Tuesday, December 31, 2019


There's a symmetry to the coming year. Two twos, two zeroes. Those New Year's glasses that many will soon be wearing will have two circular openings for the eyes. It's a perfect storm for celebrating a new decade.

Or is it really a new decade? Or, who cares if the numerologists and mathematicians will tell you the new decade really starts on 2021, just like the twenty-first century really stared on 2001, not 2000. No one cares.

Every year is a new decade if you count back from it by ten. Or, every year is a the start of a new decade id you define the starting year and then count ten.

And every good newspaper has a mathematician on their staff. The New York Times has Kenneth Chang who tries to unravel in easy-to-understand language the theorems that the leading mathematicians are solving. or what again is a prime number, and why they are important to encryption.

Not to be outdone, The Wall Street Journal has Eugenia Cheng who writes a bi-weekly column in the weekend edition, 'Everyday Math.' She once had a column on check digits. (Look it up.)

Saturday's column was 'Why a New Decade Feels Momentous.' Eugenia goes on to explain that the assignment of numbers to years is wholly arbitrary, something I've often thought about. Why can't it be 1956 to a seven-year-old boy in what we call 2019? I was seven in 1956, and still marvel that I was alive when Elvis became hugely popular, or the Chevy became a classic. A seven-year-boy is still seven no matter what year it is. For my father, it was 1922, and Warren Harding was president.

Fairly simple answer. We need year uniqueness. Can't have two or more 1956s. Think of coins, car models, calendars, documents, history books, newspapers, etc. It would too confusing. Sort of like a remake of a movie with the same name. Just the other day on Turner I found out there was a 1931 version of 'The Maltese Falcon', 10 years (a decade?) before the Bogart version.

Ms Cheng tells us "mathematicians and philosophers have various views about whether numbers "really" exist. I believe that they exist as ideas, which is enough for them to be useful to us."

The reason next year is a momentous sounding 2020 is that the Western world decided to use Jesus of Nazareth as a reference point for counting years. The fact that we have 10 fingers also matters."

Unmentioned, but certainly true, is that the Jewish calendar does not resemble the Julian calendar. Where we see 2019, the Jewish calendar sees 5780. You're not going to see the ball drop in Times Square tonight and see 5781 light up.

Wikipedia tells us:

The Julian calendar was the 365-day calendar that Julius Caesar made official in 46 B.C. It replaced a calendar based on lunar cycles. The Julian calendar provided for a leap year with an extra day every four years. The adjustment ordered by Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582 subtracted 10 days from the calendar.

And boy, was everyone pissed about that. They all felt they were going to live 10 days less, therefore dying earlier. No mention how the actuaries felt about that one.

Eugenie shows her math chops by telling us that because our number system has a base of ten, that makes next year 2020, where if our base was 12 (if we had 12 fingers) next year would be 1204.

I was always pretty good at math, but I stink when the base becomes something other than 10. I'll take Ms. Cheng's word for it that next year would be 1204. It would also be something wildly different if our system was based on say seven. It all starts at the beginning.

Every year when taking that day trip into Vermont on the dark day of Saratoga racing, we go into the Northshire Book Store in Manchester and buy a calendar created by Warren Kimble, a local artist somewhat in the Norman Rockwell vein, for the coming year. Even though it's August, the calendars for the next year are already out.

Whatever year it was, when I presented the calendar to the even older fellow than me at the register I remarked that I wonder, "how high do the numbers go." He didn't get it as first, but then did.

So, next year is 2020. The only 2020 there will be, a decade starter, or ender, or not. How bad can the year have been if you're alive at the end of it writing a blog posting?


Sunday, December 29, 2019


No doubt because of computer search engines, much is being offered to those who wish to try and find out who their ancestors were. Based on one ad, someone claims to be an astronomically distant relation of George Washington. And why not, if he slept in as many places as he lay claim to in the famous "Washington slept here" boast. He may not have always slept alone, and Martha may not have always been with him. Men.

I truly have no interest in any of these services. I'm fairly well-informed as to who my grandparents were on either side, and where they came from, etc. I have no need to find out I'm the 9th generation offspring of a Spanish sea captain who brought slaves over to the New World from Liberia. (Perhaps you don't want to brag about that one.)

Not that I can't find out something new, but it has to come through a personal recollection, or a newly found document. And one such document has now come to my attention.

My cousin's wife Janice in San Diego for some reason seems to have a good many of the family photos and documents. She long ago created the website to honor my uncle, my cousin's father, and  the father-in-law she never met, who was the first Greek-American to graduate from Annapolis and who became a career Naval officer, retiring in 1959 as a Rear Admiral. He was a fairly highly decorated commander of destroyers in the Pacific during WW II and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

But not all her family photos and documents relate to my uncle George. Whatever made her dig further, she came up with a wedding photo from 1951 of George and his second wife Maria, my cousin's mother, and therefore my aunt.

George is front and center with Maria, flanked by his mother and father, my grandparents, and several others in the back row that I helped identify.

