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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

HUMMINGBIRDS AND THE CIRCLE LIFE.

In 1996, on a desolate road near my house (in South Jersey), I slammed on my brakes and did a crazy, screeching U-Turn. This wild maneuver contradicted my usual conservative nature…even worse, my two-year old son Andrew was in the back seat.

What would cause me, to do something so desperate and irresponsible? I can tell you in one word, turkey buzzards! Wait, that’s two words.

You should be aware that I am a city boy and grew-up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. While some people imagine my formative years to be associated with the mean streets of New York, the reality is, I enjoyed a pleasant and naïve childhood, in a safe, suburbia-like pocket of the greatest city on earth. So in terms of animals in the wild, my upbringing was boring.  That means if I saw a squirrel it was rare and spotting a praying mantis made front page news.

Most of my early knowledge about animals came from zoologist Marlin Perkins. He was the moderator for the TV show, “WILD KINGDOM.” The series (for all ages) brought exotic animals into our homes and taught us about conservation.
ON THE RIGHT, MARLIN PERKINS (1905-1986) WAS A ZOOLOLOGIST WHO HOSTED "WILD KINGDOM," FROM 1963-1985.  IT WAS ALWAYS FUNNY TO ME THAT BEFORE CUTTING AWAY TO AN INSURANCE COMMERCIAL, PERKINS WOULD SAY SOMETHING LIKE, "WHILE JIM (FOWLER) IS WRESTLING THE ALLIGATOR, I'LL BE SAFELY DOWNSTREAM WITH SOME WORDS ABOUT WHOLE LIFE POLICIES."

I had Marlin Perkins in mind as I impulsively turned my car around. I couldn't wait to get back for a better look at those ugly, huge vulture-like birds.  I had never witnessed Mother Nature in action like this and was fascinated.  I gaped for nearly five minutes as they tore flesh off fresh road kill (a deer)…it was incredible.

Since then I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the danger flying in the sky.

In 1997, my family and I met vacationing friends (also New Yorkers), for a picnic lunch on the beach in Cape May, (NJ). In addition to being germophobes, this couple shunned the sun. So we rented an umbrella, plus, both of them left on their tee-shirts and covered their legs with towels. Whatever bare skin that was left exposed to the elements was doused in sun-bloc, the way an obese guy would slather maple syrup on an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.

The wife was overly concerned about the filthy beach sand getting on her hero sandwich. She looked like a kneeling Statue of Liberty with her torch-like lunch held high when a sea gull did a kamikaze dive, swooped down and bit off a chunk, (and nipped her finger too). The "disgusting" scavenger bird did not break her skin.  Still, at the fear of her internal system being tainted, she cursed in fluent profanity while panicking...as if she was hemorrhaging gallons of blood. We dropped everything we were doing and rushed her to an emergency room, (don't worry about me, I managed to finish my Italian sub during the hysteria of our exodus).

We waited almost an hour at the hospital and she still hadn’t been admitted. Rather than keep our three-year old (Andrew) cooped up any longer, we left the imperiled pair behind and drove home, (the woman did not contract any disease and was fine).

That experience furthered my awareness of the dangers flying over head. That’s why when I found out that one of Andrew’s little friends was spooked by a hooting owl outside his bedroom window, I didn’t think it was weird that the boy's family rearranged everyone’s rooms.

Indeed, the woodlands around my house are filled with other birds of prey. The king of the treetops here is the hawk. Within a few years, I recognized them. So when I saw one soar high above searching for food or gliding through the canopy of trees, I marveled at its majesty while fearing its possibilities.

We got Andrew a guinea pig (Zhitnik) when he was four. In addition to being a pet, this rodent was a friend and a toy for my son while also becoming our family mascot.

