Yale And Danny Do The Pandemic

By Ray Schultz

A Sunday or two ago, I was enjoying a stroll in Central Park when I was almost knocked over by a lout on a skateboard, wearing no shirt and no mask. I was about to curse the Millennials, then I saw it was a particular Millennial: Yale Moss by name.

I tried to hold my temper because Yale’s wife Danny was sitting on a bench not three feet away, wheeling a baby carriage back and forth. And she at least had a mask on.

The last time, I had seen this pair was at their wedding reception in January. Danny’s dad Hal Hall had finally accepted Yale as his son-in-law, mostly because of Yale’s sales record, and had even named him as VP in charge of used car lots and hauling and cartage concerns for the Middle-Atlantic region. And a baby was on the way.

Not that I cared, but how had they been faring and what were they doing in Central Park?  They looked a little gaunt. I sat down with them, carefully social distancing myself, and they told me the story. Yale did most of the talking.

The baby arrived in March and he was named in honor of his two grandfathers. There was some debate over whose name should go first, but Hal’s was chosen because Hal Mo sounds better than Mo Hal when the contractions are used together, and Hal is the billionaire.

Over Danny’s objections, Yale insisted that they fly to Tampa to see his folks Mo and Wendy. But the minute they landed, they were clapped into quarantine because Florida ordered that anyone from New York be isolated for two weeks. The only food they could get was takeout pizza during a three-hour window each day. Fortunately, they had enough baby formula and diapers.

When the quarantine was up, Florida put them on a plane back to New York, and the minute they arrived, they were  thrown into quarantine again because New York was retaliating by blocking anyone arriving from Florida. Here they were given leftover jailhouse bologna sandwiches once a day.

No sooner had the last two weeks expired, with things getting gamier by the day, when they were grabbed by ICE and transported on a bus with barred windows to Easton, Pennsylvania because someone heard Yale joke that they were being  “deported.” They were quarantined again, and left to rot  in a motel where there was no food available at all, and they had to subsist on small packets of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits from a vending machine.

Meanwhile, Hal Hall’s  battery of high-priced legal help couldn’t even figure where his family members were, let alone how to get them out of this predicament.

One night, Hal was venting to Mo over the phone, and Mo suggested he call Erwin Forrest, a landlord-tenant lawyer who might be able to help. Hal called and Erwin was happy to hear from him because business was slow, there being a moratorium on evictions in New York State.

Hal, a man accustomed to great authority, had to visit Erwin’s office in a rat-trap office on Fulton Street, where file cabinets were kept in the hallway outside the elevators. Speaking over a telecom, Hal explained the problem and Erwin gruffly ordered Hal to deliver $20,000 in small unmarked bills, exclusive of fees.

Hal has never been talked to this way in his life, but he had a certain familiarity with criminality. He sent the assistant who was with him to his office to get the cash from a safe. Then he had to deposit the money into a automated teller’s window in the wall in Erwin’s hallway.  It took a day or two, but thanks to Erwin’s magic, Yale, Danny and little Hal Mo arrived back in the city by private limo.

All three had contracted colds, but thankfully not Covid-19. They were sure of this because the adults were painfully tested with long nasal swabs that went right up to the eyeball at every step of the journey.

Altogether, they  were in custody for two months, and their marital relations were severely strained. Danny threw Yale out of her apartment in the Pierre the day they got back.

Luckily, Yale had won a contract to gut the office of a bankrupt Philadelphia law firm, and the bankruptcy court insanely approved a fee of $1.5 million, most of which was profit.

Determined to save the deal, Hal brought in a telehealth marriage counselor, who advised Yale and Danny to laugh at themselves, enjoy the sunshine and then go isolate in the Hall family compound in Southhampton, Long Island. So here they were, making goo-goo eyes at each other again.

I was happy that the lovebirds were reconciled, but not that happy. When I got home, I found that I had a fever.

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 33: Rub The Buddha For Money

By Ray Schultz

The real threat in the list business was a device that took up an entire room, with wires and tubes sticking out of it, that needed to be constantly cooled. In his novel, The End Of The Battle, Evelyn Waugh, satirically described an early version of this machine being used in World War II. “It’s been flown in from America,” Mr. Oates, a bureaucrat explains to Captain Guy Crouchback, an officer desperately seeking a war assignment. “It took 560 man-hours to install. The mechanics came from America, too. There isn’t another like in the country.”