I had never seen the photo, but there in the back row were my mother and father, (my father was George's younger brother) and two other brothers, Angelo (the oldest) and Jimmy (the youngest). Jimmy's wife might be one of the two women alongside Jimmy, but I have no memory of her, or even her name. These two other women still remain unidentified. I had never seen the photo.

As interesting as the photo was, the other emailed piece was even more interesting. It is a photostat of a U.S. Department of Labor, Naturalization Service form filled out by my grandfather, John. It is dated July 29, 1926. My guess is the form was needed to be sworn to before he could be declared a citizen. I've seen family naturalization papers, but never a form that preceded the granting of citizenship.

I now know the stated birthday of my grandfather, March 6, 1886, and where the family lived in 1926, which by then consisted of my grandparents and the four brothers, (the last of whom was born in 1916), one of whom was my father. I had always heard before the 18th Street address above the flower shop at 202 Third Avenue, that I remember, they lived at 32nd Street and Second Avenue, a building my father once pointed out to me. I have no idea if it is still there.

In 1926 they apparently lived at 134 2nd Avenue, hard by St Mark's Place. I always heard of the shoe shine parlor (hats blocked as well) and then flower shop they owned at St. Mark's Place, so I guess then they either lived above the business, or nearby.

If you've ever had a reason to view a NYC birth certificate from the early 20th-century you would see there were choices pre-printed on the form as to what your father's occupation was. I always remember seeing "sawyer" as an occupation possibility. I forget the others listed.

The U.S. Department of Labor form reveals that apparently that government agency ran the Naturalization Services, not the State Department, as I would have expected.

The date of my grandfather's entry into the country is noted: March 2, 1903, coming out of the Greek port of Piraeus, on the vessel "Unknown." Apparently you didn't need to know everything to become a citizen. If he was only 17 when he came here he was not yet married. But he was soon after, because the first son was born in 1907, or so.

From another document I've seen, my grandfather went back to Greece to retrieve his 18-year-old brother Peter in 1912. Together they were business partners for life.

But the best part is the last part: what was being sworn to.

"it is my bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly to (filled in) The Present Government of Greece of whom I am now a subject..."

"I arrived at the port of New York..." there's more to attest to:

"I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist nor a believer in the practice of polygamy; and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States of America and to permanently reside therein: SO HELP ME GOD."

So in 1926 the United States was naturally worried about anarchists, because they tended to blow things up. But worrying about polygamists is a fear I never knew the country had.

We've come a long way.


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Hard to Believe

If Donald Trump is Maureen Dowd's punching bag, Ms. Dowd is my favorite punching bag when it comes to her work ethic. At the end of the week that President Trump is impeached by the House, she has no column in Sunday's paper. This is like Derek Jeter taking himself out of the lineup in the seventh game of the World Series. It's unfathomable.

How do you write—when she does write—all year about the president, and then are MIA when he's impeached? Okay, impeachment was a forgone conclusion as soon as he was sworn in, but not to even phone something in—seemingly how most columns go—from the airport, or where she hides, is an abdication of her oath as a reporter. The Pulitzer should be returned.

Talk about something that is anti-climactic. The third impeachment, coming so fairly soon after the second, is just another political blip on the horizon. Talk about a story that has a short news cycle.

I missed the chance last week to write about Ms. Dowd's December 15th column, where she introduced us to the word Apollyon. That time she gave a link. The word, from Ms. Dowd's word-a-day-gift apparently, means "the Devil as destroyer." And now no column following the impeachment, and therefore no great word-of-the-day. What is the world coming to?

I'm including the comment I tried to make last week about Ms. Dowd's column. It was apparently too long and was not accepted. I felt hurt.

Maureen, you're at your best when you're not happy with anyone. And rightly so, there are plenty of misdeeds on all sides of the political and cable aisles that if they were fiber optic cable, the entire earth could get broadband for free. A U.K. campaign promise for the Brits. 

Nice to see that the words you use that I don't know the meaning of, such as Apollyon, have a link in the online piece.  That word-of-the-day gift that we hope someone will give you again in 2020. Once you latch onto a calendar-type gift, you should never let go. It's an easy gift to remember to give. It keeps on giving.

My initial thought was that Apollyon was a character on Outlander, Harry Potter, or Games of Thrones. It's nice to become better informed. 

Sarah Lyall the other day wrote how clinically depressed all the Democrats are that Trump is president. Typical NYT claptrap piece about the psychological and mental angst people are enduring over his administration. Did we miss an uptick in the suicide rate?

The Democratic majority in Congress is trying to tell us they all took the high road, and have only reluctantly taken up impeachment proceedings because they want to tell their grandchildren they acted with valor when they inevitably ask, (or so they believe) "Pop Pop, Gran Mama, what did YOU do when the orange blob was ruining everyone's life? Can we blame the falling birth rate on the Administration? Let's try.

If Nancy Pelosi tells us she doesn't hate Trump, that she prays for him every night, my thoughts are I hope that someday you smile. Perhaps even laugh. 

