Monday, March 30, 2015

YOU CAN BELIEVE THIS MR. RIPLEY, I GOTTA WITNESS!

I think the men's room is a poor forum...for conversations with strangers.

At work this past week, I chatted with VEGA44 , WILLIE FROM FILLY and CS  about our Las Vegas experiences.

I reminded them that my first craps dealing job was the Slots-A-Fun Casino, (this low-roller haven is still there).  I have mentioned many times in MGTP that in my day, (January-April 1979), it was the worst casino job on the planet, ( I grossed $150.00, for a forty hour week).

VEGA44 already knew about Slots-A-Fun because he dealt there two years ahead of me.  His tenure was far worse because before they hired him as a craps dealer, he served a three-dollar an hour apprenticeship that required standing in the street handing out coupon booklets.  Sometimes, as a treat, out of the goodness of management's heart, they allowed VEGA the privilege of "practicing" his trade on a live game...for zero pay.

VEGA was exposed to the same cantankerous and psychotic boss that I had, Mr. Broderick Boyle, (the only gaming supervisor I had in 36+ years who insisted on being called Mister). A tornado of negative energy, our Mr. Boyle could have passed for TV film critic Roger Ebert's evil twin.
ROGER EBERT (1942-2013) WAS A BELOVED JOURNALIST AND SCREENWRITER WHO WAS MOST RENOWN FOR CRITIQUING MOVIES ON TV.

Perhaps Mr. Boyle's edginess could be traced back to being overworked. Slots-A-Fun was so small that his duties included owning a fraction of the club, being the casino manger, shift boss, pit boss, relief blackjack floorman and the relief boxman in craps.  Boyle was also rumored to be armed because that shithouse was so frugal, they didn't have security guards. Mr. Boyle wore so many hats that he refilled the cigarette machine and I once saw him empty trash cans.

VEGA told me that Mr. Boyle was indeed armed.  He said, "I saw our bartender chase down a customer who left an insulting tip.  When Boyle saw him punching the stiff out front, he rushed outside. By the time Boyle got there the bloodied man was pinned down and getting pummeled.  Boyle ordered the bartender to stop. The attack continued until Boyle pulled a pistol from a shoulder holster, pointed it at the idiot's temple and fired...him (not the gun)."

VEGA and WILLIE FROM FILLY know many of my stories.  So instead of telling Slots-A-Fun reruns for the sake of CS, I responded with this...

In the late 1980's, I went to a baseball card show at the Shore Mall, (Egg Harbor Township NJ). To my surprise, one of the vendors was Eddie Murphy.  Of course my Eddie Murphy wasn't in show business. He was a fourth generation coal miner from a tiny town near Scranton Pennsylvania.  Like his father, he might never have gone further west than Harrisburg but when the mining industry dried-up, my Eddie Murphy moved to Vegas.
EDDIE MURPHY (1961-PRESENT) HAS BEEN A GIANT OF STAND-UP COMEDY, MOVIES AND TV SINCE 1980.  IN 1984, MY WIFE AND I WENT WITH FIVE OTHER COUPLES TO THE COMEDY CLUB, "CATCH A RISING STAR." WE HEARD THAT MURPHY MIGHT "DROP-IN" TO TEST NEW MATERIAL. AMAZINGLY,  HE DID! AND IT WAS ONE OF THE ENTERTAINMENT HIGHLIGHTS OF MY LIFE.

Prior to bumping into Eddie Murphy at the mall, it had been ten years since I saw him..  Our shared claim to fame was starting our craps dealing career on the same day, at Slots-A-Fun.  He and I started trading stories, (please note, this was way before I started writing...so indirectly, this chance meeting has something to do with why I chose to put my experiences down on paper).

This might seem far-fetched but Eddie told me stories that I already knew.  But I wouldn't dream of interrupting because I wanted to hear his versions. His accounts were the same as mine. But because they were so crazy, so impossible and ridiculous, I had stopped telling them because of the doubt in my audience's eyes.  I got to the point that I didn't believe my own stuff.  But Eddie rattled off a few and rekindled the confidence I needed to retell them myself...and eventually write them out.

Eddie Murphy reminded me that at Slots-A-Fun, we had a moronic, penniless, alcoholic boxman, Willard Lafitte.  Lafitte was the most brutal, insensitive individual I ever had the misfortune of working with or for.  My short story, "THE HEAT IS ON," is a murder mystery with Lafitte being the victim.  I killed him off because this ignorant, fat, ugly, bald redneck from Slidell Louisiana was so hateful that if he really was stabbed to death, the list of suspects would include all women, disgruntled gamblers, anyone from an ethnic group, northerners, intellectuals, the physically or mentally impaired...or in reality...almost everybody.

Murphy set the stage for his story by saying that he was the stickman.  Lafitte was the boxman, the dealer (Ken Berd) was where the trouble was and that I was on the opposite side of the table.  Two of our five players (they were friends) had a bet on the hard ten, (a seven-to-one bet on a double five getting rolled).  One of these bets was twenty-five cents, the other was half a buck.
THE ONLY WAY TO WIN A BET ON THE HARD TEN IS FOR TWO FIVES (above) TO BE ROLLED BEFORE AN EASY TEN (A SIX AND A FOUR) OR A SEVEN.

The shooter rolled a hard ten.  Eddie said, "I was about to make my pay-outs when Lafitte used his finger to knock the dice onto a different number.  When I told Berd to pay Lafitte said, 'Boy y'all crazy or what, that ten came easy.'"

The two players thought Lafitte was kidding until he swiped the two bets off the layout and profaned Eddie Murphy for being a stupid break-in (inexperienced dealer). We (all three dealers) were in shock.  One of the robbed players jokingly begged Murphy, "Sticky, you gotta straighten-out your big boss man. I got $1.75 coming back and my friend won $3.50."  Lafitte told the customer, "Shut the fuck up!"  The game stopped as a three-person verbal tirade exploded.  Lafitte stood-up out of his chair and leaned over the game to emphasize his crude, misguided opinions. One of these cheated players tried to grab Lafitte.  He jumped back and retreated to the safety of his boxman's the stool. A split second later, he reached underneath the table and unbelievably came back up with a sawed-off baseball bat.

Lafitte swung for the fences.  If his target remained stubborn and didn't spring backward, I (and Eddie Murphy) were certain the man's brains would have been splattered all over the craps game.  Lafitte was crowing loud and proud as the two men, fled and left their chips behind.

The incident took only a minute.  So when Mr. Boyle hurried over, the damage was already done. Lafitte lied as he explained what happened and added, "So when the bastard came after me, I grabbed the dingus (this weapon and it's nickname had been unbeknownst to us), and went to hacking."

While Boyle soaked in all the information Lafitte continued, "They knew they done wrong, cuz they high-tailed their scared asses out of here without their chips."  Boyle said, "Where's their money now?"  Lafitte pointed to the rail and on the table, "I reckon it's sixteen bucks."  Boyle took off his glasses, squeezed the bridge of his nose and sighed, "Lock up the money, good job."

For anyone who has worked or played in casino, this story should be preposterous.  Even if you never stepped in a casino most people envision the current regulations to be so stiff that a gaming corporation would never risk their license by allowing employees to be cut-throat.  So until Eddie Murphy substantiated events like this, you can see why I stopped telling them.

My Willard Lafitte story was till fresh in everyone's mind when VEGA44 and I both got a break at the same time. Before heading to the cafeteria, we detoured to the public restroom.  VEGA advanced to a urinal and I headed to the stall, directly behind him.

What I'm about to tell you is worthy of, "RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT."
IN 1918, ROBERT RIPLEY STARTED WRITING SPORTS-RELATED NEWSPAPER CARTOONS CALLED, "CHAMPS AND CHUMPS."  IN 1923, HE BRANCHED OUT AND CHANGED THE NAME TO, "RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT."  THE ADDED LATITUDE ALLOWED HIM TO INCLUDE BIZARRE EVENTS AND ITEMS SO STRANGE AND UNUSUAL THAT THE READER MIGHT QUESTION ITS AUTHENTICITY.  THE 1941 CARTOON (above) TYPIFIES HIS STYLE.  EVENTUALLY THIS FRANCHISE EVOLVED INTO RADIO AND TV, COMIC BOOKS AND MUSEUMS.  THE RIPLEY COLLECTION IS ESTIMATED AT OVER 20,000 PHOTOS, 30,000 ARTIFACTS AND 100,000 NEWSPAPER CARTOONS.

The big difference between me and Ripley is, I have VEGA44 as a witness.  Just remember, the series of events that are about to unfold are so absurd, so ridiculous and so impossible that at the risk of being called a bullshit artist, I would NEVER repeat any of it without a collaborator.

