John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: December, 2015

We Got the Bear (Part 1)

Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.

(Commentator unknown)


Part 1: The Television


Back in October Mary Ann and I finally had it with the HDTV located in our eating /relaxing room, a.k.a. “the new room” circa 1988. The sound quality had been problematic and over time grew more annoying. Inertia delayed taking action until enough was enough and the fact that we needed to replace the dishwasher sent us scurrying to P.C. Richards and Sons, a fairly well-known metropolitan area appliance retailer. Salesman Frank sold us a dishwasher, a 43 inch Samsung Smart HDTV, a stand, HTMI cables and a special device that permitted the television to be smart by connecting it into our wireless router.


Miracle of miracles, we successfully put the stand together, mounted DVD player, cable box and the TV, connected all cables and successfully turned it on (once we realized that the smart device had an on / off switch.) The TV rode on top of the stand on a swivel allowing us to turn it for viewing in different sections of the room.


A potential problem caught my eye as I was assembling the TV legs. Instead of a one piece pedestal base, this model had two wing-like sleds on either side. While they fit onto the swivel, they overhung this platform. This concern was justified a few days later when I went to turn the TV and it started to slide off the swivel. Fortunately, I had both hands free and caught it before it moved too far. “Yikes,” I said to myself, “It is just a question of time before this thing falls.”


I vowed to handle it with two hands going forward but I failed to tell Mary Ann. Sure enough, a couple / three weeks later with both hands busy, she turned it with her hip. Down it went converting the HD screen into a kaleidoscope of colors.


And so the television sat unplugged in the living room until we could return to P.C. Richards. Frank became very defensive when we arrived explaining their warranty didn’t include breakage. “I know that Frank. That’s not why we’re here,” I explained. “First off, we want to replace it, something smaller like a 40 inch and with a pedestal.”


We showed him the store’s circular that included just such a replacement unit. Frank had it in stock and I paid for it the same way as I did the broken one with my Amex Card. (What we realized with the help of Mary Ann’s friend, Dotty, that we most likely had breakage coverage with American Express.) It took me several times to try to explain this to Frank but finally he gave me the name and address of their service and repair facility located in Farmingdale.


Amex confirmed I had the coverage so I dutifully brought the TV to their facility. A nice young man helped me carry it in but felt it was a constructive total loss (CTL) as the cost of parts and labor would exceed the sales price. I replied, “From your lips to God’s ear.”


That afternoon, they asked me to call the service center in an email. I was told the cost of repairs would be $631 for parts and $99.50 labor plus tax. “Can you put that in writing?”


They did. I sent Amex the original sales receipt, the replacement TV sales receipt, the repair estimate all under a covering letter of explanation. Twelve days later Amex confirmed they would credit my account with $456.21 the sales price plus Nassau County’s 8.625% sales tax.


For the record, we won. However, this was but a skirmish for a new struggle just then developing. Stay tuned for Part 2.


Two Marine Insurance Tales

Bribing V. the Underwriter

John Delach


Once upon a time a chap I shall call, V. became the leading underwriter on the really Big Oil and Gas Company’s (BO&G) insurance package. V. who worked for a Scandinavian insurance company was a fairly unsophisticated insurance man who didn’t understand how the complex insurance clauses worked or how they came into existence. V. decided to challenge them and it was my responsibility as BO&G’s broker and account executive to solve this dilemma.


Repeated attempts of negotiating by telephone, telex, fax and mail failed to bring us satisfaction so I arranged a face to face meeting to resolve these issues. We agreed to meet in Oslo, Norway. I did not want to meet in the formal setting of V’s office so I convinced him to meet at the Grand Hotel.


I traveled from New York with four other brokers each who was an expert on one of the types of coverage that the policy provided, onshore property, offshore property, casualty and marine.


I instructed each broker to purchase two .750 liter bottles of Johnny Walker Black Scotch whiskey at the Duty Free shop in JFK International Airport before boarding the flight to Oslo. This was the legal limit for each traveler to bring into Norway and I did likewise so that we accumulated ten bottles of J.W. Black.


I was not planning a drunken orgy. Liquor is heavily taxed in Norway making it almost worth its weight in gold.