As Dennis Farina told the worry-wort in 'Midnight Run,' "Sidney, have a cream soda."
And of course since last week we've had the actually impeachment vote. But with Speaker Pelosi's delay in sending it to the Senate, we don't have closure. What now emerges is if the bill of impeachment isn't delivered to the Senate, then the president is not really impeached. At least that's where the law professors are squaring off now.

Is it possible the NYT might have to create a large souvenir headline that tells us: TRUMP NOT IMPEACHED. I'd be sure to save that copy as well.

It's like that Miller Lite beer commercial of years ago where Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner square off that Miller Lite tastes "great." "No, It's less filling." This is going to turn into a right-to-life debate. Conception, or months later? Argue away.

If the bill of impeachment dies a slow death and expires before reaching the Senate, we will miss the spectacle of Chief Justice Roberts perhaps wearing a robe with chevrons, like William Rehnqusit did for President Clinton's impeachment. Chief Justice Rehnquist looked like a very senior college varsity member, perhaps in rowing, presiding over the proceedings. Image is everything when it's historic.

My hope is Ms. Dowd is not too distressed about the prospect that the Senate will never reach a two-thirds majority and complete the impeachment process and actually remove the president from office.

Quite the opposite appears to be more likely. The word impeachment carries such gravitas when it means an indictment has been returned by the grand jury. John Gotti got plenty of those. President Trump will in all great statistical likelihood get re-elected in 2020, despite the impeachment label. His base loves him even more when others don't.

My hope in all this is that Ms. Dowd emerges from wherever she is and allows herself to write about it. I miss learning new words.


Saturday, December 21, 2019


Ever since I started taking out In Memoriam tributes myself in the NYT following the shootings at Empire BlueCross and BlueShield that took the lives of two of my co-workers on September 16, 2002, I've been gazing at that section in the NYT on the obituary page.

Nearly all of them are straightforward remembrances for someone who is still missed. The Johnny Cash song, "I Still Miss Someone" always starts to play in my head as I scan the few that are there every day. You can always figure out the milestone of why the sentiment appears on the day it does. It is always a birthday, or an anniversary of the passing.

But sometimes there are ones that stand out even further. Take the one that was accompanied by a photo of a NYC police officer killed in the line of duty, Thomas J. Gargan, 70 years since he lost his life while responding to a burglary.

And then there was this one a few days ago. Mergenthaler, George Ottmar, August 5, 1920-December 18, 1944 KIA in the Battle of the Ardennes near Eschweiler, Luxembourg.

KIA. Killed in action. Unsigned. This is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, the massive German offensive that took weeks to repel, and was the first time the Germans were on the offensive toward the Allies. The Germans nearly won the battle. It is the 75th anniversary of young Mergenthaler's death.

There are a few books out there now on the battle. 'Home Front to Battlefront An Ohio Teenager in World War II' by Frank Lavin, is a collection of the letters from the author's father, Carl, born in 1924. They trace his entire time in the army, from enlistment, the Battle of the Bulge, to discharge.

There is a forward by Henry Kissinger, who was also in the U.S. Army at the time, and was in the same regiment and battalion, but not the same company as Carl. They did not know each other. Frank Lavin's dedication is one that can be made to any group of veterans: "To the men of Company L: We are here today because they were there yesterday."

George Mergenthaler wasn't was lucky as Carl Lavin. With a name as Teutonic as his, he may not have even been American.

No matter. Someone still misses someone.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Flushing Creek

Corey Kilgannon (@coreykilgannon) has done it again: provided the vibration that loosens another chunk of memory. So many pieces of my memory these days are hitting the page that perhaps there will eventually be no more pieces. The memory vein will cease to yield.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, Mr. Kilgannon is a Metro reporter for the NYT who lately has been writing stories that jar my memory.

Mr. Kilgannon is from Nassau county, and to his credit, he's been able to convince his editors that Queens, despite being an "Outer Borough"—outer, although connected to Manhattan by two bridges a vehicular tunnel, along with several rail tunnels—that there are stories that can come from there. This is refreshing, and just another example of how the NYT has become a bit less starchy and is willing to see where their MetroCard can take them.

Quite honestly, there was a bit of a preview to today's story about Willets Point when Mr. Kilgannon a few weeks ago posted via Twitter some color photos of workers from the Willets Point section that is the subject of an online and print story in today's paper. Another good reason to buy a newspaper. I felt there was a story coming, but didn't know what. No one troops around Willets Point junk yards without something in mind, either legal or illegal.

Willets Point is not just a story today, it is a photo essay, in a separate 12-page section, with text by  Mr. Kilgannon and Andrea Salcedo, and photos—tintype photos—by photographers from the Penumbra Foundation, Geoffrey Berliner and Jolene Lupo, and Todd Hessler from the NYT.

There is a section that  explains the tintype process that renders black and white photos that develop a positive image almost instantly with the scene reversed, like a negative. Thus, when you look at the photos in the section, wording, etc is mirror image. The workers and owners from the section are mechanics who work within the junkyards fixing nearly anything automotive.

The photos render the subjects in such a nostalgic light that you have to remember they are photos taken in 2019. Without the words, you might think you're gazing at something from the 1930s, nowhere near Citifield, the National Tennis Center and jet aircraft overhead from LaGuardia airport

This section of Queens, Willets Point has long been filled with junk yards—salvage yards—and repair shops. But the acreage is shrinking. Development is finally coming.