Andrew’s friends loved to come by and play with Zhitnik, and “the rat” dug the attention. Soon my boy was becoming more sophisticated and wanted to share his pet with the kids at school. Upon the success of taking Zhitnik to “Show and Tell,” my boy started taking the little bugger to a friend’s house. This evolved into him taking the rat for a walk up and down the street.
YOU THOUGHT I WAS KIDDING BUT I WASN'T, ZHITNIK WAS A MAJOR PART OF OUR FAMILY AND NEEDED TO BE PROTECTED.

I knew the reputation hawks had and...they're all over the place. So I didn’t want to be an alarmist.  But when I saw Andrew set Zhitnik free on our lawn for the other kids to play with, I had to spring into action. There was only one diplomatic thing I could do…LIE. I told Andrew that most guinea pigs were allergic to grass, (a kid in his class was allergic to peanuts, so he understood my seriousness).

I took that tact because there was no way I was going to let a dive-bombing hawk snatch-up our pet, carry Zhitnik off and eat him for dinner.  The fib was worth it because if the worst case scenario happened, I didn't want to risk psychologically scarring my kid (or his friends) for life.
ANDREW'S KNOWLEDGE OF HAWKS WAS LIMITED TO HENERY, (above to the right).  THIS LOONEY TOON CARTOON CHARACTER WAS A TOUGH, NEW YORK ACCENTED CHICKEN HAWK.  HE APPEARED IN TWELVE CARTOONS BETWEEN 1942 AND 1961.  THE USUAL THEME WAS HIM ENLISTING THE HELP OF FOGHORN LEGHORN (left), TO FIND CHICKENS TO EAT.  AS A ROOSTER, LEGHORN SAW IT PRUDENT TO MISLEAD THE LITTLE HAWK INTO TRYING TO EAT OTHER ANIMALS...LIKE DOGS.

It's important not to lie to your kids. But this time, I was justified because I wanted to spare my son his impressionable youth and not being forced to explain the reality of bigger animals eating smaller ones. Coincidentally, the movie "LION KING," came out the year Andrew was born (1994).  One of the hit songs from the movie was, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE."
COMPOSED BY ELTON JOHN, THE LYRICS TO, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE," POETICALLY EXPLAIN WHY THE FALCON (above) IS EATING ANOTHER BIRD.

Andrew had seen the "LION KING" countless times by the time he was twelve. So my sixth grader was better equipped to understand more mature and complex matters like the struggles for life and death, survival of the fittest etc.  That's why the timing was perfect when his school's 2006 year-end band concert rolled around.  For the program's big finish, my boy (as first flute) was selected to perform a solo during, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE."
"THE LION KING," IS MY FAVORITE KIDDIE MOVIE OF ALL-TIME. ITS MAIN THEME IS, THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.  THE STORY DELICATELY EXPLAINS HOW THE GRASS AND FLOWERS FEED SMALL ANIMALS AND HOW BIGGER ONES FEED-OFF SMALLER ANIMALS.  THIS SAME CIRCLE OF LIFE DEALS WITH THE UNFOLDING OF GENERATIONS, HOW PARENTS DIE AND BABIES ARE BORN.

Below are lyrics to, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE."

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun

There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

It seems like yeaterday but Andrew's "Circle of Life" solo was eight years ago.  I dug out the CD of his performance and a tear still comes to my eye.  They had given him a pan-flute to use but he couldn't master it in the short time. Instead, he was able to create the haunting/whining quality they were looking for, on his own flute.  Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to attach that one cut to this blog.  But if you click on the link below, you'll hear it from a professional.  Just bear in my mind that the flute solo at the end, was what Andrew did.
http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/redirect.jhtml?action=pick&qs=&pr=GG&searchfor=circle+of+life+lion+king+youtube&cb=CD&pg=GGmain&p2=%5ECD%5Exdm003%5ES04317%5Eus&n=77fc41c7&qid=fc99bb6fd473469ba3850f4ff04433e6&ss=sub&pn=1&st=bar&ptb=D6B92608-79BD-4909-92A0-160CFD832118&tpr=&si=CKuH4unForUCFQPd4AodLCEADg&redirect=mPWsrdz9heamc8iHEhldEcgdjfjqpMajKYmz288FhTJ5RH%2BPhkZIGeaU%2Bcotya%2FcsW3jj6a8%2BSZwBhNLwKpthA%3D%3D&ord=0&ct=AR&

To be consistent with the circle of life theme, I want to share a beautiful bird experience I recently enjoyed...and have been lucky enough to see it repeat itself many times.

