Monday, November 3, 2014

NO-SHAVE NOVEMBER

French people don’t like being called “Frogs.” I have no reason to use the nickname but when you consider what people are called these days, "frog" seems especially harmless.

For some reason, vacationing Frogs French Canadians migrate here to South Jersey in droves. It must be something in their DNA because they are easy to spot due to their difficulty with English, uppity attitude and a reluctance to mete out decent gratuities. Nevertheless, I would never resort to calling someone in shorts with black socks and scarf around their neck childish names like; weasels, spineless piss-ants or surrendering salamanders. But in the rare circumstance that I’m being irritated by a frog gentle person from the Great White North who has introduced them self as being from Montreal or Quebec City, I ask, “Are you sure you’re not really from Drummondville?”

The small blue-collar town of Drummondville Quebec Canada lies in the shadows, halfway between the cosmopolitan cities of Montreal and Quebec City. So by suggesting that someone was really from that hick town, it implies that they are a "poser” and lack any level of sophistication.

In early November 1991, (in the pre-Internet days), my wife Sue and I set out on a spur of the minute vacation to Quebec Canada. Our goal in this predominately French-speaking province was a brief stop in Montreal with the bulk of our stay in Quebec City, (my blog from November 29, 2010 called, “JE PARLE FRANCAIS…NOT!!!!” addressed a different aspect of that trip).

I sold Sue on Quebec City because it’s not only romantic but also has the feel of being in France. I based my authority on having visited both places, (France 1968 and Quebec City 1976).

We left south Jersey on a glorious 70° (F) morning. Many hours later on the New York State Throughway, (Interstate 87), snow covered cars came from the opposite direction. By the time we passed Glens Falls, it was bitter cold and windy. We advanced into a higher elevation and noticed at the same time, a sprinkle of towns with French names as well as a dusting of snow. In the blink of an eye, the pretty falling fakes had morphed into heavy snow. Soon, all the traffic slowed down and merged into the right lane. We were crawling at 20MPH when I noticed an apropos exit sign for the tiny berg of New Russia.

The worst of the weather was over when we passed through Canadian customs. On the Quebec side, we experienced cultural shock because they use the metric system, military time and most signs are bi-lingual, (English and French).

On the foreign highway, even with my pocket abacus, I could not convert their per liter gas prices to the good ole American way. In Montreal, the digital clock on top of a bank told us that we arrived at twenty o’clock. We parked in the business district and shivered as we tip-toed around slushy snow banks and icy patches. Stupidly, in winter coats, no gloves and sneakers, we weren’t bundled-up properly for -11º (C).

We had a nice dinner in the backroom of a bar, (I had a Montreal steak).  Later, we found a motel. The next day, we froze our asses off touring the city. We gravitated to Vieux Montreal, (the Greenwich Village-like old town section of the city). We had lunch in a quiet cafè, (onion soup and Caesar salad), visited historic cathedrals and browsed in quaint shops.

It pissed me off that Sue was swept off her feet when I asked a French-accented tourist guide Richard (Ree-shard), for directions.  I tried to tuck away my Brooklyn accent but I couldn't compete with the ever-suave, Ree-shard.

On that same street, we were the only customers in a souvenir store.  Sue asked the cashier a question in English. The girl said in pigeon-French, “I don’t speak French.” Sue picked up on the fact that this poor girl spoke neither French nor English.  I thought Sue was clever as she communicated in Spanish.

For dinner, we found a fancy seafood restaurant, Le Ancora d’Ouro, (the Golden Anchor). It was a week night, so damned cold and off-season so it wasn’t shocking that the main dining room was empty, except for a table of two young couples sitting behind me. They were chasing whiskey shots with Molson beer and having a good old time. Sue whispered, “Now they’re making out big time and are all over each other.”

I couldn’t resist and glanced back. One guy was fondling his dark-haired date’s breasts under her cable-knit sweater while the blond in the sleeveless dress was massaging her boyfriend’s groin. Sue kept up a detailed blow-by-blow narration until the giggling blond stood up. Sue guessed that in French, she wanted the brunette to come to the ladies room with her but was turned down. The blond staggered away.

Despite being inebriated, the three remaining lovers spoke quickly and came to some sort of an agreement. The odd man came around the table. He was welcomed by the brunette as the two men double-teamed her. The new guy pulled her sweater up. I saw her bare back as he suckled her breasts. At the same time, she was in permanent lip-lock with her boyfriend as he checked her oil.

A few minutes later, at the far end of the room, the waiter, busboy and bartender converged to enjoy the ménage. The mood changed when the giggly blond bounced off walls as she unevenly walked between the voyeurs and back into the dining room. The drama started when she spontaneously sobered-up upon focusing on the three Musketeers. She screamed. Her boyfriend got up to explain. Sue and I guessed that he was suggesting a foursome but she shunted him aside. The brunette rose, flattened her hiked-up skirt and advanced towards her objecting friend. We didn’t need a translator to figure out that the girl in the sleeveless dress was cursing her out. The brunette tried a rebuttal but got slapped. In smacking the girl with the cable-knit sweater, the blond revealed to Sue and I, a forest of hair in her armpit.

I whispered to Sue, “I guess it’s, ‘No-Shave November.’” She said, “Nah. Legs, pits it don’t matter, the French are like that all the time.” The girl grabbed her coat and seemed to be demanding that her beau leave with her…he refused. Later, when the three of them left, they were still groping each other.

In the morning, Sue and I set out for three-hour drive to Quebec City. On the highway, we stopped at a rest stop in the town of Drummondville. While waiting at the lunch counter, Sue rubbed her hand on my sprouting facial stubble and smiled, “Ah, vacation means no-shave November for you too, I like this Don Johnson look.”
ACTOR DON JOHNSON (above) PLAYED JAMES "SONNY" CROCKETT ON THE HIT NBC TV SHOW "MIAMI VICE."  IT AIRED FIVE SEASONS, (111 EPISODES), FROM 1984-1989.  THIS PROGRAM WAS THE COOLEST COP SHOW EVER AND BOASTED NEW WAVE CULTURE, CUTTING EDGE SOUND TRACKS AND HIP COSTUMING. JOHNSON'S PERPETUAL FIVE O'CLOCK SHADOW BECAME A FASHION STATEMENT THAT REGULAR GUYS STROVE MAINTAIN.

Maybe that was my cue to make-out with Sue and pull her sweater up…but I didn’t. But during the next ten minutes, the last warm embers of afterglow from the previous night’s exposure to French romantic culture died. That’s when we realized that the staff was ignoring us.

I'm guessing even in Drummondville, arrogant frog-ettes French Canadian waitresses can spot non-Frenchie invaders in their territory...as well as I can identify Frogs them in New Jersey.

We might have been kept waiting for hours except a Good Samaritan (customer) came by with menus and translated, called for service and put in our order. Whether we were on the Quebec version of, “CANDID CAMERA” or not we’ll never know. But Fi-Fi and the other bitches proved to us that they’re reputation for being rude and aloof to English-speaking people was true. To be on the safe side, we examined our meal for spit before we ate it.

Quebec City is truly beautiful. It’s old world charm had to be explored before we checked into our bed and breakfast.
FOUNDED IN 1608, QUEBEC CITY IS ONE OF THE OLDEST CITIES IN NORTH AMERICA.  SURROUNDED BY RAMPARTS, THE OLD QUEBEC SECTION IS THE ONLY WALLED-IN CITY IN ALL OF CANADA OR THE USA. (above) THE ATMOSPHERE IS SIMILAR TO BEING IN FRANCE.

Quebec City is so much more charming than the big city (Montreal).  But I must report that all the signs are in French and the locals, even businessmen, are nasty to English-speaking customers, (Sue's cutie-pie Ree-shard would have been a breath of fresh air).

The afternoons were extremely cold.  The streets had much more residual snow than Montreal.  Sue and I slipped and slid on icy pavement as I took her to places I was familiar with from my 1976 visit. While checking-out an outdoor, a starving artists colony, we noticed les assholes shoveling snow, willy-nilly off three-story rooftops.  The heavy splatter could be dangerous...even fatal to unwitting passersby, so I'm guessing the Frogs Quebecois have a secret signal that lets them know when its safe to hit the streets?
OVERLOOKING THE ST. LAWRENCE SEAWAY, THE HOTEL FRONTENAC IS THE FOCAL POINT OF THE CITY.  THE GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS INCLUDES IT AS THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED HOTEL ON THE PLANET, (OUR BED AND BREAKFAST WAS TWO BLOCKS AWAY).
 The old city surrounds the hotel.  In the photo, to the right of the hotel, there are train track-like lines going down.  That is the Funicular, a glass-walled, one-floor elevator that leads to more quaint streets and the picturesque waterfront.

On the first day, we were both wearing sneakers and our feet felt frost bitten.  We drove to the more modern, residental part of town, to a mall.  Their Macy's-like store is called, the Bay. Hard to believe but true, in the lady's shoe department, those snooty bastards shrugged in ignorance...thus getting across the point that they have no English-speaking associates.  Like desperate idiots, Sue and I had to go back into the mall concourse and enlist help (and it wasn't easy) to broker her purchase of leather boots, (back home we found out the Frog salesman duped us into paying top dollar, for pleather).

We took the scenic route back from the mall and found Le Colisee where the Quebec Nordiques of the NHL played their home games. In the gift shop, an enthusiastic English-speaking clerk helped me pick out some chintz, (since then, the franchise moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche).

On the way back to our B and B, we discovered an upscale row of gourmet restaurants as well as Dagobert's (Day-go-bear's) a cutting edge discotheque, (we returned that night and enjoyed a fine dinner opposite the disco.  Afterwards, we came across the street to dance and party). 

Outside the gate to Old Town, we passed the municipal complex.  We saw a mob of angry protesters who wanted the province of Quebec to secede from Canada and become its own country, (the hardcore Frogs Quebecois have been working on that forever and twenty-three years later, are still trying).

One night after dinner, we were surprised to find an outdoor rink teeming with ice skaters. We had hot chocolate and appreciated their fun. We also learned that because it's so friggin' cold up there that an annual Winter Carnival is held to promote civic pride and get people out of their house, (later, it was hinted to me that by having something to look forward to, the Carnival reduces the suicide attempt rate...)
THESE DAYS, THE WINTER CARNIVAL BOASTS OVER A MILLION VISITORS.  IT HAD BEEN HELD, ON AND OFF, SINCE 1894, (BUT NOW WITHOUT INTERRUPTION SINCE 1955).  IN 1955 BONHOMME (above) BECAME THE OFFICAL MASCOT, (THE NAME IS SHORT FOR BONHOMME DE NEIGE...WHICH MEANS, SNOWMAN).

