Author Archives: Rob

A Visit by Erastus

It’s always interesting to see what people are throwing away, and a keen eye toward trash will sometimes yield treasure, large and small.

One day at WNYT, I hauled a bag full of crap down from my office (despite what you’ve heard, I really was the creative services director, not the janitor) and saw a bankers box labelled “archives” in the dumpster. Well, who would’t peek at that?

It was crammed with an assortment of old correspondence dating back to the 1950s — and a folder full of photos. If these are archives, I reasoned, they belong in my office, not the dumpster.

A lot of the papers dealt with the mundane matters of running a business, but among the photos were a few real gems, like the ones below. My favorite is this picture of good old Erastus Corning 2nd gamely peering into the WTRI camera for a PR shot.

And how about the look on this dogs face? Clearly, dogs have a lower tolerance for goofy photo ops than do politicians.

This photo is not quite so old. It’s from 1960 after they’d switched to the unfortunate call letters, WAST, for Albany-Schenectady-Troy. Add an “E” and you’ve got WASTE. The caption on the back identifies the woman as “Miss Nancy Doell, local Albany television actress.”

These pictures are from a time when television was still rather new and glamourous, but I think local TV still holds a certain fascination to people. I always enjoyed giving tours at channel 13 and seeing how much people loved looking behind the scenes. And the anchors and meteorologists? They’re the closest thing we have to celebrities. Well, I suppose in this town, politicians are also celebrities of a sort, just not always in a good way.

Pickup or Delivery?

Late one night I was backing up the ambulance at one of our fine local hospitals. Parked near the emergency department entrance was a dark minivan with tinted windows. I wouldn’t have even noticed it — but then a man emerged from a set of doors wheeling a cot. Even in the dim light, it was unmistakable that he was removing a body.

As we unloaded our patient, he was fetching a customer.

OK, they weren’t coming out the same doors we were going in, but it was pretty darn close. If this surprised me, imagine how you’d feel if you were on our stretcher and looked over to see the undertaker picking someone up. Not very encouraging.

Considering how busy these places are, it always surprises me how shabby emergency department entrances can be. Rather than projecting a professional impression, many look more like a place where the hospital brings out its trash. It would go a long way to have them clean and well-lit — and you’re receiving so many patients, why not have someone stationed to meet the ambulance and begin the intake process?

If nothing else, let’s move the mortician access to someplace a little more discrete. I think we all have enough reminders that our last ride is on the way.

Ziti and Meatballs

The corruption trial of Cuomo confidant Joe Percoco grinds along this week. It’s hard not to feel bad for this guy, who seems to have gotten in over his head in every way possible — but you’ve got to admit, the “ziti” business is funny.

The feds claim that Percoco would refer to payments by the code word “ziti,” and they say they have emails with Percoco writing, “Keep the ziti flowing … Don’t tip over the ziti wagon.” And where did he come up with that? According to the prosecutor, from watching the Sopranos. In other news, Mario Cuomo is rolling over in his grave.

Meanwhile, in a federal courtroom in Allentown, something entirely different is on the menu. Prosecutors there claim that the word “meatballs” was used as code for illicit payments in the bribery case of mayor Ed Pawlowski.

This from the Allentown Morning Call is priceless:

“So, this is not code for a bribe? Did you actually go to Mike Fleck’s to pick up meatballs?” Morgan asked.

Strathearn replied yes.

“Did you actually get meatballs?” the prosecutor asked.

Strathearn replied that he had, but not as many as he was expecting.
“How many did you get?” Morgan asked.

“Four,” he replied.

On cross-examination, McMahon played several more recordings containing references to the meaty Italian cuisine and suggested “meatballs” was, in fact, code for a bribe.

“You want these people to believe it’s really meatballs?” McMahon yelled. “It’s a payoff, Mr. Strathearn. You know, I know and everybody knows.”

Yes, everybody knows meatballs mean money. And meatballs and ziti? Fuggetaboutit.

From the Heart

Imagine what it must feel like to get another chance after a life-threatening health emergency. It has to be pretty amazing.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares has been very open about discussing his heart surgery in 2016 and the way it changed his life. Stories like this one in the Times Union, in which he tells what it was like to face down a disease that could have killed him. It’s inspiring. Honestly.

But I’ve got to ask a question: is it OK for a public official to appear in a TV commercial endorsing a hospital. I’m asking not because I want to be a wiseass (which is often why I ask questions), but because I’m genuinely unsure. Have a look.

Even a not-for-profit entity is still a business — and if you have any doubt that hospitals are a business, just look at all the competition between them that’s expressed in their advertising. And they do a LOT of advertising.

So, it’s something to ponder. Purists will say that an elected official like the DA should avoid anything that can be interpreted as showing favor. But on the flip side, is there really anything wrong with showing a little heart?

All the Editor’s Men

It was interesting to read Harry Rosenfeld’s take on “The Post” as reported by Paul Grondahl in the Times Union. Rosenfeld knows a thing or two about the Washington Post. Before coming to Albany to serve as editor of the TU, he was the Post’s metro editor and oversaw a couple of guys named Woodward and Bernstein. Speaking of movies, Rosenfeld is a key character in All the President’s Men, played by Jack Ward.