Suddenly, as I walked into the stall, before I could lock the door or unzip my fly, someone from next door broke the silence, "Hey, buddy!"  Like I said before, I don't engage in conversations with strangers in men's rooms...especially through the stall walls.  He spoke-up at a higher octave, "Hey Mack!"  Maybe n the cramped space, the acoustics were skewed?  I was disoriented because this time, I couldn't tell which adjoining stall (left or right) the cryptic utterance was coming from.  During my fraction of a second hesitation he roared, "Yo, yo, yo waddaya doin'?" From the strain in his voice, I knew he wasn't going to ask me to pass toilet paper under the wall.  I gulped, "What?" The invisible man said, "Dude, look up."

In a million-to-one shot, above me, a plumber was working on pipes in the ceiling.  VEGA44 turned to see what the ruckus was and only saw two ankles dangling above me. I looked up and saw his legs spread wide apart, (luckily, he was wearing workmen's overalls). In a combination of fear, shock, embarrassment and my need to pee, I vamoosed to the furthest corner of the rest room.

While doing my business, it occurred to me that at a risk of a lawsuit from a traumatized guest, the genius would have been better served had he locked the stall door or put an "out of order" sign up.

I went back on duty and settled into the notion that it was all an odd coincidence. But VEGA44 busted my balls the rest of the night. I knew I could make it an entertaining story but I didn't tell WILLIE FROM FILLY, CS or even my wife.  Not because I was disturbed but because...who'd believe me?  You know the old saying; you had to be there.  Now a few days later I realize, it happened to me AND  I do have a witness.  Maybe I have a shot for a big payday from Robert Ripley.

The incident was still gnawing at me after my two days off.  So I returned to the scene of the crime.  I looked up at the still-missing ceiling panel and regretted not having a camera feature on my cell-phone.  It boggled my mind because I couldn't figure out how the maintenance man suspended himself up there without falling.  Maybe that mystery can be the next viral attraction at a Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum.

Monday, March 23, 2015

HOSES AND BELTS

I was still in skirt-chasing mode (April 1980), while dealing craps at Las Vegas' Stardust Casino.  In a chance meeting, a girl (N) I knew from home (Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York) approached my table with two girlfriends.  I spent a break with them and felt a strong mutual attachment with one of N's (unattached) friends, (M).

On the way back to my work station, N gave me her phone number in Los Angeles.  She had mentioned that M lived in the same apartment complex so I enthusiastically accepted.  A week later, we arranged my visit.  N said I could stay at her place.  I was cool as I said, "I'm looking forward to spending time with all three of you, (M, N and the other girl)."

My car, (a seven-year old Ford LTD), was the piece of shit that I had bought from a down-and-out gambler when I dealt at the Fremont, (my short story, "AMOS AND ARCHIE," details the circumstances).  I had never driven to L.A. but I knew my heap wasn't worthy of crossing the Mohave Desert.

I was living with a married couple Stu and Toby Frobel. I was a low-maintenance roommate to Stu but good friends with Toby.  Stu was reluctant to temporarily switch his three-year old Pontiac with my clunker.  But Toby gave me her blessing and used her feminine wiles to persuade hubby...in the name of amor...to help me.

Just before blasting off, Stu reminded me how hot it was, even for early May.  These were the pre-cell phone days, so to minimize the chance of breaking-down in no-man's-land, advance preparation was required.

Stu made me promise to stop at a filling station before leaving town, to top off the gas tank, have them check all his other fluids as well as the belts and hoses, Stu also showed me in his trunk, two anti-freeze jugs full of water, in case of an extreme emergency.  He also stipulated that he wanted his Pontiac to be returned with a full tank and washed.

I followed his instructions before setting out on Interstate-15.  While still within the city limits, I passed a Los Angeles 285 sign. I did the math and envisioned myself cuddling up with M in four hours.

If you've never made this drive, you might expect the desert wastelands to look like an Arabian movie.  But there aren't any Sahara-like, beachy sand dunes. So whatever romantic or beautiful images of the scenery you might have are scrapped immediately by repetitive, flat, brown ugliness that will drag on for hours.

Yes there are minor points of interest like Jean Nevada having a prison, the two saw-dust joint casinos at the state line and the first "real" town, ninety-two miles away, in Baker California.
IN MY DAY, BAKER BRAGGED ABOUT BEING THE, "GATEWAY TO DEATH VALLEY." MY MEMORY FROM 35 YEARS AGO  INCLUDES LITTLE MORE THAN TWO GAS STATIONS AND A DINER.  NOW THIS DOT OF AN OASIS,  (POPULATION 735...2010 CENSUS),  HAS GONE HOLLYWOOD AND EVEN INCLUDES THE WORLD'S TALLEST THERMOMETER.

In Baker, I gassed-up and stretched my legs.  The attendant was telling a trucker how hard-up the Okies were to re-locate to California during the Depression.
JOHN STEINBECK'S GREAT 1939 AMERICAN REALIST NOVEL WAS MADE INTO A MOVIE IN 1940.  THESE WORKS DETAIL THE AFFECT THAT THE DEPRESSION AND THE DUST-BOWL YEARS HAD ON COUNTLESS FAMILIES WHO DEFAULTED ON LOANS AND GOT FORECLOSED ON.  THE ABOVE PHOTO FROM THE FILM SHOWS HOW TWELVE OKLAHOMANS AND  GENERATIONS OF MEMORIES WERE CRAMMED INTO A JALOPY FOR THE DESPERATE DRIVE TO SALVATION. 

The trucker reminded the attendant, "The early pioneers had it worse.  They left civilization when there was nothing west of St. Louis and Kansas City.  Heck, even the heartiest settlers weren't prepared for crossing the prairies, going over the Rocky Mountains, extreme weather, natural disasters, getting lost, starving, dehydrating and surviving Indian attacks.  Then when they finally reached California and thought they had it made, they were faced with Death Valley."
TO THE UNTRAINED EYE, DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK  IS A HUGE, EMPTY EYESORE.  IT HAS RECORDED THE HOTTEST TEMPERATURE, (134 DEGREES AT FURNACE VALLEY), HAS THE DRIEST CONDITIONS AND LOWEST PLACE IN NORTH AMERICA, (BAD WATER IS 282 FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL).  HOWEVER THERE ARE PLENTY OF WORTHWHILE SCENIC (above) AND HISTORIC SPOTS TO VISIT.

On the other side of Baker, the nothingness continues until it is mercifully interrupted thirty miles later, at Victorville. It was reassuring to see signs of life, small towns and a military base.  Soon the road climbed towards mountains. The higher altitude brought the trees of the San Bernadino Forest. After the hours of sameness, I appreciated the splendor of being above the clouds.

At the crest, the interstate plunged fast and included a sharp horseshoe curve. After concentrating on navigating it safely, you suddenly dive through and beneath the puffy billows. I  understood that the desert portion of my journey was over as, in the distance, I descended into highly populated territory. The city of Ontario was first.  That's when I figured out that on this side of the mountains, I hadn't driven through clouds...the omnipresent gray overcast, was the famous Los Angeles smog.  UGH!
SMOG IS A SMOKY-FOGGY PHOTO-CHEMICAL TYPE OF AIR POLLUTION.  IT IS CAUSED BY CAR EMISSIONS AND INDUSTRIAL FUMES.  THE PACIFIC OCEAN PUSHES THE DIRTY AIR INLAND BUT THE MOUNTAINS (THAT I CAME OUT OF),  ACT AS A NATURAL BARRIER .  THE SMOG GETS TRAPPED AND  IS BACKED-UP TO L.A.  AS WELL AS  A GREAT DEAL OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.

Thirty miles later I was in Los Angeles.  La-La Land was lush, green and beautiful. I had been there on my 1976 cross-country trip but this was my first time driving. My mind switched to M's smiling face.  My spirits continued to soar because N was kind enough to live a few streets away from an interstate exit.

I was right on schedule as I parked in a spot that would have made Joe Vanilla, (the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces) jealous. Inside the generic apartment complex, my search for Unit-86 was cut short by the enthusiastic, yoo-hooing of N.

Wow, her warm reception included a tight, meaningful hug.  In N's kitchen, she put out a big spread of food.  Things couldn't have been better.  She was so, so friendly, the fruit salad was great but it was gnawing at me to find the right words around the awkwardness of asking...where's M.

The situation became cozier when we took our coffees and adjourned to the sofa. N was mapping out some possibilities for US to do over the weekend.  N's stressing of "us" made me more leery and I wanted to clarify how many people constituted us. I blurted out, "So, where's M and (her third girlfriend)?  "Oh, they're at a spa in Pasadena for the weekend."  N was batting her eyes at me when she got up and moved my valise into her bedroom.  That's when my dim forty watt light bulb turned into a powerful beacon.  Oy, so typical of my love life...N brought me here for herself...and there's a strong possibility M doesn't know I'm alive.

N was a nice person but I had no cosmic link or physical interest in her.  I told N, "I was hoping to get to know M better." She silently relocated my valise and put in the guest room. I had to think fast. I borrowed the phone and called my former flea marketing business partner, LTS.  He lived in LA.  Luckily, he and his wife (K) agreed to do some sightseeing and have dinner with me and N. I was afraid to say it but in a private moment, I told N that I was spending the next day with LTS and would sleep at their place..

