Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fame: Joe Heller to Uncle 'Tony Pro'

By Bob Gaydos
A couple of weeks ago, in a display of pure ego, I wrote about the famous people I had encountered over the years. Kind of a check list on where the journey has taken me so far. They tell me it’s one of the charming things about blogs -- they don’t always have to be about serious stuff going on in the world. Sometimes they can be personal and can let readers know a little about the blogger. And of course, in this social networking world we now inhabit, willingly or not, it allows the blogees to respond with personal information of their own.
So, at the end of my personal who’s who of my life, I asked readers to send in their own close encounters. A few brave souls actually replied and so I will give them their due.
  • Elmer Brunsman (who reads and contributes to all those serious blogs) wrote: “You put down a challenge at the conclusion which you will regret. How about these for openers, just openers: Interviewed Harvey Milk shortly before he was notoriously assassinated in San Francisco (if you haven't seen the Sean Penn portrayal, rent it. It is one of the few best political movies ranking above "All the King's Men" and you name it); Daniel Ellsberg, Dick Gregory, Daniel (at a couple of seminars) and Phillip Berrigan (on my radio program), Little Richard, Dr. Meyer Friedman (Type A Behavior and Your Heart), numerous writers including Kay Boyle, Leonard Bishop (with whom I studied writing), Francis Ford Coppola, Ralph Nader (that one was only in front of an elevator), Jane Fonda, lesser figures such as Diane Feinstein before the Senate, before mayor, while on board of city supervisors ... I think I'll stop now.
Thanks, Elmer, I get your point. Thanks for stopping (and somewhere in the back of my brain I have a fuzzy recollection of meeting the Berrigans as well). Ellsberg? Cool.
  • Jeff Page, fellow Zest blogger, who worked for the Times Herald-Record before joining The Record in Hackensack, N.J., wrote: Here are some of the people I’ve spoken with as a reporter: Cesar Chavez (in a visit to Paterson); Barbara Deming; Allen Ginsberg; Christopher Reeve (when he rough-landed his small plane at Teterboro); Estelle Parsons (at her country house near Mohonk); Matt McHugh; the incomparable Maurice Hinchey; Pat Robertson; Tony Provenzano (“Keep your nose clean, kid,” he advised.); John Hall, the congressman; John Hall, the Jets place kicker; William V. Musto, Hudson County pol (went to prison); John Armellino; Hudson County pol (went to prison); Tom Whelan (Hudson County pol (went to prison); Dennis Flaherty, Hudson County pol (went to prison; Bella Abzug; Howard Samuels; Mary Ann Krupsak; Arnold Toynbee; Louis Ginsberg; and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Jeff’s Hudson County (N.J.) reminiscences stirred a vague recollection in me of a meeting with Neal Gallagher, Hudson County pol (went to prison). Since Jeff and I escaped, many more Hudson pols have followed the same career path. In fact, I challenge anyone to match my home county for political corruption. And Jeff, I’ll give you Krupsak even though she was a lieutenant governor, because I like Allen Ginsberg.
  • Anita Page, Jeff’s wife and a writer in her on own right, offered: Bob, I once interviewed Joe Heller who gave me this advice. “Every writer should have a bed in his office for frequent naps.”
Wow, Joe huh? It’s still Mr. Heller to me. And he sure took one, long nap. But he was right about the bed. My computer/work area is in my bedroom and I frequently catch 22 winks. Get it?
  • Finally, checking in from Ulster County, former TH-R reporter Jo Galante Cicale humbly wrote: I often thought I didn’t do so badly for a kid from the lower East Side. OK, so Tony Pro (photo) was my uncle and Carmine Galante, too. But that hadn’t anything to do with reporting. (Mario) Cuomo was a family friend – yeah, I’m boasting now, but you started it. John Hall a neighbor and friend; ditto with Hinchey. But, the most memorable from reporting days was Al Sharpton who, during the Brawley days, was more street gangsta with dirt under his nails, lots of gold and body odor.