Once upon a time the stacks of junked autos approached at least two stories, maybe higher. Cranes were used to stack the autos. There were once so many salvage yards that the owners encroached onto city property and made a street disappear under junked metal and plastic.

The city got after them, and pushed the yards back to their proper boundaries, but the presence was still there. Police detectives occasionally checked the inventories for stolen vehicles.

Mr. Kilgannon's and Andrea Salcedo's text is about the repair shops that are populated with a decidedly immigrant population, whose continued presence in the area is facing extinction. Sixty acres of land, near commuter and subway transportation, is what makes city planners and developers want in their Christmas stockings.

But for me, it is the map that is part of the story that opens the vault. It is a great map that clearly shows the bodies of water that surround the area: Flushing Creek, and the much larger Flushing Bay.

Since I grew up and lived about two miles east of all this until I was 43, I am familiar with the history.

I've seen maps that for some reason have relabeled Flushing Creek as Flushing River. This is like calling the Knicks a basketball team. The word river can give you the connotation that something flows. Flushing Creek doesn't flow. It is a mass of sulfurous jell-o so rancid and goppy that you wouldn't need to be the son of God to walk on it.

The section of Flushing I grew up in is called Murray Hill, two blocks from the Murray Hill train Station on the LIRR Port Washington line, a train station whose platform is so short that only four cars of any train that stops there open. There is no way to make the platform longer.

Why there is even  a stop there might be a mystery, but I think it has to do with something regarding a president of the LIRR and someone connected with the Murray estate, a large tract of land that once housed a mansion, which, to no surprise, Mrs. Murray lived in. Long gone and is now the Murray Hill Shopping Center.

Ever since the 1950s I would take the LIRR train into the city to the family flower shop with my father. In those days, the LIRR rolling stock had windows that actually opened, inasmuch as there was no air conditioning. It's not quite true that the cars were so old there were arrow marks in the sides from Indian attacks, but they never looked new to me.

When the train cleared Flushing Main Street the next stops west could have been Elmhurst, or even Corona, two stops that no longer exist. The route went right through Willets Point and the Flushing Creek was visible. If you didn't see it, you certainly smelled it. And there in the creek was a fair sized rowboat, or dinghy that was tied to a piling. It was dissolving in the goo.

Low tide was the smelliest. You wouldn't think a strip of rancid water could be affected by the moon, but it was. I passed that spot for decades and always would marvel that the boat, or what was still left, was still there. Remarkable to me.

Even after I moved away in 1992, there were times I had to take that train to say Bayside. Passing that spot always afforded a view of what was now an even further shrinking of that boat—but I could tell it was still there!

Mr. Kilgannon's piece tells the story of the city's saga to get the junkers out. I've heard about plans for the area for decades, but the land is still undeveloped. The problem with that area of Queens, Willets Point and College Point, is that the water table is very high. The ground can't support much weight on it.

They did mange to build Shea Stadium and now Citifield and now the tennis stadiums with no apparent sinking. They seem to have licked the problem.

Umpteen years ago, just east of the area there was a small airport, Flushing Airport, used by small private planes. Development was stalled for decades because they couldn't build on he land. Again, they seem to have solved the problem and that area of College Point is quite developed, even to the point of being where the NYT is printed.

As a kid I remember the landfill that was used to build LaGuardia airport had trouble keeping the control tower up. The tower sank. Eventually, that story too ended, and the control tower seems to be okay these days.

Rikers Island will soon be up for grabs. Nothing above 150', or someone's TV and sink will be coming onto your snack tray. As Roger Miller once sang: "everything changes a little and should; the good ain't forever, and the bad ain't for good."


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Kiwi Who Could Fly

I borrowed the title from I think a Sports Illustrated story about Peter Snell, the great middle distance runner from New Zealand who won three Olympic gold medals and broke seven world records. Peter Snell has now passed away at 80.

Usually I have high regard for the obits in the New York Times. Someone said they are the gold standard. And since I follow their obits religiously, I was surprised to learn from an Australian newswoman I follow (@justjenking) that one of her retweets was from Dr. Stephen Clarke (@StephenClarkeNZ), who on December 13 posted the obituary of Peter from a New Zealand newspaper. WTF as they say in Twitter code these days.

It is now December 16 and I just now see a simple AP obit? Didn't Frank Litsky leave an advance obit on Snell? A Tweet was made to Bill McDonald, Obituary Page Editor at the NYT informing him that Peter Snell has passed away.

Maybe it had an effect, because there is a bylined obit by Richard Goldstein online today. I guess Litsky never got around to it before he passed away.

In the early '60s I paid a lot of attention to track and field. I was a runner in high school. Never very good, but always willing. In later years I picked running up again doing road races, until 2010 when I stopped due to a bad back.

In the '60s there were six indoor track and field meets at Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue. I probably went to at least three of them a year. I never saw Peter Snell in these meets, and I'm not sure he ever competed at the old Garden, but I did see Jim Ryun once, who was booed because he couldn't break four minutes for the mile on the Garden's 11 laps-to-the-mile wooden track. Not fair. No one did in those days.