N remained pleasant the whole night.  Back at her apartment, she was so hospitable even when I said I wanted to turn in because LTS and I were getting an early start.  Soon I heard her knock.  She made her intentions obvious as she stood, in a short, terry-cloth robe at the doorjamb and asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"  It was like a convoluted plot from a bad sit-com. I felt like a heel but in reality, I didn't want to take advantage of her.

In the morning, I met LTS and K.  He brought her along because there was a change in his schedule. But rather than scrap our two-hundred mile (in each direction) day-trip to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, K became a welcome substitute.  The only caveat was...I would have to drive.  Hell, I knew Stu Frobel's car had full fluid levels and good belts and hoses...I never hesitated.
NEWSPAPER MAGNATE WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST HAD HIS CASTLE BUILT FROM 1919 TO 1947.  TO OVER FILL HIS MANSION, HE TREATED ECONOMICALLY DEPRESSED EUROPEAN COUNTRIES LIKE YARD SALES AND BOUGHT-UP  ANCIENT TREASURE AND FINE ART OBJECTS.  UPON HIS DEATH IN 1951, HIS HEIRS DONATED THE SPRAWLING SEASIDE PROPERTY TO THE STATE.  TODAY, I  (AND K above) , CONSIDER IT THE GREATEST TOURIST ATTRACTION IN THE COUNTRY...THAT NOBODY EVER HEARD OF.

K was great company and our outing has remained a highlight of my life. In addition to the Castle, the drive along the coast highway, in both directions was pure eye candy. On the way home, K suggested a rustic restaurant on Santa Barbara's cliffs that overlook the ocean. Too bad I wasn't there with M, it was a perfect setting.

Despite my inability to hook-up with M, the whole L.A. trip was worthwhile.  Stu was pleased that his car was none-the-worse-for wear, it was clean and all fueled-up, (I should have told him to wash my car and fill my tank.  But that's another story).

The lesson about topping off the fluids and checking the belts and hoses has remained with me to his day.  Unfortunately, I don't always do what I know needs to be done.

My son Andrew is home for spring break.  When he told me he and his BFF Matt had a three-day road trip to Montauk Point, (the eastern-most point on New York's Long Island), a concert in Manhattan and another in Philadelphia, I took his car for a test drive.

I asked, "How long has that noise under the hood been going on?"  Andrew said, "What noise?" He was leaving in the morning, it was too late to bring his car to my mechanic and I had to get ready for work. So instead of insisting, I hoped everything would be okay and that we could take care of the mystery noise when he came back.
MARCH 17, 2015, AT MONTAUK POINT.  FOR HIPSTERS, IT HAS BECOME TRENDY TO VISIT THE LOCATION FROM JIM CARREY'S 2004 MOVIE, "ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF A SPOTLESS MIND. ".JUDGING FROM THE RESPONSE ANDREW AND MATT GOT FROM THIS PHOTO ON FACEBOOK, THEIR FRIENDS WOULD HAVE BEEN GREEN WITH ENVY...EVEN IF IT WASN'T ST. PATRICK'S DAY.

Long car rides with close friends are so good that the destination almost becomes secondary.  But for them, sharing the experience of being at the exact location of a universally loved film has an intense significance.
THE THEME OF THE MOVIE IS BREAK-UPS AND TO WHAT LENGTH SOMEONE WOULD GO TO ERASE ANY MEMORY OF THEIR FORMER LOVER.  I NEVER HEARD OF THIS FILM BUT I'M READING NOTHING BUT PHRASE FOR IT...AND CARREY IN A DRAMATIC ROLE.  ANDREW AND MATT MADE A POINT TO GO BY THE ICONIC BEACH HOUSE (above) FROM THE MOVIE. 

QUESTION?  Did you ever see someone's car broken down and said, "Man, that's a bad place to get stuck."  Well the boys made it back from Montauk, until Andrew's car died while paying the Verrazano Bridge toll. Now that's an awful place to break-down.  Incredibly, with a gazillion horns honking, the cursing and dirty looks from angry motorists, the bridge authority has a free towing service to keep the traffic flowing.  The driver unhooked my boy's Honda and said, "See if it starts." It was a miracle! It started. An hour later, they made it back to Matt's house, in Freehold.

In the morning, the car was even driven to the mechanic that Matt's dad uses. Sadly, it was a forty-dollar serpentine belt that snapped and took out the air-conditioning compressor.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I paid an expensive price for a lesson I already knew.

I hope this incident helps you to profit from my carelessness and laziness.  Always check those damned hoses and belts before you go on long trips.

Monday, March 16, 2015

IT'S DISTURBING TO KNOW THAT THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE LIKE THAT

I got a sudden impulse to pound my fist through my friend's glass top coffee table. I never had such a crazy thought in my life but with a stupid Jackie Chan movie on TV and my host asleep at 8:45PM, I felt like a trapped rat.

This happened in the late 1990's, at  KD's house.  He had come home a day early from his vacation and needed to vent.  When I got there, this mind-bending excuse of a movie was on as he ordered a Domino's pizza. We weren't seated long as the enthusiasm to share his negative experiences faded and were replaced by heavy-duty yawning.

KD had reminded me that he had flown back from Venezuela a day early (the day before), due to circumstances beyond his control.  During his explanation, he repeatedly told me that he was on zero sleep. So I was neither shocked nor insulted that the poor boy nodded off on me.

I decided to let him sleep because the pizza would be there in about twenty minutes.
DOMINO'S SINCE 1960, HAS BECOME THE WORLDWIDE PIZZA DELIVERY KING.  IT'S 10,000+ LOCATIONS IN 70 COUNTRIES, EMPLOYS OVER 220,000, (AS OF DECEMBER 2013).  THEY USED TO PROMISE FREE FOOD IF THE DELIVERY WASN'T ACCOMPLISHED IN THIRTY MINUTES OR LESS. BUT THAT UNREASONABLE GUARANTEE CAUSED DRIVERS SPEED, RUN RED LIGHTS AND CAUSE ACCIDENTS.

To ease the problem of being alone with a movie that was such an assault on my sensitivities, I closed my eyes.
JACKIE CHAN (1954-PRESENT) IS A HONG KONG-BORN ACTOR.  ALTHOUGH HIS FILMS ARE NOT MY CUP OF "TEA," HIS ACROBATIC STYLE OF MARITAL ARTS AND COMIC TIMING HAVE MADE HIM WORTHY OF A STAR ON HOLLYWOOD'S, "WALK OF FAME." 

My predicament didn't change when I opened my eyes, (it felt like an eternity but only ninety seconds had passed).  That's when I thought about abandoning my buddy...but I couldn't do that.  So out of frustration the idea of smashing the table came to mind.

Luckily, Domino's came a little early.  Through terribly blood-shot eyes,  KD had renewed vigor as he told me about his mini-vacation to South America.  The plan was to go down with his wife (G), meet her family, stay for four days of sightseeing and come home alone while she stayed a month.

While he was chomping away, I picked friggin' anchovies off my dinner as KD started the story about their day-trip into the Venezuelan frontier. I was imagining KD slashing a machete through the jungle, defending G from a tiger, swimming in an Eden-like lagoon with a waterfall in the background and the two of them making love on a mountaintop.  Instead KD said, "That road trip was the start of a rough couple of days...AND...it might be the beginning of the end of our marriage."

I was thinking that a poisonous snake bit G while blazing that trail to Utopia.  I said, "What happened?"  He said, "Ever have an AK-47 pointed at your head?"  I said, "No."  He said, "How about five of them?"

KD described G's country as an "emerging" third world nation.  That was his way of protecting her culture while also declaring the conditions there, as backward.  He said, "Nonsense like pollution and regular power outages (in normal weather), can be overlooked but the lack of freedom especially due to a suffocating military presence, is intimidating. Even outside the Caracas, there are checkpoints at the border of each province.  It felt like stepping back to the Stone Age.  Just picture an 'armed' tollbooth every time you went into a different state."

They drove two hours for a supposed fun-in-the sun outing.  But the drive was dominated by petty bickering centering around G's newly found home-sickness. In the middle of nowhere, a short distance from their lakeside picnic destination, they turned onto a smaller roadway.  Soon, the "happy" couple approached the only checkpoint that they would encounter. G stated to KD , "Just hand over our credentials without speaking.  Don't even look directly at the sentinel". Due to their arguing, KD defied G's suggestion. He greeted the border guard with a big smile and said in pigeon-Spanish, "How you guys doing today?"

In an instant, the grim-faced sentry pointed his weapon at KD's temple.  KD told me, "Way before four other officers surrounded the car, I really thought I was going to crap my pants!" At gun point they were forced into the only building in the wilderness.

KD said, "An hour later, we were released.  But in that time, we were separated.  I had no idea where they took G.  But with two AK-47's aimed at me, I couldn't protect her from the ugliness I was imagining. All I could do was pray.  My prayers were answered when a sergeant led her down the hall with two rifles at her back."

