Saturday, February 29, 2020

Moving On

The appeal of the online reading is obvious: there are more photos than in the print edition, they can be in vivid color, and there are stories online that are not in the print edition.

Take Corey Kilgannon's (@coreykilgannon) piece on alligators in New York City sewers. A full page, with photos, attractively laid out.

The same piece online is the same store, but there are waaay more photos, and the one of the boys from the Bronx holding the alligator they lassoed from a storm drain then clobbered to death with their snow shovels proves alligator can be found in the sewers. Just not often. (Why that photo is not in the print edition I can only think is because it either a shows a dead animal as a trophy, or because a rival paper, The Daily News has more fun with the story than the NYT.)

Digital subscriptions are apparently way up at the Times, and they are clearly helping the paper when all the papers around them seem to be contracting. The Times is making money, while others are not.

And why not? The digital version of the paper is in color, attractively laid out, and easy to access. When I was going into the city last week one morning on the LIRR at a commuter time (I'm retired) I may have been the only person in the entire car (approximately 80% full) that was reading a print paper. I will say the person next to me looked like he was reading the news on his tablet, but I couldn't tell whose news it was.

Other than cherry pick some sections of Sunday's paper, (which I don't get, other than advance sections delivered Saturday) I don't rely on the digital version of the paper for my news. As a home delivery subscriber, the paper has wisely included access to their daily digital version, as well as some other offerings.

Thus, I wouldn't have sought out Lindsay Crouse's story about her ex-boyfriend if it wasn't Tweeted about by some people at the paper I follow.

There, as an Opinion piece, is a revelation that the fellow seen wearing Lady Gaga on his arm was her ex-boyfriend, and not just someone who she dated a few times, but someone who she was apparently in a relationship with for many years, starting in college.

That story would be worth nothing if there wasn't a photo of her ex and Lady Gaga on their way to their VIP Super Bowl boxes.

To Ms. Crouse's credit she doesn't get vengeful about her ex, contemplate revenge porn, or anything like that. She's very classy about it and doesn't even give his name. The photo of him and Lady G. above is worth a thousand words.

Even a guy has got to admit, Lindsay was going out with a hunk, someone who to me looks a lot like an early George Clooney from his E.R. days. A GQ guy.And Lady Gaga, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germonotta?  As always, her name as well as her look, is performance art. Her hair is multi-colored, her tattoos visible due to the outfit, and her eyes, her eyes are a version of wearing one of those masquerade masks that's been to a Fourth of July fireworks show.

Where do these people meet? Where did Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn meet? I've never been to anything in my life where I might even see a noted person, let alone ever start a relationship with one.

Lady G's full real name is so New York Italian that I have to believe there are male members in her family that believe, as Connie Francis once told us, that there were only two ways an Italian girl could move out of the house: in a wedding dress, or a coffin. And then there's Lady Gaga.

Ms. Crouse goes on a bit in what I guess is a dating confessional, but is also giving Lady Gaga tremendous credit for her success. I remember the director Peter Bogdanovich in an interview that Cybill Sheperd came back to him after dating Elvis. He felt chuffed that a girlfriend left Elvis for him. How many guys could say that?

Then there's the oft-told story of Gregory Peck's wife, a journalist in Paris, who blew off an interview (she cancelled) with Jean Paul-Sartre to keep a lunch date with Gregory Peck. Peck was always impressed that he was more desirable to be with than talking to Jean-Paul Sartre. He certainly was better looking than Jean-Paul.

Cutely revealed in Lindsay's piece is that her mother doesn't buy magazines but goes to the library and looks at them there. Thus, he mother looked at a 'People' magazine story that featured Gaga and her new male accessory.

One of the Tweets that responded to Ms. Crouse's Tweet about herself was from someone who went to high school with her in Rhode Island. Thus, Mom probably still lives in Rhode Island, and has a library nearby to keep her up to date with the tabloid gossip. It also shows that Mom is probably still in good health because she doesn't rely on the doctor's waiting room for her dose of star gazing. (I do.)

Ms. Crouse also adds a photo from a magazine that shows a cuddle between her ex and Lady G. You have to really like fishnet to see the tattooed appeal of Stef's look.

Lindsay Crouse's byline can appear on the sport page, usually about running or swimming. Her Twitter profile identifies herself as a runner, and she recently filed a piece from the U.S. female marathon Olympic trials.

Because of her attachment to running, and after reading the Mary Cain piece Mary wrote after she fled the Nike training facility led by Alberto Salazar, (now suspended for doping ) I tried to write to Ms. Crouse the old fashioned way, a printed paper letter, actually mailed.

My hope was that she would gain some knowledge of the intensity of the sport of running, not just from Mary Cain's story, an elite athlete, but from what I suspect are still a cohort of girls who are running, at all ages, from running clubs in the Metropolitan area. The cross-country races at Van Cortlandt Park are full of them

The most famous of those girls, who might predate Mr. Crouse's knowledge, were the Lynch sisters, Shola and Nenna. Both were trained by Barry Geisler, and both went onto college track teams. They  competed in Fred Thompson's Colgate Games, a showcase for female runners of all ages that had its finals in Madison Square Garden.

Fred Thompson was a lawyer at Colgate and a coach, whose Atoms Track Club in Brooklyn produced some Olympians, notably Diane Dixon, an Olympic gold medal relay winner in 1984. Fred is now deceased, at 85.

Growing up, my oldest daughter Nancy was part of one of those clubs, The Flushing-Bayside track club run by Walter Wisell. Nancy qualified for the Colgate Games and finished second in her age group  in the 800m at Madison Square Garden. It was a thrill for all of us.

As a parent there was always that fine line between encouragement and what some would call abuse. We never crossed the line, and eventually Nancy tired of running by the time she got to high school, somewhat because there was no coach. Likewise, her sister could have been on the college swim team at Geneseo but didn't like the coach, so he opted out.  No problem.

My letter tells the story of an 8-yea-old who committed suicide, a girl I remember from a race in Flushing Meadow Park.

I never heard if Ms. Crouse got my letter, or even read my recent email asking her if she got the November 2019 letter. Maybe it's not the kind of letter you respond to.
Ms. Lindsay Crouse
The New York Times
620 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10018-1405

Dear Ms. Crouse:

I see you’re on Twitter (as am I, @jdemet) but all attempts to get an email through to you failed. I tried all combinations, but MAILER-DAEMON said no. Anyway, a letter the old fashioned way, regarding your production of the Mary Cain opinion piece.

At 10, my daughter Nancy was the Regional Junior Olympic cross-country champion. She was second the year before at the same Bryant College course. It was 1988.

The region encompassed seven northeastern states. She went to Reno and finished 25th at altitude. When she was going to high school one of the schools, Sacred Heart in Hempstead, NY, told my wife that if she was going to run she'd have to be weighed. Fuhgetaboutit! weren't the exact words, but you get the meaning.

She went to another high school and basically the coach retired, and the program ended. They were more interested in promoting the boys' hockey team anyway.

Competitive running was over. But hardly life. She's happily married, and she's got two daughters, 12 and 8. She feels bad for Mary. But life for Mary at 23 is hardly over.

Our friends who live in Flushing, NY remember Karen Goucher when she lived nearby. I think they used to exchange Christmas cards with the family Then I think either one, or both of Karen's parents were killed in an automobile accident and Karen moved away.

Life's not over for Karen either.

When I was running in road races in the '80s there was a young girl, something Greenberg, who was very good at an early age. She was winning. One race at the Flushing Fair Grounds I remember the people around her. They were timing her at intervals. I don't remember how long it was after that race that I read a small story that the girl hung herself in her bedroom.

Life for her was over.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Homeland, Over and Out

This is it for Showtime's 'Homeland,' Season 8, (can you beleive it!) that has already shown us three episodes. I'm not sure the U.S. foreign policy will ever be as effective after Carrie and Saul pack it in and feast on the residuals. Maybe Saul, played by Manny Patinkin will sing again. He can sing.

