Journalists often rely on first impressions, or only impressions, of people, whether famous or obscure.
I “met” Barbara Bush one time. Fittingly, it was in the White House, Feb. 15, 2011, minutes after her husband had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It was a day of accomplished people – Warren Buffett here, Jean Kennedy Smith there, Bill Russell up there, Stan Musial over there, and Yo-Yo Ma sitting in with a Marine chamber group, with his pal President Obama standing nearby.
The kind of magic day that a journalist remembers forever.
As the afternoon became more informal, I was in a bustling hallway and spotted former president George H.W. Bush in a wheelchair, after receiving his medal. Standing alongside him was his wife, with her Mount Rushmore presence.
My mind went back to a visit to the White House in Oct., 1989, when President Bush held a schmooze-fest with baseball writers, pulling a George McQuinn glove out of his desk drawer. I believe he had worn it in the College World Series when he was a .251 hitter for Yale.
Now, in 2011, I saw an opportunity to chat with the old first baseman.
“Mr. President,” I began, reminding him how he had displayed his prized glove more than a decade earlier. Did he, I asked, still have the glove?
He took my question seriously, but was unable to come up with an answer. Then he turned to the person he clearly relied upon, standing nearby.
“Bar,” he began. “Do you know where my old glove is?”
We were not introduced, it was all so sweetly informal, and now it was a three-way conversation, with Barbara Bush wracking her memory of where the glove might be.
They instantly became Ma and Pa, so vital, so human, trying to place one object in a life that veered from the waspy Northeast suburbs to the Texas oil fields, to China, to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and now back “home” to Houston.
They were Everywoman and Everyman of a certain age, trying to track a baseball mitt – or an old coffee maker or a favorite sweater or a set of books. Maybe they said “attic” and maybe they said “storage” and maybe they said “downsizing.”
Bottom line was, they did not know, but they made eye contact with me, and gave me a civil answer, and then other people greeted them, and I politely moved on. I wound up using that quick encounter as my column that day about the importance of sport, as personified by Russell and Musial…and an old first baseman who didn’t know where his glove was.
So that is my permanent impression of Barbara Bush – the caretaker, the authority, the rock.
My wife reminds me that we heard Barbara Bush speak about adoption at a conference in DC, while she was First Lady. My wife, who was escorting children from India in those years, recalls how positive Mrs. Bush was about adoption, what a good speaker she was. Marianne has been a fan ever since.
That same aura comes through in the memories and obituaries today. I had been wary of Mrs. Bush years earlier when I heard she made a comment about the Magna Mater of my lefty family, Eleanor Roosevelt. But there is room for other strong people in this world.
The two George Bushes, pere et fils – how admirable, how stable, they seem these days – celebrate Barbara Bush, and, as a quick-study journalist type, I know they are right.
Another glimpse of Mrs. Bush: My friend John Zentay, a lawyer, is on the board of the National Archives, where Mrs. Bush gave a spirited talk a few years ago. Zentay said he and his wife, Diana, had recently visited Sea Island, Ga., where the Bushes honeymooned so long ago. Mrs. Bush emphatically said she and her husband had gone back recently and found it so expensive they would not go back. And she meant it.
I just read the wonderful obit written (I imagine, years ago) by a grand New York Times reporter, Enid Nemy, now 94, and I found out why Barbara Pierce happened to be born in my neck of the woods, Flushing, Queens, and I learned about the deaths of her mother and her young daughter.
f you haven’t read it already:
I think of that formidable woman I heard at a conference in D.C. and later met in a hallway at the White House, and I give thanks for the karma that put us in that same place, for a few fleeting moments. My quick impressions stack up perfectly with everything I have heard or read.
“Bar.” That’s what her husband called her. Three letters, and so strong.
* * *
From my friend Curt Smith, former speechwriter for President George H. Bush:
Barbara Bush was an extraordinary woman—much more complex than her public image. She was strong, a woman of great character, the rock of her expansive brood, the protectorate and center of her husband’s life, an enormous credit to her nation, loved around the world, and among the truly popular First Ladies in American history. In a book on her husband, I called her “Barbara Bush, Superstar.” She was. Bush would employ self-deprecating humor to suggest an identity crisis, living in her shadow. In fact, he knew what an enormous asset she was. She also read potential aides and real-life enemies more quickly than he did. She was tougher, in a way. As you know, their three-year-old daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953. She ultimately recovered, at least on the surface, discussing it in the 1990s and 2000s. To this day, the President cannot discuss it without his voice choking, unable to proceed. Mrs. Bush knew this vulnerability, and was his most ardent—fiercest—defender, there always. She was always graceful to my wife and me, as she was to every American she met. She was a class act, in the classic American way. We don’t get nearly enough them of them anymore. Her religious faith made her face death with the same courage that she confronted life. God bless her.
---Curt Smith was a speechwriter who wrote more speeches than anyone for Pres. George H.W. Bush during his presidency. He is currently a senior lecturer of English at the Univ. of Rochester and is the author of 17 books, including a history of Presidents and Baseball, to be published in June.
It seems that the Bushes chose their wives well. A friend of ours is an Elizabeth Wharton scholar. She told us about how letters from Wharton were found in the attic of her housekeeper.
There was concern that when they were put out for auction a buyer might cut out Wharton’s signature and sell them individually. Laura Bush asked Yale to bid but was told that the university could not afford to. Laura said to buy the letters and not to worry about the cost. She found someone to finance the purchase.
Our friend later had access to the letters and wrote a book about them.
Several years latter, Sandi and I saw Laura on the Highline in Manhattan. As she passed we said, thanks for Wharton letters. In that brief second, she gave us a big smile. –Alan Rubin
As the World Cup approaches, I find myself un po triste – a little sad.
The team I have come to love in the eight World Cups I covered will be absent from the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
Yes, I feel empty because the U.S. has failed to qualify for this World Cup, after some wonderful moments from 1990 on. But I am currently missing more than Our Lads while waiting for the World Cup to kick off in Moscow on June 14.
The music I hear in my head and heart is the merry little tarantella of a national anthem, “Il Canto degli Italiani” – the Chant of the Italians. (The lyrics are far more fierce than the music, which made me think of a tartuffo on a summer evening in the Piazza Navona.)
I associate “Il Canto degli Italiani” with soccer – calcio – as the perpetual portiere, Gigi Buffon, roars out the anthem with fierce and loving facial gestures.
Italy has been my constant, since my first World Cup, 1982, when I covered two strange three-team groups in Barcelona. One of the first matches was underdog Italy, recovering from a scandal, playing Brazil, the soul of the sport, with players like Sócrates and Falcão and Zico.
I still say Brazil was the best team I ever saw in any World Cup. But it lost to counter-attacking Paolo Rossi that day, and the Italians went on to win the World Cup, one of the most surprising champions ever.
Since then, I have been a wannabe Italian. I don’t cheer in the pressbox but I privately enjoy whenever the Azzurri march onto the field.
Alas, the Italians did not qualify for Russia, and neither did the Americans.
I am not about to riff on the deterioration of American talent or why Italy failed. But now that I am retired – not writing except on this little therapy web site -- I need to identify a few teams to root for, from several different categories:
Underdogs/New Faces: Think of South Korea and Turkey both getting to semifinals in 2002, or some of the African teams that have been fun early in tournaments. I cannot imagine a better choice than Iceland, in its first World Cup.
Regional Teams: The U.S. runs into Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica in qualifying, so I wish them well. The same for Colombia, whose people add to life in New York. Buena suerte, vecinos.
Personal Ties: Carrying an Irish passport, courtesy of my Irish-born grandmother, I loved watching Ireland make a stir in 1990 and 1994. I don’t root for England, where my mother was born, on my callous theory that England will always have 1966. But this year, I will root for a genuine contender, Belgium, partly because the talent has been coming on, and partly from loyalty to my mother’s Belgian-Irish cousins who died at the end of World War Two after being caught harboring Allied troops in Brussels. Win one for Florrie and Leopold, forever young.
Blast from the Past: I was quietly delighted when artistic Spain won in 2010 -- particularly after the Netherlands went thuggish in the final. If holdovers Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué and David Silva make a run, that will be fine with me.
The Best Team. I have lived long enough to respect Germany as a modern democracy with an admirable leader – and home of a team that plays the game right. The defending champions have the same system and many of the same players who aced the 2014 World Cup.
I still love the mystique of Brazil. Leo Messi of Argentina or Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal could carry their teams. Or, some other team could get hot while making instant fans – kind of like the Houston Astros did for me during the baseball post-season last year, love at first or second sight.
I will miss the Americans. And at odd moments I will hum a few bars from “Il Canto degli Italiani,” just to feel that it is a real World Cup.
* * *
I am not alone in my quest for a team. My friend, Jeffrey Marcus, long-time web soccer guru for the Times, is now editing his new blog, The Banter. I have deliberately not read his piece because I wanted to come to my conclusions independently, but I urge soccer buffs to sign up for Jeffrey’s informed opinions, and comment frequently during the World Cup and beyond.
George, I’m happy to say that we’re in it together for the upcoming World Cup. I am on record with you that Belgium is my team. I’ve been following them closely since the 2012 Euros. Courtois and Carrasco (two former Atleti players) and Dembele, Vertonghen and Alderwerield (three current Spurs players) will team up with the likes of Kompany (one of your favorite players), KDB, Mertens, Nainggolan …and others to be a force and maybe a winner. My only concerns are: will strikers Benteke and Lukaku show up and is Roberto Martinez the right manager to make this golden age team realize its potential? Only 56 days till the first game! Can’t wait. Best, Michael Beer
Great White Hope of Middle America.
Paul Ryan came into our lives as the new wave. He knew how to make money for rich people, which as you know is good for all the rest of us. Then he would go off to the gym to work out.
When he wasn’t lifting weights, Ryan did a little fund-raising through his Prosperity Action group, whose biggest contributors were – why, look here – Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, who are connected with the now-notorious Cambridge Analytica group. (Perhaps you have heard of it.)
When he is not spending quality time with his family next year, Ryan could still be handling political money – unless the Mercers are suddenly getting out of the politics game.
Either way, Ryan will slink out of daily view as a poseur who could never, ever, stand up to the disturbed man in the White House or the White Citizens Council standing mutely behind Mitch McConnell.
Ryan's announcement Wednesday makes at least 43 House Republicans who don’t want to face the voters in November – they’re not that stupid -- and senators who range from mossbunkers like Orrin Hatch, the senator from Big Pharma, to pretenders like Bob Corker, to flashes like Jeff Flake, who sometimes almost sounded like he had a clue.
