Monday, July 21, 2014

CAMP ZIMBO

It has been said; Nobody has ever out-exercised a poor diet.

My wife Sue and I celebrated the second leg of our vacation at J and G Zimbo’s summer retreat, in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Despite living less than ninety minutes apart, (in New Jersey), we probably have averaged less than a visit a year since 1984. So the allure of accepting their many invitations was always there.  But due to scheduling conflicts, our long overdue visit down south, (six years) finally came to be, (this week).

JZimbo and I know each other since we were about ten. Three years later, we were Bar Mitzvah-ed together (May 31, 1968).  But our long and current friendship didn't blossom until our late teens. Coincidentally, independent of us, Sue and GZimbo, became BFF’s in Brooklyn College.
1974 KISSIMMEE, FLORIDA.  WHEN THE EVER-SVELTE RBOY (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND I WORKED FOR DISNEYWORLD, FOUR FRIENDS CAME TO VISIT INCLUDING JZIMBO (FAR LEFT).  AND NO, WE WEREN'T ALWAYS ZOFTIG, (THAT MEANS HE AND I WEREN'T HOLDING OUR STOMACHS IN FOR THIS SHOT).

In our young adult lives, JZimbo and I always enjoyed eating...too much. Our struggles to maintain sexy beach bodies combined regular dietary adventures with rare success. To his credit, the big difference between us is JZimbo works hard and plays hard. I do neither. That means with a more conservative approach, I don’t live the dolce vida or kill myself trying. The positive spin on excessive behavior is, high risk, high rewards. So looking back, one could say I’ve maintained a less impressive, middle weight range, while JZimbo has looked spectacular and at other times…well…not so much.

For this year's vacation, Sue and I drove two hours from the Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Airport to the Zimbo house. Their four-bedroom, three-story house is a block from the beach. This beautiful home is perfect for visitors and parties. Our three night stay over-lapped with other friends, (the M’s), in the beginning and the A’s at the end. Even if we all stayed at the same time…even with a fourth couple for the last bedroom…we all would have had plenty of spacious privacy.

The first thing Sue and I did in town was hit the supermarket. We bought fruit, wine, water and other essentials. When we arrived, GZimbo greeted us while JZimbo and the M’s were at the beach. In my quick scan of the kitchen, I was beamed-back to the memories of our college days. All along the counter, I saw JZimbo’s influence, (an industrial-sized jar of Animal Crackers, a huge box of knock-off Nilla Wafers, super market brand chocolate chip cookies and several bags of cashews, walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds).

Our reunion on the beach began with catching up, (good, bad and indifferent gossip that morphed into a laugh marathon). The M’s were flying home that night from nearby Wilmington (N. C.) airport. So we headed out in two cars, for an early dinner, at Elijah's, on the historic river walk, in the old town section of Wilmington.
GZIMBO MADE A PERFECT RESTAURANT CHOICE. ELIJAH'S OFFERED GREAT FOOD, GREAT SERVICE AND A BEAUTIFUL VIEW OF ANN STREET AND THE CAPE FEAR RIVER.

Luckily the M’s are no strangers to food either because our communal effort (led by JZimbo) flooded our table with salads, soups and appetizers before the equaling satisfying entrées arrived.

While JZimbo drove the M’s to the airport, GZimbo gave Sue and I, a walking tour of old Wilmington.
LED BY SAMMY THE SEAHAWK, (above), WILMINGTON IS A COLLEGE TOWN.  DESPITE THE SCHOOL (UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT WILMINGTON), BEING IN THE MONKEY JUNCTION SECTION OF THE CITY, THE STUDENTS (AND TOURISTS) FLOCK TO OLD TOWN AND ITS COOL BARS, RESTAURANTS AND SPECIALTY BOUTIQUES. 

I never knew anything about Wilmington but its architecture, cobblestone streets, antique shops and history was a nice surprise. The contemporary vibe combined with southern charm made me want to spend more time there, (I also felt that although my son Andrew is thriving in college life, he would love this city because his university town of Ewing is nothing by comparison).

GZimbo took us to a vintage ice cream shop. In the perfect marriage of relaxation and eating crap, we sat on a bench shaded by magnolia trees. We watched the passengers get on and off the horse-drawn trolley and people watched.
SUE AND I WITH THE HORSE-DRAWN TROLLEY TEAM OF RUFUS AND HOBART, (FAR LEFT WAS CAMERA SHY).

JZimbo came back from the airport and got us off our duffs. So true to his character, he marched us several blocks away to his favorite, (different) ice cream parlor. The ever-friendly JZimbo chatted up the proprietor and suggested ways of improving the man’s business. Later, he handsomely tipped a street saxophonist while letting him know that the river walk (a couple of blocks away was a better location).

By accident, we found a bar that showed cult movies in a small, adjoining theater. The night before they showed the, “ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.” But that night’s headliner was, “DOLOMITE.” JZimbo was certain this movie was a riot, (everyone else was indifferent). Then the bartender poked her head out of the door and said, “Y’all’s in luck, tonight’s feature film just started.”

We shuffled through the one hundred percent empty bar and into the darkened fifty seat theater, (with fifteen or so customers). Within seconds we found ourselves embarrassed by this "blacksploitation" film from 1975…despite some humor derived from the shoestring budget, we walked out after twenty minutes.

At the bar, JZimbo again proved his excessive behavior by proclaiming, “I can’t go anywhere without buying something.” While he alone enjoyed the fruits of his motto, M and M’s and a can of Pepsi, he started a pleasant conversation with the bartender...who through an endearing local accent told us of her a connection with Flatbush, (the neighborhood in Brooklyn where GZimbo grew up, next to Canarsie).

On the way back to Carolina Beach, JZimbo gassed up and bought tons of junk food, (Sue and I got sodas). At the house, the arm of JZimbo’s reading glasses fell off. In an attempt to make the repair, he was entertaining as he struggled to properly line the tiny screw into place. I’m guessing that GZimbo was less enthralled than me. She said, “Let me see what I can do.” To show how excessive behavior grows on people, she threw the glasses on the floor, stomped the last bit of life out of them and said, "Tomorrow, you can pick your self up a new pair.”

In the morning, in lieu of breakfast at the highly touted Grandma’s, JZimbo led us, in the broiling humidity on a walk that zigzagged the back streets. The girls paired-up and I walked with JZimbo. Our fulfilling conversation’s wide a breadth spanned the ridiculous and the sublime. The chat was so peaceful that the hunger, drudgery and mysterious objective became secondary.  Along the way, he got a phone call from the M's reporting that they were safely home despite a slight problem leaving Newark (NJ) Airport.
UBER TAXI, IS A NEW (CONTROVERSIAL) PRIVATE CAR OR RIDESHARE SERVICE.  IT IS OBJECTED TO BY ESTABLISHED MEDALLION CABS, BECAUSE OF CUT-RATES, SAFETY ISSUES AND LICENSING LOOPHOLES.

The M's phone call included that the police stopped them before they got into the Uber Taxi and the driver was issued a thousand dollars in fines and was arrested, (so they had to find a ride in a conventional cab for $12 instead of $10).

Our million-mile march was starting to get stale when JZimbo mentioned that Port City Java was our destination. I assumed our morning meal would be there…I was wrong. I was also wrong because our four-mile walk didn't earn us the privilege of a real meal. Consistent with his excessive mentality, we had coffee and cake then JZimbo said, “The baked goods here aren’t very good.”