G huffed, "Our fine is a hundred..."  The sergeant roared in perfect English, "That's one hundred American dollars...in cash...EACH!"  KD told me, "We were a few dollars short even after G emptied her purse including all her Venezuelan currency. They demanded her wedding but she didn't want to give it up.  I wanted to step in and protect the symbol of our love but I was picturing the movie, "MIDNIGHT EXPRESS." I didn't want to wind up in a foreign jail.  I had to negotiate fast. Luckily, the greedy prick settled for my scuba diver watch."
"MIDNIGHT EXPRESS" (1978) WAS A FACT-BASED DRAMA ABOUT DRUG SMUGGLER BILLY HAYES' HARROWING EXPERIENCE IN A TURKISH PRISON.

Back at the car, KD and G realized that it had been ransacked. The nicely packed lunch was missing as well as her designer sunglasses and a small sack of local coins. Without a fuss or consulting his better half, KD made the K-Turn of valor and the penniless pair returned to the city.

During their mostly quiet return to civilization G said, "I have some deep thinking to do.  I want to stay in Caracas till August, (an additional five months).  KD said to me, "She had just defended the sanctity of our marriage and now she's prolonging our separation?  What was she expecting me to do, go postal and kick all those border guard asses?"

I didn't know what to say.  He paused waiting for my answer until he broke the silence, "It's disturbing to know that there are people out there like that."  I said, "Yeah, but like you said, those weasels are trying to survive in a backward country..."  He interrupted, "Not them, I was talking about my wife."

KD was angry with G.  He paid an exorbitant surcharge to switch his flight back to New Jersey for that afternoon. He got no sleep and was physically and mentally exhausted when the plane landed at Newark Airport.

To save money on parking, KD left his jeep in the Bronx, at his seventy-six year old cousin's house, (the only full-blooded Hispanic in the world named Neil). KD was expecting the Latino side of his family to give him a big reception when they delivered his vehicle. Instead, when he entered the terminal, he found nobody. KD was afraid that his sudden change of plans was garbled in the translation.  Until he spotted an elderly stranger with thick glasses, holding small cardboard sign with his last name scribbled on it.

The old man, reeking of cheap liquor introduced himself as Tulio.  In broken English, he informed KD that Primo Neil had died...and that the funeral was the next day.  "My unexpected ride back to the Bronx in Tulio's beat-up '69 Chevy Caprice was scarier than having automatic weapons aimed at my head. That viejo (old-timer) had no depth perception.  It was getting worse and worse. By the time we were on the Major Deegan Expressway, half the car riding the shoulder.  He was so close to hitting the cement retaining wall as he kicked up dust, drove over broken glass, plowed through trash, hit potholes and never slowed down.  I made a comment about his driving but he just laughed and started blithering in Spanish.  The genius wasn't even watching the road when he whipped out a pint of cheap rum, took a couple of swigs and offered me some."
THE ONLY LETTERING KD  MADE-OUT FROM THE OFF-BRAND BOTTLE WAS THE WORD, "RUM."

I said to KD, "That sucks."  He said, "Yeah, it sucks big time.  With guys like that out there, we risk our life every time we leave our house."

"The next morning there was a lot of commotion in the house, I hardly slept. I told my family how tired I was...and tried to cut-out after the funeral. But everyone was so sad, I didn't have the heart to say I wasn't staying for the big dinner. They made sure I was stuffed on pork, rice and flan."
FLAN IS A TYPICALLY ROUND DESSERT CONTAINING A SWEET OR SAVORY CUSTARD FILLING. IT'S ORIGIN DATES BACK TO ANCIENT ROME BUT TODAY IS MOST POPULAR WITH HISPANICS.

KD said, "I didn't make it back into Jersey until after one in the morning. I was okay to drive even though I had a lot of beer.  So to avoid falling asleep at the wheel, I pulled into the Vince Lombardi rest stop" (on the New Jersey Turnpike, milepost 116E, near Ridgefield).
THE TURNPIKE HAS TWELVE REST STOPS.  THEY ALL HAVE BEEN NAMED AFTER PROMINENT INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE LIVED OR WORKED IN NEW JERSEY, LIKE THOMAS EDISON, CLARA BARTON, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AND LOMBARDI.


KD said, "On my way out after buying a super-sized coffee, I decided to play it safe for the long drive and went to pee.  At the urinal, I placed my giant coffee on the flat surface above the flushing mechanism.  While doing my business, my big dinner decided it was time to evacuate."

He stopped in mid-thought and said, "You know what happened next, right?"  I shrugged. He continued, "Well unbeknownst to me, the Vince Lombardi service area was famous, or should I say infamous, for what was later described to me as, a meeting place for non-homosexual, male-to-male sex."  I said, "Heh?"  He said, "Apparently, straight men who aren't satisfied with the sexual end of their marriage but couldn't afford hookers or the paper trail that might cause a scandal, have liaisons in department store men's rooms or other public places...like a rest stop.  It's an I do you, you do me and we go home to our normal lives situation."

I said, "So what does that have to do with you?"  KD said, "So I go to take a dump.  I'm sitting for a few seconds and someone knocks on the door.  I say, 'Taken.'  The guy whispered, "I'll meet you out front."  I said to KD, "This is bizarre."  KD shrugged, "I don't know what's going on.  So I call out, you have me confused with someone else." 'The guy said in a loud whisper, 'Shush!' Then more quietly, 'Then why did you put your coffee in the spot?' So I called out, Just get the fuck out of here!"

KD didn't appreciate my smirk and said, "My ass tightened up like a drum.  I didn't wait.  I got up, grasped my car keys in my fist and was ready to go full-on Jackie Chan if anyone got in my way."  I said, "Jeez."  He said, "I told you it's disturbing to think who's out there."
VINCE LOMBARDI (1913-1970),  LED THE NFL's GREEN BAY PACKERS TO FIVE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. HE WAS SUCH A RESPECTED HEAD COACH THAT THE SUPER BOWL TROPHY BEARS HIS NAME.  WHEN THE LOMBARDI FAMILY FOUND OUT WHAT THE REST STOP HAD BECOME FAMOUS FOR, THEY THREATENED TO REMOVE THE GREAT NAME OF LOMBARDI IF THE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY DIDN'T CLEAN-UP THEIR ACT.

On the way home, KD passed other rest stops.  He fought the need to use the bathroom, his sleep deprivation and raced onto the Garden State Parkway and finally two hours later, onto the Atlantic City Expressway.  At a little after 3:30AM, KD thought he had clear sailing as approached the lonely, unmanned tollbooth near his neighborhood.  He tossed the exact change into the toll machine. But didn't hear the familiar jiggling clickity clang of the coins getting processed.  The green light to proceed remained red, so he needed Plan-B.

KD thought about driving through but was afraid his shitty day would worsen if his action was misinterpreted by an unseen policeman.  He shut the car radio, listened closely and tossed in an extra quarter.  He heard the tiniest clink.  KD got out of his car and looked in the coin hopper.  There was a ton of change sitting on top of a plastic bag that a dry cleaner would cover his finished work in. To unclog the hole, KD picked out the bag and allowed the coins to flood the hopper. Suddenly, a guy (holding something shiny, like a knife) exploded out of the woods and ranted, 'That's my money MF'er!'"
WHAT A CASH COW!  THIS SIMPLE TOLLBOOTH SCAM CLOGS THE MONEY HOLE.  WHEN NOBODY IS AROUND, YOU COLLECT YOUR ILL-GOTTEN GAINS.

KD jumped in his car.  He was so tired and backed-up that under other circumstances he would have gone home. But he didn't like having some deranged asshole coming after him with a knife. So without a cell-phone, he had to find an all-night convenience store to call 911. KD told his story to the operator and finished with, "It's disturbing to know that there are people out there like that."

Safe at home, KD did his business and settled into bed at 4:00AM.  I said, "That's unbelievable, we should have gone out for drinks."  He said, "Wait, there's more."  KD described how he tossed and turned for a while until he fell asleep.  He added, "Then, forty minutes later I'm startled awake! Outside my bedroom window, there's a wild argument going on."  I said, "That moron Timmy?"  He said, "Yeah."

His Neanderthal next door neighbor used to work with us.  He never got fired for gross incompetence, sleeping, farting or belching on the job or abusing the attendance system.  He was fired for threatening a customer over a parking spot in the garage.  KD said, "This was a road rage situation and this poor unfortunate bastard followed Timmy home. The goon lures this sucker to the back of his car.  Timmy pops the trunk and beats this naive idiot senseless with a hockey stick.  Blood is all over the place as the victim scrambles back to his car.  Timmy was yelling profanity long after that schmuck turned off our street.  I know I should have called the cops, but I collapsed back in bed."