You know how this began, don’t you? It began with Donald Trump (we in New York knew all about that guy) who made up stuff about Barack Obama, playing into the schemes of a patriot like McConnell who announced – announced – that his main job was to undermine the new president.
It was about race, kids. McConnell and John Boehner couldn’t stand the idea of a black man who was smarter and more graceful than they were. It’s been a project ever since – 1861 types, trying to get back to the good old days.
Paul Ryan was a good front, like a male model who wears a suit well. But his suit was made of tissue paper and it fell apart in the hard rain falling on us now. The tax cuts? The tariffs? The federal budget keeps going up and Paul Ryan is getting out of town.
On the same day that Paul Ryan announced he won't run again, the New York Times ran a great piece by Eduardo Porter on the front page of the Business section about a modest steel company that cannot compete with the killer tariffs that the disturbed man willed into being. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
(And meantime, we have a disturbed man about to deal with Syria, while pursued by the law for his real “career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons and crooks,” as the Times editorial so accurately put it.
The one thing to be said about Paul Ryan: he likes his image of a family man, a church-goer. That would account for the occasional flicker of shame on his aging face, the look that says, I could have been better than this.
Instead, Paul Ryan, new-age Republican, just quits.
Catering to the Thumb Generation (of which I am a fringe member), Major League Baseball disappeared a game from television on Wednesday.
The business that still charmingly thinks of itself as The National Pastime has a new partnership with the dippy kid in the gray t-shirt, Mark Zuckerberg.
I think that means all information on Mets Nation -- all we scruffy, gauche losers who root for one miracle every generation – is now in the hands of Comrade Vladimir in the Kremlin.
Facebook was already chums with something called Cambridge Analytica which seems to have been in cahoots with various apparatchiks during the 2016 election including the possible next national security advisor, Mad Dog Bolton.
Baseball is letting the t-shirt guy put the occasional major-league game on Facebook so people can like or dislike what transpires on the field. The price for one MLB game a week is $30-million for the season – that’s what matters, isn’t it?
In real life, it’s not that hard to tell if baseball fans like or dislike something. Just the other day, Giancarlo Stanton struck out five times in his Yankee Stadium debut and Yankee fans faithfully gave him something called a Bronx Cheer.
Schnooky old baseball managed to distract from Wednesday’s Mets-Phillies game in Queens. James Wagner of the Times appropriately wrote an entire sagacious article about the t-shirt guy’s coup rather than the Mets’ bullpen or the clutch hit. (Tyler Kepner did write a column about the game itself.)
What with all the teeth-gnashing about baseball’s sellout, it seemed the game itself vanished into the dark hole of likes and dislikes.
Not true. I caught most of that game on this strange medium called radio.
The Mets’ game was on WOR – 710 on the AM dial – described by Howie Rose and Josh Lewin. Rose, aware the game had vanished from the tube, offered the observation, “I think radio is here to stay.”
Home-town fans get used to their TV and radio broadcasters. When the national broadcast pre-empts a Met game, I opt for radio. Mets fans don’t need national drop-in experts telling them stuff they already know.
Plus, the sellout by #ShamelessMLB on Wednesday meant that Mets-TV addicts were forever deprived of possible weird dialogues such as the one that ensued during Thursday’s game in Washington, with Gary Cohen monitoring the banter between old teammates from 1986, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
Darling to Hernandez on Good Old SNY: Were you this funny when we played together? You’re pretty funny.
Cohen: He was the Prince of Darkness back then.
That's what Mets fans expect – not twiddling of thumbs.
At least the t-shirt guy hasn’t sold all of baseball to Cambridge Analytica. (Memo to Mark Zuckerberg: when you are hauled into Congress next week, go find a suit. Play dressup.)
* * *
Speaking of Queens and baseball, my friend-the-writer, Rabbi Mendel Horowitz, has written about following baseball in Israel during Passover: Enjoy:
I am reminded of driving north from spring training that day, with black friends and white friends in two cars -- the looks of terror at some Holiday Inn in east Georgia, when they thought we were Freedom Riders rather than tired travelers, in psychic shock. How they hustled to accommodate us!
In January, Black History Month, I wrote an essay about Martin Luther King, Jr. -- based on a radio documentary about King's connection to music, by his fellow Morehouse alumnus,Terrance McKnight of WQXR-FM in New York.
That link is repeated as we approach the 50th anniversary of his death on April 4:
Other people are remembering Dr. King this week. My friend Maria Saporta, who grew up with the King children in Atlanta, now issues the Saporta Report, about the business and life of Atlanta. She was previously the business columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Saporta recently ventured to Memphis, where her friends' father was assassinated Her touching essay is linked here:
And Lonnie Shalton, a "mostly retired lawyer from Kansas City who writes about baseball and other assorted topics," and is a good friend of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in that city, wrote about Dr. King.
From Lonnie Shalton:
I felt the need today to take a break from my Hot Stove baseball posts.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his last speech: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The following day, he was assassinated.
I have written annual messages for the MLK holiday since 2002, and the one I sent in 2012 was about this speech.
(Lonnie mentions a 2009 trip to Jordan, going to Mount Nebo, where Moses is said to have stood to view the Promised Land.)
Fast forward from biblical times to April 3, 1968. Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers who were marching with a simple message: “I AM A MAN.”
That night, at the Mason Temple, King gave what would be his last speech: "I've Been to the Mountaintop." King prophetically spoke of his likely early death and that he would not get to see the full fruits of his labor in the Civil Rights Movement. "I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."
One of the Memphis hosts for that speech at the Mason Temple was Reverend Billy Kyles. The next day, Kyles drove to the Lorraine Motel to pick up King to take him to dinner. He joined King in his 2nd-floor room with Ralph Abernathy and went with King to the balcony to speak to supporters in the parking lot. A few seconds after Kyles left King alone on the balcony, James Earl Ray fired his shot.
In the summer of 2011, Rita and I were in Memphis with our friends Larry and Diana Brewer. We visited the Lorraine Motel, which is now the "National Civil Rights Museum" featuring excellent exhibits on major milestones of the Civil Rights Movement. A compelling reminder of the times is a city bus that you can board, and when you sit near Rosa Parks, a recording is activated to tell you to move to the back of the bus.
The museum tour begins with an introductory movie narrated by Reverend Kyles. At the end of the movie, we were informed that Kyles was in the building filming a piece with CNN newsman T.J. Holmes in anticipation of the opening of the MLK Memorial in Washington. We went to the second floor to watch the filming and then had the opportunity to visit with the gracious Reverend Kyles at almost the exact spot where he had been at that fateful moment in 1968. In the photo below, T.J. Holmes is on the left, Kyles is in the center and the two gentlemen on the right are retired sanitation workers who were among those 1968 marchers wearing "I AM A MAN" placards.
The museum continues across the street to the rooming house from which James Earl Ray fired his shot. There are exhibits related to Ray's planning and capture, and we were reminded that Ray at the time was a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary.
You can hear and read the speech at this link.
Thanks to Terrance McKnight, Maria Saporta and Lonnie Shalton, for caring.
The Passover/Easter weekend ended well, or at least entertainingly.
I enjoyed the latest version of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” live on NBC, even with all the commercials.
The music took me back nearly five decades and the production was modern and energetic, with great, careful harmonies from the large cast – performing on the move in an armory in Brooklyn.
John Legend played the title role, transported at the end into the heavens, or at least the rafters, and to my relief he emerged in one piece for the curtain call.
To my hearing in the year 2018, this version emphasized the doubts of Judas Priest – or maybe I was sensitized by Jon Meacham’s thoughtful take on Easter in Sunday’s NYT Book Review.
Mainly, this version of “Superstar” was entertainment – and I was entertained. Legend was, in a way, out-rocked by Brandon Victor Dixon (best known for his friendly little salutation to Vice President Pence after a performance of “Hamilton.”)
Bouncing his way cynically and energetically through the melee of Jerusalem, Dixon owned the stage.
Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene? Let me just say that I am a few decades past it for pop music (most of it sounds like calisthenics)-- but that strong, lush voice and gorgeous Levantine nose on Sara Bareilles? Where has she been all my life?
Then there was the mincing presence of Alice Cooper, performing the song he was born to sing -- that Vegas-English-music-hall mixture, “King Herod’s Song.” He said he was channeling Elvis; I thought of the late, great Tiny Tim on speed.
(I read in the Times that Alice Cooper got religion when he sobered up. So we had a born-againer playing a mad king. That’s show biz.)
The performance came after news that, on Easter morning, the great white hope of the Evangelicals could not even fake “the spirit of Holy Week,” as Laura Ingraham said in perhaps her final days as a creature of the cable. (It has come to my attention that Ingraham and Ann Coulter are actually two different people. How long has this been going on?)
Last week Ingraham trashed one of the young people who survived automatic weapon fire in Florida and then, watching her sponsors vanish, she cited religious impulses to take it all back, sort of.)
From his tropical Berchtesgarten, Trump tweeted out that he was going to enact new horrible penalties on Mexico and Mexicans. When questioned outside the church, Trump brayed affirmations of his intent on a weekend when Jews and Christians were honoring survival, celebrating outsiders, the others, in our world.
The Four Questions had been asked at Seders, the extra place set for Elijah; the agony of the “carpenter king” noted in sacred and profane ways in church and on the stage of the armory in Brooklyn.
And at my wife’s lovely Easter dinner, somebody at the table recalled a recent holiday when most stores were closed -- but a Latino bodega in our town was selling coffee and pasteles and more.
The outsiders are now part of us. God bless them. And the President wants to expel them.
That bad actor is still performing a role for which he never rehearsed -- not channeling Elvis or Alice Cooper but something more camp, and at the same time more vile, more ominous.
* * *
(A friend sent this in the Jesuit magazine, America:)
(In case you missed Alice Cooper: )
What a perfect sign of spring -- survival and hope.
Man, do we need that.
I’ve been moping with a head cold, or maybe it’s from the front pages, but along with Passover and Easter come the openings for the Mets and Yankees, and not a moment too soon.
Soccer-buff Andy Tansey took this photo at the Mets/Willets Point IRT station.
I remember the first day at funky little Jarry Park in Montreal in 1969. First game ever in Canada. I got there early and workmen were still touching up the premises.
