Tips From A Century Ago: Write Clearly and Don’t Plagiarize

Planning on starting an email newsletter? Here are some tips on how—from 100 years ago.

That’s when the House Organ Association held a convention in 1918. It was co-sponsored by the Direct Mail Advertising Association, now known as the Data & Marketing Association.

Old-timers remember house organs–they were the magazines companies published to keep their customers informed. They served the same purpose as email newsletters. Here are some lessons from that October 1918 event, held in the closing weeks of World War I:

Don’t lift content from other publications. The prevailing attitude in 1918 was: “Why waste time rewriting or pay for stuff when there was plenty of it going the rounds for the mere trouble of taking it?”

Don’t steal artwork, another widespread practice. “It doesn’t make a tinker’s darn difference how much gray matter, sweat, time, ink, experience, execution and money was involved if a certain design or illustrated ‘looks good’ or is “just the thing” to illustrate some new fangled clock whose alarm tickles your toes—Use It! Trace it or photography it direct—but use it!” the speaker said.

Make sure that articles are relevant and engaging—they weren’t in most house organs. “Most are over-weighted with ponderous lectures by men who know their own departments, but unfortunately do not know how to WRITE,” a speaker complained.

The conference was organized into tracks like House Organs for Salesmen, House Organs for Dealers, and House Organs for Customers. The most crowded session was the one titled, “Why House Organs are essential in War time.” (It was because editors “have steadily made use of articles designed to aid in the organization of the country for war”).

Wisdom from the ancients.

 

We Work At The Jollity Building

By Ray Schultz

Work recently took me to a We Work facility in midtown Manhattan, where an upstart with no standing can rent a few feet of space and establish a New York presence. I waited in the shared space or Hot Desk area, where prices start at $450 a month; the coffee and wi-fi are thrown in. People lounged around with their laptops and smartphones, as they would in a Starbucks. Then there are the offices in back, which start at $450 but probably average out at around $2,500—my interview subject, from a foreign company, was located there. It made me wonder if the founders of this outfit ever read The Telephone Booth Indian, A.J. Liebling’s masterpiece on the Jollity Building, circa 1942. It seems to be built on the same business model.

Mostly occupied by hustlers who tried to make a buck or two by “promoting” people (i.e., swindling them), the Jollity Building had a similar sliding fee structure to We Work’s (in 1942 dollars). At the bottom rung were the Telephone Booth Indians, who simply hung out in in the lobby for free and used the telephone booths; often they could not afford the price of a pastrami sandwich, but they lived in perpetual hope of making a score.

Upstairs, there were spaces for rent on a monthly basis. But you had to see Morty, the rental agent, who refers to the renters as “heels.” Liebling writes:

Morty usually reserves the appellation heel for the people who rent the forty-eight cubicles, each furnished with a desk and two chairs, on the third floor of the Jollity Building. These cubicles are formed by partitions of wood and frosted glass which do not quite reach the ceiling. Sufficient air to maintain human life is supposed to circulate over the partitions. The offices rent for $10.00 and $12.00 a month, payable in advance. “Twelve and a half dollars with air, ten dollars without air,” Morty says facetiously. “Very often the heels who rent them take the air without telling me.” Sometimes a Telephone Booth Indian acquires enough capital to rent a cubicle. He thus rises in the social scale an becomes a heel. A cubicle has three advantages over a telephone booth. One is that you cannot get a desk into a telephone booth. Another is that you can play pinochle in a cubicle. Another is that a heel gets his name on the directory in the lobby, and the white letters have a bold, legitimate look.

The vertical social structure of the Jollity Building is subject to continual shifts. Not only do Indians become heels, but a heel occasionally accumulates forty or fifty dollars with which to pay a month’s rent on one of the larger offices, all of them unfurnished on the fourth, fifth, or sixth floor. He then becomes a tenant. Morty always views such progress with suspicion, because it involves signing a lease, and once a heel has signed a lease, you cannot put him out without serving a dispossess notice and waiting ten days. A tenant, in Morty’s opinion, is just a heel who is planning to get ten days’ free rent. “Any time a heel acts prosperous enough to rent an office,” Morty says, “you know he’s getting ready to take you.” A dispossessed tenant often reappears in the Jollity Building as an Indian. It is a life cycle.

One of the few legitimate tenants is Hy Sky, a sign painter who serves the heels in setting up their usually unsuccessful scams. He laughs when painting the signs because he knows he “will receive the only dollar that is likely to change hands in the transaction—the dollar he gets for painting the sign,” Liebling wrote. Often, Hy Sky would call Morty to say, ““Morty, pop up here and see the character I got here! He is the most phoniest character I seen in several years.”

The name Jollity Building was fictional, but it was based on a real place, or a composite of such places. Of course, two big differences between Jollity and We Work (beyond the clientele) is that you had to buy your own coffee at a counter in the old building’s basement, and We Work doesn’t have a dance palace on the bottom floor.

 

Drinking In The New Neon Wilderness

By Ray Schultz

Poor Nelson Algren. A new bar, the Neon Wilderness, has opened in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. But it can’t be like the ones Algren hung out in when he lived there, nor can it reflect the ethos behind the name.