As for the actress who plays Carrie Mathison, Claire Danes, the legendary C.I.A. operative, who with Saul, hopes to end the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and make nice with the Taliban, I'm sure acting roles will keep coming her way. Maybe there will even be a spin-off of Carrie and Saul getting their own show and curing not only malaria, but the coronavirus as well. We need positive role models.

That 'Homeland' hews to the real news is not itself news. This has already been noted in prior postings. The U.S. is actively trying to come to peace terms with the Taliban. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is now clocked at 18 years, and everyone is tired. Tied chess games should not last 18 years.

The realism that the show brings is evident in nothing other than the name they tell us is the leader of the Taliban, Haissam Haqqani. Saul and the heavily bearded Turkish actor who plays Haqqani, Numan Acar,  have come to terms in principle just by meeting each other in secret and taking each other seriously. Is it that simple?

There really is a Haqqani at the helm of the Taliban, deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, and he's written an Op-Ed piece in the February 21, 2020 edition of the NYT that outlines in three wide columns, that after 18 years of war, they are willing to try again and make peace. The phrase "better call Saul" never had more meaning.

In Episode 2 Saul has been kidnapped by Haqqani who thought Saul betrayed him and set his convoy up to be attacked by ISIS. Not true, Haqqani's son has been back door dealing with ISIS to get rid of the old man. Jalal winds up being banned East of Eden, but gets picked up by the ISIS Uber.

Carrie's been trying at the ISIS/Pakistani end to gain diplomatic channels. But the Pakistani general is proving obdurate. Carrie fixes that by getting dirt on the General from a lead supplied by a Russian, no less, Yevgeny Gromov, played by Costa Ronin, who you should remember played a Russian embassy official, Oleg Burov in 'The Americans.'

As in 'The Americans', Costa's character skates very close to the line. In 'Homeland' there is a mysterious relationship eluded to between himself and Carrie when she was imprisoned at the end of Season 7 in Lubyanka prison. A very bad place. Like Roach Motel, prisoners check in, but usually don't check out alive.

Did Carrie sleep with Yevgeny? (she does get around). Yevgeny apparently saved her from hanging herself in her cell with bed sheets. And it seems Carrie has confided her secret emotions about Franny, her daughter, because Yevgeny repeats it back to her when they have a clandestine meet that turns out to be heavily suveilled by Carrie's colleagues at the C.I.A. without her knowledge. She knows, of course, because she's Carrie.

Carrie was so screwed up without her meds in prison that she remembers little. This has made her C.I.A. bosses (but not Saul) suspicious that she might have gone over to the Russians. In espionage thrillers someone is always going over to the other side. Or thought to be ready to go over to the other side.

Her colleagues at the C.I.A. in Kabul are wary of Carrie. Carrie, at the outset, told the station head (a former subordinate) that she "rolls alone." (I for one cannot believe Carrie actually said that. Who wrote that?)

It seems whenever a female character needs some quiet time to dig down and think, the writers have them going up to the roof, or somewhere outside where it is dark, and light up. Carrie is seen smoking. Elizabeth Jennings in 'The Americans' also pondered over nicotine.

I always wonder if the actress really does smoke, or just knows how to smoke since the part may call for it. Claire Danes certainly looks like she knows how to smoke, while Keri Russell always looked awkward doing it.

Joining Carrie on the roof in Kabul is the newbie C..I.A. agent who is tasked by the station head with "taking Carrie's temperature." The actress playing Jenna Bragg is Andrea Deck, who also needs some nicotine, and lights up one of Carrie's (she doesn't bring her own) and talks about the latest overture from Yevgeny.

There is a Kacey Musgraves song that they didn't use during this thought session, 'Blowin' Smoke,' where the diner's waitresses go out by the dumpster on their cigarette break and tell each other the latest. Musical opportunity missed big time.

So, will Saul and Haqqani come to terms that does/doesn't involve their shaving their beards? Saul has made it clear the Taliban has to lay down their weapons. (Saul, this seems as unlikely as the repeal of the 2nd Amendment.) Haqqani asks what does he get? Saul runs through a list of perks that all but include a spread in Scottsdale, Arizona an appearance on the 'Today' show, Jimmy Kimmel and Steve Colbert. (SNL host seems to be off the table.)

Will a flashback answer the question of whether Yevgeny and Carrie did the mattress rumba in a seedy prison cell?

I think there are 9 more episodes. There might even be time for the coronavirus and the 2020 presidential election. I have faith in Saul and Carrie. And the writers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

One Alligator, Two Alligator...

Anyone who has ever played touch football in the street knows that you give the quarterback 10 seconds to make the play. The play is always a pass, because there is little room in the street with parked cars, if there are any, to spring plays from slot-back running formations, and anyway, the quarterback running with the ball is a no-no.

There is always one poor schnook whose job it is to guard this pass thrower by waving their arms in the air and counting, "one Mississippi, two Mississippi," or "one alligator, two alligator," up to 10, then yell that the ball is in flight. Counting to 10 this way is a pretty good approximation of 10 seconds, unless of course if you stutter. Then it's delay of game.

I'm going to go out on a sturdy limb here and guess that @CoreyKilgannon is likely considered a senior reporter at the NYT. How else can you explain the subjects he writes about and the generous space given to his pieces.

Recently he's told us about the jewel thief 'Murph the Surf' the mastermind (perhaps a generous title considering how quickly he was caught) behind the Star of India heist from the Museum of Natural History in 1964; a photo essay on the soon to be displaced auto repair shops that inhabit the ever decreasing area around what is now Citi Field; the effort to catch up to the rare common merganser duck slowly paddling around the Central Park lake that's got a piece of plastic stuck in its mouth inhibiting it from diving underwater for food. It is slowly starving.

Never mind that because there are whales around the world, but not here, that have ingested pounds of plastic, starting Match 1st in New York State plastic bags are verboten. They will be replaced by paper and will cost you 5¢ if you want one. That paper is now going to replace plastic is not lost on anyone who remembers that plastic replaced paper in an effort to help save the forests. All I can say, timber growth must be good.

That duck that Mr. Kilgannon has written about will derail ANY effort to bring back plastic. The duck is Bambi.

Today's story on NYC alligators is as good an example as you need to prove there is value in buying a newspaper, paper or digital. What paper other than the NYT would give you a FULL page devoted to the history of alligator sightings in NYC sewers?

There is a chronological presentation of the NYC alligator stories that have made the news. Alligators in sewers have been sighted, but nowhere near the proportions that the urban myth has created.

Tucked away in Mr. Kilgannon's piece is a nugget of information that even a porn movie has used the urban myth of alligators in NYC sewers as a "plot" line. 'Sue Prentiss, R.N.' in 1975 was about how a group of nurses help a crew of scuba divers who have come up from the sewers in search of alligators to relax without clothing

The movie was surely not reviewed by the NYT, so how did Mr. Kilgannon pull that one out of his notebook?

I Tweeted Mr. Kilgannon that I fully admit to having seen 'Deep Throat' at the World Theater in the very early '70s. When the director of 'Deep Throat,' Gerard Damiano, passed away in 2008 he rated a tribute obit in the NYT  by Margalit Fox.

As always with obituaries, I learned two things. One was that the movie was only 45 minutes long. I always thought it was way longer, but then I did sit through it twice.

The other nugget was Margalit digging up a quote from Mr. Damiano who boasted that the movie made so much money so fast they didn't count the take, they weighed it. I have now forever thought of my $5 bill getting weighed.

True to being a reporter who will not give up his sources, Mr. Kilgannon wasn't forthcoming when I revealed my knowledge of 'Deep Throat' and wondered about his knowledge of  'Sue Prentiss, R.N.' and her helpmates. All he did was "like" my Tweet.

Obviously, Mr. Kilgannon and his editor collaborate on some novel pieces. My wonder is if we're due to get another piece on the disappearance of Judge Crater. (Look it up.)