Even during the first week of November, we found evidence, across from the rink, of participants already gearing up for the big event.
(STOCK PHOTO OF AN AWARD WINNING ICE CASTLE)  VERY "COOL," WE SAW TWO COMPETITORS ALREADY WORKING ON MUCH SMALLER ICE SCULPTURES.

On the long trip home to New Jersey, Sue voiced her boredom several times.  We were still in Vermont when I perked-up and said, "Hey, did you know that in three hours..."  She got excited and said, "Yeah, what happens in three hours?"  I teased, "In three hours, we'll be halfway home."  She didn't appreciate my humor and pinched by cheek. To get back at me she said, "I hope this isn't your version of no-shave November because your beard is coming in gray...and you look like an old man."
THE LAST TIME I HAD A FULL BEARD WAS AT BROOKLYN COLLEGE (APRIL 1977)

For a week, I had survived being insulted by the Frogs French Canadians...only to get ripped by my wife.  Her scathing comment was unfortunately accurate and I have avoided even mustaches ever since, (please note today's college kids really celebrate No-Shave November.
MY ANDREW CAN FORGET THE DON JOHNSON LOOK.  IN THIS PICTURE, HE MIGHT HAVE ALREADY SHAVED THAT MORNING.  IF HE LETS IT GO, HE'LL LOOK LIKE RIP VAN WINKLE BY ELECTION DAY, (TOMORROW).

We had a great time in Quebec City and I recommend it to friends all the time.  That praise is usually coupled with a red caution flag concerning the *Frogs.  But now, I can just refer everyone to this and my, "JE PARLE FRANCOIS...NOT!!!" blogs and use them as snippy attitude warning labels.

*Jeez, now that I think about it, I do call them Frogs all the time.  And I feel justified! C'est la vie, mon ami.

Monday, October 27, 2014

PISSING-OFF ST. SLICK, THE PATRON SAINT OF FREEBIES

IN THE SPIRIT OF HALLOWEEN..."THEY" SAY, YOU CAN'T REMEMBER (BAD) OLD SMELLS...IT SOUNDS SPOOKY, BUT I CAN!


My wife Sue and I were shopping at BJ’s Wholesale Club last week. We typically split-up with me heading for the deli counter, in case there’s a long line. En route, I inspect the bevy of free samples being offered. On this occasion, between the banana pudding cookies and the Greek yogurt, the pickings were slim.

Luckily I was not shut-out. While waiting to be served, a meat department employee came out of the back room with a tray of fresh cold cuts samples, (ham, roast beef and turkey).

I helped myself to one of the yellow, frilly-handled toothpicks that skewered a healthy-sized sliver of roast beef. Well…actually…to be totally honest, it was expensive and very, very, very delicious roast beef. I craved more. So I entered into the realm of bad karma every time the butcher looked away...and snuck another slice.

Hey!  Don't give me that condescending attitude.  It's NOT like I ignored a gigantic, "ONE PER CUSTOMER," sign!  Because there wasn't one. Anyway...within three minutes, I had made a meal out of all six king-sized slices that were now prominently missing from the center of the display platter. To save face and protect my humble image (of myself) and prove to the counterman that I wasn’t a slob, I turned down his sample of my cheese.

I gathered up my lunch meat packets and set out to find Sue. I’m guessing even without one-to-a-customer signage that my sinful roast beef over-indulgence offended St. Slick, the Patron Saint of Freebies.

To pay for my gluttonous transgression, I believe old St. Slick made a sampling booth magically appear at the head of the coffee aisle, ala, "THE TWILIGHT ZONE." I'm positive, it WASN’T there five minutes earlier.

The sign read: JIMMY DEAN SAUSAGE, EGG AND CHEESE ON A BISCUIT. The suspicious look of the smiling representative reminded me of the demonic nanny (Mrs. Baylock), from the 1976 horror and suspence movie, "THE OMEN."
IN THE ORIGINAL, "OMEN," ACTRESS BILLIE WHITELAW NAILED HER EERIE PERFORMANCE AS THE DEVIL'S GOVERNESS...AND NOW I WAS ABOUT TO ACCEPT FOOD FROM SOMEONE WHO, COMPLETE WITH A HOLY-MOLEY-SIZED MOLE ON HER CHEEK, REALLY RESEMBLED HER.

The Mrs. Baylock look alike adjusted her paper hat and bobbed her head like a sinister jack-in-the-box clown. My brain knew I wasn't hungry.  Yet against my better judgment, I felt compelled...even with a belly full of roast beef...to be lured to siren's tantalizing bait.

In a fraction of a second, the lingering, marvelous memory of the expensive roast beef was ousted from my mouth. The scant, new taste of inferior sausage, egg and cheese was overwhelmed by the abundance of tasteless dough. I should have spit it out but I forcibly swallowed the pasty, spackle-like sludge down through my gullet. Far worse, I had an incredibly bad taste in my mouth…that would last the entire thirty minutes until we got home.

During the homeward drive, I rationalized that a bad taste in my mouth was better than getting my kishkiz burnt-out by unexpectedly hot food. I flashed back to January 1979.  That's when I had my moving to Las Vegas, good-bye party, at McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan.
McSORLEY'S SINCE 1854, IS THE OLDEST BAR IN NEW YORK CITY, (15 EAST 7th STREET BETWEEN 3rd AND 4th AVENUE).  I HAVEN'T BENT AN ELBOW THERE IN CLOSE TO THIRTY YEARS BUT IT WAS SPECIAL ENOUGH TO ONCE TAKE MY MOTHER THERE, (SEE MY SEPTEMBER 22, 2008 BLOG CALLED, "McSORLEY'S OLD ALE HOUSE)."

In my hey-day, McSorley’s offered a limited menu. If my memory serves, all they had was; light and dark (colored) beer, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, turkey, ham and roast beef sandwiches and a cheese platter. For the sandwiches, each table had a vat of English unbleached mustard, (I have NEVER seen or heard of English unbleached mustard before or since...hopefully the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made that inedible, toxic waste illegal).

I sniffed the open vat and felt heat painfully resonate through my nostrils. Yes, I enjoy spicy foods but my instinct was to avoid this one. When the waiter placed my, “bird” (turkey sandwich), in front of me, a friend suggested that I try the mustard. I said, “No.” My moronic buddy escalated his encouragement to a dare. I had enough of a buzz on to innocently accept. But I wasn’t so naive to dive in and commit a smear to my dinner. I dabbed the slightest bit of that shit on my pinkie. OUCH!  It was like my taste buds were nuked and my tongue burned all night.

The near-death experience of English unbleached mustard led me to recall my cross-country trip in 1976. That’s when I got “burned” twice by southwestern cuisine. First in Houston Texas, at a James Coney Island and Chili Parlor. I brought my chili con carne bowl to a table and realized there wasn’t any Tabasco Sauce in the condiment rack. I was too tired and lazy to get up. I took a huge spoonful of their specialty. It was a friggin' napalm explosion in my mouth! It was bad enough that the intensity almost killed me, but the witnesses’ reaction to my misfortune nearly made me die of embarrassment.
I WANTED TO GIVE SOME BACKGROUND ON THE JAMES *CONEY ISLAND AND CHILI PARLOR FRANCHISE BUT THE FIRST TWO REVIEWS I READ WERE SO BAD THAT I INCLUDED THIS PHOTO FROM ONE OF THEIR RIVALS INSTEAD. (*FYI - IN MANY PLACES DOWN SOUTH AND OUT WEST, A "CONEY ISLAND" IS A HOT DOG).

A week after my gasteric tumult in Houston, I was in Raton, New Mexico. In the perceived safety of a Pizza Hut, I learned the hard way that not ALL chain restaurants take pride in standard recipes. As if poisoned with cyanide, my Italian sub was laced with a lethal dose of jalapeño peppers. My scorched mouth made he gag as I trashed the whole fiery mess. When I composed myself well enough to speak, I complained to the manager. The prick shrugged, “Dude, you’re in New Mexico…”

We were halfway home from BJ’s when my memory took me back to the first stop on my sixty-eight day cross-country odyssey, a KOA outside Nashville Tennessee, (Kampgrounds of America). Except that experience didn’t involve five-alarm hot foods, it involved another bad taste in my mouth...courtesy of Jimmy Dean.  This event resulted in me starting a thirty-eight year vow, to boycott his products, (which temporarily ended with scary Mrs. Baylock coaxing me into violating my digestive system).
JIMMY DEAN (1928-2010) IS A MEMBER OF THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME.  IN ADDITION TO SINGING, HE ALSO HOSTED A VARIETY TV PROGRAM (1963-1966).  IN THAT SHOW, PUPPETEER JIM HENSON RECEIVED HIS FIRST NATIONAL MEDIA EXPOSURE. TODAY, THE NAME JIMMY DEAN HAS MORE UNIVERSAL RECOGNITION FOR HIS BRAND OF PORK PRODUCTS.

I have no memory of Jimmy Dean's TV show. The only song I remember him doing was 1961's, “BIG BAD JOHN.” And I never saw the 1982 movie that bears his name, “COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN.”
THIS THREE-STAR CHICK-FLICK CONCERNS FIVE WOMEN MEETING AT A RUN-DOWN TEXAS DRUGSTORE, FOR A TWENTY-YEAR REUNION OF THE JIMMY DEAN FAN CLUB.

The 1976 bad taste Jimmy Dean left in my mouth dealt more with issues of the heart...that were thwarted by a nauseating stink directly associated with him.

That KOA campground was conveniently located between the Orpyland Amusement Park and a Jimmy Dean sausage slaughterhouse, (I hope you see where this is going). I got myself situated and went about the rigors of pitching my tent for the first time and getting all my creature comforts ready at bedtime.

In the glorious morning, I discovered the side benefits of staying there included a great opportunity for socializing. I occupied the whole day meeting people, swimming in the lake, playing softball and hanging out.

A couple of girls that I met earlier in the general store were getting a volleyball game together. These two blond, Northern Virginians, Lu-Ann and Lynette were friendly and pretty with intoxicating southern accents.