 The Neon Wilderness is the title of Algren’s 1947 short story collection. His third book, it mostly focused on the desperate lives of the people who inhabited the area around Milwaukee Ave. and Division.

Among its 24 stories was “The Captain has bad dreams, or who put the sodium amytal in the hill & hill?”, a harrowing yet often funny account of a police lineup. This scene prefigured a similar one in The Man with the Golden Arm, Algren’s 1949 novel, which won the first National Book Award and was the basis of the movie starring Frank Sinatra (that Algren hated).

Algren turned another story in the volume, “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” into the climactic episode of A Walk On the Wild Side, his 1956 novel and the seed of yet another bad movie. And one of the earlier pieces in the collection, “A Bottle Of Milk for Mother,” was the foundation of Never Come Morning, Algren’s 1942 novel that sold over one million copies in paperback.

Perhaps the best story is “Design For Departure,” a novella unto itself, which described how a damaged woman lived in that era before gentrification—“in one of those great city caverns which are halfway between a rooming house and a cheap hotel. Every door has a number; and no one knows anyone else and nobody keeps the hallway clean because nobody rents the hall.

“The beds are rented by week or by night. They are rented along with the air and the hours. There is just so much warmth, just so much air…” (But where would she live now?)

Algren, who died in 1981, never saw much money from any of this, and what little he did see he lost at the track; His world view can perhaps be summed up by this line from Chicago: City On The Make, his 1951 prose poem: “Every day is D-day under the El.”

 

The Face Of Ho Chi Minh: A Time Magazine Direct Mail Piece

By Ray Schultz

Marketing guru Ron Jacobs has observed that “Consumers don’t have the patience anymore to read an eight-page direct mail letter.” True, and they probably don’t even have what it takes to read a four-page one.

But they must have had it in 1966, because that’s when Time magazine sent the following four-pager.

Like the classic Time letters from the 1940s and ‘50s, this one is a historical artifact. It introduces Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, to the American people. Then it goes on to quote Marshall McLuhan, mention both LBJ and Jimmy Hoffa in passing, and explain—in some detail—the benefits of Time.

The envelope features a line drawing of a pair of sandals, with this copy: “The wearer of these sandals said: “Americans don’t like long, inconclusive wars. This is going to be a long, inconclusive war.”

Inside, at the top of the letter, is a compelling image of Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately, I have only a black-and-white Xerox copy, and did not write down the color of these illustrations. I suspect it was red.

Having found this letter in the Time Inc. archive, I am sad to report that it was one of the last of its type. That very year, Time started sending charmless, computer-generated sweepstakes letters, although Bill Jayme’s long Cool Friday letter was mailed into the 1970s.

There were no handwritten notes attached to this one, so I don’t know who wrote it, or how it pulled. And I wonder how many people, even those who snapped up the offer, made it all the way through. But here it is: One of the last great long letters written by Time’s direct mail masters. Enjoy.

Dear Reader: 

The frail, goat-bearded comrade is in remarkable health.

At 76 he is ruddy-cheeked and cheerful. He dresses in –cream-colored, mandarin-style uniforms and “Ho Chi Minh scandals” carved from automobile tires. His tastes are exquisite. He smokes American cigarettes and dines on a rare delicacy called “swallow’s nest” – a marriage of sea algae and swallow’s saliva. 

In 1962 Ho Chi Minh said: “We held off the French for eight years. We can hold off the Americans for at least that long. American’s don’t like long, inconclusive wars. This is going to be a long, inconclusive war.”

Drenched by a monsoon rain, a leathery U.S. Marine sergeant and his platoon wait in the swampy dark outside a wretched hamlet where V.C. are reported hiding. Finally a wan moon reappears. Its dim light glints on weapons carried by four fleeing figures heading out of the village. The marines open fire. A grenade explodes.  

Says the sergeant: “I hate this goddamned place like I never hated any place before, but I’ll tell you something else: I want to win here more than I ever did in two wars before.”

Right now the war in Viet Nam is neither popular nor unpopular with most Americans. It is simply confusing.

But as U.S. commitment deepens, personal involvement becomes apparent to each of us. And it becomes expedient to know all the risks, reasons and alternatives. To know the facts.

And that is one of the reasons why I am sending you this special invitation to enroll as a regular TIME reader, at a special introductory rate:

. . . 17 weeks of TIME for only $1.87. (Just 11 cents an issue.)

But (you may ask) why do I want to read a newsmagazine? And why TIME?

Let me explain why…

In 1923 TIME initiated the newsmagazine idea.

It was a new technique of newsgathering and a new format for presenting the news which offered the reader a multiplicity of news stories each week about all kinds of human activity, within a unified structure.

There was also a consistent “tone of voice” throughout TIME’s pages. Because it was different from all other news media of the era, a new form of journalism had been introduced.

Today TIME’s way of presenting the news conforms completely with the way we live. It is as integral to our society as the electric and electronic wonders that surround us.

