Thursday, August 6, 2020


In all these years of writing blog postings I've seldom written about members of my family, particularly my wife. She fully acknowledges she doesn't read anything I write, but I'm used to being ignored by people, even by my closest family member. Other people do read what I read, albeit, in tiny quantities.

I can't really explain her talent for reconstructing whole dialogues from years, perhaps even decades ago. My daughter Susan remarks how Mom can come up with the most trivial of remembrances years and years later, like where they ate after the older daughter Nancy's wedding shower 16 years ago.

It is remarkable considering my wife fails to remember the names of people she just heard about on television when trying to tell me what they said. "Oh, I forget. You know who." No I don't.

It's as if she could be a court reporter or stenographer and function without a pad or the machine. All husbands deny what they've said, but when my wife tells me that I once said I didn't "like Charmin toilet paper "I will believe her I must have said it, but do wonder in what context the utterance came up. 

I attribute her talent for remembered dialogue to years and years of watching soap operas, when there was a wide variety to choose from. Anyone who can follow those plot lines that take years to unravel has to have a good memory.

Her favorites were Guiding Light and Days of Our Lives. I mean you have to be able to remember things watching those shows because there is no action, only people floating around dressed to the nines wearing beautiful dresses and earrings at 2:00 in the afternoon, pouring a drink and moaning about their life.

And it's hardly only women who watch these shows. One of my male friends when he was over would go over the latest episodes of one of the shows with my wife to the point that when I overheard them talk, I thought they had just gotten back from a family reunion. "Who are you talking about?"

Now that my daughter Susan has joined a good part of the rest of world and bought a house with her husband, she finds herself at Home Depot as much as at the supermarket. And the other day I joined her. She needed things. I needed things, and for one of the very few times, I was there without my wife.

We have a side shed and store extra bales of toilet paper an paper towels there. The shed doesn't leak, and the goods don't spoil. My wife's not a hoarder per se, she just like to take advantage of a good price when it rolls around and "stock up."

I report on the inventory and lately told her we were down to two bales each of paper towels and toilet paper. Hardly an emergency, but I figured a reorder point. She told me I probably wouldn't find the paper towels at Home Depot. They'd be sold out. And they were.

The fact that you can but paper goods like that at a home improvement store shows you how great this country is. We genuinely live in the land of plenty.

But Home Depot did have one bale of Charmin toilet paper left, and I bought it along with the other few items on my list. I got home about 9:30 that evening and left the unloaded goods in the vestibule. The next morning the dialogue started:

Did you save your Home Depot receipts?
Sure, why do you ask?
We don't use Charmin toilet paper. We always use Scott's. I can take it back.
What? It's toilet paper. Who cares who makes it? Charmin is all they had.
You said years ago you don't like Charmin. It's too soft.
I said there's a toilet paper I don't like? I don't remember ever stating a preference. How could I tell you I don't like Charmin if you've always been bringing Scott's into the house? What, I went over to a neighbor's in time of need and came home and said I don't like their Charmin?
You did. You said you don't like Charmin.
I went over a neighbor's? There's people out there who might not be able to get toilet paper still. And here we've got a bale of Charmin and you're going to take it back? I'm not taking it back.
We'll see. Maybe I'll take it back Saturday.
Well, suit yourself. When you need toilet paper at that critical time it's always good to realize you have toilet paper, not who made it.

The fate of this bale of Charmin is still undecided. I have a feeling it's going to get to stay. Then someday when the time comes, I'll try and remember what I thought of using it. We'll then see if Charmin ever makes it back into the house.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Untouchables

If you are aware of current speech patterns, you'll recognize that "of a certain" age has come to be the euphemism for "older." An indeterminate older, but someone who is easily above 50.

I take in a little early morning TV news and of course hear all the commercials, most of which are pointed toward people of a certain age with compromised health or i need of money. There's one that touts, "if you're over 50, wouldn't you like to make one-third more in retirement money." It's an ad for an insurance company's annuities. I always talk back to the TV: "50? that shipped sailed for me quite a while ago."

Then there are the drug ads. Prior to my recent medical event from which I'm doing quite well, thank you, I used to feel left out of the pitch. Even at 71, I wasn't taking anything they were pushing. I just plain didn't have the ailments the drug companies had a treatment for.

The other night I was watching a Jeopardy episode, one of those throw-back replays where Alex seemed to wear better suits, and there it was, an ad for Brilinta. Hey, I take Brilinta. I feel I finally joined to club. I joked to the cardiologist that Brilinta sounds like Tom Brady's wife. Or at least should be Tom Brady's wife. (Maybe someday she will be.)

I do read books, but I read book reviews the most. I always like the book reviews in the WSJ, one because they are always in the same part of the paper Monday through Friday, and two, they're seldom about novels, but rather about finance, science, history and true crime. There's little that interests me less than a review about the psychological byplay of the latest novel that explores the depths of human emotion and the ironies of life. The NYT is great for those reviews.

I've long accepted that I'm of "a certain age." But according to Tom Nolan's review of Eliot Ness and the mad Butcher by Max Alan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz,  I'm of an "even earlier era" all because I remember The Untouchables starring Robert Stack as Eliot Ness in the TV series (1959-1963) and not just those "of a certain age" who remember the 1987 movie starring Kevin Kostner that was stolen by Sean Connery's performance as a Irish Chicago cop who famously scoffs at someone who brings a "knife to a gunfight."

The implication is clear. If you remember a 1987 movie, you're headed for dotage. If you remember anything earlier, well, you're taking televised medication and belong to an era just after dinosaurs.

Anyway, yes, I do remember the TV series where Stack and his shoulder-holster crew are always going after Al Capone and Frank Niti, especially Frank Niti. As a growing lad I became fascinated with gangsters. I bought a pulp paperback about the famous criminals of the 1930s, the and jails they were sent to, and hid it under the mattress. When my parents found it they were greatly concerned about where I might be vocationally headed. Parents worry about everything.

I remember reading about the real life Eliot Ness and what he did after bringing down Capone and sending him to the Big Island, Alcatraz. The latest book about Eliot Ness picks up when he becomes the police chief in Cleveland and aids in bringing a halt to some gruesome killings by a serial killer who left headless torsos in the woods.

One almost wishes the killings were reported on by the New York Post. The headlines in 1938 would have been worthy of the Headline Hall of Fame. "Headless dead" lead off each reports of another body.

In Cleveland, Ness formed another hand-picked squad and became instrumental in getting the psychotic doctor, Francis Sweeney, who was performing his own version of unauthorized autopsies. Apparently, so pervasive and gruesome where the murders, the foreign press even  became aware of the story. Germany, of all countries, scolded the U.S. when the Nazi press made fun of our country's inability to bring the "Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run" to justice. Imagine Nazis making fun of murders. Now there's an irony of life.

Regardless, Ness and his crew were able to get the sod committed to a mental institution. His guilt was inconvertible, but too circumstantial for a court conviction. Anyway, once Sweeney was institutionalized, the murders stopped.

Ness's Chicago crew became called The Untouchables because they were hand-picked and were outside corruption influences. They couldn't be bought. The book review is interesting in that I didn't know the Dick Tracy comic strip by Chester Gould was spawned by Ness's success. I distinctly remember the comic strip. It held price of place on the front page in the Sunday Daily News, in color, with crimestopper tips and always a reference to Tracy's "two-way wrist radio." Who didn't wish for one of those?

Another nugget is that when Ness passed away at 54 of a heart attack in 1957, he was $9,000 in debt. I don't know what that is today's dollars, but I'm sure it's relatively significant.

The Robert Stack series was immensely popular. I remember the Italian defamation people were getting pissed off that the thugs were always Italian. Their pleas for diversity in crime were successful because the show bowed to pressure and introduced Greek gangsters, an ethnic group who my family is part of on my father's side and who, to this day, do not possess a great deal of political clout. I've grown up always saying that in NYC it's best if you're Catholic or Jewish to help you enjoy being near the seats of influence.

Despite my parents concern for my new-found interest in gangsters, I remember  my father was at some dinner that Robert Stack was at. My father brought home a glossy of The Untouchables crew signed by Stack with a inscription to me. Sadly, I don't know what happened to it.

Untouchable certainly has  meaning beyond crime fighter. There is outcast caste in India that is referred to as the Untouchables. And then there are The Untouchables who browse at Barney's.

Huh? Well, as always, something always reminds me of something else, and in the late '60s or early '70s Barney's men's store at the very unfashionable location of 7th avenue and 17th Street started an advertising promotion where you could just come in and browse. I'd shopped at Barney's, and they always descended on you as soon as you walked in, made you wait a bit, then assigned you to a salesman based on what you were interested in. There was no free-range browsing.

The campaign they started was a "Just Looking" button that you asked for, pinned it to your jacket, then descended down the stairs to roam around on your own.

