John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Category: Uncategorized

“A Mike Fitzgerald Moment

We all own mental file cabinets. They are the place where we store all of the information that we acquire and decide to retain. The longer we live, the more extensive our filing cabinets become. One of the sad and crazy things about our filing system is the older memory files are the most familiar.

One of my favorite stories about recovering a little used item from her filing cabinet was told to me by my daughter, Elizabeth, who lived in Boston while in graduate school in the mid-1990s. “One night, I went to a party in Somerville and somebody at the party brought up the infamous 1978 playoff game where Bucky Dent hit a home run over the Green Monster that gave the Yankees the winning lead.

“Of course, they were all Red Sox fans and they gave me lip about being from New York.

“Yes, I admit, I am a Yankee fan and I watched the game on TV when Bucky Dent crushed your hopes.”

“Some guys challenged my sports credentials. So, I said, okay, how about I give you the name of every Yankees who started that game. They looked at me with awe as I accurately presented the Yankees players beginning with first base.

“As I repeated the team’s roll-call for that game, I had this strange feeling of wondering why I could recall this memory that I hadn’t thought about for almost twenty years and how I retained it. Even so, I didn’t give too much thought to why I had this power of memory. At the time, I was just glad to be able to put those obnoxious Red Socks fans in their place.” 

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the number of our filing cabinets grows and grows and senior moments occur with increased frequency. We learn to live with the frustration of losing immediate recall and learn to deal with this issue. One thing becomes obvious, “Don’t try to force it as that will only make it worse.”

Our best bet is to sit back, relax and let whatever that internal process is to work its magic until it can provide us with the correct answer. Of course, we hope it doesn’t happen at 2 am!

My friend, Mike Scott and I refer to this phenomenon as a “Mike Fitzgerald Moment.”

We named it after a chap who used to work for our firm in both the Minneapolis and Dallas offices. We both worked with Mike, but on different projects. Scott and I were riding on the Amtrak Northeast Regional on our way to Washington DC to see the sights and attend a Nationals baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Both of us hit a stone wall trying to recall his name. We went on to talk about many other subjects on the train, at dinner at the game and back at the hotel bar following the game. The next morning, as we were walking to a Metro stop, I blurted out, “His first name was Mike.”

“Fitzgerald,” Scott shouted back at me and we both stopped walking bent over in uncontrollable laughter. We toasted him later on at dinner.

On Mother’s Day, I had a Mike Fitzgerald Moment when I was talking to my son-in-law, Tom Briggs, about oddly named airports. “One of the curious ones is the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.”

But I couldn’t think of that historical entertainer’s name. Twenty minutes later, it came to me. I told Tom the name of the airport and then it once again disappeared from my memory. Rather than look it up which is the easy way out, I let my internal mechanism run with it. Before my memory of Will Rogers returned, I made stops at Chief Justice Earl Warren and the aviator, Wiley Post, (who ironically was flying the airplane when it crashed in Alaska killing himself and Will Rogers.)

Writing this piece should keep Mr. Rogers around for a while but I think I’ll say a little prayer for him that he remains resting in peace while he remains in my consciousness.

My latest happened last Thursday night at bedtime. As I laid down, I thought of the first American general to lead our troops in Viet Nam. I could see his tall and handsome image, his silver hair; but his name, not a clue. I told myself to go to sleep and wait for the morning. As I awoke, I silently demanded, “Who was it?” Without hesitation my mind replied, “Westmoreland, William Westmoreland”   

“Say goodnight, Gracie.”

“Goodnight, Gracie.”

(On the outside looking in will not publish next week and will return on June 8, 2022)              

“The Lady with the Braid”

I was delighted when Mary Ann told me that my cousin, Helen, had invited us to join her family for a week’s stay at Journey’s End located on the Connecticut River in Southwestern New Hampshire. We had heard nice things about this collection of cabins, the cost was reasonable even for us and we had no other plans. We jumped at the chance and Helen contacted the owner, Margaret Riling, to introduce us. 

That Spring of 1971 was one to remember. Mary Ann was pregnant with our second child, Michael, who was born on April 30th. Two weeks later, I lost my job as a cargo surveyor. This blow, shocking as it was, didn’t blindside me. I saw it coming but I hadn’t prepared for the obvious until it happened. Business had been slow for some time but ignorance is bliss. 

The culprit was the advent of containerization. For generations, cargo arrived at ports like New York on wooden pallets that were unloaded and stored on piers until delivery. Containerization changed that forever. By 1971 the number of surveys our firm conducted throughout the port of New York was halved from those we conducted in 1969. My boss, Don Lamont, gave me two week’s pay and agreed to pay me for two additional weeks if I didn’t find another job. 

My top priority was to find a cash and carry job to put money in our pockets while I sought a change in careers. I found an opening as a claims adjuster for Boyd, Weir and Sewell who represented a German steamship company, Meyer Lines. I interviewed with the claims manager, Henry Meehan, who was being swamped by a backlog of claims. My background fit but first, I had to meet with the principal of the firm, Mister Strauss. Strauss sat me down in his office but ignored my resume. He removed a yellow legal pad from a desk draw and began to ask me questions without looking up, jotting down my answers on the pad. When he finished, he put down his pen, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you have a drinking problem?” 