I also arranged for a large comfortable suite for myself with an oversized table where I would host the meeting. When V. arrived I lined the ten bottles of J.W.B. on top of the fire place mantle and explained, “V. each time we reach agreement on the wording of a disputed clause, one of those bottles of Johnny Walker Black is yours.”


As God is my witness, ole V. began to salivate.


As soon as we finished explaining the entire rationale for the first disputed clause and fended off V’s objections, it was amazing to witness the furtive quickness that V. demonstrated as the first bottle disappeared into his travel bag.


Long story short: If you were counting bottles of Johnny Walker Black, V. won. Otherwise, it was our game set and match.




Coin Toss

John Shapiro


Some years ago we possessed two ponies for the kids. The insurance costs were quite high and it struck me that a better home for the insurance would be with marine underwriters – there are sea horses after all – rather than the avaricious livestock market.


Having selected a friendly Lloyds’ underwriter, M.L. for this exercise on the grounds he was a free thinker, I found he was happy to accept the formal livestock policy wording and he set a premium, I think, of about £750. While this was fairly competitive I tried to get this reduced and he came up with the suggestion we should toss a coin which if he won he got the 750 and if I won he would get 550 creating a spread of £200.


After accepting this deal I found the audience surrounding his box had grown and I asked Roger Tyndall if he would act as “Tosser”. Before Roger swung into action it suddenly occurred to me I ought to protect the spread if possible in a less formal way and, as another broker, John Lloyd, was passing, I asked him if he would care to a take a share of the spread on a new policy form we called “Toss Total Loss”.


It seemed fair to me to offer a rate of 50% on line which he readily accepted. His 10% line was quickly followed by others and my £200 exposure was thus reduced to 100 at worst.


A breathless hush as the coin rose into the air. It fell and I lost. My collection of these informal Toss Total Loss reinsurers, being gentlemen, paid out and all were reasonably happy.


Alas this arrangement lasted for only three renewals as my luck remained poor and I failed to win the toss each year. My supporters grew cross with my inability to win the coin toss and my Toss Total Loss market finally dried up.



Patriotism for Sale

There is nothing that excites or thrills politicians more than the opportunity to puff up and express righteous, unabashed, and nationalistic indignation against evil forces encroaching upon the American way. This opportunity to express indignity is especially satisfying when they can unleash it after discovering the culprit is a big bully, (example: Exxon-Mobil,) caught with their hand in Uncle’s till. Never mind these politicians own soiled reputations for not always doing the right thing; they either forget or down-play their own or fellow colleagues foibles in the pursuit of publicity.


Such political fodder provides representatives and senators with the opportunity to demonstrate displeasure and outrage without consequence allowing them to attack like a pack of mad dogs. Better yet, going off against powerful, rich and arrogant organizations, grabs the ever hungry activist press and a little leak here and there sets off a feeding frenzy; forget the dogs, the sharks have taken control and there is blood in the water.


The latest incident began when a New Jersey newspaper reported last spring that the New York Jets received $377,000 from the New Jersey National Guard for ceremonial events saluting the military during a number of their home games. This led to a Senate investigation chaired by Jeff Flake and John McCain, both of Arizona. The investigation revealed the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) had spent $6.8 million in 2014, “…on questionable marketing contracts with sports teams, including events to honor American soldiers at games…”


The sum of $5,400,000 was paid to the biggest sports bully in the known Universe, the National Football League. Fourteen of the NFL’s 32 teams participated including the aforementioned Jets, the Atlanta Falcons ($877,000), Buffalo Bills ($650,000) and the New England Patriots ($700,000).


Of course the D.O.D. spent the bulk of their money with NFL teams. That’s where every smart advertiser goes to get the most bang for their buck. Even so, the NFL was not the only venue. Various entities within the D.O.D., mostly state National Guard organizations, paid out money to teams for promotional consideration from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association. Teams that profited included the Atlanta Braves ($450,000), Boston Red Sox ($100,000), Arizona Diamondbacks ($40,000) and Minnesota Wild ($500,000).


The Boston Globe reported: “The Boston Celtics received $195,000 in part to spotlight soldiers at home games. The Boston Bruins received $280,000 for national anthem performances, color guards and reenlistment ceremonies.”


Senator McCain opined: “It is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism.”


Senator Flake added: “These tributes are as popular as the kiss cam. But when people assume this is a goodwill gesture and then find out the heart-felt moment is part of a taxpayer-funded marketing campaign, it cheapens the whole thing.”