Myself and two other guys from the office made our way over to Barney's on lunch hour one day, asked for the "Just Looking" buttons and descended the staircase.

A salesman at the bottom of the stairs looked at us, and derisively said, "Oh, here come the Untouchables."

I wish I still had that button.

Monday, August 3, 2020

A Day At the Spa

It was another nice day at Saratoga yesterday. And I wasn't there.

The pandemic lockdown continues. I was only there virtually through the benefit of the all day telecast brought to sports-starved fans through the TV stations FoxSports1&2, and MSG, sponsored thankfully by the sire prospects for the horse Run Happy, Claiborne Farm—where he proudly stands in the hallowed stall No. 1— and by Petaluma Farm Cheese. Thank God for sponsors.

At least NYRA doesn't see the hokey need to put cutouts of fans in the stands or leaning over the rail. There is no simulated sound and no there is no computerized CGI of someone ripping up a fistful of tickets.

In fact, ripping up tickets is pretty much a thing of the past considering the online betting and the use of vouchers and self-help betting machines. No one is going to drop their voucher on the floor after a losing race if there is still money on it.

A few years ago I sampled NYRA's creation of their Top of the Stretch section at Saratoga. It is a gussied up accommodation with nicer seats and food deliveries carved out of the unused seats at the very end of the track. It is hardly worth it.

I will always remember the poor teen-age girl sporting braces who found summer employment at Saratoga holding the long handled trash scooper and broom, stationed near the bathrooms, who had the boring job of sweeping up discarded tickets. She was there to keep the place clean.

She had nothing to do. I explained to her that no one drops anything on the floor these days, and that she was in for a long day of having little to do. I'm not sure I made her happy, but I did sympathize with her. At least she was getting paid.

Watching the telecasts from Saratoga I can only be frustrated. It's not enough that there are no plans to go there this year, it's that you can't go there. You're not allowed.

It is painful to look at the photos posted by the DRF photographer Barbara Livingston and turf journalist Teresa Genaro of scenes from the track. I know Ms. Livingston lives in a nearby town, and Ms. Genaro comes from Saratoga Springs and still has family in the area. It is home for them.

It's very odd to see Jose Ortiz take time after his race to lean over the rail and watch the replay, and then see him disappear under the stands to go back to the jocks room, unaccompanied. Saratoga's configuration requires the jocks to walk under the stands and travel a bit on the back apron to get back to the jock's room.

Security always bodyguards the jocks when they do this walk, but Saratoga fans hurl no insults their way. They want autographs. And the jocks quickly comply while walking back. There are even markings in the floor to guide the jockeys on the protected route to take. But no fans, no security needed. It's all very tame and very empty.

But, through the convenience of downloadable past performances and flat panel televisions, it is possible to at least be virtually at the track while sitting at home.

And Saturday was always my day to be there. Downstate there was one year when I first starting loving the game that I went to either Aqueduct or Belmont 31 times. And the season then only ran from March through mid-December. Saratoga's meet was only 24 days (6 days x 4 weeks) in the month of August. And back then I didn't go to Saratoga, and there was no TV coverage of a card like there is today. Sometimes things do get better.

No member of The Assembled was coming over yesterday. Johnny M. had other plans, and Bobby G. was at the beach house with the extended family with his toes in the sand. I did offer Bobby G. my handicapping numbers, but by the time he read the email most of the card was over. He had no betting interest anyway. He likes to be there. Jose I'm sure went to a Capital District OTB since he lives in Rockland. I'll hear from him eventually.

So, how did I do? In the old days there would never be 12 races on a card. And a Saturday wouldn't sport five maiden races. But you need maiden races to produce winners who can then qualify for the next level. And there were five stakes races, three of which were Grade 1s: The Personal Ensign, the Whitney and the fairly newly named H. Allen Jerkens that was formally The King's Bishop and usually part of the Travers card. But this is a unique year. So, there really were no complaints about "the card."

Midnight Bisou was the marquee entry of the day, and in the five horse Personal Ensign, the race that is really the Whitney for older mares, four and up. Racing loves symmetry.

Midnight Bisou is a formidable foe. She lost a close race in the Saudi Cup to Maximum Security, a male horse. All her wins have been in graded stake races. Her dollar odds are usually microscopic, and Saturday's 30¢ to the dollar was no exception. No show wagering. NYRA didn't want to risk the prospect of paying for a minus pool due to bridge jumpers putting so much money on her to show that they'd have to subsidize the pool to pay the $2.10 minimum required by law.

Our surely by now departed mentor, Les, "Mr. Pace" at whose knee we learned a great deal about the game ("pace makes the race." He said it so often we just called him Mr. Pace.) had a strong prejudice about the reliability of female horses to deliver when you wanted them do.

Les was older than us, and came from a strong prejudicial view of women and their abilities. So, he of course transferred that prejudice to animals. He pejoratively would just utter the word "fillies" as if he was spitting out the word "fuck."

He would forever tell us the story of Twilight Tear who lost her race in 1945 at 15¢ to the dollar—as part of an entry no less—who finished fourth at Laurel in a six horse field in the 16K Maryland Handicap, against males, on October 21, 1944, carrying 130 pounds over a muddy track, and the poor slob who then toppled off the roof (many tracks allowed viewing from the roof of the stands in those days) after a self-inflicted, well-placed gunshot wound to his head.

Twilight Tear was that era's Midnight Bisou, running 24 times with an 18-2-2 record. However, that day she was doing TWO things she had never done before: carry that much weight, and run on a gooey track labeled muddy. Pittsburgh Phil's rule would have kicked in and told any smart bettor to never bet on a horse trying to do something they've never done before. Pittsburgh Phil made a lot of money at the racetrack following his rules, posthumously published in 1908 and still worth absorbing today.

Twilight Tear was Les's proof that you can't trust a female. I've tried to verify Les's story about the guy topping himself, but could never find an account of it. No matter. It was urban legend for Les, and that's all the proof he needed.

So, how do I play the Personal Ensign, if I play it at all? I don't share Les's views on females, but I do know they usually all get beat, male and female. Saratoga didn't earn the nickname "Graveyard of Champion" for nothing.

I played some 50¢ tris that would yield some boxcar prices if Midnight ran out at 30¢ to the dollar, a thoroughly unlikely scenario since she was not really being asked to do anything she hadn't done before. She'd won at the distance, won at the track, and already carried the 124 pounds and won. She was a rocket launch waiting to happen. The paddock analyst Acacia Courtney described her in such glowing terms that she was Miss America, Ms Courtney herself once being Miss Connecticut.

But hey, they still have to run the race, and perhaps Midnight Bisou stumbles, or just plain doesn't have it today. I can't believe I thought along  the same lines as Andy Serling and made a cold exacta bet with Vexatious over Midnight Bisou. I was thinking of Les, just a bit. Andy never met Less. He had his own reasons.

My reward was a $42.20 $2 exacta with Vexatious over Midnight Bisou after a stirring stretch drive. It's only the fifth race and I'm on Cloud Nine. I've got to do well, right?

Racing will treat you the same way if you're there or not. I saw Tom's d'Etat fall out of the gate and lose all chance of giving me my boxed exacta. I always call a busted exacta a bowling 1-3 split.

Then there was the DQ in the 11th race when it was ruled Sadler's Joy interfered with horses in the stretch. Sadler won at 8/5 but was taken down and placed fourth. You win some inquiries and you lose some inquiries, and it's never fun to lose them.

I usually need to cash in on three races to have a winning day. A .300+ hitter in baseball can win a batting crown. A .300+ bettor can make money.

But a frustrating day at he race—or virtually at the races—never prevented people like myself from coming back. And remembering Les and what he thought about fillies and mares.

Losing only very little is right up there with a winning day.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Penny

Once again the planned elimination of the penny is in the news. I've been reading about its elimination for at least 20 years now, and it's not the repetition of this effort that gets me, it's that NO ONE quotes Benjamin Franklin's, "A penny saved is a penny earned." The penny has poor legal representation. It's going to fall eventually. But when?

The usual arguments are advanced. There is a general coin shortage now anyway due to the slowing of the economy due to the coronavirus and the pandemic; more people are using digital transactions to buy things. And perhaps the most businesslike reason advances, it costs 2¢ cents to make a 1¢ coin. There'is a concept I wasn't aware of: the government is supposed to make money, or at least break even. When?

Paul Volcker once said "money has velocity," and right now it's moving as slow as molasses in winter.

The latest story I read was in yesterday's NYT. And count on The Times to trot out a quote from someone from Harvard or Yale. Jenny Gross's story includes an observation from N. Gregory Mankiw, an economics professor at Harvard University who says the argument for getting rid of the penny "has only gotten stronger over the decades, as inflation has suppressed the penny's purchasing power." Still, he said he did not think, "any changes would happen soon."

He's got that right. The penny is as good as protected by an unworded Second Amendment, just as  the worded Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. Say goodbye to the penny and weapons? Fuhgetaboutit!

