Tuesday, December 2, 2014

McSorley's Old Ale House

I was in New York City last weekend. Always a great place to visit and not for the reasons you think. There is great theater, music, and all the well known cultural attractions. After doing the ritual tourist stuff on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, my girlfriend and I decided to spend Sunday on the cheap. We had lunch in Little Italy. More specifically, Casa Bella on Mulberry Street. Mussels with garlic as an appetizer. I had pasta bolognese and my girlfriend had Chicken francais or something like that. The damage: $33.00. I tipped the waiter $10. The total was about 50% of what I tipped the waiter at TAO the night before. It was the best meal I had during my stay. Now onto the Main Event. For you serious drinkers who frequently go to Manhattan, you need no introduction. But for the younger crowd whose livers are healthy and still their own and who believe that Sundays were not invented for religious observance but for quaffing ale at the neighborhood gin mill, might I introduce you to McSorley's Old Ale House:
Founded in 1840, it has not changed much. They offer two beverages: dark and light ale. You can eat crackers and cheese, chili, a ham and cheese sandwich, and not much else. But then again, why would you want to?
You really feel like you stepped into a time tunnel and are 180 years behind the curve. Sawdust on the floor and a lot of time to kill. The prices are not bad either. Eight glasses of ale for a total of $16.00. Here is an article that appeared in the New Yorker circa 1913.
It was old even then. But if you are in New York and want to go Old School, I can recommend no better place.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Razor Blades

Like 99% of men in this country, I hate shaving. Granted, with the iPod, it is a bit more tolerable as I can listen to my favorite podcasts. I use the top of the line products which means Schick Quattro or Gillette Fusion. Both great razors.
What makes the practice more miserable is the cost of the blades. You pay a very reasonable price for the actual razor. But then you get gauged on the razors themselves. I think I pay $4.00 per razor. I use one a week. So it gets expensive. I can afford it but it is a thorn in my side. Sort of like getting hit up for a $7.00 bottle of cold water on the golf course as you finish your first nine. You pay it but it ain't fun. Now, thanks to the wonders of EBay, this economic irritant need not exist. I bought this plastic strip 3 months ago after looking for some cheaper blades. For the price, it was worth wasting the risk that it was not what it promised.
This nondescript plastic/rubber strip is nothing short of a miracle. You simply wet a blade and move it ten times across the strip in the opposite direction that you shave. Do this once a week. I have now been using the same blade for 14 weeks! Each shave is the equivalent of using a new blade. Here is the link on e bay. You would think they would market this and put the behemoths of shaving out of business.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

LBJ GOES POSTAL

I was always fascinated by the Kennedy assassination.
Not so much the fact that it happened but the myriad conspiracy theories that proliferated afterwards that are themselves a reflection of a very odd strain in the American psyche. The best counter to the Warren Commission findings is Henry Hurt's Reasonable Doubt.
There are countless other tombs that pin the blame on some dark conspiracy deep inside the CIA, mafia, Castro, Miami exiles, or a combination of the above. There is no credible evidence for any of this conjecture but let's face it, it makes great reading. You get the impression that regardless of the evidence, these wild tales would have surfaced anyway. Now, on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the greatest crime of the century, comes Roger Stone, a former Republican operative and opportunist, to offer up a laughingly implausible scenario: it was all the work of that paragon of political virtue Lyndon Baines Johnson.
I first heard of this book on the Lew Rockwell show and then listened to Dick Morris interview Stone on his radio show. My first reaction was laughter. I started reading about LBJ in the late 70's and have never stopped. The Robert Caro biography is excellent and one sees how the Kennedy clan treated him. Johnson was a brilliant and cunning politician. He was crass, corrupt, and power hungry. And like JFK, he loved the ladies although not a reckless sociopath about it. I always thought that if he could wish JFK dead without having to dirty his hands, he would do it in an heartbeat. Not so much because he hated the liberal saint, but because it would be a means to eliminating the power and influence of his real arch enemy: RFK.
But this is all conjecture. Which is a lot more than Stone has going for him. Granted, I have not yet read the book, although it is now in my Kindle and I soon will. But the thought of Johnson conspiring to murder Kennedy is preposterous. Big time. The only evidence that Stone has to launch this piece of a grotesque hypothesis is a supposed conversation he had with Nixon sometime in the 1970's when Nixon allegedly said that the difference between him and LBJ was that LBJ was willing to kill to become president.
That Nixon ever made this statement is highly dubious. Then there is the fact that LBJ hired Jack Ruby to do some political work for him in the 1940's and that Nixon supposedly said upon seeing Ruby kill Oswald, "I know that guy."
So what? Like all Kennedy assassination theories, the truth is irrelevant. They reveal a bizarre strand in American political thought where there is almost a religious like belief that we are governed by an all powerful cabal of government/financial/military elites. Elections are all smoke and mirrors to reassure the masses that their preferences are validated at the voting booth. And no political persuasion has a monopoly on this political hallucination. Now I am off to spend Sunday reading the actual book. It either that or watch a rerun of The Wizard Of Oz.
I would rather read a book that has less relation to reality.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Marvin Miller, RIP