The newsmagazine form offers an integrated mosaic picture of our time…

Says Professor Marshall McLuhan, Canada’s social catalyst: “The newsmagazine form is pre-eminently mosaic in form presenting a corporate image of society in action…The reader of the newsmagazine becomes much involved in the making of meanings for this corporate image…”

After assembling what McLuhan calls “the crucial commodity of information” through many channels and from many sources, TIME prints only the most significant of that week’s news, news of greatest human interest. From all directions, covering all facets.

It is then up to the reader to assemble this mosaic of the news and discover for himself what it means…and by doing so becoming involved in his world in a way never before possible.

The reader begins to know who he is, what he is doing, and what it means to be a member of this particular society at this particular moment in history.  

Thus the newsmagazine is recognized as a modern, efficient and essential tool of communication.

But how does this happen? How does the reader receive sufficient information each week to formulate his own meanings?

If you know TIME (and most people do) you know that it covers the news each week completely in23 separate sections. Among them: The Nation, The World, People, Education, Law, Religion, Medicine, Art, Modern Living, Music, Sport, Science, Show Business, Theater, U.S. Business, World Business Cinema, Books.

Each section of Time is also composed as a mosaic…

Take “Medicine” for example. In six consecutive issues TIME published the important news about infectious diseases, orthopedics, metabolic disorders , cardiology, physiology, parasitic diseases, gynecology, cancer, neurology, doctors, diagnosis, bacteriology, gastro-enterology.  

In a single issues under “U.S. Business” there were stories on the economy, profits, auto, advertising, government, mining, banking. The following issue carried news of housing, publishing, publishing, communications, corporations, steel, money, retailing, oil, industry. And the next: shipping, airlines, finance, Wall Street, aviation, insurance, taxes.

One week recently under the heading “The Nation” TIME reported on President Johnson’s Hawaii Conference; the $3.39 billion foreign aid package; Senator Dirksen’s filibuster; Jimmy Hoffa; a wicked snowstorm; California’s Governor Pat Brown; Wyoming’s Governor Clifford Hansen; Mississippi’s Governor Paul Johnson; the Hudson River Valley; and the new head of all military construction in Viet Nam: Brig. Gen. Carroll Dunn.

TIME connects you with the world through a fascinating, complex, modern grapevine of information…

TIME’s staff of editors, writers, researchers and technicians scans the world to amass each week’s fund of new information. They read and translate millions of words, examine thousands of pictures, sift ideas, opinions, quotations, figures, reports….trimming, fitting, checking and transfixing it all into just about 125 columns of news and news-pictures each week. (TIME is a magazine for busy people.)

Each week too, there is an important Cover Story, a TIME Essay (on some subject as controversial as the Divorce Laws, or the Homosexual in America), and a color portfolio. With listings of what’s best in theater, movies, records, books, television.

Only an organization of TIME’s stature, structure and dimension could expend this amount of energy and effort.

But what is just as important: Time is a lot of fun to read … it often reads like fiction, humor or biography…

You can follow the exciting thriller 9reported from TIME’s Paris Bureau): “L’Affaire Ben Barka”, a sensational spy-murder-police scandal that has rocked France as the Dreyfus case did a the turn of the century.

You can play TIME’s new game of “barrendipity” (in contrast to “serendipity”, or the art of finding somewhere where you least expect to find it). Barrendipity is the art of not finding something where you might expect to find it: Danish pastry in Denmark, frankfurters in Frankfurt, English muffins in England, or baked Alaska in Alaska.

You can gain intimate knowledge of a great artist. From TIME’s Cover Story on pianist Arthur Rubenstein, who says:

“I’m passionately involved in life; I love its change, its color its movement. To be alive, to be able to speak, to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings – it’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life from miracle to miracle. Music is not a hobby, not even a passion with me. Music is me.”

With this weekly fund of news, insight, sidelight and background . . . you sense the unpredictable variety of life itself.

Writes Professor Marshall McLuhan: “By using our wits, we can translate the outer world into the fabric of our being.”

TIME helps you “translate.”

There is no set rule about how to read TIME. Some begin at the beginning. Others start from the back. What interests each man and woman is incalculable. So TIME tries to provide as much of interest and value to as many interested people as possible.

As the artists of 6th century Ravenna arranged mosaic tesserae according to size, contour and direction to create monumental designs, so TIME presents the design of our times.

Why not partake of this experience?

Our invitation is enclosed. It enrolls you at once as a TIME reader and brings TIME to your home or office regularly – for 17 weeks at only $1.87 (just 11 cents an issue).

Just put the card in the mail to me today – it’s already postage-paid.

And thank you.

Cordially,

Putney Westerfield

Circulation Director

Runyon Ala Carte

By Ray Schultz

Now this may not qualify as a Ph.D. thesis, but it’s time someone did a study on the presence of food in Damon Runyon’s stories. Did you ever notice how many of these classic Broadway tales involve eating in some form? Take Butch Minds the Baby.

One evening along about seven o’clock I am sitting in Mindy’s restaurant putting on the gefilte fish, which is a dish I am very fond of, when in come three parties from Brooklyn wearing caps as follows: Harry the Horse, Little Isadore, and Spanish John.

The narrator, a not-particularly warm hearted character who deals with types like these in a friendly but guarded way, never gets to finish his meal. He says:

“It is a nice night.”

“What is nice about it?” asks Harry the Horse, who is a thin man with a sharp face and sharp eyes.