Our northern neighbor Canada seems to be the most progressive on making changes to their physical currency. They long ago eliminated the $1 and $2 denominations of their paper money and replaced the bills with coins—durable metal—called Loonies and Twonies, $1 and $2 coins distinguished by how many loons (waterfowl, not politicians) are depicted on the back of the coin.

Ms. Gross's story also tells us Canada stopped making the 1¢ coin in 2012. I guess the elimination of the coin will occur through attrition. Eventually, there will be so many in jars, drawers, cans and piggy banks throughout the provinces that there will no longer be any in general circulation. A deadline will be declared on redeeming the pennies for credit, and the extinction will be complete.

Arguments for keeping the penny are weak. There is the sentiments that it will amount to a 1¢ sales tax on items costing 99¢. This is bogus. Just make te floor rpice $1 and Bob's your uncle, no one will realize they might b paying an unseen tax.

Then there's the argument that the older pennies are made of copper, a metal that resists holding onto germs. Thus, rubbing your hands with fistfuls of old pennies will introduce sanitary handling of money. Older pennies are antimicrobial, perfect for the pandemic era.

Rubbish. How many "old" pennies do you see? In 1982 the metal composition of the penny went to 2.5% copper and 97.5% zinc. Copper became far too valuable to use to make a 1¢ coin. Copper was being vandalized from wires in electrical boxes and tunnels and melted down for its value. Pennies were ripe candidates for the smelting pot.

With my grammar school education that started in the early '50s, I can never forget what we learned of presidents and American History. And part of that history was always Benjamin Franklin, the guy who captured electricity by tying a key to a kite's string and standing in a lightening storm; the guy who invented bifocals; the guy who signed the Declaration of Independence; the guy who designed a stove.

More modern depictions of Franklin's role in American history were when they aired the miniseries on John Adams starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, when Adams opens a bathroom door in France and interrupts Franklin, who is sitting naked in a bathtub with a naked, older but quite preserved looking French woman. I think they're playing cards, or chess, and probably footsies.

Franklin was a man about town, and apparently was popular with the ladies on both sides of the Atlantic. He was never part of any cabinet position, but was an ambassador to Sweden and France. We was the first Postmaster General. He was instrumental in getting the Paris Peace Treaty signed that ended the first war with Britain. The big one we call the American Revolution.

Yanking out my seldom used edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations there are two and a half pages of his utterances, but amazingly nothing about the penny. The Wikipedia entry does acknowledge the sentiment taken from Franklin's 'Poor Richard's Almanac, "A penny saved is twopence dear" (often misquoted as "A penny saved is a penny earned." Franklin also famously said of house guests: "Fish and visitors stink in three days." He certainly get a lot of things right.

Ms. Gross points out correctly that only Congress has the power to eliminate the coin, and past efforts have proved elusive. "The biggest change was in 1857 when the Congress discontinued the half cent, which was unpopular."

She tells the story of "Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona who once introduced legislation in the early and mid-2000s to eradicate the penny while he was in Congress. His efforts were stymied because Dennis Hastert, then the House speaker and other representatives from Illinois opposed the legislation, in part because the penny since 1909 has carried the image of Abraham Lincoln, who spent eight years in the Illinois legislature."

The introduction of Lincoln on the penny starting in 1909 was a commemorative celebration of the centennial of his birth. Lincoln's image replaced the Indian Head penny. Imagine an Indian Head penny being in circulation today. It wouldn't stand a chance.

So, will the next attempt at legislation to eliminate the penny result in a Patrick Henry-like speech from the floor of the House of Representatives, quoting Benjamin Franklin on the virtues of thrift?

Not a chance.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

An Omission for the Ages

I am STUNNED. Not by the news that the composer of the ditty "Alley Cat," Bent Fabric, has passed away at 95, but rather by the colossal omission that the word 'wedding' does not appear anywhere in his NYT obituary by Katharine Q. Seelye.

Okay, at neither of my daughters' weddings did they play "Alley Cat." Nancy was married in 2005 and Susan in 2018, so maybe the piece of music was declared off-limits for the 21st century, but certainly not the 20th century. And that was only 20 years ago.

I remember being at a wedding in 1971 when my boss got married. When the first strains of "Alley Cat" floated through the air I headed to the bathroom. Hardly being a dancer, I wanted no part of the "you put your left-foot out..." routine. I wasn't the only one heading for the sanctity of running water. I remember one of the female guests teasing the evacuees about their dance floor desertion.

And I didn't stop hearing "Alley Cat" at that 1971 wedding. There were several weddings after that I watched the guests being lead into the dance routine. I know "The Chicken Dance" seemed to take over as the novelty musical number, but "Alley Cat" certainly has more class. There seems to be sufficient grounds to deny people who've been lead onto the dance floor a school board seat at the next election. Especially if they've had more than a few.

Of course The Macarena has succeeded "The Chicken Dance." Or at least it seemed to at the last few weddings I attended. But "Alley Cat" was THE one before all others.

It was of course interesting to read that someone actually consciously wrote the music, rather than be told it was a traditional tune handed down like Greensleeves. Turns out Bent Fabric was a Danish composer who is considered a "grand old man of Danish pop music." There might even be a statue in Copenhagen. (There should at lest be a plaque somewhere.)

The song won a Grammy for Mr. Fabric in 1962 for being the best rock n' roll recording. It got to be No. 2 here in the States on the Billboard easy listening chart, immediately after it hit No. 1 in Australia.

The Australian popularity is certainly no surprise. Watch the YouTube videos of "Alley Cat" being danced to by a gathering and imagine substituting kangaroos for the wedding guests. It's an absolute natural for the Down Under crowd. I bet they still play it at weddings.

I don't know Katharine Q. Seelye other than to say I've read many of her bylined obits and found them lacking in nothing. But to devote six columns to Brent Fabric's signature endeavor without mentioning the word "wedding" is way more than I can understand.

I've Tweeted Ms. Seelye and expressed my amazement at her omission. Her Twitter profile, unlike mine, comes with the small photo that gives us an idea of who we might be agreeing with or railing against.

Ms. Seelye is certainly not my age, but she also seems certainly old enough to have been to a few weddings and heard "Alley Cat" and gleaned that's it's been a staple at weddings.

It's that, or she's bolted for the bathroom to fix her makeup before the band or DJ get going.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Olivia de Havilland

It is not very often I can read an obit of someone who was born a year after my father and two years before my mother. If I stay alive long enough, there eventually will be no one who passes away whose years sit tucked between 1915 and 1918.

But right now, we have the obituary for the actress Olivia de Havilland, who has passed away in her early triple digits of 104. You never really make it too far into those triple digits. Pretty much the longest anyone lives is to be 116. The skin gives out.

When you pass away at 104 in 2020 it is very hard to realize how far back her career went. Of course there was 'Gone With the Wind' in 1939, but that was hardly the only notable film she made. She won two Best Actress awards. For many reasons I've always loved 'Robin Hood,' and still will watch some of it when it's on. As Maid Marian, she was worth sweeping her off her feet.

Of course there was Errol Flynn, who turns over tables and can keep five guards at bay with his sword. In the late '50s I annually went to a YMCA "sleep away" camp for two weeks at a time. One of the activities was archery.  I tried, but never could split the arrow like old Errol.

Olivia admitted to having a very serious crush on her co-star Errol Flynn, but the fact that he was married seemed to be enough to keep her from consummating any relationship. It was certainly a unilateral barrier, since Flynn had the nickname "in like Flynn," to acknowledge his seductive prowess at being able to get into the bedrooms of more women than the Gideon Bible.

Mentioned in her obit is that her father's cousin, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, was "an aviation pioneer" even before WW I. Unmentioned is that he developed the de Havilland jet engines, used in early versions of jet aircraft. The name for the engines has since disappeared due to several mergers with other manufacturers.

When someone of an advanced age passes away, I usually think of my mother and father, and how old they would be if they were still alive. Right now they would each be over 100, an age seldom attained, despite the growing number of people who are over 100. Actuarially, the odds are against it.

Last week my friend commented that it was his mother's birthday, and if she were alive today she'd be 100, being born in 1920. She never got close, passing away from cancer in 1979.  Her era was like my parents, WW II and baby boomer births. She sang in U.S.O. shows and met her husband there who was in the Army, producing the shows. A New York, Times Square dandy who helped entertain the troops.

Right now I've just about finished reading Chris Wallace's book, 'Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days that Changed the World.'  The massive explosion was of course achieved because, "we split the atom."

The massive entertainment of watching Ms. de Havilland and Errol Flynn in films for me was always achieved when Robin Hood split the arrow. Both events were a long time ago.

Sunday, July 26, 2020


I always liked Regis Philbin. After all, how many people do you know that were named after a high school? It's usually the other way around.