The story I'd like to see is why the 14th Street Union Square Station on the Lexington Avenue line is so crooked that the trains that stop there are not flush with the platform. A heavy steel grated platform has to move out from the platform and meet the train so that the gap is not the Grand Canyon ready to swallow passengers.

I've been hearing the announcement, "please stand clear of the moving platform" for over half a century now and have never read a story what the planners and engineers had to go around that left the platform so twisted.

Did they have to go around the alligators?

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Tales from the Crypt

At this point you have to be in your '70s to have a decent, working memory of JFK's presidency. Of course it goes back to the 1960s and is completely dominated by the assassination on November 22, 1963.

But there was JFK before that fateful day, and there is still a rich history of his achievements and failures in what turned out to be a very short administration.

He was the first president I felt I had any first-hand remembrance of. I was too young when Truman was president, and Ike was no one I ever thought about until as a kid I wrote to him suggesting how the flag 's stars should be re-arranged (7x7) now that Alaska was admitted to the Union in 1959.

I did get a reply, but it's nowhere to be found. I saw Kennedy campaigning in October 1960 when he rode through Union Square in New York, sitting atop the back of an open limo waving to the crowd, in what was a thick garment union area of the city.

He was probably going to Roosevelt Auditorium to give a speech, a building that once housed Tammany Hall, the legendary group of NYC grafters who pulled all the levers for Democratic favors.

My father and I watched his debates with Nixon on a grainy black and white TV that even made Kennedy look like he also had a 5 o'clock shadow. A teacher gave us an assignment to watch the debates and write something about it.

I did, and years and years later I came across my juvenile scrawl that said: "I thought they were both very serious about the whole thing." It wasn't meant to be graded, but the red ink comment said. "what were they serious about?" Jesus lady, what the hell was she expecting? An Op-Ed analysis from an 11-year-old on campaign strategy? Not oddly enough, today's 11-year-olds would be expected to give one, and for sure would be offering one. It's a different world.

When JFK's inauguration came around in January 1961 there was a decent snow storm in New York that closed my school. I thus got to watch the inauguration, see his breath from his hatless head, all while not wearing even a top coat.

Years later it came out that a Dr. Max Jacoby on Park Avenue was prescribing a mixture of vitamins and amphetamines to the rich and famous. It was then I thought no wonder Jack and his brother Bobby were always  trotting off on 50-mile hikes and not feeling the cold. They were warm on ups and full of energy.

JFK's favorite poet, Robert Frost, attempted to read a poem he wrote for the event, but had trouble reading the words of his own hand because of the sun glare, his thinning white hair blowing over his face, making it even worse.

It didn't take Kennedy long to piss people off. When I met my wife in the '70s her father, a retired IRT motorman who was a staunch unionist and probably a Democrat from County Sligo, Ireland who venerated Mike Quill who got hem the sweetheart union contract in 1966, HATED Kennedy. Why? Because on Kennedy's watch the IRS said you had to pay income tax on your passbook savings. 1099s were born. People of that era were big passbook, savings bank savers. The government intrudes.

JFK's fiasco came early in his short administration. The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961 when 1,400 Cuban exiles were assembled by the CIA in an attempt to storm Cuba on Cuba's south shore via the Bay of Pigs, in an attempt to overthrow Castro, who was by then openly courting Russia for support and tilting decidely toward Communism in the Western Hemisphere.

Saying it didn't go well is an understatement. It was a rout and led to the capture of all those who tried to invade. Castro must have been tipped off, or the operation had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. President Carter's failed attempt to free the U.S. hostages held in the Embassy by the Iranians looked better by 10 than the Bay of Pigs.

I don't remember paying too much attention to the Bay of Pigs. Maybe because it wasn't a success. There was no chest thumping.

Fidel continued to court Moscow's favors, willing to be an annex of Communist Russia and build a missile base on the island that put true weapons of mass destruction 90 miles off the coast of Florida. The Cold War's temperature went to near absolute zero.

The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 was JFK's shining moment, getting Russia's premier Nikita Khrushchev to back down and remove the missiles. The crisis of course is thoroughly written about and is always offered as the time that two nuclear power nations nearly started lobbing nuclear warheads at each other.

As a kid, I remember the mood of an impending war was palpable. I remember one kid blabbing away, moaning that he didn't want to die. For some reason, I assured him he wasn't going to die. Just a cock-eyed optimist. (I have no memory of who this kid was, and he might even be dead now, but it wasn't a Soviet missile that got him.)

I write all this about JFK because I realize there are people out there who are have pushed 50 who might not have any idea of JFK's presidency. If my father at my age were to reach back 60 years and tell me about the president at his time, he would be writing about Calvin Coolidge.

So, who is the dead man whose tales from the crypt tells us something we didn't know?

Jean Daniel, Journalist and Friend to Leaders worldwide, Dies at 99.

And of course passing away at 99 will nearly guarantee you Robert McFadden had the advance obit on file.

Mr. Daniel gets the equivalent of a 21-gun salute, because his obit spans the full six column, half a page deep, with two photos, one in color and one in black and white from different stages of his life.

The color photo shows him in 2013 getting the title of the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor from France's President François Hollande. The black and white shows Mr. Daniel in 1979, posing with one of the many book he wrote. He described himself as a non-Communist leftist, a contemporary of Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus..

Apparently, Mr. Daniel was a go-to guy when leaders and diplomats needed someone to deliver he message, and it just such a message he was entrusted to deliver to Fidel Castro from President Kennedy in November 1963.

Mr. Daniel arrived in Havana on November 19th in order to meet with the Cuban dictator. He gained a meeting with Fidel on November 22nd and were discussing the contents of the letter where President Kennedy was offering to open talks in order to thaw the icy relationship between two countries 90 miles apart, one of which was basically a Soviet satellite that could still be rearmed with nuclear weapons.

Mr. Daniels meets Fidel over lunch and start to hear on the Spanish radio that something has happened in Dallas. The president has been wounded. Turning to a Miami radio station to hear more detail and in English, they learned hours later that President Kennedy has succumbed to his wounds and is dead.

Mr. Daniel recalls that Fidel stood up and said: "Everything is changed. Everything is going to change."

I had never heard that JFK was in the process of trying to look to come to some better understanding with Castro. I asked a friend, and he remembers nothing ever coming out. And why would it? Talk about a moot point.  It's like someone passing away before they can even begin to act on a promise.  The word goes with them

History is of course full of these turning points. What ifs. I wonder if the letter to Fidel is in among the Kennedy papers at his presidential library.

What a read that could be.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Geez, No One?

Unless you've been in a coma for a few years, you are likely to have heard of the current and planned technology for electric powered cars, as well as the nascent technology for self-driving cars. Yep. sit behind the steering wheel, press a few buttons, and tell "James" to get you home.

My own experience of sitting behind a wheel and doing nothing occurred in a small plane years ago. I was taking what would be called a "puddle jumper" from New York's LaGuardia to Provincetown, Massachusetts. A trip of not many miles and short duration, but one that required going over water.

I think the plane might have had a six or seven passenger capacity, and there were that many of us. We were asked what did we weigh (no time to start lying) so that the airline people could evenly distribute the weight in the cabin. This is important in small aircraft, and even somewhat larger aircraft.

I was once on a bigger, but still what you would call a small plane, a prop as well, that maybe carried 20-30 passengers coming from Wausau, Wisconsin to Chicago when the airline people separated the two professional wrestlers that found themselves sitting next to each other in the front, and put one of them further in the back. Each wrestler had to be at least 300 pounds, and apparently sitting together was not an option for a safe flight, which by the way went well.

If you've ever been on a so-called "puddle-jumper" you've observed the pilot shimmying into the cockpit by sliding over the wing. Passengers are pointed to their seats. I was pointed to the co-pilot seat, sitting behind the half-circle wheel and all the cockpit dials..

It was then I realized there wasn't going to anyone other than the pilot that could be considered part of the flight crew. I never touched the wheel, just kept staring at it. I leaned over to he pilot and told him, "just remember everything I've taught you." He grinned.