The narrator continues:

Well, now that it is put up to me in this way, I can see there is nothing so nice about the night, at that, so I try to think of something else jolly to say, while Little Isadore keeps spearing at my gefilte fish with his fingers, and Spanish john nabs one of my potatoes.

In Breach of Promise, the narrator is in Mindy’s enjoying some cold borscht, “a most refreshing matter in hot weather, such as is going on at the time” when he is approached by the same three characters, and “some of my cold borscht goes down the wrong way, and I almost choke to death.”

Not to worry: They seem quite friendly, and in fact Harry the Horse pounds me on the back to keep me from choking, and while he pounds so hard that he almost caves in my spine, I consider it a most courteous action.

In Tobias the Terrible, the narrator is partaking heartily of some Hungarian goulash which comes very nice in Mindy’s, what with the chef being personally somewhat Hungarian himself. In Broadway Complex, he is eating a sturgeon sandwich, which is wonderful brain food.

Mindy’s of course, is the fictional version of the real-life Lindy’s, which Runyon described like this in his Hearst newspaper column:

Breakfast in the old Lindy’s on Broadway near Fiftieth around 1 p.m. is a big deal. It assembles the sporting, theatrical, and musical Broadwayfarers, boxers, bookmakers, actors, agents, ticket brokers, radio fellows, song writers, orchestra leaders, newspapermen, and cops most of them still sleep-groggy but shaved and talcumed and lacking only their java to make them ready for the day.

Mindy’s is not the only place that the narrator eats. On Tuesdays, I always go to Bobby’s Chop House to get myself a beef stew, the beef stews in Bobby’s being very nourishing, indeed, and quite reasonable, he says in Gentleman, the King! And in Undertaker Song, he enjoys a small portion of baked beans and brown bread in the dining car on a train to Boston.

Food is used as a prop to set up the premise and to establish the narrator as someone who (like Runyon himself) sits endlessly in restaurants, picking up gossip and stories. And perhaps it is designed to intrigue out-of-town magazine readers, few of whom would ever set foot in Manhattan or its dining spots.

Typically, the meal leads to some kind of episode. In Butch Minds the Baby, the narrator accompanies the thugs on a safecracking job with a baby in tow. In Broadway Complex, there is a ruckus right there in Mindy’s: Annoyed by a character named Cecil Earl, Nathan Detroit reaches out and picks up an order for ham and eggs, Southern style, that Charley, the waiter, just puts in front of Upstate Red, and taps Cecil on the onion with same.

He goes on:

It is unfortunate for Cecil that Nathan Detroit does not remove the ham and eggs, Southern style, from the platter before tapping Cecil with the order, because it is a very hard platter, and Cecil is knocked as stiff a plank, and maybe stiffer, and it becomes necessary to summon old Doctor Mogg to bring him back to life.

Sometimes, the narrator does not consume the food being described. In The Bloodhounds of Broadway, steaks and hamburgers are fed to a pair of dogs who solve a crime. In Situation Wanted, he says: One night in in the summer of 1936 I am passing in front of Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway when the night manager suddenly opens the door and throws a character in a brown suit at me…

…Naturally, I am greatly vexed, and I am thinking of stepping into Mindy’s and asking the night manager how dare he hurl missiles of this nature at me, when I remember that the night manager does not care for me either, and in fact he hates me from head to foot, and does not permit me in Mindy’s except on Fridays, because of course he does not have the heart to keep me from enjoying my chicken soup with matzoth dumplings once a week.

This fondness for Jewish cuisine has convinced writer Adam Gopnik that the narrator is Jewish—“the steady run of gefilte fish is in there to type him, as corned beef and cabbage might an Irishman,” he writes. But I’ve always assumed the narrator is Runyon himself. He seems to be a person brought up elsewhere (in Runyon’s case, Colorado) who deems Jewish people and Jewish things among the attractions of the Big Town.

Anyway, the narrator is careful to distance himself from Jewish characters, as he does from just about everybody. In Dancing Dan’s Christmas, he is drinking and singing Christmas carols in Good-Time Charley Bernstein’s speakeasy on Christmas Eve, but personally I always think Good Time Charley Bernstein is a little out of line trying to sing a Jewish hymn on such an occasion, and it almost causes words between us. And he falls easily into using Jewish stereotypes (along with Italian- and African-American stereotypes). For example, there is his description of Izzy Cheesecake, who is called Izzy Cheesecake because he is all the time eating cheesecake around delicatessen joints, although of course this is nothing against him, as cheesecake is very popular in some circles, and goes very good with java.

He adds that this Izzy Cheesecake has another name, which is Morris something, and he is slightly Jewish, and has a large beezer, and is considered a handy man in many respects. 

Runyon himself was a prodigious eater of Ashkenazic favorites, typically ordering the following for breakfast at the dairy restaurant Ratner’s, according to biographer Ed Weiner: “Half a grapefruit, a big bowl of vegetables and sour cream, a big slab of boiled white fish, a bowl of kasha, an order of blintzes, a big piece of coffee cake and coffee as fast as you can refill my cup.”