Lynette was the actual organizer. She was taller, athletic and more serious than her friend. Lu-Ann was cuter, more feminine and silly. Which meant there was no way, I'd turn down a chance to be around them.

During the game, despite the constant roar of the screaming roller-coaster riders at the amusement park, I communicated well with both of them. Lynette looked sharp in emerald green gym shorts and a Richmond Spiders tee-shirt. But I couldn’t take my eyes off Lu-Ann, in her dungarees and bikini top. I put it in my head that I couldn’t go wrong with either one of them. But when the game broke up, they vanished.

Hours later, the campground manager made an announcement that after dark, they were having a bonfire. He invited everyone to bring weenies and marshmallows. A man around my age brought a guitar and we had a sing-along. The girls didn’t show-up so I gravitated to two Connecticut guys from softball. I kept my eye on the trail and hoped Lynette and Lu-Ann would show up. It was 10:00PM when the screams of the amusement park stopped.  A quieter mood came over everyone and my prayers were answered.

I saw Lynette and Lu-Ann, excused myself from the Connecticut boys and met the girls as they came out of the woods. Lynette said, “Where are you sitting?” I smiled, pointed at a nearby log that could accommodate exactly three butts and said, “We have immediate seating right here.”

For the next hour, I was hoping one of them would leave so I could hit on the other. Lynette was sitting in the middle. She consistently gave me a polite smile in response to my humor but Lu-Ann laughed at everything I said. I took that as a powerful vibe that I was getting somewhere with her. But my plan didn’t work because they both stayed. I was losing hope when the Connecticut boys came by and directly hit on them. In a pleasant way, the girls turned them down...yay me!

We were alone again as a rumble of thunder could be heard. Later, the distant sky lit up from approaching lightning. My bubble was then burst by another announcement that due to inclement weather, the fire had to be put out. And for safety reasons, everyone should go back to their campers.

Most everyone, (including the three of us) lingered. We got on the topic of the Grand Ole Opry. I used some of my superficial knowledge that I gained from years of watching “HEE HAW” on TV. They were impressed that a Brooklyn boy appreciated southern culture as I rattled off the big names in country music and quoted some “home spun” comedy lines. All the while, I was hoping they would invite me to their campsite.

I was running out of material when I suggested that the three of us tour Nashville together. Lynette was apologetic, “One of the windows fell out of our VW Microbus and our air conditioner is on the blink.” Lu-Ann sighed, “It’ll probably be an all day affair getting them both fixed.” I could tell she was disappointed and said, “Maybe I can tag along.” Lynette stated, “We're meeting people and will be with them while our VW is getting worked on.” Lu-Ann didn't like her tone and neither did I.

Suddenly, the wind picked up and changed direction. There was a sense of finality in Lynette’s voice but I plowed on, “How about we go to the amusement park the day after?” The wind change brought a disgusting stench. Lu-Ann said, “What is that God awful odor?” Lynette said, “It’s coming from the abattoir.” Lu-Ann and I said at the same time, “What’s an abattoir?” Lynette said, “It’s a slaughterhouse and that putrid fragrance is from down yonder.” She grabbed Lu-Ann’s upper arm and led her away. I called out to them, “What about the amusement park?” Lu-Ann looked back and squeaked, “Maybe…”

No spoiler alert here! To find out what happened with me and Lu-Ann you need to go into my blog archives and read the story from October, 25, 2010 called, “TRIANGULATION OF THE HEART.”


I take my romantic opportunities to heart. So when that one was disrupted by Jimmy Dean’s *pig slaughtering, I decided on a lifetime ban on his product(s).
I KNOW EATING PORK ISN'T HEALTHY.  BUT I'M NOT A HYPOCRITE.  I ALSO EAT OTHER FATTY FOODS, SUGAR, SALT AND BUCKETS OF CHEMICAL PRESERVATIVES.  HELL, IF YOU DON'T WANT YOUR GLUTEN, I'LL TAKE THEM...AND I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THEY ARE.  ALL THAT MATTERS HERE IS, THAT DAMNED SLAUGHTERHOUSE ODOR IS INDELIBLY INGRAINED INTO MY MEMORY BANK.  SO UNLESS I'M HYPNOTIZED BY WITCHY WOMEN GIVING OUT FREE SAMPLES, I WON'T EAT JIMMY DEAN PRODUCTS. 

*Please note, in 1997, I had the misfortune of having to smell the stink of the Perdue chicken slaughterhouse while driving through Virginia’s eastern shore. But because there was no disturbance or obstruction in my love life that disgusting experience didn’t sway me away from eating Frank Perdue’s products.

In the perfect storm collision of Halloween and offending the patron Saint of Freebies, St. Slick displayed the potential of his wrath by distracting me away from my long-standing boycott of everything Jimmy Dean.  In addition to being induced into eating that spackle-like crap, I also paid the price of being dragged back to the horror story of missing out on being with Lu-Ann.  At least I'll always hold that close-call near to my heart and the sweet way she said, “What is that God awful smell.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

"COWBOY" CHRISTOPHER DEAN.

In May 1979, I applied for a craps dealing job at the Holiday International Casino. The only thing standing in my way…was passing their audition. In order to bridge the gap from working in rattle-trap dumps and taking a quantum leap forward in my casino career, was proving to them that I could handle the action.

I was stoked at the prospect of working at such a big, new and beautiful casino. During my try-out, I was swamped with 75c bets and had trouble keeping up with the volume and pace. I turned to my immediate supervisor (the boxman) for support. Instead of helping me, this toothless, giggly seventy-something year-old paleolithic relic said, “Look at my cufflinks.” They were shaped like six-shooters. The senile old fart started spinning them, “These is antiques…and shoot real, fake bullets.” I was struggling enough without his distractions. I realized what I was up against and concentrated on my work until he grabbed my arm, “But I can’t show you how it works ‘cause I lost the ammo.” Despite the handicap of his “assistance,” I got hired. I ran to a phone and called my mother. My exact words were, “I just got hired by a REAL casino.” In the end, the Holiday was a grind joint too...except through four months of repetition and the mentoring from some earnest boxmen, I learned my craft.
THE GOLDEN GOOSE CASINO WAS A SLOT MACHINE PARLOR ACROSS MAIN STREET FROM THE HOLIDAY.  TO LURE CUSTOMERS, THEY OFFERED TANTALIZING FREEBIES LIKE A LONG DISTANCE PHONE CALL AND A SOUVENIR PHOTO.  ON THE SAME DAY I WAS HIRED, I CALLED MY PARENTS WITH THAT GIFT AS WELL AS POSING FOR A SIMILAR (LESS SILLY), PHOTO FOR MY HOLIDAY EMPLOYEE FILE.
About ten years ago, my mother confessed that she would love to see me as, "One of those guy's who wear suits in the casino." Today’s blog is dedicated to the job I never wanted, the boxman.

In my Las Vegas years, (1979-1984), the casino boxman, (the immediate craps supervisor sitting between the dealers and regulating the game) had the widest range of responsibility. Depending on the casino and caliber of the dealers, their job varied to the depths of babysitting newbies (break-ins) or just passing time because the dealers were so sharp.

The dealers were sharp when I dealt craps at the Stardust Casino, (1980-1982). Those boxmen were generally “juiced-in” fossils. That meant that they parlayed their connections with veteran gaming savvy to land (do-nothing) jobs, (a much smaller amount of boxman were young.  Overwhelmingly, that group lacked ambition and worked enough to support bad habits).

If I had half a brain, I would have taken notes when those older boxmen told me their colorful gambling stories. That way, my blogs would include better descriptions of their wild adventures (tall tales).  I wish I remembered the details of the man who claimed he taught Elvis how to shoot dice. Or the braggart that said he dealt poker in a bar when he was twelve, got arrested and sent to a reform school until he ran away. Another gentleman dwelled on the time he was “in on” a big fix at the racetrack. Or the man who swore he (all American casino workers) were treated like kings before the revolution in Cuba. But my favorite was the man who lived a high life in New Orleans, as a high-stakes craps dealer in a Runyan-esque, depression-era speakeasy…when the rest of the country was starving.

Please don’t misunderstand, not all the old-timers were charismatic or entertaining. Many of these barnacles sat in a catatonic daze on hemorrhoid cushions, some fell asleep on their stool and others never stopped complaining about life’s most mundane topics.

The serious ones were housemen. They were no fun and guarded every casino dollar as if their life depended on it. So even if they had cool experiences, they were too attentive to the job or too reserved to brag about the glamorous women they had, the fortunes they made and pissed away or the heinous crimes they witnessed.

In my Stardust days, I didn’t need to see that boxmen earned a lot less than dealers, had little or no real power and had to maintain a costly wardrobe. Far worse, it was rumored that we were working for mobsters and the boxmen were directly responsible for the (big) money. Even if you were blind to all that it was obvious…ordinary people, (regardless of how extraordinary their skill set was) couldn’t rise up through the ranks and become upper management. So, being a boxman was the ultimate dead-end and therefore, an old-man job.  I may not have been particularly wise at twenty-six but I correctly knew, I wanted no part of it.
THEY SAY, "YOU DON'T KNOW HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT TILL IT'S GONE."  WELL AT THE STARDUST, I KNEW I WAS LIVING A PRIVILEGED LIFE...AND LOVED EVERY PRECIOUS SECOND OF IT.

I lost my Stardust job in January 1982. I was unemployed for six weeks. The best job I could find was the Vegas Club which was on par, but slightly worse than the Holiday. I toiled at that toilet for six months.  The Vegas Club boxmen (of all ages) fit the old casino adage; those who can't deal craps, sit box.  So decent employees who had been bad or inexperienced dealers were hooked-up as boxmen.  I liked most of them but a lot of the time, I had to help them.  I remained stuck in that rut until the flying fickle finger of fate got me hired at the Golden Nugget.
STILL IN MY VEGAS CLUB UNIFORM, SUE AND HER GIRLFRIEND MET ME AFTER WORK AT 4:00AM.  BY THE TIME THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN (OUTSIDE THE MINT CASINO), I WAS HEAVILY BUZZED.  AN HOUR LATER, WHEN I GOT SEPARATED FROM THE GIRLS, I STUMBLED ACROSS FREMONT STREET (WITH A HEINEKEN IN HAND) AND GOT HIRED 
*(JUICED) INTO THE GOLDEN NUGGET.     *THEY SAY "JUICE" IS UNFAIR...AND IT ISN'T FAIR...UNLESS, IT'S WORKING IN YOUR FAVOR.