I told him that I did not, and I was hired. Of course, I had no vacation days so, as our scheduled week at Journey’s End grew near, I confessed my dilemma to my boss, Henry Meehan. Henry was nice enough to give me off the Monday of the weekend we were to arrive and the next Friday when I would return to bring my family home. Henry’s offer exceeded anything I could have expected. I decided that I would clear up as much of their claims backlog as I could in my hopefully short time at the firm. 

Meanwhile, I had already begun my search for a real position. I applied to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a position in their ports and airports division, the newly minted Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Marsh & McLennan as a hull insurance broker. The first two never panned out but I did secure a position at Marsh where I began the last week in August.

The time came for our Journey’s End vacation. Mary Ann and I headed north in our Dodge Dart with Beth, then twenty-months old, Michael, an infant of two months and our four-year-old mutt, Woffie. The ride was not without drama. Mary Ann made an exciting discovery as we headed out of Springfield, Mass when she realized Michael’s first tooth had popped through his gum. Not to be outdone, Beth put her hand in her mouth causing self-induced choking followed by vomit. Once things calmed down and we cleaned Beth, she announced that she could be sick again by saying, “Uh-oh, more schokin.” Fortunately, it was only a scare. 

We settled into Cabin No. 4, the Oriole, and I joined Don for a booze run to the Vermont and New Hampshire state package stores to get the best price. 

The weekend went by in a flash. Mary Ann’s mother, Dorothy arrived on Monday together with her grandmother, Kate to help with Beth and Michael in my absence. I reluctantly hit the road home Monday at mid-afternoon after their arrival.

Then, a strange thing happened just after I left my family and headed across the Connecticut River into Vermont and the southbound entrance to Interstate 91. The local AM radio station began playing a song I had never heard before. Its lyrics matched my mood just as I was about to begin my southbound journey: 

Would you care to stay till sunrise?

 It’s completely your decision,

it’s just that going home is such a ride.

Going home is such a ride,

going home is such a ride,

isn’t going home such a low and lonely ride?

I didn’t know the song was Dory Previn’s “The Lady with the Braid” that had just been released. It would haunt me for years to come until I finally re-discovered it on one of MS Previn’s albums.

My ride was uneventful except for the number of young semi-hippie hitchhikers who had taken to the road in that “summer of love.”

The following Friday, I left Middle Village at four in the morning and arrived a little after eight with a box of fresh Dunkin Doughnuts giving me a full last day before we headed home on Saturday. 

That Saturday was brutally hot, our Dodge Dart was without A/C and I still remember that long, hot ride through an oven called Connecticut. The only folks noticeably more miserable than us were motor cyclist in their leathers. Any breeze they found felt like a blow torch. 

Then and there I vowed our next car would have A/C.

(This piece was first published in 2018. With the title: “Journey’s End 1971.”)

The 2022 Opening

Spring was nowhere to be seen this last week in April when Mary Ann and I made our first trip of the season to open our vacation house in Marlow, NH (Zip Code 03456, I kid you not). The weather was more like winter with early morning temperatures dropping to 28 degrees.

We made this first trip to assess what problems have manifested themselves over the winter and what we had to do to get them fixed before family and friends began to join us. Our local plumber, JPP. had re-opened the plant by putting on the electricity and turning on the water earlier in April. He gladly let me know that he didn’t find any problems at that time which is great news as any water left in the system when he drained and closed the house in January would have surely revealed itself with breaks and leaks.

We also hire a neighbor to clean and vacuum the house and she too didn’t report any problems. Even so, we knew before we arrived that there were several issues that had to be rectified to put our house in order for this season. We had a list of work we knew had to be done. My Number One issue was pumping out the septic system. Since this is a vacation home, I arrange for this service every two years. The time was up this spring so I booked the work for May 2nd.

We also have two pine trees close to the house that have to come down. One is dead, but the problem is the live one is locked together with its dead cousin. I called Donny M, our local landscaper who concurred.

Donny came by in his 1960 Willys pick-up truck, painted a Dodger’s blue, proud as a peacock.  We talked about things going on in Marlow, the high cost of gasoline, how bad mud season was this year: “You know, John, at its worst, the school bus couldn’t get up Marlow Hill! Those folks had to take their children down to Route 10.”

He gave me a price of $400 to cut down the two pine trees and remove the wood. “Sounds good to me, Don, and I’ll include another $100 dollars to cover the first mowing of the season.”

My 2022 opening issues were exacerbated by my left knee that had become a bear reducing me to walking with a cane. Unable to handle basic chores, we asked our son, Michael and our grandson, Matt, to join us to help with the heavy lifting. Our son, did double duty helping us while at the same time working remotely on a difficult May 1 insurance renewal, But, between father and son, the tasks at hand were successfully completed

April 30 was our son’s 51st birthday and we celebrated accordingly with excellent Rib-Eye steaks, cooked on our Weber gas grill. We also gave Matt an appropriate payment of cash money for a job well-done.

WIFI in rural America, like electricity, is a habitual challenge. Our present provider is Consolidated Communications, who replaced Fairpoint, who bought out Verizon’s northern New England system about ten-years ago. It seems that Consolidated has finally done what is needed to adequately provide proper band width, etc., and we should have had a smooth 2022 resumption of service.