Runyon’s two food masterpieces are Lonely Heart and A Piece of Pie. In the first, Nicely-Nicely Jones is gorged by his new wife, the Widow Crumb, as she prepares to murder him, as she has done with several prior husbands. On his first night at the widow’s farm, the new groom is stuffed with round steak hammered flat and fried in a pan, with thick cream gravy, and hot biscuits, and corn on the cob, and turnip greens, and cottage-fried potatoes, and lettuce with hot bacon grease poured over it, and apple pie, and coffee, and I do not know what all else, and Nicely-Nicely almost founders himself.

A Piece of Pie is about an eating contest upstairs at Mindy’s, in which a woman named Violette Shumberger out-eats a championship eater from Boston named Joel Duffle. In this much bet-upon event, they split: Two quarts of ripe olives, twelve bunches of celery, four pounds of shelled nuts, twelve dozen cherry-stone clams, two gallons of Philadelphia pepper-pot soup, two five-pound striped bass (the heads and tails not to count in the eating), a 22-pound roast turkey, two pounds of mashed potatoes with brown gravy, two dozen ears of corn on the cob, two quarts of lima beans, twelve bunches of asparagus cooked in butter, ten pounds of stewed new peas, six pounds of mixed green salad with vinegar and oil dressing, and a pumpkin pie, two feet across and not less than three inches deep. In case of a tie, they are to eat it off immediately of ham and eggs only.

Except for hot dog-eating contests at Coney Island, this type of Olympic-scale gluttony is no longer in style.

Most of Runyon’s classic stories appeared in the early 1930s, during the Depression and Prohibition. Biographers say that his fiction output dried up after that, but he wrote at least a few war-era stories, like A Light in France, in which a scamp named Blond Maurice turns up eating blintzes in Mindy’s after it was assumed he had been placed in quicklime by parties who do not wish him well.

…At first I think I am seeing a ghost, but, of course, I know that ghosts never come in Mindy’s, and if they do, they never eat cheese blintzes, so I realize that it is nobody but Maury himself.

Finally, there is Blonde Mink, one of the last two stories Runyon wrote, which starts this way:

Now of course there are many different ways of cooking tripe but personally I prefer it stewed with tomatoes and mushrooms and a bit of garlic, and in fact I am partaking of a portion in this form in Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway when a personality by the name of Julie the Starker sits down and says to me like this:

“Tripe,” he says. “With garlic,” he says. “Why, this is according to the recipe of the late Slats Slavin who obtains it from his old Aunt Margaret in Troy. Waiter,” he says, “bring me an order of this delicious concoction only with more garlic. It is getting colder outside and a guy needs garlic in his system to thicken his blood.”

All this proves that Runyon’s appetite never quit. Neither did his ear, nor the humor and polish he brought to these very entertaining gems, all delivered in the present tense in an argot he alone mastered.

Note: The illustration is the cover of a paperback edition published in 1946. The original hardcover collection, which did not have a food theme, appeared in 1944. 

Tears For The Tar Baby

By Ray Schultz

Jack Johnson, newly pardoned by President Trump, had one of the hardest heads ever pounded on by the leather boxing glove. Stylish, arrogant, successful and persecuted, he was, like Muhammad Ali in the 1960s, revered by many for his attitude and skills. But if Johnson was typical of black aspiration in the ring, he was never typical of actual black gain. He was healthy and still trading on his name when killed in an auto crash in 1948, unlike Sam Langford, who died blind, broke and forgotten, except by true aficionados.

Johnson may have been run out of the country and jailed by the white establishment, but he never sank to the misery experienced by his black contemporaries who fought each other for peanuts and were denied the chance to challenge for the world title.

This may be a good time to reflect on the history of black fighters in the heavyweight class.

The first men ever to fight for sport and profit in America were black freemen—Tom Molineaux and Bill Richmond, “The Black Terror.” They practiced their brutal art in the early years of the 19th century, and were close friends, according to the historians. Molineaux became the first American ever to fight for a championship—the heavyweight title—when he met Jim Cribb in London in 1810 and lost by a very tight margin—so close, in fact, that a rematch was held a year later at Thistoleton Gap in the County of Rutland, and Londoner Pierce Egan, inspired by what he had seen, started the first publication ever devoted exclusively to boxing, Boxiana.

Boxing was illegal in those days, and matches were conducted on the sly, at hidden rendezvous, much the same as cock-fighting today. In his book, “The Sweet Science,” A.J. Liebling describes a picture of the second Molineaux-Cribb bout that had appeared in Boxiana. The scene was typical of boxing matches up into the twentieth century.

“In the foreground of the picture there is a whore sitting on her gentleman’s shoulders the better to see the fight, while a pickpocket lifts the gentleman’s reader (watch). Cribb has just hit Molineaux the floorer and Molineaux is falling, as he has continued to do for a hundred and forty-five years since.”

But Liebling adds that “the detail I recall first when I think of the picture is the face of Bill Richmond, also an American Negro, as he sees his man go. He is following Molineaux down with his eyes, bending as the challenger falls, and his face is desolate.”

Egan paid heed to Molineaux by writing: “The hardiest frame could not resist the blows of the Champion; and it is astonishing the Moor stood them for so long.”