At the time, the *Nugget was a dive…but still one of the top three, downtown craps jobs.

*Six months after I was hired, the Golden Nugget announced its expansion plans. True to its word, the casino experienced a metamorphosis (on a biblical scale) and transformed that shithouse into an incredible, luxurious, worldwide destination. This story however takes place before the big change.

I was informed that the Nugget as part of the hiring policy might use me first as a boxman for a few shifts. Nothing could interest me less but if that’s what I had to do, to get the job, I did it. Soon thereafter, I learned that this ploy helps the casino weed-out undesirables by seeing a potential craps dealer’s personality, knowledge and grace under fire.

On my first day, I learned that despite being a downtown saw-dust joint, the other dealers were experienced men who had fallen from better jobs. I immediately clashed with Stratton (eleven years older than me).  His attitude screamed out...just sit there and be quiet.  Other times, he treated me as if I was a senile old man trying to supplement my social security income.

Two of the other dealers on that crew were rednecks. They were sweaty, in their own world and hyped-up on whatever drugs they were doing. One was named Christopher Dean. I started my short (only) conversation with him by asking him about his nametag that read, “COWBOY.”

He said, “The name’s 'Cowboy' Christopher Dean, out of Lusk Wyoming. Maybe you heard of me, I was a rodeo star for ’bout ten years. Been on TV a million times but I kinda fell on my head a lot…had to give that shit up.” My mistake was saying, “So they put 'Cowboy' on your nametag because Christopher wouldn’t fit?” He said, “Heh?” I thought I was being clever and said, “Well if Christopher was too long, they could have just put ‘CHRIS…'” In a bi-polar reversal he went off on me, “Call me Cowboy goddamn it! Or call me by my Christian name, Christopher!” He was really upset and was muttering the harshest obscenities when I had the urge to say; Christian Christopher would be like me being called Jew Jewie. I’m so glad I didn’t say it.
AFTER THE EXPANSION, THE NUGGET BECAME A GREAT JOB.  AS YOU CAN SEE, I GOT BACK MOST OF MY MONDO-BOFFO STARDUST SWAG.  PLEASE NOTE THE SMALL SPACE ON THE NAMETAG, SO I WASN'T AN IDIOT WHEN I REMARKED THAT "CHRISTOPHER" WOULDN'T FIT ON IT.

Luckily, Cowboy found a quiet place in his hyper-active stupor and took his attention off me. But later, I had a direct clash with Stratton. It involved him indirectly robbing a player out of one dollar, (and using it as a tip for the dealers). When I stopped Stratton, he got in my face. I rebutted, “Look, this is my first day. I don’t know the good guys from the bad guys…but management is watching me. I need this job, (tip income there varied from five dollars/hour during the week to eight on weekends). I’ll double what I made at the Vegas Club, (which was still less than half compared to the Stardust).  I don’t want to be out on my ass again.”

Stratton sympathized with me and we got along for the rest of the shift. The next day, I sat box again except I was with the jet-set crew. Their leader was Fillmore Theodore Cunnynghame IV (his nametag read TEDDY). *Teddy was super laid back and even though he and I never actually became friends, I admired him. He was a true Renaissance man, a genius and the coolest person I met in my thirty-six years in the gambling industry.

*Teddy was the main character in my Romeo and Juliet-like short story, “ROOTERS.” He and his girlfriend Ariel Mott (a blackjack dealer at the Nugget) were star-crossed lovers who met on Halloween, at the Exorcist steps in Washington DC. Both of their wealthy family’s disapproved of their relationship, (he was from a staunch Episcopalian, republican, old money clan, living in a Chevy Chase Maryland mansion. Her's were devout Catholics, democratic, nouveau riche and living in a gated sub-division, in Arlington Virginia). When their parents blamed their children’s shortcomings on the other family, the couple ran away and became casino dealers in Las Vegas.
THE "EXORCIST" WAS FILMED ON LOCATION IN THE GEORGETOWN SECTION OF WASHINGTON D.C.  NOT ONLY WERE THESE STEPS EERIE IN THE MOVIE BUT THEY ARE JUST AS SCARY IN PERSON.

During a lull, Teddy, who resembled actor Gabe Kaplan, pointed out which bosses were hard asses.
(above) ACTOR, COMEDIAN GABE KAPLAN (1945-PRESENT) WAS BEST KNOWN AS THE STAR OF THE 1970's SIT-COM, "WELCOME BACK KOTTER."  TEDDY LOOKED LIKE A SCRUFFY, LESS HANDSOME VERSION OF HIM.  EVEN WORSE, WHEN STANDING NEXT TO ARIEL, HIS "DROP-DEAD" GORGEOUS GIRLFRIEND, TEDDY LOOKED ACUTELY UNATTRACTIVE.

Teddy also told me that “Cowboy” Christopher Dean was addicted to pain-killers.  But he was completely out of control when he mixed alcohol, speed, cocaine or whatever into a psychopathic cocktail. Teddy was specific, "DON’T mess with him or his two toadies. They're bullying thugs, desperate for money, drugs and attention."

On my third day, I finally dealt craps. During that shift, I found out that Nick Tucker (a fellow student of mine) from the New York School of Gambling also dealt there, (Tucker had an entire blog dedicated to him on June 30, 2014 called, "NICK TUCKER: A PUZZLE THAT WOULD BAFFLE BOTH CHURCHILL AND FREUD."  Nick and I developed a friendship and I was taken into his clique, (he shared Teddy’s opinion of the bad bosses and of “Cowboy” Christopher Dean).

Through Nick’s influence, I worked almost exclusively with him and my new friends. We dealt on the high-limit game which meant that while the others were breaking their backs pushing twenty-five cent chips around…we were standing-dead and bull-shitting for hours at a time. The other dealers recognized the unfairness of our special treatment but Nick (and more so another dealer on my crew Mateo) had so much pull that we were golden and couldn’t be touched.

In the months that followed, it became obvious that the “Cowboy” had a vendetta against Teddy. On at least two occasions when Teddy was alone, he was accosted by the brutal three-headed monster. Yet each time, through mental manipulation, Teddy talked his way out of a certain beating. Even when the rowdy trio crashed a private cocaine party at his house, Teddy used some incredible double-talk to subdue the leader and quickly and quietly get them out the door. I never knew what verbal tactics Teddy used until one night while I was waiting to clock out.

I had no direct dealings with the “Cowboy” after our confrontation on my first day. I avoided him and his cronies like the plague. I knew he was a loose-cannon and his servile psychotic followers were trained to obey his hostile whims. This all changed when they spotted me in the alley near the time office.

Just after I punched-out, on a night that I didn’t work with Nick or Mateo, the “Cowboy” snuck up behind me and yelled in my ear, “This is the prick that fucked with my money.” I was in shock. Outside, a group of spectators (none were good friends) encircled us. Everyone was staring at me as Cowboy shouted, “When he fucks with MY money, he fucks with ALL Y'ALL'S money.” I heard people in the crowd calling others over and saying, “There’s going to be a fight.”

My heart was really pumping but I had no idea what he was talking about, (later I found out that he was harboring a grudge over the one dollar Stratton tried to help himself to...for the dealers...on my first day. Without touching me, Cowboy coaxed me towards an alley. While I was back-pedaling I said, “Why are you being such a hard-on?” When the crowd ooh and ah’ed he crowed, “A hard-on? Now I’m gonna really kick your ass.” He pointed to his underlings and cried, “When I’m done, they’re gonna kick your ass. And if you’re still alive…anyone else can kick whatever is left of your sorry ass.” I was still moving backwards into the alley as I said, “You’re crazy.” I tried to walk past him but he blocked my path and said, “Come on try and hit me…it’s gonna be the only shot you get…”

People “encouraged” me by chanting, “Hit him! Hit him!” I made one last attempt to squeeze by but bumped into him. His fist was cocked as a voice yelled from out of the swarming throng, “CHRSITINE! CHRISTINE!” Cowboy’s rigid stance began to relax. It was Teddy. Like a Svengali-like mantra, he repeated "Christine" several more times. By the time he broke into through the ring, Cowboy seemed to be in a trance. Teddy whispered something in Cowboy’s ear and then told everyone, “Go home. There’s nothing to see. It’s over.”

I was standing alone with Teddy as the two lackeys cursed me. They hooked their arms through Cowboy’s and escorted their verbally wounded warrior off. I said to Teddy, “What just happened?” He laughed, “That nimrod can’t stand being called Chris. But I accidentally found out he really hates being called Chris Dean because it sounds like, Christine. Maybe he had issues as a kid because his manhood can’t handle being called by a girl’s name.” I was still confused as my savior added, “Any time you want him off your back, call him Christine…he just falls to pieces.”



                                        #                          #                                #



Way before my mother encouraged me to wear a suit at work, a friend (outside the casino business), asked me why I never became a boxman. I told him that I did twice, in 1982 and it almost killed me. I related the story above and added, "But dealers, especially in Atlantic City make more money than boxmen, have far less responsibility and save tons on clothes by wearing a simple uniform."  He was nodding as I continued, "My real reason is, being a boxman has been so ingrained in me as an old man job that I can’t help but feel that way, even *now.

Of course if I wasn’t forced to do that dirty job, I would have missed out on the chance to be beaten to death…and share the happy details of my rescue.

*Today, many casinos have eliminated an entire craps salary by making the boxman/floorman into a single, hybrid position. The corporate bean-counters have determined that the economics of a guaranteed savings from less wages paid out is worth the risk of loss to errors and theft.




                                                      #               #                #


To satisfy my curiosity, I googled…without success, “Cowboy” Christopher Dean. I even tried the professional and amateur rodeo circuit as well as his hometown. That’s why I’m using his real name because on top of being an ass-hole, apparently he was full of shit too.

