Monday, February 8, 2016

PLEASE! DON'T PUT IN A ZIPPER.

Ten years ago, I whined to my friend LUCKYJT that I tweaked my back. He looked me in the eye, "I'm sure you'll be okay, but you should never complain about pain.  There's always someone who has it much worse."  LUCKYJT of course had just come back to work from a heart attack.



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I had hernia surgery in 2008 and again in 2013.  So I guess, I was overdue for a third.
MY "BEFORE" PICTURE IN HAWAII, (DECEMBER 2015), I DID MY BEST TO HIDE MY BELLY BUMP.  BUT THIS PROFILE MADE ME LOOK PREGNANT.

This past Tuesday, (Groundhog's Day), I had another hernia taken care of.  I am counting on the phrase, "the third time is the charm," to represent closure to this tedious topic.  But because of the hex from the 1993 movie, "GROUNDHOG DAY," I must admit that the thought of going under the knife, over and over till they get it right, had crossed my mind.

For to personal reasons, (laziness and cynicism wrapped in stupidity), I refused to address my latest bellyache. To prove how much of a stubborn knucklehead I am, when my employer dropped our medical insurance benefits, I didn't run out and take this last ditch advantage of my coverage.  With sour grapes I can say, I was misinformed...that under my circumstance, with the new Affordable Health Care Act, such a procedure would be of negligible cost.  That did NOT happen!

I'll skip other boring circumstances and forge ahead to this week's medical road trip to Rockville Maryland.

My memory of my 2008 and 2013 gut cuts, were easy and routine.  In both cases, I felt so strong afterwards that I was surprised that I wasn't permitted to drive. This time was different.

My new doctor, Alan Kravitz specializes in hernias and has performed countless procedures.  His bedside manner was confident and calming, (twice over the past few months, he personally returned my phone calls...which is something few doctors do).  Plus he has surrounded himself with office staffers, like Betsy and a kind, professional and thorough team, at the Montgomery Surgical Center.
BETSY WAS KIND ENOUGH TO HOOK US UP WITH A DISCOUNTED RATE AT A NEARBY MOTEL.  IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I WAS ABLE TO TRY THIS OLD GAG.

Later when I came out of the anesthesia, I was disoriented and in pain. While I was in recovery, the nursing staff reminded us to make a stop or two on our long drive back to New Jersey.  My wife Sue took the wheel and thrust us face-first into Washington DC rush hour traffic.  Somehow, the Gods of I-95 were with us and spared us the typical bumper-to-bumper nightmare that highway is famous for. Even as we jousted for space with new commuters in Baltimore, we kept up a decent pace.

At the staff's suggestion, in the car, I did toe exercises to reduce the risk of blood clots in my legs. We stopped in Delaware so I could walk around, (I was so slow that Tim Conway's "Old Man" character would have whizzed by me).
TIM CONWAY (1933-PRESENT) WAS KNOWN FOR CRACKING UP HIS FELLOW ACTORS ON THE, "CAROL BURNETT SHOW."  HERE AS HIS SLOW WALKING, OLD MAN, HE TESTS HARVEY KORMAN'S SELF-CONTROL.

That rest stop was tough.  Just navigating out of the car was difficult.  My mind wasn't clear, I was in pain and sleepy too.  But the sneakiest side-effect hit me on the way out, an acute sense of nausea. Even in my sorry state, I thought if I lost my (non-existent lunch) that stretching the stitches in my stomach would kill me.  To reduce that stress, I somehow remembered breathing techniques.  It worked and I subdued the pending catastrophe, (in the same regard, I'm so glad I didn't have a sneezy cold or cough).

We stopped again, at our Wal-Mart, (Mays Landing NJ).  Sue filled my percocet prescription and threw in some extra strength Motrin. She wanted me to wait in the car, but the doctor said I should walk around.  The meds took twenty minutes to process. At Tim Conway-speed, I did a lap around the store.
MY "AFTER" PICTURE.  WHILE WAITING IN WAL-MART, I FOUND A NEW PRODUCT THAT IS GUARANTEED TO GET ME BACK TO MY SWEET OLD SELF.

My hike exhausted me, so I sat on a bench near the entrance.  Then I couldn't get up because the seat was lower than the car's and the strain on my stomach muscles were pure agony.  Seconds after standing, I was forced to repel another round of nausea.

At home, I didn't take the pain meds right away.  Getting into bed took forever.  Then I got no sleep. In the morning, like a turtle struggling to get off his back, getting out of bed took forty minutes.

I was gripped by other side-effects.  The petty ones included: the general malaise caused by cabin fever, random body aches, the feeling that I smelled and general itchiness, especially around the bandages.
COVERING MY BANDAGES, I MUST WEAR AN ABDOMINAL BINDER 24/7 FOR TWO WEEKS, (OTHER THAN SHOWERS).  IT'S UNCOMFORTABLY TIGHT, AS YOU CAN SEE, MY SKIN HAS ALREADY TURNED BLUE.

The side-effect I hated the most was the soreness caused by the anesthesia tube in my throat.  I also had no appetite, so I was living off antacids to relieve my trapped gas and heart burn. To get some level of normalcy, I took a stool softener.  It worked too well!  A gazillion times that day, I would have knocked down any obstacles on my way to the promised land; including Tim Conway's Old Man.

The biggest thing that got me through the pain, discomfort and boredom of Wednesday and Thursday was the support of Sue, other family members and friends. I had been invited to a Super-Bowl party on Sunday (today) and as late as Thursday, I doubted I would go.

Luckily, Friday was a significant bounce back day.  Maybe it had to do with my first shower or that the anesthesia was 100% out of my system or that the healing had really begun, (perhaps all three...and for you realists, never under-estimate the value a solid bowel movement).

Friday was such a breakthrough that I went cold turkey from my pain management regimen of four times a day, down to one.

Yesterday, (Saturday), my improvement allowed me to do a slower and reduced-sized power walk. I got in and out of my little car with ease, (to reduce pain, up till then, I had been using Sue's SUV). By 2:PM, I had successfully weaned myself down no meds for 12+ hours.  AND, I got enough of an appetite to go refrigerator grazing.

This morning despite the 24 degree temperature, I did my walk again.  Additionally, my 12+ hours of no meds is now up to 36 hours, (I'd rather be in a little pain with no drugs...then in no pain with them).

There is no doubt I will be going to the Panthers versus Broncos Super Bowl party tonight!  GO BRONCOS! 
THE MAIN REASON I NEVER RISK MONEY ON SPORTS IS, I BET WITH MY HEART, NOT MY HEAD.  THAT'S WHY I WANT TO SEE PEYTON MANNING RIDE OFF INTO THE SUNSET, ON A GALLOPING THOROUGHBRED.  BESIDES, MY PUPPY ROXY SAID, "I DON'T ALWAYS BET UNDERDOGS BUT I ALWAYS BET AGAINST CATS!"

I'm going to take another week off to recuperate. I don't want to get too cocky, but if I keep improving, I might have to erect a statue of Dr. Alan Kravitz or at least write a testimonial letter to him. But I'll wait until a few months because this surgery was only necessary because the mesh covering my second hernia undid itself.  If I need another hernia repaired, to avoid the "GROUNDHOG DAY," hex, I'll have them install a friggin' zipper.