“But what is it?”
 “An Electronic Personnel Selector.”
Mr. Oates demonstrated it. “Now here—“ he picked up a chit from his tray—“is a genuine enquiry. I’ve been asked to find an officer for special employment; under forty, with a university degree, who has lived in Italy and has Commando training—one, two, three, four, five—“ Whirr, click, click, click, click, click. “’Here we are. Now that is a remarkable coincidence.’”

“The card he held bore the name A/TY. Captain Crouchback, G, R.C.H., att H.O.O. HQ.”

This wasn’t as much of a joke as it seemed. In 1945, the New York Times revealed one of “the war’s top secrets,” a system that applied “electronic speeds for the first time to mathematical tasks hitherto too difficult and cumbersome for solution.”

That was the computer. At first, it was mostly used by the military. Only a few companies owned one—others had to rent timeshares, and work through the night at the mercy of unbathed technicians. But when used with a printer and mailing lists stored on tapes, the computer could spit out junk mail letters by the thousands.

John Stevenson bought one for $700,000 in 1958. “The computer didn’t create great growth or even save us a lot of money,” he said. “You had to go from low-paid help to more expensive help.” He admitted, though, that “If it wasn’t for the computer, I would have run the risk of being in jail. There were so many mistakes.”

But many hard-headed people didn’t get it. The DMMA, the brainchild of the convicted killer Victor Louis Eytinge, held a seminar on the computer in 1965, but “It wasn’t very well attended,” admitted Robert Delay, the wavy-haired Midwesterner who led the association from 1959 to 1984. “We ran it about three times, then we couldn’t afford to run it any longer, we didn’t have enough participants. The cost began to be picked up by computer manufacturers.”

Around this time, the Post Office introduced the Zip Code, the postal coding system that helped postmen sort mail and would allow businesses to hone their geographic targeting to a very fine level. It was a gift. But once again, junk mailers opposed it.

“The ZIP code was terribly important. we wouldn’t have had mail delivered otherwise,” DeLay said. “We had a series of meetings around the country to explain it. We lost a lot of members. Pete Hoke (son of the Nazi fighter Henry Hoke)) used to editorialize against it every week. It would kill all the vendors, it was too costly. And it meant that lettershops had to change to computerization. A few said they would never change, and of course they aren’t in business.”

Fueled by constant media coverage, the public was growing ever-more tired of junk mail. So in 1971, Delay and his part-time Washington person James Daly, formulated a brilliant PR stunt called the Mail Preference Service. Consumers could send their name in to opt out of receiving all direct mail. DMMA members had to subscribe to the service, which provided them with frequent updates. Later, this was extended to telemarketing with the Telephone Preference Service.

It took awhile to take off. DeLay was called to testify before Congress. Then-Congressman Ed Koch said, ‘Mr. DeLay, I understand that the biggest member of your association doesn’t use the Mail Preference Service.’ DeLay recalled, “I was gonna have to admit that was true, then a guy by the name of Gertz from Donnelley stood up and said, ‘Sir, if you don’t mind, I can answer that question. We decided at a board meeting last week that we were going to adhere to the Mail Preference Service.’

***

Ed Proctor, the veteran list broker whose father had started in 1899, labored on into his 90s, serving a few loyal clients from his office in Haworth, New Jersey, and enjoying lunches at his nearby club. But he was ousted shortly before he died in 2000, and by this time, new players had taken over, like Robert Castle, a man who wrote software and could discuss De Kooning as easily as he could lists. In 1974, Castle used the Freedom of Information Act to buy bought a list of 1.9 million people who had purchased Carson City silver dollars. It cost him only $515. Even better, “a truck pulled up with boxes that contained the magic words: ‘master tape,’” Castle said. “I had the only copy.”

Castle scored another coup in landing the list brokerage account of National Liberty, a mail order insurance company run by Arthur De Moss and staffed largely by religious missionaries. Castle helped sell many programs, including veteran’s insurance to policies for non-drinkers.