McCain has introduced a bill to ban such payments in the future and Bloomberg News reported that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has pledged to conduct an audit of all contracts between NFL teams and the military. Goodell promised: “Any payments made for activities beyond recruitment or advertising will be refunded in full.”


God knows, Goodell has every incentive to be proactive and corral bad publicity as quickly as possible. Goodell has already been suffering through a personal annus horribilis bumbling through a multitude of NFL issues like domestic abuse, head injuries, and concussions, “deflategate” and the Tom Brady law suit mess; hence his  pledge. Other professional sports have been silent or less forthcoming, so far.


Free publicity for congress, angst for pro-sports; please note, this whole semi-non-story should pass quickly enough unless Trump chooses to run with it.


Two footnotes:


1: The amount involved ($6.8MM) doesn’t exactly impact on the D.O.D. budget of $619 billion as it represents .00001% of this amount.


2: Note, the New York Football Giants, New York Yankees and New York Mets remain clean, so far.




Once Upon A Time in…

My last piece, “A Bagel Infamnia,” resulted in  more comments than any other I have written. Here are two that the author’s have agreed to let me share with you.

John Delach



Phil Brown


Your piece reminds me of the smells from the local bakery that wafted out in the early morning…if you had an early paper route, or was up to go duck hunting or perhaps just coming home after a night out the smell was unbelievable. I grew up in a small town, and before bread was brought in each day form Dallas or Fort Worth in semi trucks we had two bakeries on the square. You could go in to the bakery and buy a loaf of the hot, fresh baked bread and with butter slavered on it you were in for a real delight…not as good as my grandmother made but a close second. Then gradually the big bread factories were able to ship in bread, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods and there went the bakeries. Later the local dairy and the ice house went the same way…gone like the buffalo…


White Plains

Geoff Jones


Your piece had me recalling my early days in White Plains. We had an ice man who delivered regularly to those not having electric refrigerators which included a couple of apartments in our building. The way the guy carried two huge blocks slung against his legs in big tongs and with his black heavy apron to keep him warm or dry(never knew which) always interested me.


We had a fish truck at least once a week probably on Fridays out of deference to Catholics abiding by the meatless Friday dictum. The truck was basically a pick up with a dog house roof over two sloping pieces of plywood sectioned off to hold the fish on top of ice cubes. Very primitive but functional. There was a cutting board for the fish monger to gut and clean purchases and a typical market scale hung from the roof beam. Beneath the cutting board were compartments with wrapping paper and knives. I don’t recall if he had a bell to announce his presence but somehow the mother’s always knew when fish monger was there. It looked like a social occasion as these women all gathered around waiting their turn. It’s a really fond memory.


On occasion the “scissors grinder” came down the block in an old truck and he did have a bell he loudly rung to announce himself. Out came mothers but in spite of the “scissors” appellation they all seemed to be carrying knives rather than scissors. It was the same sort of gabfest the fish monger created.


Another odd truck was the asphalt truck to repair cracks and potholes in the street. You could hear it coming because the flame heating the asphalt had a distinct roar. The crew had buckets they filled and then poured into holes or if it was a crack they carefully followed it with a slow pour then moved on. The asphalt (we called it tar) cooled pretty quickly but always left a slight bulge over the hole or crack and on hot summer days it became pliable and for kicks we sometimes carved it out. The crew was always filthy as one might imagine and when we engaged in our vandalism we learned why. The stuff was really sticky and hard to remove from hands and jeans. This usually earned us a smack on the butt or harsh words when we returned home to frustrated mothers.


I’m not sure about a produce truck. I seem to remember one but I also suspect I may have created a memory because I recall no details.


An Italian bakery (commercial) opened a block from our apartment. They did have a modest retail counter as well and we kids were often sent there to buy a loaf. We knew when a batch was out of the oven because the aroma wafted over the neighborhood and that’s when we’d run the errand. I remember for reasons unknown that it cost 20 cents, maybe I recall because it was probably the first time I was asked to engage in a commercial transaction. The bread was warm and delicious smelling. Most times we kids couldn’t resist tearing off a small end piece to eat on the way home. My mother, and I suspect others, scolded me for this but it was too hard to resist so we continued to do it. Then one day the baker’s assistant gave me a small chunk of bread the size of a “spaldeen” with the admonition “eat this and not the bread”. Apparently enough mothers’s conveyed their complaint to the baker who found a Solomon like solution.