I was logged on yesterday afternoon when I got an email from my oldest daughter Nancy asking me why didn't I write a blog about Regis. I really didn't put two and two together, but I responded that I would if there was an obituary to read.

I was busy evaluating the results and entries at Saratoga and wasn't absorbing the instantaneous news that can fly your way when you're connected to the Internet. Nancy responded that he did pass away. I promised a blog posting.

My daughter Nancy remembered how I used to love to tune into his show when we were on vacation at a summer house we rented for several years in the late '80s and '90s. The rabbit ear reception was pretty bad, but the sound was okay, and the picture was good enough to see distinguishing features.

Those were the years with Kathy Lee Gifford as his co-host. And even with her almost annoying laugh, I loved the show.

Regis always had a long lead-in. He and Kathy would yap for about 15-18 minutes without commercial. In a different era they would have been a couple on the radio doing a breakfast show from a living room. The two of them were known for being able to talk about absolutely nothing and entertain you.

Regis usually held up a morning tabloid, the Daily News or the New York Post and react to the headline, whatever it was. Thinking about that now maybe that's what created my habit of handing  the Daily News off to my wife through the window of the car when my wife dropped me off at the station. I always had a quip to say about the headline. My younger daughter Susan was in the car at the time, being driven to grammar school. She's reminded me of the habit I had.

Regis was the New York boy who made good. Very good. The NYT obituary today tells us he might have been worth $150 million. Never a bad amount for someone coming from the Bronx who went to Cardinal Hays High School and graduated the year I was born.

His parentage was Irish and Italian, but the Irish half came through the strongest. Regis had that leprechaun face; freckles and a glint in his eyes that relayed that he was probably a bit of a cut-up for the nuns and brothers to handle. My guess is he didn't sit very still in class.

He graduated from University of Notre Dame, so the Irish connection was complete. His father went to Regis High School, a selective Catholic all-boys high school on 84th Street just east of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that is tuition free. It is extremely hard to get into.

The upshot to the Regis High School story and Regis's father is that Regis tells the story of his father going to school there, but being expelled in the 1920s for fighting with a priest or brother.  The father always felt bad about getting expelled, so when he and his wife had their first born and it was a boy, they named him Regis. If my father followed the same logic when I was born, he would have named me Stuyvesant. (A difference however being my father didn't get thrown out.)

Regis was always well dressed, pocket square ever showing. I might have imitated him a bit without realizing it when I adopted wearing a pocket square with my jacket when I went to work. I felt it compensated for the tie I was discouraged from wearing at the last job I had, working with significantly younger people in an IT environment. Ties were only for the first day. The owner sometimes wore shorts.

I remember Donald Trump was in the front row on the aisle for Regis's last show with Kelly Ripa, a co-host I really didn't tolerate too well. In Mr. McFadden's NYT obit he tells us of President Trump's Tweet calling Regis, "one of the greats in the history of television. He kept telling me to run for president."

It's not his fault. No one should stay mad at Regis for that one.

My guess is Regis had a time-share table at Rao's, the East Harlem Italian eatery that is still harder to get a table at than admission to Regis High School. When the gatekeeper, owner/maitre d' Frankie No was alive, he didn't say "no" to Regis.

He was a man about town, a regular at Elaine's and was depicted as being himself with his wife Joy drinking wine at Elaine's in a De Niro movie. I forget which one. He was friends enough with
De Niro that he referred to him as "Bobby."

With a different mayoral administration Regis should have been declared a Living NYC Landmark years ago—like Tony Bennett. Someone dropped the ball on that one.

As good as the NYT obit is, pre-written by Robert McFadden, with an update credited to Christina Morales, there is absolutely no mention of the last show Regis was involved with, The Crowd Goes Wild, a Fox Sport channel mishmash of sport news and very silly sports commentary that did not last long.

Regis shared the spotlight with a British journalist, Georgie Thompson, the WSJ sportswriter Jason Gay, (fresh from writing for GQ men's magazine), an ex-football player Trevor Pryce, and a young comedian Michael Kosta. Katie Nolan quickly advanced from an off-camera Twitter feed reader to a regular spot on the dais.

The show was pretty silly and struggled to gain traction in the ratings. But in 2014 I was already retired, so I decided to try and go to the show that was televised from Chelsea Pier studios. The show was live, and it wasn't hard to get to be in the audience, a small bunch assembled on bleacher-style seating that I don't believe ever was shown on camera. Maybe it was.

The show's interns spent morning hours handing out leaflets in Times Square, trying to encourage tourists to come to the afternoon show. I just went straight to the Piers.

It was the first TV show I ever got into since I gained admission to be in the audience at a Johnny Carson show in 1966. Presence at a Carson show was much harder than a Regis show. You generally needed tickets mailed to you way in advance.

But in January 1, 1966 there was a subway strike in NYC. The head of the TWU, Michael Quill, famously defied Mayor Lindsay and called a strike. It lasted 12 days.

At that time, I correctly figured there would ticket holders who wouldn't bother trying to get to the show, and I might be able to gain entry from the stand-by, provisional line. I did. The strike lasted long enough that I did that twice. The second time, even then, Johnny took the evening off and was replaced by the comedian Corbett Monica. Simon and Garfunkel were introduced and sang 'Sounds of Silence' at the first show I saw. Johnny made a little fun of their names by opening his jacket and flashing a label that he said could be Simon and Garfunkel, as if they manufactured clothing.

'The Crowd Goes Wild' disappeared into TV's cyberspace. I remember watching the last show and Regis showed his disappointment at bowing out on a bit of a low note. He said, "I always wanted to do a sports show. I still do."

He may have bowed out, but he's certainly not forgotten.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


I've latched onto another TV series via Netflix, this one from Australia that follows the comings and goings of a likeable enough lawyer who is governed by his runaway impulses that see him dressed somewhat shabbily due to the blood that always seems to be on his shirt, courtesy of a professional beating administered by loan shark collectors, who pull their punches just enough so that Cleaver Greene only lands in the ER, rather than as inpatient attached to pulleys.

The series is Rake. An expensive wardrobe would be redundant, since as a lawyer in Australia, the courts look like those in England: powdered wigs, robes, white silk neckwear, and plenty of 'learned' being uttered.

Cleaver of course is a hopeless case for the institution of marriage, but all the women seem to forgive whatever might be exasperating about him. (All except his own family.) He's on good terms with his ex-wife, a psychologist/therapist who knows him better than he knows himself, and whom he consults from time-to time.

Their marriage produced a son, Fuzz, who is now 15, and who is crashing through puberty with a sexual relationship with his 28-year-old English teacher, (the "girl" in his class, as he put it to his father) a cute woman who wears glasses because she's smart and quotes Shakespeare, but who, even with glasses, doesn't see anything wrong with banging a 15-year-old. They both feel they'll work it out.

At least there are no scenes depicting the banging, since that would amount to the producers showing statutory rape. But there is plenty of allusion to the affair, and when it seems to have been ended because of parental confrontation with both Fuzz and the teacher, Cleaver's wife Wendy detects it is still going on because Fuzz, (who lives with her, naturally), "hasn't been staining the sheets or emptying the tissue box," a sure sign to the attentive mother that he's getting it outside his imagination. She's right, by the way.

Each episode is its own story, always revolving around a case, usually sexual in origin, but not always. For all his outward unmade-bed appearance, Cleaver is actually a very good lawyer who wins seemingly hopeless cases, even when he doesn't think he has a chance. He sometimes regrets winning when he learns things later on, but there is that thing that prevents what is known as double jeopardy. He becomes miserable for a while.

Cleaver's impulses lead him to gambling, snorting cocaine, drinking and bedding a select array of attractive women, who he sometimes even pays to be in the company of.

One such prostitute, a smashing 5'10" young woman named Missy, leaves the oldest profession to go to law school. This upsets Cleaver greatly, but they still see each other frequently, and not always sexually, since they're really in love with each other and seek each other's counseling.

A running theme outside of sex is that Cleaver is having to make periodic court appearances as to why he hasn't produced his business records that have been subpoenaed by the tax lawyer, a lawyer who by the way takes up with Missy, not knowing anything about her prior form of employment.

Cleaver keeps gaining postponements by reciting an array of mishaps that have happened to the records that make them difficult to retrieve. The excuses are spectacular. They have been subjected to floods, fires and building collapses, sometimes simultaneously. They have all but been mistakenly placed in a rocket launched toward the space station, but then again, I haven't seen all the episodes.

Woman can't stay mad at Cleaver for very long. This is proved by one scene that sees his favorite prostitute joining the good friend's wife who he slipped up on and had a very recent one-night stand with, and his former wife, who have through incredible timing all converged into his sloppy apartment in the early hours to talk, but who have now become too tired to do even that, and have all sought a good night's sleep under the same duvet. All without any hanky-panky going on. Cleaver can only stare in wonderment at what he sees as his good fortune.

