Monday, September 29, 2014

THE WORLD'S FIRST HIPPIE

Last Thursday, my wife Sue and I strolled the Ocean City New Jersey boardwalk. During our five-mile jaunt, we passed many exclusive beachfront properties.  That's when a sense of deja vu hit me.  I remembered that we took the same walk last year...and marveled at the beautiful surfside homes.  This feeling of having already experienced our outing took a sour turn when I also recalled that weeks later, Hurricane Sandy buried many of these deluxe homes (and countless others along the eastern seaboard) under water, sand and debris.
HURRICANE SANDY HIT NEW JERSEY ON OCTOBER 29, 2013.  IT WAS SO BAD THAT IT EARNED THE DUBIOUS NICKNAME OF A SUPERSTORM.  A YEAR LATER, ITS WIDESPREAD PATH OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IS STILL BEING MOURNED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD LUCK!

Monday, September 22, 2014

"HOT-ROD" RORY DWYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

HUMMINGBIRDS AND THE CIRCLE LIFE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

I'LL TAKE MY MOM'S COMMON SENSE OVER A CELL-PHONE ANY DAY!

My mother’s birthday was last week, (she would have been eighty-four). I wanted to underplay the number factor this time and wait till next year, in order to make a big splash out of her eighty-fifth.  But, the antics of my son Andrew (earlier this week) brought back a great mommy memory of mine that I want to share.
THE DYNAMIC DUO, MAY 1998, IN MY MOTHER'S KITCHEN, (IN CANARSIE).

This past Monday, Andrew returned to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), for his junior year. The ordeal of getting his belongings ready heavily fell on mom, (my wife Sue). Loading my mini-van to the brim with his shit stuff...and toting it both hither and yon...fell on me. While all this was going on, mom and I had no problem with our boy fitting-in one last weekend, (free from scholastic responsibility), with his girlfriend Amanda and friends, on Hall Street, in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, (near the Pratt Institute).
ESTABLISHED IN 1887, THE PRATT INSTITUTE WAS UP THE STREET FROM WHERE ANDREW WAS STAYING. THIS PRESTIGIOUS UNIVERSITY SPECIALIZES IN ENGINEERING, ARCHITECTURE AND FINE ARTS.  STILL HIGHLY RANKED TODAY, ITS UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM INCLUDES A MODEST STUDENT BODY OF 3000+. MY FRIEND SKIP IS THE ONLY PERSON I KNOW WHO WAS BRIGHT ENOUGH TO CALL THEM SELF, A CANNONEER.

Andrew did not drive into Brooklyn. To avoid thirty dollars in tolls and the hassle of navigating the city, he left his car in a commuter lot in Central Jersey. He took the train to the Port Authority Building on 42nd Street in Manhattan before connecting with the subway.
JUNE 2010, AT THE PORT AUTHORITY BUILDING, (ON THE WAY TO OUR VIRGIN ISLAND CRUISE), ANDREW AND I JUMPED FROM OUR VAN LIKE AN ED WOOD CAMERA-CREW, SO I CAN SCRATCH-OFF POSING WITH THE RALPH KRAMDEN STATUE FROM MY BUCKET LIST.  I WONDER IF ANDREW ASSOCIATES HIS COMMUTER TRAVELS WITH THIS PICTURE.

To help coordinate Andrew's arrival time at TCNJ with ours, the cell-phone proved its value. Ten minutes into our journey from home, we got an unexpected extra call informing us that Andrew was indeed back in Jersey...however, he left his car keys in Brooklyn. So with his sophomoric sophomore year barely in the proverbial rearview mirror, he still needed his mother to nag him about making sure he had every little item.

At first, we were disappointed in him.  But deep down, we knew that forgetting keys can happen to a genius like Albert Einstein or an entertainer like renown memory expert, "The Amazing Kreskin."
KRESKIN, (GEORGE JOSEPH KRESGE 1935-PRESENT) IS A MENTALIST KNOWN FOR TELEPATHY, CLAIRVOYANCE AND PRECOGNITION.  WHEN THIS NEW JERSEY NATIVE COMES INTO THE CASINO WHERE I WORK, HE ALWAYS SHRUGS AT ME, "I FORGOT WHERE I PARKED."

The inconvenience of me making a U-Turn, to return home and get Andrew's spare key was no big deal. The drama only effected Andrew and Amanda, (she also attends TCNJ and was already moved in).  Without the keys, they continued to her house.  She drove Andrew to school. The bigger down-side occured after the stress of moving in because he and Amanda had to kill three hours making the round-trip to retrieve his car and return separately.