The Millrose Games of 1988 featured the men's Masters Mile with a field containing Frank Shorter, Jim Ryun, Peter Snell and others. These runners were all in their 40s by then, with Peter Snell at 49. The race can be seen on YouTube. Frank Shorter finished third behind the winner Web Loudat.

It's great to watch these guys, even at that  age with their antelope strides making yards of track disappear under their feet. The AP obit described Snell's stride as "so powerful he often scarred the tracks on which he ran, kicking up puffs of debris, especially on grass or cinder tracks."

Snell's double in the 1964, winning the 800 meter and the 1500 meter races was something no one had done since 1920, and something that no one has done since. Snell wasn't the only great runner to come from the Antipodes. There was Ron Clarke from Australia, who held world records at an ungodly number of middle distance, even records at a time trial, distance run over a set time.

In the 1964 Olympics Clarke was in the lead in the 10,000 meter race when Billy Mills from the United States caught sight of Clarke up ahead and detected he was starting to tighten up. Clarke did, and Billy Mills, a Marine and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from South Dakota won, giving the U.S. a very unexpected gold medal. Ron Clarke finished third.

For all of Clarke's records, he never won an Olympic gold. There was a Kenny Noe Sports Illustrated story that told of Emile Zatopek, the great Czechoslovakian runner who in the 1952 Olympics won gold in the 5,000, 10,000 meters, and the marathon, the only person to ever do that, who met Clarke  and pressed into his hand one of his gold medals, telling him he should have a gold medal.



On weekends, there is a feature in the WSJ called 'Weekend Confidential' by Elizabeth Winkler. This past week the subject was a woman, Jonna Mendez, who worked for the CIA for 27 years in undercover service. She rose from secretarial duties to Chief of Disguises.

Ms. Mendez has been retired since 1993, but at 74 she is on the board of directors at the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. She had a hand in its design and planning. If Chief of Disguises sounds a bit vague, it's not. She was in charge of creating fake physical personas for agents to help in their infiltration of spy or terrorist cells, or creating body doubles to throw the suspicious off and throw a wrench in tailing a CIA agent. When a agent wasn't in undercover guise they were called in "true face."

Ms. Mendez took part in undercover assignments, once posing as an Afro-American woman in red stilettos, a disguise she loved.

At the outset of Ms. Winkler's story we are introduced to Ms. Mendez who is sitting in the Oval Office with her boss, Robert Gates, the Director of the CIA, Brent Sowcroft, the national security adviser. and President H.W. Bush.

Ms. Mendez tries to get President Bush to guess what see might have in store for him as a surprise to what the tech people at the CIA are doing. President Bush gives Ms. Mendez a studied once over, even standing up and circling her, but can't come up with she might be talking about.

She ten peels the mask off her face, telling Ms. Winkler she was doing what Tom Cruise did in 'Mission Impossible' long before Tom Cruise did it.

You have to think her boss, Director Gates was in on the presentation, because Ms. Mendez has entered the Oval Office, sat with the president and now shows her true face, which I'd have to guess doesn't match her real id card, but instead perhaps the one she came in with. Deception indeed.

Much is otherwise revealed in Ms. Mendez's interview with Ms. Winkler.

Ms. Mendez had many overseas assignments. She tells us at the height of the Cold War the Russians had 50,000 KGB agents in Moscow. That is way beyond the home attendance at several Knick games.

Ms. Mendez points out several items of deception as she takes Ms. Winkler on a tour through the Spy Museum. Lipstick that is a camera; a period in a text that is really a microdot that will reveal many lines of text; a hollowed out brick to accommodate dead drops.

She and the agent who would become her husband, Tony Mendez, went to Hollywood to study makeup and disguises. Unrevealed is if she could have really made Robert De Niro look more youthful in the 'The Irishman' when he gets his truck fixed by Joe Pesci. Or, if she could have made him look Irish. Details

Mr. Mendez was played by Ben Affleck in the movie 'Argo,' based on the exfiltration of six hostages held in the U.S. embassy in Iraq in 1980. The rescuers pretended to be a Canadian film crew.

But the best part might be what hope she holds out for every conspiracy theorist about President Trump's relationship with the Russians.

In all her assignments, particularly in East Berlin, she would guarantee the East German secret police, the Stasi, had planted listening devices and cameras in any hotel room she was staying in. The same would be true in Moscow.

She doesn't know where Donald Trump stayed in Moscow when he visited there before becoming president, but she is 100% certain the room was bugged, and if The Donald did anything in that room he'd rather not let the world to see, there is a tape of it somewhere. Was The Donald naughty or nice?

A comforting thought for many.


Monday, December 9, 2019


The NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon (@coreykilgannon) is turning out to be a reliable muse for putting my memories into blog postings. His latest Tweet involves a photo taken from the outside of what it turns out is the last Tad's restaurant in NYC.