I was still wondering about JZimbo's decision to take us to the that coffee shop as we approached the Snow’s Cut Bridge.  Rather than lead us back to civilization, JZimbo took us across, out of town. Over the man-made waterway that connects the Cape Fear River with the Atlantic Ocean, we continued to a park on the opposite shore.
THE ZIMBO'S THOUGHT IT WAS NOTHING BUT WALKING OVER THAT BRIDGE WAS CRAZY.  BUT IT WAS PLEASANT IN THE RIVERSIDE PARK ON THE OTHER SIDE.  IF WE HAD A CAR, I COULD HAVE STAYED THERE ALL DAY.

The hike going back was direct along Carolina Beach’s main drag. JZimbo needed to replace his stomped reading glasses, at the “Dollar and Up” store. He with Sue’s help took a half hour to find exactly the right ones.

Our next stop was at Walgreen’s. We were still three miles from home but JZimbo bought nuts, candy and six colossal cans of Arnold Palmer brand lemonade. Like two pack mules, he and I each carried a heavy sack each and trudged through the town’s business district.

At the municipal building, GZimbo needed to clarify her water bill's balance, (she had received a duplicate invoice). Outside the water bill payment window, a local TV reporter, a cameraman and an intern greeted her. Their station had a publicity stunt and were paying random people’s water bill. GZimbo turned to the municipal representative to plead her case. She was then assured that she had a zero balance...and thusly didn't qualify to have her bill paid. Seconds later, a man came up and they indeed paid his bill, ($124.61).

A mile from the house, we came upon a man-made lake with a jogging path, playground etc. In the distance, GZimbo spotted heavy storms clouds rapidly coming our way. She was saying we needed to move quickly when stout lightning cut through the sky accompanied by a tremendous, crackling, thunder clap. She pointed at a nearby bar and insisted we wait out the possible natural fireworks. JZimbo was in full agreement but Sue and I snapped, “We can make it home.”
GZIMBO DIDN'T APPRECIATE WHEN I SHRUGGED, "WE'LL BE OKAY, I HAVEN'T BEEN KILLED BY LIGHTNING YET."

Poor GZimbo.  She didn't like that we didn't join, in her over-reaction.  So in a near panic trot, she admonished us while encouraging us to scurry along. The potential catastrophe was bearing down on us as I lagged behind, in what Sue calls my “mall-walking speed.” Strangers recognized the imminent disaster and two different alarmists volunteered to drive us…I was so confident, I turned down both offers.

We were safely back twenty minutes and all hell broke out. For five hours, thunder and lightning highlighted nature’s fury. The lights flickered, the streets flooded and the Zimbo’s were glad they listened to reason.  Otherwise their over-protectiveness might have caused us to be stranded, (drunk and fed at the bar) the whole time.

Later, we got dressed for dinner. Huge puddles eliminated many parking spots but we enjoyed at elegant meal at the Dockside. Afterwards, we drove to the next town (Kure Beach) for dessert at the Arctic Circle (soft ice cream stand). I had my mother’s favorite, a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream and wet walnuts, (my first one in twenty years, it's tough to imagine anything better).

Wednesday morning was hot and cloudy. The girls declared it a "no beach day" and shopped in Wilmington. JZimbo and I walked, (with our beach stuff) around the corner to Grandma’s. Apparently the previous day’s storm knocked out their electricity, we continued to the beach. We threw around a Frisbee. I hadn’t done that in decades. JZimbo was sweating through his shirt after forty minutes. Later he admitted trying to out last me but that's one activity that I can be excessive at.

We sat in chairs and stared into the ocean while chatting. He pointed out that the omnipresent pelicans continually do strafing runs, inches above the water. When they spot their prey, they skim the water with their big lower jaw and scoop up food. Their other feeding method has far less finesse. From a high vantage point, they do kamikaze face-first dives into the sea for a meal.
(stock photo) PELICANS ARE BIG, UGLY BIRDS. I HAD NEVER SEEN ONE, SO I LOVED WATCHING THEM.


I followed JZimbo into the surf. He dove in while wimpy me was getting my second toe wet. The ocean was choppy from the storm and another seemed to be brewing. JZimbo's head was a distant bobbing dot in the briny deep before the first big wave knocked me over. It took time to stand upright.  I was shaken-up enough that I retreated to my chair.

If I had joined JZimbo, I would have merely waded in chest deep water but JZimbo actually swam. From the safety of shore, I watched him cut through the current, parallel to the shoreline with ease. I was impressed. I was thinking that he reminded me of the pelicans. The flock I saw glided so gracefully or perpetually splattered themselves into the water.

At around eleven, JZimbo led me to an indoor/outdoor café on a nearby pier. I had psyched myself up for breakfast at Grandma’s so the limited gourmet lunch items were not appealing, (they didn't serve breakfast). So I was surprised that we went back to his house...unfed. While I foraged for food, (cookies, nuts and fruit), he went into his backyard in pants and a sweatshirt to spray insecticide on tree worms. He was out there a long time so when I made a burger run, I was shocked that he turned down my offer.

The girls called and said they bought the fixings for a barbeque. Another north Jersey couple (the A’s) was coming to Camp Zimbo after visiting family in Florida. Consistent with his character, JZimbo, like a man possessed suddenly declared he needed more insecticide and a garden hose.

Through a downpour of biblical proportions, he took me to Wal-Mart, in the Monkey Junction section of Wilmington. We went through the self check with his garden needs and four lollipops. Maybe he was doing it purposely but there’s the possibility he doesn’t know how entertaining it was to watch him struggle to scan the tiny, individual UPC labels on those pops.

In his car, while I’m imagining the need to build an ark because of the volume of rain, his excessiveness was made funnier when he made a series of insane turns to get to a Philly cheese steak joint. I didn’t want to spoil my dinner and didn’t get anything. But it was hilarious that he went through so much hardship to see if the place was any good only to order a can of tuna mixed into a bowl with lettuce, tomato and onion.

Later, the A’s arrived exactly on time. Sue and I were well acquainted with them but this was our first chance to really socialize. In no time, we had new friends. After eating we talked and laughed for hours.

On our last morning, (Thursday), like a camp counselor, JZimbo organized us for another walk. I asked our fearless leader if he was dragging us and the A’s on another ten-miler. JZimbo assured me that this jaunt, through the affluent section of Carolina Beach, (to the North Pier), was much shorter. Three miles later, I controlled my sarcasm by NOT whistling theme song to, “BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.” It took an eternity to reach our goal but because the conversation flowed, I never complained.
1957's "THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI," FEATURED THE SONG, "COLONEL BOGEY'S MARCH." THE OPENING SCENE DEPICTS THE ALLIED PRISONERS WHISTLING THIS TUNE AFTER SURVIVING THE "DEATH MARCH" TO THE PRISON CAMP...ONLY TO BE BEATEN, TORTURED AND STARVED.


We followed JZimbo up the North Pier’s stairs. I was expecting a cute little café but it was little more than a bait shop with toilets, (while the others took advantage of the facilities, JZimbo's zest for trickle down economics resulted in him buying a Chunky chocolate bar and playing pinball). The rest of us were interested in real food so we indulged in neither the candy counter fare or the protein-rich selection of chilled worms under glass.

I was starving as we had a photo shoot on the pier.
THE A's ARE A GREAT COUPLE.  I HOPE WE GET TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH THEM SOON.

During a lull in the photography session, I watched a trio of pelicans play a form of musical chairs as two alternated hunting for food while a third rested atop a random mooring post set out in the ocean, (as hungry as the bird on the pole might have been, he didn’t give up his few moments of rest easily for the next tired pelican trying to take a breather).
THE ZIMBO's, ON THE NORTH PIER.