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Special thanks to MIKE123 and Alice for turning me onto Dr. Kravitz and HJ and his wife Margi who came out on a frosty Monday night in Rockville as they were still digging out of, thirty-one inches of snow.
IN THE EARLY STAGES OF THE JANUARY 30th BLIZZARD, HJ TOOK THIS SHOT. 

Feel good everybody, knowing that I feel good.  And, if LUCKYJT still reads, "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," I hope he noticed that I never once whined about the pain!

Also, let's not forget the one major positive side-effect of my operation, I lost five pounds!  I doubt I'll keep it off, but I'll try, by NOT eating at tonight's party.  Yeah right, like that's gonna happen !

Monday, February 1, 2016

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK

Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is situated at the "confluence" of three rivers.
THE ALLEGHENY AND MONONGAHELA MERGE AT PITTSBURGH, TO FORM THE OHIO RIVER.

This article has nothing to do with Pittsburgh!  Instead, it has to do with the "confluence" of carelessness and over-confidence, to form stupidity.

                               

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In 1995, a former employee of mine went on vacation to Barbados.  In this slice of Eden, he went snorkeling, had a heart attack and drown.  It's wrong to speak poorly of the dead. So without all the facts, I'm not implying that stupidity was a variable in his death.  Out of common decency and respect, I'll call him Jonny.

Oddly, this article has nothing to do with Jonny either.  But I flashed back to his demise during my December 2015 vacation in Hawaii.  That's when my carelessness and over-confidence merged into stupidity and netted me an all too real, near-death experience.


                                                                   
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I'm no stranger to vacation carelessness.  In December 1995, my wife Sue, baby son Andrew and I landed in San Diego.  Friends picked us up and drove us an hour, to their house.  When we got there, the return tickets (that I was entrusted with) were missing.  Together with our host, I returned to the airport.  We actually found the specific luggage cart that brought our bags to their car but the tickets were gone.  Unfortunately, they weren't turned-in to lost and found either.  In addition to costing me an extra sixty dollars each to re-buy them, I had cost my host over two hours of his valued leisure time.

Twenty years later, (last month) I accidentally tried to re-enact that screw-up. Sue and I celebrated our mutual sixtieth birthdays with a trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Unless you are a frequent flyer, with all the new TSA procedures cemented into your memory bank, just getting on the plane can be daunting.
THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (TSA), IS AN EXPEDITED AIRPORT SECURITY SCREENING PROGRAM. TO THE UNINITIATED (ME), IT'S AN UNFORTUNATE YET NECESSARY,  COLOSSAL PAIN IN THE ASS. 

I admit it, I was nervous.  In addition to all the preparation and worry about forgetting small details, Sue and I woke up at 2:AM for our frantic drive to Philadelphia, to make our 5:15 flight.

The first step in the airport, is checking your luggage.  Sue had a strong handle on that.  However, many of the do-it-yourself computer terminals weren't working.  We were getting pissed-off because others who lucked-out with working terminals, went ahead of us.  Then the actual airline employee who checked our bags, was a bitch.

Up one flight on the escalator, is the TSA checkpoint.  An agent checks your paperwork before allowing travelers into the inner sanctum of the security system.  All he asked me for was our boarding passes.  I didn't have them!  My heart sunk and it was all on me.  I flashed back to my lost tickets in San Diego and bolted down the escalator to the only place they could be.  Luckily for my sorry ass, they were right next to baggage check bitch's station.

We flew on American Airlines.  The first three and half hour leg of our epic journey took us to Dallas. I expected it to be easy to sleep but I was overcome by high anxiety. Back on the ground, we ran like lunatics from one corner of the airport to the other to find the jet to Maui.  Along the way, we stuffed crap from a 7-11 in our mouths because we learned the hard way that even our eight and a half hour flight, did NOT provide meals.
YOU CAN'T BLAME AMERICAN, ALL THE WEASELLY AIRLINES DON'T OFFER MEALS, TO MINIMIZE CONSUMER COST, (MAXIMIZE THEIR PROFIT) .  INSTEAD, THEY OFFER GARBAGE NEATLY WRAPPED IN CELLOPHANE FOR PURCHASE.  IF YOU SAW THE SHIT THAT THEY WERE TRYING TO PAWN-OFF AS A $9.50 PASTRAMI SANDWICH, YOU'D GLADLY STARVE ON PRINCIPLE. 

Dallas to Maui would be my longest flight ever.  I caught a catnap but it was nothing significant.  I finished a Sudoku puzzle and suffered through a Meryl Streep soap opera-like movie.To further emphasize the monotony, I kept looking out the window at the land below.  I knew we couldn't be making much progress until we were flying over  the Pacific Ocean.

Those first three hours were an eternity. I wanted to cheer when the brown earth below was replaced by the glistening, briny, deep blue sea.  Crazy but true, within seconds, my perceived bliss of progress came to a screeching stop!  That's when a screeching woman ran back from the front of the plane and screamed, "My husband's dying!"

 Like the movies, the stewardesses announced if there were doctors aboard.  Later, passengers with diabetic sugar sampling equipment were urged to volunteer.

The next two hours were surreal. American Airlines, to avoid liability, made a U-Turn back to Los Angeles.  We were never informed whether the man's life was in danger the whole time we were on the ground.

All the other passengers had to be careful, so nobody complained that this emergency caused extra time to be added onto our marathon flight. Just imagine a dream-fest vacation ending with a loved one (or you) sickened or dying on the way.

Hours later when our irritability and exhaustion were maxing-out, the movie screens were turned on. For the next half hour, our dulled senses were amped-up by a collage of scenic photos backed-up by relaxing Hawaiian music.
(STOCK PHOTO)  EVERYONE ON OUR PLANE BECAME RE-ENERGIZED WITH EXCITEMENT WITH THE FIRST SIGHTING OF LAND .  I CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW THE CREW FELT ON JANUARY 18, 1778 WHEN CAPTAIN JAMES COOK BECAME THE FIRST EUROPEAN TO DISCOVER HAWAII.

We charged off the plane with ukulele music in our heads.  In the concourse, on our way to baggage claim, those wonderful sounds were replaced by Christmas music.  If we came any other time of year, we would have been better off, because the holiday tunes we were already familiar with dominated every loudspeaker, gift shop, elevator etc., for the rest of the trip.

In our first half-second outside, (3:PM), Sue and I were intoxicated by the fragrant scent and natural beauty...and we were only in Maui Airport.  Even though it was overcast and breezy (almost windy), we knew difference between eighty degrees in Utopia and forty in South Jersey.

Our hotel, the Maui Sheridan was a one-hour shuttle bus drive away.  Our burnt-out, main-lander driver gave us a history lesson, showed us points of interests and patiently answered our typical tourist questions, (so many of the male grunt workers were spaced out pot smokers).
(STOCK PHOTO)   AERIAL PHOTO OF SHERIDAN PROPERTY, (COMPLETE WITH THE FAMOUS BLACK ROCKS, FAR LEFT).