We should have, but that didn’t take into account the human factor, namely me. When I suspended service in early January, I also suspended our Direct TV service. What I forgot was the Direct TV satellite service automatically resumed on a date I gave them, but I had to call Consolidated in advance of our first visit to resume telephone and internet service.

My failure forced Mary Ann to make a series of desperate phone calls that ultimately resulted in a resumption of service. Thankfully, I got off easily.

All this confusion over electronic communications made me reflect back on that simpler time in 1984 when we first purchased Little House, a time before satellite TV, cellular, much less, smart phones, a time without internet or even computers when all we had was a single land line and a TV that picked up one television station by way of a roof-top antenna aimed at a signal being broadcast from Burlington, VT.

We packed up for our trip back to Port Washington on Sunday morning pleased with the condition to which we had restored Little House during our visit. Finally, a the promise of spring greeted us. Winter still ruled the land, but the sun warmed us as we finished packing the truck after 9 am. Our last task was helping to board our two very best friends, Max and Tessie, in their quarters in the back of our SUV.

As we finished that task, Mary Ann asked, “John, do you remember what today’s date is?”

I replied, “May 1st.”

“Indeed,” she replied. “Look around, what do you see?”

“OMG, May flies! I don’t believe they are actually making their presence known today of all days.”

The usual rule of thumb in New Hampshire for the black fly season is Mother’s Day to Father’s Day.

“Oh dear, first a terrible mud season, now a long black fly season; I can’t imagine what else we should expect to encounter this summer?”                      

That Should Hold the Little Bastards

Part Five: Early TV – Gaffs: The Road to Ruin

The title of this piece originated in a well-known, often told story of how to destroy a broadcasting career. Granted it supposedly happened on radio instead of television, but it was too good not to include. “Uncle” Don Carney had a half-hour kids’ radio show that aired on WOR radio from 1928 to 1947. As the story goes, one day after concluding his daily broadcast, Uncle Don uttered those words as he passed a hot mic: “There! That ought to hold the little bastards.”

Just one problem, dear readers: It never happened. Still, a great line like that will live on despite being but an urban legend and I’ll bet some of you actually believe that you heard it.

Tex Antoine

Herbert Jon Antoine Jr. better known as Tex Antoine’s faux pas was all too real. Tex began his weather career 1n 1949 for WNBT, a predecessor of WNBC in New York City. He worked with a cartoon sidekick he created known as “Uncle Wethbee. His nightly weather report, “…was a wonderful mix of weather, cartoon art and storytelling. He would start his weather segment standing next to an easel covered by blank pages, and he would proceed to draw the weather systems that were pertinent to the nation and the area. As his hands drew in the lows, highs and fronts, his voice would narrate their past and expected movements, and what their effects would be.”

Rumor had it that Antoine enjoyed imbibing John barleycorn which may have helped his demise?

Antoine left WNBC in 1966 for WABC-TV. On the newscast of November 26, 1976. His weather report followed a story about the attempted rape of an eight-year-old girl. Antoine quipped: “With rape so predominate in the news lately, it is well to remember the words of Confucius: ‘If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.”

Say goodbye Tex – “GOODBYE TEX!”

Dick Schaap

Dick Schaap wore many hats while covering sports that included a stint as a local sportscaster on WNBC in the 1970s. Schaap was on duty during Secretariats triple crown run and victories during the 1973 racing season. After “Big Red” as the stallion was affectionally known won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, he was put out to stud and never raced again.

So loved by the public, Big Red’s celebrity status continued unabated. Sports writers filed stories from the stud farm on his progress. Unfortunately, the horse’s early attempts were less than expected and the papers were full of oddly written stories about Big Red and his mate, Riva Ridge. One night, Schaap had had enough so he noted during his broadcast that “Secretariat and Riva Ridge had become the most famous stable mates since Mary and Joseph.

The phone lines at NBC lit up after Schaap’s remark aired, but, fortunately, people still had a sense of humor in 1973 and cooler heads prevailed.

Jack Paar

For the record, the few times that I watched his incarnation hosting The Tonight Show, each time I walked away with the feeling that there was something really off about that dude.

On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar walked off the show in a huff that bordered on being hysterical confirming my belief that he wasn’t quite all there.

The flash point was a lengthy “shaggy dog” story he told the previous night that the NBC censors removed from the broadcast as being too risqué. A long joke made short; an English woman wishes to buy a house in Switzerland. She asks a local chap where the W.C. is located.

Failure to communicate leads the Swiss fellow to believe WC means a wedding chapel instead of a water closet (bathroom.)

The joke finishes with this Swiss person explaining that his daughter will be married there, inviting his British associate to attend her wedding and noting: “I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. Hoping to have been service to you, I remain, Sincerely, The Schoolmaster.”

A silly joke intercepted by stupid censors!

“Paar was really pissed off’ recalls hie then-sidekick, Hugh Downs. ‘He called a press conference the next day and announced he was going to do something really horrendous that night.’ Before the taping, Downs cornered Paar in his dressing room. ‘He was pacing back and forth, and finally said, ‘I’m leaving the show, Hugh.’ I assumed he’d tape the show and make a dramatic announcement at the end.”