It was October, and the visibility, at least to me, was poor. We seemed to be going through mist the whole way. It was hardly a sightseeing experience. I watched the dials and what our air speed was. Based on the time we were in the air and the expected flying time, I knew when we were getting near Provincetown. I couldn't see Provincetown. I couldn't see land.

At what turned out to be our approach, I felt the pilot guide the plane into a bank, drop the plane's altitude, and kept going. If I couldn't see from where I was sitting, what the hell did the pilot see?

As we continued to drop in altitude coming out of the mist, there, clear as day, was the runway. Within seconds we were on it, landing safely. The pilot and his instruments knew where it was, even though it wasn't obvious.  An instrument landing. I was proud of my "training" the pilot.

If un-piloted aircraft is not the horizon, how can there be un-piloted spacecraft, carrying passengers who have ponied up wads and wads of cash to fly 500 to 750 miles above the earth and orbit our blue sphere for up to five days?

I know how to read, and that's exactly what I read in a small AP piece tucked away on page two of yesterday's NYT Business Section.

SpaceX Plans Launch Of Tourists Into Orbit.

In this five paragraph story we learned several things.
  • SpaceX, working with Space Adventures, plans to launch up to four tourists into a super high orbit by the end of the year.
  • Ticket prices are opened-end, but expected to be in the millions.
  • SpaceX, working with Space Adventures, has already put tourists on the International space Station. (I didn't know this.)
  • For this trip, no space stations stop, but instead the orbit, on a flight for up to five days.
  • A Dragon capsule will be used, that so far has only flown once, in a successful test without a crew.
  • The capsule is expected to be used in a few months to take NASA astronauts to the space station.
  • Stacey Tearne, a spokeswoman said of the planned orbiting flight, that no professional pilot or astronaut will be required because the Dragon is fully autonomous.
  • Passengers would be able to control, if needed.
So, SpaceX/Space Adventures is telling the world that are planning a flight in a capsule that has only so far been tested once, is going to be used in a non-test journey with professional astronauts aboard, but will then be used to ferry up to four tourists into a super high orbit of the earth for up to five days with no professional pilot/astronaut aboard because the Dragon capsule is "fully autonomous."

There was Twilight Zone episode in the '50s that was the story of a group of people who sought shelter in a bomb shelter in someone's basement when there was a nuclear attack. Bomb shelters were really a thing back in the day, with local newspapers telling homeowners how build one. Cinder blocks required. 

I remember trying to convince my father that we better get busy. He even worked for the government at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Design Division (hulls). He kept smiling at me and kept drinking scotch. We never did build one. And no one I know ever did either.

Well, in this Twilight Zone episode the neighbors of the guy who did build one descend on his shelter, and by the sheer number of people now present put a strain on the design and the stored resources. Who's in charge here? Who gets to stay? Who can't enter? Like plenty of Rod Serling stories there is a morality play at hand over who gets to control what.

So, up to four people who perhaps don't know each other other than by reading about each other's wealth, are expected to go into space, and if they encounter trouble, someone has to take to control. That's some jury.

If only Rod Serling were still alive.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Scarlet Letter

I don't remember the grade in high school we were required to read 'The Scarlet Letter' but I know I started it, fogged out somewhere and didn't finish it.

Not finishing it had no real consequence. I don't remember that we had to do one of those "book reports." I guess that's why I figured finishing the book was optional.

One day in class, when the teacher thought we probably all should have finished it, the book was discussed. Go ahead. I don't care. Knock yourselves out. I didn't stay with it.

Listening to the smart Alec Lotharios try and impress the teacher, who I think was the attractive one, I realized I missed something very major about the book. I leaned over to the kid next to me and whispered, "you mean Hester and the minister got it on." I was now having non-reader's remorse. The kid leaned back and said, "you didn't read the book did you." How right he was.

Maybe because of that experience of not reading 'The Scarlet Letter' through to its conclusion, but forever knowing the gist of the story, I still get the biggest kick of lyrics in the musical 'The Music Man' when Professor Harold Hill proclaims he wants to meet a woman where "Hester earns one more A." You rascal, you.

It's already been mentioned somewhere in my postings that the NYT Tyler Kepner is probably the best baseball reporter in the nation these days. And while I may have been asleep at the switch when it came to Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale's bout of passion (the sex scene in today's movies) I'm not out to lunch when it comes to reading about the Houston Astros and the cheating scandal involving their stealing catchers' signs with electronic surveillance and tom-toms on trash cans. A high-tech/low-tech spy gambit.

Everyone has an opinion on the proper punishment, no different than what people think should happen to murders. The baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred is being roundly derided for his solution of a confession from the offending players. Something like catch and release in fishing.

Mr. Manfred feels that the shame of what they did, how it shows on the players' face, is punishment enough. A whole lot of other people do not agree. And it is keeping sports radio and sport channel talking heads with A LOT to talk about. There is always something, and right now, this is it.

In sports, there is always talk of putting an asterisk somewhere in the record books to denote special circumstances surrounding the stat. When Roger Maris was hitting 61 homers in a 162 game reason vs. Babe Ruth's 60 in a 154 game season, the asterisk, or dagger notation was nearly violently suggested. Babe Ruth was a deity, and you can mess with a deity.

My friend, who is a lifelong Yankee fan who started to absorb box scores in the '50s, and rooting for the Yankees because it pissed off his New York Giant loving father—goes ballistic when the stat of playoff homers is trotted out and Mickey Mantle's not number one anymore.

"Well listen you morons, Mickey's homers were ALL in the World Series. They didn't have playoffs then. The season was the playoffs." Of course he's right. Apples and oranges. But there's no asterisk or dagger.

Everyone expects there to be several instances of purposely hitting the the Houston batter with a pitch. Call it what you like, and warn about all you want, it's going to happen.

If Roger Clemens was an offended losing 2017 pitcher whose catcher's signs were stolen by the Houston KGB, you could surely expect Roger to drill one at someone's helmet and perhaps be the first player arrested for homicide committed during a game. No wonder the Huston players have long faces. They're targets.

If Clemens beaned Piazza over too many homers, think how he might react to being kept out of the World Series. Mickey Mantle always said you knew you were going to have to hit the deck when your teammate in the batting order ahead of you just put one over the fence. "You were going down."

Into the punishment fray comes Mr. Kepner, whose solution to the kerfuffle is nothing less than elegant and certainly worthy of some kind of award made to arbitrators. Know what you can't change. And Manfred's ruling is out there and is not going to change.

Few people know how to use an apostrophe properly. It might be the most widely misused punctuation mark ever. There are always the smug writers who tell us where the apostrophe should go when we reach Presidents' Day, or Presidents' Day, or Presidents Day. Forget them. Consider Tyler's elegance.

In today's NYT there is  story in the sports section by Danielle Allentuck with the headline: Union Disputes M.L.B. Over Astros' Immunity.

Count on writers and editors at the NYT to use the apostrophe correctly. They went to college. But don't avoid Tyler's solution when at the end of his February 17th story he ends with the simple sentence.

"The Astros* play on."

And what letter does an asterisk start with? It's so simple it can make you cry.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Gracie and the Surprise Party

It is a presidential election year. Lately, it always seems like it's a presidential election year, but this year, 2020, is on the cycle to have votes cast that count. (Well, maybe) Think Summer Olympics. Think Leap years.The other years are just part of the exhibition season. There is only one presidential year, and it's every four years.

If there were no politicians running there would be no cable news. No talking heads. We should be grateful there are so many politicians, and non-politicians, seeking the highest office in the land. If there weren't, cable news would be relegated to covering Town Hall variance meetings across the country.

In 2004,Cynthia Crossen of the Wall Street Journal gave us all a glimpse of presidential campaign silliness. Or was it silly? "To Ensure Loyal Voters, Gracie Allen's Buttons Were the Sew-On Kind."

And of course, someone has just written a book about 'The Presidential Fringe, Questing and Jesting for the Oval Office,' by Mark Stein.
Mr. Stein's book was given a lively, positive review in the WSJ (Love that section. It's always in the same place in the paper.) by Dave Shiflett.