* * *
Who doesn't love Opening Day? Lonnie Shalton, baseball buff in Kansas City, wrote his own appraisal of the big day. (He mentions a few things I typed -- and also lots of other baseball insights.)
* * *
Fresh paint may cover some of the flaws of the Mets. They have Syndergaard and DeGrom going in the first two games, and we’ll take our chances after that.
The Mets don’t seem any better than last year – scary thought, that – but the owners did bring back old-reliable Jay Bruce, and maybe Conforto will be ready in late April, and maybe Céspedes can make it through a week or a month.
At least the Mets are haimish – with familiar faces like Weeping Wilmer and Old Pro Cabrera and Prodigal Son Reyes. They are ours, for better or worse, or for right now.
Having seen the first home game in 1962 in the Polo Grounds, I know that to be a Met fan is to root for the familiar, with all its goods and bads.
The Yankees open in Toronto. Why is this Yankee team different from all other Yankee teams? Because they have a new look with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, both powerful, both charismatic.
I’ve been conditioned by the recent dynasty to respect and enjoy the Yankees, as much against my religion as that is. Judge is so mature and Stanton is so poised.
Plus, I read that good old John Sterling is working on his home-run call for Stanton – and that John had his cataracts removed and doesn’t have to fake his long-ball calls so blatantly. (What took you so long, dude?)
This is all avoidance, of course. The world is screwed up. Russia incinerated some of its young people in a mall fire through incompetence the way our lawmakers and their NRA patrons put our young people in shooting galleries passing as classrooms.
Did you see the faces of young Russians protesting the shoddy construction and careless operation that killed their contemporaries?
This masterful photo by Mladen Antonov of Agence France-Presse mirrors the mournful but determined never-again postures of American youth last week. The world is indeed small.
I can read a bit of Cyrillic – the young person with the long hair and olive jacket has a sign that says коррупция – Corruption. Can they haunt Putin the way protestors from Parkland are haunting Rubio and all the other “public servants” on Wayne LaPierre’s handout list?
In the meantime, may the paint dry in Queens by Thursday morning.
Ed Charles played only 279 games for the Mets but he touched New Yorkers – really, everybody who met him – with his humanity.
This was apparent on Monday at a farewell celebration of Charles in Queens, his adopted home borough. People told stories about him, and I kept thinking of all the ways, Zelig-like, he popped back into my life.
His 1969 Miracle Mets teammate Art Shamsky told how he and Charles and Catfish Hunter and Jack Aker were making an appearance at a boy’s camp “up near Canada somewhere” and how Ed Charles drove – “one mile below the speed limit, always. Ed never went fast. That’s why they called him The Glider.” When they finally got there, the players elected Ed to speak first to the campers. After 45 poignant minutes, Shamsky said they had learned never to let that charismatic man speak first.
Everybody smiled when they talked about Charles, who died last Thursday at 84. His long-time companion, Lavonnie Brinkley, and Ed’s daughter-in-law, Tomika Charles, gave gracious talks, and his son, Edwin Douglas Charles, Jr., made us smile with his tale of playing pool with his dad, and how the old third baseman never let up, in any game.
A retired city police officer alluded to Ed’s decade as a city social worker with PINS – People in Need of Supervision – and how Ed reached them. People talked about barbecues and ball games and fantasy camps with Ed, how it was always fun.
As sports friends and real-life friends at the funeral home talked about Ed’s long and accomplished life, I thought about how we connected over the years, in the tricky dance between reporter and subject.
---The first time was between games of a day-nighter in Kansas City, on my first long road trip covering the Yankees for Newsday, August of 1962. Old New York reporters were schmoozing in the office of Hank Bauer, the jut-jawed ex-Yankee and ex-Marine with two Purple Hearts from Okinawa.
Ed Charles, a 29-year-old rookie – kept in the minors because of race and bad luck – came to consult the manager, maybe about whether he was good to go in the second game. I watched Bauer’s face, once described as resembling a clenched fist, softening into a smile. “Bauer likes this guy,” I thought to myself. “He respects him.” (I looked it up: Ed went 7-for-12 with a homer in that four-game series.)
--- We met in 1967 when the Mets brought him in to replace Ken Boyer at third base. During batting practice in the Houston Astrodome, the first indoor ball park, Ed summoned me onto the field, behind third base, shielding me with his glove and his athletic reflexes.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing at the erratic hops on the rock-hard "turf" -- one low, one high, a torment for anybody guarding the hot corner. I must have stayed beside him for 15 minutes and nobody ran me off. I have never been on a field during practice since. That was Ed Charles. Easy does it.
--- We had a reporter-athlete friendship, but there are always gradations. During a weekend series in glorious mid-summer Montreal in 1969, somehow there were three VIP tickets for a Joan Baez concert. I went to a brasserie with Joe Gergen of Newsday and Ed Charles and then we saw the concert, with Baez singing about love, and the Vietnam War.
--- The Mets won the World Series and Ed went into orbit near the mound, but then he was released, his career over, with a promotions job with the Mets gone over a $5,000 dispute in moving expenses. But I was walking near Tin Pan Alley in midtown in 1970 and there was Ed, working for Buddah (correct spelling for that company) Records. He was destined for Big Town. He later had some ups and downs in business but patched things up with the Mets and settled into his groove as poet/Met icon.
---When Tommie Agee died suddenly, Ed was working at the Mets’ fantasy camp, and he took calls from reporters to talk about his friend. Ed Charles, as this New Yorker would put it, was a mensch.
--- In 2012, the 50th anniversary of the Mets, Hofstra University recruited Ed to give a keynote talk on his poetry and his deep bond with the Mets. I was asked by my alma mater to introduce him, and I suggested to Ed that I could help him segue into his poems. He smiled at me the same way he had calmed down Rocky Swoboda and all the other twitchy Mets kids back in the day. “I got this, big guy,” he told me – and he did.
--- Last time I saw him, a few months ago, I visited his apartment in East Elmhurst, Queens. Lavonnie was there, and I brought some of that good deli from Mama’s in nearby Corona, plus enough cannoli to last a few days. Ed was inhaling oxygen confined to quarters. I saw sadness and acceptance, He let me know: he knew the deal.
On Monday, The Glider had his last New York moment. There will be a funeral in Kansas City on Saturday and he will be buried, as a military veteran, at the national cemetery in Leavenworth, Kans.
The funeral home Monday was a few blocks from the first home owned by Jackie and Rachel Robinson in 1949. The first Robinson home, on 177 St. in the upscale black neighborhood of Addisleigh Park, has been declared a New York landmark, as written up on the StreetEasy real-estate site (by none other than Laura Vecsey, a sports and political columnist.)
Ed Charles often talked about taking inspiration from sighting Jackie Robinson as a boy in Florida; the proximity of the funeral home and Robinson home was a sweet coincidence, the family said.
The karma was unmistakable. Like Rachel and Jackie Robinson, Ed Charles encountered Jim Crow prejudice, but came to New York and won a World Series, and left a great legacy of talent and character.
(The Charles family has requested that any donations go to worthy causes like: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City or the Jackie Robinson Foundation in New York)
I was going to write about a heinous new development in baseball -- but other events intruded.
As the Mueller investigation demands records from the Trump business, and the porno queen heads to court, the President shows signs of unraveling.
In his pull-the-wings-off-flies mode, Trump had his garden-gnome Attorney General dismiss an FBI official just before his pension was official.
On Friday evening, the retired general Barry McCaffrey issued a statement that Trump is a “serious threat to US national security.”
Gen. McCaffrey fought in Vietnam, whatever we think of that war; Trump had spurious bone spurs. McCaffrey was later the so-called drug czar for the federal government, which is how I came to value his knowledge.
So instead of writing about baseball, I am placing this note atop my recent posting because the ongoing comments are fascinating – from the Panglossian to the dystopian.
I think it is important and life-affirming to be able to spot danger. Gen. McCaffrey has it. The majority members of Congress seem to have lost that ability.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Russian pals keep pummeling the soft midsection of the U.S. while the President tweets and fires people long-distance, the coward.
(This was my previous posting; comments ongoing.)
I haven’t posted anything in 12 days.
Been busy. One thing after another.
On Wednesday I stayed with the Mets-Yankees exhibition from Florida, even when people I never heard of were hitting home runs off people who won’t be around on opening day.
But it was baseball, and really, in ugly times like this, isn't that what matters?
Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling were going on delightful tangents after Darling said Kevin Mitchell had just emailed him.
Kevin Mitchell – the guy the front office blamed for leading poor Doc Gooden and poor Daryl Strawberry astray? That guy. Terrible trade, Hernandez said.
Ron and Keith meandered into tales of a nasty fight in Pittsburgh, started by my friend Bill Robinson, the first-base coach.
The broadcasters recalled how Mitchell was destroying some Pirate, and both teams had to stop their usual jostling and flailing to save a life. The good old days.
I loved the filibustering about 1986. The best impression I took from the three hours was the sight of Juan Lagares playing the sun, the wind and the ball with knowledge, grace, speed and touch.
“That’s a real center fielder!” I blurted.
Curt Flood. Paul Blair. Andruw Jones. Dare I say it, Willie Mays?
Baseball. I was happy.
* * *
I need to write something but I keep getting distracted.
I turn on the tube and think I see a traffic cam of an addled old man trying to cross Queens Boulevard -- the 300-foot-wideBoulevard of Death -- in my home borough of Queens.
Is he carrying a baby as he lurches across 10 lanes of danger?
The wind picks up. His comb-over flies up.
Wait, that’s not any addled old man from Queens.
What’s he carrying?
It’s not a baby. He’s got the whole world in his hands.
I watch with morbid fascination as he lumbers into danger.
* * *
I need to write something but I keep getting distracted.
We’ve had two March snowstorms in a week. On Wednesday we lost power for five hours but my wife made instant coffee via the gas stove, and put together a nice supper, and we listened to the news on a battery-operated radio and then we found Victoria de los Angeles and “Songs Of the Auvergne," one of the most beautiful recordings we know.
The juice went on in time for us to catch up with latest news about the porno queen and the Leader of the Free World.
Gee, we didn’t have scandals like this with George W. Bush or Barack Obama.
I watched for hours.
* * *
I need to write something but I keep reading instead.
My old Hofstra friend, basketball star Ted Jackson, recommended I read “Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America,” by Patrick Phillips about rape charges and lynching and the forced exodus of blacks from Forsyth County, Ga., in 1912.
As it happens, I have relatives, including some of color, who live just south of that county, now re-integrated in the northward sprawl of Atlanta.