Marvin Miller died two weeks ago. He was one of those people who looked old even when he was young (think Richard Nixon with a dapper mustache and a good tailor), and whose legacy was misunderstood. Miller was an economist by trade and had worked for the United Steel Workers. His background was labor unions, traditionally understood. And what does that mean? Very simply, to use existing laws and economic power to force employers to pay workers more than they otherwise would in a free and unregulated market. Thus, if factory workers are making $4.00 an hour in 1960, unions would try to negotiate a contract for perhaps $4.50 an hour and throw in more pension and overtime benefits, etc. The unions' ultimate bargaining chip was their ability to strike and the company's inability to fire them if they did. Of course, the workers would not get paid but they had a certain legal protection that protected them. Underlying every union/management conflict was a simple truth: the purpose of the union was to force management to pay workers more than they would under a completely free market. Prior to the labor laws of the 1930's, management had a very powerful weapon: "you don't like what we pay you? Quit and find a better paying job elsewhere." This is no different from shopping around for someone to paint your house. One person may offer to do it for $2000.00. If someone else offers to do it for $1500.00, you are not legally obligated to hire the more expensive painter. You have the freedom to contract with whomever you want. But unions restrict an employer's freedom to contract by creating a legal monopoly or cartel that an employer must negotiate with. Fast forward to major league baseball. In the mid 1960's (I use that era only because that is when I seriously started following baseball, every player had a contract that contained something called the "reserve clause." As interpreted by the owners, it meant that a player was forever contractually bound to the team he played for. Thus, every player was stripped of his most powerful negotiating weapon: the ability to sell his services to the highest bidder. He could always hold out as many a player did but all he was doing was depriving his team of his services and himself of money. Read properly, the contracts stated that a player could free himself of this legal language by simply holding out and not playing for one year after which he would become a free agent but the courts refused to so hold. Contrary to the economics of traditional labor unions, the baseball labor issues were almost the opposite power play. Unlike the factory worker, a baseball player's chief complaint was that there was not a free market where he could call the owner's bluff and sell his services to another team at a higher price. Where a factory owner could offer his workers the option of quitting and finding higher pay elsewhere knowing full well there was a plentiful supply of workers to fill the void, a baseball owner faced the opposite predicament. Faced with the prospect of a Sandy Koufax or Frank Robinson seeking employment with another team, an owner knew damn well that another team would pay double or triple for their services. Thus, the reserve clause sophistry. If a factory worker could at least double his salary by going from GM to Chrysler, there would be no union. Miller's players were agitating because there was not a free market for labor while the traditional unions recognized the effects of a free market for their members and sought legal protection against it. Imagine if, in 1965, every owner said that they were applying the same logic to baseball as was applied to every other business: "if the players don't like what they are being paid, hit the road fellas. You are now on your own. If you don't accept my offer, you are fired and good luck trying to get some other owner to pay you what I am paying you. You will come crawling back soon!" The players back then would have been ecstatic. A price war would have broken out for their talent. Any doubters need only look at what happened when the AFL competed with the NFL, or the ABA with the NBA, or WHL with the NHL. Miller deserves a lot of credit for accomplishing free agency. I read his autobiography, "A Whole Different Ball Game" years ago as well as the Curt Flood biography by Brad Snyder, "A Well Paid Slave." Miller may have been an egomaniac who always thought he was smarter than everyone else, but give the man his place in history. But it is wrong to equate him with other union leaders of his time. In a way, he was the complete opposite. Another point about Miller's success vis a vis other unions. A good baseball player will play for ten years or more. The injuries in baseball are fewer than in other sports and quickness and speed are not that important. Most players do not hit their prime until that are 26. Football and basketball place a very heavy premium on speed and quickness. Thus the average player is finished after three or four years. Going on strike in the NFL could destroy a career whereas in baseball a player would realize the benefits of a strike four or five years down the line. NFL and NBA players are not going to sacrifice their careers so some college kid can make millions after they have retired. Baseball does not have this problem.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mad Men Season Five


Mad Men is one of the best shows on TV. It captures the essence of an era that was known for its male centric culture and hard living ethos. Think JFK meets Dean Martin all wrapped up in the veneer of Father Knows Best.