Better than seeing a turkey buzzard tearing the flesh off a deer, I saw my first hummingbird, (December 1995), in San Diego California.
THE HUMMINGBIRD IS THE WORLD'S SMALLEST ANIMAL, (OTHER THAN INSECTS).  THERE ARE OVER 300 SPECIES BUT THE "BEE" HUMMINGBIRD WEIGHS LESS THAN AN AMERICAN PENNY.  THE HUMMINGBIRD NAME COMES FROM FLAPPING ITS WINGS BETWEEN 50 AND 200 TIMES PER SECOND...WHICH CAN SOUND LIKE A HUM TO THE HUMAN EAR. DUE TO ITS HIGH ENERGY,TO MAINTAIN ITS INCREDIBLE METABOLISM, HUMMINGBIRDS MUST CONSUME MORE THAN THEIR BODY WEIGHT DAILY.  THEY VISIT HUNDREDS OF FLOWERS TO FEED OFF NECTAR AND ARE CONTINUOUSLY HOURS AWAY FROM STARVATION, (THEY STORE JUST ENOUGH FUEL TO SURVIVE OVER-NIGHT).

When I saw the hummingbird nineteen years ago, I wanted to watch it forever.  It didn't look real.  It hovered, flew backwards and upside down.  I assumed they were native to Southern California or warm climates and never gave it another thought.  That is until, my wife Sue bought two potted flowers (red) and set them on our deck.

I like reading the newspaper and doing the puzzle page with my morning coffee.  Weather permitting, I take the whole kit and kaboodle outside.  One day, Sue said she saw a hummingbird out there.  It didn't really register until I saw one myself. 

I have seen so many this past month that I position myself five feet from these flowers.  The show put on by these bug-sized eating machines is so enthralling that I stop what I'm doing and watch.  These humming-tweety-birds don't mind me either, (the one time I brought a camera outside, they didn't show up...maybe I should bring it out every day).  They get close enough to touch before a sound or a breeze causes them to make a crazier U-Turn than I could ever muster.  Then I watch in wonderment as they wisp off, in an unworldly way, (like a mechanically controlled drone or an alien organism from outer space).

While the skies are full of dangerous flying predators, it's great to sit back and see the gentle, true splendor of life up above.  Geez, now I can't get the "Circle of Life" tune out of my head, but that's good thing.

Don't worry, when I figure out what kind of flowers our hummingbirds are attracted to, I'll recommend you get some...just so you can see the show too.

Monday, September 8, 2014

WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT HORSEBACK RIDING...PLENTY!

There’s an old joke set in 1910 Brooklyn. A police sergeant walks from his Bedford-Stuyvesant precinct, to check on a first-day, rookie beat-cop. To his utter shock, he sees the fledgling patrolman dragging a huge, dead horse. The sergeant confronts the rookie, “What are you doing?” The beginner says, “This nag died on Kościuszko Street…but I can’t spell Kościuszko for my report…so I’m taking it to Gates Avenue.”
TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO (1746-1817) WAS A POLISH MILITARY ENGINEER. AFTER HE BECAME A NATIONAL HERO, IN HIS HOMELAND, HE IMMIGRATED TO AMERICA AND BECAME A KEY MAN IN OUR REVOLUTIONARY WAR AGAINST THE ENGLISH. TODAY IN NEW YORK, HIS NAME APPEARS ON STREETS, BRIDGES, HIGHWAYS, SCHOOLS AND MUCH MORE.