It is equally astonishing that boxing stood its illegality for so long—right up to the time of Jack Johnson. If it was difficult for a white man to get along in the sport, it was ten times as difficult for a black man. Talented black fighters could only hope to scrape out living in the ring—nothing more.

John L. Sullivan barred black opponents while champion, saying, “I will never fight a black man.” Sullivan’s leading contender was just such a black man, Peter Jackson, who was finally held to a draw in 61 rounds by Gentleman Jim Corbett after several years of futile waiting. Guess who got the title shot? After losing to Corbett himself for the title, Sullivan is said to have remarked, “Thank God I lost to an American.”

Black fighters of the lower weight classes were never quite that unfortunate, although they came close. The most untalented heavyweight king is always a shade above the middle and welterweight champions in charisma and respect—the title is like a lightning rod. Thus, several lighter black men—Joe Gans, George Dixon, Joe Walcott, Tiger Flowers, Battling Siki—were able to become champion of their divisions during times when a black heavyweight king was unthinkable to the white American public.

Conditions were at their worst, if anything, during Johnson’s unlikely reign. The leading black contenders—Sam McVey, Joe Janette and Sam Langford—were forced to fight each other sometimes as many as 20 or 25 times in every tank town along the pike. The white contenders avoided them if they could, and even Johnson, as champ, refused to fight them. He did face a black contender—Jim Johnson—during his exile in Europe: they fought to a draw in Paris. But the bout lost money. It was the first time two black men every met in a heavyweight title fight, and the last for many a long day.

Sam Langford, the Boston Tar Baby, was typical of the time. He was a slippery boxer with a good punch, and murderous infighting skills. Born in Nova Scotia in 1880, he began boxing in 1902 as a featherweight. Growing up the weight scale, he fought almost every leading boxer of his time: Joe Gans, Joe Walcott, Jack Blackburn (who later trained Joe Louis), Stanley Ketchel, defeating many of them. He beat most of the white hopes of the time: Jim Barry, Jim Flynn, Tony Ross and Sandy Ferguson, and lost a close fight to Johnson who refused to meet him again for the title or otherwise.

As a result, Langford with his deadly skills was forced to go on tour of the sticks, fighting his fellow blacks. He fought Joe Jeanette 14 times, McVey 14 times, and Harry Wills 23 times. He took many a beating, and dished many out. Towards the end of his career he went blind from cataracts, and managed to stay alive in the ring by holding on to his opponents and punching in their direction in the clinch. He retired in 1924, with a record of 151 pro fights, 39 decision wins, 99 knockouts and only 19 decision losses and 4 knockout losses, the remainder being draws and no-decisions. When elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, he was living in cellar in Boston. They took up a benefit for him, but he died a year later.

Langford, like Johnson, was hated and feared by a generation of whites. After he fought Gunboat Smith in Boston , the Boston Globe cartoonist wrote some very racist captions for drawings of the fight: “The Tar Baby’s grin, which rapidly vanished,” for flashing white teeth, and “The smoke at times made if difficult to see the Tar Baby,” for a picture of dense smoke and the vague shadow of a human form.

Johnson, of course, didn’t fare any better in the press. One cartoon of the era showed a group of white hopes running away from a black man (looking very much like Johnson) with a spear, vowing never to fight “that coke,” or “that smoke.”

Even Damon Runyon was guilty of racism when commenting on Johnson’s loss to Jess Willard in Havana in 1915, Had Johnson cut a deal with U.S. authorities to throw the fight and be readmitted to the States after his fled to Europe to avoid being jailed on a Mann Act conviction? Runyon wrote that “the case was in the hands of the feds who were not making deals with the likes of Johnson.”

Jack Dempsey, in his autobiography, admitted that he was frightened of Sam Langford and refused to fight him on the way up. Dempsey, however, is better known for his failure to meet another African-American fighter, Harry Wills, who was a leading contender during Dempsey’s championship reign. Wills was entitled to the shot, and at one point had even signed a contract with Dempsey for the bout. Somewhere along the line, Dempsey’s people pulled out, and in Dempsey’s own words, Harry Wills died without ever knowing how he would do in a title fight.

It is unclear today who deserves blame, but Dempsey’s promoter Tex Rickard could share some of it. Rickard had promoted the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries match in Nevada in 1910, when Jeffries was brought out of retirement to re-establish the “fistic supremacy of the white race,” and was beaten to a pulp. The match caused repercussions that were still felt up to and after Dempsey’s time. It wasn’t until 1937 that another black fighter received a shot at the heavy title, and only after he had carefully instructed about how behave. He was Joe Louis.

Black heavyweight kings have been predominant since then. But they owe a debt to the McVeys and Langfords, and others who went down unsung.

Doggone It: More Bullying By United Airlines

By Ray Schultz

In yet another sickening case of airline brutality, two travelers were forced to put their dog—a sort-nosed French bulldog who probably couldn’t breathe all that well—into a closed overhead bin, where the frightened puppy barked for two hours then died

United should be sued for millions, and the flight attendant who performed that stunt should be fired.

This is the same airline on which officers dragged a passenger off because he refused to surrender a seat he had paid for, and almost beat him to a pulp.