JZimbo was either blind to our needs or he wanted us to burn enough calories to earn our meal. So he took the scenic route back. This round-about way took us to the town’s miniature boardwalk. At its famous doughnut shop, he made three points; early each morning a line stretches out the door, they only sell one flavor doughnut and that one type of doughnut, isn’t good.

By this time, the natives were restless and demanded food. JZimbo wanted to complete our eight-mile journey at Grandma’s but in a landslide vote, the apparently reliable eatery was ousted, in favor of the arbitrary place across the street, Kate’s. Speaking strictly for my self, if Kate’s specialty was shit on a shingle, I would have ate it and loved it. As for the actual southern-styled cuisine, Kate received twenty-four enthusiastic thumbs up, (all six of us used both hands and feet to accentuate our joy).

At the Zimbo compound, JZimbo, like a man possessed, in the stifling heat and humidity decided on another round of bug spraying. The others went to the beach…I took a nap.

We said our thank you and good-byes and loved every cherished memory of our stay at Camp Zimbo. The M’s were fun to be with the first day, Sue and I had the Zimbo’s to our self in the middle and we finished by making stronger friends with the A’s.

On the drive back to Myrtle Beach Airport, Sue lamented that the four of them were going to rent bikes the next morning. I figured a wheeling JZimbo would have taken them to Beale Street in Memphis via Miami…so me and my buns certainly didn’t feel like we were missing anything.

Later, on our hour-long flight back to Jersey,  I reflected on how JZimbo maintains his incredibly excessive, work-hard, play-hard lifestyle.  Then I realized there are many ways to get the job done right.

Our rough landing at Atlantic City Airport temporarily made me think about my mortality.
THE PILOT LUCKILY RIGHTED THE JET. SECONDS AFTER OUR BOUNCY, SCREECHING LANDING, WE RE-ENACTED OUR VIRTUAL PANIC IN A SELFIE.

My son Andrew picked us up at the airport.  On the way home, despite side-stepping a plane crash and an untimely death, I was pre-occupied.  I realized that I'm generally happy to sit on the sidelines instead of living a pattern of constant energy-burning supported by power-eating.  So, I guess, I’ll never make it as a pelican...wait, when do they have time to make baby pelicans?

Ironically, the JZimbo system must have merit because I lost three pounds at his house…that means…thanks to the Camp Zimbo method, despite over-eating great food…daily ice cream and continuous in-take of other sweets, (washed down with beer), I out-exercised my poor diet.

Monday, July 14, 2014

ROCK-n-ROLL HALL OF FAME: THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING.

Ever get punched in the face? It doesn’t feel too good. So you can only imagine what getting punched repeatedly must feel like. NOW! Imagine those continuous punches, except they are a bombardment of positive emotional jolts. That’s how I felt, (earlier this week), when my wife Sue and I took a three-day mini-vacation to Ohio.

My plan was simple, to right the wrong of not taking Sue to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, (I took my son Andrew there when our family vacation was scrapped because Sue had just started a new job).

This trip’s positive karma started with a nearly flawless 8+ hour jaunt to Northeast Ohio, (the only drawback was that Sue’s two-hour tour of duty driving was marred by an hour of torrential...trudging through a car wash-like rain).

At a rest stop in Ohio, I picked up a motel coupon booklet from an extremely pleasant man at the, ‘Welcome to Ohio Center,” (I always told Sue how uncanny it was that EVERYONE in Ohio is so nice…and this gentleman was the first to prove my point).

To shorten the trip, I wanted to find a motel along the Interstate, between Cleveland and our other stop, the pro Football Hall-of Fame, in Canton. The planets must have been perfectly aligned because our feather-in-the-wind destiny landed us almost exactly between the two cities, (a Microtel, in the town of Streetsboro).
ESTABLISHED IN 1989, MICROTEL IS A SUBSIDIARY OF WYNDHAM WORLDWIDE.  IT IS LISTED, BY J. D. POWER AND ASSOCIATES AS HIGHEST IN GUEST SATISFACTION AMONG ECONOMY HOTELS FOR TEN STRAIGHT YEARS AS OF 2011.

Sue and I were burnt out from the road as we approached the front desk. We were greeted, (overwhelmed with positive energy), by a couple, (co-managers Ole and Diana). Like being with old friends, the check-in procedure probably was three times longer than usual because of the warmth, talking and joking. They accepted our coupon, reminded us about the closing time of their indoor pool and suggested a nearby restaurant.

At the Brown Derby Steakhouse the perky hostess asked, “Table or booth?” I said, “Booth.” She said, “I have tables now, but a booth might take a few minutes.” Everything was going our way so I said, “We’ll wait for a booth.” A half minute later she said, “Your booth is ready.”

We entered Nirvana and found that the place expertly combined atmosphere, service and great food.  By the time we walked out, Sue and I were ready to do a free testimonial. I even tracked down the manager, (never did this in my life) and complimented Ashley the waitress and thanked him and the rest of the staff.
THE BROWN DERBY HAS SEVERAL LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT OHIO.  IT'S A BIG STEP UP FROM THE OUTBACK...AND I LIKE THE OUTBACK, A LOT.

On the way back to the motel, I spotted a hardware store billboard, in the town of Kent Ohio. Talk about a feather-in-the-wind destiny, prior to seeing the sign, I had no idea where in Ohio, Kent State University was.

Later, after a refreshing dip in the pool, I asked Ole, if Kent State University was indeed in Kent. It was the only time this upbeat man was ever somber around me when he said, “Yeah, next town over. The campus is eight miles from here.”

In the morning, I did my power-walk through town. Later, we ate the Microtel’s complimentary continental breakfast. Then we stopped at Wal-Mart for some travel essentials. While wandering around the store, I got the idea of seeing if they sold Kent State University tee-shirts, (in case going there didn’t fit in our plans).
MY ANDREW ATTENDS TCNJ.  LAST YEAR, IN AN ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT THE HIGH STUDENT BOOKSTORE PRICES, I WENT TO THE NEARBY LAWRENCEVILLE NJ WAL-MART TO BUY TCNJ MERCHANDISE...THEY HAD NONE!  SO MY HOPES OF NETTING AN AFFORDABLE KENT STATE SHIRT WEREN'T TOO HIGH.

I asked Rex, a ready-to-please high school exchange student from Liberia. He didn’t know if they had Kent State shirts but added, “Let me find the lady who knows it all.” I followed him through the racks of the women’s wear department until he found Dixie.

I would have thought it was impossible but Dixie was nicer than Rex. On the way, she apologized because there was only one style Kent State shirt. But there it was, in a choice of navy, gray or yellow…exactly what I was looking for…I bought the dark blue.

Cleveland was a simple thirty-minute drive on Interstates through towns like Twinsburg, Macedonia and Akron. While going through Akron, I mentioned how I believe in the power of coincidence as opposed to our fate being pre-destined…so I added, “It would be cool if LeBron James re-signed with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers while we were here.”
IT IS MY OPINION THAT LeBRON JAMES (29), A NATIVE OF AKRON AND A FORMER CAVALIER, IS THE GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYER ON THE PLANET, (WITH THE NEXT BEST BEING EONS OF TALENT BEHIND HIM). HIS RETURN TO CLEVELAND WOULD BE POETIC JUSTICE AND INSTANTLY RESURRECT THIS SPORTS STARVED CITY, (THEY HAVEN'T BOASTED A WORLD CHAMPION OF SINCE THE NFL's BROWNS, IN 1964).