I didn't even know Tad's was even still around, and apparently after the start of 2020 will no longer be. I find it significant that Mr. Killgannon took a picture from the outside, since it probably means he didn't go in and order any food.

It's a great photo, pictured above, and almost gives you that old-timey feel for a place. And given that they've been around in NYC at my earliest memory since the very early '60s, they are an old-timey place.

Since the family flower shop was on 18th Street and 3rd Avenue, the Tad's Steaks that opened on 14th Street across from the Automat and the Con Ed building proved to be a natural attraction for my father to take me for something to eat.

He was a meat lover who incinerated steaks over a charcoal flame in the Flushing backyard, so a Tad's Steak cooked "to order' was an irresistible chance to get someone else to do the cooking.

At the time, Tad's was $1.19 for the steak, probably a potato of some kind, a salad, and piece of toasted garlic flat bread that to me seemed to be the best part of the offering. The steaks were cooked over a grill from a gas flame, and watching the steaks being arranged on sections of the grill according to how much they were getting cooked was part of the charm. It was almost like watching a pizza guy twirl the dough.

The "chef" would stab at the pieces of meat with a long handled pitch fork and shuffle them along the grill, You grabbed a red tray and waited for your order to be completed. My father would tell me of grandpa who would eat steak and eggs for breakfast.

Steak and eggs for breakfast was not a family secret to long life. Mt grandfather passed away at 76, and my father didn't get past 72. There is no extreme longevity in the family. At least not yet.

Tad's was not a regular place to eat, but we did eat there a few times. I don't know if it was the price increase to $1.29 that put the brakes on any continued meals. Imagine, changing a neon sign from $1.19 to $1.29.

They were steaks that came off the grill. And they were cooked. They were however barely edible, and should have come with shoelaces. It you ordered two, you could have a pair for footwear. And since the 14th street of that era was a bit of a dividing line between near-respectability and the poor fellows on the Bowery, if you saw someone wearing a pair of Tad's Steaks on their feet you could at least be assured their feet were protected.

You could eat a Tad's Steak. If your knife and fork exerted enough downward pressure you could saw off a few bits of something you could chew and swallow. With the side pieces, it wasn't a completely inedible meal.

Sometime in the mid-'70s my wife and I ate at a Tad's on Lexington Avenue. I think I did if for the nostalgia. Even then, I didn't realize they were still around. Later on, sometime in the '90s, my colleague and I laughed at an out-of-town IT contractor who did some work for us and was eager to know where the nearest Tad's Steaks was. We couldn't believe it. Someone wanted to eat there.

I have to think tourists became the customer base. The outlets that were still around were in tourist trafficked area. The New York Post story, linked above, tells the story of a couple from Finland who spent $67 on a meal for two, since they added a $22 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I don't remember Tad's having a wine and beer license, bur I can imagine a couple from Finland feeling they were getting a good meal, even for $67, with wine. I remember watching a detective series set in either Finland, or Iceland and watching what the inhabitants there, especially north of the Arctic Circle, ate.

Eating at Tad's would be like eating at a fine NYC steak-house compared to the bony offerings depicted in that series.

Bon appetit.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Subway Map

Another good reason for buying a daily print paper is to see in this morning's NYT a full page devoted to the evolution of the subway map as we now know it. (A 1939 vintage subway map above is not in NYT story. Note World's Fair in Queens.)

The ability to print the maps shown in color of course enhances the presentation. There is also an online interactive version which for some reason is not linked or referred to in the story, but is available if you follow @emmagf on Twitter, the NYT mass transit reporter who has now been promoted to be the City Hall Bureau Chief and who now rides a different subway to work.

The full page depiction is great, but only goes as far back as 1972, a year I'm sure that predates Emma and most of the NYT Metro Desk reporters, but a year that hardly predates myself. My comment to Ms. Fitzsimmons is one she can understand coming from me: you didn't go back far enough.

The other morning I checked out Turner Movie Chanel (TMC) and was rewarded with Clark Gable at Hialeah in a 1937 movie titled 'Saratoga.' The movie had already started, but through the ability of the DVR I was able to record the movie from the start. Being a life-long horse player, I'm looking forward to a full viewing later.

The scene I caught was the Gable character, clearly a fast-talking bookmaker of the pre-parimutel era, (in a double-breasted suit with sharp labels, no checkered coat) sitting with someone else and discussing the upcoming day's races. The person sitting with Gable describes the wiles of a woman as someone "who double-crossed you like the 6th Avenue El."

Well, maybe a close second to Gable, who has laid the hypnotic desire in Walter Pidgeon to place  a $5,000 bet on a nag called Rest Her. Gable has apparently spent some time with Walter's girlfriend who is back at the hotel, and got her to convince Pidgeon, the pigeon that she's got a premonition that Rest Her is going to score big time.

Gable offers 7-1 odds to Pidgeon, who sits and watches the unfolding of the race, with Rest Her fading badly to finish last and who will likely only make it back to the barn, "just in time for dinner." Chicanery rules.

But the 6th Avenue El reference hits home. At one point there were elevated trains on 9th, 6th, 3rd and 2nd Avenues. I only remember the 3rd Avenue El that came down around 1955. The others were respectively demolished between 1938 and 1942.