How would you verify that they didn’t drink?

“It was phony,” Castle laughed. “You couldn’t prove it.

Another upstart was Marty Lerner, an aeronautical engineer who had run a school called the Institute of Computer Technology. He found that colleges were desperate for names of high school students to whom they could send junk mail. So he started a company called American Student List, and made some money renting lists to them. He also did some commendable, pro bono work, using his database to locate missing children.

But a certain hubris crept in. The Educational Testing Service Inc., which tested college hopefuls, and the Student Union refused to rent him their own lists of names. Lerner sued in 1979, claiming anti-trust issues, and probably regretted it, for his deposition shed light on the tactics he used to create lists.”When you started your company, did you have any training at that time in computers?” the opposing lawyer asked in a deposition.

“No.”

“Or the direct mail business?”

“No.”

“Or marketing of any sort?”

“No.”

Lerner’s credentials having been established, the lawyer moved on to the delicate subject of where he got the names of college-bound high school seniors.

“The largest source is the motor vehicle bureaus throughout the country,” Lerner said..

“Are there any other sources?”

“Schools,   school   directories   and   lists   that   guidance counselors may have.”

He refused to be more specific, and the lawyer said, “Let the record show that he is refusing to give the names of sources.”

Lerner then conceded that he also obtained names from school ring companies, and from students themselves.

The conversation turned to the fact that Motor Vehicle files have little real information on them.

“There is nothing you can get from a motor vehicle department other than the name and address,” Lerner said. ”That’s the only thing they supply us.”

“You don’t try to find out which of those students intend to go to college, and which do not?

“No, we don’t want to find out anything about them.”

“Did   you ever   at any   time consider   putting on   your advertising brochure a statement to the effect that these were not all the names of high school students?”

“No, I never considered doing that.”

“Or giving any indication in your circulars and brochures that many of these people were simply people of the right age?”

“No, I never considered doing that.”

“And the reason you refer to this as a list of high school seniors is that you feel you had leeway to puff, is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“Did you tell the Securities and Exchange commission that your list was a list of high school seniors?”

“Possibly.”

“Were you puffing them, too?”

“No, I don’t think I was puffing them.”

“Have you ever tried to ascertain whether or not   HS students have to legal capacity to consent to their use of names?

“No, I never did.”

“You never looked into that?”

“No.”

The lawyer asked if it was true that some of the Student Union’s names had ended up on Lerner’s list without permission.

“I believe we were supplied with a tape,” Lerner said. “That tape was probably taken and selected with our own file, so that the names could be merged in and de-duplicated.”

“Is it a fact that if some other (fitm) were to request a list by that category, he would get those Student Union names?”

“Ultimately, that’s what did happen.”

“Did you know that these names would become part of your

general list?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Isn’t that against the rules?”

“Well, I don’t know what you’re referring to by rules right at the present time.”

Lerner qualiied his answer by saying it was a mistake.

Despite the fact that this lawsuit went nowhere, Lerner prospered as the 1980s went on, and so did a host of other list peddlers—people who took a 20% commission as broker on list rentals and 10% as manager, and prospered as the business boomed. One of them, Jack Oldstein, expressed it perfectly on a promotional button he sent to clients in 1983: “Rub the Buddha for money.”

Chapter 34: Junk Mail Babylon

Moss In Love

By Ray Schultz

One evening last fall, my wife and I were enjoying some Blue Point oysters at the Oyster Bar when she turned and said, “Isn’t that your friend Yale?”

Yale Moss! I tried to duck under the counter, but it was too late. Yale was on his way over, accompanied by a very tall young woman who looked vaguely familiar.

The last I’d heard of Yale, he was trying to get into the cannabis business. He sent an offer to his dad Mo’s Proclivities database of drunkards, dope fiends, deadbeats and other such riffraff.

The list hadn’t been updated in years, and the people on it were unresponsive and presumed dead. But many now came forward to place cannabis orders.

It might have worked. But then Yale offered an imported hashish sampler and was sued by a consortium of state AGs. He must have been testing his own product because he looked a little loopy.