This joke was killer material at the turn of the century. Now, it’s badly dated and unfunny mainly because three generations later, horses are so removed from our culture that they have become irrelevant.

My grandparents might have thought the humor was mirthful but by the 1950’s, their kids, (my parents) were fixated on the budding space age. So when grandma and grandpa bought me a horsey rocking toy, my mom and dad saw it as a less than cute vestige from the ice age.
I HAD AN APPRECIATION FOR HORSES AT AN EARLY AGE.

It’s not funny but by the time I was four, the baby-boomer mentality used the television as a robotic babysitter. In my case it really worked for my folks because I’d idly stare quietly at the screen forever. The one show that I clearly remember getting fired up for and interacting with was, “THE LONE RANGER."
THE LONE RANGER STARTED AS A RADIO PROGRAM IN 1933. IT WAS ON TV FROM 1949-1957, (221 EPISODES). BUOYED BY IT'S "WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE," THEME MUSIC, I WORE MY COWBOY HAT AND SHOT MY CAP GUNS FROM THE HORSE-LIKE ARM OF OUR SOFA. THUS CONTRIBUTING TO A SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THAT WOULD LAST A LIFE TIME.

In 1959, it wasn’t funny to me when…for their amusement and posterity, mom and dad set me on a live horse. If they were internally cringing waiting for me to scream bloody murder, they were pleasantly mistaken. Because I was seriously fulfilling my childish, outlaw fighting fantasy…and loved horses.
THE BRONX ZOO 1959. I LOOK PRETTY CONFIDENT. TOO BAD DAD WAS SO MINDFUL OF KEEPING THE HELPER'S FACE OUT OF THE SHOT THAT HE CUT THE PONY'S HEAD OFF.

My paternal grandmother furthered my unfunny experiences with horses while nurturing frustration. On many occasions, she took my sister and me on outings. If these daytrips included either Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or Manhattan’s Central Park, sis and I were treated to a merry-go-round ride. But I guess granny thought I was too young or wild or stupid to ride the bobbing horse statues. As far as she was concerned, Little Stevie wasn’t splitting his head open on her watch so she forced me to sit on the carousel’s bench…next to her. Trust me it wasn’t funny, a seven year-old shouldn’t be subjected to such an immediate and comprehensive understanding of humiliation. I always refused future invitations to ride.

In 1967, this unfunny horse theme continued in the Cherokee Indian Reservation outside Smoky National Park, (near Gatlinburg Tennessee). I thought I’d prove my mettle to the world by posing in the heroic photo below.
FOR A QUARTER, A NATIVE AMERICAN GUY AT A CONCESSION STAND BRINGS OVER A LADDER AND YOU GET TO TAKE YOUR OWN PICTURES.

Unfortunately for me, everyone who I was trying to impress (assuming they had half a brain), could see that buckin’ bronco was friggin’ plastic.

I only have a handful of experiences on a full-sized horse. On March 1, 2010, I wrote a blog called, “THE LAW FIRM OF IMPERIALE, IANUCCI AND IZZO.” In it, three friends and I (1980) rented horses in the Las Vegas desert. It was not at all funny when a snake spooked my friend’s horse. The beast lit out. It galloped with my poor buddy slipping off the saddle and clinging sideways, hanging on for dear life…for about a half mile, (okay, it WAS funny when he was safe. Too bad back then, we didn’t get a video…it would have been priceless).