"At six, I was awakened by Timmy yelling again.  Except it was police and the victim, he was screaming at.  Timmy was handcuffed and put in the back of the police cruiser. By that time it was light outside, I could fall back asleep. I might've dozed off a couple of times this afternoon but basically, I'm on no sleep."

I said, "You're right.  It's disturbing enough to know that there are people like that out there...and far worse to live next door to one."  KD groaned, "No, it's far worse to share a bed with one."

Monday, March 9, 2015

AQUALUNG

A wise man once said, "If it wasn't for the crazy hours, the working conditions, customers, coworkers and management, a casino career wouldn't be so bad."  Believe me, I'm not bitter.  The truth is, the gaming industry has been good to me...but the job is NOT for everyone.

If we were to concentrate on one negative aspect of the job, I'd say that an actual germophobe could never work (or spend any time) in a casino.  That means, my friend GZIMBO is not clinically suffering from mysophobia because she does enjoy shows and other high-brow casino amenities as well as gambling.
MYSOPHOBIA IS THE PATHOLOGICAL OBSESSION WITH CLEANLINESS AND DEFEATING BACTERIA.  GZIMBO DOES NOT GO THROUGH LIFE WITH AN INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH JUG OF DISINFECTANT IN HER BAG NOR DOES SHE TURN PUBLIC SINK FAUCETS WITH HER ELBOWS.  BUT I KNOW A PRIME EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE WHO WOULD NEVER DREAM OF SPENDING A NANOSECOND IN A CASINO.  SHE IS SO PARANOID OF GERMS THAT HER SON MUST STRIP DOWN HIS SCHOOL CLOTHES (SO SHE CAN WASH THEM), BEFORE HE, (aka BUBBLE-BOY),  IS ALLOWED IN THE HOUSE. 



For the last last thirty-six years plus, I have been exposed to the worst health habits you can imagine. The culprits cut across every socio-economic background, age doesn't matter and both genders are equally guilty...AND those are just my coworkers...the clientele is much WORSE.  

We are presently in the heart of cold and flu season.  My cohorts and I are commonly imperiled by something as simple as the ignorance of an uncovered sneeze (above).  So, it's easy to forget how we are sitting-ducks year-round because we have to "deal' with the exchange of every precious bodily fluid. I work side-by-side with many hardened alarmists who live an anti-septic lifestyle. Those knuckleheads are quick to point out that regardless how remote the threat of trendy contagions like, Ebola, measles and mumps might be, front line casino personnel are all susceptible.
EBOLA IS A RARE AND DEADLY DISEASE..  IN 2014, THIS VIRUS REACHED EPIDEMIC PROPORTION IN MULTIPLE WEST AFRICAN COUNTRIES. ALTHOUGH THE RISK FACTOR IN THE USA IS LOW, DIRECT CONTACT WITH A SUFFERER'S BLOOD OR OTHER BODILY FLUID CAN SPREAD THIS DREADED SICKNESS.

Some of the common disgusting health habits gamblers have displayed in front of me include; picking nose, biting nails, finger in eyes and the ever popular girlfriend squeezing her boyfriend's zits. Those hands touch the cash, the chips and the equipment.  Any casino dealer who doesn't rush to wash their hands on break...is nuts, (I am not a big believer in hand sanitizer but for those who swear by it, the "convenient" canisters are usually empty).

The gaming staff shouldn't be considered hypochondriacs because they feel the need for "protection." Even something that casino management can control, like a ban on smoking has never attained the universal approval it deserves because the bigwigs are afraid to lose profits, (and seeing how casinos are no longer paying for health insurance..a total ban on smoking is more vital than ever).
THE INTAKE OF SECOND HAND SMOKE, DIRECTLY FROM A CIGARETTE, CIGAR AND PIPE OR THE SMOKE EXHALED BY A SMOKER , HAS THE SAME CANCER CAUSING POTENTIAL FOR NON-SMOKERS AS SMOKERS.  IT WOULD SEEM OBVIOUS THAT IN TERMS OF PUBLIC HEALTH HOW ABSURD IT IS THAT CASINOS ARE THE ONLY BUILDINGS IN THE ENTIRE STATE OF NEW JERSEY WHERE SMOKING INSIDE IS *LEGAL.     *PLEASE DON'T BE MISLEAD BY THE LAUGHABLE,  UNENFORCEABLE LAW THAT PROHIBITS SMOKING ON 75% OF THE CASINO FLOOR .


So in the name of practicing "safe" casino dealing, the only intelligent solution would be, to include full body condoms as a part of every casino employee's uniform.
IN THE 1990's , I THOUGHT I WAS BEING ORIGINAL WHEN I JOKED ABOUT DEALING CASINO GAMES, IN FULL BODY CONDOMS.  SO I WAS PLEASANTLY SURPRISED AT HOW MANY PICTURES THERE ARE OF THEM ON THE INTERNET.

Casino patrons would be best served if they played in full body condoms too.  But that'll never happen. It's comical to me when a complaint is made by a player...about a fellow player's health habits. They fail to realize that we (casino workers) must suffer through the same sights and smells right along with them.  The big difference is, a dealer is glued to their table, while a nauseated customer is free to come and go. Strangely, whether it's due to superstition, selfishness, stupidity or laziness gamblers are not easily moved.
THE NOVEMBER 21, 1980 FIRE AT THE LAS VEGAS MGM GRAND IS WORST DISASTER IN NEVADA HISTORY, (THIRD MOST LETHAL HOTEL FIRE, EVER,  IN  THE USA).  85 PEOPLE DIED AND 650 CUSTOMERS, STAFF AND FIREFIGHTERS WERE INJURED.  THE TRAGEDY COULD HAVE BEEN LESSENED EXCEPT SOME GAMBLERS REFUSED TO GIVE UP THEIR "LUCKY" SEATS AS THE BLAZE QUICKLY SPREAD. 

I remember when I dealt craps at the Las Vegas Stardust Casino, we had a regular player (an insignificant flea) who smelled so disgusting...that a skunk on steroids would have been an improvement  He was a local construction worker who despite the heat of the desert, opted to gamble before freshening up at home.
YIKES! THIS STOCK PHOTO CAPTURES THE ESSENCE OF HOW OUR "FLEA" CAME TO THE CASINO.

This malodorous player,spoke broken English, in had a heavy Eastern European accent.  His lack of comprehension, especially when we spoke metaphorically, gave the staff a green light to hurl encoded barbs about his noxious stench. These childish insults went over his head while entertaining the neighboring players  We hoped the offended players might be inspired to gang-up on this pollution factory and run him out of town...or at least to another table...or educate him on how badly he smelled. But those morons were so fickle, no one ever challenged this great unwashed bastard.

We nicknamed this undesirable  "Stinky." Eventually, he caught on and took offense but because he was fickle too, didn't do anything about it.  So we developed another idea to instigate an individual player to unwittingly help rid us of this plague.

First we identified an innocent gambler.  The most common set-up for our sting operation was to talk about the old Abbott and Costello TV show.  We'd pretend to be struggling to recall Joe Besser's character's name...until our mark, (or someone else in the crowd), blurted out, "Stinky."
*JOE BESSER (1907-1988) WAS A RECURRING CHARACTER IN THE FIRST (OF TWO) SEASONS ON THE, "ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW."  (52 EPISODES, 1952-1954).  OSWALD, "STINKY" DAVIS (above center) WAS A BRATTY, LOUDMOUTHED CHILD DRESSED IN AN OVER-SIZED "LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY" OUTFIT, (WITH SHORTS AND A FLAT-TOP HAT WITH AN OVER HANGING BRIM). *THIS ROLE LED TO BESSER BECOMING THE SUCCESSOR TO SHEMP HOWARD, AS THE THIRD STOOGE IN 1956.

No one knows whatever happened to Stinky but it wasn't a spectacular black-op on our part.  Maybe he finally took a shower...and melted?

I was recently telling the Stinky story to JKL.  He sighed, "I'm glad I l got out of the business and left all that bullshit behind. That had to be the worst thing you ever had to suffer through."  I said, "No. I've gone through plenty but the most nauseating one of all...also took place at the Stardust."

In 1980, my impression of being a Las Vegas boxman (craps supervisor sitting between the dealers) was that it was an "old man job."  This was especially true at the Stardust because the veteran dealers (overwhelmingly 35-55), didn't need really need an overseer, (I was 24, so even though my ability was decent, my crew kept an eye on me).

Most of these old-time boxman liked to just sit there and chit-chat.  I liked the ones who bragged about their past, (the hot women they were with, being treated like a king in Havana, teaching Elvis to shoot dice, witnessing a murder at a Runyanesque speak-easy casino in New Orleans or being in on a big fix at the track).  It didn't matter that I didn't believe them, it was pure entertainment.

Seventy year-old boxman Tony Lane stood out because he didn't fit into the cool category.  He was introspective and could stare off into space for long periods of time. To me, his only purpose was to complain; these shoes, this chair, *that break-in dealer, my lunch, the friggin' government and so on.