P. S. –WAS invited to one of Teddy’s cocaine parties. It was he and Ariel’s, “Exorcist-themed” wedding, (the Cunnynghame's and the Mott's were NOT invited). Although I wasn’t allowed into the bedroom during the actual ceremony, I did witness “Cowboy” Christopher Dean and his two-man posse drive their pick-up truck onto Teddy’s lawn. They barged in and caused a raucous until Teddy calmly took the matter into his own hands. Even with tons of help available, Teddy merely called the Cowboy “Christine” a few times and whispered hypnotic words into the low-life's ear. It was magical moment in my life to see this "moron-whisperer" parlor trick work for a second time. Teddy kept it up until he (alone) had prodded them outside to their truck.

The wedding guests included several members of upper management.  So the next day, the three amigos were not only fired but were banned from the property, for life. On a suggestion from the casino manager, to insulate Teddy from future reprisals, the Nugget had a restraining order served against the Cowboy's mini-mob that prevented contact with Teddy, his wife and home.  Indeed, Chistopher Dean never bothered them again.

P.P.S. - Please note, the whole “ROOTERS” story takes thirty-five pages to tell. Let me know if you want to read Teddy and Ariel's, Romeo and Juliet-like saga.

Monday, October 6, 2014

QUESTION...WHAT SUCKS, WHEN IT DOESN'T SUCK?

KURUDAVE once said about me and my struggles with handy work around the house, “Even oddball repairs are usually common sense.” The implication that I lacked common sense was not appreciated. Deep down, I was confident that if I set my mind to any project, I could do it. So I said to KURUDAVE, “How many of me would it take to screw in a light bulb?” He pondered my silliness as if it was as intricate as Zen philosophy until he shrugged, “Dunno.” I said, “It would only take one me to screw in a light bulb…the real question is…how long will it take my lazy ass to get around to it!”

I didn't get this trait from my father.  He was a doer and a handy fellow. He, along with most Depression-era folks had the mentality to conserve money by being self-reliant. Dad absolutely tried to instill these skills and mindset into me. For whatever reason, these valuable lessons didn't stick. Down through the years when my own ineptitude let me down, I used dad as a scapegoat and convinced myself that he was a lousy teacher.

Now, I'm nearly sixty and through careful self-analysis, I realize that to protect myself from the likelihood of humiliation, I disguised my life-long fear of failure with an invisible force field that’s screamed out…I’M NOT INTERESTED. My point was proven when I tried to bestow the little fix-it knowledge I had onto my son Andrew.  That's when I realized, that my reluctance to mend things might be an inherited trait because…HE WASN’T INTERESTED either.
2003.  AFTER EARNING THOSE TWO DOZEN HOME DEPOT "KIDS PROJECT PINS" (ACROSS HIS CHEST), ANDREW ANNOUNCED THAT HE DIDN'T WANT TO PARTICIPATE ANY MORE...ON THE GROUNDS THAT HE, "OUTGREW IT."  IT IS FAIR TO SAY, THIS PICTURE MIGHT BE THE LAST TIME HE HELD A HAMMER OR ANY OTHER TOOL.

We didn't have Home Depot "Kids Projects" when I was young. So somewhere in my adolescence, I developed this “fix-it phobia.” Perhaps this fear was a convenience to support the laziness theory because I was convinced that I had a talent for making things worse.

On a 90º day in 1967, Dad gave me a quick tutorial on how to wash and wax his car. I breezed through the “wash” segment of my mission. Next, I smeared the Turtle Wax, with the care of an expert, twelve year-old artisan, over every inch of that Dodge.
TURTLE WAX HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE 1941.  TODAY IT'S AVAILABLE IN OVER 90 COUNTRIES.  FOR BEST RESULTS, IT SHOULD BE APPLIED AND TAKEN OFF IN SMALL SECTIONS, (WITHIN A MINUTE OR TWO).  DAD PROBABLY TOLD ME THAT AS MY WANDERING MIND WAS DISTRACTED BY THE DISTANT SOUND OF THE ICE CREAM TRUCK'S THEME SONG.

When I finished covering the entire car with Turtle Wax, it was time to wipe away the residue and reveal the shine.  But the baked-on wax refused to budge. Dad wasn’t pleased. After several unhappy trips to a car wash, nearly all the little gray flakes were gone.  Nevertheless, dad never asked me to wax his car again.

That same summer, I found out the reason why my father wanted me to mow the lawn once a week and water it EVERY day. Soon there after, dad didn't take the death of our grass well. For the next few years, he hired a service to do my gardening job.

Dad couldn't do every job.  He was a practical man and "farmed-out" the ones beyond his expertise. In the late 1960's, there was nothing sadder to him (or me) than seeing our gigantic console TV in pieces. It was bad enough that we were exposed to the sight of the repairman's butt crack but dad really got pissed-off when he was handed the final bill. Dad objected to a 29c burnt-out tube resulting in a $25.29 fee.  The repairman defensively made medical references and shrugged, “Yeah, the patient needed a 29c tube but all my years in med-school cost you $25.00...because I know where to put it.”

Of course getting the TV fixed on the spot was the good scenario because most times the guy would grunt, “There’s nothing I can do for you here, I’m gotta take the whole kit and caboodle back to the shop…for a couple of weeks." To rub salt in the wound, it was a guarantee that while our behemoth entertainment center was being wheeled out, the repairman would crash the chassis and put a dent in the wall or rip off floor molding.

Experiences with the TV didn’t make me see washing machine repairmen or auto mechanics as doctors, I saw them as villains. Unfortunately, to avoid being at their mercy, I couldn’t envision the value of learning simple repairs.

If I needed a push to further solidify my evasion of household chores and repairs forever…it happened when I was fourteen. My friend M’s dad was a union electrician. M always bragged that it was a “blood union” and that his father-son relationship assured him an apprenticeship that would lead to a great job when he was old enough. But M was forever swayed away from becoming an electrician when his dad nearly electrocuted himself. While it was true the ol’ boy survived, he was forced into an early retirement, went on permanent disability and was the shadow of his former self, physically, mentally and emotionally. M forgot about a career as an electrician. At the same time, I saw what can happen to a professional, so it seemed rational that I turned my back on doing repairs.

In the early 1980’s, my attitude was forcibly changed when I bought my condo in Las Vegas. Through the help of mentors, I became more responsible. Oh the joy of bleeding my own radiator, replacing antifreeze and doing my own oil changes.  But my past caught up with me on my 26th birthday when I became a victim of circumstance and ceased the engine on my wife Sue’s 1974 Mustang.
SUE'S ILL-FATED MUSTANG.  IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE AT THIS ANGLE BUT TWO PAD LOCKS HELD DOWN THE HOOD.  ON THE WAY BACK FROM MOUNT CHARLESTON, THE IDIOT LIGHT CAME ON.  SUE HAD THE ONLY PAD LOCK KEY BUT SHE LEFT HER KEYRING HOME.  STUPIDLY, I DILUTED MYSELF INTO THINKING WE COULD MAKE IT HOME.  THIS WASN'T HORSESHOES OR HAND GRENADES...SO GETTING CLOSE TO HOME WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH! 

At around the same time, I also learned basic plumbing techniques that saved me big bucks. As soon as I appreciated the nearly-erotic pleasure of using a seat wrench, I couldn’t wait for another leaky faucet. Too bad my prayers were answered by a drip inside my bathroom wall. I watched in earnest and took notes as my friend Manny easily pealed away some wallpaper, cut a hole in the wall behind my toilet, “taped” the worn pipe, replaced the hole in the sheet rock (with a miracle product called *spackle) and glued the wallpaper back into place.

* Hard to believe but true, I had never heard of spackle before 1981.

In 1989, I became a proud New Jersey homeowner. Lucky for me, Sue knew what she was up against with me and already owned a pink tool belt.

We were in the house about three years when a smashed, glass, spaghetti sauce jar compelled us to pull the refrigerator out (for the first time) and clean underneath. Attached to one of the metal supports under the fridge was a flat, grayish, blackish, brownish piece of plastic with dust and hair on it. It was the size and shape of a half piece of thick chewing gum with rounded edges.
PICTURE HALF OF AN UNWRAPPED, DARKENED STICK OF GUM.

Sue went to pull it off. I yelled, “Don’t touch that, it’s a fuse!” I flashed back to M's father (an actual electrician) almost killing himself and shared this indelible memory with her. So rather than take any chances, I called my friend Dean-Michael Hughes, (Dean). He had offered to help me anytime in an emergency...and he lived up to his word. Dean immediately laughed in my face.  He pulled the dusty plastic off and pretended to take a bite out of it.  I was confused until he correctly identified the culprit as a fossilized Vienna sausage. We don’t eat that crap so Dean presumed that one of the builder’s workmen left it for an archaeological dig in the distant future, (for a more in depth story about Dean, see my September 17, 2012 blog, "THE SHORT FUSE OF OFFICER DEAN-MICHAEL HUGHES)."

Today, maybe it’s a generational phenomenon but it seems once things get beyond their warranty, they are made to break. Cameras, telephones, appliances and so many more things that used to be repaired are now routinely disposed off. So even if your mindset isn’t to trash whatever doesn’t work, the Internet and Plumbing for Dummies-like books are chock-full-o-information.  Therefore, the villainous TV repairman and handyman work in general have become as obsolete as the village blacksmith.

About ten years ago, we bought a new vacuum cleaner. Over time, I became accustomed to troubleshooting it. I maintained that baby well. In addition to keeping it clean, I could take it apart and eliminate any clog. Plus, I knew the ins-and-outs of replacing its belt.  We were happy with it. Long after the warranty was up, it stopped working. There was nothing my mechanical prowess could do. My wife insisted we buy a new one, I said, “Let’s see how much it would cost to have it repaired.”

I allowed the repair and got a year guarantee. Two months after the damned warranty was up, it died. Again Sue wanted a new vacuum. I said, “No! I’m taking it back and that weasel will fix it for nothing!”