From Mr..Shiflett's book review it is easy to gather that Mr. Stein tells us of the antics of those who are "running for president" who are doing it for real and satirically. And the attention they get. We like to laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. At least Reader's Digest always said that. (Is there still a Reader's Digest?)

Like baseball, there are names before the Common Era: Leonard Jones, Joseph Smith, (the Mormon), George Edwin Taylor and Victoria Woodhull.

There are the satiric candidates, the ones I recognize in one way or another: Steve Colbert,Rosanne Barr, Will Rogers, Pat Paulsen and Gracie Allen.

There's one surely from the '60s that I don't remember, Pigasus, the candidate for the Youth International Party, Youth International Party, YIP, the Yippies, who were fond of promoting the flaunting of authority. Pigasus it turns out was an actual pig who at the end of the campaign was turned over to the Humane Society and may have wound up in a package of Oscar Mayer bacon.

I haven't yet read the book, but will. Mr. Stein and Mr. Shiflett both graciously responded to my email and Tweet giving them the link to Cynthia's piece.

Who is Gracie Allen? It's a legitimate question if you are not 'of a certain age' and weren't exposed to her daffiness that made sense on the 1950s TV show 'Burns and Allen.'

George Burns and Gracie Allen were top billing vaudevillians and radio personalities 'back in the day.' At the end of their TV show in which they played themselves living at home and being what would now be considered waaaaay overdressed for relaxation, they would come out from behind the curtain, George nattily dressed holding the ever-present cigar, and Gracie, in her sweeping, pleated puffy dress, looking like she was hosting a  cocktail party, and address the audience, you the TV viewer.

Gracie and George engaged in a delightful verbal duet, with Gracie's sentences racing ahead so fast with names of relations, that you needed instant replay to figure out what she said.  She had more relations than the Kennedys that we were yet to meet. It was a bit almost like Abbot and Costello's baseball routine. Lots of early television was inhabited by radio personalities, vaudevillians and sketch humor.

George played the befuddled straight man trying to dissect what Gracie was saying. My daughter, who is a speech pathologist, tells me there is an actual name for people who ramble on with no antecedent (cohesive) hooks: word salad. Gracie was the entire salad bar.

So, in 1940, in shows and on radio, Gracie ran for president against FDR and Wendall Willkie Ms. Crossen's piece opens with telling us of Gracie's platform: "redwood trimmed with nutty pine" and that she welcomed "foreign relations," so long as they didn't stay too long and they brought their own bedding."

She really did campaign. There was a 34-city whistle stop tour (train) from Los Angeles to Omaha, Nebraska where her newly formed Surprise Party held its first, and only convention. She of course was the nominee. (Was a young Warren Buffet in attendance?)

Mr. Stein in his reply to me told me of Gracie actually getting 61 votes in the Wisconsin primary,. while of course not being on a party's ticket. Gracie declared victory by a landslide.

Gracie of course produced a book recounting her campaign, 'How to Become President.' "Presidents are made, not born. That's a good thing to remember. It's silly to think that presidents are born, because very few people are 35 years old at birth, and those who are won't admit it."

Farmers were a much bigger constituency in 1940, and Gracie appealed to them, by feeling farms should be bigger, "so asparagus can grow lying down."

Her slogan was 'Down With Common Sense." Interestingly enough, into today's NYT there is a column by James B. Stewart sub-headed 'Common Sense' where he writes of the pardoning of Mike Milken and how it flies in the face of "rule of law."

Tonight Mike Bloomberg (Mayor Mike) joins the assembled for a Democratic Presidential debate. To the politically minded it promises to be a good show. Maybe a free-for-all. It's ratings will be bandied across the country tomorrow, and will likely approach Super Bowl debate ratings. Whatever that is.

I for one have no interest. Gracie's not going to be there. At least not physically.


Hardware Stores

My Twitter muse (@coreykilgannon) has done it again. He's posted a photo of an Upper West Side hardware store that is going out of business after 120 years, one year after displaying a proud banner outside the store wishing themselves a Happy Anniversary, and telling anyone who can read that they've been there for 119 years.

Do you know who the president was 119/120 years ago?  William McKinley! Of course that would have been before he was assassinated in Buffalo in September 1901, thus giving us Theodore Roosevelt as president and the dawn of Teddy Bears on children's beds.

I'm probably as nostalgic about independent hardware stores and their disappearance as any male "of a certain age." I made a blog posting in 2017 about Warshaw, a Third Avenue hardware store that could still be counted on to find hanger bolts.

As a kid growing up in the Murray hill section of Flushing, my father took me on trips on many Saturdays to the B&D hardware store on Northern Boulevard, just west of 154th Street, two blocks from the house. We were generally buying batteries for the flashlight, getting a quart of benzene, —a solvent for ceiling paint—poured from a holding tank in the back, or a supply of nails plopped in a small brown paper bag, taken from tin tins and weighed. Eight penny nails weren't 8¢ cents a pound, but they were called 8d (penny) nails. The longer the nail, the more per pound they were.

My father also probably bought turpentine, poured into a quart container with a skull and cross bones label, to be used to clean paint brushes that applied oil based paint. There was no water-soluble latex paint then. It was oil and lead based, and the brush was fairly heavy once dipped into such paint.

The hardware store then was called B&D, and I never knew what the initials stood for. In the '50s it was owned by a German couple, Herzog. Eventually a neighbor across the street from us, Nelson, bought the store, then Rocco Tesco, who had the store until it closed sometime in the '90s, yielding the building to a Korean Karaoke place I think.

Rocco had the store for the longest time. He eventually expanded into the adjacent building, cutting a archway between the buildings, where his wife generally worked selling the household items, wallpaper, and blinds. The place was Sears Roebuck without a catalog.

Aside from missing Rocco, I miss the fact that you could buy a piece of custom cut single pane window glass there. For various reasons, we needed window panes, and we could always count on getting the fit at Tesco's.

Another hardware store in the neighborhood, Beplats' is still on Roosevelt and 150th Street, looking the same as when I was a kid. It is Asian owned these days, but you can still get cut glass there. There are no hardware stores I'm aware of near where I live in Nassau County that will cut glass for you. (I generally need it for making frames.)

I don't think there is anything that you could buy at a 1950s hardware store that you can't find at a Home Depot or Ace Hardware of today. There are of course waaaaaaay more items you can buy at the Ace Hardwares and Home Depots of today than you would ever think of finding in a hardware store back then.

Given an Ace Hardware (Costello's) of the size found nearby in Bellmore,  you can look at and consider gigantic multi-jet hot tubs! Tubs. As in more than one.

In my workshop I keep a New York City tax photo from 1940 of what the Flushing hardware store looked like then. The proprietor is Feldherr, and predates my father and mother buying the home nearby in 1946. There is an older women in front of the store, talking to someone who looks like a customer.
Typical of most hardware stores then, and now, items were placed on the sidewalk in front of the store. Next to Mrs. Feldherr you can spot the reel mower of the type my father bought there, or the one he inherited when buying the house.

Our property was 50' and 106' and had enough grass to mow in front and back that a mower was needed. Lots of Queens homes then, and now, have only a "beach blanket" patch of grass that could be mowed with a scissor, or now, a weed whacker.

I still have the mower in my backward, propped up as a museum piece next to a large McGuire bamboo rake. The mower's handle is secured to the shaft by a plate with the initial "PQ." When I rebuilt the wooden handle and the shaft I looked into it enough to find that "PQ" meant Pennsylvania Quality.

Did the New York State governor know that mowers from another state were being hawked at the local hardware store?

Rod B.

Just when newscasters, talking heads, the general public, and even President Trump seem they might be learning how to correctly pronounce the last name of a Democratic candidate for president (Mayor Pete) Buttigieg (Boot-Edge-Egde) we are now being asked to learn a whole new tongue and lip memory in an attempt to get Rob Blagojevich's name out of our mouths.

