Stumbling in the direction of a solution


Inspector Timothy Dowd, right, at work in July 1977, told reporters that his job as the leader of the special task force hunting the Son of Sam serial killer was “to prepare to be lucky.” Credit Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

NY Times obituary of Timothy Dowd, the detective in charge of finding Son Of Sam:

Ms. Begg said in an in­ter­view on Mon­day that her fa­ther had dis­dained tele­vi­sion dra­mas about the po­lice be­cause they were un­re­al­is­tic about po­lice work — all ex­cept one, she said: “Colum­bo.” That se­ries, es­pe­cial­ly pop­u­lar in the 1970s, starred Pe­ter Falk as an un­tidy, seem­ing­ly dis­tract­ed de­tec­tive in Los An­ge­les who solved cas­es by pok­ing around in a prac­ticed but ran­dom fash­ion and stum­bling in the di­rec­tion of a so­lu­tion.

“That’s how it’s done,” she said her fa­ther ex­plained to her.

In the biggest case of his ca­reer, when he fi­nal­ly came face to face with the killer, In­spec­tor Dowd said he knew he would be able to dis­cuss the crimes with him.

“I told him we had nev­er abused him or crit­i­cized him in the press, and he agreed,” In­spec­tor Dowd said at the time.

And Mr. Berkowitz’s first words to him?

“In­spec­tor, you fi­nal­ly got me. I guess this is the end of the trail.”

Menino, Street Harrassment


Once Mayor Tom Menino of Boston came to speak at my high school.  He was a terrible speaker, had a bad speech impediment.  He said that when he was a kid he told his teacher, a nun, that he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up, so he could build bridges.  The nun told him he wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer.  So, he said, he became the mayor to build bridges between communities.

(photo by Jim Rogash, Getty Images, swiped from here)

2) This video is all over my Facebook.  I have a tale of New York City street harassment.

One day in 2009 I was walking around looking for apartments with a real estate broker.  The broker was an extremely attractive woman, the girlfriend of a friend.  It was a really hot day, she was wearing like a bare-armed shirt thing under a jacket and she took the jacket off.

The catcalls and stuff yelled at her was INSANE.  Like, at least ten dudes said something, most of it muttered after she walked past.

Now, being a self-absorbed dude, my reaction to this was fascination but also like “am I supposed to do something about this?”  Like, “I’m walking with this woman, and presumably it could be my girlfriend or my sister or something, am I supposed to like beat up all these dudes? Because that would take a long time and also would by no means be a guaranteed victory.”  She rolled with it as though it was no more significant than the squawk of pigeons but man.

Anyway, now I have successfully made this story about me.

Contra Joyce Carol Oates:

this was in Union Square and literally Washington Square Park and the heart of the West Village, also mostly white dudes.

I defer to Mero on this one:


Bear Mystery

Florence Slatkin walking her dog, Paco, on Tuesday next to the spot where she and a friend discovered a dead bear in Central Park. Ms. Slatkin said the bear’s head was resting on a fallen bike. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press

Alert reader Tia in Manhattan writes:

Very excited for your new podcast.  Are you following the Central Park Bear Mystery?

Tia, thanks for writing.  Of course I am.

So, a dead bear was found in Central Park.  Here are the facts we know, all from the NY Times:

  • The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the results of a necropsy showed that the cause of death was “blunt force injuries consistent with a motor vehicle collision.”
  • After revealing the results of the necropsy, Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the state conservation department, said that the agency still did not know where the bear had come from, only that it was “likely not the park.”
  • The Central Park Conservancy, which runs Central Park and provided preliminary information on Monday, had nothing to add on Tuesday. And a spokesman for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo, said it was no longer involved and did not wish to comment.
  • The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which has been dealing with a surging black bear population, had nothing to say.
  • Calls were made to a retired Bronx homicide commander, Vernon Gerberth. “It wouldn’t be a police matter,” he said, “unless the bear was killed by a person, or if somebody was keeping it as a pet and brought it to the park. People are crazy.”
  • Dr. Lana Ciarniello, a bear expert in Canada, said that most bear experts in the United States were attending a conference in Greece and would be hard to reach for comment. She could not make the trip, so she was able to offer her thoughts on the mystery.
  • She also said that the bear’s gender might have some relevance: “From a biological standpoint, it’s highly unusual for a female bear cub to be so far from her mother. Mother bears make male bear cubs disperse far from her home range to prevent inbreeding, so it would be less unusual if this were a male bear cub.”
  • While there was a bear foot found on a lawn in Queens in 2011, bears have not regularly been seen in New York City for decades.
  • An entry in the 1916 edition of Valentine’s Manual of Old New York contains an account of bear hunting on Pearl Street from 1678.