We got to the Rock-n-Roll Hall-of-Fame at 10:15AM. We soon experienced the gift that kept on giving. The next eight hours, (we NEVER stopped for lunch) was a shear love-driven rollercoaster…with the switch permanently set on “UP”…because every exhibit took us higher and higher.
SPRINGSTEEN, McCARTNEY AND JOEL...THROW ME IN AND YOU'D HAVE SUE'S MOUNT RUSHMORE.

I am not outwardly motivated by music. Yes, I have appreciation for it but I would never say it defines me or is an important part of my life. But it is. This importance might not be a part of my conscious being but at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, a continual flood of dormant (happy) emotions were gushed forward by so many artists, song titles and lyrics that activated wonderful historic memories of my life.
COULD YOU "IMAGINE" SUE MISSING A PHOTO-OP WITH JOHN LENNON?

A feast for the ears, eyes, brain and heart, you’d think a guy like me would run out of internal shivers and quivers and external tears of joy…but NO! I’m proud to have been so touched. It’s great to feel alive. WOW!
WHETHER IT WAS MICHAEL JACKSON'S GLOVE (above) OR SEEING A LITTLE RICHARD VIDEO OR READING THE LYRIC'S TO WOODY GUTHRIE'S, "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND," THE CHILLS KEPT COMING.  MANY TIMES I BECAME MISTY AND JUST WHEN I THOUGHT, I HAD NO MORE EMOTION TO GIVE, THE NEXT EXHIBIT WOULD START ME ALL OVER AGAIN.

What a special day…and remember, I already experienced the same positive punch in the face feeling eight years ago. But it wasn’t enough, I needed more to accomplish my goal…and I got my reward when I heard Sue say, "This place is awesome!"
I'M NOT AN ELVIS DEVOTEE BUT I GOT CHILLS AS IF I WAS MEETING HIM N PERSON.

While Sue capped our stay at the gift shop, I asked an employee to suggest a restaurant, (please understand that I’m aware that the nice people I encountered in Ohio are all in the hospitality industry but it seemed to me, everyone…on both of my visits to the Buckeye State went above and beyond the call of duty).

This employee stopped what she was doing and found a file of maps. Her detailed explanation included her opinion that it’s better to drive because the Warehouse District, (an area with a series of hipster bar/restaurants), has free parking after six.

Free parking yes, finding a spot..well that's another story. But when you're, "in the zone" everything goes your way. I didn’t even have to pray to the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces, (Joe Vanilla), as someone pulled out and created the only spot on the whole street. We read the outdoor menus and landed at Bar Louie’s, at the corner of West 6th and St. Clair.
THE YOUNG CLIENTELE MADE US FEEL LIKE FOSSILS.

Bar Louie's under-thirty customers all looked like business people or kids in Cleveland sports team apparel. Gathered around the big screen TV tuned to a live Indians game, they carried the hope of Cleveland's future sports identity in their Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel jerseys and old Lebron James shirts. I said to Sue, “If the network interrupts the game to announce that LeBron James signed with Cavaliers, they'll blow the roof off this place.”
IT'S BEEN 50 YEARS SINCE THAT BROWNS CHAMPIONSHIP.  EVEN WORSE, SINCE 1894 THE INDIANS HAVE ONLY BEEN CHAMPS TWICE, (1920 and 1948).  THE CAVALIERS HAVE NEVER WON IT ALL AND THE NHL'S CLEVELAND BARONS STAYED ONLY TWO SEASONS (1976-1978).  THEY SUCKED SO BAD THAT THE TEAM DIDN'T MOVE, THEY DISBANDED.

At Louie's, Sue and I were still in the warm after-glow of the Hall-of-Fame. We discussed the highlights of our eight-hour, musical love affair over burgers and a flat bread pizza appetizer. The surprisingly good quality of the food supported our vibe.

In the morning, during my power-walk, I got the idea to suggest breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. We both have heard great things about it but never tried it. Sue googled it and lucky us, there was a location in North Canton, minutes from the Football Hall of Fame. I then said, “As long as we aren’t in a hurry…and it’s so early, let’s try to find Kent State on the way.”

Ole’s directions were quick and easy. The school’s significance coincidentally ties in to Rock-n-Rock music, hippies and the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960’s and into the 70’s.

I had no idea what to expect but the tasteful, artistic monument to one of the worse moments in American history (May 4, 1970), left me numb. I thought I had purged my system of tears the day before, but the senselessness of the four student’s deaths (and other gunfire injuries) shuddered my wife and I, on so many levels. But we’re so glad we took the time to see it, better understand and share the experience.

Click on the link below for the Crosby, Stills and Nash, "OHIO."
http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/redirect.jhtml?action=pick&qs=&pr=GG&searchfor=tin+soldiers+crosby+stills+nash+youtube&cb=CD&pg=GGmain&p2=%5ECD%5Exdm003%5ES04317%5Eus&n=77fc41c7&qid=f77524ba93f74361b53496f616be3c3f&pn=1&ss=sub&st=bar&ptb=D6B92608-79BD-4909-92A0-160CFD832118&tpr=sbt&si=CKuH4unForUCFQPd4AodLCEADg&redirect=mPWsrdz9heamc8iHEhldEcgdjfjqpMajKYmz288FhTJFwKwXkWukp8ilDEDcUfLAxjvcZ23xDihFIH6JKsGodA%3D%3D&ord=2&ct=AR&

Thirty minutes later we were wowed at the Cracker Barrel. Trust me, pancakes aren’t just pancakes.
CRACKER BARREL ORIGINATED IN 1969.  THIS RESTAURANT/COUNTRY STORE COMBINES TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN CUISINE WITH A QUAINT DECOR.  ALTHOUGH THERE AREN'T ANY LOCATIONS NEAR MY HOUSE, THEY HAVE 630 FRANCHISES IN 42 STATES.

Everything continued going my way..even the gas prices were $3.25 in Canton, (no lower than $3.60 everywhere else).

The Football Hall of Fame would dredge up so many great memories.
THE ENTRANCE TO THE PARKING LOT.

Football has always been a major part of my life, (I played high school football too), so I expected some sort of emotional response. But no, it was just good, clean interactive fun.
EVEN THOUGH I GAVE SUE 8 HOURS AT THE ROCK-n-ROLL HALL, UNDER WALTER PEYTON'S WATCHFUL EYE, SHE PUTS ME ON THE CLOCK FOR TWO HOURS.
Sue pointed out that all the women we met were bored stiff.  Sue had the idea of heightening the woman's prospective by showing how the players decorated their homes or a display on how their wives dress.
BEFORE WE WENT IN, SUE SPOTTED ANOTHER DISINTERESTED FEMALE.  SUE OFFERED TO TAKE A PICTURE OF THAT LADY'S FAMILY AND SHE RESPONDED BY TAKING OURS, (above).  THAT WOMAN WAS VERY NICE AND SHE WASN'T EVEN FROM OHIO.  IF I DIDN'T BREAK-UP SUE AND HER NEW BFF, MY MUSEUM TIME WOULD HAVE BEEN SEVERELY CUT. 

The Hall offered many hands-on exhibits.
FORGET THE SILLY POSE, THIS HELMET DEMONSTRATES HOW THE COACH COMMUNICATES WITH PLAYERS WITH BUILT-IN SOUND SYSTEMS.  I ALSO LIKED THE BOOTH WHERE YOU GET TO DECIDE IF A REFEREE'S CALL WAS RIGHT.  THEY EVEN HAD A MOLD OF THE NFL's LARGEST HAND, (WILLIE McGINEST).  IT WAS DOUBLE MY SIZE AND RESEMBLED A JAI ALAI CESTA.
The most popular room has a bronze bust of each member's head, (organized by the year of induction).
I HAVE SO MANY FAVORITES TO CHOOSE FROM BUT THE CHUCK BEDNARIK (above) IS THE ONLY ONE THAT I LOOK CUTE IN.
The Hall's memorabilia can be measured only in tons. Among my favorites was the evolution of equipment, team jerseys, cleats, super bowl rings and the Super Bowl trophy.
SUE DOING A FINE IMITATION OF JERRY RICE CATCHING THE SUPER BOWL TROPHY.