*Technically, Tony venting about a break-in was him grousing about me. He didn't want to work any harder than he had too.  So with a newbie on his game (me), he had to pay attention and exaggerate his exhaustion when he had to make corrections.

One night, we were running on automatic pilot when an eighth player shoe-horned into the last spot on my end of the table.  The other gamblers winced, covered their mouth and nose, and stared down the grungiest low-life I ever saw.

This filthy, awful smelling bum (homeless man?), set down two, red, five-dollar chips.  Through a toothless mouth he garbled, "Gimme ten ones." I fixated on his badly faded white "Happy-Face" tee-shirt. It was now yellowish brown with thick streaks of black perspiration lines in his brownish underarms. This stained shirt was also covered in moth holes with bigger ones near his navel.  I might have had it bad but it baffled me how the folks next to him (rubbing up against him) didn't run away.

In my mind, I was calling our hero "Aqualung" as I prayed he'd lose every one dollar bet he in placed in the field.
IN MARCH 1971, "AQUALUNG" BECAME JETHRO TULL'S FOURTH STUDIO ALBUM. DUE TO ITS URBANIZATION OF NATURE AND DISTINCTION BETWEEN GOD AND RELIGION THEMES, IT IS NOW CONSIDERED ONE OF ROCK-N-ROLL'S MOST CEREBRAL RECORDINGS. 


I tried to avoid looking at Aqualung as the lyrics to the first stanza of the song raced through my mind:

Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent
Snot running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes
Hey, Aqualung
Drying in the cold sun
Watching as the frilly panties run.
Hey, Aqualung
Feeling like a dead duck
Spitting out pieces of his broken luck.

Oh, Aqualung

Still, I gawked.  I guess it's human nature, like rubbernecking as you pass a car wreck. So whenever he looked away, I got a better look at Aqualung, I concentrated on his matted-down, greasy, stringy, salt and pepper hair. I was expecting vermin to appear and crawl down his forehead, so I adjusted my spying to his unshaven face.  There, I found that his stubble couldn't hide several open sores. Far worse, his left cheek was dominated by a dime-sized, reddish, knobby protuberance.

No matter how my weakening stomach and common sense demanded, I kept stealing looks...and soon paid a dear price.  Maybe it's because everything is relative, but this poor unfortunate fellow was noticeably nervous about betting a dollar at a time.  That's when his nasty, grimy fingernail started involuntarily picking at that mole on his face.  In no time, this pustule engorged and inflamed to a purplish crimson.  A surge of bile leaped from my stomach and into my mouth even before that baby started oozing blood.

I whispered to Tony Lane, "Hey Tone, this weasel is bleeding all over the chips."  He looked over his bifocals and calmly said, "Kid, if you're really revolted, don't deal to him.  Hell, in five minutes, I can find a hundred guys in the street who'd pay me to take your spot." I quietly wished that I could have thanked Tony for his sensitivity.

It took Aqualung thirty minutes to lose all ten bucks. I was thrilled that he was broke and about to leave.  Instead, Aqualung put his infection festering fingers into his mouth.  He was digging hard into the roof , maybe for a trapped food particle between his teeth. I was picturing him poking an eye out from the inside when he got everyone's attention as he stopped, gagged for a couple of seconds and started coughing.  On his second try, Aqualung pulled something out of the farthest abyss of his pie-hole and tossed it on the craps table.  We all gasped as this wet, squished-up, greenish, dice-sized paper thingy laid in limbo.

The game came to an uncharacteristic halt. In that awkward moment, I figured out what this mysterious, saliva saturated foreign object was as it slowly unraveled.  Within seconds as spit strings snapped, this clump of phlegmy, mucus-laden paper blossomed, into a twenty-dollar bill.

I was in a semi-catatonic trance when Tony Lane like a judge banging his gavel, rapped his hand authoritatively on the table and blasted, "Giver here!"  I said, "I ain't touching that scummy thing." Tony was growling under his breath but I sensed that everyone else was on my side. So I seized the opportunity to add a touch of levity.  I grabbed two, one dollar chips and playfully knocked this putrid orb like a soccer player dribbling. Each alternate "kick" brought the spit-ball closer to Lane. Finally he lost his patience, grabbed the paddle (that plunges the paper money into the cash box) and brought the bill in front of him.

Suddenly, Tony wasn't so keen on risking contamination.  He gingerly pressed one edge of the bill down with a one-dollar chip and used the paddle to flatten the money, (for the benefit of the eye in the sky).  The old curmudgeon fought it off as best he could but he laughed as he pointed at Aqualung and said, "Give that gentleman twenty-dollars."

Lane and I were of the same mind when we both stuck our infected one-dollar chips into the back row of the chip bank.  The incident should have brought us closer together but it was never mentioned again.  Maybe in his forty-year career, he saw a lot worse?

Sometimes I tell mesmerized young gamblers at my table who think I have a cool job, "Stay in school, the casino industry isn't for everybody."  I doubt GZIMBO would last a day and JKL paid his dues and was thrilled to find another way to earn a living.  So luckily, my MGTP legions have me to tell you the inside stories that most people don't want to hear.  And as long as you're still listening, let's close with some classic buffer music, Jethro Tull's, "AQUALUNG," to ease you into the rest of your day...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCMS-NJ7VxU

Unless Tony Lane is 105 years-old, I hope up in boxman's heaven, he can do a google search of his name and relive this golden, yet disgusting nugget from my life and maybe his too.

Monday, March 2, 2015

CONNECT THE DOTS AT WALMART

Shopping at Wal-Mart is like making a pact with the devil.
IN 1962, SAM WALTON ESTABLISHED WAL-MART IN BENTONVILLE ARKANSAS.  TODAY, IT IS THE KING OF DISCOUNT DEPARTMENT STORES WITH 11,088 WORLDWIDE LOCATIONS, (AS OF APRIL 2014). THE CONTEMPORARY PHOTO (above) IS THE ORIGINAL FIVE AND DIME ...THAT GREW TO BE AN EMPIRE. 

I've heard it said that if Wal-Mart has what you want, you won't find a better price, anywhere!
A GREAT MANY PEOPLE FAULT WAL-MART FOR PUTTING MOM AND POP STORES OUT OF BUSINESS.  SO THERE'S ALWAYS A TWINGE OF GUILT WHEN A FOOLHARDY VENTURER, TRADES THEIR SOUL FOR SUCH DIABOLICAL FAVORS LIKE YOUTH, KNOWLEDGE, WEALTH OR POWER.   IN MY CASE, I'M SUCH A SMALL-TIME THINKER THAT I'M ONLY IN IT TO SAVE 19c ON A TUBE OF PREPARATION H.

One area in Wal-Mart that I've learned (the hard way) to steer clear of...is their automotive department.  The one exception is, you can't go wrong with a simple lube job.
REAL MEN LUBE THEIR OWN CARS.  I GUESS THAT MEANS I'M NOT A MAN.  INSTEAD I TRUST MY CAR TO A STAFF OF UNMOTIVATED, OVER-WORKED, UNDER PAID "PROFESSIONALS."

Last week, the "Service Soon" icon lit-up on my dashboard.  This is the friendly signal to lubricate my engine. I've had a long and successful history of Wal-Mart grease and oil jobs while shopping. When my son Andrew was young, we'd kill time (an hour or two), by going to McDonald's, or IHOP or Dunkin' Donuts.
DUNKIN' DONUTS WAS FOUNDED IN QUINCY MASSACHUSETTS (1950).  TODAY THIS GLOBAL DONUT SHOP AND COFFEEHOUSE HAS OVER 11,000 LOCATIONS...SUDDENLY I'M IN THE MOOD FOR A CHOCOLATE HONEY GLAZE...BETTER MAKE IT SIX.

Yesterday, to beat the crowds, I got to Wal-Mart at 9:20AM.  The cleverness of my plan was upended by going on a Saturday.  My first hint of a catastrophe was the indifferent counterman.  Usually these representatives are hospitable and give straight answers to common questions.  But not this dude.  Instead of a wait time estimate he scoffed, "There's five cars ahead of you and two others being worked on now."  I said, "So, an hour?"  He shrugged, "We only got two guys doing lubes...might be a lot longer."  I did the math in my head and liberally came up with a ninety-minute ceiling.  I would be acutely wrong.

I did a frosty ninety-minute power walk through the neighborhood. I returned, washed-up, had a conversation with a fellow shopper who works at the same place as me.  I was back at the auto department service desk at 11:15AM.  My car was not done, nor was it getting worked on.  I didn't interpret the counterman being sarcastic but the "consultation" of being NEXT, (as he phrased it), didn't do me much good.

Over the next forty minutes, I did eighty-three laps around the store.  I had my blood pressure tested and was so bored I did it again a half hour later, (SHOCKER, it was higher the second time).

