. Everything still exists, just not as visible. Times Square is still booming.

As much as AIDS was a scourge, it was also a cleanser. The health crisis that was declared because of AIDS, spread by sexual contact and dirty needles, gave the city and its lawyers power to take actions in the "interest of public health." Joints were closed; buildings were padlocked. the path was cleared.

Take any time span of a few decades and note what the beginning of it looks like. Any endeavor. Compare it to the end product at he end of the decades. Nothing is the same.

And as Vincent strolls through his old haunt, now in 2019, all he can see is the new environment, and ghosts of the people who inhabited his world umpteen years ago. It is as effective a closing scene as I've ever seen, if only because I could be Vincent, but with my own set of buddies.

His stroll reminds me of a documentary I saw a long, long time ago about the last days of Life magazine, that great newsweekly with the fantastic pictures that was made redundant and out-of-step when TV became more dominant. You couldn't go anywhere and not see Life magazine. It was on the coffee table at home; in every waiting room I ever sat in; front and center at any newsstand..

Part of the documentary was several minutes of a home movie the staff took of themselves as they finished their final days in their offices. They waved, shrugged and mugged for the camera. I remember a reviewer of the documentary commenting that it was sad, and you almost, or did cry when the images went by of people who worked for the magazine probably before, and certainly right after WW II who were going to be without a place they surely felt was home It was sad.

We know music has become a great part of the way these series are presented. And 'The Deuce' is no exception. Blondie's song 'Dreaming' has been opening the show for the last two seasons, driving beat to flashing images of The Deuce as it was. So it only seems appropriate that she should end it. But with what?

'Sidewalks of New York' probably predates the birth of everyone alive today. Composed in 1894 by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake it served as Al Smith's campaign song when he was running for president in 1928. That is admittedly a long time ago, and might not register now with people.

It might also not register that the song was played during the post parade before the Belmont Stakes.  Now anyone who bothers to listen gets to hear a recording of Frank Sinatra belting out 'New York, New York.'

Not bad, but so soul. No history. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has supposedly given to playing 'Sidewalks of New York' before a Belmont Day undercard race, The Manhattan Handicap, a turf race. After my own tradition of going every year since 1968, it's been 20 years since I've gone to the Belmont, so I'll have to take someone's word for it. For now, the Sinatra version reigns.

The melody of 'The Sidewalks of New York' is a two-step waltz, with simple nostalgic lyrics. It can be played light-heartedly, or otherwise. And otherwise is now how Blondie (Deborah Harry) renders the song.

The last episode of The Deuce is pretty much an almost typical last episode. The characters are moving on. But the story line ends with nearly 10 minutes to go. The year 2019 presents itself, and Vince is back in town, back from where doesn't matter. He's in town for the wedding of a nephew. The nephew's third wedding it turns out.

Vincent hits a hotel bar and gets a very measured pour of  Hennesey straight up. Of course the bartender is youthful, and can't remember anything Vincent is telling him about: The High Hat bar...the news that a porn queen, Eileen has died who used to be someone Vincent knew. The pour of Hennesey is metered, unlike free pours at the High Hat. Corporate bartending.

Vince is tired, and maybe a little drunk, but he takes the stroll between 7th and 8th, passing doorways and places where his past his held. He sees the two mob guys, Rudy and Tommy who got the envelopes filled with cash; he sees the guy he killed in revenge for killing his brother; he sees the hookers being loaded in a Paddy wagon, he sees Lori Madison, the one-time prostitute who becomes a cocaine-addled porn star and then a prostitute again, who has taken the trade up again, only to blow her brains out in a dingy hotel room after her last trick.

All the while we get the street sounds, and the people greeting Vincent, and Blondie singing 'The Sidewalks of New York.' like you've never heard it. It's a dirge. It doesn't even sound like Blondie. My first guess it was Marianne Faithful, the voice is so coarse and deep.

Vincent passes Paul, the gay bartender and his partner, who ran the gay bar and the bathhouse. Paul's partner died a sickening death from AIDS.

We get Vince's brother-in-law's greeting from Bobby, who ran one of the parlors who says it's great to see him, but he himself is dead.

C.C., one of the pimps nods a greeting; Thunder says hello, the thick legged black hooker who was thrown out of a window and died, only to have some spaced-out passerby look at the lump on the sidewalk and mutter, "if she wanted to get downstairs so fast, she should have taken the stairs." Life is cheap.

Eilleen Merrell as Candy, the independent hooker who works without a pimp trades dialogue with Vincent about what he just learned by leafing through The New York Post in the hotel bar. Eileen has died, but not before making perhaps 80 "fuck films" acting in and directing, and that one movie has now become an art-house cult feature. "Go figure, I took the fucking out. Nobody saw it."

Abby safely crosses diagonally through an intersection since they've taken the cars out of Times Square, dressed professionally, as briefcase carrying lawyer, talking into a cell phone with a colleague plotting strategy (creating a billable hour, no doubt). We know now she finished law school after breaking up with Vincent. It was inevitable.

And of course twin bother Frankie, smoking, and looking no older than he was on the day he was shot several times and died in his Vincent's arms. Frankie looks good. Vincent "looks like shit," as Frankie is not afraid to tell him.

Anyone who dies through an act of violence, or some disease early in life, never ages of course. I've accumulated a few memories of  those who have left us through both means. I still see them. And sometimes, if I go by the freight entrance door on 41st Street of 1440 Broadway (the edge of The Deuce) where two of my co-workers were murdered by our vice president (who immediately then committed suicide), were carried out by the morgue attendants and the police after being killed on the job, I have my memories of 17 years ago.

We all have memories of something. The Sidewalks of New York.