Yale introduced us to his friend: Danielle Hall, also called Danny. Though Yale described her as a sculptor, we recognized her at once as the scion of the Hall family, the owner of vast real estate holdings, luxury car dealerships and many other businesses, and super-wealthy in her own right.

We got acquainted—Danny seemed gracious, if slightly bored with people at our level–and Yale offered me “a nice piece of opiated hash,” which I declined since I eschew drug use in all its forms.

Yale and I went to look at the desserts, and he let me in on his plan: “I met her online. I’m gonna marry her. In a month, my algorithms will be running the entire Hall empire. We’re on our way to Tampa to meet my folks.”

Now I wouldn’t be in a hurry to introduce a fiancé of mine to Mo and Wendy, especially one like Danny. But nobody asked my opinion, and they left the next day.

Predictably, Mo instantly saw the advantage of a match between the Moss and Hall families, and he arranged to have the couple married in his living room the very night of their arrival by a judge who had fixed some of his real estate cases.

I was relieved—the fact that we weren’t invited to the wedding meant we didn’t have to send a gift. But I didn’t get it. “What does she see in him?” I asked my wife.

“Well, he is a bit of a hunk,” she replied. (Something she never said about me). “He’s the only man who’s as tall as she is.”

I had to hand it to Yale—he had married into money, which is just as legitimate a way of getting it as any other.

Unfortunately, things did not go well in Yale’s initial interview with Danny’s father Hal Hall, a short man with a huge chest and a large round face.

Yale had set up a presentation on his technology (which had been down since May).

“Don’t bother,” Hal growled. “I’ve got the best IT department in the country, and if I needed any help, you’d be the last person I’d turn to.”

Then, as if he were talking to an employment counselor, Yale said he might like to get into real estate development.

Hal hissed, “When my daughter divorces you, I’ll see you end up on the street.”

Under that cloud, Yale and Danny embarked upon married life. Of course, they needed to find a job for Yale, and Hal came through because Danny usually gets her way. But the job reflected Yale’s standing in the business and also, sadly, in the marriage—that of a kept man.

Every morning, Yale and Danny leave her private 12-room residence in the Pierre, Yale carrying a peanut butter sandwich in a brown paper bag. He wears an outfit that looks as if it was issued by a halfway house: an ill-fitting sports jacket, corduroy pants, a shirt and a knit tie.

They enter a chauffeured SUV and are driven it to Danny’s massive sculpture studio in Long Island City. Then Yale is on his own, and has to catch the El to Woodside, and transfer to the Long Island Railroad. This he takes to Rockville Centre, Long Island, where he walks half a mile to a building in back of a used-car lot: the Sunrise Hauling & Cartage Company.

On Hal’s command, the low-level hood who runs the place hired Yale as a salesman on a commission basis—no salary. They expected him to fail—the next step was driving one of the trucks.

Yale sat around for a day or two staring into space. Then he had a brainstorm. Mo has always kept his customer list up to date—it’s far more important than the list they actually sell. So Yale started calling some of the businesses on it, asking if any of them were moving.

Some weren’t happy to hear from him, but you know how real estate is in New York. In two weeks, Yale sold four pretty hefty contracts to factories with all kinds of heavy equipment and computers, and more were coming in as he also worked his father’s bankruptcy list. Of course, he had to go out on the jobs himself, wearing a helmet.

Relieved that the business was starting to show a pulse, Yale’s boss asked him to sell the used cars in the adjoining lot, some of which were on cement blocks or contained stolen parts. Yale was so good at that—nobody who entered the lot, or even passed on the street, escaped without buying a car.

And so, Yale enjoyed some success, probably the first in his entire life. He didn’t make much money by Hall standards, and the pittance he made Danny demanded for household expenses—“I’m sure you want to pay your own way,” she said. But he did receive one token of family esteem.

Hal Hall always bestows lavish gifts on his key employees during the holidays: Cadillacs, Aston Martins, custom yachts. And while Yale was way down the list, he did get a present: a 1985 Chevvy with a badly repaired fender. How do I know? He tried to sell it to me.

Note: Any resemblance between companies and persons is strictly coincidental, etc. 