We soaked in the cultural shock as every view of the hotel grounds was greater eye candy.  I'm happy to report...that feeling never ended, the whole time we were there.  But as soon as that initial rush subsided, we came to our senses and ran out to eat.
EVERY MORNING, TEN FEET OUT OUR DOOR, WE WERE SMACKED IN THE FACE WITH THIS VIEW.  ON THE FIRST DAY, I TEXTED MY SON ANDREW, "EVERY SECOND SPENT INDOORS HERE, IS A WASTE!"

We correctly chose Maui because we wanted to do more kicking back than sight-seeing.  We swam in the ocean, took long walks on the beach and chilled in hot tubs.
THE SHERIDAN HAD "BLACK ROCK" (BEHIND US) .  VISITORS FROM ALL OVER MAUI COME AT DUSK, TO SEE THE DAILY CEREMONY IN WHICH AN ANNOUNCER EXPLAINS THIS RITUAL'S HISTORY OVER HAWAIIAN MUSIC.  AT THE SAME TIME, (EXACTLY AT SUNDOWN), A YOUNG LOCAL BOY RUNS DOWN THE BEACH, CLIMBS UP THE ROCKS AND LIGHTS ALL THE TIKI TORCHES BEFORE DIVING OFF THE CLIFF.

Beyond the Sheridan, we enjoyed long walks in both directions, in the surf or along the paved beach walk. Going south, the beach was commercialized but behind the hotel, the coastline seemed secluded and had a more pristine beauty.

GOING NORTH, ON THIS LONELY STRETCH OF BEACH, THE MAN WHO TOOK THIS PICTURE, HAD JUST TURNED HIS BACK ON THE CALIFORNIA RAT-RACE. HE WAS BETTING IT ALL,  ON A MICRO-BREWERY, (HE WAS OPENING LATER THAT WEEK).  IT'S EASY TO SEE WHY PEOPLE GIVE UP THEIR WORK-A-DAY MAIN-LAND LIVES, TO BECOME SURFERS BEACH-BUMS OR IDYLLIC IDLERS. 

We saw unusual critters like, black crabs and a seagull-like bird with a duckbill.
WE LEFT THE ISLAND WITHOUT FINDING OUT WHAT SPECIES THIS ODD-BOID WAS?

The worst animals were the omnipresent vultures trying to sell you shit along the southern arm of the beach walk.
MEET FRANK.  HE'S A JACKSON'S CHAMELEON.  THE ANNOYING TIMESHARE SALESMEN USED HIM TO LURE US TO THEIR BOOTH.   INSTEAD, WE USED THEM FOR THIS PHOTO-OP.

We later learned that Jackson's Chameleons are native to East Africa but have been introduced to Florida and Hawaii.
(STOCK PHOTO)  A CLOSE-UP OF A JACKSON'S CHAMELEON.

I got it in my head that giant sea turtles are all over Maui.  We heard that two miles south of our hotel, they love to hang-out every afternoon on the beach.
HOW BIG WERE THE TURTLES SUPPOSED TO BE IN THAT SPOT...BIGGER THAN THIS!  HOW MANY DID WE SEE...NONE!

On all but two mornings, before sun-up, I did a ninety-minute power walk.  Hard to believe, even at that hour, the beach walk was clogged with runners and walkers. To avoid the congestion, I went different ways and scouted out cool places to show Sue.  Along the way, I came across one celebrity.
I SAW ALAN DERSHOWITZ (1938-PRESENT),  HAVING BREAKFAST AT AN OCEANFRONT RESTAURANT.  A LAWYER,  AUTHOR,  POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEFENDER OF CIVIL LIBERTIES, HE'S FAMOUS FOR REPRESENTING; MIKE TYSON, PATTY HEARST AND JIM BAKKER.  HE ALSO HELPED OVERTURN CLAUS von BULOW'S MURDER CONVICTION AND  WAS AN APPELLATE ADVISER ON O. J. SIMPSON'S DEFENSE.

The Sheridan offered a great perk, a free, hourly *shuttle bus service to the next town, Lahaina, as well as shopping centers.  Lahaina has a tourist destination called Front Street.  For us Front Street was the laid back confluence of Greenwich Village meeting Bourbon Street.  We went there on three nights and loved the restaurants, quaint curio shops and art galleries.

* The Hawaiians are so laid back...that when our shuttle bus, (at a stop) was slightly run into (a hit-and-run), our driver didn't get out to access the damage.
ON FRONT STREET, IT LOOKS LIKE I PICKED A PERFECT TIME TO WEAR MY WO HOP SHIRT.  EARLIER, A COUPLE FROM NEW JERSEY STOPPED ME AND CALLED IT,  "THE PRIDE OF NEW YORK CITY'S CHINATOWN."

The concierge at the Sheridan recommended a restaurant with a whole lobster special.  It was on the last block of Front Street and over a mile walk.  Of course when we got there, the bait-and-switch bastards said they were out of lobsters. We wound up at Bubba Gump's and had a blast.
AT BUBBA GUMP'S, WE WERE SEATED AT THE OCEAN'S EDGE.  THE FOOD WAS TERRIFIC AND THE WAITER LIKED US SO MUCH, HE DIVULGED THE SECRET OF THIS CUP STACKING MAGIC TRICK.

Sue and I also went on two tourist excursions.  The first was a two-part adventure to the volcano at Haleakala (Holly-ock- ala), State Park.  Followed by a 26-mile bike ride down to the beach town of Paia, (aka Hippie-Town)..
AT 10,000 FEET UP,  SUNRISE IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE THIS.  WE DID NOT SEE ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

To get to Haleakala, we woke up at 2;AM.  A van picked us up and whisked us away in the star-filled night, ninety minutes away, to the "the upcountry" and the mountain.  The native Hawaiian driver was quick to point out how perfect the conditions were to see an immaculate sunrise.

Halfway up, their business office, was across from a property called "Cloud-Ten." It was built and owned by George Harrison of the Beatles. Inside, we were introduced to Jack our guide and shown a safety video on biking down the mountain.  He provided us with gloves, a coat and pants because the temperatures at the mountaintop might be near freezing.

Further up at 6700 feet, the clear skies and crisp air was sweet ambrosia for the soul. We were told on the way back down, that our bike trip would start at that spot.  Later, as we twisted up the mountain road, it started to sprinkle.  Soon the wind picked up and a hard rain blew horizontal.

At the state park's main gate, it felt like we driving through a hurricane.  A ranger who was having trouble holding his ground while hold down his Smoky the Bear hat, told us that the peak was experiencing wind gusts of 80 MPH.  He added that the information station was closed at the time.

In the dark, I saw that the parking lot was empty at the top.  While the wind howled and the rain pelted down, I told these guys funny stories until I needed to pee. Jack had to get out and hold my door, to protect its hinges from being bent back the wrong way.

Outside, I could barely see ten feet.  In no time, I was freezing and drenched despite being all covered up...and, it didn't help that I stepped in a deep puddle.  Soon tons of buses and cars filled the lot. People went to the observation deck and braved the conditions, to be where the spectacular sunrise would have been seen, (I know that because I went too).

The storm continued as the obscured, rising sun failed to penetrate the thick fog.  Defeated, the van drove down from the summit. Minutes later, the cloudless skies reappeared.  Behind us, the one huge dark gray cloud crowning the Haleakala's peak reminded us that it was still crappy up there.