It's funny, at the ticket booth, they ask for your zip code...and favorite team.  I told them my zip and then muffled my mouth as I grunted Jets, (they have caused me intense psychological damage since 1963). 

Even the other guests are fascinated by everyone else's team affiliation.  One Southern Californian in a Detroit Lions jersey told me, I should be proud and roar that they are my favorite team.  But other than Joe Namath and Don Maynard anyone else associated with the Jets in the Hall, achieved their greatness with other teams.
I GOT JOE NAMATH'S AND DON MAYNARD'S AUTOGRAPH IN AUGUST 1966, AT JETS TRAINING CAMP (PEEKSKILL NEW YORK).  IN JANUARY 1984, SUE AND I UNWITTINGLY ATE IN DON MAYNARD'S RESTAURANT OUTSIDE EL PASO TEXAS (IN NEW MEXICO).  OTHER THAN THE JETS ONE VICTORIOUS TRIP TO THE SUPER BOWL, MY JETS HGHLIGHT REEL PRETTY MUCH ENDS WITH THIS PARAGRAPH.

To honor the New York Jets and the other upstart Americn Football League (AFL) teams, the Hall has a separate room dedicated to them. 
THIS ORIGINAL 1960 BUFFALO BILLS BANNER HANGS FROM THE RAFTERS OF THIS AFL ROOM.  I CHOSE THE PHOTO FOR CHARLIEOPERA, (THE ONLY BILLS FAN OUTSIDE BUFFALO). FOR "SUPER" RESULTS, MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE STOOD FARTHER TO THE LEFT, TO AVOID BEING, "WIDE RIGHT."

I found myself very interested in the AFL exhibits.   While reading, I lived up to my "Instant Recall Edelbum" nickname (bestowed on me by RBOY) and discovered, not one but two typos, (a player's name misspelled and a wrong year).  I should have reported it, maybe they would have hired me as a proof reader.

My two+ hours at the Hall were over.  Our great time completed a near perfect mini-vacation. On the way to the Interstate, I asked Sue what her favorite part of the Football Hall-of-Fame was...she punched-up a candid photo she took.
I WAS EXPECTING A SHOT OF THE BIGGER-THAN-LIFE STATUE OF JIM THORPE OR THE COMPARISION OF RICHARD SLIGH TO JACK SHAPIRO, (THE NFL's TALLEST AND SHORTEST PLAYERS...SEVEN FOOT AND FIVE FOOT).  BUT INSTEAD, SUE WITH TONGUE-IN-CHEEK SHOWED ME THIS PICTURE OF THE EXIT SIGN.

We were driving through Akron on the way home.  I said how weird it was to fall into Kent State.  Then I added, "If all our positive energy of this trip really amounted to anything, LeBron would sign with the Cavaliers while we are here." 

Well, that didn't happen but he DID sign the next day!  So Sue and I can still say...our karma and presence throughout Northeast Ohio influenced LeBron's return.  And with any luck, he will be the springboard to end the Cleveland sports teams forever drought.  Plus, those teams and their fans can stop getting repeatedly punched in the face while witnessing the revitalization of this depressed region...with a gift that keeps on giving...in the name of economic relief.  Years from now when all this goodness comes true, don't thank LeBron...thank me!

Monday, July 7, 2014

STAR SPANGLED ROXY...MAYBE NEXT YEAR...

“The bombs bursting in air,” is a phrase from our National Anthem. It’s the lead-in to, “but our flag was still there.” The point being made was during the war of 1812, the USA were underdogs, the night the invading British bombarded Baltimore. But in the morning, the American flag still waved over Fort McHenry.
ON SEPTEMBER 12, 1814, DURING THE WAR OF 1812, (I GUESS THERE WAS A TWO-YEAR OVERTIME PERIOD), FRANCIS SCOTT KEY WITNESSED THIS ENGLISH, 25-HOUR ATTACK.  IN THE MORNING WHEN HE REALIZED THAT THE AMERICANS HAD HELD THIS STRATEGIC MILITARY CITY, HE WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE THE POEM, "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER," WHICH LATER BECAME OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM.

Our national pride for surviving that onslaught has been traditionally and symbolically relived with Independence Day fireworks. Even though I prefer the quiet, once a year, on or about the Fourth of July, I have a great appreciation for the safe, carefully orchestrated and professionally prepared fireworks shows. My problem is the illegal fireworks that are smuggled into New Jersey, (detonated mostly on the 4th of July and New Years Eve…as well as sporadically the rest of the year).

I’m certain every neighborhood has amateurs (of all ages) who, in the name of patriotism, risk injury and getting fined by the police, solely to come-off as a big-shot. While I don’t see the thrill of firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, M-80’s, cherry bombs or blockbusters, I was always grudgingly accepting of it…until I got a dog.

My Roxy is a mutt. She is scared to death by loud noises, (primarily thunder and fireworks).
ROXY STRONGLY DESIRES QUIET SO MUCH THAT AT HER BIRTHDAY PARTY, SHE SPECIAL REQUESTED NO NOISE MAKERS DURING THE CELEBRATION...AND THAT HER YAPPY BFF MADDIE, WEAR A MUZZLE. 

It is unknown why some dogs are so acutely affected. But her case is so severe that the noise triggers persistent, excessive and irrational behavior. Those sounds mess with her so badly that she wants to escape. Nothing can stop her from trying to tunnel out of the house, (she digs like a machine on the material of our sofa, expensive comforters and computer wires). If Roxy was in a speeding car, I’m certain she’d be so desperate that she’s jump out the window.

Studies have shown that working and sporting dogs are more susceptible to a loud noise phobia. Experts aren’t certain why this is true but my Roxy, despite her lack of pedigree falls into that category, (she has beagle and Jack Russell blood coursing through her veins with a dab of Dalmatian and a jumbled Heinz-57 mixture to complete her lineage).

Noise phobia in dogs is linked to bad experiences as a puppy. However, it’s impossible to guess the specific problem. A good way for owners to address the situation is with Benadryl or some other mild, calming agent.
DOGGIE DOWNERS LIKE BENADRYL REALLY HELP.  CHECK WITH YOUR VET TO SEE IF SUCH A PRODUCT (AND PROPER DOSAGE), IS RIGHT FOR YOUR POOCH.

There also is sweater-like item called a Thunder Shirt which secures the dog with a soothing, swaddling caress.  I’ve heard mixed reviews that favor that they don’t work.

Unfortunately, dogs don’t outgrow this fear. You’d think that they’d realize that nothing terrible really happens…but I guess because it’s an emotional response, they don’t. The studies I read conclude that the problem gets more severe with each experience…and in Roxy’s case, I’d say that’s true.

Even the experts can’t agree on whether excessive petting and coddling is a good idea. While some say it helps, others claim that you are negatively reinforcing that there is indeed something for them to worry about.

What seems crazy is that Roxy can hear a distant, single firecracker pop and freak out. It might take an hour before she calms down. Then another gets exploded. Many times, my wife Sue and I can’t even hear it. So we are puzzled by doggie’s inconsolable panting, shivering and drooling, (in the case of storms, Roxy can perceive changes in barometric pressure, electrostatic disturbances and even smells).