“Paar had built his reputation on an ‘I-could-blow-at-any-moment’ emotionalism, and that night, he blew. After a three-minute skewing of NBC over the censorship, Paar, in tears, said, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to make a living,’ and walked off the stage.”

On March, 7th 1960, Paar returned to the show. He opened his remarks with, “As I was saying when I was interrupted…when I walked off, I said that there must be a better way to make a living than this. Well, I’ve looked and there isn’t.”

Paar left the show two-years later to be replaced by the best Tonight host of all time, Johnny Carson. Since then, all has been happy in TV land except for David Copperfield, Bill Cosby, Jamie Foxx, James Franco, R. Kelly, Matt Lauer, Les Moonves and Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey, etc. etc. etc…’When will they ever learn…”      

Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night

Early TV: Part Four – Late Night / Early Morning TV

Today, TV is on the air twenty-four hours a day. Morning news programming on ABC, CBS and NBC begins at 4 AM. Fox starts at 4:30 AM. Between one am and four, they play re-runs of their popular shows.

Twenty-two years ago, when I was active, I would leave my house at 5:25 to catch the 5:36 Long Island Railroad train from Port Washington that deposited me into Penn Station at 6:20. Back then, WNBC’s local morning show hosted by Matt Lauer and Jane Hansen didn’t air until six am, followed at seven by The Today Show, one of NBC’s biggest money-makers.

Since 2000, Today has expanded from a two-hour broadcast into a four-hour monster. Understandably, NBC pushed this expansion after nine am so that their new entertainment segments didn’t interfere with early morning news, traffic and weather. ABC, CBS and FOX followed the same format. They all understood not to interfere with early morning commuter’s needs. Simon and Garfinkle explained these needs in, The Only Living Boy in New York:

“I get the news I need from the weather report,

I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.” 

On the back end, actual broadcasts once ended at 11 pm. We would realize that the broadcast was at an end when the stars and stripes flying in the wind appeared on the screen and a non-vocal recording of our National Anthem filled the speaker. Once the Anthem ended, the screen would revert to a test pattern, an image of a circle within a square with lots of curious information as an annoying tone filled the television’s speakers. This is the NBC test pattern:

(NOTE: For reasons beyond my control, I cannot include the test pattern in the body of this piece, If you are interested you can either look it up or let me know and I will send it to you separately.)       

The NBC Pattern was developed in variations of it became the staple of all television stations when they went off the air and before they resumed broadcasting the following morning. The lines and circles were designed to give electrical engineers the means to calibrate the stations visible image. NBC’s test pattern included an image of an “Indian Head,” positioned at twelve o’clock on their test pattern. The reason for using this image is lost to history, but my research found that it was used to set brightness and contrast. The test pattern was used by commercial TV from 1947 until 1977.

In their early days, most TV stations didn’t broadcast between midnight and Six AM on weekdays. Weekends, especially, Sundays, was anybody’s guess as “Blue Laws” prevailed in most of America. NBC was a leader in expanding these boundaries. First up was The Today Show that revolutionized morning news, information and entertainment beginning in 1954.

A late-night show followed that same year, Tonight Across America After Dark that originally aired from 11:20 to Midnight on Weekdays. The inaugural host was Steve Allen, but in 1957, NBC picked Allen to host NBC’s new Sunday night variety show. A gaggle of minor league talent filled in as hosts including Jack Lescoulie and Al “Jazzbo” Collins until Jack Parr took the reins of the newly formatted Tonight Show Starring Jack Parr.

NBC had gone two for two in re-defining weekday morning and late-night TV. Then, on October 11, 1975, they unveiled their latest venture, the show that revolutionized late-night weekend TV, Saturday Night Live. Produced by Lorne Michaels, SNL remains on the ai, r and has run for 47 seasons with over 925 episodes.

When you look-up the original cast, it is hard to believe that it included so many stars, all still household names: Loraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris and Chevy Chase.

Sunday afternoon was the dead zone. The 1950s church going Christian America’s ritual included the Three PM dinner centered around a Sunday Roast, beef, chicken or ham, mashed potatoes, beans and / or other vitals depending on geography, religion, family and origin.    

The oddest late-night show was Open End hosted by David Susskind. It was truly open ended with no set time to leave the airways. The show began at 11 pm on Sunday nights with suggested end time of one am, But it could continue into the wee hours of Monday morning. His guests included the likes of James Baldwin, William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer who would discuss, debate and at times shout at each other about current and controversial events, thoughts and beliefs.

Most guests were male smokers and a veil of smoke descended as the show continued. Alcohol also seemed to be available to guests at least surreptitiously as the FCC banned all alcohol on TV

I watched it several times especially if Buckley was a guest who could hold his own with anyone. I remember one memorable evening when Buckley went at it with Mailer. Mailer was pissed off from the start over the preface in Buckley’s new book. One of Buckley’s friend and associate wrote the preface and he made the comment that Mailer was a freak.

Mailer went on and on about the comment as Buckley posed in an armchair slumped down, head leaning on the back of the chair and with his legs dangling to one side. Finally, Mailer stopped for air. Buckley tilted his head toward Mailer so their eyes met then spoke in his peculiar Connecticut / Yale accent: “Ah, but, ah, well, ah, but, ah, Mr. Mailer, you are a freak.”