The coal truck showed up often in cold weather. It parked in the drive and directed a chute into one of the cellar windows. That particular window had a sloped cement sill instead of the flat ones in the other windows. The chute fit perfectly into it keeping it level so the sliding coal didn’t spill out. The pile in the cellar seemed huge to us and after a delivery we opened the cellar door and played in the pile which annoyed everyone. It stirred it up so coal gas rose into the upper floors; it got our clothes making them and is filthy. The “super” got mad as it meant him having to shovel coal back on to the pile from where we’d scattered it. The good news: So far no black lung symptoms.



A Bagel Infamnia – (Italian: Shame)

Growing up Catholic in Ridgewood was the urban equivalent of living in a small town. We didn’t have a single supermarket when I was a child, but we did have specialty stores for everything we needed. A butcher, a pork store, a bakery, delicatessens, candy and newspaper shops, a green grocer, florist and two A&Ps that were no bigger than local delis. We had Penisi, the shoe maker, and Penisi the barber, laundries, a tailor, Doctor Koch and Dr. Bongeorno, the dentist. For bad times we had drug stores, churches and funeral parlors. Finally, when I was nine or ten, a single Bohack supermarket was built on a vacant lot seven blocks away.


The food we ate reflected our isolation. My mother made sandwiches on Tip Top, Wonder, Silvercup or Tasty white bread, each as bland and tasteless as any other. On rare occasions like Dwight David Eisenhower’s election in 1952 or when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955, she would celebrate buying a loaf of Arnold’s Brick Oven white bread. A grilled cheese sandwich on Arnold’s Bread, “My tongue would throw a party for my mouth.”


But other than these world class events, the only normal exception to my bland bread diet came on weekends when I was detailed to go to Eichler’s deli to buy Kaiser rolls or bagels. Both were scrumptious and over time my taste buds came to prefer the bagels produced by authentic kosher bakeries. In retrospect, I am certain that they were a day old when we bought them but these plain gems were all we knew.


This isolation lasted until friends and I gained access to cars that led us to discover a single bagel bakery located in Fresh Meadows on the service road to the Long Island Expressway called, Bagel Oasis. This holy of holies offered fresh, hot, delicious bagels. Not just plain; a universe of salt, onion, garlic, poppy, sesame bagels and (are you ready for it?)…cinnamon raisin. “Strike me down Lord, for I have witnessed the Promised Land!”


Bagel Oasis broke the barrier of our isolation as we realized a whole new world of bagels was out there. Did the number of bagel stores proliferate or was I finally set free? It didn’t matter and, with the exception of high Jewish holidays when the stores and their bakers closed in observance, bagels were plentiful across the Metropolitan area.


But these edible gems never traveled well restricting their production to areas with substantial Jewish populations. Why? The International Bagel Bakers Union founded in New York in 1907 was an exclusive trade organization that actually kept its minutes in Yiddish well into the 1950s. Nor were they eager to have non-union bakers share their craft and were not adverse to employing strong-arm tactics to enforce this.


So you were out of luck in scoring a bagel unless you lived in New York, Miami, Montreal or a few other places. Then along came Daniel Thompson, son of Meyer Thompson, from Hull, England. Daniel was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1921 and recently passed away in 2015 at the age of 94.


This Canadian inventor, who created the first wheeled, folding Ping-Pong table, successfully engineered a bagel-making machine in 1961 that out-produced what a single baker could hand-fold by 280 bagels an hour. The NY Baker’s Bench observed: “…like the steam drill (versus) John Henry, (it) put hand-rollers of New York’s Local 338 out of business.”


Granted, at first glance made from a distance, the new concoction looked like a bagel, but as The New York Times reported in Mr. Thompson’s obituary, “…idealists deplore (it) as little more than cotton wool…” or as Wonder Bread encased in an edible  plastic shell.


The Times continued: “…even invective-rich Yiddish lacks words critical enough to describe a machine-made bagel, though shande – disgrace – perhaps comes closest.”


I prefer: “Bagel Infamnia.”


Nevertheless, RIP Daniel Thompson