Speaking of barometric pressure going haywire, three days ago, the professional Fourth of July firework shows sponsored by nearby casinos was postponed due to the threat of Hurricane Arthur, (I called it Hurricane Chip). The big event was rescheduled for last night. Sue’s friends Rose and Tom invited us to their house to watch the show from across the bay. Even though the explosions were barely discernable pops, the musical simulcast on the radio made the experience far better.

We had a great time and the company was terrific too. Until afterwards, Tom started blasting his own bottle rockets. I imagined some poor dog on their street ready to slash his wrists because of OUR noise. I felt like such a hypocrite but as a first time guest, I didn’t get on my soapbox and complain. Luckily, the stiff breeze was blowing inland, so rather than risk setting a neighbor’s house on fire, Tom stopped immediately on his own.

So please bear in mind when you shoot-off illegal fireworks, it’s likely that you are freaking out a dog. And the collateral damage is, nice people like my wife and I who work odd hours, lose sleep trying to calm our panic-stricken pups while protecting our furniture and other possessions.

This morning to prove how pissed-off Roxy still was, she refused to pose with the wooden pole of an American flag in her mouth or with a bigger flag draped over her back.
ROXY LOVES PLAYING DRESS-UP AND POSING FOR THE PAPARAZZI. SO PLEASE UNDERSTAND HOW ACUTELY ANXIOUS SHE HAD TO BE, TO MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW HER LOVE FOR OUR COUNTRY.

So don’t label her unpatriotic...what she is, is scared.  If we dope her up a little more next year, maybe she won't be so terrified and she'll dress up as Dolly Mutt-ison.

Monday, June 30, 2014

NICK TUCKER: A PUZZLE THAT WOULD BAFFLE BOTH CHURCHILL AND FREUD

This story is based on excerpts from my short story, “NO HELPS HALL,” and a blog from January 27, 2014 called, “THE COCKAMAMIE KID.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Much the same can be said of Nick Tucker. His life was so shrouded by mystery that I can not be certain if I was his friend, an acquaintance or an insignificant background person.

This piece was made possible because Nick’s former roommate John Crotty confided a good deal of the information to me. For the first four years I knew Crotty, we had no relationship. During that time, the only intelligent thing I ever heard him say was, “The first thing they should teach a Las Vegas craps dealer is the old adage; don’t shit where you eat.”

That’s why it was such a surprise that Crotty in 1982, went out of his way to speak to me. A year later, we had our only other conversation. During that second chance meeting, the in depth details he shared, helped me understand the inner workings of the bizarre, Nick Tucker.

In the fall of 1978, I met Nick Tucker at the New York School of Gambling. While there, we never connected as friends.  Our common ground was studying to be casino dealers and moving to Las Vegas.  But we were in opposing social groups within the school. So his jet-setting elitists and my easy-going, “good-people” never hung-out outside the classroom, (the other group were the misfit nerds, we called them “kruds.”)

On a Friday in mid-October, we had our first one-on-one meeting. Our craps dealing class had been dismissed but I decided to practice my latest skill after everyone left. At the casino-like classroom’s entrance, Phyllis one of the receptionists seemed to be guarding the door. When I went past her, she stopped cracking her gum long enough to call out, “Hey Nicky, I gotta run.”

Nick Tucker had a guilty look on his face as he stood next to the wide open seventh floor window. His hands were hidden from my view by a podium as I said, “That's dangerous, you could push a piano out that window.” He was annoyed as he shushed me and waved me closer. At his feet, there were five stacks of mismatched, red practice chips and two burlap bank bags. I saw one bag was full as he took out a giant Baggie stuffed with Styrofoam packing peanuts and crumpled newspaper. He dumped in all the chips and said, “Go lay chickie for me.” I said, “Heh?”

He was binding his bundle with thick rubber bands as he said, “Go to the door and let me know if someone is coming.” I wasn’t smart enough to realize that I was witnessing the craziest, stupidest , most unnecessary theft ever!  I was paralyzed by indecision until Nick snapped, “You gonna help or stand there like you’re posing for Animal Crackers?”
"ANIMAL CRACKERS" ARE SMALL, PLAIN-FLAVORED COOKIES DESIGNED FOR YOUNG CHILDREN.  IN THE 1890's, THEY WERE IMPORTED FROM ENGLAND AND SOLD IN GIANT CRACKER BARRELS.  IN 1902, STAUFFER'S BECAME THE FIRST USA COMPANY TO MAKE THEIR OWN VERSIONS AND MARKET THEM AS A SINGLE PORTION ITEM, (A NICKEL A BOX).  TODAY NABISCO IS THE LEADING PRODUCER.  FIFTY-FOUR DIFFERENT ANIMALS HAVE BEEN USED.  THE LAST ADDITION (2002) WAS A KOALA.  THE SLIGHTLY DERISIVE EXPRESSION, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, POSING FOR ANIMAL CRACKERS," SUGGESTS THAT YOU AREN'T PAYING ATTENTION TO THE TASK AT HAND.

My curiosity got the better of me so I retreated to the door. From that short distance, I saw Nick take out a plastic supermarket sack and drop the Baggie of chips in. He added more Styrofoam and newspaper before securing the whole thing with rubber bands. He finished the preparation by putting the whole mess into the empty burlap bank bag. Seconds later, there were two identical bank bags tied at the top by a slender plastic strap with a locking mechanism.

Nick stuck his head out of the window and signaled to someone at street level. I was confused. Ten seconds later, he leaned out again, made a military salute and dropped the two, bag-in-a-bag-in-a-bag packages out the window.
OUCH ! THOSE BAGS HAD TO WEIGH OVER A POUND EACH.  AND I CAN'T IMAGINE THE HUGE UNDERTAKING CROWD CONTROL WOULD BE WITH THE CONSTANT FLOW OF INNOCENT PEOPLE COMING INTO THE TARGET AREA FROM ALL ANGLES.

Nick was all smiles and said to me, “Mission accomplished, I owe you.” I said, “Owe me for what…what just happened?” He said, “John Crotty and Artie Cisco are downstairs holding everyone back and will retreive the bags.”
AT MIDDAY, WEST 32nd STREET OFF BROADWAY (THAT'S WHERE THE SCHOOL WAS LOCATED) WAS MUCH BUSIER THAN THE PHOTO ABOVE.  EVEN IF CROTTY AND CISCO USED YELLOW EMERGENCY TAPE TO CORDON OFF THE DROP ZONE, I CAN'T CONCEIVE HOW THIS IDIOTIC IDEA (REPEATED SEVERAL TIMES) DIDN'T GET THEM ARRESTED.

Nick brandished a switchblade.  If he intended on intimidating me from ratting him out, he succeeded.  He saw the blank expression on my face and used the knife to clean under his fingernails as he bragged, “John built a craps table for us to practice on…and we’re almost done filling up the bank with chips.” I said, “But these chips are worthless…you can buy’em for a dime.” Nick sighed, “Yeah genius, but we need a thousand of them…you do the math.” I said, “Aren’t you afraid the school will notice this many missing?” He said, “Hell no! Sif (Phyllis, the whore receptionist was nicknamed Sif-Phyllis) wants to get in Artie’s pants, so he gets her to steal them out of a storage closet.  These bastards never use 'em and won’t know they’re gone for years.” I said, “Those bags are like missiles, you might kill someone down there. Besides, wouldn’t it be safer and easier to just stuff the chips in your pockets…and walk out with them?” Nick shook his head, “Who are you, a front man for the friggin' Pope? Besides, but what fun would easier be?”

