Thursday, March 17, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (3/17/05)


Poor little rich girl. During the early part of the 20th century, Jane Burr was one of the interesting personalities in Croton's artistic and literary Bohemia. Although she wrote ten books published between 1909 and 1945, much of what we know about her can only be found in the works of others. Novelist Floyd Dell recalled an invitation in 1918 to visit her in Croton, describing her as "a writer with a very forceful personality," as she ably demonstrated. Her 1916 book of poems, City Dust, had gone through several printings. Another slim volume of poems, I Build My House, had just appeared, as had her self-published 1918 novel, The Glorious Hope.

The name Jane Burr was actually a pen name. She was born Rosalind Guggenheim, daughter of Leopold Guggenheim, and a member of a family famous for its wealth. Later she would inherit one-third of Leopold's fortune. Her short-lived marriage in St. Louis to a fellow named Jack Punch soon ended in divorce. She next married Horatio Gates Winslow, editor of The Masses from May to December 1911, when Max Eastman took over.

Jane Burr ran a sort of bed-and-breakfast in what was once the Post Road Inn, a stagecoach stop on the Albany Post Road operated for many years by the McCord family. [Traces of its foundation is still visible opposite the former Holy Name of Mary School.] She called it the Drowsy Saint Inn. Dell described it as "a place with pleasant rooms furnished in colonial style, where writers roomed in the summer, and with a restaurant decorated in the Greenwich Village fashion with gay colors. It was not open in the winter, but Jane Burr lived there, and asked occasional guests out to visit her."

Dell arrived in Croton with a young woman he had met in Greenwich Village. She was from California and her name was B. Marie Gates. Unhappy with Berta, her first name, she had shortened it to an initial. She was "golden-haired and blue-eyed," and reminded him of a girl in Frank Norris's novel, The Octopus, which Dell had devoured as a youth: "a sturdy, earth-strong girl, with hair as yellow as the ripe wheat." It was love at first sight. By their third meeting, he proposed marriage. After encountering roadblocks invented by the City Clerk at New York's Municipal Building, they took a ferry to Jersey City, only to be stymied by residency requirements.

"We want to get married," they told Jane Burr on their arrival, "and we want you to help us." She was shocked; as a feminist she was opposed to marriage in principle, but agreed to assist them. Demonstrating her "forceful personality," she phoned the town clerk in Peekskill only to find his office closed. Undaunted, she pried the information from the telephone operator that the town council was meeting that evening, and the clerk would be there. She arranged over the phone for him to issue a marriage license. That evening, the happy couple picked up their license in Peekskill and hurried back to Croton to wait for Judge Frank Decker to marry them at his home. He operated a candy store and ice cream parlor on North Riverside Avenue.

Dell begged B. Marie not to make any feminist objections to anything she was asked to promise, but to say yes to whatever he asked. They told the judge that they wanted a simple ceremony. In his judge's handbook he found one in which they took each other as husband and wife. After the ceremony, at which Jane Burr was a witness, Judge Decker asked B. Marie if she wanted a marriage certificate. She shook her head. "Lots of people don't, nowadays," he remarked, almost wistfully. Then it was back to the Drowsy Saint and their wedding supper. For the occasion, Jane Burr resourcefully wangled a cake intended to be part of a neighbor's Sunday dinner.

Why not Toyota? There are 353 five-year-old children in the U.S. named Lexus.

Social insecurity. President Bush prefers to call them "personal accounts" rather than "private accounts." Regardless of what this scheme is called, my Social Security benefits would not be affected. I am nevertheless made uncomfortable by his proposal. Ask any investor who suffered losses when the bubble burst. As Von Neumann and Morgenstern showed in their classic Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, the stock market is a zero-sum game not unlike poker, in which one player's gain must be matched by another player's loss? And how about the spate of recent scandals that revealed Wall Street to be more like a rigged casino, with crooked financial advisers touting Enron, Tyco, HealthSouth, Adelphia, WorldCom, whose lavishly living executives are now in the dock?

Moreover, the Bush plan assumes that prices of securities will always go in one direction--up. Savvy traders know that what goes up also comes down, often with a thump. As for the risky aspect of the market, consider the crash that began in 1929 and spawned a worldwide depression: From September 3 of that year, when the Dow-Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) peaked, to July 8, 1932, it lost 89.2 percent of its value. The DJIA did not return to its 1929 high number until 1955--26 years later. Eight other disastrous crashes occurred in the period between 1907 and 2002, losing an average of 44.2% and lasting an average of 704 days. On October 19, 1987, known as "Black Monday, the DJIA lost 22.6%--the largest one-day loss in its 109-year history.

Hanging judges If you ever should be arrested in Russia, don't ask for a non-jury trial. A whopping 99% of them end in conviction.

What's with U.S. automakers? Ford recently recalled nearly 359,000 Focus models because of faulty rear-door latches. If not latched properly, the door may open while the car is in motion. Ford had another embarrassment in January, when 792,000 pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans were recalled because of the risk of fire as a result of overheating of their cruise control switches. Ford's recent announcement came on the heels with word from Chrysler that it was recalling about 26,000 of its Dodge Durango SUVs because of potential fuel leaks from the filler necks of their gas tanks. In December, Chrysler had announced the recall of about 600,000 Dodge Durango SUVs and pickup trucks from the 2000 to 2003 model years because of a defect that might cause their wheels to fall off, the carmaker reported. Wheels falling off? You can't make this stuff up.

Cold statistics. Despite the publicity cryonic preservation has received, the frozen bodies of only 135 persons are in the two full-service U.S. facilities.



AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Comments: Post a Comment | Postscripts Homepage

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?