Also in Las Vegas, (April 1982), I took my wife and her mother to Bonney Springs Ranch. My mother-in-law swore how good she was at horseback riding. So I wasn’t smiling when we got out to the middle of nowhere and she chickened-out.
DESPITE MY BEST SALESMANSHIP, MY MOTHER-IN-LAW WOULDN'T GET ON THE HORSE.  SUE SAID, "YOU GOT TO SHAKE OUT THE NEGATIVITY."  SHE SHOOK HER HEAD, TORSO, ARMS AND LEGS THEN SAID, "NOW, LAUGH."  IT WASN'T FUNNY WATCHING THIS PLAY OUT AND I WAS EMBARRASSED.  HER MOM DID TRY AND NOTHING HAPPENED.  SUE SAID, "TRY AGAIN BUT REALLY LAUGH."  WHILE HER MOM DID SO SUE SAID, "REMEMBER WHEN BILLY (SUE'S BROTHER) SPLIT HIS PANTS IN VAN CORTLANDT PARK."  HER MOM LAUGHED AND MAGICALLY, SECONDS LATER SHE MOUNTED UP.  AS YOU CAN SEE, SHE (WE) HAD THE BEST TIME.
My wife and I were near Cape Hatteras (June 1991). We saw a sign for horseback riding in the town of Buxton. How cool it would have been to ride along the beach. We were thirsting for madcap excitement as we entered the office. But NOOOOOOOOOO! Those lazy bastards thought it was too hot to take the horses out, (take themselves out). That wasn’t funny to us…they were full of horse shit. Our memories of riding horses in the over 100° Nevada desert were still fresh in our minds, (of course out west, it’s a dry heat).
WHERE'S JOHNNY FONTAINE WHEN YOU NEED HIM? SECONDS AFTER THIS PHOTO WAS SHOT, OUR FUNNY MOOD CHANGED BECAUSE THE TAXIDERMY HORSE HEAD MOUNTED ON THE PADDOCK WALL (above) WAS THE ACTUAL HORSE WHO PLAYED "KHARTOUM" IN THE 1972 MOVIE, "THE GODFATHER."
The last time I was on a horse wasn’t funny either. It was strictly business…but fun.
               OCTOBER 1991, MOUNT POCONO PENNSYLVANIA.

Since the birth of my son Andrew, (1994), I have not been on a horse and neither has he.

Sue and I discovered in my boy’s infancy that he had difficulty with motion. Even his baby swing in the living room caused him to scream and cry. So when Andrew was four-months old, I showed a complete lack of intelligence by putting him on a pony ride, at the Absecon (NJ) downtown fair.

To paraphrase Einstein, a definite sign of insanity is, constantly failing and trying the same thing while expecting different results. So it wasn’t funny a year later at the Smithville NJ May Fest, when I tortured my kid again.
MAY-1995. YES, ANDREW LOOKS STUNNED BUT I MADE SURE THE PONY NEVER MOVED...AT LEAST I GOT THE PICTURE.

Sue and I finally realized our folly outside a supermarket. That’s when we set baby Andrew in the mechanical horsey ride. Oh how happy our little bugger was…until I put in a quarter. Over the next few years it was no joke, we saved a fortune by sitting him in the rides and NOT putting money in the machine.

Andrew was one and a half when we went on the carousel in Wildwood, (NJ). Einstein must have looked down from heaven and shook his head in disbelief. At that moment, I should have remembered a quote from another wise man once said; we mock what we are to be. That prophecy came true when, to save the day, I went into grandma-mode and switched to a bench seat...but it still didn’t help.

I really must be insane because when Andrew was two, I bought him a standard rocking horse. Sue did a great job hiding it. Then as I distracted him in the family room, she took it from the garage and set in the dining room. She put a giant sheet of wrapping paper over it and called him in. I remember his exact words as he yelled in happiness, “The greatest!” Again, I wish I had taped this cherished event because he hugged that horse’s neck as if his most fantastic dream had been realized.
DON'T LET HIM FOOL YOU, ANDREW IS JUST SITTING ON, "THE GREATEST."  IF WE HAD AN ODOMETER ON IT, I'M CERTAIN MY BOY LOGGED LESS THAN A SIXTEENTH OF A MILE ON THAT HORSE, (OR SHOULD I SAY, CLOTHES HANGER).
It should be noted here that kids are inconsistent. On Father’s Day 1998, I took Andrew one-on-one to the Philadelphia Zoo. I knew of his motion problem and sarcastically said, “You wanna go on that camel ride with me?” He enthusiastically DID. I even drafted the help of a kindly old-timer to shoot some video with my palm-corder, (someone I could out-run if he decided to steal it). The five-minute film of this accomplishment is one of my prized possessions, (of course it’s on VHS, so it’s not funny because until we transfer it to DVD, it’s like we don’t have it).