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys The Great Debates!  Available here:





Question ONE:

* Is 

as wonderful as


Look, I don’t want to turn this into another Astor Place riots, but I think there’s a healthy American vs. UK rivalry to start here.

Question 2:

The biggest Dylan fan I know says: “every time Dylan does something, ten years later it’s revealed to be genius.”  Is the same true of the Coen Bros?

Even if I didn’t really like one of their movies, they are so good I assume that I’m wrong.  I liked this one though, even though it was so so sad.

Listen to Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Oscar Isaac sing 500 Miles.   Best I can tell they all did their own singing.

Question 3:

Who wrote “500 Miles”?

This song is usually attributed to Hedy West, who put together  “fragments of a melody she had heard her uncle sing to her back in Georgia.”

Her father, Don West, was a southern poet and coal mine labor organizer in the 1930s; his bitter experiences included seeing a close friend machine-gunned on the street by company goons in the presence of a young daughter.

Question 4:

What is the meaning of this movie?

I’ll tell you one message I felt strongly:  “pursuing great art requires great sacrifice.  It’s tragic if the art falls short.  You don’t get the sacrifice back.  Maybe the sacrifice itself is still noble but it’s an awfully lonesome road.”

Also this could be seen as a movie about a man being punished by God for abandoning a cat.

This was  a movie where the hero literally does NOT save the cat.

Question 5:

The two best units of art that emerged from Jewish Minnesota have to be the Coen Brothers and Bob Dylan, right?  Both deeply fascinated with “the old, weird, America.”  Is there anything to that?

Question 6: 

What would Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald make of this movie?

I saw it just around the corner from where F. Scott Fitzgerald died.

Question 7:

Will the movie revive interest in The Clancy Brothers?

Question 8:

Why is Justin Timberlake so good at playing lame characters?

Is it because he has moved in his life so far beyond the idea of coolness?

Consider this testimonial by Joe Jonas.  Timberlake, who at least in his choices appears very smart, was at an equivalent point of fame and self-awareness  TEN YEARS AGO.

Question 9:

How the fuck is some guy in a magazine or a newspaper supposed to review a movie like this??  Obviously everything you’d think of the Coen Brothers already thought of times 1000!!

That’s what I thought as I walked out.

Sometimes Anthony Lane cheeses me off but his review of this movie helped me think about it.

(Some photo sources.  Are photos of movie stars on the Internet just public property we can repost?  I dunno, but 85% of all HelyTimes profits goes directly to charity)

Sniffen Court And The Amateur Comedy Club

Reading, as one does, about Robert Murray, once owner of the most shipping tonnage in New York, until he retired to a 29-acre farm on Manhattan which he called Inclenberg but everyone else called – and still calls – Murray Hill.

Mrs. Murray is sometimes credited with delaying the British as they pursued the haggard Continental army across Manhattan after being nearly destroyed at the Battle of Brooklyn.  Supposedly she offered them tea and cakes and her feminine charm.  David McCullough in 1776 counters: “she may have been extremely charming, but she was also a woman in her fifties and the mother of twelve children.”

In Murray Hill today is Sniffen Court, an alley off 36th Street built in 1863-4.  Here’s some good photos.

And this curious bit from Curbed:

Right on 36th Street, 1 Sniffen Court has been owned by the Amateur Comedy Club since 1884, and the building is registered as a legitimate theater. Additional research shows that the amateur theater group was a private one, operated strictly by and for the amusement of its own members and social circle with no public performances. The group dramatically broke their private character during World War I, when it became a dramatic theater company for the entertainment and benefit of military service members.

Here’s the Amateur Comedy Club website.  One hopes they provide welcome relief from the excessive professionalism of other comedy clubs.

A Good Mural In Chelsea

IMG_5432It’s over near the Portugese Jewish Cemetery.



Orange Butter

from Edward Robb Ellis’ The Epic Of New York City

A delicacy of the day was orange butter, made according to this recipe:  “Take new cream two gallons, beat it up to a thicknesse, then add half a pint of orange-flower-water, and as much red wine, and so being become the thicknesse of butter it has both the colour and smell of butter.”  Drunkenness was common.


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