Yo, Jo, no disrespect intended. Drop names all you want. You win.

Bob can be reached at bobgaydos.blogspot.com.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Manny and the Donald ... send in the clowns

By Bob Gaydos
It’s silly season in America, time for the clowns. As evidence, I offer these current news stories:
  • A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released this week has Donald Trump tied with Mike (Foot-in-Mouth) Huckabee for the lead in the dismal field of potential Republican presidential candidates. And you wonder why Barack Obama always manages to look so cool.
According to the poll, Trump and Huckabee both were favored by 19 percent of likely GOP voters. Yeah, not exactly a landslide. Fox’s favorite daughter, Sarah (Half-term) Palin is second, with 12 percent, with Mitt (What health-care plan?) Romney and Newt (I’m a slave to love) Gingrich tied for third with 11 percent each. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week had Trump tied with Huckabee for second place.
Is there no unqualified, hypocritical, snake oil salesman the right wing of the GOP won’t support if he tells them what they want to hear? Apparently not. The Donald, as you’ve probably heard, has based his presidential hopes on his “suspicions” about Obama’s place of birth. Trump’s sending investigators to Hawaii to check it out. Even Palin had to call the birth certificate “issue” a distraction, which is her way of saying it ain’t true, folks. Trump also has made the obligatory anti-Muslim pitch to Birther Nation. In referring to a “Muslim problem,” he said on the Christian Broadcasting Network: “There's a lot of hatred there. Now I don't know if that's from the Koran, I don't know if that's from someplace else. But there's tremendous hatred out there that I've never seen anything like it."
Well, if Donald doesn’t know, I surely don’t. But I do know pandering when I hear it. And there’s none of that hatred stuff on his cutthroat reality TV show, right?
Trump’s primary credential for running for president apparently is that he is a good businessman. Remember how far that got Ross Perot? What Trump is is what he shows on his TV show -- a bully who likes bossing people around. That is not a desirable trait in a president. You can’t fire Congress. Not only doesn’t he play well with other kids, he would be a disaster at diplomatic relations. And business? His namesake hotel and casino both declared bankruptcy. How do you manage to fail to make a killing at gambling? And for those evangelicals who apparently love him for his anti-gay, pro-life comments, in addition to his efforts to get rich on gambling, there’s the inconvenient matter of his two divorces. Just saying.
  • After failing a second test for banned substances, Tampa Bay outfielder Manny Ramirez announced he was retiring from baseball rather than accept a 100-game suspension.
There were two guys known as the Clown Prince of Baseball -- Al Schacht and Max Patkin. Schacht wore a top hat and oversized glove. Patkin featured a funny face and baggy clothes. Both engaged in wacky antics, as they say.
Manny Ramirez was just a clown. There was never anything remotely princelike about him, except maybe that he always acted as though he should be treated like royalty.
Manny could hit with the best of them and loaf with the worst of them. A lousy teammate, he would refuse to play in games, show up late for games, fail to run to first base, jog after fly balls, demand to be traded and, when that didn’t happen, play poorly enough that his team had to trade him, if just to silence the boos from the fans. He’s a guy who had all the talent to be remembered as one of the game’s alltime great hitters and none of the moral fiber to be just an average decent Joe.
And he seemingly never cared. That may be because he’s made more than $200 million playing his brand of baseball. Manny being Manny they called it and he laughed all the way to the bank. His act finally got stale in Boston, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. Even clowns with dreadlocks can become wearisome.
What makes these two stories even more annoying is that neither Manny nor the Donald seems to care what the rest of us think of him. Each man got his and that’s all that matters. We bought Manny’s shtick until he got caught trying to get by on the sly yet again. As usual, he took the easy way out. The Donald, however, is still peddling his wares, with seemingly enough willing buyers to keep him in orange hair dye for a few more years.