Now, that’s entertainment.

“And Away We Go”

Part Two: Early Network Variety Shows

When Drew called me to ask about early television, he asked one question that brought forth a tidal wave of memories: “Grandpa, who was the one person that stands out from all others on early television?”

My instinctive reply was, “Milton Berle! Drew, he was television’s first superstar and the first to have his own TV variety show. Uncle Milty was a veteran stage comedian who gained fame entertaining mostly Jewish people on vacation in summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains that became known as the Borsch Belt.”

“Berle depended mainly on sight-gags that mostly took advantage of him. Slapstick, overdressed in drag costumes, one mimicking Britain’s Queen Victoria, insulting the audience and being the victim of pranks by the crew and fellow actors were all part of his routine. Being hit in the face with pies was common. Uncle Milty took it to a new level. If someone used the expression ‘make-up’ in a skit, within seconds, a man would appear from back-stage holding an enormous bowl of powder. He’d come right up to ‘Uncle Milty,’ take out an enormous powder puff and smash it into Milty’s face while repeating: ‘Makeup.”

“We didn’t even have a TV when I first saw the show. The hour-long show was carried on NBC each Tuesday night from 8 to 9 pm and, one night, my mother and I were invited by our next-door neighbor, Mrs. (Florence) Meyer (who also didn’t have a television set) to join her in visiting a relative who lived two blocks from our house to watch the show.”

“I remember a crowded living room, a sea of adults, a very small screen in the distance where I could make out vague black and white images. I understood that this was unique even if only because my normal bedtime was 7 pm and my mom must have thought this was important enough that I was allowed to watch it.”

  “The actual name was The Texaco Star Theatre starring Milton Berle. Texaco was the only sponsor and the show began and ended with four male chorus line actors dressed like Texaco mechanics. They began the show by walking onstage in front of a curtain. One carried a gas pump, the second, a wrench, the third, something that looked like a metal soup plate to collect oil, and the fourth, a portable jack. They broke into song. The opening lines were:

Oh, we’re the men of Texaco,

We work from Maine to Mexico,

There’s nothing like the Texaco of ours…

Uncle Milty ran from 1948 until 1956 and his show was but the first nugget from a gold mine of variety shows that owned TV in the 1950s.

Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town soon followed on CBS. His 60-minute variety show aired from 8pm to 9 pm on Sunday nights. Sullivan was a former gossip columnist for the Daily News who had been writing a popular column entitled: Little Ole New York, since 1932. He seemed to know everybody who was anybody in New York.

One of the features of his show was Sullivan calling out members of his studio audience who had recently accomplished something extraordinary.  Pre-planned, he would seem to be searching for that individual. Once he spotted them, he’d announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are honored to have (for example) John Glenn in the house tonight. Commander Glenn has just broken the speed record flying his US Navy fighter jet from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds at a speed of 725.55 mph. Stand up Commander Glenn and give him a hand”

Comedian Alan King, a frequent guest summed up Sullivan’s talents: “Ed Sullivan can’t sing, can’t dance and can’t tell a joke, but he does it better than anyone else.”

Other shows joined Berle and Sullivan. Croner, Perry Como starred in the Perry Como Chesterfield Show, a 15-minute presentation that ran three nights a week beginning in 1950.

Arthur Godfrey switched from radio to TV in 1949. His most memorable incident was when he fired his singing sensation, Julius LaRosa, an act of anger that hurt both of their careers.

Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows had a relatively short life (1950 to 1954) and is best remembered for its brilliant writers that included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Selma Diamond and Carl Reiner.

Jackie Gleason’s Cavalcade of Stars debuted in 1949 on the DuMont network before jumping to NBC the following year. Gleason would begin each show with an opening monologue and then transition to one of his set pieces with the line:

  • And away we go!

These pieces included, Joe the Bartender, The Poor Soul, Crazy Guggenheim, Reggie Van Gleason and the Honeymooners. By 1955, Gleason wanted to move on so he ended his variety show and spun off The Honeymooners as a half-hour situation comedy.

Gleason played Ralph Kramden, a city bus driver who lived with his wife, Alice in a walk-up Brooklyn pre-WW II apartment. Audrey Meadows played Alice on the big show and the comedy series. Art Carney, played their neighbor, Ed Norton, and, Joyce Randolph, played his wife, Thelma, “Trixie” Norton. Ed worked for the NYC Department of Sewers. The show’s staging was set in the Kramden’s kitchen.

Ralph Kramden had a line that was nothing less than a threat of wife-beating that was acceptable in those days: “One of these days, Alice, pow to the moon.”

Considered a classic situation comedy, the actual show that premiered in 1956 didn’t receive good ratings and only lasted 39 episodes.

The era of variety shows continued for several decades and included ones like The Steve Allen Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Laurence Welk, The Smother Brothers Show, In Living Color, Hee-Haw and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

Today, reality shows like Survivor, various versions of Real Housewives, America’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor and American Idol fill the airwaves. Thanks anyway, I’ll take a pie in the face or “Make-up” instead any day of the week.

Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea

Part One: Early National News Programs

Recently, I received a semi-desperate call from by oldest grandson seeking help with an assignment about early television.

“Grandpa, the teacher is a jerk. I just took this course to complete the few credits I need to graduate. Turns out it’s mostly freshmen and the jerk is full of his own self-importance. He wants me to interview someone about the early days of TV before cable: Help!”

“Drew, I bet he’s only a couple of years older than you. Do you want to blow his socks off and take TV back to the late 1940s?”

“Sure thing, Gramps. How many TV stations did you get back in the day? Now that I think about it, how did you actually receive the stations?”

“Drew, let me explain by describing the television sets back then. If you had a 12-inch screen, you considered yourself to be lucky. Most were 10-inch and there were even some eight-inch screens. The early sets were built into fancy cabinets, pieces of furniture. In the New York area, we had the choice of seven channels. New York was the media capital of America and all of the national networks were anchored here.

CBS had Channel 2, NBC; 4, ABC; 7 and a fourth network, DuMont, that went out of business in 1956, broadcasted on Channel 5. Three independents; WOR, occupied Channel 9, WPIX, Channel 11 and WNET, a station based in Newark, NJ. on Channel 13 filled out our choices.

Each signal was sent out over the airways by way of Very High Frequency (VHF) communication channels that like radio frequencies were owned by the Federal Government who licensed them out to private broadcasters. I thought about explaining to Drew that VHF signals were similar to radio transmissions, but I also realized he’s never had a radio.

To receive these signals, we had to purchase individual antennas. Metal antennas mounted on the roofs of houses worked best, but for those living in apartment buildings, the only alternative were individual internal antennas that sat on the top of the TV. These devices had two telescoping metal rods that we would raise above the base. Called, “rabbit ears,” we would turn the device and adjust the length of the rods to receive the clearest signal available for that channel.

I explained to Drew just how primitive early television newscasts could be. “One of the early TV newscasters was Walter Winchell, a famous gossip columnist, mud raker and political power broker. Winchell began his broadcasts sitting behind and oversized desk wearing a stylish striped suit, a vest and tie. He wore his trademark fedora tilted to one side in a jaunty fashion.

“In his hands, he held a sheaf of papers and on cue, he looked up at the camera and began his broadcast with: ‘Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.’

A telegraph key was affixed to the right-hand corner his desk and he would announce each new topic by striking the key to make a clicking sound.”

The Networks all seemed to get their act together almost simultaneously in 1948 that saw an explosion of programming that included their first forays into legitimate news reporting.  First up was NBC with its Camel News Caravan starring John Cameron Swayze that presented a 15-minute news show every week day evening.

First launched on Februaray16, 1948, the studio featured Mr. Swayze dressed in a suit sitting behind a large desk, a pencil in his right hand and a sheaf of papers in front of him. Behind him, a cut-out map of the world hung on a wall and at the front end of his desk, his name was set out on raised in blocks flanked on either side by two reproductions of the Camel Cigarette camels.

The sponsor’s name was used repeatedly during the broadcast. Swayze would read the preface for each story, then introduce a local correspondent and send it off to that person who made their report while the film about this story rolled.

A single commercial in the middle of the broadcast featured screen and sport’s celebrities shilling for Camel cigarettes.

NBC was soon followed by CBS who inaugurated CBS Television News featuring Douglas Edwards on May 3, 1948 that also adopted a 15-minute format, five nights a week at 7:30 p.m.

ABC was late to the dance and didn’t become an alternative until late in the 1950s.

NBC re-established their preeminence in 1956 when they completely revamped their evening news format, abandoned a sponsor named broadcast, expanding the format to 30 minutes and replacing Swayze with The Huntley-Brinkley Report -starring Chet Huntley, broadcasting from NBC’s New York H.Q. and David Brinkley in Washington, D.C.

Premiering on October 26, 1956, it blew the socks off of Douglas Edwards. CBS wouldn’t begin to regain ground until 1961 when they replaced Edwards with Walter Cronkite.

I began this piece with the opening to Walter Winchell’s primitive TV news show. I end it with the now famous closing line to The Huntley-Brinkley Report:

 “Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News.”                        

Putin’s Debacle

Putin is a stone-cold killer. He is a sociopath and a thug. He is Russian to the core and his fears and paranoia reflect those of his people. He and they fear NATO. They fear any and all perceived threats from the West. The horrific toll from that the Patriotic War (World War II) has become part of their DNA. Pick a number anywhere from 24 million to 32 million Russians killed during that war and you can begin to understand their paranoia. Never mind that Stalin killed at least a third of those lost because Uncle Joe defeated the Nazis and that’s what Russians choose to remember.

Add to this how the misfits that constitute the Russian Army fight a war; with all the finesse of a bear in a China shop (pun intended.) Armor, artillery, missiles and overwhelming numbers are their Gods. Hit the enemy hard. Hit them relentlessly. Make them succumb to fear, hunger and deprivation. Attack without regard for any sense of honor or the rules of war, let alone basic human compassion.

When Putin began his invasion of the Ukraine on February 24, he fully expected his forces to produce a shock wave that would force President Zelensky, his government, his ill-prepared army and the Ukrainian people to fold like a cheap suit.