The owner of the repair shop said, “It’s out of my warranty.” I explained, "Yes, but for such a short time.  Besides, it's probably a simple fix."  The man balked.  I said, "Look, I'm not giving you another dime to fix it and I'm not buying a new one from you.  So you have nothing to gain from disappointing me. But in the name of goodwill, you should take care of it because the negative press you’d get wouldn’t serve you well."  I don't know how much the sixty-dollar repair actually cost him to do...but he did it for free. A week later I picked it up.  He droned on and made a big deal out of the difficulty in replacing the filter and used technical terms that just sounded like double-talk gobbledygook to me.  I politely nodded and asked for a demonstration.  I was satisfied that it worked after he sprinkled some dust bunnies on the floor (it reminded me of "Honeymooners" when Ralph Kramden bought a vacuum cleaner after it passed the salesman's oatmeal test).
DESPITE ONLY BEING ON THE AIR ONE SEASON (1955-1956), THE ORIGINAL 39 EPISODES OF "THE HONEYMOONERS" ARE CONSIDERED BY MANY AS THE GREATEST SIT-COM OF ALL-TIME. WHEN RALPH BROUGHT HOME A VACUUM FOR ALICE (right), IT DIDN'T WORK.  ED NORTON (center) TRIED TO DIAGNOSE TO PROBLEM.  HE SOUNDED LIKE MY VACUUM REPAIRMAN WHEN HE SAID, "THE PROBLEM IS THE ARMATURE SPROCKET IS BLOCKING THE FLOW OF THE DYNAFLOW."  RALPH SAID, "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?"  NORTON SAID, "I DON'T KNOW."

The owner of the repair shop handed me a receipt that included in big red magic marker letters, "OUT OF WARRANTY!"

Incredibly, my vacuum cleaner has needed little maintenance since then. So yesterday when Sue announced, “The vacuum isn’t sucking.” She added, “And I want a new one!” I joked, “It's like a riddle...what sucks, when it doesn't suck?"  Before she could respond I said, "A vacuum cleaner! It sucks…when it doesn’t suck.” She ignored my comic genius and repeated herself, “I want a new one and THIS time I’m serious!” I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Let me take a look at it first.” During my examination, I found on the bottom of the vacuum, an encrypted, dated message from January 2011, identifying that last service call. That means we got four years use…and our money’s worth…from the free, professional repair.

I was playing with house-money as I continued my search. The only abnormal thing I discovered was that the brush had a tangle of stringy carpet fibers hindering it from spinning. I pulled them out and used clumps of my dog Roxy’s shedding hair for my version of the oatmeal test.
ALWAYS READY TO LEND ME A HELPING PAW...OR SOME OF HER SHEDDING COAT.

Sue wasn’t satisfied with my oatmeal test results…and she was right, (maybe I should have used corn flakes). She was venting her displeasure when I said, “Wait, there’s one place I didn’t check (in retrospect, if I was truly mechanically inclined, it should have been the first place I looked). When I pulled the stringy fibers from the spinning brush, it stopped me from examining behind it for clogs. When I dis-assembled the brush housing, I discovered what should have been the obvious problem…the belt had snapped.

A two-pack of belts was $5.00. It took a minute to install. My vacuum doesn’t suck now because it sucks! I must have touched a positive nerve in Sue because later that afternoon I overheard her say to Andrew over the phone, "Thank God daddy fixed the vacuum." Yay me, I looked good to my family for once, saved myself from a repair bill or better yet, the cost of a new vacuum.

Just remember one thing.  If you need repair help, Kurudave was unfortunately right, I don't have the common sense necessary to do most jobs.  So you’d be better off with just about anyone else on the planet but me...and by the way, don't ask Andrew either.

Monday, September 29, 2014

THE WORLD'S FIRST HIPPIE

Last Thursday, my wife Sue and I strolled the Ocean City New Jersey boardwalk. During our five-mile jaunt, we passed many exclusive beachfront properties.  That's when a sense of deja vu hit me.  I remembered that we took the same walk two years ago...and marveled at the beautiful surfside homes.  This feeling of having already experienced our outing took a sour turn when I also recalled that weeks after our stroll, Hurricane Sandy buried many of those deluxe homes (and countless others along the eastern seaboard) under water, sand and debris.
HURRICANE SANDY HIT NEW JERSEY ON OCTOBER 29, 2012.  IT WAS SO BAD THAT IT EARNED THE DUBIOUS NICKNAME OF A SUPERSTORM.  TODAY, ITS WIDESPREAD PATH OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IS STILL BEING MOURNED.

All along the Atlantic Ocean's coast (Gulf of Mexico too), September and October mark the height of hurricane season.  Today's blog is dedicated to nasty weather and other natural disasters.

A month after I moved to Las Vegas (January 1979), I had my first visitors. My three Howard Beach (Queens, New York) friends (J, A and M), showed up and slept on the floor of my apartment. I woke up for work up at 8:00AM to the strangest sight…a half a foot of snow had fallen, (nobody in town could remember a measurable amount of the white stuff in twenty years). Even crazier, by 11:00AM, the snow had melted and the streets were dry.

To take advantage of this unique photo-op, the four of us went outside in our underwear, (I wore my Frye boots too) and posed by the pool with palm trees all around us. Unfortunately, I never saw those pictures. The last time I saw any of the Howard Beach boys (J in 1996) his mind was so clouded, he didn’t remember the incident or even seeing me.

During my years out there, it was common to find people who think Las Vegas is just hot. But they get their own fair share of funky weather.
I met a man (Terry, a transplanted Northeast Pennsylvainan), at my second craps dealing job, (the Western Casino... April-May 1979), who came to town expecting life (in terms of weather), to be a breeze out there.

Few people remember the Western because it was the worst excuse for a casino you could ever see. It was along downtown Vegas' hub, (at 399 Fremont Street), but it was so far off the beaten trail (and isolated) that few gamblers ventured that far away the bright lights of "Glitter Gulch," (five blocks away).

The Western was best known as a round-the-clock bingo mecca that catered to budget-minded day-trippers from Southern California and locals. For me, it was a terrible place to sharpen my craps dealing craft but because I was coming from being tortured at my first casino job, (Slots-A-Fun), this toilet was a well-timed, "port in a storm."
THE WESTERN HAD A 41-YEAR RUN, (1970-2011). IN 2009, I TOOK A NOSTALGIC WALK THROUGH...I DIDN'T GET ANY WARM AND FUZZY GOOSEBUMPS.  UGH! THE CASINO WAS A FILTHY DUMP AND THE CLIENTELE MADE THIS "BUST-OUT JOINT" LOOK LIKE A METHADONE CLINIC WAITING ROOM.  EVEN THE TOOTHLESS SECURUTY GUARDS, LOOKED LIKE THEY CHOSEN FROM A POLICE LINE-UP.  WITH THAT IN MIND, I WIPED MY FEET BEFORE LEAVING...SO I WOULDN'T DIRTY THE STREET.
In my day, the Western's casino space was the size of a grammar school’s gymnasium.  The floor was covered with a battleship gray industrial carpet and eight blackjack tables, one roulette, a big six wheel and a craps game were haphazardly sprinkled into the abundance of wasted space. If you can picture the blank walls being lined with slot machines and a bar stuck in one corner, then you can imagine all the amenities. Additionally, a bigger, separate wing housed their renowned bingo hall, a small coffee shop and the hotel lobby.

The big reason why the Western was such a shithouse was, it rarely got craps customers...even with a twenty-five cent minimum and a *fifty dollar maximum (oddly, my tip income was nearly double there...we averaged $2.50/hour...thank goodness for blackjack players).

*Six monts later I was dealing at the Fremont Hotel.  My crew had amassed $1.75 in tips, (to be split four ways).  We used the whole bundle on a Keno ticket and lost.  I turned down the group's idea to go gambling.  They wound up at the Western.  They all won around a thousand dollars each shooting dice.  You can say they broke the bank because the next day the craps table was removed.  That story can be found in my February 22, 2010 blog, "THE OTHER AMAZING RANDY."

During weekday afternoons, it was unusual to go through a whole shift in craps and see over a hundred dollars in buy-ins, (the casino was so backwards that they kept track of the cash they took in, in five-dollar increments).

The craps staff had a lot of down time. To fill the void, we shared every story we knew. We even played “twenty questions” for hours without being disturbed, (too bad Trivial Pursuit hadn’t been invented yet).

Among the craps crew, the man Terry I mentioned above had the biggest personality, (he was thirty, I was twenty-three). This do-nothing job was perfect for him because he was always doped-up. But with bright enthusiasm and his eyes barely open, he helped pass the time with cool stories about his rural upbringing, (Scranton Pennsylvania was the big city to him).

Unfortunately, not all his memories were upbeat. Some of his vivid descriptions of early 1960’s factory closings and the coal mining industry dying were depressing. He said he saw the writing on the wall when his father and uncle were laid off as well as neighbors.

Terry said he was ten when a couple of six year-olds on the next street suffocated when their ice fort colapsed on them. He said he developed a fear of cold, icy and snowy weather. In the years that followed when family finances got extremely tight, he felt like a burden. So at fourteen, rather than face another winter, he ran away from home…and never returned.

Terry led a hobo’s life. He was exposed to the elements and suffered through nor’easter rains and ice storms. He followed fellow vagabonds and migrated south. In Florida he endured a tropical storm... “outdoors.” That woeful experience caused him to drift.  He wound-up in the midwest and found petty jobs as a migrant farm worker.  When he heard about the possibilty of cyclones and the old-time survivors of the "Dust-Bowl" era complain, he dropped out of sight and continued farther west.

Terry thought he found a permanent refuge in the sunny pacific coast, at a commune, in Marin County California. Some of the others at the Western Casino didn’t believe Terry’s accounts of wild parties, orgies and always being stoned but I did. He was especially convincing when his widened eyes in describing the difference between tremors that rattle dishes in he cabinet and a massive earthquake that cracked the land open. I really saw the fear in his expression as he said, "I ran out of that goddamned state as fast as I could."

For several years, Terry meandered around the southwest.  He liked the calmness of hot weather, settled in Tucson Arizona and earned enough money doing bimmie jobs to stay high on peyote and magic mushrooms...until he was taken into custody. Terry said, "I wasn't bothering anyone but I was hallucinating in a park. I must have creeped someone out because the cops showed up.  They asked some stupid questions and I must have been incoherent.  It didn't help that I wasn’t carrying ID. I was locked-up over night." Terry guessed that they didn’t even want to put him in “the system.” So when he “came down” in the morning, he was told, "We don't like your kind."  But he was given a choice, being locked-up for a year of weekends for public intoxication, disturbing the peace and vagrancy or leaving town clean.  Terry said, "You never want a (police) record.  I had been rousted a few times by cops in my hobo days but never arrested...so I left.

Terry wound-up in Las Vegas and became a craps dealer. He claimed that with the few brain cells he still had, he decided to cut-out the hard drugs and take a stab at a mainstream lifestyle.