In 2002, we went on an extended family getaway weekend to the Massanutten Resort, (near Harrisonburg Virginia). They had hundreds of activities but the one thing I really wanted to do was get Andrew on a horse. Set beautifully against the woods, across several streams and against the majestic mountainside, we made it all the way to stable. My boy looked around. He gave it some serious thought and in a mature way, sincerely expressed no desire to mount-up.

In a last ditch attempt to get him to reconsider, I told him about the one time in my life that riding a horse was indeed funny, (sorry I have no video evidence).

In August 1966, my parents took my sister and I to a dude ranch in Peekskill New York. The highlight of the trip was horseback riding. I looked forward to that day from the second I heard about it.

I guess back then insurance rules were lax by today’s standards because a wrangler (from fifty feet away) gave us, (about thirty men, women and children), a tuturial. I was thrilled to be atop my horse. So with my imagination running wild, I learned next to nothing from the demonstration.

I was so into being on that horse.  My eleven year-old intellect never considered that I could fall off and be trampled by a thousand hooves.  So my cluelessness never stopped me from fantasizing about being the Lone Ranger as the guides led us out, single file onto the trail.

In my excitement, I didn’t notice that I was separated from my family. Even when I did understand that I was alone in the crowd, it didn’t matter because I asserting my independence and out to prove my budding puberty was coming to the right place...plus, I was so wrapped up in the adventure that I didn’t care.

The hour-long ride was a combination of walking the horses through the forest and stopping, (the drill fortified the false image that we were controlling our animals.) The truth was the horses were so well trained that they just followed each other. Of course if you showed weakness, your horse did whatever it wanted.

The lady in front of me was a big mouth craving attention. She couldn’t steer her horse and had less control than me. So when her renegade strayed to sniff a flower, mine followed. I tugged on the reins but my maverick wouldn’t budge. When our horses were ready to get back in line…they got back in line.

The lady was entertaining because she started talking to her horse like it was a puppy. Still, it went off the trail a second time and my genius followed. This time they were both so stubborn that a wrangler had to stop the proceedings to come back and rescue us.

This walk-and-stop formula took up 90% of our tour. Then we were instructed that we will be trotting. The trotting turned out to be under a minute. It killed my back because there’s a way to ride a horse and I didn’t learn it in the coral. Before I could complain, we were walking again. The lady in front of me was jabbering a mile-a-minute. Everyone including me was laughing because she purposely exaggerated the trot and called it a near-death experience. The bigger bonus was she was using terrible language to curse her husband who was ten horses ahead of her, (I loved to hear adults use profanity).

It was even funnier when nobody came to console her. Then holy shit, we broke out into another trot. This time I knew my pain wouldn’t last long so I gutted-it-out as if I were a full-blooded teenager. My plan worked because in no time, we were back to walking. At that point, off in the distance, through the trees, I got my first glimpse of the safe haven, the dude ranch!

Suddenly, the woman in front of me started laughing. It was crazy because soon she started crying. To this day, I’ve never seen anything like because she was sincerely laughing and crying at the same time. She screamed out for everyone to stop and demanded her husband. This time he came and for everyone in earshot to hear, she announced that she had peed in her pants.

It’s almost fifty years later and I still get a chuckle whenever I think of that lady. So I shared it with Andrew at Massanutten…but it didn't get him on a horse. Instead, I should have told him about Kosciuszko Street or told him to gyrate his whole body and laugh? He’ll be twenty-one in a few months and he’s never had the joy of horseback riding.