I admit, I too thought this would happen. Thankfully, I was wrong. As for Putin, f**k him and the horse he rode in on. I imagined that even if the Ukrainians put up a fight, their meager forces would be quickly overwhelmed. Videos shown on American news stations showing local citizens filling wine bottles with jellied gasoline to make Molotov cocktails didn’t give me any encouragement. Molotov cocktails are final acts of desperation.

Little did I know how the NATO block would overwhelmingly choose to come to the aid of Ukraine with state-of-the-art tank killing weapons: Unprecedented!

Of course, neither the USA or NATO were prepared to take the fight back to Putin to the degree needed. The Western world was not about to start World War III, nuclear war and all that shit.

But we did arm and re-arm and continue to re-arm the Ukrainian army with tank killing  equalizers that include one from the UK and one from the USA. Different in design, sophistication and range, curiously, when used together, they presented the Ukrainians with death to Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers, (APCs.)

On March 19, The New York Times published a story by John Ismay about how these weapons were destroying Russia’s tanks by the dozens. The British version has the un-sexy acronym for a name: NLAW or: Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon. “The NLAW weighs just under 28 pounds and has no camera.” It takes about 15 seconds to setup and fire. Accurate up to a half-mile, the NLAW projectile destroys its target in less than 15 seconds.

Originally developed by the Swedish company, Saab, Great Britain manufactures these close-in attack weapons at a plant in Belfast under license.

The American Javelin, is an older, heavier but more sophisticated guided weapon with a substantially greater range. “The Javelin, which was designed at the end of the Cold War consist of two parts, a 15-pound reusable launcher that soldiers often use for reconnaissance and surveillance, given its suite of thermal cameras that can zoom in and out for finding targets, and a 33-pound disposable tube that contains the missile.”

The Javelin has a kill range of up to two and one-half miles.

Both weapons can be programmed to fly above the target and detonate downward in order to penetrate the lighter armor on the top or rear of the tank or APC rather than hitting the face which has the heaviest armor. Crew and passengers are annihilated.

“The capabilities of the two weapons make the Javelin more like a sniper rifle for taking out armored vehicles at extreme distances while the NLAW is better for close-quarter battles and ambush scenarios.”

So far, Russian tanks and APCs have not been able to develop a defense against these weapons and make-shift attempts have proven to be futile.

In a recent interview with an anonymous British diplomat, he told  told Mr. Ismay:

“Given that the Ukrainians are unable to fight Russian armor with tanks of their own, they must use different tactics. The Ukrainians have shown the will and the extraordinary nerve to get close to the tanks and destroy them in these missile attacks.

“They’re fighting an existential threat and they’re not giving up. So, we’ve given them, at their request as a sovereign nation, the tools to go and do this.”

God bless these brave patriots.

Unfortunately, Putin, like Stalin can’t back down. Stalin couldn’t because his was in a war of national survival. Putin has put himself into a war of personal survival.

Modern history has taught us that Russian strategy, when faced with unexpected resistance on the field of battle, has been to withdraw, regroup, and re-attack in mass at their convenience.

So far, Putin is sending out mixed signals. His agents have entered into primitive peace negotiations while missiles and artillery continue to target Ukraine. As far as I can see Putin remains married to the same gameplan, annex ”The Ukraine.”               ‘ 

Ultimately. it may take considerable sacrifice by NATO, which means the USA, to save Ukraine. Are we up for such a war? Given the alternative, I sincerely hope that is who we are, a nation of True Grit, Only time will tell.

Dreaming a Dream

My sincerest apologies, dear reader, but I need a week off to recalibrate my mind. It’s not that I am out of ideas, I have three ready to develop, but I seem to be suffering through writer’s migraine instead of a writer’s block.

So, I ask that you accept this vignette for this week’s edition of On the Outside Looking In.

I rarely have vivid dreams, but several nights ago, I had one that seem to last most of the night. Its opening found me entering a conference room with a number of other men and women. After taking my seat around a large glass table, we were advised that the purpose of this meeting was to give us the opportunity to review the company’s proposed annual review and evaluation of our performance.

Part of me immediately objected to openly participating in a personal examination in such a public forum. But I caught my objection by considering that I had not had an evaluation in quite some time and, perhaps, the confidential aspect of this procedure may have changed.

A sub-thought immediately challenged that supposition: “Any evaluation by its very nature must be private.”

Before I could object, some individual dropped a file on the table in front of me. Of course, it was my evaluation. Without instruction or permission, I began to read it. It recommended that my annual bonus should be cut from $10,000 to $5,000.

Damn, I thought, but I ventured on to read the findings. They weren’t encouraging:

“Seems distracted.”

“Doesn’t concentrate.”

“Is he pre-occupied?”

“Is there a problem in his life affecting his ability to work.”

When I finished reading the comments, I had a curious reaction, one I didn’t consider until that very moment:

“Of course, of course, all of those comments make sense. Hell, I’m 78 years old! What do they expect from me?”

Then it occurred to me: “They don’t know that I’m 78!”

Quickly, another thought intruded: “If I’m 78, why in hell am I still working?”

“Ah ha,” I said to myself. “This is a brilliant trap. They’re suspicious of me.”

I decided to keep my cards close to my chest and keep this news to myself until I could return home and ask Mary Ann if there was any reason why I should still be working.