In real life, I really wouldn't want to have Cleaver's lifestyle. He is definitely burning the candle at both ends.

But he is fun to watch.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Origin

It is no surprise that plots of movies can be based on novels, and certainly no surprise that those novels can be based on actual events. I just never knew the movie 'Psycho' was based on something that really happened.

There was the case of a Wisconsin writer who heard the story of a certain demented farmer in a nearby town who kept a mutilated corpse of a 58-year-old woman hanging in his kitchen (some version of the story say shed) like a dressed-out deer. Once the police made the discovery, of this and other things found in the house, a few missing person cases were closed.

Harold Schechter has written a book 'Ripped From the Headlines! The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies.' In it, he lists movies from novels that were based on true crimes. The WSJ weekend features a 'Books' section, and this past week they highlighted Mr. Schechter's book by taking five examples from the book and writing a thumbnail sketch of the true crime the novel was based on. One of the five is 'Psycho.'

It turns out Psycho was taken from a story written by Robert Bloch, a writer living in Weyauwega, Wisconsin in 1957. Weyauwega is still pretty much a rural enclave with a 2010 population of 1,900, located in the northeastern portion of the state, not very far from Green Bay. Just the sort of place you'd expect a writer to live in.

Apparently Robert Bloch was a well-known pulp-horror author who couldn't resist the story of the police investigation in the nearby town of Plainfield that revolved around the disappearance of a 58-year-old widow.

The police found her; found her mutilated body on the property of a demented farmer, Edward Gein,  who had her hanging like a dressed-out deer. And boy, that wasn't all they found.

They found soup bowls made from skulls and a skin vest made from the torso of a middle-aged woman, a vest that Mr. Gein admitted to wearing when he pranced around his kitchen pretending he was his mother. The guy had problems, to what certainly had to be living alone.

Being of a certain age, I remember when the movie Psycho came out in 1960 and the adults were talking about it, specifically about the famous shower scene where Janet Leigh doesn't get the chance to towel off, but instead is slashed to death by a knife from an unseen person to the very scary Bernard Herrmann score. Even in a black and white film, you can tell it's not just water that goes sluicing down that tub's drain.

I don't exactly know how true it was that people who saw the movie admitted to going without showers for a bit, but I imagine some skipped on hygiene from a while.

I wasn't allowed to see the movie as a the kid, but certainly became familiar with it as I grew older, particularly when my wife and I rented it in the early days of VCR rentals. It is quite a movie, but I never gave any thought that it might be based on a true crime story. And any time I read about the movie I read things like Alfred Hitchcock used an Edward Hopper painting of an old, federal-style, mansard roof house as the model for Norman Bates's house. Things like that. Never anything about Edward Gein.

Thus we are treated to an HLN series of 'Very Scary People.' where people like David Berkowitz, Charles Manson and the BTK killer, and others are featured. But no one seems to highlight Ed's problems with being social. The Internet solves that.

His murders, mutilations and grave robbing of at least nine bodies inspired no less than three movies: Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs. He died in a mental institution in 1984 when he was 77 years old.

The Wikipedia entry has a revolting list of the body parts found in Mr. Gein's house and how they were repurposed. Given the portrayal of Norman Bates in the movie Psycho, Norman appears to be only mildly disturbed.

Years ago in the early '80s there was a pretty good thoroughbred named Bates Motel. I remember seeing him win easily at Monmouth. The sire and mare's names, Sir Ivor and Sunday Purchase give no clue as to how the horse came to be named Bates Motel. But I remember reading that the breeders thought it would be funny when it came time for Bates Motel to be a stud horse himself, it would be humorous to think of sending female horses, fillies and mares, to Bates Motel for breeding purposes. Get it?

In today's world, that would seem to be a very lame attempt at humor, given what really went on in Mr. Gein's house.

But then again, who really knew what Psycho was based on?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Gap Year

This is our gap year.

After 20 consecutive years of heading off to Saratoga in August for a week of eating out, wall-to-wall handicapping, and praying for a photo finish to go our way at the finish line, my friend Johnny M. and I will not be making the trip upstate this year.

Johnny M.'s been going to Saratoga as far back as when Lamb Chop ran in the Alabama, and Johnny D.'s been going there since the 1975 Travers when he went there for the first time, found himself parked on someone's lawn on Travers Day, had no seat inside the track, but did have a decent day when Wajima, ridden by Braulio Baeza, was backed in the Travers.

The broadcasters on America's Day at the Races have been yapping it up about their long looked-forward trip to Saratoga this year. Almost forgotten is that there will be no spectators, just like there have been no spectators at Belmont's recently completed meet.

What it will be like up there with the town in some phase of reopening due to the coronavirus pandemic is anyone's guess. Only trainers and jockeys, stablehands and broadcasters/media people have been allowed at the tracks so far. Now, now to eight owners can attend the races when their horse is entered.

Social distancing is observed, and face masks are the order of the day. But once you get past that, the telecasts have been first rate, the betting and payoffs the same, as if on-track wagers were driving the handle, and you almost don't even realize there's no one in the stands.

That doesn't mean as much downstate as it does upstate, when nearly 20,000 people a day on average attend the races. Belmont and Aqueduct, not so much. Relatively very few, actually.

With no guarantee of even getting in the track (even with a proposed lottery system) there is little purpose served by even trying to go and get lucky at the admission gate, as well as getting lucky at the windows. This has lead to necessity being the mother of all inventions: the Saratoga backyard.

Mr. Mark Struffolino of Rotterdam New York has recreated the Saratoga backyard into his own backyard. He has placed a picnic bench, a replica of the quarter pole, and most significantly a red and white canopy covering a flat panel TV screen mounted on a pole, just like the ones found all over the back of the track. Because if Saratoga is a racetrack first, it is a picnic ground second.

Mr. Struffolino's efforts have hardly escaped media attention. A local radio station did a story on him, as well as a segment of Saturday's America's Best Racing telecast that had Greg Wolfe interviewing Mr. Struffolino about his creation.

Mark said a group of his friends with construction skills got involved in the project. He had to get a permit from the town to erect the canopy. And now his wife is laying claim to the canopy's colors after the racing season. She wants them to be blue and white recognizing the New York Yankees. He likes Mike Repole, but his family is not a blue and orange Mets fan. Sorry Mike.

Mr. Struffolino's canopy is going to resemble the canoe in Saratoga's infield lake: getting painted the colors of the winning owner of the Travers each year. And since in a normal sporting year, baseball starts before the season at Saratoga, it is conceivable that his canopy will start the year blue and white, morph into red and white come mid-July, and then revert back to blue and white after Labor Day. Mr. Struffolino has created his own Empire State lighted tower, changing colors depending on what's going on. He better keep a supply of the right colors handy.

My own nod to creating a Saratoga atmosphere in the yard is hardly up to Mr. Struffolino's. Mine only consists of annually  planting red and white impatients flowers around the shed. This is the first year the small impatients have once again been available after the milkweed scourge. They don't look very good, but the intention is there to evoke an upstate atmosphere. I once thought of a minutes-to-post countdown clock, but abandoned the idea when it seemed too hard to find one.

So, given the first Saturday of the unusual 2020 Meet, Johnny D. and Johhny M. met at Johnny D's place to enjoy a "day at the races."

Two sets of classic past performances were download, along with a Closer Look, an analysis feature of the Daily Racing Form that has started to shrink as the publisher no longer contracts comments for all the races on the card. Perhaps half the card gets a printed analysis.

There is nothing like hitting your first wager, and hitting it square, $4 to win on the second race, returning $23.60. But the joy does evaporate, when the best you can subsequently do is to lose close photos and be on the end of split 1-3 exactas, sometimes by inches. The early profit disappeared like ice at a picnic.

As lousy as it is to lose, you can still enjoy a day at the races, even if you're not really at the races. The 10th race, the five horse Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and an eighth, was a tantalizing race to handicap and play.

The West Coast trainer Bob Baffert shipped in a filly, Crystal Ball that had only two starts, a maiden special weight score in its second race, winning by six lengths. The Beyer speed rating was good, but winners of maiden races, no matter how well they do it, are hardly often entered in Grade I races for their next effort. It is just not done, expecting a maiden winner to take on other more experienced horses, at least one of whom has already won a Grade II stake race, Tonalist's Shape.

The betting public wasn't buying into Baffert's horse. Tonalist's Shape, the 9/5 morning line favorite stayed the favorite, while Bob's horse drifted up to an ultimate 4-1. I was salivating.

I didn't care that Bob Baffert was just handed a 15-day suspension for positive drug tests. If you win and fail the drug test later, they still pay the pari-mutuel side off first. A positive test and disqualification only affects the purse distribution and possible trainer fine and suspension after the race is made official. Shipping in from the West Coast with such a lightly raced horse showed confidence. And not reckless confidence coming from a trainer who historically does this sort of thing with great success. (See the Haskell results.)