The denizens of that county in 1912 sound like the great grand-parents of the “very fine people” who flocked to Charlottesville last summer. It never goes away, does it?
* * *
I need to write something but I keep following the news.
At the White House press briefing Wednesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders spat out, with her usual contempt, the little nugget that the President had won a very, very big arbitration hearing involving the porno queen and $130,000 the President's lawyer shelled out from the goodness of his heart.
Oops, the jackals of the press did not know about that. Thanks to Sanders, now they do. I got the feeling Sanders might be leaving on the midnight train for Arkansas.
I envision Sanders trying to hail a ride on Pennsylvania Ave. but a stylish woman with a teen-age boy in tow beats her to the cab.
That woman is leaving on the midnight plane for Slovenia.
* * *
I need to write something, but stuff keeps happening.
The terrible plight of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates reminds me of the best newspaper crime story I ever read.
January, 1973, I had just moved to Metro news at the Times. The editors sent me out to deepest Brooklyn, where jewels had been stolen from the altar of an ornate church.
I wrote a wordy lead about the caretaker of the church muttering “Che coraggio” – what gall, in Italian. And I did quote a store owner in the neighborhood, noting the influential persons who supported the church, as saying: “No fence is going to touch this stuff.”
But the reporter from the Daily News wrote a classic.
I cannot locate the exact words by Frank Faso that day, but his story began something like this:
“Some nervy crooks stole the crown jewels from the altar of St. Rosalia Regina Pacis in Brooklyn the other day.
“If they are lucky, the police will catch them.”
Oh, yeah. How New York. How tabloid. How wonderful. (This was when two great tabloids, New York Newsday and the Daily News, were covering the city with zeal and skill.) I was chastened and respectful.
The jewels were recovered 24 hours later.
* * *
This tale of criminality reminds me of our current administration, in that Manafort and Gates, now making front-page headlines for their stunning variety of indictments, seem to have owed a good deal of money to some other rather unpleasant people – Russians, Russians with a memory, Russians with poisoned umbrellas and lethal cups of tea.
Paul Manafort. Is there anything on public record of him ever being or doing anything respectable, before he became an American shill for thuggish Ukrainians and Russians? What did he ever do to put him in the middle of a presidential campaign in a country whose income taxes he had apparently ducked?
Who is this guy? He seems to have had money problems, with bad people looking for him, to try to recover millions and millions of dollars. And Gates was a hapless Robin to Manafort’s compulsive Batman.
In this, they resemble a couple of pigeons with a gambling jones who bet too much on the third race at Aqueduct or 23 on the roulette table.
Suckers. Suckers on the lam. They tried to get it back by aligning themselves with two real-estate hustlers from Noo Yawk and Noo Joisey.
If this were a never-released season of “The Sopranos,” we would have new characters, Paulie Peanuts and Rusty Gates, trying to make it all right for themselves by serving in the family of Donnie Combs and his son-in-law Squeaky.
But remember in “The Sopranos” -- I have not watched any series since -- how there were always investigators listening on tapped wires, or cooped in a windowless van, or waiting to scoop up a member of the clan for a friendly chat?
Paulie Peanuts and Rusty Gates seem to have fallen into the right hands. Now they just have to watch out for lethal umbrellas or laced tea in their next abodes.
But wait, there seem to be a few more episodes in the series:
What about the money-laundering and real-estate nightmares of Donnie Combs and his son-in-law Squeaky? These guys seem to have Russian troubles and Chinese troubles, respectively.
To paraphrase the great Frank Faso of the old New York Daily News:
If they are lucky, Robert S. Mueller will get them.
The first thing to note is that my wife has been studying a grandfather’s genealogy in recent years, producing notebooks packed with Grundys and Cleggs and Schofields from towns around Manchester – Bury, Oldham, Salford and Rochdale.
The second point is that my wife has more tolerance for soccer (the real football) than any other sport – partially because the lads are fit and usually get their work done on time. Through friends, she attended the best individual World Cup final ever – Zidane’s masterpiece over Brazil, in great position to see his two headers.
On Sunday I said Rochdale was playing Tottenham in an FA Cup fifth-round match – on the tube, in our warm den.
She had never heard of the Rochdale team but did know about Tottenham from Joe Scarborough’s lovely recent documentary about the North London darby – Tottenham vs. Arsenal: suspected hooligans, tattoo artists, rabid Tottenham owner, rabid Piers Morgan, Arsenal fan.
As the match began, I chattered about the romance of the FA Cup – the open tournament from late summer to following spring which allows modest clubs to take on higher-ranked teams, with a glorious history of upsets and scares.
In 2003 we were in London partially for me to write a piece for the Times about a squad “with a tree surgeon (with chain-saw scars to prove it) along with truck drivers and teachers,” along with a couple of actual professionals, from lowly Farnborough, down south, somehow reaching a third-round FA Cup match at Arsenal’s beloved old stadium at Highbury, and how the visitors even managed a goal against Arsenal’s irregulars in a 5-1 loss on a lovely Saturday morning.
My tutorial over, we settled in to watch a fit and eager squad from Rochdale play the Tottenham irregulars at a modest 10,000-place field, now carrying the name of an oil company, but known to fans as Spotland.
Why Spotland? I wondered.
“Some of the old miners in my family lived in the Spotland section,” my wife said. Later she produced copious period maps of Rochdale from her stacks of notebooks. (FYI: The name Spotland comes from the River Spodden, which flows from the Pennine Hills.)
The British broadcasters gave enough FA Cup details to overseas viewers – how Rochdale is in the third level, below Premiership and Championship, how a few lads have had a taste of the top rank, and a few young ones are still prospects.
(I later learned that Rochdale, in 1960, was the first FA squad to hire a manager of color, Tony Collins. Since then, there has been exactly one more: Ruud Gullit.)
For the first half hour, the home team jostled with the visitors on a new and treacherous field.
Then came a glorious sign of fear and trembling from the Champions League side: wavy-haired Harry Kane, surprise marksman of recent years, began stretching on the sidelines.
Rochdale would always have this: making Harry Kane, due for a day off, break a sweat, just in case.
Who are those guys? I looked up the Rochdale roster: one striker was Stephen Humphrys, a 20-year-old from nearby Oldham, on loan from Fulham.
“We’ve got some Humphrys in our family,”Marianne said, reminding me that some of them ran ships to Cuba and on to the colonies, carrying Lord-knows-what. She claimed Humphrys as a relative.
The visitors began to pack the offense – enough of this foolishness – and we rooted for the home team to just hold them until the half. But the home boys showed enough professional skill to launch a counter-attack and have Ian Henderson, 33-year-old striker, who once mulled dental school, score in the 45th minute.
Much yelling in our den – and not by me. My wife has been tracking people from Lancashire who worked in the mines or farmed, some migrating to Australia or New England and Virginia and Kentucky, or stayed home, adjusting to the Industrial Revolution, and then saw the factories sputter, and Nazi bombs destroy, and time march on, and Manchester City eat Manchester United’s fish-and-chips more often than not.
(Her genealogy includes the name Scholes, from Salford. I told her about Paul Scholes, red-headed stalwart for Man U, most caps by any English national, who is from Salford, owns the sixth-tier Salford City club. No further connection detected.)
In the second half, Tottenham did what it needed to do: tossed in three regulars, including Harry Kane, and tied the score. Then, after a world-level dive by Dele Alli, who is known for that stuff, Harry Kane coolly poked in the penalty in the 88th minute and Tottenham went ahead, 2-1.
Moral victory? Not yet. In the 93rd minute, with one minute left in injury time, the last Rochdale sub, Steve Davies, in a desperation swarm, found a seam and fired into the corner for a 2-2 draw.
Davies, we quickly learned, is a 30-year-old striker from Liverpool, who has played for some decent clubs. My wife said the family tree included people from Liverpool, and people named Davies.
She adopted them all, the 14 lads who played, the fans packed together in the modest stands, as her instant rellies.
The replay's gate receipts will carry Rochdale’s budget for the next few years, according to their jubilant, gray-bearded manager, Keith Hill, beneath his workingman’s cap.
The Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino, was more than gracious as he patted Hill’s gray beard and headed toward the team coach back to London.
The weary Tottenham players, who endure dog years for huge salaries in their tri-level competitions, must now gear up for one more match, albeit it at home.
Feb. 28: 10 AM, Eastern Time.
The romance of the FA Cup endures.
The old lady had a look of merriment – not often seen in the subway.
She was talking to herself and talking to strangers around her, trying to create a bit of community on the F train, creeping its way toward the City, as we people from Queens call Manhattan.
I love my occasional rides into The City from near my old neighborhood – legal parking on Midland Parkway right in front of Trump’s old house, between 10 to 4, just right for lunch.
I particularly love these day trips for the interplay between the young and the old, the mixture of ethnicities. Queens. Benign and hopeful and so very American.
Never losing her smile, the old lady apologized, in Spanish, to the woman on her right for jostling her, thereby waking her from a quick nap.
She smiled at a man standing up and pointed to an empty seat next to me. He declined.
Then the old lady began to pay rapt attention to the woman on her left – a much younger woman of Asian ancestry, making up her face, no easy task on a train lurching noisily on mismatched rails.
The younger woman was applying makeup to her cheeks and then she began to touch up her eyebrows, an intricate maneuver requiring a surgeon’s touch.
The older lady followed every stroke as if she were watching an Olympic event – curling, maybe.
She had a rapt smile, perhaps being reminded of her younger self. Her smile was still beautiful.
The younger woman pretended not to notice. Upgraded, she put away her kit and stared straight ahead.
The older lady had two shopping bags on the floor and a bag on her lap. Her tights, under her topcoat, had a couple of holes.
She inspected a black man in a topcoat standing near me.
“Muy bonitos,” she said, pointing to his well-shined shoes.
Several times she made eye contact with me and I smiled back. She was making me happy with her merry but somewhat melancholy smile. She deserved a smile.
She pointed to her imaginary watch, the universal sign.
“Mediodia, menos unos minutes,” I said.
The young woman on her left got off at 63rd and Lexington. Another woman of Asian background took her place, also young, also pretty. The old lady said something to her in English. The young woman looked her in the eye and responded, sweetly. They chatted for a minute or two.
Then the older lady resumed her soft, sweet, bilingual monologue more or less to herself. In Spanish she said she liked to cook but could not afford it. She rubbed thumb and forefinger, indicating no money.