Previous Moss family misadventures:

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Your GDPR Security Blanket

I Was A Bitcoin Billionnaire

 

 

 

I Was a Bitcoin Billionaire

By Ray Schultz

Late one Thursday night when I was about to nod out, the phone rang and a blaring voice said, “Scoop! How are ya?” It was my old nemesis Mo Moss.

“Why, Mo, how nice to hear from you,” I said, lying through my teeth.

“You’ve got to come down for a visit,” he said, knowing full well that I would never be caught in Tampa, alive or dead.

“Hey, listen to this,” he said. “I taught my Alexa to talk dirty.” He put his phone next to the device, and the female voice came out with a stream of profanity that would have shamed Winston Churchill’s parrot.

“Mo, What can I do for you tonight?’ I asked.

“I need you to talk to Yale. He’s having a rough time.”

“What am I, his uncle?” I asked, reluctant to get involved with Mo’s son Yale in good times, let alone bad.

“That’s some attitude after all I’ve done for you,” Mo said.

I tried to recall anything Mo had done for me, but rather than argue about it, I finally agreed to talk to Yale.

I had barely gotten a few hours sleep when the phone rang again. It was Yale.

“Meet me at 9,” he commanded, then gave me an address in the West 40s.

The address turned out to be a Starbucks. There was Yale, unshaven and dressed in none-too-clean sweat clothes.

Yale demanded coffee, so I bought tall coffees for the two of us, and a chocolate chip cookie that we shared, for 4.98.

“What’s the problem, Yale? Your dad says you’re having trouble.”

“Not really,” he said. “I have a proposition for you.”

Now I realized I was being set up by father and son. What was the scam this time?

It was an enterprise called CharityBits. People could donate bitcoin to charities in small amounts while investing in bitcoin in larger amounts. When the payoff came, a certain tiny percentage also went to the charities. Yale was the front man for some unnamed blockchain genius in Silicon Valley.

“Where do I come in?” I asked, hearing the clank of prison doors.

“You put in $500 now, and you’ll be a millionaire by the end of this year and a billionaire by the end of the next.”

“I’m not carrying that much cash right now.”

“Go a bank machine. And I need you to write ad copy.”

“Ad copy?”

“Yeah, real storytelling. Tell them how people got rich overnight with bitcoin and also helped the poor. Make it up.”

He handed me a list of deserving institutions, including the community college in Connecticut where Mo, mostly as a tax dodge, had endowed the Hy Moss Chair of Marketing in honor of his crooked late father. Yale had spent a troubled semester there before dropping out.

“Yale, I’m not sure I’m up to this.”

He punched me in the arm—hard. “I don’t want to hear that,” he said. Then he added, “You’ll be the front man.”

I should have resisted, but instead I went home and wrote some copy. It wasn’t hard. I could well imagine  being a billionaire. With every big lottery jackpot, I went through detailed exercises of deciding where to live, what to buy and how much to give each friend and relative, although I never was gullible enough to actually buy a ticket.

What I was dumb enough to do was to pull the $500 together the next day and give it to Yale. He demanded lunch, so we went into a Shake Shack, where I bought two burgers and fries for $18.85. Now I was an investor.

A couple of weeks passed. Yale called me and said that my $500 had turned into $17,600. “Can I cash out now?” I asked.

“How could you even think of it?” he said. “That money is feeding retired professors.”

A week later, I had over $100,000 on account, and a week after that $1,200,000. Yale, of course, had $15,000,000. Then, thanks to infusions from the West Coast, we were both up in the ten figures. Yale rented a whole floor at WeWork, I bought an airplane, and we celebrated over porterhouse steaks in Wolfgang’s. One of the Winkelvoss twins stopped by to say hello (Yale didn’t introduce me). I paid with my new black card —the bill was $1,532.

Then the bottom fell out. Our paper holdings vanished within 45 minutes one Monday, and a criminal probe was started—not a dime had gone to any charities, and investors were bilked. The whole record was right there in blockchain.

Yale was evicted from WeWork, and the two of us were cuffed and marched into court, facing 20 years apiece. Mo’s high-priced lawyer came up from Miami to represent Yale, bur I had to make do with Erwin Forrest, a gravel-voiced landlord-tenant hack and fixer who had done collection work for Mo.