At 6700 feet, the bikes were brought out and for a short time ,we zoomed down but Sue didn't like it.
SUE REMAINED IN THE VAN AND TOOK HIS SHOT OF MY POSTERIOR.

The ride was 95% coasting.  For me, it was fun and easy.  I wished Sue would have joined me.  We finished at the beach town of Paia.
AT PAIA, (HIPPIE-TOWN).  BEHIND ME, BEYOND THE SUGAR CANE FIELDS, THAT'S WHERE WE STARTED, HALEAKALA, TWO MILES ABOVE SEA LEVEL.   

The next day, we rented a car and took another excursion to, "The Road to Hana."  Hana is a tiny town on the furthest end of Maui.  The only way there, is a slow drive around the back side of Haleakala.  This magnificent, heaven-on-earth, side trip includes the most scenic mountain road imaginable.  Every place you stop, there's an opportunity to hike the trails, swim in lagoons and find one Kodak moment after another.
SUE AT A RAINBOW EUCALYPTUS TREE. WE HAVE MANY ROAD TO HANA PICTURES BUT YOU REALLY HAVE TO BE THERE BECAUSE OUR SNAPSHOTS REALLY DON'T CAPTURE MOTHER NATURE'S FINEST MOMENT.

Sue took a gazillion selfies of us.  Luckily a family came by and took this shot.
OUR CAMERA MISERABLY FAILED TO CATCH JUST HOW DROP-DEAD-GORGEOUS THIS WAS.

We had a picnic lunch, at another slice of perfection.  A man came by and said, "I came all the way back here because three hours ago, I tripped over this wall and fell down the embankment."
SUE IS GESTURING THAT SHE WON'T GET CLOSER TO THE LITTLE WALL.  THE MAN FELL OVER IT.  IF HE DIDN'T GRAB ONTO VEGETATION AND CLIMB BACK UP, IT SOON BECOMES A SHEAR DROP.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, ANOTHER NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE ON OUR TRIP. 

We took tons of photographs; waterfalls, trees, flowers and ourselves.  But for the sake of brevity, I just included my favs.
IT LOOKS LIKE A STOCK PHOTO OR A POST CARD...BUT IT ISN'T.

We put in seven hours on the Road to Hana. On the way back to civilization, we stopped for dinner and do some shopping, in Paia.
PAIA (aka HIPPIE-TOWN), REALLY MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE IN A "TWILIGHT ZONE," EPISODE, SET IN 1970,  DURING THE FLOWER-POWER ERA.

Sue and I were amazed that modern-day hippies hung out in clusters, smoked pot on the beach or sat in circles on sidewalks, humming their mantras.  Curiously, while the streets were uncluttered by people, Mana Foods, (the one food market) was jammed with young, spaced-out people, (it looked like a convenience store from the outside but inside it was a throwback 1960's mini-supermarket).  It had narrow aisles, rickety wooden floors and a claustrophobic room filled with health foods, vitamins and supplements.

We also went to Makawao (aka Cowboy-Town).  It was smaller and more rustic than Paia but far less interesting.

In the morning, we drove to Slappy Cakes for breakfast.
SLAPPY CAKES WAS A CUTE PANCAKE HOUSE WITH THE GIMMICK OF COOKING YOUR OWN FOOD, ON THE BUILT-IN GRIDDLE ON EACH TABLE.  WE LEFT OUR EATING DESTINY UP TO THE CHEF IN THE KITCHEN.

Our trip was winding down.  We took one last beach walk and poked our heads in at two rival hotels, the Westin and Hyatt.  They were equally Polynesian but more corporate than the Sheridan.  The Westin featured live flamingos in their humongous koi pool but we liked the Hyatt better because they had a pen with South African, black-footed penguins and several huge parrots.
ON THE HYATT'S WALKWAY BETWEEN THE PARROTS AND THE PENGUINS, THEY HAD A BOTANICAL GARDEN FEATURING NATIVE PLANTS AND TREES.  HARD TO BELIEVE BUT TRUE, PINEAPPLES WERE HARD TO FIND IN HAWAII.  BUT THAT'S A WHOLE OTHER STORY.

Perhaps it was an omen of what was to come.  At the Westin, I met up with a trash talking tiki statue.
TIKI TOTEM POLES ARE HAND-CARVED SPIRITUAL FIGURES WHOSE SCARY, EXAGGERATED EXPRESSIONS ARE USED TO WARD-OFF EVIL. IN PREPARATION OF FLYING HOME, MY INNER BROOKLYN CAME OUT IN THIS ARGUMENT.  REMEMBER...NOBODY CALLS ME EVIL! 

At the Sheridan, Sue and I decided to do some snorkeling.  The rental station is at the base of Black Rock.  I was excited because the buzz in the crowd included talk of turtles feeding along the shore.

Sue and I waited behind a Barbie and Ken couple (early 20's) getting their equipment.  The girl was truly a knockout and I confess to checking her and her minuscule bikini out.  The illusion was burst when she copped an attitude and refused the snorkeling fins and face mask, in favor of an inflatable raft.

I do have snorkeling experience.  In 1992, Sue and I did it in the Bahamas.  Like swimming in an exotic fish tank, it was unbelievably cool. My memory of it was was so pleasant, that because I was over-confident, I didn't ask for a refresher course.  In my defense, because it's so basic...none was offered.

I was getting into ocean when I noticed Barbie (later I found out that her name was Hannah) was knee-deep in the water, holding the raft.  Just before I got in the water, a smile came across my face as I leered watched her mount the raft as Ken swam beneath her.

Snorkeling is the ultimate relaxation.  Just breathe normal, gently kick your feet and brush the water with swimming strokes to steer.  Side-by-side with Sue, my first two minutes were full of visual ecstasy, (from the fish).  I don't know why but I lost the coordination on biting down on the mouthpiece.  My lungs filled with water so I popped up to the surface.

I was too deep to stand so I tread water until I understood the problem.  I tried again but the same thing happened immediately.  My spastic ridiculousness happened about five times.  By the last time, I had become arm weary. I was frantic to reach the rocks...to rest.

Sue wanted to know if I was okay.  That's when my over-confidence about not using the proper breathing technique collided with carelessness.  To prove to Sue that I was fine, I gave it another try. But rather than going closer to the shore, I put myself in deeper water.

I thought I had the procedure down pat but a minute later, I was again taking-in giant gulps of water. That's when I had a Jonny drowning in Barbados flashback, I recalled the man on the plane needing an emergency landing in Los Angeles and the poor fellow who might have died after falling from the cliff, on the "Road to Hana."

When I decided that the snorkeling fun factor couldn't out weigh the risk, my previous carelessness and over-confidence morphed into stupidity.  I swam to the farthest end of Black Rock where the once high stones, are at water level.  Setting myself atop the rocks was an incredibly moronic place for this whale to beach himself.

Temporarily, I was safe as I sat up.  I was so far out, I didn't see anyone and because everyone was focused on the people jumping off Black Rock, (closer to the beach) no one noticed me.