I remember him telling me that after work. The one big employee perk the Western Casino was a chit, good for two free drinks at the end of each shift. Cocktails were fifty cents so they weren't giving up much.  So these freebies were purely a marketing strategy that might spur us to keep drinking, in the expectation that drunken morons would come back into the casino and become customers.

We were taking advantage of our “comps” when Terry mentioned that he wasn’t going straight home. When he said where, I said, “Could you give me a lift to the bus stop on Sahara Avenue?”

*It would be another two months before I bought my first car. I wrote about that station wagon in my April 1, 2013 blog, “THE SHORT LIFE OF THE MAFIA STAFF CAR.”

My request was not out of Terry's way. Plus, the conversation was flowing and he was such a yapper that he said, “Sure. C’mon.”

The walk to his dilapidated 1960 Ford Falcon was characterized by 90º temperature, an odd-colored sky and no breeze.
THE FORD FALCON WAS A POPULAR COMPACT CAR FROM 1960-1970.

While getting in, I correctly assumed that it didn’t have air-conditioning. Terry said, “Looks like a storm brewing. I hate bad weather. You ever been in a tsunami?"  I didn't know what he was talking about and shook my head. He said, "Me neither but I hate earthquakes worse…” I nodded because he had told the craps crew that on many occasions. Terry added, “Speaking of the Bay Area, did I ever tell you that I was world’s first hippie?  In 1966, we were coming from the commune to a Velvet Underground concert at the Fillmore."
SAN FRANCISCO'S FILLMORE AUDITIRIUM WAS A HISTORIC ROCK VENUE.  MANY OF TODAY'S LASER LIGHT SHOWS, PYROTECHNICS AND USE OF BOOMING AMPS CAN BE TRACED BACK TO THE FILLMORE.

Terry said, "I was driving a big bunch of us in a plain, old, rusted-out VW micro-bus.  That was so long ago that the real Vietnam bullshit hadn’t stated yet. We were all tripping and digging life when some guy said, ‘Terry, you are so fuckin’ hip.’ Then my chick Collette said, 'No Terry, you’re the hippiest hippie…’ That nickname stick and I was Hippie Terry to them till the day I left."
THE VOLKSWAGEN MICRO-BUS WAS EVENTUALLY NICKNAMED THE HIPPIE-MOBILE.  BUT TERRY CLAIMED THAT VIETNAM WASN'T ON MANY PEOPLE'S MIND, SO HAND PAINTED PEACE SYMBOLS, FREE-LOVE AND FLOWER-POWER SYMBOLS HADN'T CROPPED-UP YET.

I was smiling as Terry coasted through the Charleston Boulevard intersection. Through the window I saw the sun struggle to poke through the weird biblical-looking clouds. He continued, “We were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge when I heard a siren. I looked back and a motorcycle cop was coming up my ass.  He tooted his horn and used his hand to signal me to pull over. Shit, we were in the middle of bridge with cars whizzing by where I stopped."
THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE OPENED UN 1937.  THIS AESTETHICALLY PLEASING LANDMARK EPITOMIZES SAN FRANCISCO AND ATTRACTS SO MANY SIGHTSEERS THAT IT IS CONSIDERED THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BRIDGE ON THE PLANET.

In the rearview mirror, I watched the cop get off the motorcycle. We were all panicking as the cop, in those mirror sunglasses…like in movies…came up to my window. Through a thick haze of pot smoke he said, “License and registration.” I was shaking like a leaf when I gave them to him. He read over my papers. The cop looked over his glasses and said, ‘Do you know how fast you were going?’ The limit was fifty-five so be on the safe side I mumbled, ‘Forty?’ The officer said, ‘Son…you were doing eleven miles per hour…’ I must have sounded real goofy when I said, ‘Oh.’”

We were pulling up to Sahara Avenue when Terry grinned, looked me in the eye and said, “I guess times were much more innocent then. You know what the cop said?” I said, “No.” Terry continued, “He said, ‘It's not a good idea to operate motor vehicles while drinking.  Are you sober enough to drive off the bridge?’ Terry said, ‘No sir.’ The cop had me squeeze into the passenger seat. Collette sat on my lap as the cop got in.  He left his motorcycle behind and in dead silence drove us off the bridge. Before he went back to his bike, he had us all get out and promise not to drive for an hour.”

I was smiling as I watched Terry make a right and disappear into the distance.  Beyond him, I noticed huge clouds moving fast and swallowing-up the last rays of sunlight.  A gust of hot wind blew soot into my face.  The flying particles stung as they attached to my perspiration. Soon the harsh gusts intensified.  Then the sky blackened and a continuous howling wind almost knocked me off balance.  Where could I run? I looked diagonally across the street at the Sahara Casino, then across the way to Foxy's Firehouse Casino and the Jolley Trolley Casino behind me.  I tried to protect myself because I was afraid to leave and miss the bus.  The next five minutes felt like an eternity.  Luckily my prayers were answered as a bus appeared.

I spent most of fifteen minute ride to Harmon Avenue, (at the Aladdin Casino), brushing sand off my skin and out of my hair, (yeah, I still had hair back then...hell, it's hard to believe but I was still carrying a comb too).  The wind had died down as I walked the three blocks to my apartment.

In the bathroom mirror,  I still saw enough grit on my face and head that I looked like an old Arab man. It was wise that I stood in the shower as I took off my shoes and socks.  It looked like I just came from walking miles at the beach.  In addition to my clothes even the nether regions of my body were sandy.

The next day I told Terry about my bout with the sandstorm.  The world's first hippie put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Brother, that was no sandstorm.  Try getting hit by shit going at tornado speed!  Jesus, I was stuck in a real sandstorm outside of Tucumcari New Mexico and let me tell you, I don't believe in God, but I prayed like my life depended on it that day."

You can really see the psychological effect bad weather can have on the mind.  My heart goes out to those who lost a lot or everything because of Hurricane Sandy. I just hope that my bout with last week's deja vu in Ocean City isn't an omen of another superstorm.

GOOD LUCK!

Monday, September 22, 2014

"HOT-ROD" RORY DWYER

I dealt craps at Las Vegas’ Stardust Casino for almost two years. It was a great job but in January 1982, I got fired. To stay on top, I immediately applied at high-profile hotels along the fabulous Las Vegas strip.
THE NOW DEFUNCT STARDUST (1958-2006) WAS A GREAT EXPERIENCE FOR ME.  IT DEFINED MY BLOSSOMING GAMING CAREER AND WAS THE CONDUIT THAT TRANSFORMED ME FROM A SNOT-NOSED KID INTO A SNOT-NOSED ADULT.

While unemployed, doors to upper echelon casinos weren’t opening for me. Soon, I lost momentum. I tried less and less. Then as the reality of failure sunk in, I was overcome by depression. I reduced my high and mighty standards, and tried looking for work anywhere, including downtown. During this process that would eventually take six weeks, I still limited myself to the better minor league places. When I finally ran out of options, in desperation, I walked into a bottom-feeder dive, The Vegas Club. My luck wasn’t with me that day either, they DID hire me.
LAS VEGAS CASINOS ARE LUMPED INTO TWO GENERAL CATAGORIES WITH THE STRIP BEING THE MAJOR LEAGUES AND DOWNTOWN, THE MINORS.  (above) DON'T LET THIS FLASHY, CONTEMPORARY PHOTO FOOL YOU, I WAS IN THE VEGAS CLUB A FEW YEARS AGO AND IT'S STILL A TOILET.

While I worked at the Vegas Club, it was a break-in joint. Nearly all the dealers were novices and most of the supervisors had been promoted in-house…which meant, they were buried too.

The tiny casino only had two craps tables. That meant only a four-way boxman rotation was needed (a boxman is the immediate supervisor who sits between the dealers and oversees the game).
THE BOXMAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DROPPING THE MONEY, KEEPING THE TEMPO FLOWING AND SETTLING MINOR DISPUTES. THESE DAYS, IN MANY CASES, DUE TO ECONOMIC RESTRAINTS, THE POSITION HAS BEEN FUSED WITH THE JOB OF THE FLOORMAN, (THE SUPERVISOR STANDING BEHIND THE BOXMAN). TO THE DIS-SERVICE OF A ROOKIE DEALER NEEDING ON-THE-JOB TRAINING, THE SINGLE, MODERN HYBRID BOXMEN/FLOORMEN STAND, IN ORDER TO ELIMINATE A SALARY.  THIS SET-UP GREATLY HINDERS MOST ONE-IN-ONE ASSISTANCE.

One of the Vegas Club's boxmen was decent, one was a tyrant and the other two were insignificant. The tyrant was named Ralph Winters, (he appears as the villain in my July 28, 2014, “AGNES CARMICHAEL,” blog). He was a know-nothing, do-nothing asshole who took pleasure in creating a hostile work environment by bullying the dealers and threatening their jobs.

The decent boxman was Ukrainian Larry. He was a laid back guy who was supportive of the dealers but like Winters...wasn’t in touch with the subtleties of his position.

I immediately clashed with Winters. I reminded him that his scare tactics won’t help a new dealer improve. They depend on a good boxman to learn. So the faster they, “get-it,” the easier YOUR job will be. The moronic egotist wanted to be a big fish in a little pond and scoffed, "Mind your business!"

I stepped-up my watchful eye on him and exposed him as an incompetent every chance I got. Winters didn’t like getting picked on. Nor did he like hearing me laugh off his threats but he wasn't mentally equipped to challenge me. He ignored me after that and never verbally abused another dealer in front of me.

The dealers heralded me as a savior. The most out-spoken was a tiny nerd named Lon. He was from somewhere in Massachusetts and constantly whined about missing his ex. He had honeymooned in Las Vegas and loved it. But when he flunked out of heating and air conditioning school, (after his divorce was final), he diluted himself into thinking he could permanently lead a vacation lifestyle in Vegas.

Lon couldn’t deal craps. Even without Winters harassing him, the players jumped all over him because of the frequency of his basic errors. Lon made things worse because he had a dull personality and would limpy snap at the players. In response, the customers would get personal and besiege him with uncomplimentary comebacks about his height, less-than-masculine Bostonian accent, ratty attempt at a handlebar mustache and of course…his intelligence.

Outside work Lon was a loser too. To douse-out the torch he was carrying for his ex, he perused a topless dancer. Everyone knew he was out of his league except him. But when this drug-crazed woman lost her job, she accepted Lon’s invitation to move in. However, she made it clear…it was strictly as friends. So while Lon treated her like a princess, he waited for the opportunity to jump her bones.