Yale’s lawyer got into an immediate confrontation with the judge, who said, “Will you shut up? When the State of New York needs your advice on criminal law, we’ll ask for it.” Declaring that Yale was a flight risk, he ordered that he be held in Riker’s Island for Thanksgiving weekend in lieu of $500,000 bond. Yale was sobbing, and I was whimpering. I was about to get on my knees and tell the judge I had let down my family and my God, then offer to cooperate against Yale.

Instead, Erwin went over to a clerk sitting in the well, who seemed to know him, pointed to me and said something. The clerk got up and gave the judge something to sign. Erwin then came back and told me all charges were dismissed. I had to surrender two front-row seats I had for Hamilton.

Erwin handed me a bill for $200, his usual fee for eviction cases—and he wouldn’t accept bitcoin.

I watched as Yale was led away in chains. Mo flew in that night, put his house up as security and got his son freed. He wasn’t happy–he used the same expressions as his potty-mouthed Alexa. The next day, with Erwin’s help, Yale turned state’s evidence against the genius in California, and was released for time served.

Although we were both financially ruined for life, Yale and I celebrated our freedom with Mo and Erwin over Cantonese food in a place in Chinatown, two blocks from the courthouse. It cost $46 for all of us. I paid in cash.

We Work At The Jollity Building

By Ray Schultz

Work recently took me to a WeWork 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 coffee and 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 and 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.

 

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.

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 in these stories to set up the premise and 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.”

All that said, 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 for insurance, 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 as he concentrated on his column and on getting the existing stories produced as movies, 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. 

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.

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

By Ray Schultz

I should have known better than to get involved with Mo Moss. A few years ago, trying to do him a favor, I hired his troubled son Yale as an editorial intern. He spent the summer texting his girlfriends, and in the fall, I had to tell him there was no job for him.

Mo called me right up. “You’re dead in this industry!” he said. “If you ever show up at a conference, I’ll bring you down!”

I’d heard that several times from Mo, as had many other people. Thus, Mo was the last person I expected to receive a Silver Apple Award, but he got one last year, probably due to a clerical error.

There he was, well-tanned from sunning himself in his new home in Tampa, his pony tail now silver. We greeted each other warmly, and his wife Wendy gave me a peck on the cheek. You couldn’t help but feel good for the old crook.

In his acceptance speech, though, Mo launched into a bitter tirade about how he should have gotten the award years ago. “For what I’ve done, I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame,” he said.

A dreadful pall descended over the event, and even the excellent wine failed to relieve it. A day or two later, Yale Moss called and demanded to see me. I wanted nothing to do with Yale (or with Mo), but my judgment failed me, and I visited him at the new Data Shack.

As you may recall, the old Data Shack was in a Quonset hut on the side of the Ridgewood, Queens subway yards. It has since been torn down for a condominium, and Yale now works in a desk-share place in Williamsburg.

His corner of it seems to be a small sliver of a long conference table, but it’s all he needs to sell Mo’s old Proclivities Database, an out-of-date list of bulimics, alcoholics, opioid abusers, and Mlllennials who have moved back in with their parents.

We sat down on a pair of couches, and drank hot chocolate laced with hot shots of caffeine. Yale, dressed in a knit hat, a Bernie Sanders sweatshirt and shorts, said, “I’ve never liked you. But here’s the deal. We need you to help get my dad into the DMA Hall of Fame.”

I thought about that for a minute, my head reeling from the caffeine. Obviously, this was going to be a pro bono project.

“Yale, that’s not so easily done,” I said. “It’s not like the Silver Apples–even the greatest direct marketers sometimes don’t get in until after they’re dead.”

“Are you saying my dad isn’t a great direct marketer?” He glared at me in a threatening way. (He’s a full foot taller than Mo).

“Not at all, Yale. All I’m saying is that it will be tough to do even for someone with Mo’s, uh, accomplishments.”

“Spread a little money around,” he answered. “Let me know what your expenses are.”