When you bet, you have to put aside personal animus toward the human, and go with what you see as the horse's ability. And Crystal Ball was screaming confidence in their ability. They were a $750,000 auction purchase by WinStar Stablemates Racing; a Malibu Moon sire matched to a Giant's Causeway mare, Deja Vu. (Thus the clever name.)

With the odds going up on Crystal Ball, I stepped a bit out of my shoes with my win bet. Nothing huge, just a bit out of character for me. I was backing it up oddly enough with 10¢ boxed Supers leaving Velvet Crush out. And when Velvet Crush fell out of the starting gate, my Super was never in doubt. It was only how much it was going to pay given the order of finish.

Down the stretch they come! Not Tonalist's Shape, but Crystal Ball and Paris Lights, the other WinStar horse trained by Bill Mott. Tonalist's Shape was a disappointment and a puzzle, since he trainer opted to make an equipment change by putting blinkers on, even after the last race was a win with them off.

The trainer/broadcaster Tom Amoss explained that you usually need special permission to make such a change after a win. The trainer, Joseph Safie Jr., had their reasons, whatever they were.

Paris Lights and Crystal Ball dueled like Jaipur and Ridan. Forget who won? As my friend says, there is no race named Ridan.

In deep, deep stretch it looked like Paris Lights is going past Crystal Ball. There is no daylight between them. They are glued to each other and jostling as if they were in the subway. You couldn't squeeze a Post-It note between them. Crystal Ball comes back in front slightly, only to be headed by Paris Lights.

For me, I know I made the right bet, despite losing. Crystal Ball got a huge number on my rating system. The odds were going up. The numerical difference on my rating system was so far ahead of the second and third place horses (tied) that a win bet was for me the logical bet.

I didn't enjoy the result, but I enjoyed the stretch duel. Who came out ahead for the day? Johnny M. For some reason, he placed no bets. But he was very well read.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Up in the Air

You have to be of a certain age and still have a section of your long-term memory intact to remember the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights on CBS at 8:00 p.m. It was part vaudeville, part variety, part circus, and part Borscht Belt that pretty much had something for everyone in its hour long broadcast. The Beatles famously made their American debut on the show.

One of the "circus" acts that I remember seeing a few times on the show was the guy who set up tall, slender flexible poles, balanced a ceramic dinner plat on each pole, and kept perhaps a dozen of the plates spinning on the tops of the poles at the same time.

His trick was to get the first plate going fast enough, long enough, so that at he could successively add another plate, and another, and so on...and keep them all spinning before the first plate stopped spinning and hit the stage and broke.

He usually succeeded. Sometimes a plate spun poorly and hit the deck with a crash. Undaunted, the tuxedo-clad performer would just get another plate going and not stop until he had a plate spinning on each of the poles he had set up.

Then he would take them off the poles, one-by-one, restack them until he had them all off the poles before the last plate stopped spinning. Perhaps it was hokey after you had seen the trick a few times, but this was the Ed Sullivan show and it was hugely popular.

I couldn't help thinking of the guy with the plates when I read the obituary for Thereza de Orléans e Bragança, 93 a paragon of Rio Glamour, by Michael Astor in yesterday's New York Times. The obiturist deftly keeps so many names in the air, complete with their diacritical markings, that to me, it is a journalistic gem. Getting that many names right in Ms. Orleans e Bragança life is like getting all the names correct in a two-car pileup that saw four people in each vehicle suffer either fatal, or near-fatal injuries; which ones had a sheet pulled over them, and which ones were taken to an area hospital.

Ms. Orléans e Bragança was certainly a long-legged Bazilian beauty, as evidenced by the above Life Magazine photo taken in the mid-1950s. Consider all the people in her life after she was born Thereza de Jesus Cezar Leite in 1929 to José da Silva Leite and Branca Queiroz Cezar dos Santos in Ubá, Brazil.

She first married Carlos Eduardo Souza Campos, a polo-playing banker. It was with this husband that she held attention as a fashion and lifestyle doyenne, a society swan, living in a 20-room mansion in Rio's tony Copacabana section, hosting one event for 70 in honor of Prince Aly Khan, an international polo-playing playboy once married to the American actress Rita Hayworth (Gene Markey of Calumet farm named her champion thoroughbred Alydar after Aly Khan. (Aly Darling).

At 61, Mr. Orléans e Bragança married Dom João Maria de Orléans e Bragança, a direct descendant of Portugal's King João VI and lived a somewhat less hectic social life.  Dom João Maria's great-grandfather was Pedro I who had declared Brazil's independence from Portugal in 1822

Dom João Maria was Pedro II's grandson. He had one son, Dom João Henrique with his first wife, the Egyptian princess Fatima Scherifa Chiriene. That stepson, Dom João Henrique Orléans e Bragança survives Ms. Orléans e Bragança, who had a son by her first  marriage to Carlos Eduardo Souza Campos, Carlos Eduardo Jr., who died in August 2019.

Ms. Orléans e Bragança is also survived by a sister, Magda Leite Memória. A niece of Ms. Orléans e Bragança, Ms. Souza Campos, said the death of Carlos Eduardo Jr. in August 2019 affected her aunt quite hard, leaving her to spend her last months in bed, not answering the phone.

My guess is that when Michael Astor completed this obituary, he went somewhere for a stiff drink.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Baby Ruth

No secret obituaries are interesting. I just started reading 'Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days that Changed the World' by Chris Wallace. I even gave copies of the book to two friends for their birthdays, knowing, as history buffs, they would enjoy it.

Early in the book, the biographical background of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr. is revealed. Colonel Tibbets was the pilot of the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. It was the beginning of the end of WW II. Japan would surrender nine days later on August 15th after a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Colonel Tibbets's young life is described and how he got interested in flying, despite his father's desire for him to become a doctor.  Chris Wallace's book tells us of Paul at 12, getting into a biplane and dropping Baby Ruth candy bars on a crowd below at a race track. It was a promotional stunt for the new candy car. Paul's father ran a wholesale candy business. The year would have been 1927.

Wow! Was that in the obituary? I remember reading the 2007 obituary for Paul Tibbets, but I can't recall the Baby Ruth part. The obit is easy enough to find.

Yes, the Baby Ruth story is in the obit, but there are more details, that when added to the details in Mr. Wallace's book, we come away with a more complete story of the event.

The race track was Hialeah, which of course means Miami, Florida. The candy bars weren't just flung out of the biplane at the crowd below, but were individually attached to their own small paper parachute that let them drop gently to the ground. Colonel Tibbets, later Brigadier General Tibbets, loved to tell the story and add that it was his first bombing run.

For different reasons, Jackie Gleason did lots of shows from Miami and always proclaimed, "how sweet it is."

When the young Tibbets helped promote the Baby Ruth candy bar in 1927, he made it sweet first.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Money

It is not often I find that anything Andy Serling says to turn out to be true. I do not play his picks (if you can figure out which one he is leaning towards). I hear him, but do not listen.

I marvel at how much conversation he can turn out. He's never at a loss for words. But I guess that's the hallmark of a good broadcaster: you can always talk.

He does know the money though. As much as I cringe when he says some things, he does seem to know where the money will be going. I've heard that Andy was a commodities  broker before become the motor mouth mouthpiece as NYRA's public handicapper. I don't know this for a fact, but I strongly suspect Mr. Serling has a private clientele that he advises on wagering. My feeling is he knows who the whales are whose bets move the odds.

There was an instance I literally witnessed when someone placed a bet and I watched the odds drop on his pick at the next flash. It was during the 1976 Belmont Stakes when Angel Cordero seemed to carry Bold Forbes across the finish line to win the race. It was a masterful ride and one I've never forgotten. Cordero just seemed to will the tired horse across the finish line.

As the Belmont Stakes was over, an older guy, dressed in a suit, came into the area on the third floor Clubhouse by the windows. He seemed a little tipsy. In those days betting was purely through the mutuel clerks. I was seated on a bench by the tote board and when the fellow passed me, for some reason he just started talking in my direction.

He was an out-of-towner, who had perhaps a hint of a Southern accent, and he claimed that since Cordero won that race, he was going to win the next race, and that he was going to bet $3,000 to win on that happening.

I could only smile at him and wish him luck. When he placed his bet at the $50/$100 window  I watched the board and the next flash. His bet drove the odds down on his selection from perhaps 15-1 to 10-1; a mighty drop.

I saw another fellow on the same line a little further back, who blinked hard at the board when the flash presented the new odds on the horse. He seemed to jump out of his skin. I could tell his mind was quickly influenced by the effects of the bet the slightly tipsy Southerner made. He didn't know what I knew as to who made the bet, but he had the feeling that "smart money" was backing the horse whose odds had just significantly dropped. He was going to get on board as well.

There was no Hollywood ending to the next race. Cordero did not win, and anyone who followed the $3,000 bettor at the window was out whatever they bet as well. This is betting on the horses in the Big Apple.