Anyway, Grondahl went to see the movie with Harry Rosenfeld, and if you look past all the misty-eyed tribe of ink stained wretches bullshit, it’s a pretty cool story. However, I can’t help but imagine Rosenfeld and his wife talking out loud during the movie, because that’s what old people do while watching a movie at the Spectrum.

“Look at the hair. Ben Bradlee didn’t comb his hair that way.”

“The chair?! What’s wrong with his chair?”

“No, his HAIR. It’s all wrong. Too long. And he parted his on the other side.”

And on and on and on. You can turn around and tell them to shut up, but it won’t do any good.

By the way, after the movie, Grondahl writes, they all went for “a nosh.” Oh, really? Did the Rosenfeld’s also kvetch about the schlep to the diner? Oy.

Random Notes

Down the Rathole
Paul Vandenburgh used “rathole” as a stand-in for President Trump’s “shithole” remark this week. Coincidentally, both rathole and shithole are acceptable when used to describe his radio station.

Wrap This
Anybody else sick of these ads that are wrapped around your goddamn Times Union every day?

The Ripoff Report
I like the Empire Report website and visit frequently. It’s a great way to keep up with New York political news, but I’m perpetually bothered by the site’s design, which is basically swiped from Drudge Report. Here’s the thing: when you steal someone’s design, you’re also taking all the hard work they did to build their brand — and in the case of Drudge, that’s worth a fortune.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

My name is Rob and I own a cat. But wait, I also have a dog!

Look, I usually go my own way with head held high, but the matter of cats and dogs stirs some uneasy feelings. There’s a subtle prejudice in our culture about men with cats that’s cut with sexism and old stereotypes. In a nutshell, it’s the idea that cats are feminine, dogs are masculine and a guy with a cat — particularly a single guy — is not a manly man.

Don’t get mad at me, I’m just telling you what I’ve observed. And if you don’t believe it, read what Kristi Gustafson Barlette wrote on the topic. She stopped just shy of calling it “creepy,” for God’s sake.

You might think that as a married man with a dog none of this would phase me, but the cat stigma has affected my behavior. Here’s the thing: when I go to the pet store and buy two dozen cans of cat food, I’m always sure to throw in a dog item so the clerk doesn’t judge me over my pet proclivity.

Dog treats, dog toys, various dog accessories and dog chewy things — as long as it’s clearly for a dog. I’ve even held up an item and said to the cashier, “My DOG is going to love this!”

Yes, that’s nuts.

What can I say? Blame society for this cruel view of men and cats. It benefits no one — except maybe for my dog. She loves it.

Taking the Plunge

Something came over me last Friday and I texted my friend Tom.

He’s been starting off the year with the Lake George Polar Plunge for more than a decade and he’s been after me to join him for a while. I’d never quite managed to pull it together, but this year would be different.

So — why start during a cold snap that’s made the past few weeks downright miserable? Some things can’t be explained, and this is one of them.

It was quite a sight as people started gathering on the beach: they were a mix of young and old, men and women all dressed more for an ice fishing shanty than a day at the beach. There a lot of energy in the air , very much like what you feel before a road race. But this was no 5K. As we stood on the shore watching the volunteers slide big sheets of ice away from the waterfront, some of the plungers started to wonder if they’s started 2018 by making a very bad decision.

Too late.

I didn’t expect a walk in the park; a quick glance at my Google search history will reveal various combinations of the terms “cold,” “freezing water,” “shock,” “hypothermia” and “heart attacks.”

As the mintues ticked down, the clothes started coming off. Soon I was standing in my bathing suit, water shoes, gloves and a knit cap. There were jokes that my body hair would keep me warm. If only.

When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. When my time came I stormed into the water and went out as far as the safety crew in their cold water suits . It wasn’t terribly deep, so I crouched a bit to bring the water up to my chin. At first it wasn’t so bad — hell, the water was 30 degrees warmer than the air — but it didn’t take long for a weird combination of numbness and burning to begin taking hold of my legs. Time to get out.

Once in dry clothes I felt pretty great, deeply refreshed and oddly renewed.
I thought my friend Tom was pulling my leg when he went on about cleansing away the old year and prparing for the one to come, but he wasn’t kidding. And my penis didn’t break off, so that’s also a big plus.

The Week That Was

An Itch for Christmas
A few years ago, there were lots of stories around about ticks in Christmas trees. Well, the good news is that ticks are not really a problem. The bad news? There could be 25,000 other bugs on your tree.

Quote of the Week
“People don’t know what wine tastes like until they taste it.” – Paul Vandenburgh

That’s either a brilliant nugget of wisdom or the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Crushing It
I made a lot of news promos, and I’m still impressed when I see something that nails it like this MSNBC spot.

These folks have been portrayed by the idiot in the White house as enemies of the people. Their response: we do this because we love you. Extra points for using R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.