I’d never heard of anyone buying their way into the Hall, and I sure wasn’t going to lay out my own cash, assuming I even had any.  But I figured I could at least fill out the application, so I Googled Mo to get some material, and came up with the following:

1984: Federal Trade Commission vs. Data Shack, Data Hut, Wendy Moss Lifestyles, Mo Moss, Moe Moss, Wendy Moss, et al. Re: False Advertising

1988: Supreme Court of New York: Uni-Mail Lists vs. the Data Hut, Illegal List Conversion

1988: Supreme Court of New York: Prescott Lists vs. The Data Shack; theft of mailing lists

1988: U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, R.L. Polk vs. The List Hut; List Abuse, theft of property

1994: NY Attorney General vs. List Hut, Wendy Moss Lifestyles; commercial fraud; $350,000 settlement

1994, U.S. Bankruptcy Court: Moss Equities d/b/a/ The Data Hut, the Data, Shack, Wendy Moss Lifestyles. Chapter 13. Assets: $8,750, Debits: $1.75 million

1994: DM News: “Moss Bankrupt; List Managers Burned”

1998, U.S. Attorney General vs. Data Shack, Mo Moss, Hy Moss, Wendell Moss; John Doe, civil issue; misrepresentation; consent decree

2004—U.S. District Court, Middle District Florida, InfoGroup vs. The Data Shack; nonpayment $85,009

2004, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District Florida, Moss Properties, d/b/a/ the Data Hut, the Data Shack, Chapter 11. Assets: $300, Debits: $85,009

2008: Tampa, Hillsborough Circuit Court, John and Brenda Stevens vs. Mo and Wendy Moss, illegal construction

What a record: About the only “positive” reference was a Chief Marketer article titled, “Big Data, the Big Lie: Why You Need the Proclivities Database,” that I had ghosted for Mo.

I filled out the application as best I could, wondering when I became an unpaid employee of the Data Shack. Then I waited for the Hall of Fame entrants to be announced. Mo didn’t even make the long list.

Yale called me. “You’re dead in this industry!” he said. “If you ever show up at a conference, I’ll bring you down!”

Thanks, Yale. Strangely, there were no hard feelings in Tampa: At Christmas, Mo sent me a large tin of caramel popcorn. We’ll try again next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Night at Nine: Harpo’s Wild Ride

By Ray Schultz

Marx Brothers fans tend to have favorites from different periods. Some like The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, Broadway hits shot on a sound stage in Astoria in 1929 and ‘30. Others prefer the wacky Paramount comedies made in Hollywood from 1931 to ’33—Monkey Business, Horsefeathers and the anti-war Duck Soup. And some favor the lavish yet very funny MGM musicals developed by Irving Thalberg: A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. But few would choose Love Happy, the final film made by the Marxes, despite the fact that it was Marilyn Monroe’s first.

Initially, the 1949 flick was a vehicle for Harpo Marx, the silent, harp-playing brother. But he had to enlist Groucho and Chico to get backing, and their parts were hastily written into the script.

Now entering their dotage, the Marx Brothers had not appeared on screen together since A Night in Casablanca in 1946, and the film before that was The Big Store, circa 1941. Fearing it had a turkey on its hands, United Artists pulled out. But producer Lester Cowen was resourceful: He went to several brands and “solicited paid advertising just to get the movie completed,” according to The Marx Brothers, by Mark Bego (Pocket Essentials, 2001). In other words, it was an early example of product placement.

These were squeezed into a memorable Times Square chase sequence, in which Harpo scampers on rooftops with neon signs flashing around him. The brands? Kool Cigarettes and Bulova Watches. But the climactic moment belonged to Mobil Gas. Cornered by his pursuers, Harpo mounts the Socony Mobil winged horse and rides the neon Pegasus into the sky. Stoned-out hippies later cheered that scene.

Meanwhile, back on earth, private eye Groucho is approached by a dark-haired Marilyn Monroe.

“Some men are following me,” she says.

“Really?” Groucho says. “I can’t imagine why.”

But that was the best of it. The movie tanked at the box office, and Groucho turned his attention to You Bet Your Life, his popular TV show. And yet, true Marx fans sob with gratitude when they get a glimpse of Love Happy on TV. Maybe it’s not their favorite, but there were only 13 Marx Brothers films after all, and each one was special in its way.