Rod's name is not so bad if you're used to doing play-by-play of NHL hockey games. Doc Emrick has probably been pronouncing variations of it for years, if not the name itself. There must be a Blagojevich on a roster somewhere.

Rod of course for those with memories, or who are keeping up with the news, is the former governor of Illinois who was convicted in 2010 lying to the FBI regarding his activities of influence peddling, for what in effect was putting the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama's promotion to president in 2008 out for bids to those who might be willing to pay for being named as Obama's replacement. Talk about quid pro quo.

Back when Rob was sentenced he cut a bit of Peter Lawford-looking figure, sporting a massive amount of hair over his forehead, somewhat reminding me what I might do for shits and giggles by wearing my Davy Crockett imitation coonskin cap backwards on my head in the '50s.
The big news of the day is the pardons and sentence commutation President has handed out. Some of these actions wipe a felony conviction off a person's record; other actions actually release a prisoner who is wearing prison clothing somewhere.  And that is exactly what happened in Rod's case. He was sprung.

Anyone will look different 10 years later, and Rod is no exception. His appearance today sports short white hair, seen in the photo.

The photo was posted by a Chicago photojournalist, Erin Hooley, (@erinhooley) who was on the same flight as Rod after his release from Federal prison in Colorado.

Obviously the best thing about being released from prison is that even the middle seat in an aircraft is a welcome seat. Rod doesn't seem perturbed or encroached upon by those sitting adjacent to him, and no one's seat is so far back that he can't breathe. Life is good again.

When Rod is a bit more settled and finishes opening the mail, someone should have him complete the subway survey popularized by @emmagf) the New York Times reporter who retweeted someone's questionnaire about which of the 5 pictured subway seats would you prefer/not prefer to sit in.

When you're a free man, you can go where you want to. Even the seat in the middle.

Monday, February 17, 2020

In a Manner of Speaking

If you're not learning something with every obituary you read, you're not alive.

When I got to the third paragraph of Bruce Weber's NYT obit on A.E. Hotchner, friend and biographer —notably to Ernest Hemingway—and lemonade and salad dressing partner with Paul Newman in a philanthropic business that has donated millions, I thought faux pas, how could Bruce write that Hotchner was "not to the manner born?"

It's not "to the manor born?" Bruce and his highly literate crew over there on 8th Avenue wouldn't have let that one slip, right? They didn't.

A.E. (Aaron Edward) passed away at 102, and as such, his advance obit was written by Mr. Weber before he retired from the NYT (or took a buyout). Normally, when someone over 90 passes away you can count on an obit written by Robert McFadden. But as the ship pulls away from dock, the advance obits for the nonagenarians and centurions will be written by Margalit Fox and Bruce Weber, who were assigned to keep them updated on sunny days when no one was dying to get on the obit page. (Margalit has also left the paper.)

So, before thinking I'm right, I consult the O.E.D. And there, under "manner" is an example and definition of "to the manner born" with the source is given as Shakespeare's Hamlet. the manner born [Shakes. Hamlet] destined by birth to be subject to some custom; collog. naturally fitted for some position or employment."

Manor and manner. The words are much alike. Even in envisioned context. "To the manor born..." Certainly the Crawley daughters in Downton Abbey, Mary, Edith and Sybil, were certainly "to the manner born, and "to the manor born."

And Tom Branson, the IRA-chauffeur/mechanic, Sybil's husband...certainly "not to the manner/manor born." At least as far as it goes to being a member of the Crawley clan. See, much confusion.

I asked my wife to spell "manner" in the context of saying "to the manor born." M-a-n-n-e-r. Apparently not.

Of course her conditioned spelling response is reinforced by watching nearly everything British on the NPR stations (we get three here in New York), where she is addicted to the 1990s reruns of  "To the Manor Born." The English language.

Okay, so in what context in Hamlet is the expression "to the manner born" uttered?

Phrase Finder tells us:

HORATIO: Is it a custom?
HAMLET:  Ay, marry is't;
 But to my mind, though I am a native here
 And to the manner born, it is a custom
 More honour'd in the breach than the observance.

The meaning is clear. Hamlet knows the custom being spoken of because he is native, that is, born locally.

To paraphrase Jimmy Breslin about the journalists that can write long sentences: the guys at the Times went to college.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The A-Hed Piece

It is hard to believe the WSJ ever once thought of doing away with its wonderful A-Hed piece featured on each edition's front page.

But such a thought did rear its head when Rupert Murdoch took control of the paper. But that was years and years ago, and the decision was made fairly soon after the deal closed in 2007 that the piece would remain. And all these years later, it has.

The piece gets its name from the layout, something called A-Hed in print setting parlance that describes the shape of the headline, sub-heading and border surrounding the piece. The A-Hed shape is a lot more easy to discern when the piece is given a one column front page presence, as it always did have until now, when it can span something up to three columns, making the "A" shape somewhat harder to pick out. Sort of like trying to see the Big Dipper when it's cloudy.

The piece is always light-heated, and usually replete with puns. Counting the number of puns can be a game, with no answer to compare your result to.

I'm in one of my catching-up-with-the-unread-newspaper modes that finds me putting a dent into the stack. "Unread" is really a misstatement. I've gone through the NYT and the WSJ cherry-picking articles from each day's fresh editions. It's only when I get around to do the deep dive that I get to really find out what I might have initially missed.

Thus, I have just come across the A-Hed piece from the January 31, 2020 edition by Te-Ping Chen on what happens to old business cards.

I was once in touch with a WSJ reporter when I asked about the A-Hed piece and how it is developed. At the time, he explained there was a darling editor who has stayed on, resisting buyouts, who solicits stories from staff reporters who might have a good idea for a piece. In all my readings, I don't think I've ever seen a byline repeated.

For a while there I thought I detected a surge of stories coming from Belgian sources, but it proved to be a transitory blip. It seems whoever gets a story published as an A-Hed piece only gets the distinction once.

According to my source, the editor of the piece spent all their money years ago when they were convinced they were going to die, only to recover and find they were going to outlive their money by a wide margin. Needing funds to finance this unexpected new lease on life, they stayed on, and continuously edit the piece.  True or not, the A-Hed piece is a delightful piece of continuous journalism,

Ms. Chen's A-Hed piece is somewhat atypical in that there is a paucity of puns. There is a reference to a Marie Kondo, who is not explained in the piece, but is an organizational guru whose advice business card holders might refer to when deciding whether to keep or discard their unneeded business cards.

There are many types of people who either get rid of, or keep their old business cards. Unmentioned are those who don't fall into any category other than having the decision on the retention of the cards made for them. Such as myself.

I Tweeted Ms. Chen (@tpingchen) the following:

No need to wonder what to do with my old business cards. A well-aimed 767 crashing into Tower One removed my supply from the 29th floor at Empire BlueCross BlueShield permanently. Only the few on me at the time remain.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Charlie the Tuna

The NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon (@CoreyKilgannon)is once again proving to be a muse. In a Tweet today he notes the passing of a New York Mets usher, Luke Gasparre who has passed away at 95. Mr. Gasparre had been an usher for The Mets since 1964 when Shea Stadium opened. He was also a decorated WW II veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge in Metz, France, and forever got a kick out of how the town they liberated is pronounced the same way as the baseball club he worked for.

It's been quite a few years since obituaries by Robert McG. Thomas Jr. made their way onto the NYT obit pages, (Mr. Thomas passed away in 2000.) but Mr. Gasparre would easily have been a subject of one of  McG's inibitable obits of the people who were never elected, acted, sang, won Nobel prizes, commanded armies, wrote books or music, or did any of the many things the people who get those tribute obits do. He got you to your seat after you showed him your stub, and did it for over 50 years.

Mr. Kilgannon sung of Mr. Gasparre's fortitude in 2015 when the Mets made the World Series and everyone was asking him for tickets. From that story, linked to the Tweet of his passing, we learn of a singular man who witnessed a lot of very bad and very good baseball.