“Donde va hoy?” I asked her. “Wherever somebody will buy me a drink,” she said in Spanish, giggling. She made the universal sign of a glass being tipped to her lips.
I was getting off at Herald Square.
“Buen dia,” I said, getting a big smile.
I hope she’s all right.
* * *
Something nice often happens on my rides.
One day I saw an abuelita struggling upstairs with shopping bags at 179th St. “Pesadas,” I said. Heavy. And I lugged them to her bus stop for east Queens.
* * *
A year ago I saw a couple of young (white) innocents get on the E train at 23rd and Ely, from one of those expensive high rises looming up in Long Island City – two girls, maybe just out of college, probably staked by parents to an expensive new condo, one stop from the City.
One innocent, clearly an out-of-towner, had a large wallet or maybe an iPad sticking out of the back pocket of her designer jeans – three or four inches of value, exposed, for the swiping.
An older Chinese woman waved her index finger at the young woman, as if to say, “Put that thing in your bag.” The innocent smiled, clueless. The older Chinese woman persisted, as a granny would. The innocent’s friend got the point and the valuable was safely stowed. The granny smiled, grimly, and that was that.
* * *
A few months ago, I saw another elderly Chinese woman, also on the E train, pointing to a young African-American woman, standing up, holding an infant. The older lady was pointing to an empty seat. The young woman smiled and nodded to the door, to indicate she was getting off at the next stop.
One New Yorker taking care of another. You see that a lot. My friends from out there in America tell me that New Yorkers are always offering help with street maps or the maze of a huge subway station.
Then again, I remember salarymen and women offering me help – in English -- with the strange addresses of Tokyo. And people walking us a few blocks in Cairo or Mumbai. The old babushkas of Moscow making sure my wife got off at the right bus stop for the circus. It’s a city thing.
The thought just came to me: did Channel 13 in New York show “Casablanca” as a prelude to Valentine’s Day?
For all the looming terror and professed cynicism, it is a film for romantics who believe in something, including always having Paris.
My valentine, the girl I loved probably the first time I met her, and I decided to watch “Casablanca” last Saturday night on that sporadic but wonderful movie series, which for no good reason rotates with geezer entertainers from the past singing to geezer audiences.
Who wants to watch geezers when one can watch young Bogart and young Bergman and young Henreid and a younger Peter Lorre in “Casablanca?”
The movie has been around for 75 years.
My wife thought she had seen it, and would enjoy seeing it again. I had seen many familiar scenes from the movie – “hill of beans” and “play it, Sam” and “shocked, shocked,” staples of any vocabulary – but I was not sure I had ever watched it straight through.
So, yes, we both knew “Casablanca” but quickly discovered parts we had never seen -- the back story, beautiful and endangered Paris, plus the developing shaky rapport between Bogart and the opportunistic French officer, the many signs of Nazi intrusion into North Africa.
I realized I had never seen the moment when Ingrid Bergman’s beautiful face returns to Bogart’s world. He says later: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Of course, we knew the line, knew it was coming, but I never understood the depth of his bitterness. The man who didn’t care had once cared, immensely.
The writers insisted they had created the lines as part of the Hollywood mill, to make money, to entertain themselves, despite the horrors spreading around the world. The Nazis were merely stock film villains; in the first months of the ‘40s, when the film was being written and made, few people really understood what was coming down in Europe.
Here is a side issue to my watching “Casablanca:” More than a few times, I found myself thinking about making a call the next day to my friend, the writer Ray Robinson, who once had a stormy date of sorts with young Lauren Bacall and knew some Hollywood people and always talked about the 40’s and Bogart and Bacall. But my conversations would have to remain mental, inasmuch as Ray passed on Nov. 1, just shy of turning 97.
It was fun to sit back last Saturday night to watch “Casablanca” unfold -- the jangled emotions and motives of the three main characters, the violence, the plot far more complicated than the snippets we all know -- toward the conclusion my wife and I knew was coming.
Wait, that wily German officer makes a crucial mistake? How convenient for the plot. I hope I am not giving away what seems like a flaw in the script, but the movie has been out for 75 years, and the writers themselves did not think they were making an epic film, but they were.
The movie is about caring – for some cause, for some person.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
It all comes back to me as my colleagues prepare to cover the 2018 Winter Olympics up near the border in South Korea.
Having visited the DMZ with the U.S. soccer team in 2002, I think about hordes of crazies streaming across the border with axes in their hands. At the moment, I read there is a norovirus loose in the Olympic complex. How’d you like to get frisked by a security guard, looking a little green?
There is always something. That’s why the New York Times always sends journalists who know Olympics sports but can handle anything. They have a dream team going this time – many of them colleagues from when I was covering Summer Games from Los Angeles in 1984 to Beijing in 2010, with four Winter Games included.
Fear and trembling. A rebellion in South Korea brought down the government in 1987 and sportswriters were urging that the Olympics be called off. The Games were fine and I fell in love with the country.
Fear and trembling. Atlanta was going to be a disaster, payback for over-reaching. There was indeed a bomb in the park one night, killing two people and injuring others – the work of one of our home-grown anti-government nutters, not foreign terrorists.
It was awful. Our reporters were roused from our rooms and the editor Kathleen McElroy dispatched The Three Todds from Georgia Tech to drive us downtown in the NYT vans. Dave Anderson and Frank Litsky and others walked the street in the darkness, collecting details. And Atlanta came through the tragedy.
Fear and trembling. Athens in 2004 was the first set of Games since 9/11. The fear was that terrorists were going to infiltrate Piraeus Harbor and blow up cruise ships. The worst violence was a domestic demonstration; our photo editor Brad Smith took a rock in the head and lived to tell the tale; (saw him the other day.) Juliet Macur was on the front lines and whiffed some tear gas. She’s in Pyeongchang, a columnist now. These are tough people. They don’t just keep score at games.
(May I digress to mention the San Francisco earthquake during the 1989 World Series? We all did some instant reporting; the dogged Murray Chass reported from the pancaked Bay Bridge. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/19/us/california-quake-highway-collapse-desperate-struggle-for-lives-along-880.html
A day later the NYT sent out a great news reporter who arrived with his boots and a helmet with a flashlight. Dude, we said, The City is making the cappuccino by candlelight.)
I don’t remember any fear and trembling heading to Almost Heaven, West Nagano, for the 1998 Winter Games. Soba noodles in downtown booths. Peaceful Games. But one night I went to sleep feeling fine and came down with a raging flu. I went downstairs to the press-center infirmary to see a long line of similarly stricken colleagues. The medics put some vile-tasting grainy medicine on my tongue and said I might sleep for a day. Wonder drug. I was back on the job a day later. The Japanese took care of us. Back to the daily dose of soba noodles.
So now I am retired, back home. I tend not to watch Olympics on TV because I had my fun covering them, being there. But I will be reading what Jeré Longman and John Branch and Juliet Macur and all the rest will write in the New York Times.
The other day, Andrew Keh arrived (from his post in Berlin) and wrote about discovering familiar Korean comfort food in that northern outpost:
I’d like to think I would have written a story like that. The beat goes on.
While some Americans were preparing for the Super Bowl (see below) in icy Minneapolis on Sunday, the Silva family of Rio went to Ipanema.
Altenir, Neo and Celia posed at the statue of Tom Jobim, who wrote "Garota de Ipanema."
On the beach, hundreds of people are usually performing tricks, maneuvering a large round ball with their feet and chests and knees and foreheads.
The soul of that sport is in Brazil.
Senhoras e senhores, Antonio Carlos Jobim:
If one is going to see only one American football game per season -- and I did -- this was the game to see.
Super Bowl LII was full of twists and athleticism and trick plays.
The brain damage will be assessed in a few years.
I've got some friends who are Iggles fans, and they had never won the Super Bowl.
It isn't hard to root against the Patriots, except that Tom Brady is still admirable, on the field, after all these years. He had the ball in the closing seconds.
Our daughter Laura made gumbo that warmed me up, maybe just as much as I might have been on the beach at Ipanema.
Boa noite a todos.
Big Al passed last Sunday morning.
What that means – what I think that means – is that I will not be getting any more emails out of the blue, like:
“Just asking. How good a clutch hitter was Yogelah, anyway? Ask your friend Newk.”
This was a very personal barb, aimed not just at me but at the admirable Don Newcombe, still working for the Dodgers out in LA, who got creamed by Yogi Berra for two – count ‘em, two – two-run homers in the seventh game of the 1956 World Series.
Oh, yes, Big Al remembered. And made sure to remind me.
Big Al was a loving member of his own family, but his special charm was getting on a point and pushing it. This made him a great lawyer for a major insurance company, according to Joseph LoParrino, for whom Al was mentor and friend.
“Al and I debated every major sports and news story since 1999 and since email was invented,” LoParrino wrote to me. “When the Tiger Woods scandal broke - my phone buzzed. His commentary made you fall over laughing. I could press his buttons in any category.”
Big Al was a master in button-pushing. My first contact with him was via his company envelopes and company stationery, before the advent of emails. Big Al would scribble – penmanship obviously not his forte in the public schools of East Queens – lengthy screeds about how I had insulted the current Yankees or, much much worse, The Mick.
Al – who was a decade younger than me – thought part of the problem was that I had attended Jamaica High in the 50’s whereas he had attended rival Van Buren High in the 60’s.
(He couldn’t blame college, since we both attended Hofstra as undergraduates.)
Al let me know, in six pages of briefs, that he knew more about sports than I did because he had played basketball and baseball for the demanding Marv Kessler at Van Buren.
I loved his descriptions of Kessler, vilifying him in Queens billingsgate, for sins committed in games or practices. (Many years later, Kessler praised Big Al as player and mensch; Al felt that praise was a tad late.)
Every journalist would be thrilled to have a critic like Big Al. We became mail pals, bonding over the long-lost Charney’s deli at 188th and Union Turnpike, and zaftig Queens girls, and Alley Pond Park, and the way the old Knicks played, and really what else is there?
Al became my Yankee Everyman, a stand-in for all of them. What he felt, they all felt. Eventually we met for a few dinners at the old Palm on the west side of Second Avenue. Al would deride me for ordering broiled fish and salad rather than the double primo beef and potatoes. Sissy. Weenie. And other Marv Kessler terms.
Sometimes he would order a full meal to bring home to his mother who lived in New Jersey.
He was such a Palm regular that his caricature was on the wall of valued customers, celebrities or just people who liked to eat beef. (Alas, that caricature seems to have been lost in the move across Second Ave.)