I’ve made some incredible screw-ups in my day, especially one involving the strong potential of being separated from my car. Except in my case, instead of the cell-phone safety net, I had my mother and her vast supply of common sense.

Atlantic City used to host an end-of-winter extravaganza called the Kids Fair. In the first week of March, the Convention Center offered a football field-sized event for young children, (2-10). Hundreds of local vendors supported this low-cost event which included, food, game booths, demonstrations, entertainment and other activities.  In addition to the merchants, museums, the fire department, the police, TV stations and professional sports teams were among the organizations represented.

I took Andrew by myself when he was three. We had a blast. The only real expense was parking. The next year, my mother was visiting so I included her in the Kids Fair fun. It was suggested to me that by taking the New Jersey Transit train one stop from Absecon to Atlantic City, (the Convention Center is in the same building as the train station), I can save a few bucks on parking while thrilling Andrew with his first train ride.
THE NJ TRANSIT TRAIN LINKS THE ATLANTIC CITY PENINSULA WITH THE NEW JERSEY MAINLAND.

You really can’t do any better for your child (or yourself) than the Kids Fair, (we attended four times until Andrew outgrew it at nine-years old).

My mom and I had a great time watching Andrew handle lizards and other exotic creatures, make a Home Depot project, dance the Macareña, pose with actors wearing cartoon character costumes, participate in contests, see a knock-off of a Nickelodeon Network sponsored game show and so much more, (Andrew did refuse a ride in the power company’s bucket truck to the lofty ceiling).
ANDREW WITH ICKUS FROM THE TV SHOW, "AHHHHH! REAL MONSTERS."

At the Nickelodeon show, I encouraged my boy to volunteer to be a contestant.
I WAS WILLING TO PARTICIPATE TOO. EVEN THOUGH I KNEW FAT, BALD DADS MAKE THE BEST TARGETS FOR THE GREENISH, GROSS, OPAQUE SLUDGE THEY LIKE TO POUR ON UNSUSPECTING HEADS.

One demonstration booth featured former fourteen-year NBA veteran and all-star, World B. Free.  We was (and still is) The Philadelphia 76er's community ambassador as well as their director of player development. I went to high school with him when he was still called Lloyd Free.
WORLD B. FREE #21, (FYI, THAT'S JULIUS "DR. J." ERVING #6), IS THE MOST FAMOUS OF THE FEW CANARSIE HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES WHO BECAME PROFESSIONAL.  BEYOND SPORTS, AFTER AL ROKER AND A COUPLE OF OTHERS, I MIGHT BE IN CANARSIE'S TOP FIVE...MOST FAMOUS PEOPLE?

The line to World B. Free's basketball clinic was too long and Andrew was too young anyway.  But I name dropped Canarsie and World came by long enough so I could introuce him to my son and mom.  He didn't remember me, even after I told him he used to call me by my football number, "#72." Incidentally, my friend SLW, (currently out in the San Francisco Bay Area), boasted that he once hit a jump shot over Free in gym class.
IRONICALLY, ANDREW POSED WITH ALL THE CHARACTERS EXCEPT ONE.  WHEN HE SAW CAP'N CRUNCH, MY TOUGH-GUY RAN THE OTHER WAY.  SIXTEEN YEARS LATER, IT'S STILL FUN TO TEASE HIM OVER THAT.

In three hours, we snacked on enough free samples and filled several plastic bags with Andrew’s works of art, free school supplies, photos and other giveaways. We looked like three pack mules as we entered the main concourse, on the way back to the train.

Along the way, we met another family. On the train, before our ten-minute ride, Andrew ran around the crowded car with their kids and tons of others. Once the little ones settled down, my mom and I chatted with the other parents. The kiddies looked at the passing scenery out the window. They were fascinated by the remnants of tiny, white capped icebergs that had formed in the marshy back bays as well as the parallel tracks that lead into Atlantic City.

During our adult chitchat, mom and I had no idea that Andrew had taken his winter coat off. At the Absecon station, we said our hasty good-byes and set about gathering all the chintzy chotkes we had accumulated. A conductor directed us out the back of the car. It felt like an eternity slithering trough the mass of people. The next car was even more crowded with Kids Fair attendees. Finally at the threshold to the station’s platform my mother said, “It’s bitter cold outside. Where’s his coat?”