I do not write obituaries, but I'd like to think Mr. Thomas might start off..."Mr. Gasparre, a teen-age tap dancing hoofer who once teamed with Anthony Benedetto (Tony Bennet) performing in clubs in Astoria earning $10 a show, and who later became a decorated WW II infantryman who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, who worked for the post office delivering mail in the Byrant Park area, and then who became a senior usher at Shea Stadium showing fans to their seats ever since Shea opened in 1964 (now Citi Field), is now finally off his feet, having passed away at 95." Something like that.

Anyone who has ever gone to ball games for as long as I have knows that ushers and ticket takers at Shea and Yankee Stadium were of a certain congregation. They were mostly Italian-American men who belonged to the same union—which one escapes me but it was for ushers only.

First, generally, you needed a ticket to get in. But depending on your appearance, attitude, and overall decorum, you might be able to find yourself seating in a better seat than your ticket was for if you waited a few innings and negotiated with the usher at the head of the aisle a gratuity to be offered in cash—folding money—that would allow your butt to take over an empty seat seat from a ticket holder who wasn't going to show up.

There's been a bit of kibosh put on this practice, emphasizing to the ushers that no tips are allowed, and bribes to allow someone to seat themselves in a better seat is not a very good idea for continued employment.

But that is now, and there was a then, especially when a scrum of us left the Blarney Stone at 32nd Street and Madison Avenue, and through Eddie the bartender's contact with an usher who was a solid customer, we could walk up to a designated turnstile at Yankee Stadium and pass through—with no ticket—to be picked up on the other side of the border and be directed to an empty media box waaay down the left field line and watch the game, albeit with no seat.

This was accomplished for the 1977 and 1978 playoffs and World Series home games. We saw a lot of baseball history for $5 a game.

My guess is the usher who engineered the infiltration of Yankee Stadium is no longer with us, but his name was Charlie, who in his usher uniform, bow tie and cap reminded everyone of Star Kist's Charlie the Tuna. We forever referred to him as Charlie the Tuna.

This also worked at certain Jet games at Shea when decent seats were obtained for a similar $5 donation. The football we saw was not as good as the baseball we saw.

My father was at Don Larsen's perfect game, and there is no souvenir ticket stub. Whether my father got in with his boss with a ticket or not, I can ask, but no one will answer.

We were there in 1977 when Reggie clouted three homers on three first pitches from three different pitchers, and a World Series was won. I was there thanks to Eddie and Charlie the Tuna. I have no ticket stub.

The Möbius Strip

One thing will always lead us to another.

Plowing through the Tweets from @SarahLyall of the NYT doing a Don Dunphy-like round-by- round report from ringside at the Madison Square Garden Westminster Dog Show, in which she revealed the abject crowd disappointment that Daniel, a golden retriever,

didn't get Best in Show (a golden retriever has never been Best in Show), and was defeated by Siba, a French Poodle, who if I was in a state of incandescence, I would mistake for my neighbor's topiary, I finally got to the end of the feed and came across a retweet she made from @MatthewGarrahan.

(That a golden retriever has never been a Best in Show is a serious misgiving. I've never seen a French Poodle who looks like Siba in harness getting a blind person across Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street, hard by the building housing the Institute for the Blind.)

@MatthewGarrahan must have been relating an anecdote about newspaper corrections, when he Tweeted:

Trying to ban "iconic" and other superfluous adjectives from FT copy, [Financial Times] which brings to mind the 1980s intro by an English sports reporter. In his dispatch from Israel covering an England game, he wrote that he was in "Bethlehem, birthplace of the legendary Jesus Christ"

Which of course brings to mind the legendary sports reporter Dick Schaap who in the early '70s told a network news audience that Riva Ridge and Secretariat were the two most famous stablemates since Joseph and Mary.

Dick took A LOT of flak from that one. But not from anyone with sense of humor.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


No, the title doesn't refer to a new kind of virus, but it does refer to the posture of men seated in the subway, particularly the spread of their legs encroaching on the air rights of those seated next to them.

Emma Fitzsimmons (@emmagf), the former transit beat reporter for the NYT who is now the NYT City Hall Bureau Chief, cannot resist a transit Tweet when she sees a good one. Houston, we have a manspreading problem.

She's retweeted one from @dansaltzstein who has posted a picture with text over his frustrations with adjacent passengers taking up too much room on subway bench seats by spreading their legs beyond their hips. It is a big bug-a-boo, and it is committed by males.

Male bodies are different than female bodies, and as such, men's legs seem to be guided by a spring at their apex, that when seated pops their legs open like one of those spring clothes pins. (You might remember clothes pins.) But face it. Outdoor plumbing takes up more space than indoor plumbing.

Never mind that large people (read fat) take up more room than others, or that women tend to be carrying on the average three bags and gain width with their luggage, manspreading is being portrayed as just another misgiving of the male gender. Seat hogs are not always men.

Even when the subway has scooped out seats meant to designate individual seating, the average New Yorker of any age, any income, gender, short or tall, thin or hefty, with or without puff outerwear, carrying or not carrying anything, is going to be larger than the anorexic, naked Asian women who seem to have been the model width used by subway designers when they set out the specs.

I will give up my seat for a pregnancy looming overhead. And I will scoot over the best I can to allow more space, even though I am now the Senior Citizen those signs are pointed toward. But manspreading is here to stay. A campaign of awareness of it is not working.

Gaining seated space on a subway is like the Oklahoma land rush. You have to get there first.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

She's Back

Showtime's Homeland started its eighth and final season on Sunday and Carrie's back, immediately up to her blonde hair in international do-do.

We find her being grilled by a psychological medical team trying to determine if she should be allowed back in the game. After all, she was held by the Russians for 213 days, and hardly treated with candy and flowers.

She's whipping herself back into shape by doing laps back and forth on a fenced in tennis court. A court so fenced in returns can only be made from behind the baseline. It's a bowling alley.

But Saul comes a-calling. He needs Carrie to get Afghan peace talks resumed. They've broken off by something as so insignificant as the release of 100 Taliban prisoners being held by the U.S. The medical team is very much on the fence about Carrie's fitness for re-certification for duty as a CIA operative. She's been away too long, and might have coughed up asset names under the Russian's enhanced interrogation process, which we're led to believe was mainly through drugs.

But the show must go on, and Saul has Carrie on a military jet headed for Kabul in a day. On landing. she's whisked to the CIA station in Kabul, brought up to speed a bit, and shown a room to settle in.

But of course anyone who knows Carrie knows she's not there to start reading novels while propped up in bed. She's there for action, and she immediately proves it by wearing the Muslim head gear required of women, revs up a motor cycle in the station's basement, and heads out to make contact with an informant she's never told anyone about. Or has she?

It's amazing the people she still knows. She makes contact with an intermediary who is now running a fleet of gasoline trucks in Kabul. It seems Carrie got the lucky guy started in business when she was last there, which looks like it was eight years ago.

She naturally asks how things are going, and he tells her. It's a timeless response about government, plots, corruption and power grabs that could probably he recited by a chariot driver in ancient Rome. Carrie nods knowingly.

She reaches the informant's home, but finds out he's been killed by the Taliban. Apparently, during her Russian interrogation she did give up a name, and the Russians are working with the Taliban. This gets confirmed by the CIA's station chief in Kabul who tells Carrie that the Russians will do "anything to mess with us." It's the understatement of the century.

Meanwhile Max, remember Max, the tech guy? He's been flown into Kabul to be imbedded with a Special Forces squad to reach a listening device planted in the Afghan hills that has stopped transmitting. It's a Taliban controlled area, so getting there and back is quite dangerous. Not the time to learn you didn't pack the right screwdriver to get the lid off the unit—if you even get there. Tension.

A bit of a spoiler, but Max does realize he's got the unit working again when he checks with his laptop back at the base. Conversations made by the Taliban are now theirs to intercept. This of course means everything, including Taliban take-out. Everyone's got to eat, right?