Luckily I found an abandoned NEW YORK DAILY NEWS.  I read it cover-to-cover did the sudoku puzzle, the jumble and the crytoquote.
EVEN WITHOUT WARP FACTOR FOUR, I COULD HAVE FLOWN TO THE PLANET RIGEL-NINE AND BACK WHILE WAITING FOR MY CAR TO BE DONE.

At noon, I couldn't believe my eyes, my car was getting driven to the work bay. I took the opportunity to do another few laps around the store.  I thought I had covered every inch of the place but this time I discovered that avocados were on sale, two for a dollar-five.
I ALWAYS THOUGHT "AVOCADO" WAS A REFRIGERATOR COLOR.  I WAS WELL INTO MY TWENTIES WHEN I REALIZED IT WAS FOOD...CLASSIFIED AS; BEING IN THE FLOWERING PLANT FAMILY, NATIVE TO MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA.

The auto center waiting room has a window that looks out into the garage.  At 12:30, I couldn't help but notice that my car's hood was up...but nobody was working on it. Unfortunately there was no one to complain to.  Several minutes went by so I went out and asked a guy installing tires (ten feet from my car), "Who's lubing my car?" He said, "I dunno where he is.  I'm busy doin' this."

Inside, I asked a worker.  He said, "I'm working on your car."  I controlled myself from saying, "Duh!" He continued, "It'll take ten minutes to finish draining the old oil."

My next lap around the store, I found something else that I must have missed on all my other orbits.  A smeared trail of disgusting smelling excrement.  Some yuckle-puck must have stepped in dog crap, (or if they were a real loser, stepped in their own shit) and daubed a bit with every step they took through the housewares section.

This might sound crazy but this wasn't the first time I encountered a set of dung tracks.  In fourth grade, a kid in my class, MARKT  raised his hand, (bear in mind, he was nine-years old). His actual quote to our witch of a teacher was, "I smell doody."  That statement is a golden (brown) moment in my life and has been indelibly etched in my memory for fifty years.

Our horror story of a educator  lived up to her heinous reputation.  First she told everyone to look at the bottom of their shoes.  Well, we all know the old adage, "He who smelt it, dealt it."  Poor MARKT discovered that a blob of shit was wedged into the space between the heel and sole of his Oxford.

Next that spiteful bitch could have called for a custodian who would have done a quick and thorough job complete with disinfectant.  But NOOOOOO!  Miss Wicked told MARKT to get paper towels. Oh the humiliation! The poor bastard with everyone staring and snickering, got on his hands and knees and wiped each fecal dab in the classroom. When he thought the degradation was done, he was ordered into the hall to continue the job down the corridor. Too bad for him, the Pooper Scooper wouldn't be invented for decades.
THE LAST TIME MARKT CAME TO MIND WAS WHEN I SIGNED-UP FOR FACEBOOK.  I LEARNED THAT HE WAS SELLING LIFE INSURANCE ON LONG ISLAND.  BUT I WAS CHICKEN AND NEVER REACHED OUT.  WE NEVER HAD A SINGLE DEFINING MOMENT AND HE MOVED FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN JUNIOR HIGH, AROUND 1967.  I WOULDN'T BLAME HIM IF HE HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS.  STILL, DEEP DOWN, I WONDER IF HE HAD TROUBLE RELATING TO WOMEN OR WAS OTHERWISE ADVERSELY AFFECTED FROM "DISCONNECTING" THE DOTS.

The rest of my ridiculous wait at Wal-Mart was made better by my memories of MARKT.  At 1:00PM, I looked out the window and the mechanic waved me to him.  I thought; Jeez, here we go again, as I expected some obscure glitch like...due to circumstances beyond my control, he couldn't finish the job.  Luckily, that wasn't the case but the stupid, moronic idiot did call me out there to tell me, "Your car is ready, you can pay now." Which I would have done without hearing it directly from him.

Inside, there's seven customers ahead of me on line...with NO cashier.  I wish I was making this stuff up but the usual 15% embellishment factor does not figure into this equation.  Ten minutes went by until I finally advanced to the cash register.  Naturally, the rep couldn't find my paperwork.  He also couldn't access a duplicate of my work order because another associate was using the one computer to sell another customer tires.  But he had deserted his post and disappeared to be certain that four tires in that size were in stock.

I was shell-shocked when I limped out to my car at 1:15.  Despite being frustrated, hungry and tired, it felt good to accomplish my goal.  That is until I turned on the engine and the "Service Soon" light was still on.  There was no way I was going back in.  I'll read the car manual and turn the friggin' thing off myself.  Oopsies, we're getting STILL another winter storm tonight.  I wonder if I have time to renege on my deal with the devil because the way he's messing with me, I might have to wait till May to complete my mission.

Monday, February 23, 2015

THE YEAR OF THE GOAT

It kills me to announce that...I suffer from Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). Just when you thought I was invincible, flawless and perfectly well-adjusted, I bow my head in shame and throw a monkey wrench into the tight ship...that I'm known to run..

The Pseudobulbar Affect or Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder (IEED) is an emotional liability or an emotional incontinence. This neurologic disorder is characterized by involuntary crying or uncontrollable laughter. In laymen's terms, it's an internal defense mechanism that allows certain individuals (like me) deal with the stress of a tragedy...or even less dire situations involving anger, frustration etc.  A prime example would be someone (other than me) laughing at a funeral.  While this behavior would seem inappropriate to other mourners and embarrassing to the PBA sufferer, psychologists agree that this venting of  tension is a normal response to acute pressure.

In my case, I don't laugh at funerals.  But the long reach of PBA does extend to my reaction to vomit, (honestly, I had to stop typing just now because I was laughing at the thought of the word).

I really can't explain it but as my son Andrew would attest, my laughing disorder is not limited to the one word, vomit.  It also includes many "getting sick" synonyms such as; barf, puke (yes I am laughing  heartily at this moment as tears stream from my eyes), as well as, hurl, spew forth, retch, heave, throw up, toss one's cookies or upchuck.
WHAT A CRAZY CYCLE...ALTHOUGH THIS PHOTO SEEMS "POSED,"  CRYING AT INAPPROPRIATE TIMES, LIKE A WEDDING COMES UNDER THE SAME PBA HEADING AS LAUGHING AT FUNERALS.  SO, I'M LAUGHING SO HARD AT THE MERE MENTION OF RALPHING THAT TO RELIEVE SOME OF THAT TENSION... I'M CRYING...WHILE LAUGHING...REALLY!    I TOLD YOU IT WAS CRAZY.

I am so intensely nauseated by the word "vomit" that I laugh.  Even worse, when I see someone do "it," I usually do too, (this is not a good position to be in, in casino work...but THAT'S another story).  My point will be proven by a conversation I had at work, with a clean-up guy.

In Las Vegas, the casino clean-up squad are called, "porters."  Here in Atlantic City they are the Environmental Service Department, (EVS).  For over ten years, I've been friendly with Ruben, an EVS man originally from Albania. Ruben speaks great English and is proud to now be an American citizen.  However, he is occasionally difficult to understand.  I remember years ago asking him why he was so sad.  Ruben said, "I just cleaned womit."  This was not a good time for me to forget that he pronounces "V" like "W."  I shrugged, "What's womit?"  The poor guy said, "You know, throw up, barf..."  Before he got to a third example, the picture of a puke puddle on the imported Italian marble floor came to mind. I couldn't help myself...I laughed in his face. I was ashamed as I held a hand over my mouth and scurried away.

I remember telling Ruben's womit story to Andrew.  I think he might have been too young to understand that I wasn't disrespectful of Ruben's difficult job...but it was a weakness in me that prohibits my brain from processing the concept of getting sick in the normal manner.  When I thought I wasn't making myself clear, I reminded Andrew that when he was a little kid and something (relatively bad) went wrong...like bumping his head on a coffee table, I would distract him from his pain,with a key word that always made him laugh.

Maybe I'm a better father than I give myself credit for because I discovered that five-year old Andrew laughed every time he heard the word, "goat."  It shouldn't sound far-fetched...that concept might be linked to him inheriting my PBA gene?   Please note, the word "guppy" worked too but without the consistent effect of, "goat."
MAY 18, 2000, EGG HARBOR CITY NJ  -  WHILE PLAYING TEE-BALL FOR THE SOUTH JERSEY SCREAMING NEWTS, ANDREW WAS POSITIONED ON THE PITCHER'S MOUND.  A FOUR MPH "LINE-DRIVE" HIT OUR HERO IN THE CHEST.  FOR A SPLIT SECOND I THOUGHT HE WAS OKAY.  BUT HE SAW THE ANXIOUS LOOK ON EVERYONE'S FACE...AND CRIED.  I WAS THE FIRST RESPONDER AND WHISPERED ONE WORD, "GUPPY."  THERE WAS NO RESPONSE.  IN A PANIC, I TRIED AGAIN AND SAID, "GOAT." IT WAS A MIRACLE! THE CHUCKLING PATIENT MADE A FULL AND IMMEDIATE RECOVERY...AND FINISHED THE GAME...IN  "DEEP"  RIGHT FIELD.