Now, I think I have a pretty good sense of humor, but hey, guys, I’m not laughing here. Seriously, there’s really no room -- in the Hall of Fame or the White House -- for either bozo.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fame, fate and other stuff

By Bob Gaydos
By way of nothing else save the fact that you never know what little gifts life has for you if you don’t pay attention, I offer this brief exchange between two of my least favorite people in the world, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Beck was on O’Reilly’s TV show the other day, talking about the latest Fox News darling, Donald Trump, who has launched a campaign for president that is so outrageous and phony even Beck can’t stand it. In brief, Trump has spent the past week telling anyone who will listen that he’s not sure President Obama is a natural-born American and, what’s more, he suspects the president may be a Muslim. Donald … Donald … Donald.
Beck told O’Reilly: “The last thing the country needs is a showboat ... I would hope we could get serious candidates who could shake things up by not saying provocative things, just by stating the truth of what's going on."
Honest, that’s what he said.
But wait. Here’s O’Reilly’s response: "But then you and I would be off the air, because we're provocateurs. We do that every day."
There is a god somewhere. Now if only someone can explain irony to Fox News listeners.

* * *
The rest of this blog amounts to an exercise in self-reflection that could also be called ego-stroking. Nonetheless, I will not be deterred, especially at these prices.
It started last week when I was writing about a chance meeting I had with then-Senate candidate Geraldine Ferraro at the Ulster County Fair (it’s in the archives if you’re interested). I began recalling other “famous” persons I had met and in what circumstances. Be honest. We all do it, journalists do it maybe more than others because our work offers more opportunities to do so than a lot of other jobs.
Anyway, after deciding that the ego thing didn’t matter -- because what was my ego in the grand scheme of things -- and rationalizing that it might be good for my sons to get some sense of where my life had taken me, I started my list. Basic ground rules: It must have been an actual meeting, meaning words were exchanged, hands possibly shaken, and local politicians don‘t count except for members of Congress. You need a line somewhere.
The closest I ever came to meeting Glenn Beck was standing around a piano with a bunch of editors and Cal Thomas, singing what were probably old show tunes. I think it was in Philadelphia, but don’t hold me to that. Thomas was Beck before Beck ever thought of being Beck. And brighter. He is an evangelical Christian, a former vice president of the Moral Majority, a longtime syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to the Fox follies. Also, as I recall, a passable baritone with a good sense of humor and, at one time, capable of acknowledging nonsense within his own ranks. On the other side of the aisle, there was the incomparable Pete Hamill and in the middle, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, both of whom came to Middletown.
The world of sports offered encounters with Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, boxer/TV personality Rocky Graziano (“Somebody Up There Likes Me”), Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer (naked in a whirlpool), champ Floyd Patterson (eating in a restaurant in New Paltz), columnist Milton Richman and, all too briefly, Jackie Robinson (a legitimate thrill).
In the world of entertainment there was the very tall Harry Belafonte at the Concord, the very drunk Clancy Brothers (around a bar after hours in Binghamton), Western author Larry McMurtry, actor Victor Arnold (the hit man in the original “Shaft”), Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer (on stage in Sullivan County) and, in a Woodstock art gallery, an also very tall Henny Youngman (“Take my card, please.”)
Not surprisingly, there are a bunch of political figures on my list, starting with Ferraro’s running mate, former Vice President Walter Mondale (a hello-how-are-ya in Minneapolis). There are the New York governors, of course: The imperial Nelson Rockefeller (he of the middle finger salute), the lanky George Pataki from Peekskill, and the Cuomos -- the senior, Mario, who could hold a room hostage for hours, and junior, Andrew, when he was attorney general and when he was messing up the gubernatorial campaign of H. Carl McCall. Also, the other also-rans: Mayor Ed Koch, Tom (Who?) Golisano, Pierre (the Record staff are the rudest people I have ever encountered) Rinfret, Andrew (I don’t stand a Chance) O’Rourke, Howard Samuels (a very cool customer), and Arthur (Hey, I was once a Supreme Court justice) Goldberg. Throw in Marvin Mandel in Maryland and Anne Richards in an elevator in Fort Worth. And of course, a special place is reserved in my heart for Eliot Spitzer, the dumbest smart politician I ever met.