Now one may wonder: Why did the family with the dog comply with this demand? Personally, I would have said, “Land the plane. Arrest me. You’re not touching my dog.”

Based on what I’ve seen in TV news reports, this was a case of bullying of people who seemed vulnerable. Let’s not blame the victims.

It is, of course, only one episode. No matter how many airline miles people wrack up, the service is terrible on planes, the seats are cramped and the help is often rude.

Yeah, I know, drunken passengers sometimes cause disturbances and physically attack flight attendants.

But most of us don’t—we quietly endure the torture. And most of our dogs don’t nip. Yet we stand to get arrested for terrorism if we even complain that the coffee is cold.

No wonder some of us would rather take Amtrak when we can.

I’m tired of these blogs in which flight attendants list the things you should never ask them.

Rubbish, I’ll ask them anything I want, and it’s their problem if it aggravates them. It’s their job to serve passengers. To paraphrase a character in Godfather II, it’s the business they chose.

 

Your GDPR Security Blanket

By Ray Schultz

Last December, I was at a holiday party thrown by a software developer, and was just about to sample some rigatoni when I felt a great weight on my left shoulder: Yale Moss, six feet, 195 pounds, stuffed into one of those tiny Tom Brown suits, was leaning on me.

It wasn’t a pleasant surprise. The last time we talked, Yale threatened to punch me out for failing to get his father Mo Moss into the DMA Hall of Fame. Now he was pretending to be friendly. “We’re having a Webinar tomorrow for my new business. I’d like you to be on it.”

“That’s short notice,” I said.

“Not in the age of real-time response,” he replied.

Trying to change the subject, I asked, “How’s your dad?”

“I’m no longer his son,” Yale said. “I refuse to be associated with that slimebucket.”

Huh? Now I had no interest in getting involved in any business of Yale’s, especially at the Moss family’s usual pay rate, which is no pay, nor in their internal disputes. But Yale insisted on hyping his new scam, Your GDPR Security Blanket, and he ordered, “Hear me out!”

I protested, mildly, that there are many fine products that help firms deal with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, the law that takes effect May 25.

“Not like this.” He was right about that.

To hear Yale tell it, all you have to do to comply with GDPR is merge your email list with his and Mo’s Proclivities database of alcoholics, opioid abusers and other such unfortunates.

That sounded like a non-starter to me–nobody in their right mind would turn a list over to Yale, given the Moss family’s history of stealing lists.

And what would happen if Yale’s algorithms failed and you ended up in trouble anyway? Yale said he would deploy his crack legal team. After probing, though, I learned that this consisted of Erwin Forrest, a collection hack who is unable to function outside of Part B of the New York Civil Court, and is known for shouting at reporters, opposing counsel and even clients.

I tried to demur, but Yale was insistent, and since he was twisting my arm and getting close to breaking my elbow, I agreed to participate.

The next day, I showed up at the Data Shack headquarters, in a desk-share place in Williamsburg. There was Erwin, looking reduced, and Yale, dressed in a knit cap, sweatshirt and pajama pants.

We had the usual hot chocolate laced with hot shots of caffeine, and jelly donuts, this being Free Jelly Donut Day in this joint. High on sugar and caffeine, we went into the Media Room, a small airless chamber with thick glass windows. There was no rehearsal. Yale got on Skype, there was a beep, and we got started.

My role, I learned, was to give the technical instructions for listeners, as they used to do in 2002. This took 10 minutes. Then Erwin started reading from legal documents in his gravelly voice, getting flustered at times by footnotes. It turned out he was reading an out-of-date paper on landlord-tenant law, so he tore through his papers until he found something on GDPR. Then he really got lost.

For his part, Yale gave his pitch, and as always, there was something menacing in his tone. “You’ve got three months,” he said. “Don’t be stupid.” By the end, the only person left was a British lawyer who commented, “You people don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Erwin and I shared a green cab back to Manhattan. “Erwin,” I asked, “do you really expect to get paid for all this?”

“I’m a collection lawyer,” he growled. ”I know how to get paid.”

That was the last I heard of it for a month. Then Yale called me to say, “-You won’t believe this–we’re being sued by the FTC,” as if I cared.  It turned out that the Data Shack had been hacked in 2016, and that data on persons on the Proclivities list was exposed, and Yale forgot to report it. “Hell, I’ve got a business to run,” he said. Yale insisted that I  attend the first hearing in the Brooklyn Federal Court.

Who was there but Mo himself, up from Tampa, with an expensive lawyer who specializes in this area. “I have to defend my own flesh and blood,” Mo said. Of course, he had little choice, since his name was also on the incorporation papers. Yale looked sullen.

I never gave Mo too much credit for smarts. But the two of us had coffee at  Starbucks afterwards, and he revealed the cause of his falling out with his son—namely that he, Mo, had refused to back Your GDPR Security Blanket.

Note: All resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental, etc. 

What Do You Call A Norwegian?

By Ray Schultz

President Trump’s alleged comment that we need more Norwegian immigrants in this country (as opposed to people from Africa and Haiti) has caused some wags to wonder: Are there any racial epithets for Norwegians?