One day, Lon came home and discovered that she had stolen everything out of his apartment, (except his tools that were kept in an exterior, locked storage closet).
THE "L" FOR LOSER HAND GESTURE WAS POPULARIZED BY TWO 1990's MOVIES, "ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE" AND "SANDLOT."  IT LOOKS TO ME THAT WHOEVER CAME UP WITH THAT IDEA KNEW LON'S NAME ALSO STARTED WITH AN "L."
I was told that Lon’s "friend" was a good-looking girl. But weeks later, when I saw this skank stagger into the casino, all I saw was how strung-out she was. She could barely keep her eyes open but still had the audacity (after robbing nearly everything Lon owned), to hit him up for a ten dollar “loan”…which he blindly (and gladly) gave.

A week after that, my wife Sue informed me that our washing machine was leaking. I had to leave for work, so calling a repairman would have to wait till morning. During my shift, I vented to Ukrainian Larry. He said, “Lon is a mechanical wizard. He fixed my sprinklers, installed shelves in my closet and repaired a fifty-foot extension chord that I was going to trash.” I said, “Does he know about motors?” Larry said, “Before I bought my Ranchero (Ford) last month, he examined the engine. He saved me ton when he spotted a leak in the air-conditioner, bad shocks and worn-out brakes. He got the salesman to knock off a grand. Since then, Lon took care of the air-conditioner and put in new shocks. On his next day off, I’m getting all new brakes…which is good because my fiancé’s mother is flying in from Indiana and we’re driving my new baby out to San Diego for a few days.”
THE FORD RANCHERO AND THE CHEVY EL CAMINO WERE NICKNAMED COWBOY CADILLACS.  ABOVE IS A FULLY RESTORED 1958 RANCHERO.  I DON'T KNOW WHAT YEAR LARRY'S RANCHERO WAS BUT I KNOW IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Lon accepted the job and came to my condo. Sue let him in. She looked like Mt. Everest next to this five-foot two, a hundred and thirty pound milquetoast, (with a ratty mustache). Still, the mouse roared and ordered Sue around. She laughed it off because he was doing us a favor. Later she confided to me that if Lon spoke to all females that way, it was no coincidence that he was lonely.

Before I came downstairs Lon had already said, “Suzy, this is what I need before I see the patient, put up a pot of strong coffee. I’ll need six sugars for each cup and I go through half and half like a demon. Also, I like Bavarian crème doughnuts, so if you don’t have any, there’s a Winchell’s (donut shop) down Decatur.”

Sue went to Winchell's because we couldn’t fulfill any of Lon’s creature comforts. But before she returned, Lon finished what he called a Mickey Mouse job. He lingered with me until she returned. He sucked down a twenty-four ounce coffee, ate both Bavarian crèmes and started the second giant coffee. Then he demonstrated that washer wasn’t leaking any more.

Lon announced, “Suzy, pencil and paper.”  He scribbled all over the back of a power bill envelope. He muttered things like; my time and gas plus wear and tear on the car. I shrugged at Sue thinking the cost would be high and that we might have been better off with a professional. Lon was writing more and more numbers. Suddenly, he feverishly erased something and said, “Oh yeah, parts!”

I had watched over the whole repair job and I didn’t recall him using ANY new parts. Lon covered the envelope with numbers. Then he flipped it over, made one last notation and circled it with a flourish. While he took a big gulp of the second coffee, I read upside down the final figure he had written.  Then he exclaimed, “Three bucks!” I said, “Three bucks?” Defensively, in that nerdy voice he said, “Well yeah. But when we take into account the eats, I guess I owe you a buck.” I said, “No. Here’s a five. I think you did a great job.”

A few days later, I found out that Ukrainian Larry totaled his new “Cowboy Cadillac” on the way to Southern California. Everyone was bruised but nobody was cut-up enough to be hospitalized. The culprit was Lon.  After doing Larry’s brakes, apparently the little genius didn’t tighten the lug nuts well enough on one wheel. According to Larry, he wasn’t at the state line yet, doing eighty, when his tire fell off, (wow, Larry also starts with an "L").

I brought my distrust for backyard mechanics to Atlantic City. In 1992, my wife and I were planning a drive to Niagara Falls. I asked my auto mechanic to inspect my Chevy Corsica. He told me it wasn’t wise to go that far on an iffy serpentine belt. When I heard the cost, my eyes bulged out.

At work, I asked around and everyone agreed that the price seemed ridiculous. They suggested I get a second opinion. Several of them recommended “Hot-Rod” Rory Dwyer.

Dwyer (same age as me, 36) was a fellow craps dealer but not a friend.  He was a nice guy but a slob, a poor dealer and if you weren't talking about cars, not especially bright.

Hot-Rod Rory was also an amateur auto racer and a diehard grease monkey, (it wasn’t unusual for me, on the way into work on the White Horse Pike, to hear the vroom of his souped-up Mustang as he dangerously wove through traffic and passed me, well beyond the speed limit).

The year before for Halloween, I had dressed-up as him. I wore auto mechanic cover-alls, put a greasy rag in my back pocket and wore two home-made signs. One was a “Hot-Rod Rory” name-tag and the other read; beware of toxic garlic, coffee and cigarette breath. I thought he might be insulted but to him, wearing costumes was stupid, so he didn’t care.

I asked Rory about looking at my car. He invited me to his apartment, in the next town. He took a look under the hood. We went inside and he made a phone call. Rory told me where to buy the part and said it would take less than a half hour to install. The total price was less than half my mechanic’s charge. Even when my Vegas memory of Lon’s automotive exploits was triggered, I rationalized that this was not a similar case…THIS was Hot-Rod Rory Dwyer!

Our appointment was a week later. The big day fell, the day before Sue and I were going to Canada. At noon, he phoned to let me know me that he had to take his wife to the doctor. So even though we both had to work that night, it was no big deal to start the short project after 4:00PM.

The procedure of weaving the serpentine belt into place was far more complicated than Rory thought. While watching him struggle, I had plenty of time to be mad at myself for contradicting my “no more backyard mechanics,” decree. It was going on 5:30PM when chain-smoking Rory properly zig-zagged the belt through the maze of pulleys. Then he started cursing when he discovered that he needed a specific tool to stretch the belt before setting it in place.
SERPENTINE BELTS WAE NOT UNIVERSAL.  IT TOOK A MILLION TRIES BEFORE RORY GAVE IN AND READ THE DIRECTIONS...AND A MILLION MORE FRUSTRATING TRIES, (FOR BOTH OF US) UNTIL HE SUCCEEDED.

The sun was setting as a chilly breeze made standing outside uncomfortable. That’s when an older woman, (I guessed his mother) stuck her head out of the window and shouted, “Roar-Ree, Roar-Ree, why don’t you and your friend come in for hot chocolate and brownies.” He yelled back, “No! We’re busy.”

Five minutes later, the matronly woman I thought was his mother waddled over carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate and a dish of brownies. Rory triumphantly called out, “I got it,” as he snapped the belt into place. Then he introduced me to his wife who must have been in her mid-fifties…if not older. Luckily, I took a brownie first because his blackened fingers greedily grabbed up two others. While he was pigging-out she said, “If you’re done, say good-bye to your friend...” She stopped in mid-sentence, wet her thumb and wiped a brownie bit off his chin before adding, “Because you have to get in the shower and go to work.”

I was in shock the whole way home. All night at work, I told my friends how weird it was to be around him and Mrs. Hot-Rod Rory Dwyer. But deep inside, I was dwelling on the belt needing a special tool to install and the fact that he did it with his bare hands. That night, I was worried about the quality of his worksmanship and got little sleep.

To save face in the morning, I didn’t mention Rory’s backyard mechanics to my wife. Nonetheless, I sweat-out every strange noise I heard as I imagined Ukrainian Larry’s near-death experience when his tire fell off. At the first service station on the Garden State Parkway I said, “I should have asked Rory to check my oil.” While the hood was up, I whispered to the attendant, “How’s that new serpentine belt look? I had a friend pit it in.” He yawned, “Looks okay to me.”

For the next few hours, I was still haunted by the possibility of Rory’s work going haywire. We had just crossed into New York near Binghamton when we hit highway construction. We were forced into an unpaved lane and rode at a slower speed.  The car bounced and rumbled for several miles. The anxiety of the belt getting dislodged overwhelmed me. So without confessing my angst to Sue, I pulled in for gas outside Johnson City. While she was in the ladies room, I had the attendant check the belt. He assured me that everything was fine.

What a loser I was, for the rest of the trip, I was consumed by imagines of burnt bodies and other fatal scenarios. Even though that belt lived a long life, after that trip, for many months, I remained on edge, (nine years later, it had out-lived the car). But how could I blame Rory for being a dummy when I was the schmuck who enabled it.

Rory soon left my casino. New gambling venues were sprouting up all over the country and he got a better job in Boosier City Louisiana. He and his wife packed their belongings into a U-Haul with his Mustang in tow.  They made one last stop here, at a drive-through ATM, in Absecon. To prove how lucky I was that that dunce didn’t ruin my engine by mishandling that serpentine belt, Rory ignored (forgot?) the height of his rented truck and crashed into the roof.
THE ATM'S OVERHANG THAT RORY BASHED IN WAS MUCH MORE FLIMSY THAN THE ONE ABOVE.

If I carelessly crashed like he did, I certainly would have been smart enough to avoid advertising my shortsightedness. In Rory’s case, he was smart enough too…except the newspaper put his picture on the front page. In the snapshot's foreground, Hot-Rod Rory Dwyer is sitting on the curb, in despair. In the middle ground, you can see the top of the truck is crushed with a hole in it. In the background, the half-fallen awning is mangled and in pieces. Lord knows how fast our hero was going when he had the accident?
THE NEWSPAPER PHOTOGRAPHER CAUGHT THE ESSENCE OF RORY'S LOSER IMAGE, BY CLEARLY CAPTURING THE PHRASE ON HIS T-SHIRT, (stock photo above).

Twenty years later, few of the old-timers at my job remember him by name…but everyone remembers that picture, (it was hung on the office wall and stayed there for ten years).

Since then, I’ve paid full price for every automotive problem I’ve ever had…the discount doesn’t justify the potential for severe psychological problems.