Among senators, D. Patrick Moynihan held court in Goshen and Chuck Schumer showed up seemingly for breakfast every day. Local boy- made-good Howard Mills was the sacrificial lamb for the GOP against Schumer, but Mills always returned phone calls. Senator Hillary never did deign to grace us with her presence, but Rick Lazio was thrilled to stop by for a lengthy chat.
And, giving them their due, Congressmen Ben Gilman, Matt McHugh, Howard Robison, Maurice Hinchey, John Hall (who founded the rock group Orleans and also qualifies as an entertainer), Bella (The Hat) Abzug, and Congresswoman Sue Kelly, who famously and entertainingly imploded during an interview with the Record.
Among civil rights figures, Jesse Jackson towers above the rest, literally and figuratively, but Floyd McKissick, national director of CORE, was more accessible at Gentleman Joe’s bar in Binghamton.
Oddly enough, perhaps the most famous person I ever had a meaningful conversation with is someone whose name almost nobody recognized, and most probably still don’t know to this day: Norma McCorvey. McCorvey is better known as Jane Roe of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that confirmed a woman’s right to choose abortion.
When I met Norma, she had not only changed from pro-choice to pro-life on abortion, but had joined the Roman Catholic Church and announced she was no longer a lesbian. Life has a way offering surprises.
OK, wrapping it up. Mario Cuomo is easily the most magnetic, imposing famous person I ever met. He could talk about anything at all, intelligently and engagingly, at length. He once made his staff and TH-R editors sit through a two-and-half- hour meeting while lunch waited invitingly in an adjoining room. No one had the guts to stop him. He should have run for president.
But for sheer, humble, who-is-this-guy-and-why-is-he-doing-this amazement, my favorite famous person is David Karpeles. What, you never heard of him? Perhaps it’s time you have.
Karpeles is the founder of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums, which are located around the country in such places as Santa Barbara, Charleston, Tacoma, Duluth, Shreveport, Jacksonville, Fort Wayne, Buffalo and, yes, Newburgh, N.Y. My jaw dropped the first time I visited the Newburgh museum, located in an imposing old bank on Broadway, and I never fail to say, “Oh, my God, he owns that, every time I return.
The web site states: “The Karpeles Library is the world's largest private holding of important original manuscripts and documents.” You want famous? The Karpeles list of famous persons, I feel sure, is unmatched by anyone, anywhere, not that he met most of them. Still, on a rotating basis at any of the museums, one might see the original draft of the Bill of Rights of the United States, the original manuscript of “The Wedding March," Einstein's description of his Theory of Relativity, the Thanksgiving Proclamation" signed by George Washington, Roget's Thesaurus (as in, Roget‘s actual Thesaurus, Webster's actual Dictionary, the first printing of the Ten Commandments from the Gutenberg Bible (1450-1455), Darwin’s Conclusion embodying his theory of Evolution in "Origin of Species," or the Decree of Pope Lucius III Proclaiming the Sacred Duty of the Knights of the Holy Crusades. And about a million more original documents.
I met David Karpeles at the opening of the Newburgh Museum. He is tall, soft-spoken and as unassuming as anyone so rich and generous could possibly be. A math genius and real estate tycoon, he said he and his wife looked around one day and decided they had collected so much neat stuff, it was time to share it and so they decided to open museums where no one else wanted to put them. Like downtown Newburgh. The museums are open every day, free of charge. You think Trump would do that?
In a way, I guess the Beck beginning to this column is connected to the rest. Meeting the likes of David Karpeles is what makes it possible to put up with the likes of Glenn Beck. Put that in your fortune cookie.