I was reminded of that 1976 Belmont when I listened to Andy Serling tell the audience that Vekoma was going to be the favorite by post time in yesterday's Metropolitan Mile Handicap, a prestige race on the NYRA calendar.

Huh? Andy, the horse is 5/2 and McKenzie is perhaps 9/5 and it's less than a minute to post time. How the hell are the odds going to drop so much that Vekoma becomes the favorite, even with a digital wheelbarrow of money being dumped?

As the lesson learned in Guys and Dolls, do not bet against the man who tells you he can make cider squirt in your ear from a deck of cards, because this man will make cider squirt in your ear from a deck of cards. Do not bet against him.

I played Vekoma and was smacking my lips and patting my wallet at the expected 5/2 payoff. Vekoma got an outstanding number when I did my handicapping—topping the field at 206, when few horses I rate ever go near 200. I was oozing confidence.

The gate popped open and Vekoma is hustled to the lead. Within a few strides it is clear that Javier Castellano's plans are to go to the front, stay there, and try and win. And Vekoma does all that, wins in a sparkling 1:32.88 final time and rewards his backers with...

As the horses were being loaded into the gate, Vekoma was sitting at 5/2. After the gate popped open and Vekoma was in full stride at the front, the odds went to 9/5; an expected $7.00 payoff down to a minimum $5.60 payoff. Andy seemed to be right. Vekoma was the post time favorite. (In actuality, Vekoma just missed being the favorite. When the dust settled, Vekoma was $1.95 to the dollar to McKinzie's $1.85 to the dollar.)

Is there past-post wagering that occurs after the bell, dropping the odds on a horse once it is clear they've left the gate in good order and taken the lead? Or, is it just that the last flash that updates the odds is displayed just after the bell; there is no real past-post wagering. It just looks that way.

I truly do not know. This has been written about by others, and I don't know what is true. I do know that my expected $7.00 win payout for a deuce was shrunken to $5.90 for a deuce. And I bet several deuces. It's as if I was paying tax on my winnings.

Win or lose at the races, there is always a story to tell.

Friday, July 3, 2020


I've migrated my entire desktop computer system and equipment to Microsoft 10. This has involved buying a new desktop computer (a "Tower" that looks like a miniature speaker), a new 24" monitor and a new color LaserJet printer.

This set me back a little, but since I survived my heart attack, I've figured I've earned another chance to outlive my money. If at first you don't succeed, try again.

The new monitor is nice, but doesn't have any ability to hold the sound bar from the prior unit. But since everything is black, the sound bar rests on the base and doesn't look too kludge.

Best I can tell the computer is faster but full of sales pitches. There is something called  a "one drive" that I seem to have filled up just by plugging the damn thing in. Not to worry of course, they'll sell me more space on an annual basis for amounts that seem to start at $70 a year. The blade and cartridge marketing is never far behind. I have a feeling it's something I can live without.

I hate laptops, so I guess I'm old school by still using a desktop. I'm not much for cell phone usage either, with the damn thing hardly ever being on. I've got an iPhone 5 or 6 hand-me-down from my daughter. The flip phone was finally abandoned with no fanfare. I don't even know where it is.

The cell phone does serve a purpose when I want to make an online bet and I'm nowhere near a landline. I was once able to view a race I was very much interested in from Hyannis Harbor one year. The horse finished third I think. I have no idea whether I should have been able to place an inter-state wager across a wireless connection. No one came after me.

I will admit that I continued paying for tech support, so setting up the parts to this system was not all that hard. It took several phone calls over a two-day period, but I paced myself and I think I survived the ordeal without any expletives being uttered. At least not out loud.

I have to say I'm happy to have done this. The printer is working fine and will soon be pressed into printing the Belmont past performances for tomorrow's July 4th card. There are several very decent stake races scheduled, and I'm hunting for exactas.

This whole upgrade was kicked off when I tried to download the Belmont Stakes card for June 20th and the printer just conked out and refused to continue. I had only managed to print a few pages before it was diagnosing a problem that was going to take two hours to even get to if I was willing to take the printer apart. They weren't kidding. Thank God it wasn't a bomb that needed deactivating.

Since the printer was at least 11 years old, I figured poor Yorick had served me well. It was time to let it go to its rest. It now sits on the dining room floor awaiting special sanitation pickup. The cat's not even interested in it.

If the same amount of time elapses between Windows 10 and the next must-have version, as elapsed between Windows 7 and Windows 10, then there's probably great statistical likelihood this is my last upgrade.

I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Untold Wealth

You have to have been incredibly wealthy if in your six-column New York Times obituary mention is made of your homes in Newport, Rhode Island—Beaulieu, one of Newport Rhode Island's oldest mansions with 16-bedrooms overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a true Newport "cottage" — and Under Oak, a residence in northwest Washington, D.C. named for a 400-year-old tree on a 2¾ acre estate—and you cannot find a single $ in the text that steers clear of embarrassingly mentioning your net worth.

Such is the obit for Ruth Buchanan in today's paper, a philanthropist and society grande dame who has passed away at 101.

At 22, Ruth Elizabeth Hale married 26-year-old Wiley T. Buchanan Jr., a member of a Texas family that made its fortune in timber, oil and cotton, while her fortune was from her grandfather, Herbert Henry Dow, who founded Dow Chemical in 1897. The marriage was a wedding, as well as a merger of individual balance sheets.

If the name Buchanan might sound familiar, it should, since young Wiley was a descendant of James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States. Ruth was never referred to as Daisy Buchanan.

Ruth and Wiley's life together was a social whirl, she the hostess, and he a United States ambassador to Luxembourg and Austria. She was a proficient painter, avid gardener, and award-winning flower arranger who served on several philanthropic boards and who probably couldn't tell you anything about a single 'I Love Lucy' episode.

The obit is accompanied by three photos, one of which is the standard photo that all wealthy people are posed with—their dogs. In the photo, the neatly coiffed Ruth can be seen with what looks like a French poodle of medium size, alongside husband Wiley, looking absolutely smashing in a window pane sport coat, sporting a set of shades with a dog cradled under his left arm, being held somewhat like a football, ready to charge through the line.

Mr. Buchanan passed  away in 1986. In 1999 Mrs. Buchanan married Edward Kendall Wheeler, a Washington lawyer who made his money through being an early investor in cable television, satellite and paging interests. She described Edward as her high school sweetheart who was the son of a four-term Montana Democratic U.S. Senator, Burton K. Wheeler. On Burton's retirement from the Senate in 1947, he joined his son's law firm. Definitely, all in the family.

Mr. Wheeler passed away in 2002, leaving Ruth to have survived two husbands and no newsworthy scandals, leaving two daughters and a son from her first marriage along with seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

At a gathering of 150 family members in 2008 when she was 90 (she passed away in November 2019, her demise long unreported) Ruth thoroughly enjoyed herself, but did miss not being able to dance.

Family wealth is still not disclosed.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Return

After a heart attack and the emergency insertion of two stents in the right coronary artery, followed by the planned insertion of one stent in the left coronary artery three weeks later, it is nice to return to the rhythm of repetition.

And nowhere can you find that repetition more on display than at the racetrack. After all these decades—near centuries—they still run counter-clockwise in North America, on dirt and grass, various distances on a nine or ten race card, for an assortment of thoroughbreds meeting a wide-range of eligibility conditions. The new normal is pretty much the old normal.

Sure, they're running in front of empty grandstands, with those few allowed at the track having to wear surgical masks because of the coronavirus pandemic—even the jockeys while competing in the race—but there is still an order of finish, payouts of wide variance, and happy and broke gamblers whose wagers have been electronically submitted through a wide array of betting platforms, who will acquire amnesia with a good night's sleep, and be ready to hope for the best with the next days' racing and betting opportunities.

The four days of telecasts called America's Best Racing are hosted by an all-star broadcast crew of Greg Wolfe, former jockey Richard Migliore, with racing analysts Maggie Wolfendale, Acacia Courtney, acerbic Andy Serling, and handicapping champion Jonathon Kinchen, whose choice of shirts are bright enough to wake the dead. Never have so many talked so much to so few in live attendance.

But with the paucity of televised sports due to the pandemic, racing is offering live action to those who wouldn't otherwise seek it out from racing. Will new fans be generated? There will be some, but probably not enough to move the needle to have racing compete with other sports once they return to normal.

Given my recent series of health events it is just nice to sit back and listen to Maggie and Acacia go on and on about how so and so in the paddock has lost weight, gained wight, is "on the muscle" and has hind quarters that spell sprinter, even if this is a route race. No one has nothing to say.

And then thee's Andy Serling, whose been doing his version of the "The Price is Never Right" for decades now. Even his comments are welcome. His memory recall is phenomenal when he pulls out that so and so won this race 10 years ago. As is Greg Wolfe's memory.