John Crotty was never civil me even when he knew I helped their operation. In the next few weeks, Nick frequently invited me to come to Crotty’s garage in Hoboken to practice dealing to John’s family and friends. But I wasn’t in Crotty’s social strata so he always rolled his eyes or made some gesture that made be feel unwelcome.

Nick remained cordial to me. Occasionally, he invited me to breakfast…but I never went because he, John and Artie Cisco drank their morning meals at the Ireland’s Eye Bar.

Nick and John moved to Vegas together in early November. I graduated a couple of days into 1979 and flew out there on January 7th. By New York standards, Las Vegas was a small town but even with tons of mutual, relocated school mates, it was surprising that I didn’t bump into Nick and John until the following September, at a knockoff San Gennaro feast.
THE LAS VEGAS ITALIAN-AMERICAN FEAST MIGHT HAVE HAD FOOD THAT LOOKED AUTHENTIC BUT IF YOU KNOW YOUR SCUNGILLI FROM A HOLE IN THE WALL, IT'S JUST NOT THE SAME.

At the fake San Gennaro feast, like ships passing in the night, Nick and I exchanged silent nods…I got no acknowledgement from John Crotty. However, later that night I overheard Crotty say, “The first thing they should teach Las Vegas craps dealers is the old adage; don’t shit where you eat.”

In 1982, I got hired at the Golden Nugget. What a great coincidence, Nick Tucker was already dealing craps there on my shift. He took me under his wing, introduced me to coworkers and made me feel at home. Nick was quick to mention that the Nugget didn’t have a help’s hall. That meant two things, the casino didn’t provide a meal and it encouraged the staff to leave the building, (most casinos would penalize anyone who went outside during their shift).

On a mutual break, Nick took me all over downtown Vegas and showed me the best places to eat, drink and get in trouble.

Once I got to know him, I considered Nick Tucker to be the nicest person I ever met in the gaming business. Frequently, I introduced him to my friends as, “One of the few gentlemen you’ll ever meet out here.” It took a while but eventually I found out how wrong I was.

Nick showed great compassion for people. He took a personal interest in a fellow Golden Nugget dealer with a gambling problem. He brought this kid literature about Gamblers Anonymous, helped him to enroll in the program and drove him to the first meeting. In appreciation, the kid offered to take Nick out for a steak dinner. Nick politely refused.

Lelani Campbell, a gorgeous Amer-Asian blackjack dealer was as dumb as a stump. But she was smart enough to know that she’d be better off back home in Hawaii than in a dead end job, dealing cards. To encourage her to follow through, Nick tutored her a few days each week for over a month. She passed her GED on the first try. To thank him, she made overt sexual advances…but he turned her down.

A pit boss’s personal life was spiraling out of control. Nick gave him a new direction by suggesting that he follow his passion.  Together they searched the classified ads until they found a small fixer-upper cabin cruiser, for fishing Lake Meade. In the stifling heat of Southern Nevada, Nick went to this man’s house, scraped, sanded, cleaned and polished that boat until it was seaworthy. When the boss's dream was realized, he offered Nick money, special scheduling consideration and an outing on the boat. Nick said no thanks, to every offer.

Nick also organized parties for our clique. On Labor Day, he put together a barbeque for us at a park on East Tropicana Avenue.

Later in September, he used up favors to get the Horseshoe Casino’s coffee shop to reserve its backroom (at 2:00AM) and provide free hot hors d’oeuvres (as long as we paid for our drinks), for a boxman’s retirement party.

He also convinced us all to wear Halloween costumes after our shift, at a bash he put together at Mickey’s Appetizer, (a bar).

A month later, Lelani decided to make an afternoon Thanksgiving for our group. On the Sunday before, Nick brought her some extra folding chairs. When he pulled up, she was outside barefoot, in a giant, white tee-shirt that she wore like a dress.

Nick had trouble untying the strap that secured his car's trunk. Rather than get frustrated, he whipped out his switchblade and sliced the cord. Lelani joked, “Besides knives, you got any other surprises in your pants?” Nick avoided the innuendo and changed the subject by saying, “Growing up, my neighborhood was so bad even the Monsignor was good with a knife…” Lelani said, “Wait, I thought you were an army brat?” Nick ignored her prying and brought in the chairs.

Inside Nick said, “I gotta go but I want to tell you something.” She climbed up a three-rung step ladder and said, “Okay. You can tell me as I put up these turkey day decorations.” Nick spotted for her in case she fell. He pretended to be pre-occupied as to protect her modesty, he looked away. At the same time, Lelani kept glancing down hoping that he would sneak a peek up her dress.

She was losing patience with Nick as she tried to figure out if he was a saint or if he liked girls at all. Lelani went up and down the ladder several times and each time she finished hanging a strand of crepe paper or attached a pilgrim placard to the wall she asked, “How does it look?” Nick always grunted, “It looks great.”

For the last decoration, (a HAPPY THANKSGIVING banner across the living room), Lelani uncharacteristically went up the step ladder backwards as to be face-to-face with Nick. While he looked away, she hiked-up her shirt and said, “How does it look?” When turned, her clean-shaven vagina was exposed, inches from his face.

Nick smiled with interest and said, "It looks great."  Then he stepped back and turned her down. He added, “Also, I wanted to tell you, I won’t be coming here Thursday.” A girl as good-looking as Lelani wasn’t used to having her sexual advances refused. She was hurt, embarrassed and confused as tears rolled down her face. Nick consoled her, lightly pecked her cheek and whispered, “Please believe me, I really like you but I can’t complicate my life right now…” She interrupted, “Yeah but…” He cut her off and reminded her that he never shows up for group functions.

Nick broke the brief awkward silence that followed and said, “I gotta go now but take this.” He handed her an airport locker key. Lelani stared at the innocuous key and read the number aloud in a murmured stammer, “N-n-number 2577.” Nick firmly held her upper arms, looked deeply into her misty eyes and said, “If you don’t hear from me in a week, everything inside is yours.” She cried, “I don’t want…” “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll be back for you…but…well…if not, we can say I helped you get back home.”  Lelani sobbed, "You should come back to Maui with me.  You're so smart, you made my GED easy.  I bet you can go to school and do whatever you have to do to be a real teacher."  Nick was nodding as he muttered, "Maybe...a man could lose himself out there..."

At work, Nick had requested the night before off, as well as that night. He also didn’t tell anyone that his vacation was starting the following day. I never saw or heard from Nick again.

A couple of days later, before anyone realized that Nick vanished, I ran into John Crotty. I tried to duck him but shockingly, he called out my name and hustled over to me. We exchanged our Vegas histories until I said I was dealing at the Nugget. He said, “Nick works there, you ever see him?” I said, “Yeah. All the time. What a great guy.” Crotty said, “Great guy, eh?” I shrugged, “Yeah, of course. Why?” “You his friend?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Where does your friend live?” I said, “Don’t know.” “What’s his phone number?” “Well, he leads a hermit’s life. You know, private…I can respect that...besides, no one at work knows.”

I knew John Crotty only as a narcissistic, unemotional, too cool for his own good, zero. So I was caught off-guard when his voice cracked, “I-I-I thought Nick would be the best friend I ever had. But somethin' ain't right about him. The first thing he did out here was dump Trish from school.  Remember her, you couldn’t get anything better than that. But Nick kept getting weirder...like every few days, he wouldn't come back to the apartment.  I asked him but never got a straight answer.  Geez, we weren’t out here more than a month and he disappeared the whole week of Thanksgiving.” I said, “That’s funny, a girl from work is throwing a big Thanksgiving party and she told me that Nick isn’t coming.”