Jesus H.  Christ, suddenly a crashing wave knocked me over.  I understood the power of the sea...so pardon the pun, I really thought I met my Waterloo.  I tried to stand, to get on higher ground.  I was knocked down.  It occurred to me that if my ankle got caught in one of the nooks and crannies during a fall, the force could crush my head against the rocks.

I was further immobilized by the fins. In a panic, I managed to stand on the precariously uneven stone and rushed to get one off. I was knocked down again.  I dropped the one fin and my snorkel mask.  The tide picked them up, they were floating away. I was reminded of the movie, "CASTAWAY," when Tom Hanks' character saw his imaginary friend Wilson (the volleyball) drift away in the current.
WHAT AN IDIOT, OUT OF A FALSE SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY TO RETURN ALL THE RENTED EQUIPMENT, I IMPULSIVELY LUNGED BELLY FIRST, BACK TOWARD THE OPEN SEA.  I TOOK ONE SWIPE AND RECOVERED BOTH ITEMS.

My arms were exhausted. A great chest pain signaled my water-logged lungs.  With one flipper still on and encumbered from holding the other and the mask, I maneuvered onto higher rocks. At the crest of Black Rock, I saw the divers getting ready for their turn to jump in the water.

I was halfway up when Hannah saw me awkwardly inching up.  She offered help.  My pride got in my way, I turned her down.  In the next five minutes, I had navigated a mere three feet higher.  I asked a random kid, "Is there a path up there to walk along the rock, back to shore?"  He looked down at me and said, "No, you gotta come up a little higher, jump down and swim."

I made it to that lowest ledge when Hannah was coming back up from her jump.  She said, "You're as white as a sheet.  If you jump down, I'll help you back to shore."  I agreed.  She jumped in.  I threw down both flippers and my face mask.  She gathered them up and told me when it was safe to jump.

My arms were like rubber and my chest was pounding, After a few seconds of swimming, I confessed that I couldn't do it.  That's when my life saving mermaid grabbed the inflatable raft that she wedged into the rocks.  Together, we doggie paddled to safety.

Sue was on the shoreline.  She was had no idea where I had been.  She was on the verge of calling the National Guard. I called out to Hannah and told Sue, "She saved my life."  Hannah smiled and swam back out to Ken. I was glad that my first impression of Hannah being a drama queen or a stuck-up princess was wrong.
I DON'T THINK SUE REALIZED THAT I WAS IN SOME DEGREE OF SHOCK.  I SAT IN THE FIRST CHAIR I FOUND .  I DECIDED TO NOT GET UP UNTIL THE PAIN IN MY LUNGS STOPPED.  BUT THAT TOOK HOURS.  ON THE BACK TO THE *ROOM WHILE CONSOLING ME, SUE PISSED ME OFF MY SAYING, "RIGHT AFTER I LOST TRACK OF YOU, A GIANT TURTLE SWAM RIGHT PAST ME."

* I stayed in the room.  Sue took one last dip and was knocked over by a wave.  She fell on her arm and a month later, it's still giving her trouble.


Luckily, my bad day at Black Rock was only a close call.
BUT THE MORE I THINK ABOUT IT, THE LOCAL KID HAD NO TROUBLE SCALING THAT WALL AND WALKING TO THE END.  MAYBE IT'S ALL FOR THE BEST, BUT I WON'T MAKE A GRATUITOUS WET-DREAM JOKE, AT THE EXPENSE OF MY SAVIOR.

Sue packed our bags that night for our noon flight.  In the morning we loaded up with Subway sandwiches so we wouldn't starve on our return.  On the way back to the Sheridan, we received a wonderful, beautiful farewell from the aloha state.
ON THE WAY BACK TO OUR ROOM, WE SAW THIS AMAZING RAINBOW.  WE HAD SEEN LESS SPECTACULAR ONES, SHOOTING STARTS, COOL CRESCENT MOONS AND EVEN SOME MONGOOSES.  BUT THIS PERFECTLY TIMED SYMBOL OF WONDERMENT CAPPED OFF THE GREATEST VACATION OF OUR LIVES.

All that was left was to go back to room and head to Maui Airport.
BUT FIRST WE HAD TO COMMISERATE.

While waiting for the shuttle, there was still time for one last selfie.
WHEN WE'RE TALKING NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES, I COULDN'T LEAVE YOU WITH A FROWNY-FACED PICTURE.

One more thing to remember, don't let anyone tell you...that you get the same vibe in the Caribbean without the expense and distance as you do in Hawaii.  Trust me, it's worth it!

Monday, October 5, 2015

NICKY'S A PRICK

October is, MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH.

                                                     #

What makes a good person snap?  How can a well-adjusted, intelligent, God-fearing, friendly, generous, caring and confident individual soar so high...only to suddenly fizzle, crash and burn?

We are learning more about the evil inner demons of depression and what can spark the internal downfall of someone who seems to have their act together.   Where might it start?  Getting betrayed by a lover? An untimely death in the family? Disillusionment at the workplace or money matters?   Certainly any one of these could mess someone up...but more than one or all, especially condensed into a short period of time would test the will of a saint. From the outside looking in, a perfect example might be comedian/actor Robin Williams.
ROBIN WILLIAMS (1951-2014)  WAS A UNIVERSALLY BELOVED CELEBRITY.  DURING HIS CAREER IN SHOW BUSINESS, (1976-2014),  HE HAD NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF, (WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF THE 1980 MOVIE, "POPEYE.")  HE WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU'D EXCEPT TO HARM HIMSELF. AFTER HIS TRAGIC SUICIDE, WE LEARNED THAT THIS ACT WAS TRIGGERED BY DEPRESSION AND PARANOIA RESULTING FROM A TYPE OF DEMENTIA.

I met a universally beloved man (Nick Tucker), in 1978, while  attending the New York School of Gambling, (West 32nd Street off Broadway). Our original relationship was cemented into a friendship when three years later in Las Vegas, we became coworkers at the Golden Nugget

Tucker (five years older than me), fooled me into thinking he was the world's finest human. I once introduced him to my wife Sue (before we were married) as, a true gentleman.  He was of course flawed.  One of his shortcomings was to say to Sue, "Pardon my language but..."  And then he'd use the harshest profanity that would make a longshoreman blush.  He also thought it was funny to brandish a switchblade on people.  When he did it to Sue and I, I  cracked, "Are you a Shark or a Jet?"  His response started with, Pardon my language but..."
NICK GOT MY REFERENCE TO THE 1957 HIT BROADWAY MUSICAL AND 1961 MOVIE, "WEST SIDE STORY." WHICH WAS INSPIRED BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S CLASSIC, "ROMEO AND JULIET." EXCEPT, THE DISAPPROVING FAMILIES ARE REPRESENTED BY WARRING STREET GANGS IN NEW YORK CITY AND THEIR WEAPON OF CHOICE IS KNIVES, SPECIFICALLY SWITCHBLADES.

In those two rare instances, Nick's nastiness came off as cute, so it was a shock later on, to discover that Nick had a disturbing, dark side, (Nick Tucker appears in several of my pieces, which among others includes the short story, "NO HELP'S HALL," and my blog from June 30, 2014, "NICK TUCKER: A PUZZLE THAT WOULD BAFFLE CHURCHILL AND FREUD."