Like all good lies, it works for a while only to be done in eventually by the truth. Then instead of living a secret life, you find your deceit exposed for all to witness until you begin to hate yourself for having done it all to begin with. And to make matters worse, society's moral capital that you exploited perfectly to shield your chicanery from family and co-workers has been spent by you and millions like you to the point where your immorality has become almost pedestrian. What you used to do discreetly in a hotel room circa 1961 while sipping a martini is now plastered on every billboard and movie theater in Manhattan circa 1967. Sin is fun when it is restricted to those who have the good sense to exercise discretion but it becomes rather corrosive and corrupting when everyone else gets the hang of it.
This may all be fancy social theorizing but I think it is the direction Mad Men is taking. I started to watch the first episode last Sunday night. Funny, I had never watched it on TV and never will again. I have the DVD's and loved them without the commercials. I turned off the show after 40 minutes out of sheer boredom. The next morning, figuring I was too drunk and tired to perhaps appreciate the nuances of the show, I purchased the entire season on Itunes which will nicely be downloaded into my account after each episode airs. I watched Sunday night's premier last night and must say, my initial instinct was wrong. Contrary to many reviews, it was not boring at all. There were no blockbuster moments but the foundation has been laid for some great story lines. Here is what to expect in the next eleven episodes based on what I divined. Keep in mind that these are the prognostications of merely someone who made the mistake in life of going to law school instead of writing novels and movie scripts.
Don Draper. He turned 40 (plus six months). He will begin having an affair on his second wife. His very quick marriage to her was pure infatuation. He never loved her, something she at least shares with his first wife. You can see the seeds of his dissatisfaction by his reaction to the surprise birthday party and risque dance she performed in front of his co-workers. He has no respect for her. She exists only to the extent that she complements the image he wants to portray to the outside world. But then again, what second wife doesn't? More telling was his making love to her while she cleaned his apartment in her panties and bra. The purpose of that scene was not to highlight his prurient lust for her. What I saw were two things that spell big league trouble for any women: cellulite and sagging boobs. For a man, they can be replaced very fast. No different from getting rid of the rust on that '61 Cadillac by buying a '66 Continental. She will start nagging him mercilessly for material things. He will unceremoniously dump her. Expect her demise to be coupled with a crisis in the office as she diverts his attention from his responsibilities to his clients. But there will be one big twist.
Megan. She fits the stereotype of the middle aged man's second wife too perfectly. Call it a trophy wife, arm candy, or an antidote to a first wife who made love like a wet dish rag. The message is clear: your days are numbered sweetheart so start preparing for the downfall. And how does the ideal second wife do this? Simple. The same way Jane Greer tried to keep Robert Mitchum on her side in Out Of The Past: blackmail. Employ the Black Arts to get your way. There are two scenes that open the door to this angle. At the party, one of Megan's girlfriends alluded to her past as an actress. Megan replied that she was not successful at it. To the untrained ear and eye, this may have been meaningless. But it was not. It Manhattan, there is a time honored occupation for wannabe actresses and models and it ain't waiting on tables. Second, she apparently knows of Don's dual identity. Huge mistake on his part in telling her this secret. Here is how this will play out: Don will find out about her past. He really won't care but will use it as a convenient excuse to give her her walking papers or to just let him do whatever he wants. She will become, for him, well, what she used to be: a lady of the evening. But she will then play the trump card of all trump cards: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. He may have relieved himself of financially underwriting the real Mrs. Draper in California but now he will inherit an even bigger problem. And the lovely Megan will not be so accommodating. Like all gifted gold diggers and blackmailers, she will up the ante and push Don to his limits. Expect some big fireworks here.
Roger and Joan. There is a temptation to write him off, the victim of a heart attack. His role in the agency is becoming increasingly irrelevant. After all, he is only there because his father owned the agency with the eccentric Burt Cooper, another old fart who serves no useful purpose. But they own a majority of the agency so their weight is not that dead. But Roger adds biting humor that would be sorely missed. His one liners and even by 1960's standards, political incorrectness, are quite entertaining. And after all, getting drunk with potential clients to keep them loose is an underrated art.
He hangs around while fending off the backstabbing Pete. He is also the father to Joan's son. Expect her to dump this news on him when she divorces her husband. There is no way she is going to be content commuting every day from Fort Dix while married to a doctor who spends his days treating GI's for gonorrhea and syphilis in some desolate Quonset hut in the pine barrens. At some point, Roger will dump his airhead wife and move in with Joan.
Lane Pryce. I like this character. A very unhappy and complex man who is weak and compassionate. We learn that he is struggling financially and has shown a too eager willingness to hire Joan back and to get on her good side. There has to be an ulterior motive at least subconsciously. His money worries will get the better of him and he will start embezzling from the firm and expect Joan to cover for him. This will all blow up by the end of the season.
Pete Campbell. Not a likable guy but works hard and does put money in other people's pockets. He will give the partners an ultimatum: make him partner or else he goes. They will relent but it will be ugly.
Peggy Olson. I never liked the character. So I have no predictions other than that she will keep getting old.
Betty. A no show so far. She will divorce Henry Francis but not before having an affair with her ex husband. I predict she dies after going psycho. Maybe she burns down the house and takes herself along for the ride. She is that crazy.
A quick mention of one of my favorite characters: Freddy Rumsen. A reformed drinker who never pretended to be anything other than what he was. Worked hard and was responsible for giving Peggy credit for her first big coup: a basket of kisses. Even though he pissed his pants in front of his co-workers, he is my kind of guy.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

