Thursday, January 27, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (1/27/05)


I remember Roger. Prolific author, TV commentator on nature, and the voice of the Westminster Kennel Club's annual Madison Square Garden dog show, Roger Caras was a good friend. He began his career in the movie industry publicizing films for Columbia Pictures. Later he became an author of animal books. I came to know him when I was a book club editorial director and selected some of his titles for my clubs. Later, as a publisher of outdoor books, I had Roger put together a book of wisdom and advice titled The Dog Owner's Bible.

 Just before Roger came to my office to discuss the book's contents, I happened to read Preminger on Preminger, the just-published autobiography of movie director Otto Preminger. I've always been a movie buff; in college I organized a Cinema Arts Society to show classic films. In his book, the director mentioned that he was in New Orleans on November 22, 1963, promoting his film The Cardinal when publicist Roger Caras rushed up to report that President Kennedy had been shot.

Before discussing the projected book, Roger and I began by talking about old times. Always fascinated by the gullibility of victims of bunko schemes, instead of telling him about the book, I decided to try an experiment. "You know, Roger," I began, "we Scots are supposed have the gift of clairvoyance." "I've heard that about a lot of nationalities, but I don't believe it," he said. "How about letting me have a go at resurrecting something from your past?" I suggested. His curiosity was piqued. "Why not? How shall we start?" I proposed, "Pick a date, and I'll tell you where you were that day."

Everything, of course, hinged on his choosing the day of the Kennedy assassination. I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't decided on that day. I began with what I thought would be appropriate behavior for a mentalist, massaging each side of my forehead with my fingertips, I then closed my eyes and said, "Let's see, the place is in the United States." He smiled, as if to say, "That was easy." Closing my eyes again, after a longer pause, I said, "It's somewhere in the South," and looked at him.

The smile had disappeared, replaced by a quizzical look. "It's not a small town or even a small city--it's a big city," I offered. His eyes were growing wider. "It's a city on the Mississippi River." He was staring at me with an incredulous expression. I was on a roll. "It had something to do with a movie. You were not shooting one; you were there to promote one." Building to what Variety calls "a boffo finish," I milked the pauses for all they were worth. "It wasn't St. Louis. (pause) It wasn't Memphis. (pause) I see a very low place. (long pause) I've got it! You were in New Orleans when you learned of the shooting," I announced triumphantly. I was tempted to name the film he was publicizing but decided not to press my luck.

Roger was amazed. "That's the most astonishing demonstration I have ever seen," he exclaimed. "I can't believe what I just witnessed." Poor Roger, at that point I could have sold him the Brooklyn Bridge. After savoring the moment, I relented and confessed that I had just used one of the oldest tricks of mentalists--prior knowledge about the victim. He took my spoof with good grace, and we had a good laugh over the incident.

From 1991 to 1999, Roger was president of the ASPCA. A fighter against euthanizing healthy pets, in retirement he and his wife, Jill, lived on a farm in Freeland, MD, with four retired greyhounds, seven other dogs, nine cats, three horses, two cows, a llama and an alpaca. My friend Roger Caras died Feb. 18, 2001, at age 73, after a heart attack. I miss him and miss his booming baritone at the Garden every February. He was one of those people so filled with a love of life and concern for animals that you cannot imagine them not being here any longer. One of Roger's sayings deserves a place in books of quotations: "There are only three sins--causing pain, causing fear, and causing anguish. The rest is window dressing."

Croton Point Park a hunting ground? Early-morning dog walkers recently discovered that a deer had been shot and brazenly butchered in Croton Point Park. They were led to the discarded remains of the animal by their dogs. Discharging a firearm anywhere in the village of Croton, of course, is forbidden. This incident--believed to have taken place on Christmas Day--now raises concerns about the safety of the park for people and animals. Ironically, the group of dog walkers who made the discovery usually walks on the Old Croton Aqueduct, starting from Croton Gorge Park. But the Aqueduct trail abuts private lands on which hunting is permitted, so the group switches to the presumed safety of Croton Point Park during the hunting season. Obviously, it is not any safer.

Discredited experts. After leaving office, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani set up Giuliani Partners, to peddle security advice to business and government, but the firm's credentials are problematical, to say the least. As mayor, Giuliani had insisted that the city's $13 million command bunker be located on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story high-rise, with no back-up site. He also had a 6,000-gallon diesel fuel tank for emergency generators installed at ground level, close to several elevators. Experts questioned the security of an above-ground command center and warned that the placement of the fuel tank posed a serious fire hazard.

Following a stint as Giuliani's chauffeur and bodyguard, Bernard Kerik, a former third-grade detective, was given a series of political appointments as a reward for his unswerving loyalty and subservience. His rapid rise culminated in the top position in the Police Department. The mayor's treatment of the Fire Department was even worse. For Fire Commissioner, Giuliani chose Thomas Von Essen, president of the firefighters union, using him to purge the top ranks of the department's uniformed leadership with privileged information Von Essen had gained as a union leader to settle old scores. Neither commissioner saw anything wrong with the Mayor's "bunker in the sky" or the unusual location of the fuel tank.

Then came 9/11, and 7 World Trade Center, along with the mayor's bunker, went up in flames fueled by the monster tank. Messrs. Giuliani, Kerik and Von Essen, an inept trio of newly minted security "experts" on whose watch police and fire department radios were unable to communicate with one another, became principals in Giuliani Partners. Nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security and embarrassed by mounting scandals, Kerik withdrew his name. Next he fell on his sword and resigned from Giuliani's firm, taking the heat off Giuliani and his presidential aspirations. Insiders say Bernie was pushed out. Rudy--who basks in the title of "America's Mayor"--has little chance of being nominated, in part because of his own equally messy personal history. The other reason is the evangelical right has such a stranglehold on the party, it's unlikely that a pro-choice Republican presidential candidate will be named in the foreseeable future.


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