By then, Al was no longer the rail of a forward that Marv Kessler had berated back in Queens Village. He was Big Al, Manhattan bachelor, Eastside Al on one email handle. We would talk politics, and he would tell me tales about his service veteran/fireman/tradesman/paper hanger father who gave up his love of the Brooklyn Dodgers for his Yankee-fan wife, Ruth, who had seen Gehrig play.
Al was proud to tell me how his mother loved Andy Pettitte more than she loved him. He ascribed it to Pettitte’s schnozz but knew it was about Andy’s gentleness.
With no context whatsoever, Al dropped little e-bombs on me about or how Casey Stengel stuck with lefty Bob Kuzava against Jackie Robinson in the seventh game of 1952 and how Billy Martin raced across the windy, sunny infield to catch the popup. Always there was Yogelah, golfing homers off his shoetops, an endless loop of homers off poor Newk (one of the great people I have met in baseball.)
Al went silent one year, and I worried, so I sent a letter to his office, and somebody told me he was out on sick leave. When his mom passed in 2009 he took over her house in New Jersey and lived near his sister and her family -- and raved to his friends at work about the joys of the Jersey suburbs. Via the email, he never stopped taunting me, or raving about the Yankees and in particular The Mick. (He loved Sandy Koufax, too.)
One time he spoke for all New York fans who flocked to the ball parks on opening day over the decades:
Recently I sent an email: “Al, where are you?” His sister, Roberta Taxerman Smith, emailed me Monday morning saying Big Al had passed Sunday at 67 and the funeral would be held Tuesday in New Jersey. His paid obit was in the Times and on legacy.com:
I smiled when I noted that Big Al passed in the Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. He was a loyal Jew, and a most ecumenical dude, as many of us were in Queens. He and I exchanged greetings at Rosh Hashanah and Christmas and the first day of pitchers and catchers and other holy days. He knew I had grown up with mostly Jewish friends and he called me “landsman.”
When I found out, via DNA testing, that I am 47 percent Jewish, via my father, who was adopted, Big Al's reaction was: I told you so. Then again, that was often his reaction.
Roberta Taxerman Smith told me Al believed, to the end, that the docs were going to take care of him and he never complained. He had saved his complaints for Joe Torre’s strategies, and we argued over that, too.
Here’s what I really hate about losing Big Al: he I were both looking forward to seeing Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the same lineup, the same pinstripes.
Murderer’s Row, 2018.
If there is justice, on Opening Day they go back-to-back.
Maybe Big Al will send me an e-mail.
Alas, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not be able to attend the State of the Union speech Tuesday evening because she has a speaking engagement at the Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.
(Williams is one of the great early Americans, remembered for “advocating separation of church and state in Colonial America. His views on religious freedom and tolerance, coupled with his disapproval of the practice of confiscating land from Native Americans, earned him the wrath of his church and banishment from the colony,” according to one history site. Make of this what you will.)
The justice, age 84, has given clear recent signals that she intends to remain on the highest court for the foreseeable future.
Good move, Madam Justice. I can’t speak for her – nobody should dare – but speaking strictly for myself, I don’t want to observe that generally affirmative evening soiled this this time around.
For the inauguration a year ago, some of us in the family went to an Afghan restaurant on Long Island on the theory that the event would not be on the tube, and we were right. Aushak all around, for starters.
As for the State of the Union speech and the bustle surrounding it, I’m going to listen to Terrance McKnight on WQXR-FM instead. Much healthier.
(I ducked out on the Grammies after 10 minutes Sunday night; guys in fatigues and boots? Where were Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton? What ever happened to songs?)
Of course, I could be missing a one-time-only event Tuesday night. A year ago, I predicted 18 months from inauguration for this guy; it is still a possibility, given the collusion and money-laundering and racial slurs and general debauchery and ignorance emitting from the White House. But I’ll read about the event in the Times the next morning.
What is the over/under (gambling term) for how many times he says “no collusion, no collusion?” Or waves his stubby fingers and says, “Truthfully….”
I always enjoy the State of the Union because, even with the loyal opposition sitting on its hands for much of the speech, there is a sense of vestigial dignity to the evening.
Plus, I love the way some public officials hang over the railing to shake hands, get an autograph, or offer sage if truncated advice. I always love to spot my fellow Jamaica High School grad (a few decades younger than my crowd), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, engaging President Obama or President George W. Bush from her adopted state of Texas.
I just discovered that Rep. Lee and her companions are known as “aisle hogs” because they line up hours and hours before the big event, to get up close with the President.
The latest information is that Rep. Lee is undecided about attending Tuesday night. Old habits die hard. I’m guessing she will be there, perhaps to eyeball this office-temp president.
Take a good look. Next year we might have President Pence – I know, I know -- not that he would want to get too close to a female legislator.
Anyway, I’ll be listening to classical music Tuesday evening.
I think Roger Williams would approve.
Echo Helmstrom Casey died in California last week at 75. She was said to be the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s haunting song, "Girl From the North Country" – and for the wonderful covers that live to this day.
The song will be a classic as long as people have drifting thoughts of the first girl/first boy they loved.
I didn’t know anything about Echo Helmstrom until Laura Vecsey, my eldest, sent me a link from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Of course, there had to be an Echo Helmstrom.
Echo. Not even Bob Dylan could make that up.
She echoes in the soul.
It’s a winter song. Winter in New York, early 60’s, and the former Bobby Zimmerman is thinking how cold it must be in Hibbing, so he writes:
Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds
What kinder thoughts could anyone have for a girl back home in the north country?
According to the very nice article by Matt Steichen in the Star Tribune, Echo Helmstrom was a seeker, much like young Bob Zimmerman; they met in high school and then parted. Later, he must have known – Bob knows everything – that she also got away from the howlin’ winds, and moved to California, and lived her life, often complicated by the Dylanologists. (One of them even went through Dylan’s garbage in Greenwich Village but that’s another story.)
There’s no sense that Bob and Echo ever met again, or kept in touch. Then again, Dante met Beatrice only twice, fleetingly. But Dylan thought enough of Echo and her piercing eyes and blonde hair that he wrote the song about her, and really, what else is there?
The music and the lyrics live on – in Dylan’s original, and in the covers which can be tricky, ranging from the ridiculous to the masterful: Levon Helm and The Band acing Springsteen’s “Atlantic City;” and KD Lang owning Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in my opinion.)
I came to Bob Dylan via my kid brother Chris, who sang and played guitar and harmonica in coffee shops in the mid-60’s.
In 1969, Dylan made the immortal album “Nashville Skyline” in the city that had long resonated with me. Johnny Cash, who admired the brash kid, welcomed him to town and came into the studio, clearly not having totally mastered the lyrics to “North Country,” and he fluffed some entries, but Dylan let it flow because it was Johnny Cash and because it was real.
(NB: the version above is from Dylan’s respectful visit to Cash’s TV show later. Cash had long since mastered the lyrics and the beat of the song.)
Impromptu or rehearsed, what a duet – Dylan’s cutting brilliance, Cash’s throbbing pain, singing about a girl from back home.
See for me that her hair's hanging down
That's the way I remember her best
The song is perfect today, nearly half a century later. Rosanne Cash included it in her 2009 CD. “The List,” springing from the 100 songs her father deemed vital to the American soul. There is a very sweet guitar riff by her husband John Leventhal, and backup by three other musicians.
“The Girl From the North Country” lives, whether by Bob Dylan, or Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, or Rosanne Cash, back-to-back-to-back, on my iPod.
Now Laura Vecsey has an idea, which she has posted on Twitter: Rosanne Cash and Bob Dylan should record a duet, to complete the circle, to honor the girl from the north country.
For she once was a true love of mine.
George Weah might have been remembered as one of the greatest players never to take part in the World Cup tournament.
That category is an honor – good enough to win a World Cup if all those players were assembled in their prime.
Now George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah has another honor – president of Liberia. He was sworn in Monday after being elected last December, fall, the first footballer to run a country, as far as I can see.
Weah is also a New Yorker, married to an American, with a home in the area, and also a presence on the playing fields. There are legends of a fleet and resourceful player, with an assumed name, popping up at Metropolitan Oval in Queens or some other local den, playing with some semipro club.
''The Concorde,'' he told me in 2001. ''I'd be in New York on Sunday and go back on Monday.''
He is a myth – who was that masked man, making a run toward goal? Now he is a president, and good luck with that. He has come through the fire of Charles Taylor’s murderous regime, having relatives beaten and raped in a home he owned in Liberia. I could feel the sizzle of anger as he alluded to the troubles he had seen. Now he is a duly-elected leader.
Weah’s inauguration comes at a visible time for Africa.
The President of the United States, a dangerous ignoramus named Donald J. Trump, recently referred to “shithole” countries, including Africa, during a diatribe in front of senators, some of them suffering serious memory loss.
Also, PBS has been showing a marvelous series by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., called “Africa’s Great Civilizations,” showing the rich and complicated roots of all humanity. My wife and I watched the final four hours Sunday night, seeing ruins of castles and ports that thrived due to the trade winds.
Gates told of vastly diverse cultures, fierce and wise and benevolent rulers, female warriors and scholars and traders and artists. Gates’ most passionate moment comes when he says if there is a hell, he is sure it contains the monarch who exported a million or more slaves to willing markets in Africa and the New World.
There was also a segment on a great Zulu chief and tactician named Shaka who deployed armies. I have heard the name, including the Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who held Sweden to a 0-0 draw in the 2006 World Cup and has a master’s degree from Howard University.
Most Americans, including myself, know little about Africa but we do know the damage committed by European and American interests. I would suggest donating to PBS and taking the gift of the Gates series.
Now there is another hook for Americans to think of Africa: For me, George Weah emerged on the wavy screens of non-cable American TV on Sunday mornings in the 90s, playing for AC Milan, when Serie A was the best league in the world.
Between 1995 and 1997, AC Milan brought in Roberto Baggio, who produced one of the most beautiful goals I have ever seen. I cannot find the exact video but I know I saw it:
From midfield, wearing that classic red and black striped Milan jersey, Baggio spotted Weah moving fast toward the offside line and floated a ball that intersected perfectly with Weah, at full sprint, all alone, making a fake or two and lashing the ball into an unguarded corner of the goal – two brilliant football minds, meeting in time and space, on a field in Italy, lightning from a clear sky.