In each case, Nick takes on the hero role.  But, we find out that he was a twisted bastard who carried vendettas and thought nothing of hurting the people who he perceived had hurt him.  It was only after Nick abandoned his position at the Nugget, (December 1983) that I found out about this double life.

In the beginning at dealer school, our student body, like a caste system, had a strict, social status hierarchy.  While our craps dealing class wasn't in session, the jet-setters like Nick Tucker hung-out together.  Regular low-key guys like me, remained in our "good-people" crowd.  While the nerds cast themselves off to the furthest shadows.  Despite the social separation, Tucker stood out as unique because unlike his elite brethren, he was friendly and kind to everyone.

Tucker's running mate at school was John Crotty.  Crotty, was a narcissistic asshole.  Even in the early stages of dealer school, his upward mobility mindset defined his future as a casino games dealer, as a "temporary obstacle" on his way to upper management.

The heart of Crotty's coolness was based on the Vegas connections he bragged about.  So to anyone beneath his strata who didn't get high the way did or go golfing with bigwigs was nothing to him.  So unless a nobody could do something for him, his personality was epitomized by aloofness, shallowness and materialism.  At no point at school did he and I share a spoken word that didn't relate to our course.  However, he was famous for repeating one phrase over and over again, "You don''t shit where you eat."

My first interaction outside class with Nick Tucker was during a mid-morning break.  While Tucker thought everyone left the building, I returned to our seventh floor mock casino, to get extra practice.

I found Nick near an open window tying plastic straps to a burlap bank sack.  I had no idea that he was in the process of stealing ten stacks of non-value casino chips.  Down on the street, John Crotty and jet-set wannabe *Barney Kush,  were waiting for Nick's signal to stop pedestrian traffic so the missile-like booty could be tossed down "safely."

*Kush's story was blogged on January 27, 2014.  It was called, "THE COCKAMAMIE KID."

Nick called out as I entered the casino-like classroom, "Hey you, lay chickie for me."  Unwittingly, I became the lookout for the robbery.  Later, I was invited to practice with those stolen chips and hundreds more, on the craps table John Crotty built in his Elizabeth New Jersey garage. I might have taken Nick up on his offer but the harsh glare from Crotty made me feel acutely unwelcome.

In my five years in Las Vegas, I saw Crotty only three times.  I ducked him the first two times but the point of this story centers around our third meeting.  However, first I must introduce you to Mateo. I doubt Mateo and Crotty ever met.

I was hired as a craps dealer at the Las Vegas Golden Nugget in August 1982.  Nick Tucker was already dealing dice there and took me under his wing.  In no time I was traveling in the inner circle clique which included Mateo.

Mateo and I gravitated to each other.  He gave me background on Nick which made Tucker God-like. He said, "Nick proved his generosity many ways including: counseling another dealer and taking him by the hand to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.  Nick spent several nights off in a gorgeous blackjack dealer's apartment and helped her study and soon gain her GED, (he declined her offers of sexual compensation). To a pit boss on the verge of disowning his fourteen year-old, drug addicted daughter, Nick spoke so highly of a supreme being and convinced the man to speak to a priest." He also mentioned that he once offered Nick a hundred dollars to drive up to Utah with him and help roll a cement mixer into the bed of his truck and bring back to town. Nick went but refused the money.

Nick Tucker was also famous for using up favors to set up parties and other outings for our group, (oddly, he never stuck around for them).  I know now that root of Nick's deeper problems laid in the fact that despite being a social butterfly at work, nobody knew his address or phone number.

Mateo ( a craps dealer), had juice in the Nugget's executive office.  So he had access to the employees personal information.  This influence was so strong that it arranged supervisor pay for him.  The bean-counters didn't catch on to Mateo's bonanza, (an extra $40.00 a day for two years). His connection also saw to it that this "oversight" was swept under the rug.

In November 1983, Nick didn't tell anyone and went on vacation during Thanksgiving.  Nobody knew where he went and two weeks later it was apparent that he wasn't coming back.  That's when Mateo found out that in Nick's file folder, he used a post office box for an address and provided the casino with a phony phone number.

A few days before Christmas, I bumped into John Crotty at the Meadows Mall..  He was wearing an expensive suit and had an unnatural orange glow from a tanning bed session.  I was afraid he was going to bend my ear about how set for life he is.  Instead he asked, "You still at the Nugget?"  I was impressed that he knew I was there as I said, "Yeah.'  He said, "Where's Nicky? It's like he disappeared."  I shrugged, "Dunno. Nobody does..."

Crotty started talking...and at no time did he speak about himself.  At one point his saddened voice cracked, "I thought I had the best friend I always wanted in life...but Nicky was more skitzo than 'Skitzo-Al.'"  (Skitzo-Al was a regular guy from dealer school who hid the fact that he was deaf in one ear, resulting in an erratic personality).

Before long, I would hear the all highlights of John and Nick's friendship. Apparently Nick got to Las Vegas a couple of months before Crotty.  In that time, to minimize costs, Nick became roommates with a kid (Dale) attending UNLV.  When Crotty came to town, he and Nick got a place together.  Crotty said, "Nick's tongue really flapped when he was drunk."

Crotty and I sat on a bench as he shared Nick's life story:

"First! Nick's real name is Lonnie Orlando.  Nicky must have really fucked-up because he bought fake ID.  He wanted to go off the grid...and picked Vegas.  I bet whatever put him on the run was a combination of shitty circumstances.  First, he was an only child.  He was about twenty, still living at home when both his healthy but elderly parents died a month apart.  He inherited their-turn-of-the-century house, in a beaten-down section of Newark...the back of his property touched the tall barbed wire fence that surrounded Newark Airport's freight terminal."

I patiently listened as Crotty continued, "Nick became a high school business teacher.  Which meant for $9,100.00 a year, he was stuck teaching non-college bound juvenile delinquents how to type."

"Soon he married a grade school teacher named Annette and she moved into that house.  They were broke, so he wouldn't let her refurnish or decorate the place to her liking.  Plus, it was the only house left standing on the whole block, in the middle of a slum.  She hated being isolated without convenient shopping and never feeling safe.  In the name of love, she might have made do but the icing on the cake was that Nick had an insane phobia about going too far from home.  So forget romantic vacations, they hardly left Newark."

Nick life didn't seem so tragic to me.  When I pretended to yawn, Crotty spoke faster and his voice went up an octave, "Nick wanted to teach history but there were no openings.  He dedicated himself to instructing his misfits.  Through care and understanding, he got enthusiasm from kids that usually don't give a rat's ass."

"Towards the end of March, Annette felt so neglected that she left him.  Nick told me, her leaving made him so depressed that he considered killing himself.  Then in June, he won the Teacher of the Year Award.  On the last day of the term during a fond farewell with his students, some silliness got personal.  He argued with his pet and lost his temper. They cursed each other.  He was losing the battle of wits and felt the urge to physically attack her.  Instead he quit on the spot, walked out the door without taking his best teacher trophy,clearing out his desk or picking up his last check."

"Wow," I said. Crotty kept talking, "I don't know if he ran because he did something to that girl or if it was something else.  But your buddy Lonny Orlando saw a TV commercial for our dealer school and soon signed up as Nick Tucker."