The wrap-up in this setting-the-table episode is when Carrie is just about to meet the Afghan mucky-muck—who she of course is supposedly on good terms with—and sees a Russian delegation leaving his office. And in that group, is her principle Russian interrogator who mentally worked her over while she was a prisoner.

They didn't use a musical soundtrack to this scene, but Willie Nelson's "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning" would have been appropriate. You know, where the lyrics include, "and the hinges fell off the gate."

Carrie's got a lot to do. She better have the right screwdriver.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Log Cabin

Can a woman who just passed away at 100—she was born in 1920— have had a father who was born in a log cabin? You betcha.

The woman is Ann Cox Chambers, media heiress and ex-ambassador to Belgium, and in her NYT obituary written by Douglas Martin, it is revealed that the father, James Cox, was the Democratic candidate for president who had an up and coming Franklin Delano Roosevelt on his ticket for vice president in 1920.

Cox and Roosevelt were solidly beaten by Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.  Mr. Cox had been a three-term governor of Ohio (non-consecutive two year terms), and despite Ann Cox Chambers being the subject of the obituary, becoming fabulously wealthy from her father's business interests, newspapers, radio stations, auto auction business, and the big one, cable systems, (Cox Communications) her father becomes a huge person of interest when it is revealed he was born in a log cabin.

Think of it. A woman whose last full day on earth was the next-to-last day in January, had a father who was born in 1870, who could tell her what the country was like in the post-Civil War era, and whose father (her grandfather) was alive when Lincoln was assassinated. That is some reach back into time. Parents don't tell their children enough, but surely she absorbed some stories from those who were really there.

The last president born in a log cabin was James Garfield, and that was 1831. If James M. Cox had beaten Harding, he would have advanced that "last-log-cabin" distinction to 1870.

You don't have to wonder, but I do, if in 1870 is was a modern log cabin. Like campers and RVs, did log cabins progress in creature comforts over the years? Was there running water provided by a well-water pump in the kitchen area? My guess is the toilet facilities were still an outhouse.

In the 1950s I accompanied my mother to visit her WW II army nursing buddy Gracie on the farm where she, her husband and daughter lived in Brushton, New York, very upstate, and fairly close to the Canadian border.

The house wasn't a log cabin by any means. It had running water, and an indoor toilet. but it did have a water pump handle in the kitchen next to the sink that could be primed and pumped to get well water. I remember the father, Hollis, preferring the well water that he drank from a ladle he scooped into the pail. A farm house version of Poland Springs with a no deposit bottle.

After the tangential distraction of learning about Ms. Cox's father, you can absorb her story of her anonymous wealth and very public philanthropy and political backing. She and her sister tried to fly under the radar. "The more anonymous you can be the better. Why, then you can just do about whatever you want."

It would have been a blast to have met her. She certainly lived an interesting life in what are always interesting times.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

We Definitely Went to Different Schools

Anthony Tommasini tells us in his recent review of Gustavo Dudamel's performance conducting the New York Philharmonic playing Anton Dvorak's chestnut 'New World Symphony,' that he always feels the piece is played far too often by most orchestras.

He goes on the tell us he attributes this feeling perhaps to the overkill of a gym class instructor he had in college who played excerpts from the symphony during exercise sessions. He admits that when he hears the third movement he gets the urge to scoot out into the aisle and start doing jumping jacks.  He so far resists.

What Mr. Tommasini is of course describing is that something always reminds us of something. And of course music can be the greatest of all memory catalysts.

I had a friend who told me Maurice Ravel's 'Bolero' was "the greatest fuck music ever written." He attributes this conclusion to the fact that it always reminds him of when he was a young, unmarried fellow and he was boffing a judge's daughter in the judge's study, with of course Bolero playing in the background. (Timing is everything.) Jump in the aisle and start doing that and they will definitely lead you out.

It is funny, but the same friend had a subscription to a box at Carnegie Hall in the '80s and took me to see, and of course hear, what was my first classical music concert ever. The feature piece was Dvorak's Ninth. the famous 'New York Symphony.' From that moment on I added classical music to music I enjoy. And I can't help but remember my friend Tom whenever I hear the symphony performed. And I've heard it several times, even taking him to a performance of it years and years after as a way of a thank you.

But right from the outset of Mr. Tommasini's review, it is made clear that he and I went to entirely different schools. The only sounds I ever heard in any gym class were grunts, whistles, and the squeaking of sneakers on polished gym floors.

Even into college, my exposure to classical music was either through cartoons, (Carmen) or Rossini's 'William Tell Overture' played at the start of Lone Ranger TV episodes. No one, particularly in a gym class, ever revealed themselves to be a fan of what I grew up referring to as "long hair music."

Mr. Tommasini obviously went to a college that likely had a tuition far in excess of anything my family could afford. I never heard of student loans, but my father certainly heard of loan sharks. Perhaps he got a special rate for the pursuit of a higher education. It's way too late to find out.

Even without seeing someone, or reading something they wrote, generational differences can become apparent.

At my next-to-last job I distinctly remember being on the phone with a very pleasant sounding female voice, trying to provide enough answers to her questions so that she could design a sales brochure for our unit in the hope of snaring more clients to use our fraud detection services.

We were both part of a very far-flung company, Trizetto, and she was in Chicago. We went on and on quite well, but I just knew by things I said, and what she said, that I grew up knowing way more presidents than she did.

I finally consolidated our differences by telling her, "I think you and I grew up being taken to different movies."

The brochure was a winner.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Mayor Pete

Finally. Someone wrote about how to correctly pronounce Mayor Pete's last name: Buttigieg. Boot Edge Edge. The double G's without a D in sight will get you every time.

Thank you Sarah Lyall, a NYT reporter at-large who has thoughtfully provided the pronunciation guide.  Mayor Pete is a descendant from a Maltese family. His father was born in Malta, which is a tiny island country somewhere between Italy and Tunisia that probably can only be found on a map by Jeopardy champions.

Of course, most people will recognize Malta as being one-half of the famous Humphrey Bogart movie 'The Maltese Falcon,' itself based on an equally famous Dashiell Hammett detective mystery story of the same name.

Mayor Pete's name has been as hard to pronounce as it was hard to hang onto the statue of a falcon, "the stuff dreams are made of." And certainly running for president is the stuff dreams are made of, no matter where you come from.

Mayor Pete's supporters have recognized the difficulty in pronouncing his last name. Seen at a rally is a display of the phonetic pronunciation. The photo accompanies Ms. Lyall's lively piece.

Ms. Lyall recounts the stumbles made by many in pronouncing Mayor Pete's last name. 'Mayor Pete' is itself a sobriquet given to the candidate because of the difficulty in pronouncing his last name. I myself have a somewhat difficult to pronounce Greek last name, but nothing as difficult as it is to get Mayor Pete's last name correct.

Ms. Lyall recognizes that President Trump has pretty much come the closest to a correct pronunciation. But President Trump being President Trump, would much rather use 'Mayor Pete' as his way of inflecting derision.

Years and years ago we had another last name prominent in the news with a surname that maybe wasn't that hard to pronounce, but was a dickens to spell correctly. The last name is of course the one most associated with the Long Island Lolita case, when an older man's much younger girlfriend thought she was doing him a favor and tried to kill his wife, an act of course that would allow the two lovers to spend more time together without having to make all those annoying phone calls home, pretending he was working late.

Thus, we were introduced to Joey Buttafuoco, the older man, Amy Fisher, the Lolita in the case, and Mary Joe, Joey's wife who was shot in the face and survived the attempt on her life by Ms. Fisher. There has never been an era when there wasn't something to report.

That Joey's last name didn't prove difficult to pronounce was probably due in part to the familiarity people in the New York area had with buying different kinds of pasta. Spelling the last name was a challenge.

I can imagine reporters who had Post-It notes attached to their computer screens with the correct spelling of the last name. Or, for the tech savvy, keyboard macros programmed to their computers so they could get the last name right.

And Mayor Pete? He's got the last name that is difficult to get your mouth to say correctly, and the brain to choose the right letters to spell it.

A name for the stuff dreams are made of.