Life is more complicated for George Weah now. He takes over an African country, settled partially by some returning slaves but also colonists from America. Much of the continent is still looking to overcome what Belgians and English, French and Americans, did to it.
May George Weah’s wits and will be as fleet as when he was on the field.
Need a baseball fix? Here’s one, right in the heart of Manhattan on Jan. 27 – a day-long festival of the summer sport, from SABR, the baseball research organization.
The speakers include many experts in baseball and/or research, including a librarian, a major-league umpire, a scout who played for the Philadelphia A's in 1953, and an outfielder who helped win the 1969 World Series.
Another speaker will be Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, who has been writing (excellently) about baseball since he was, I think, 3 years old.
Speaking of precocity, if you know a youthful baseball fan who follows all the trade rumors and knows the new analytics like WAR (I have no clue what that is, but I hear it all the time), this conference might make the young savant happy on a Saturday in January.
I spoke at this conference five years or so ago, and one of the highlights for me was a young fan who asked a good question and seemed to know just as much as the predominant geezers who had witnessed Carl Furillo and Monte Irvin and Whitey Ford in this city. (The rate for “students” is $20 as opposed to the rate of $35, still reasonable.)
Sometimes a young pheenom of a fan actually grows up to be Tyler Kepner. I witnessed that not long ago when a kid in Philadelphia started putting out an occasional baseball magazine, with features by him, drawings by him, layouts by him, headlines by him, circulation by him, marketing by him. The occasional journal was Phillie-centric, and it was charming.
The very same Tyler Kepner is now a great baseball writer for The Times, old enough to have four children.
Back in the day, Tyler produced his baseball magazine irregularly, to allow him to honor other commitments, like kindergarten. The late and lamented Robert McG Thomas, Jr., of the NYT wrote a feature about him in 1989:
Nowadays, in the time of the Web, when sportswriters are lashed to the 24-hour hamster wheel, Tyler keeps typing away, brilliantly. I recently heard how at the seventh game of the 2016 World Series he wrote an early column and then late in the game wrote a new column on Rajai Davis when it appeared Davis’s homer would win won the Series.
However, the Davis column never made the paper or the Web because, well, the Cubs won while Tyler was typing. So he started all over again, and then woke up the next morning and fed a few more columns to the beast – five columns within 18 hours, by the office's count.
The program for the SABR event does not specify Tyler’s subject on Jan. 27th but notes that he is currently writing a book. Oddly enough, about baseball.
The program will take place Jan. 27, 2018, from 10 AM to 3 PM at the New York Public Library, at 42nd St. and Fifth Avenue (you know, the one with the lions.) It will be held in the Celeste Auditorium, lower level of the South Court, of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
The event is officially the New York City Casey Stengel Chapter’s annual meeting, as part of the Society for American Baseball Research.
The participants, recruited and moderated by Ernestine Miller, are:
Virginia Bartow, the Senior Rare Book Cataloger in the Special Collections at the New York Public Library, whose illustrated presentation includes photos, graphs, trade cards, newspaper features and other memorabilia of baseball in New York.
Ed Randall, moderator of a panel on: “Standouts of the Game”-- author and on-air personality for WFAN, Sirius and ESPN
Phil Cuzzi, Major League umpire who has worked for 22 years in 2,428 games including three MLB no-hitters.
Tom Giordano, age 92, long-time scout and official who scouted Cal Ripken, Jr., and in 1953 played 11 games for the 1953 Philadelphia Athletics under manager Jimmy Dykes.
Art Shamsky, who platooned with Ron Swoboda on the 1969 Miracle Mets, and remains the only player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a game in which he was not in the starting lineup.
Jon Springer, SABR research presentation on Edward "The Only" Nolan, the star pitcher of the 1884 Quicksteps, a team that played a role in the first battle of the Reserve Clause war, the establishment of post-season play, and the evolution of playing rules and equipment. Nolan was recognized for his unique pitches as well as his notorious behavior which led to fines, suspensions, being kicked off a team, and eventually, his being blacklisted from the league.
(I have never heard of Nolan. This is what SABR does so well: telling about fascinating players from long-ago times.)
Diane Firstman will make a SABR research presentation, “The Three True Outcomes,” shedding light on the relationships among walks, strikeouts, and homers from her research on “three true outcomes” (TTO). She will highlight trends comparing Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Aaron Judge in those categories.
After this warmup it will soon be time for that glorious annual event called Pitchers and Catchers. It’s coming, honest, it’s coming.
Please pre-register if possible, with David Lippman at:
Martin Luther King, Jr., was 39 when he was assassinated. That fact shocked me when I was reminded Monday night. I knew he was young, but I might have said 49 or 59. That’s young, too.
But Dr. King was 39, and he had done so much, by April 3, 1968, when, not feeling well and speaking without notes, he delivered what would be his final speech, in Memphis, when he said he had been to the mountaintop and he was not afraid. He was killed the next day.
Dr. King could be alive today, like John Lewis, the national treasure, still on the front line, about to turn 78, or he could have matched Harriet Tubman, born in slavery, date unknown, but around 90 when she passed.
I was reminded of this Monday night, on what would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday. I did not go golfing but then again I did not perform any symbolic service on the national holiday, the way George W. Bush and Barack Obama did as president.
I just hunkered down inside and at 9 PM I made a point to listen to the annual King celebration from Terrance McKnight on WQXR-FM.
McKnight is a civic asset here in New York – beautiful speaking voice and matching knowledge, reminds me of where-have-you-gone, No. 44. McKnight is a Morehouse grad, like Spike Lee, like the Olympian Edwin Moses, like Donn Clendenon, the 1969 Miracle Met, who was mentored by a Morehouse grad – why didn’t I know this? -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every year McKnight stresses the influence of music on Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King, who trained to be another Marian Anderson. Dr. King played classical music in his car as he drove north to grad school at Boston University.
McKnight played some Mahalia Jackson and he played some Sam Cooke and he played some classical, too. He did not play Dion DiMucci, but I found myself thinking of the singer from the Belmont section of the Bronx who wrote “Abraham, Martin and John,” which ends with a coda to Robert F. Kennedy.
One key line, you know it, goes: “The good they die young.”
McKnight told the story of the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” in Atlanta and how Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen were excluded, and how the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir sang, directed by Alberta King, wife of the pastor, mother of 6-year-old Martin, Jr.
Listen for yourself: https://www.wqxr.org/story/11702-beautiful-symphony-brotherhood-musical-journey-life-martin-luther-king-jr
Toward the end of the chronological journey McKnight noted that Dr. King was 39 when he gave his extemporaneous speech in Memphis. Thirty-nine.
The speech ended:
“I'm not worried about anything.
“I'm not fearing any man!
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
Somebody on WINS news radio asked people on Monday what Dr. King would be doing if he were alive today. One woman said, "He'd stand up to them, the way he stood up to Bull Connors" -- a reference to the commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, who unleashed the dogs, tolerated the bombers.
Dr. King studied Gandhi. Stood up to Bull Connor. The good they die young.
The eyes see, the brain wonders.
This happened recently, just before the snow. I was looking out the kitchen window and saw an animal moving, not unusual in our wooded area:
A neighborhood black cat roams freely. Squirrels store acorns on our lawn. The occasional dog makes a break for it. Raccoons stare brazenly near the garbage cans.
This was something else – red, handsome, erect.
The brain said: “Cat.” Then the brain said, “Dog.” Then the brain said, “Neither.”
My mouth said, “Fox!” My wife picked up her head and saw it.
This was all in a few seconds.
I grabbed for my smartphone to take a photo, too late.
The animal was vigilant, ears up, perfect posture. He looked around, like a UPS driver unsure which house is No. 9. Then he/she padded, straight-legged gait, unlike dog or cat or squirrel or raccoon, toward the neighbor’s lawn, and onto the golf course.
I had never seen a fox outside a zoo. Stumbled upon deer while hiking in the Appalachians.
Laura has coyotes around her country house upstate. (Keep an eye on the pup.)
We see signs depicting moose along I-95 in Maine. (I maintain it is a tourism ploy.)
One crisp day years ago, near Sedona, a pack of javelinas, snorting, kicking up sand, rushed past me in the bushes, so close I could see smell them, see their bristles. But never a fox.
I mentioned “our” fox to our children, and Corinna reminded me she uses a fox for her logo, as a well-connected consultant for do-good projects in Pennsylvania.
“My choice of a logo was easy — it had to be a fox!” she wrote. “I have always loved foxes; my house is full of fox paintings, photos, and knickknacks.
“But I also think they’re the perfect symbol for a consultant. While foxes occupy a spot near the top of the food chain, and are, in fact, predators, most people are excited – not scared – to see them in the wild. This struck me as not a bad role model for a consultant!
“So my dear friend Diana Robinson created a beautiful fox logo for me, a handsome fellow leaping up towards success!”
Corinna alluded to the classic book by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” in which he describes an over-eager fox getting a face full of hedgehog quills. Nevertheless, she prefers foxes.
Coincidence: my Australian cousin Jen Guttenplan is married to Sam Guttenplan, an American professor in London and longtime associate of Sir Isaiah. (Jen once sent me a brilliant description of Sir Isaiah’s funeral.)
Double coincidence: Sam and Jen have foxes on their lawn in Islington, North London.
“They like to sleep in the sun on the patch of grass visible from our kitchen window. Bold as brass,” Sam reported, sending me a photo of a greying fox, sunning on their lawn.
Corinna is right. We are thrilled at knowing that a beautiful red fox resides near our house.
My wife says one fox means more foxes.
I am vigilant for another glimpse of red coat, bright fur, alert eyes and ears.
The fox undoubtedly is on guard for us.
There's nothing like a good old movie. My wife and I were reminded of that Saturday night when we kept warm together and watched the local PBS station in New York present “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which came out in 1961.
The movie is still wonderful – at least for those of us who came of age in that city, in that time.
Then again, there is nothing like a good old actress, or actor. We reaffirmed that Sunday night as we watched eternal favorites Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey (delivering a righteous sermon on fairness for women in the arts; if America ever elected a television celebrity as President, at least it could choose one with brains and conscience), Shirley Maclaine, Barbra Streisand, Carol Burnett and many others warming up the night at the Golden Globes. (Some older guys, and younger people, were there, too.)
Audrey Hepburn was not there, sadly, because she passed in 1993, way too young at 63, but lit up the night on Saturday, in the role of her life, lovely in her little black outfit.
The second star of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is New York itself – the city that existed one way in Truman Capote’s book and another way in the movie-makers’ minds.