I said, "That's crazy.  Did he harm his wife?"  Crotty said, "No.  He didn't even contest the divorce. But did you ever notice he always took vacations at Thanksgiving?"  I shook my head as he forged on, "He picked that time of year because Annette and her family followed the same ritual.  So he knew exactly when and where she was.  Then he'd travel incognito back to Jersey and harass her."  I said, "No way.  He was such a great guy, he could never hurt her."  "Well, he felt betrayed by Annette.  Before that, while still mourning for his mom and dad, she wanted to remodel the only house he ever lived in...and, erase the memories of his folks."

"Financially, he screwed himself royally by turning his back on his career and giving up half of everything he owned, even his parent's house."  I said, "I can't believe it. Nick was so smart, he knew right from wrong, he went to church..."  John cut me off, "He NEVER went to church out here!" "Well," I added, "He was a funny man, caring, generous and so confident."  Crotty said, "I'm telling you, he snapped and became schizophrenic. He was usually normal but when pushed, he was capable of doing terrible things."  "No.  You don't think he killed that teacher pet's of his?"  He said, "I can't rule out anything."

John said, "Nick got to Vegas before me and lived with a college kid named Dale.  When we got our apartment together, he told me that he and Dale didn't get along.  Nick was dealing on graveyard at the El Cortez and wanted to sleep from eight at night till two in the morning.  But it was Dale's place and he thought nothing of blasting music and partying all the time.  They clashed over the noise. And when it finally got quiet, Dale had taught Thor, his Norwegian Blue parrot to screech, "NICKY'S A PRICK, NICKY'S A PRICK..."
THERE IS NO SUCH BREED OF PARROT NAMED THE NORWEGIAN BLUE.  DALE CALLED THOR A NORWEGIAN BLUE, AS A HOMAGE TO THE MONTY PYTHON, "DEAD PARROT" SKIT.

John Crotty sighed, "To get even, Nick doused the birdseed with Tabasco Sauce. Thor's shit was blood red for a couple of days...until he died.  I'm no animal rights guy but what Nick did was criminal. Whenever he told me that story, he included lines from the Monty Python sketch. It wasn't funny."  I said, "Parrots live like forty years..."  John said, "That's right.  It's like a member of the family.  So when Dale attacked him, Nick kicked his ass, trashed the apartment and bolted."  "Did the guy press charges?"  "No apparently Nick gave Dale a different phony name when he moved in and quit the El Cortez, so he couldn't be tracked down."

Seven years after moving to Atlantic City, (1991), my wife Sue and I had a Vegas vacation.  We telephoned Mateo and met him for lunch.  I asked if he knew anything about Nick.  He said, "Months after you left, my connection in the executive office sent me a Xerox copy of a November 1983 arrest report from Ionia New Jersey.  He (Nick) had slashed the tires of his ex's new husband, broke into their house, trashed the place and smeared his own shit on wedding and honeymoon pictures.  Then on the morning of Thanksgiving, he broke into her parent's house.  He was holding his own crap and was about to do the same thing to that house when cops burst out of closets, the basement and attic."  I said, "I thought Nick had no family or real friends so nobody would miss him?"  Mateo said, "You're right.  The police got his true identity from Annette and were able to trace him back to his fingerprints, on his application for a Nevada casino dealer license."

I sighed, "That boy needed professional help."  Mateo huffed, "He had too much pride."  I said, "He needed to be on meds...sounds like he went off the deep end and could have become one of the weirdos that goes berserk and drives up on crowded sidewalks and mows down strangers."

Mateo was shaking his head as I continued, "One of Nick's friends (John Crotty) was right, you shouldn't shit where you eat."  Then I shared with him a lot of what Crotty told me.  When I finished with the parrot story I said, "Nicky really was a prick.'"

Monday, September 28, 2015

CUBAN SANDWICHES

What are the chances that I would eat one of my favorite foods once in the last thirty-five years?

In my Las Vegas years, (1979-1984), my longtime running mate was "Ciro the Hero."  Although he eventually crashed, burned and turned into Ciro the Zero, he widened my range of experiences...most of which I rejected.  However, his mainframe of genius was...knowing where to eat.

The best place he took me to was Tommy B's Casino.  Tommy B's opened in 1968.  It was located in a four-store strip mall just north of the Circus Circus Casino.  By the time I got there with my feedbag on, Tommy's had evolved away from being a casino.  So their only claim to gaming fame was, two antique nickel slots machines.

What Tommy B's had become was a bodega, (an Hispanic grocery store). The long, left wall featured shelves of Goya food products.
I HAD NEVER HEARD OF GOYA BACK THEN BUT TODAY MY CUPBOARD IS STOCKED WITH MOJO, SOFRITO AND ADOBO...PLANTAIN CHIPS...NOT SO MUCH.

The right side of Tommy's oblong space was dominated by a bar.  In addition to rows of alcohol bottles, there was a grill.

It was after midnight when Ciro and I went in to this sleepy, mostly empty dump.  I immediately noticed that the cigar chomping bartender was wearing a white, sweaty and decrepit Cincinnati Reds baseball cap. His neutral expression broke into a broad smile as he caught eye contact with Ciro.

They leaned over the bar and gave each other a hearty welcome.  Ciro whispered something in pigeon Spanish that drew a serious nod from the man.  Soon there after, I was introduced to the proprietor, Javier Cuellar
YOU HAVE TO BE REALLY OLD LIKE ME OR A BASEBALL NUT TO REMEMBER CUBANS BEING BIG CINCINNATI REDS FANS.  THE REASON WAS,  (BEFORE THE 1959 REVOLUTION), THE REDS HAD THEIR AAA, INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE AFFILIATE IN HAVANA.  SO, IT WAS COOL TO ME, THAT CUELLAR HAD A WHITE CAP FROM THE 1950's AND 1960's.  (above) ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITES, HALL-OF-FAMER FRANK ROBINSON MODELS THE VINTAGE CAP. 

Cuellar turned to the greasy grill and flipped a pancake, fried eggs, a burger and home fries. Ciro grinned, "Everything tastes like a hamburger here."  I nodded, "And everything stinks like cheap stogies."  Ciro ignored me and called out, "Servicio amigo, dos Carta Blancas y dos mixtos."
A CUBAN SANDWICH...OR CUBAN MIX...OR A MIXTO, IS A VARIATION ON A HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICH.  IT ORIGINATED IN CUBAN CAFES THAT CATERED TO BLUE COLLAR WORKERS.  IMMIGRANTS BROUGHT DIFFERENT RECIPES TO THE USA WHICH GENERALLY INCLUDED;  HAM, ROASTED PORK, CHEESE, PICKLES AND MUSTARD ON CUBAN FLAT BREAD...WITH THE WHOLE ENCHILADA PRESSED DOWN ON A GRILL.

On a bar stool, I found a three-day old copy of El Nuevo Herald, (the Spanish counterpart of the Miami Herald).  I thumbed through it as I sucked down my first beer until Ciro nudged me to watch Cuellar prepare his version of our six-billion calorie snack.
I MAY NOT BE THE MOST INTERESTING MAN IN THE WORLD BUT WHEN I DRINK BEER, I KNOW MOST LATIN AMERICAN CERVEZAS WILL BE A LET-DOWN.  HOWEVER IN THIS CASE, I WENT WITH THE FLOW.