My friend's father, who passed away in 1968, was born in 1902 near the 9th Avenue El in upper Manhattan. We remember him telling us it was one "high up there" line. At points, it looks like a roller coaster.

If you've ever seen photos of the 6th Avenue El wending its way through Herald Square you would know why the character sitting with Clark Gable remarks that is was crooked. It certainly was, as it would need to be if you understand how 6th Avenue and Broadway cross each other at Herald Square. (They still do, but now it's mostly a pedestrian plaza with bistro chairs and tables, a sometimes piano, and a permanent ping-pong table. Yes, a ping-pong table. And Mom always said you shouldn't play in the street. The times, they are a changin'.)

Somewhere in my collection of paper I have an old subway map that shows at least the 3rd and 2nd Avenue Els. The map is of course black and white. I also have photos of the 2nd and 3rd Avenue lines.

The 1972 map has been referred to as the Mondrian Map, as its straight colored lines can be seen to resemble his famous paintings. The map was a favorite depiction on t-shirts and coffee mugs, and I'm sure can be obtained at the Transit Museum gift shop.

That map resembled the 1930s map of the London subway. It's drawback was that it didn't show what was around the various stops. It really gave you no sense of say how to get to the Museum of Natural History.

All that was addressed in the 1979 and the 1998 versions. The current version is a true visual map of what's next to each stop, with the city's geographic terrain accurately depicted as well as the true shape of the subway lines.

You don't need an old map to pick out there are many "crooked" subway lines. Is it just my imagination that they seem most crooked in lower Manhattan, where the stock exchange, courts and City Hall are?


Friday, December 6, 2019

Welcome to New York Sports

I know Michael Powell has been with the NYT for a bit now.  I've been reading pieces under his byline for just as long when they are about a sport I care about. And I care about the Mets.

I miss the daily 'Sports of the Times' column that originated from the minds of Arthur Daley, Red Smith, Dave Anderson and Robert Lipsyte. But Mike today, under the banner of 'Sports of the Times' 'proves he can be in their league.

Unless you've been heavily sedated, you should know by now that the ownership of the Mets is quickly headed toward a majority ownership by Stephen A. Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire and likely the model for Bobby Axelrod, of Axe Capital in the Showtime series 'Billions.'

Mike drops several nuggets in his piece telling us, "Cohen commands a great pile of stones in Greenwich, Conn.—a palazzo with more bedrooms and more bathrooms than you could count in this and another lifetime..."

"As Cohen is a raptor's raptor, I would bet a large sum of money I don't have that the Wilpons will quickly become potted plants..." They will no doubt be seen in a private box, and perhaps won't have their belt buckles wanded as they enter, but the words "putative ownership will apply.

"A new owner who will burn bonfires of his cash in pursuit of a championship is like water falling on the desert of Mets fandom"

Mike's admission of caring for the Mets matches my own, but mine goes back to their inception. I lived about two miles east of Shea Stadium and sometimes walked to the games. I remember all the owners, especially the first, Joan Payson, sister of John Hay (Jock) Whitney, publisher of the now long-defunct Herald Tribune.

Mrs. Payson was not a flashy owner, and was one who also owned horses, particularly Stage door Johnny, who won the 1968 Belmont Stakes for Greentree Stable. An older fellow who was part of our original crowd commented, "there she in the winners circle in her dress from Macy's." She was a lifelong fan of the New York Giants and desperately wanted to bring a National League team back to the city. She also adored Willie Mays, and was able to eventually get him to be on the Mets, although late in his career.

The Duponts and M. Donald Grant were notable for causing heartache, but the Wilpons and Nelson Doubleday did help create some glory.

The Wilpons have probably never recovered from the Bernie Maddoff wipe-out. Selling a controlling interest to a hedge fund billionaire might just be their revenge for the bath they took when Bernie was sent to prison for life.

Steve Cohen of course skirted a similar fate through a carefully constructed organization that gave him a stay-out-of-jail card: plausible deniability.

Wealthy people own teams. You have to be to own one. If I'm right, the Green Bay Packers might be the only mutual ownership there is—fans own shares.

So, Steve comes into town with the memories of George Steinbrenner still in some peoples' heads. George was a character in himself, and eventually a convicted felon for running afoul of campaign laws regarding monies to Richard Nixon.

But that is so far in the past that it is outside most contemporary memories. It is unlikely Cohen will interfere with running the team so much that we see a Billy Martin carousel come through Flushing. After all, there will never be another Billy Martin, not with statistical driven baseball and replay reviews. Umpires do not have to shine their shoes so often these days, and mangers don't have to grab a bat when free beer in Cleveland goes a bit crazy. Can you imagine Billy giving a dugout interview to say Jessica Mendoza, or a guy with a bow tie?

Steve A. Cohen is the perfect new owner for the times. Stock picking has become driven by algorithms, probabilities and programmed trading. The "Quants" rule. The new Holy Grail is a self-adjusting, heuristic trading program that makes millions while you sleep, taking advantage of every time zone there is in a a 24-hour world. The bunt sign is driven by the results appearing on an iPad.