In a knee jerk reaction, I stupidly bolted back the way I came. I blindly plowed through the throng. It was crazy how I shuffled between people until I nearly knocked down an old man. I pushed open the door to the car where we started and was greeted by the father of the kids that Andrew was hanging out with. He jammed my boy’s coat into my arms and yelled, “Better run or they’ll leave with you on the train.”

I pictured my mom and Andrew without a coat on the frigid platform. Everything was automated so there were no employees at the station to help in an emergency. There wasn’t even a waiting room. Far worse, back in 1998, few people had cell phones and my mom and I definitely weren’t among the chosen few. So if I got stuck on the train, there would be no way to communicate with her.

I aggressively pushed through the people as I realized that my mom might not have any money and might not know my home address off the top of her head. Plus it might take an hour before I got off at the next stop (Egg Harbor City) and got a train back.

I was still wading through people (mainly children) when I imagined the train lurching forward and assuring the separation of family. I forged ahead until I saw another conductor at the far exit. I guess he was worried about keeping up his schedule because he wasn’t smiling as he peered down at his watch. Then as I approached, I could see the determined and defiant look on my mother’s face as she and Andrew blocked the doorway to the outside.

Mom saved the day! Her common sense proved to be a far more important weapon against my carelessness than a cell-phone...ANY day.

Our future visits to the Kids Fair were flawless and always included the train.
YEARS LATER, YOU'LL NEVER GUESS HOW OLD ANDREW IS IN THIS SHOT WITH "SAND E. WICH," THE JACK AND JILL ICE CREAM MASCOT?  AFTER MY BRAVE BOY TOOK A BITE OUT OF THIS CHARACTER, HE POSED WITH ALL THE OTHERS. BUT WAS DISAPPOINTED THAT HE COULDN'T REPAIR HIS REPUTATION BECAUSE THAT CRUSTY SAILOR CAP'N CRUNCH WAS A, "NO-SHOW." APPARENTLY, HE WAS ON THE HIGH SEAS ABOARD THE S.S. GUPPY...AND THEREFORE UNAVAILBLE FOR THE KIDS FAIR.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!  You're the greatest!  I just hope dad "remembered" to take you to a big band concert...with a dance floor.

Monday, August 25, 2014

AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS (ALS)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Special events and holidays are overwhelmingly festive occasions...but there are exceptions. When my son Andrew was in second grades, I thought he could understand why some holidays were more like observations or remembrances. So while his contemporaries (and many adults) were quick to wish a “happy” Memorial Day or a “happy” Veterans Day, I thought it was important for him to see the distinction. I said, “Yes, it’s great to have a barbeque on Memorial Day or get off from school on Veteran’s Day but these days are really reserved to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice people risked, to keep our country free and to maintain our American way of life.”

Similarly, I want to clarify the deeper meaning of the trending, “ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE,” fad.  First, I want congratulate the participants because through their use of a fun gimmick on social media, the word about ALS awareness is spreading. Their efforts have generated incredible amounts of money. These funds hopefully will support research to minimize the occurrence of this horrible disease and some day soon, lead to a cure.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is simple. Before turning an ice water bucket over their head, that person through Facebook, will challenge three friends to do the same, or make a contribution to ALS.

IF YOU CAN STAND THE THREAT OF MAJOR "SHRINKAGE" THE ALS ICE WATER CHALLENGE CAN BE BUCKETS O'FUN.

I have watched dozens of ice water videos, starring my family, friends and coworkers. Whoever generated this idea was a genius. I just wish more of the splashees took a step back from the personal entertainment aspect of this activity and demonstrated a better understanding of ALS.

Most importantly, ALS by itself is meaningless and by abbreviating the heinous name, the awful nature of the problem is trivialized. I feel that the seriousness of this devilish illness would be appreciated more if everyone knew, ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Simply stated, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by muscle spasms, rapid and progressive weakness due to muscle atrophy, difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing. This disease is non-contagious but usually leads to a cruel, debilitating death.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis occurs in one out of 150,000 people. Most victims are between 40 and 60. It is believed that it is caused by a virus, exposure to neurotoxins or heavy metals, heredity, defective immune systems or enzyme abnormalities.

We should consider ourselves lucky if we don’t know anybody who is...or has suffered from this affliction. That’s why I commend my wife Sue for being the only person I heard on all the videos I watched, who put a face on this menace. She did it by including in her ice bucket message that her friend Grace lost a long, hard battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

I’ve seen this disease upclose too. One of my favorite, regular customers (Alí) vanished from the casino for about a year. When he reappeared, he was being pushed in a wheelchair by an attendant. His once strong thirty-five year old body was twisted and shriveled. Ignorantly I asked, “Are you okay?” Through his foreign accent, he struggled to gasp, “I got Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I was stunned. Far worse, I never saw my friend again.