That New York remains implanted in the memories of people who dared to dream that a one-bedroom walkup near midtown could be affordable for somebody who has not necessarily scored a gigantic deal.
My wife and I, a couple of kids, had a one-night honeymoon at the Plaza – Castro and Khrushchev were also in town -- before getting back to work on Monday. There was magic in Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue and Central Park and the side streets with their surprises and secrets.
In that apparently genteel playground, out-of-towners like Holly Golightly, a party girl, and Paul Varjak, a writer of fading potential, could meet on a fire escape -- kindred souls, both living in that playground courtesy of wealthier patrons.
New York seemed to offer glamour, stability, hope. When “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was issued in 1961:
--Penn Station had not yet been demolished, replaced by that contemptuous dungeon of a terminal, and soon afterward the neighborhood-strangling “new” Madison Square Garden.
--The Pan-Am Building (now called the MetLife Building) had not yet been plopped down, ruining the esthetic of Park Ave.
--John F. Kennedy was the new President.
--Rupert Murdoch was making stuff up, but in Australia.
--George Steinbrenner was still bullying his lackeys in Cleveland.
--And Donald Trump was still living out in Queens and fidgeting his way through classes in college.
In other words, the good old days.
The movie endures despite blind spots and gaffes:
--Mickey Rooney, as a put-upon Japanese photographer upstairs, is a total embarrassment with stereotypical accent and offensive false teeth. They should have known better, even then.
-- There is no trace of social issues, of Vietnam, of race. The only glimpse of African-Americans is on visitors’ day at Sing Sing, and some extras at the library and a five-and-dime store. The four other boroughs do not exist.
--A sub-plot involving a planned caper in Brazil contains many confusions of language and custom. I bet my friend Altenir Jose Silva of Rio, who has written movies himself, notices his middle name mispronounced the Spanish way rather than the soft, throaty Portuguese-Brazilian way.
Still, the movie crackles when Holly Golightly sings "Moon River" to herself on the fire escape or lowers her sunglasses to inspect Patricia Neal, a domineering designer who is supporting the younger writer, played by George Peppard.
Martin Balsam is fine as a Hollywood agent, and a familiar New York character actor of the time, Jim McGiver, is superb in a cameo as an officious salesman at Tiffany’s, who bends to Hepburn’s smile.
I have been under the impression that Buddy Ebsen is cornball as a rustic face from the past but the re-viewing convinced me that Ebsen is dignified and touching.
By the way, Capote’s book is much darker than the movie, including a graphic hint that Holly did indeed have adventures in deepest Brazil.
That’s all I’m saying, in case somehow you have not seen the movie about a beautiful and tormented drifter, “off to see the world.”
* * *
(Unfortunately, on some Saturday evenings, Channel 13 switches to stale oldie pop concerts; go figure. I cannot fathom why a high-level public station cannot find a landmark movie every freaking Saturday night, for those of us who have not figured out what “streaming” or “Netflix” are. I’m sure the hardy band of regulars on this site – including screen writer Silva – could suggest 52 classic films a year to help Channel 13 present a consistent series.)
My wife’s uncle, Harold Grundy, passed early Thursday at the age of 95.
He was an American hero – a carpenter who learned complex engineering skills, who kept Navy ships steaming in murderous waters in World War Two and later supervised the building of observation stations and nuclear plants.
He was a survivor – of bombs in the Atlantic and Pacific, of winters in the Arctic, a wartime storm off England, a typhoon in the Pacific, and of life itself.
His only child Roger came home wounded from Vietnam only to die from a car wreck on a Maine highway. His wife Barbara was wracked by diabetes -- and he took care of her, with the help of dear friends. Everybody knew him in Bath, Maine, Barbara’s home town.
After Barbara died in 2014, Marianne recognized the need to visit her uncle once in a while. At 93, Harold would have thick, rich chowder on the stove and fresh fruit pies baking in the oven.
Harold would take us on little outings from Bath – beaches and fish restaurants and back roads. He took us to coastal towns that looked like a setting for “Carousel” and fish-fry stands and old forts.
He talked about Barbara in the present tense: “Sometimes Barbara and I drive up this road in the late afternoon.”
His education had ended in high school. He and his older brother left Connecticut in 1940 for a job dredging the Kennebec River to accommodate the large warships being built for what was coming. From his cottage alongside the river, he would tell us about rowing explosives into the middle of the river.
In wartime, his acquired technical and engineering skills were essential to the military; he helped win one war and fight the Cold War. He was the last survivor who had served at observation posts in Greenland and Cutler, Me., and Guantanamo Bay, keeping an eye on our new best friends from Russia. However, because he was technically a civilian employee (ducking the same bombs as the military personnel), he was denied a pension by the U.S. government. Somehow, he was not bitter.
Harold moved all over the world, building sensitive structures. Recently, we mentioned that one of our daughters lives near the nuclear plants at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. “Don’t worry,” Harold assured us, “I can tell you we made them double strong.”
He had a Zelig-like way of being everywhere. He once chatted with a young senatorial candidate named John F. Kennedy in a train station in Boston; Winston Churchill popped out of No. 10 Downing Street and said hello to Harold and a few other tourists.
One time we were driving near the coast and Harold casually mentioned he had helped build a house for Margaret Chase Smith when she was a senator. With her politician’s memory, she once recognized him when she got off a government plane at Cutler, and asked him to accompany her on her visit. People seemed to detect the civility and knowledge behind his humble bearing.
He was so valuable to a construction company that they often flew Barbara to join him overseas, and they helped with her medical treatment.
When Harold was home in Bath, between projects, he and Barbara, with her crippling diabetes, expanded a house on Washington St. He built houses and boats and docks and staircases for banks and chicken coops that were more handsome and sturdy-looking than some homes along the highway. Harold and Barbara started a little woodworking business – in their spare time, you understand – which has become a major business for a close friend.
Harold and Barbara had a legion of dear friends who helped them: Cookie, Ace, Eric, Martha A, Martha B, Ann, Germaine, Diane, Rich and Suzanne, Bill, his nephew Dr. Paul, many caring medical people in the area, Kristi at the Plant Home, and people in shops and banks and drugstores, who fussed over them, in a real community.
Two years ago, the Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center at nearby Bowdoin College held an exhibition of 193 photographs Harold took when he was based in Greenland. Harold’s family – including siblings in their 90s and late 80s – came in from New England and Florida for a reunion, in Harold’s most public moment.
Harold came from hardy stock -- Quakers named Watrous and Crouch and Whipple who settled the eastern Connecticut coast and people named Grundy and Clegg and Schofield who thrived in Lancashire during the Industrial Revolution.
But even these rugged folk wear down. Harold was fading the last time we saw him, on his 95th birthday in September. He had moved into a lovely retirement home, but his energy was gone and he could not enjoy the party.
On Wednesday night, Cookie, a surrogate daughter to Harold and Barbara, who supervised their paperwork, was visiting from Connecticut, to be near him. Harold passed as a wintry storm roared up the coast.
Come spring, Uncle Harold will be interred in the lovely hillside cemetery where he used to take us to visit Barbara and Roger.
In recent weeks, as I thought about Harold and Barbara and Roger, my mind moved to a song about the release from pain – “Agate Hill,” by Alice Gerrard, recorded by the great Kathy Mattea.
As I type this in the snowstorm, I think of Roger and Barbara and Harold together, building and cooking and fishing on some celestial version of coastal Maine, and I hear a line from the song:
“Wild and free again, oh it will be as then.”
IN MEMORIAL, GERMAINE BOYNTON Harold often talked about his in-law Germaine who lived further up US 1. She invited us to lunch last spring and cooked a French-Canadian specialty and showed us the work and studios of hers and her daughter Diane, two formidable and artistic ladies. Germaine passed in hospice Saturday morning, two days after Harold.
All through this long holiday period, I have been thinking of people who set an example for the rest of us.
Now I wish I had not found this one.
In the final week of an unsettling year, a young soldier – an immigrant, yes – risked his life once, twice, three times, four times, to save people in a horrendous fire in the Bronx. And then he went back a fifth time and did not survive.
A week before, I had filed my final post of the year -- a reminder (to myself) to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. (Whole lot of cursing going on.)
Emmanuel Mensah from Ghana personified the selflessness we all like to think we could demonstrate, if we had to….if it presented itself….
I came up with other examples, people I actually know.
My friend Mendel of Jerusalem is a rabbi and family therapist (and writer, and runner, and Mets fan from Queens) who volunteers as a counselor with EMT units.
We met for lunch on Long Island during his home visit. He told me that while trained medics deal with the physical part of a crisis, Mendel finds anybody who needs support.
He never knows what language or accent he will hear when he takes somebody’s hand. They could be Jewish or Muslim or Christian. He does not care. He ministers. He lights the candle.
Then I thought about my wife’s uncle Harold from Maine. He recently turned 95 and can no longer have home-made fish chowder and pie waiting for us when we drive up U.S. 1.
Harold says he would like to be “with family” – aging, scattered -- but his “family” is right there in Bath, where he has lived most of his life.
There is Ace, a surrogate son who returns regularly from the Southwest, and Cookie, a surrogate daughter who drives up from southern New England; they have skillfully handled the complicated details of a loved one who lives a very long time.
There is Eric, whose family has been intertwined with Harold and his late wife Barbara. There is Martha, who drives Harold to the doctor even as she works full-time. There is Ann, the friend and nurse who has given diligent counsel.
There is Germane and her daughter Diane, and Rich and Suzanne, and Bill, an in-law, and Kristi, retired Army colonel and nurse, who watched over Harold in a lovely retirement complex, as long as it was feasible.
We have witnessed the best example of a classic American town, actually bustling with work (building warships on the Kennebec River, which Harold dredged in 1941) and the good will of people who know who they are, where they are from.
But let’s double back to Emmanuel Mensah, from Ghana. The Times says he joined the Army National Guard and recently passed basic training. He planned to go on active duty, but before he did, there was a fire in the building.
At the end of a dark year, I visualized Emmanuel Mensah’s military training – the preparation to protect people, to back up your buddies, to serve. In the months to come, I count on that developed impulse to follow rules.
I suspect Emmanuel Mensah’s fine instincts as a human being, from his homeland of Ghana, were encouraged by the American military: when bad stuff is happening, go toward it.
Emmanuel Mensah, an immigrant, saved lives in his final minutes on this earth. In the new year, his example shines.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.