Say what you will about Mr. Cohen's brush with the Feds and a $1.8 billion fine that probably came out of petty cash. Any Met fan will tell you, in the immortal words of Al Davis,"just win, baby, win."


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Smoke A Rope

Something will forever remind me of something else, and the news that thieves are stealing hemp plants thinking they're marijuana plants in the hope they can smoke or sell the plants and get high is just another example.

Yesterday's NYT carries the story from Salem, NY by Sarah Maslin Nir about hemp farms being mistaken for marijuana growth is a perfect example of why a good daily newspaper matters. I mean, where else are you going to read that Salem, NY—a Washington County town not terribly far from Saratoga Springs—is home to hemp farms and thieves who think they are acting like a Mexican Cartel and making off with plants, that when smoked, will do nothing for your high but cloud up the room.

The Times has certainly become far less starchy when the headline to the story goes: "Dude, Drop the Plant, It Won't Get You High." It's not your grandfather's newspaper anymore.

I still get the print edition of The Times, and with home delivery, I also get the online edition, which carries the same words but more photos, and in sharp color.

From Ms. Nir's Twitter profile I can easily see that perhaps when the idea was pitched to do a story on marijuana plant thieves, her hand went up. She's certainly youthful looking enough.

But you certainly don't need to be a thirty-something or a jazz musician to understand what marijuana is all about. I have a contemporary friend who is slightly older than myself who was an advocate for decriminalizing the stuff ever since the '60s when he was stuffing the green flakes in little rubber 35mm film canisters. He has now lives in Simi Valley, CA and has lived long enough to see his movement come to pass state legislatures. He was at Woodstock, and still has his ticket that went uncollected.

If you're not familiar with Salem, NY you won't find it in Westchester County—that's North Salem, NY—and naturally south of Salem, NY. The story goes that hemp farmers are finding their fields illegally harvested by those who think they are making off with marijuana plants. Hemp and marijuana are in the same botanical family, and bear more than a strong resemblance to each other in sight and smell.

Hemp is distinguished chemically by containing only trace amounts of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychotic component that delivers the high. Hemp does contain CBD, cannabidiol, a chemical that is now increasingly used as a pain reliever and is widely available in pharmacies.

My first reaction to reading about hemp was that's where rope comes from, no? Yes, for thousands of years hemp has been used to makes sails and sailing ropes, and is probably what I used as a kid to tie newspapers up. I still tie newspapers up, but it's probably sisal rope I'm now using, or whatever Home Depot sells in huge spools.

The current farms are growing hemp for industrial use, but rope is not mentioned in the story. In an accompanying story the farmers can now get loans from banks for their crop. They are no longer lumped in with drug cartels.

Apparently, the thieves are pervasive, and have led the farmers to resort to all kinds of preventive measure, like video surveillance and guard dogs. But, thieves still steal away in the night, and dogs sleep, and ninjas in cammo with no moonlight do not video well. Hemp is a cash crop, even if for the wrong reason.

I grew up hearing the expression "smoking rope." I never understood why someone was telling my uncles they were smoking "rope" when the best I could tell was they were smoking cheap cigars. They were of course being kidded for stinking up the joint.

But apparently, hemp is smoked, if for the mistaken belief it will get you high. And what does the story of the hemp plants being mistaken for marijuana plants remind me of? Easy.

Years and years ago Playboy ran a cartoon of hippies holding up what looked like a Fink bread truck and coming away disappointed, telling each other that, "Hey man, it really is bread."

They must have been smoking rope.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Annual Column

Every Thanksgiving Maurren Dowd seems to go home and has a meal with her right-leaning family and lets her brother's comments become her column for the week. It is refreshing to realize that the whole family is not like Maureen. If we lived next door to the family we wouldn't be tempted to move.

Maureen's brother Kevin, whose photo accompanies the online edition of her Sunday column, looks more like an Irishman than Robert De Niro trying to play an Irish character in 'The Irishman,' a thoroughly tedious Martin Scorsese rehash of every mob character he ever put on the screen. Kevin is not part of that slice of humanity, but what he does is not revealed, other than what we know about dad being a Capitol police officer who tackled some Puerto Rican nationalists in the 50s who wanted to deprive Truman of his life outside the Blair House.

Kevin is unshakeable in his support of the president, even while admitting President Trump does seem to lack some social graces and is often a bully, "his manners can sometimes be missing. He can be coarse and a bully." Certainly true.

The Donald, certainly never one to miss promoting himself, apparently sent Kevin a signed copy of a Maureen Dowd column he did like, one of course that became Kevin's column. Say what you will about the president, his signature is certainly presidential. In my prior life I used to do audits for a health insurance company and once had to make a field trip to the Hotel Trade Association and verify their membership.

Part of the documentation I reviewed was a copy of a check written my The Donald for his health insurance. It was an unmistakable signature that I, even then, immediately recognized as being authentic. It is of course still unmistakable.

You have to give Maureen credit for putting a family reunion over her sense of politics. And you have to give her family credit for serving her turkey and not making her eat crow.