(1959 PHOTO). ALI AND I FIRST STARTED CHATTING WHEN HE SAW CANARSIE ON MY NAMETAG. HE SAID HE LIVES IN MY OLD NEIGHBORHOOD, IN ONE OF THE APARTMENTS ABOVE THE CANARSIE THEATER.  OUR FRIENDSHIP BLOSSOMED WHEN I TOLD HIM MY PARENTS LIVED IN ONE OF THOSE UNITS TOO, BEFORE I WAS BORN.

Chances are, Alí had no idea who Lou Gehrig was or why he was connected to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Lou Gehrig was one of the all-time greatest major league baseball players. His dazzling accomplishments on the field,(1923-1939), have made his name one the most recognized in all professional sports.
LOU GEHRIG WAS BORN IN 1903, WAS DIAGNOSED WITH AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS IN 1938 AND DIED FROM IT, AT AGE 37, IN 1941.

Lou Gehrig’s prowess as a power hitter and his seemingly limitless durability earned him the nickname, “The Iron Horse.” But it was the unfortunate coincidence that this Herculean, elite Hall-of-Famer, so noted for showing up at the office, (fourteen straight years, covering 2,130 consecutive games) could be disabled, crippled and soon there after killed by a condition that would eventually bear his name.
IT WAS BELIEVED THAT GEHRIG'S LONGEVITY STREAK WOULD NEVER BE BROKEN.  BUT WHEN CAL RIPKEN SURPASSED THE IRON HORSE WITH HIS 2131st CONSECUTIVE GAME ON SEPTEMBER 6, 1995, RIPKEN WAS FOREVER IMMORTALIZED IN BASEBALL HISTORY.

I saw a list of celebrities who died from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Some of the names I recognized were;


• Actor, Dennis Day (1916-1988)

• Chairman, Mao Zedong (1893-1976)

• Musician, Huddie “Lead-Belly” Ledbetter (1888-1949)

• Actor, David Niven (1910-1983)

• Politician, Jacob Javits (1904-1986)

• Baseball Player, Jim “Catfish” Hunter (1946-1999)
WORLD REKNOWN THEORETICAL PHYSICIST STEPHEN HAWKING (1942-PRESENT) AND FOOTBALL'S STEVE GLEASON (1977-PRESENT) ARE THE ONLY ALS VICTIMS ALIVE WHOSE NAME I RECOGNIZE.  
Whether you specifically participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or not...and whether you call it ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's Disease, I hope this wasn't  merely a random, childish stunt for you. The significnce of this challenge is, is to come away from the event with a better idea of this sickness' scope and be inspired to help. 

For those of you who made a cash contribution, I think it's great to get involved and volunteer.  However, your idealism and enthusiasm shouldn't get in the way of the harsh reality that many charities, (even reputable organizations) have poor road records in regard to the percentage of each donation dollar going to the where it was intended.  So please be careful where you donate and be conscious of (easily researched), "administrative costs."

"MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," is dedicated to NOT telling you how to spend your money.  But please realize that the Internet can provide easy access to charity navigators that will help separate worthy causes like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital from bogus, non-transparent, less accountable ones.

I certainly wouldn't want to sway anyone away from helping the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis cause. If it happened to Lou Gehrig, it could happen to any of us. 
LAST MONTH WE "OBSERVED" THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF LOU GEHRIG'S GUT-WRENCHING 4th OF JULY 1939 FAREWELL SPEECH. TO HELP "REMEMBER" AND "ACKNOWLEDGE" A REAL LIFE SUPERMAN CUT-DOWN BY THE KRYPTONITE KNOWN AS ALS, CLICK ON THE LINK (below) TO VIEW IT.

http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/redirect.jhtml?pn=1&ct=RR&action=click&redirect=GGmain.jhtml&queryTerm=gehrig+farewell+speech+youtube&cb=CD&pg=GGmain&p2=%5ECD%5Exdm003%5ES04317%5Eus&n=77fc41c7&qid=268ef737ba7b4f67b6934ef0e883a91e&ss=sub&st=bar&ptb=D6B92608-79BD-4909-92A0-160CFD832118&si=CKuH4unForUCFQPd4AodLCEADg&searchfor=Lou+Gehrig%27s+Farewell+to+Baseball+Speech&ord=2&&tpr=jrel3&ots=1408823287968

And if you still have a job..."HAPPY" LABOR DAY!