The word goat, even as Andrew matured, (a lot faster than I did), has remained a happy term between us.  Coincidentally, earlier this week, many oriental cultures celebrated their New Year. That's why I think this year is going to bring monumental positive energy because throughout East Asia, the Chinese, astrological zodiac chart, represented by a twelve-year cycle of animals, has named 2015 as, "The Year of the Goat."
FOR ASIANS, THE GOAT IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR YEARS.  THE ANIMAL REPRESENTS GENTLENESS, CALM AND BEAUTY.  TO THEM, 2015 IS EXPECTED TO BE TRANQUIL AND LUCKY.  SO, CONSIDERING THE CURRENT STRIFE BETWEEN NATIONS AND IDEOLOGIES, THE DEEPER NEED FOR WORLD HARMONY HAS NEVER BEEN MORE IMPORTANT. 

I hope that my Andrew, after he laughs at the mention of the word goat, finds serenity and good fortune in 2015.  Because, next week, he will be crossing into true adulthood with his hallmark twenty-first birthday.
LIKE CONFUCIUS HIMSELF, ANDREW WAS BORN IN THE YEAR OF THE DOG.  DOGS ARE KNOWN AS MAN'S BEST FRIEND  BECAUSE THEY UNDERSTAND THE HUMAN SPIRIT.  ASIANS REGARD THEM AS FAVORABLE AND SYMBOLS OF SUCCESS .  THEIR OTHER TRAITS THAT FIT MY BOY'S MOLD INCLUDE BEING: LOYAL, FRIENDLY, FORGIVING, AFFECTIONATE, HONEST, GENEROUS AND SPORTING. 

According to their zodiac chart, this year, dog people will experience a general stability in their lives. Whatever trouble they encounter can be easily handled with tolerance.  Progress in their careers will be temporarily sidetracked.  But through diplomacy, patience and hard work, their future upward mobility won't be jeopardized.

Of course, I don't put any stock in horoscopes.  However, it is amazing how they are general enough to fit most people.  I can't wait to share these thoughts with Andrew when we all celebrate his big milestone birthday next week with his friends, Tom and Matt.
HILLSBORO NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 2014.  THE "ATM" STARRING, ANDREW, (left), TOM (right) AND  MATT (center) .

For Andrew's first legal taste of alcohol, he has selected Houlihan's, a restaurant/bar at the Mercer Mall in Lawrenceville NJ.   Apparently, it's trendy to go there because this watering-hole does something special for newly crowned "adult" birthday celebrants, (apparently it's also necessary to keep dear old dad in the dark as to what exactly that something special is).
ESTABLISHED IN KANSAS (1972), HOULIHAN'S HAS EIGHTY-FOUR USA LOCATIONS, IN EIGHTEEN STATES.  THEY ARE KNOWN FOR FINE DINING AS WELL AS PUB FARE.

I love my son, I'm also especially fond of both Tom and Matt.  So I'm not setting any food boundaries. However, my mama didn't raise no fool.  So, having nothing to do with economics, I'll be limiting the ATM to two alcoholic beverages each with one additional caveat...ominous sounding cocktails will be strictly verboten like; Corpse Reviver, Zombie, Paralyzer and Irish Car Bomb.
NOBODY'S GETTING PICKLED BY ANYTHING CALLED A "GRAVE DIGGER" OR AN "OPEN  GRAVE" ON MY WATCH.

Obviously, even though they are "of age," I don't want to be responsible for getting them too liquored up.  First, I wouldn't want you to lose that saintly, perfectly well-adjusted image you have of me. Secondly, I don't want to lose that ideal, halo-encrusted conception I have of the "ATM.".  More importantly, you know what they say about an ounce of prevention. ***NOBODY ***is losing their friggin' lunch from drinking too much, in my car...because I'll probably die from laughing so hard.

You wanna know the deeper reason why I'm not letting the "fire-water" flow?  Because I've been there.  I know how "intoxicated"inexperienced drinkers can get with unlimited, free, (or extremely inexpensive) booze.

In my early years of drinking, a bar, (Grandma's) on Nostrand Avenue, (near my old Alma Mater, Brooklyn College), offered a five-dollar entrance fee for "nickel beer night." They even had a live band, (I wonder who would appear in such a rat trap?)  I went with DRJ7 and GRAMPS, (no relation to the establishment's proprietor).
(stock photo)  THE GRANDMA'S WE WENT TO WAS AN ,"OLD MAN BAR."  WHICH MEANT THAT MY CONTEMPORARIES WOULD GATHER WITH OLD BARFLYS AND GET "TANKED-UP" ON CHEAP HOOCH BEFORE THEY WENT CLUBBING. THIS GIN MILL WAS SUCH A DIVE THAT YOU WERE REQUIRED TO WIPE YOUR FEET BEFORE YOU LEFT...SO YOU WOULDN'T GET THE STREET DIRTY. 

I have few clear recollections of that night.  One was that the place was jammed...but even with a band, zero females were attracted to this nickel beer gimmick.  Another was, at some point, I was so wasted that I sat in a phone booth (facing out) and vomited between my legs, (pretty funny, eh).
MAYBE THIS IS HOW MY NICKNAME, "THE INCREDIBLE EDELSTEEN," STARTED.  JUST LIKE SPRINGSTEEN (above),  I WAS FACING THE BAR AS I GAVE THE OLD HEAVE-HO BETWEEN MY LEGS.  WOULDN'T IT BE COOL IF THIS WAS THE SAME PHONE BOOTH?  MAYBE BRUCE WAS THE LIVE ENTERTAINMENT THAT NIGHT...FOR HIS SAKE, I HOPE HE MADE HIS CALL BEFORE I GOT THERE BECAUSE IT DOES LOOK LIKE HE'S PRAYING FOR THE STENCH TO DIE DOWN.

Yes, my PBA has me laughing as I type this.  So it's important to mention that Grandma's was such a classy joint that management did NOT rush over to tend to my mess or eject me.

More importantly, while retching, through the din of the music and ten simultaneous conversations, I overheard bits and pieces of a chat between two strangers.  One guy said, "Hey Ernie, where's your brother Eric?" Even without being fully lucid, my storehouse of useless information started running through old files. Despite being impaired, my mind went into overdrive. When something clicked, my vaunted memory pulled out the document I was searching for. I struggled to my feet and staggered to my target.  I'm not sure what put them off more, me interrupting or the pronounced gob of putrid spittle on my chin. But for the sake of a good laugh, they heard me out.

I said to the taller fellow, "Are you Ernie?"  He smiled, "Yeah."  After a mammoth, caustic belch into their faces I said, "You have a twin brother Eric?"  Ernie took a half step backwards and said, "Yeah."  My voice went up an octave in anticipation as I said, "Did you go to Wingate Day Camp in 1963?"  Like looking at a lunatic Ernie squinted at me and stammered, "Y-y-yeah."  Then in triumph I said, "We were best buddies!."  My long lost friend fought off my bear hug because he had no recollection of me.

In my incapacitated state, I told him what I remembered about our past. I cinched the deal when I recited the cross street of his grandparents bakery in Manhattan Beach, (they don't call me, "INSTANT RECALL EDELBLUM" for nothing).  Even though his brother Eric didn't remember me from camp either, we wound-up with many mutual Brooklyn College friends...including DRJ7 and GRAMPS.

DRJ7 and GRAMPS were smart enough to let Ernie and Eric drive me home.  Their wisdom was proven when I stuck my head out the window as we crossed Ralph Avenue and painted the outside of their late-model, white Plymouth Coronet.
I CAN TELL, ERNIE AND ERIC DON'T HAVE PSEUDOBULBAR AFFECT.  THEY NEVER LAUGH WHEN THEY BUST ON ME FOR PUKING OUT THEIR CAR WINDOW.  NEVERTHELESS, WE ARE STILL CLOSE TO THIS DAY.  SO THEY NEVER LET ME FORGET THE PEA-SOUP-LIKE STAIN ON THE OUTSIDE OF THEIR FRONT PASSENGER-SIDE DOOR .  I'M FRIENDS WITH DRJ7 AND GRAMPS TOO, BUT ONLY THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA.  I  HAVEN'T SEEN THEM  SINCE 1977.

My main objective next week will be to usher in, "The Year of the Goat," while hosting Andrew's birthday...without enabling any drunken causalities. So in honor of the month-long celebration of Andrew's twenty-first birthday, let's all lift our goblets of skim milk high and salute my officially adult son. May he continue to spiral upward and maintain the wonderful traits of straightforwardness, faithfulness and fairness while remaining smart, warmhearted and fun (his virtues far surpass the Chinese zodiac or any other astronomical chart).

To a loving MAN who inspires confidence in others, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDREW!  And while you're at my little Farnsworth, remain stubborn to your principles when you know you are right!

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EPILOGUE - To my knowledge, Grandma's never offered another, "nickel beer" night.  Do you suppose, it was because of me?  Hee-hee-hee...