Jonathon Kinchen's handicapping of Pick-5 tickets is abysmal. And there are two Pick-5s on the card. You can pretty much count on your ticket being blown out of the water by the completion of the second leg in the sequence. I can't imagine JK's return on investment crossing into the plus side at any point. If you play his Pick-5 selections you should pretty well be wiped out by now and sleeping at your in-laws on a couch in the garage.

And who makes the telecast possible? The sponsors, who happen to be Claiborne Farm hawking shares of Run Happy so vigorously that I'm sure to crack one day and look into seeing what I'm sure I can't afford.

How many people are lead to buy breeding shares of Run Happy based on Claiborne's commercials has to be has to be no more than how many are allowed to ride in an elevator these days. The professional breeders and owners already know all about Run Happy, so any commercial hawking his sperm can only be just more background noise.

But it's welcome background noise, because it allows the telecasts to run. The owner of Run Happy, Jim McIngvale, "Mattress Mack," down in Houston is doing more than his share of promoting racing. Jim has made a fortune manufacturing mattresses and selling furniture. He has given away nearly as much as he has sold.

And if you can't afford a breeding share of Run Happy, or already have one or more, then you might support Petaluma Creamery, another major sponsor of the telecasts by buying their Spring Hill organic Jersey cheddar cheese. Why go hungry if you're winning or losing money?

How nice it is to tune in and already know what I'm going to hear. I've already had enough surprises.

Friday, June 19, 2020

A Billion Here, A Billion There

It is getting outright difficult to understand some of the dialogue in Billions. Sunday's episode opens with a sushi meal attended by Axe's inner circle, which now includes the artist Tanner as well as Maria Sharapova.

The scripted words bounce back and forth like those between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in 'My Gal Friday.' Quick, snappy dialogue that has you wanting close captioned replays, something I do now and then when I feel I'm not able to process all the quips.

Maria, along with the others, are delicately popping squares of sushi into their mouths from the tines of chopsticks. No one drops a morsel. My guess is, if you can't get through a meal with chopsticks, Axe wouldn't have you at the table.

The discussion swings, or seems to swing, around art, and who is genuine, and who is not. When is an abstract piece of art finished? Potty-mouthed Wendy gets in a few "fucks" and makes Axe noticeably jealous by rubbing the artist Tanner's upper arm.

We get a dilemma at Mase Carbon over tin sourced by dictator African regimes. This is not good, and leads to a convoluted agreement with Mike Prince that Taylor, et al. are going to do the right thing and take a long-term loss on the metal, but will emerge on the other side of it extremely well off.

Fast forward to later in the episode when Axe hears of this and explodes to Taylor that no matter what Taylor and Wendy think, Mike Prince has maneuvered Taylor into doing exactly what Mike Prince wants, and that is to put a stain on Axe's balance sheet that won't go away for about a year.

Meanwhile, Chuck is plotting to get the Treasury Secretary to display a conscience and remove himself from office, thereby, scuttling the plans that were being laid by Axe to get a bank charter, No Krakow in office, no charter being greased. Score one for Chuck, as he and Axe resemble the rivalry in 'Cheers' between Gary's Old Towne Bar and Sam's Cheers bar over who's better at softball.

Chuck is also trying to get a kidney for his ailing father, or at least get him high enough on the list so that he gets eligible for a transplant before it's too late. Chuck even sponsors a blood drive at work in the hopes of identifying possible kidney matches for Dad.

I think the upshot of all the under-the-table dealing gets Chuck's dad high enough on the list to be able to wait for a kidney before shuffling off. This of course has meant dealing with a "doctor" who is the guy someone can get for Chuck who can make all things medical happen for his father. Lumps of cash are handed over, and it seems Dad will soon be out of the woods.

Axe, never one to lose at love, exposes the artist's Tanner phony altruistic streak by steering a wealthy, still attractive divorcée Tanner's way who is set to woo him with pots of cash and lots of sex. Wendy who?

The prior episode had its share of quick banter when Chuck has a meeting with the Manhattan D.A.  Madame D.A. is of course settling down to gourmet dumplings in some Manhattan restaurant with a formidable culinary reputation. It seems nothing of note is ever accomplished without sushi or tumblers of expensive scotch being consumed.

Through what seems incomprehensible dialogue with the Manhattan D.A., Chuck gets his way and gets her to give him the Bobby Axelrod tax evasion fraud case, and then fumbles the ball badly when the police detail guarding access to Bobby's apartment gets easily distracted by vandals ripping off windshield wipers and allows the original pieces of art to get swapped out for the copies with a helicopter landing on the building's roof. It's straight out of James Bond and the heist of the Vermeer and Rembrandts from the Isabella Gardner Museum.

Bobby avoids the tax evasion charges by having the originals placed in the domain of his suddenly created art foundation. He doesn't even join Conrad Prebys and Debbie Turner and get listed as a donor to your PBS station. Axe is slick. Things move fast when you're rich.

Wendy and the artist Tanner do what everyone thought they would do: hookup and have sex. Once again, the producers missed a musical moment big time when they failed to have Toni Tennille sing 'Do That to Me One More Time' when Wendy coos to have Tanner come back in bed with her as he sits there sketching her as she wakes from her angelic sleep under the sheets.

Chuck's dad is searching for a kidney donor for himself. He even dips into his secret Christmas card list of out-of-wedlock children looking for a donor. No luck.

Before Chuck deals with Madame Manhattan D.A., he seeks Katherine (Cat) Brant's advice on how to pitch the appearance that his approach for the care of sex workers is better than Madame D.A.'s concern, thus getting her to give up her pursuit of the tax evasion case against Bobby Axelrod.

Her advice works, and Chuck succeeds, without actually having to have a better program for the care of sex workers that usurps the Manhattan D.A.'s. Katherine is proud of him and rewards him (and probably herself) with a highly attractive, fetching piece of female eye candy in billowing lingerie that we're lead to believe Cat Brant has secured for Chuck's sexual pleasure, and we're to guess her own.

Since the show is not a porno, we cut to the next scene.

Saturday, June 13, 2020


Nineteen eighty-six is not so long ago, especially when you've crested the hill and are almost two years into being a septuagenarian. Many things happened in 1986, one of which was the assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, as he and his wife left a movie theater in Stockholm one cold, February evening.

Someone came up behind him, shot him, and left him for dead on the sidewalk. The assassination of any head of state is big news, no matter what country it was in. Apparently in Sweden—at least at he time—there was no attending Secret Service-like detail that accompanied the prime minister.

The shooter was never really caught. He has however been identified, and is believed to be Stig Engstrom, a 52-year-old man at the time who disliked the prime minister and his policies, and who himself committed suicide in 2000 at 66.

You don't need the assassination of a head of state to hatch conspiracy theories, and in Sweden they grew as each year passed with no suspect identified and caught.

A reporter, Thomas Pettersson, spent 13 years investigating the death, and eventually traced the gun that was used to a weapons collector, who himself was not a suspect. The reporter in turn concentrated on a suspect he identified as Mr. Engstrom who worked in a building near the assassination, was a gun club member, had political and private motives for killing the prime minister, fit the profile of a man who would likely be an assassin, and who in general, was a frustrated man who was not happy with this lot in life.

If an old rule in typesetting was to mind your p's and q's, when you read a story filled with Swedish surnames you need to mind your t's and s's

Mr. Pettersson, the reporter, turned his exhaustive findings over to a prosecutor, Krister Petersson  (one t) who set off on his own inquiry and who agreed with Mr. Pettersson's findings and concluded that Mr. Stig Engstrom was the assassin, but that only a court could formally come to that conclusion. And since Mr. Engstrom was now dead, there would be no trial. Thus, they were not going to try a dead guy, even if the dead guy did it. The unassailable Swedes.

For his part, Olof Palme certainly had his admirers as well plenty of detractors who were offended by his socialist idealism that lead him to fight against injustice around the world. Mr. Palme was a staunch foe of apartheid in South Africa and was against the Vietnam War. You can't hold the office he held and not make enemies.

The mystery of his assassination went through six investigations and three commissions. And even now, after 34 years, there is only "reasonable evidence" that points to Stig Engstrom as the killer.

The conspiracy theorists are still out there I'm sure. After all, what's more fun to believe, that the assassination was linked to a shadowy arms deal with India; an Italian Masonic lodge and Chilean fascists who sought revenge for his stance against General Augusto Pinochet's government; or best of all, that because of Sweden's longtime stance against apartheid and their financial support for the foes of apartheid that a "white former security officer, Col. Eugene de Kock alleged that an agent of the apartheid government murdered Mr. Palme."

And as if to tell us that all the convoluted conspiracy theories go somewhere to die, the NYT journalists who put the story together, Thomas Erdbrink and Christina Anderson, report that in the end the Swedish judiciary says "it was all the work of one man, Mr. Engstrom." The investigative journalist Mr. Pettersson says it plainly: "His motive? He wanted attention."