My arteries were already stiffening as Cuellar slathered the grill with butter (no mustard) while the added ingredient of bacon sizzled. That Cuban sandwich wound-up being so incredible that I didn't feel cheated out of the Heinekens that I was looking forward to.

On two other occasions I went back to Tommy's with Ciro and loved it...but never went on my own. During a private conversation,Ciro implied that he did *business with Cuellar.  Later, that tidbit reinforced my concern over the questionable goings on, (primarily by the low-lifes), hanging out in the storage room out back.

* The term "business" suggested marijuana.  If that was true, Ciro never made clear who was supplying who.

 Ciro convinced me that the seedy men on the other side of the beaded curtain were a part of a social club and that nothing truly sinister was going on.  But on my way to the restroom that first time, I glimpsed through and saw a beat-up wooden table.  Dominoes, beer cans and bottles were strewn about and four grisly Latinos, in their native tongue, were intensely arguing.  I knew Ciro wasn't the most wholesome character and assumed that his idea of savory and mine was different.
EATING AT TOMMY B's WOULD HAVE BEEN A GREAT PLACE TO TURN OTHER FRIENDS ON TO, BUT I NEVER DID.  I DIDN'T SEE GUNS OR KNIVES IN THAT BACK ROOM BUT I WAS WILLING TO MISS-OUT ON A TASTY TREAT IN THE NAME OF SAFETY.

I was in Tommy B's three times and drove by it without giving it much thought countless other times. But its memory, specifically the Cuban sandwiches are indelibly etched in my mind. So, in 2009 during our family Las Vegas and Grand Canyon vacation, I went out of my way to have a drive-by. But twenty-three years is a long time...Tommy B's as well as the whole mini-mall were long gone.

If you were in Vegas in the 1980's, you probably thought the town was mega. Since then, this adult playground has taken steroids and has exploded into super-mega popularity. The quaint little casinos and vacant desert lots that took up the space between giant gaming halls along the fabulous Las Vegas strip have vanished.  The once plentiful, seemingly unwanted land has become so valuable that it's no exaggeration to say that you can't squeeze a credit card between today's expanded properties. So with Tommy B's nearly removed from my memory what are the chances that it would come to mind in Dullsville...a.k.a., Rehoboth Delaware.

Throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's, my family enjoyed long weekends and many vacations in Ocean City Maryland. To get there from South Jersey, the only realistic way to go was the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.  From Lewes Delaware, through Rehoboth, it was a forty-five minute scenic jaunt along the shoreline to Ocean City.
THE CAPE MAY - LEWES FERRY HAS BEEN SHUTTLING ACROSS DELAWARE BAY SINCE JULY 1, 1964.  CURRENTLY, THE DAILY SERVICE RUNS 16-HOURS, EVERY DAY.  FOR THE 80-MINUTE VOYAGE, SHIPS ACCOMMODATE UP TO 100 VEHICLES. DEPENDING ON THE SEASON, A REGULAR CARLOAD COST: $27.00, $37.00, $42.00 OR $45.00.

On the way home, we got into the habit of taking the last ferry and stopping first at the outlet shops in Rehoboth, (the town next to Lewes). Shopping was exciting to my wife Sue and less thrilling for my son Andrew and I. Eventually, I devised a plan to drop mom off for an hour or two which allowed us the uninhibited testosterone rush of exploring and having our own adventures.

When Andrew was nine, (2003), on the way to dropping Sue off, a traffic accident blocked our approach to Rehoboth.  While the other side of the two-lane roadway was at a complete standstill, we inched forward in Dewey Beach, (the adjacent town).  The snail's pace allowed me to noticed a deli's big sign advertising Cuban sandwiches.  My mouth watered as I pined for my long-lost treat and looked forward to bonding with Andrew over this culinary delight...and maybe a sarsaparilla or two.

Unfortunately, the last couple of miles took forever.  I dropped Sue off at the outlet center with a lot less time than we had anticipated. I began to retrace my steps to the deli. Up ahead, I could see the traffic hadn't eased up  There might have been an alternate route but I didn't know the lay of the land.
THE TRAFFIC JAM WAS WHERE THE LAND BOTTLENECKS, AT THE TOP OF THIS NORTHERLY, AERIAL PHOTO OF DEWEY BEACH.

These were the pre-cell phone days.  So only a fool would've risked becoming a victim of circumstance with the potential for making Sue wait and worry.  The Cuban sandwich idea suddenly wasn't an option.  I couldn't chance the disaster of missing the last ferry and getting stranded or being forced to drive all through the night to get home.  I made a reluctant U-Turn.

During that next week at work, I struck up a conversation with a man who coincidentally lived in Dewey Beach.  I told him about my frustration about missing out on Cuban sandwiches.  Even crazier!!!  What's the chances...this man owned that deli!

Since then, I have had one Cuban sandwich at a restaurant called Babalu's.  They wanted to justify charging $13.00 so they called it a "gourmet" Cuban sandwich. But it wasn't special and tasted antiseptic.  I guess some foods by their nature require being greasy.  That meant to me that a gourmet Cuban sandwich was an oxymoron. Either way, my Andrew has still never had the pleasure.
(stock photo) BABALU'S HAD A LOCATION IN ATLANTIC CITY, (I'M UNCERTAIN WHETHER IT WAS ASSOCIATED WITH OTHER EATERIES OF THE SAME NAME).  IT WAS PRICEY AND NOTHING SPECTACULAR....IT CLOSED WITHIN TWO YEARS.

Until recently, I again hadn't thought about Cuban sandwiches for a long time.  So what's the chances of me seeing the exact spot where Tommy B's Casino had been located, in an old movie, (thus conjuring-up the great memories of Javier Cuellar's grill mastery).

The 1967 film, "IN COLD BLOOD," was based on the Truman Capote novel from the previous year.  The book was based on the 1959 killing of the Clutter family in Kansas and the ultimate hanging of the two assailants.
THE BOOK, "IN COLD BLOOD," WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS.  IT RANKS  BEHIND VINCENT BUGLIOSI'S, 1974 CLASSIC, "HELTER SKELTER" AS THE SECOND BEST SELLING CRIME NOVEL IN PUBLISHING HISTORY. 

Last week, those Cuban sandwiches memories gushed out of head, three quarters of the way through the movie. That's when I noticed something interesting when the two murderers were so broke that they gathered deposit bottles.  Just before getting apprehended, they cashed them in for chump change in Las Vegas.  In the establishing shot, like an epiphany, I saw the supermarket was in the space where Tommy B's was, (before it was divided into the four-unit mini-strip mall that I was familiar with...ten plus years later).

Due to the movie, the idea of Cuban sandwiches was fresh in my mind last Sunday.  I was at work, dealing roulette when I struck up a conversation with a player.  He told me, he was from Dewey Beach.  I told him the same story I told that other man from Dewey Beach twelve years ago.  He said, "That was me!" What an amazing coincidence, it was the same guy. You tell me, what are the chances of that?