La Gloria Cubana R Serie #7



I like to smoke cigars. I picked up the habit in 1978 when I was 21. The reason I don't remember but I am sure it had nothing to do with taste and all to do with image. But like other habits acquired for all the wrong reasons, i.e., chasing women and drinking,
you begin to realize as you mature that the pastimes have many benefits independent from impressing your friends. So now in my mid 50's, I do most of my drinking and smoking alone. And I prefer it that way. As your weaknesses and deficiencies become more difficult to deny and obvious to the naked eye, the only antidote is to go it alone. Self delusion is so easy and comforting. I always entertain myself with a movie or music collection, all pre-1960, to help the charade along. That being said, I think I have found the perfect cigar: the La Gloria Cubana R Serie #7. Large ring, strong flavor, and always fresh. You can buy them at the El Credito Cigar shop on 8th Street downtown. I go there once a month to buy a box and always try to grab one piece of apparel. You can watch the old Cuban ladies hand rolling the sticks. What amazes me is that some things never change. We live in a world that is becoming ever more sanitized. The government seems to be regulating and trying to banish every sin that brings a man pleasure. Yet you can watch some 75 year sold woman roll a cigar and then she puts a piece of wrapper on the closed end by licking the cigar and making it stick through her spit. I guess they have been doing that for 200 years, the FDA and a hundred other idiotic laws and regulations be damned. So here is a salute to the perfect cigar:


And what better way and time to enjoy. Season Five of Mad Men begins tonight! So pour yourself a Scotch, light up a stogie, and step back in time to an era when all was well in the world.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gun Shows and Politics

I like going to gun shows. It is not the guns that interest me. It is the people. I could never understand why the Democratic Party ever embraced gun control as a policy. There is no upside. But there is and has been a huge downside. Want to know why the Democrats lost their grip on white, working class voters south of the Mason Dixon line? No need to read any long winded books and articles employing all sorts of voting data to try and explain electoral behavior. Just go to a gun show.
The people that attend these events are "regular folks." Basically, working class, middle to lower income, overweight, high school education, very patriotic, and not too sophisticated when it comes to anything. Except guns. Economically, they are probably more in tune with the Democrats. But the gun issue is what makes them vote Republican. That is what Democrats could never figure out: that gun is a symbol of their independence and freedom. In the presidential campaign of 1992, I heard Bill Clinton give a speech where he declared that he would never take people's guns away from them. He said it in a southern drawl. It sounded convincing. I knew then that he would win. Conversely, it is accepted wisdom that a major reason the Republicans won the house in 1994 was the health reform issue. Wrong. As Clinton pointed out in his memoirs, the biggest factor was the assault weapons ban that Congress passed in the summer of 1994. It alienated the very people who would normally vote Democratic except for the gun issue. He was dead on. Democrats have always stereotyped gun owners as being ignorant hayseeds who are too dumb to know what is best for them.



Big mistake. The people at gun shows are racially diverse. But they share a common cultural trait: they have a right to defend themselves and their property free from government harassment. Here is a cheat sheet on the cultural tastes of an average gun show attendee: Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks, Walmart over Bloomingdales, Ford F150 over a Lexus. You get the drift. So if you want to take a peek inside a real slice of Americana, visit a gun show. Chat with the vendors. It is fun.