I carried that thought through the night until I actually awakened. Immediately, my conscience thought was drawn to its obvious conclusion that I verbalized to my dream: “It is not necessary for me to speak to Mary Ann about this. In reality, as of April First, I will have been retired for 22 wonderful years.

When I related my dream to Mary Ann later that morning, her reaction was: “Was I retired?”

“Mary Ann, in my dream you were so retired that I couldn’t understand why I was still working.”

My New COVID SUV

I decided to go car hunting in early March of 2020. I had promised my son, my 2016 GMC Arcadia to replace his failing minivan. I delighted in that Arcadia. It was a great road car with ample room for both cargo and second row passengers seemingly designed for long-distance trips.

I was totally prepared to replace it with the 2020 model, but GMC had shrunk both the external and internal dimensions of their replacement model to meet new EPA standards.  My cousin, Bob, who had recently leased the new model, hated it because he couldn’t enter the driver’s seat without banging his head. I am taller than Bob making it a non-starter for me.

An upgrade to GMC’s Yukon that retained its generous dimensions was out of the question. The price for GMC’s king of the road had escalated to more than $70,000, an amount I considered to be grossly excessive.

Kia and its sister company, Hyundai, had recently introduced new cross-over models having similar dimensions to my Arcadia.  I watched several promotional videos about the Kia Telluride and the Hyundai Palisade that explained that both were built by the same parent company with the same engine, transmission and frame. Either vehicle seemed acceptable and so, I began my quest.

I set out on March 9th to investigate their suitability and availability of these vehicles. At a stop at a KIA Dealer in Levittown, I found their inventory for new Tellurides was disappointing. When I asked a representative when he expected to receive the next shipment, he replied, “That’s anyone’s guess. We were scheduled to receive eight Tellurides two weeks ago. So far, none have been delivered.”

They had but one, a stripped-down model, on the lot, but it gave me the opportunity to check out the suitability of its driver’s seat. I was pleased with the results as I found I could easily enter and exit the driver’s seat without contorting my body or banging my head or knees.

Disappointed by their lack of inventory, but encouraged by this vehicle’s suitability, I drove to a Hyundai dealership in Hempstead. Millennium Hyundai. The salesman, Omar, volunteered that they had Palisade on the lot that met my needs. I waited a bit while he retrieved it and when he returned, I followed him out onto the lot where I saw this freshly washed shining black beauty preening in the afternoon sun.  It was love at first sight.

After a test ride, followed by necessary posturing, I agreed to buy it pending Mary Ann’s approval. When Omar questioned this, I explained, “Omar, you are single. I have been married 53 years. Including my wife in this decision is part of the reason we have made it 53 years and counting.”

I explained to Mary Ann that my only regret was that I had to accept the second-row seats consisted of two captain’s chairs instead of a bench seat, but that I did avoid having it include a sunroof. After taking a ride and driving the Palisade, Mary Ann signed off on my new wheels then pointed out the controls located on the underside of the roof were for the sun roof I though I didn’t have.

A word about the bucket seats. Ordinarily, I would have welcomed them, but having two old big dogs as part of our family presented a specific problem. Max and Tess, a Golden Retriever and a Yellow Lab ride in the cargo area of our SUVs. The back bench seat acts as a barrier keeping them from attempting to join us up front. Bucket seats provides them with their own alley to stroll directly to our front row seats. Trial, error and a steel barricade solved that issue.     

Two days later the sale was made. Meanwhile, both Michael and I did all we could to expedite the transfer of the Arcadia to him. Thankfully, he completed all of the paperwork on his new vehicle before the COVID 19 quarantine was enacted in Connecticut. I wasn’t as fortunate, but I did get by with a series of 30-day temporary registrations that lasted until June when I received the permanent one good for two-years.

My Palisade is chock-a-block full of sensors that control anything and everything that has to do with the operation of my truck. In no particular order it includes: Lane sensors, brake sensors, passing car sensors, backup sensors and camera. It will automatically stop itself if I don’t brake for a passing vehicle or pedestrian. It has “so called” smart cruise control. Very sophisticated, it includes a primitive version of hands off, foot off cruise control driving. It automatically slows the speed if a slow-moving vehicle enters my lane and returns to my pre-set speed once it departs.

After two weeks of complete confusion trying to figure out these and other bells and whistles, I made an appointment with Omar to return to the dealership with Mary Ann on Friday March 21 to clear up these issues.

Omar was a no show, and when I called his mobile number, I discovered he’d been laid off!

A couple of other salesmen and tech folks tried to help. Meanwhile, we couldn’t help to notice the frenzy of activity going on in and around the dealership. A few salesmen were turning in old cars for new leases in a chaotic fashion. Finally, a salesman explained why: “By the governor’s order, we must close by 8 pm tonight and we have no idea when we will re-open.”

Without access to the dealer, I slowly figured out how things worked, but when Millennium re-opened later in the spring of 2020, it took me several trips back to Hempstead to straighten out my confusion and solve my issues.

Late in 2021, when new cars and even used cars became scarce, I received a text from Omar asking me if I might be interested in turning in my Palisade for a new one to be named later. I replied, “No thank you, but I am glad that you are back to work.”