Of course there are.  The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote a column in the 1970s laying out at least a couple of ethnic slurs for individuals of Norwegian descent.

Like many Royko columns, this one is presented as a barroom conversation. While beering themselves up, a small circle of white guys debate what Norwegians should be called.

The sole Norwegian present says there are no epithets for them because Norwegians are all nice. But his friends respond with names that they seem to invent on the spot.

The consensus is that there are two names for Norwegians: Noogins and herring benders.

Like many ethnic insults, these may sound funny unless you’re part of the group being assailed. If Norwegians ever attained critical mass in the U.S., they would have to deal with that and more.

Welcome to America.

Rokyo also reported that Lithuanians are called Loogins, proving that there’s an ugly name for everyone.

We never heard that one in New York. It must be a Chicago thing.

Sam Exits The Stage

By Ray Schultz

There were rumors months ago that Sam Shepard was ill. I suspected it was liver trouble caused by his reputed alcohol consumption. But it wasn’t: He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a malady caused by genetics. It was nothing he did to himself.

And I was saddened in several ways—for one, over the suffering he must have endured with that illness. As a Shepard character says of a deceased singer, “He was going out, and he knew it.” Then there was the loss of this figure who was on the cultural stage for over 50 years, whose work I and many other people enjoyed. Finally, it reminded me of the passing of time.

The first Sam Shepard play I saw was Forensic and the Navigators, at Theater Genesis, upstairs from Saint Mark’s Church on the Bowery. It was a snowy Saturday night in January 1968. The playwright Lanford Wilson showed up wearing jeans and sneakers.

The play started in darkness, with the cast singing a spiritual: “We’re gonna be born again, oh Lord.” Soon the two guys in the cast were being instructed on the proper way to prepare Rice Krispies—you could hear the cereal snapping, crackling and popping. Shepard’s future wife Olan Johnson gave a lively performance. It ended with exterminators arriving. The small room filled up with steam and colored lights flashing through it. .

I have no idea whether Shepard ever took LSD, but this play was trippy. And it was funny—all that blather about the myth of the west obscured just how funny he was. In this way, Forensic and the Navigators was in line with the other one-acters he seemed to jot off, like Chicago and Icarus’ Mother. 

You have to remember the time. The Fillmore East was a block or two down 2nd Ave., and the East Village Other had its office there. You could get the best Danishes in the city in Ratner’s, the old dairy restaurant.

Shepard was a figure in the neighborhood. You’d see him at the luncheonette on 10th, buying a container of tea to take a rehearsal. And he was at the acid-drenched party at St. Mark’s church on New Year’s Eve 1969, dressed in full hippie regalia.

The first Western-themed play that I recall was The Unseen Hand, which was presented on a double bill with Forensic and the Navigators downtown in the spring of 1970. It was a futuristic play in which some cowboys are projected into a bleak Mars-like landscape. A character plaintively asks, “There’s no more trains?”

It was a fine companion piece to Forensic and the Navigators. But the new Western direction wasn’t clear at the time. What was obvious was that Shepard wanted to be more than a playwright: There he was in the lobby, playing drums with the Holy Modal Rounders.

I didn’t get it: would Pinter or Beckett do this? But I later realized that Shepard had a rock ‘n roll sensibility, not a trait I admired in a playwright. It came out in The Melodrama Play (a bad play), The Tooth of Crime (a great play) and Cowboy Mouth, the piece he wrote and performed in with Patti Smith.

And it emerged when he accompanied Bob Dylan on a tour. I wondered why a talent like Shepard had to cozy up to a rock star. But his onscreen presence in the resulting documentary led to his getting a role in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, in which he was a quiet, haunting figure. And he was off on his movie career.

In between, Shepard wrote some of his best plays, like Buried Child and True West, for San Francisco’s Magic Theater. I can quote lines from memory (forgive me if I get them wrong). In Buried Child, a character says, “I was thrown out of Arizona. I don’t want to be thrown out of Illinois.”

In True West, in which two adult brothers battle it out, exchange roles and are pulled apart by their mother as they grapple on the floor, one rejects a dinner plate showing the capital of Montana. In effect, he says, “I don’t want to see Montana when I’m eating. When I’m eating, I’m here.”

We saw the original production of that classic, starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinese.

Shepard had a certain integrity as a writer. But at some point, I feared that he had lost his sense of humor. He made a film with Wim Wenders called Paris, Texas, a slow-moving work that was symbolized for me by the guitar going, “boiiiinnng!”

Later, Shepard and Wenders made a movie called Don’t Come Knocking, in which he played a Western movie star who escapes the set. It was savaged by the critics, but I kind of liked it. His mother, portrayed by Eva Marie Saint, keeps a scrapbook of his DWI arrests. It had a little of that old anarchic spirit.

Contrary to reports that Shepard hated New York, he was often in the city. Andrea and I would go to a Moroccan place called Orlin on St. Mark’s Place at midnight to write headlines and eat pasta with potatoes and pesto.

Shepard would sometimes be there, eating by himself, reading a book. Maybe he’d have a drink with his meal Nobody treated him like a celebrity. He looked like a man who could survive and enjoy life on his own. Maybe that’s the Western spirit they’re always talking about.