John said, “See. I told you. I thought I knew him…” He sighed before continuing, “But once we left Jersey, he became a stranger…one hell of a nice guy but a lost soul…if you know what I mean.”

In the days that followed Nick’s vacation, John’s description of the lost soul came true. Nick was a no-call, no-show and was soon fired for job abandonment.

I ran into Crotty a year later. He filled me in on several details that he hadn’t felt right about telling me the first time. Primarily, after they went their separate ways, Nick owed him a small amount of money and an explanation about his peculiar behavior.

He saw Nick driving up Ogden Street and followed him to a crumby apartment in North Las Vegas. When Nick opened the door, John forced his way into the tiny efficiency. Crotty said, “It was so messed-up, every inch of the walls, cabinets and refrigerator were filled with bent-up, yellowed, faded candid pictures of his ex-wife.” I said, “I didn’t know Nick was ever married.” John said, “I didn’t know either. And a lot of the photos included guys...new boyfriends I guess...but they were cut out of the shot or had their faces blacked-out by magic marker.”

John then said in a serious tone, “A few months ago, I got one long letter from him.” I perked-up, "What happened?  Where is he?"  He said, "I dunno." “What did he say?” “Crotty said, “Nick said his real name is Lonny Orlando and that he had been a typing teacher at a vocational high school in Newark. Soon after his elderly parents both died in 1977, his wife demanded a divorce in the middle of Thanksgiving dessert. A few months later, he quit his job.”

John’s voice tailed off as he said, “Before starting dealer school, Nick said that he wanted to ‘harm’ his ex.” I said, “What?” Crotty said, “The wacko didn’t explain. But he did say, he went to the dealer under a false name and moved to Vegas under that new identity, to help get off the grid…” I said, “What’s off the grid?” “Hey, I thought it was screwy too. But our golden boy wanted to go ‘underground’ like the fuckin’ Unabomber, so his demented plans could be set in motion without looking over his shoulder."
TED "THE UNABOMBER" KACZYNSKI (1942-PRESENT) WAS A MATHEMATICIAN TURNED SERIAL KILLER.  AFTER HE PSYCHOLOGICALLY SNAPPED, HE WENT OFF THE GRID AND BECAME A RECLUSE IN A REMOTE CABIN NEAR LINCOLN MONTANA.  FROM THIS LAIR, HE SENT OUT SIXTEEN LETTER BOMBS BETWEEN 1978 AND 1995.  THREE PEOPLE WERE KILLED AND TWENTY-THREE OTHERS WERE INJURED.  KACZYNSKI IS CURRENTLY INCARSERATED WITH NO CHANCE OF PAROLE. 

John continued, "On the bright side, in Nick's case, enough time went by so he eased up on the extreme craziness. But every November, because he couldn’t get his ex out of his mind, he went back to New Jersey under another alias, Terry Something-or-other, to 'just' harass her. But this last time, the house he had grown up in had been bull-dozed and far worse; his ex-wife was remarried.”

“Nick said he stalked her the whole day before Thanksgiving and followed her back to her new house. Like a stake-out, he watched the place for hours until a Mercedes with “IDOC2” personalized plates drove up. The driver honked his horn and she came out. They were doing some heavy-duty necking in the car before they drove off. Nick followed them to Pathmark. While they were shopping, he punctured their tire with his switchblade. Then he drove back to the house and broke in. Nick proudly said he purposely walked through mud and dragged footprints all over before smashing fancy framed pictures from their wedding and then pissed on them.”

“The next morning he hid in the woods outside his ex-in-laws. When they left for church, he broke in. Nick bragged about crapping on the kitchen floor and vandalizing their place. Only that time, the cops were hiding in the basement, attic and closets.” I said, “That’s crazy.” John said, “Hell yeah it sounded crazy but even though I have no idea where that letter came from, I got the impression it was from a loony bin.” My mouth was gaping as he finished by saying, “Nick closed the letter by saying, remember when you told me, 'you should never shit where you eat,’ well get this, that’s exactly what the cop said to me after he cuffed me and led me out.”

Thirty-one years later, whether John Crotty was right about Nick being institutionalized or not, I'll never know.  But the possibility does add another variable to the incredible puzzle now known as, Nick Tucker.

Winston Churchill grasped that the Russians were a riddle, in a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.  But I'm not certain he could appreciate stolen dealer school chips, inside a Baggie, in a grocery store sack and stuffed in a bank bag.  And nobody on the face of the earth ...even Sigmund Freud...could ever understand why Lonny Orlando needed to be Nick Tucker, in order to be Terry Something-or-other.

Monday, June 23, 2014

BILLY CRYSTAL'S 700 SUNDAYS AND A LOT OF MY FRIDAYS

To keep in the warm afterglow of last week's Father’s Day celebration, I recall a 1992 chance meeting with comedian/actor Billy Crystal. I didn’t ask for his autograph or make him pose for a picture (wish I did now), instead, I kept the conversation short (about baseball and how his movie, “CITY SLICKERS” moved me).
1991's "CITY SLICKERS," WAS COMEDY THAT I RELATED TO BECAUSE IT CONCERNED A MID-LIFE CRISIS AND CROSSROAD REGARDING NEW CAREER PATHS, (I'M HAPPY TO SAY, IN MY CASE...ALBEIT IN HIND-SIGHT, I CHOSE THE RIGHT DIRECTION).

Unlike most celebrities I have met, Crystal impressed me with his patience as he allowed me, to say my complimentary peace. So it pleased me the other day, (after Father’s Day), when I heard him on the radio talking about his dad.

Specifically, Crystal was advertising the limited 54-performance, return engagement to Broadway, of his one-man stage show, “700 SUNDAYS.” I'm ashamed to admit, before last week, I had never heard of this smash hit.
IN 2005, "700 SUNDAYS" BECAME THE FIRST NON-MUSICAL TO GROSS OVER A MILLION DOLLARS IN ITS FIRST WEEK.  THIS ARTFUL BLEND OF HUMOR AND EMOTIONAL HEFT ALSO WON THE TONY AWARD FOR "SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT," THE DRAMA DESK AWARD AND THE OUTER CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD.

In a humorous way, Crystal's memoir spoke of family, fate, loving and loss. After its success on the Great White Way, Crystal’s touring company hit many US cities before going international. Additionally, in April of this year, a made for HBO movie premiered, (now availble “On Demand).”

The movie is on my “to do” list but before I see it, I was so touched by the "700 Sundays" concept that I was inspired to honor my dad (below) with a wonderful rememberance of him that I never shared.

My father owned a high mantainence small business. I estimate that before I was in kindergarten and extending into the early stages of elementary school, he labored through a fifty-eight-hour week, (four, eight-hour days plus Mondays and Thursdays at thirteen hours each).

On his long days, mom took advantage of the situation to feed us things dad didn’t like (primarily chicken). Also on those days, mom got creative and did experimental cuisine, (with my sister and I as guinea pigs).
MOM WAS FAMOUS (INFAMOUS) BECAUSE OF THE LAMB STEW DEBACLE OF 1960 AND THE EVERY-THURSDAY NIGHT TREAT, TWICE BOILED CHICKEN. BESIDES, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO EAT SOMETHING AS CUTE AS A LAMB?

Although the actual "twice boiled chicken" recipe was never written down, I believe the first step was to boil all the flavor out of the chicken! Then spill the flavorful liquid down the drain. Next, refill the pot with fresh water and repeat step one. If that tasteless delight wasn’t bad enough, mom’s culinary reputation was forever tarnished when her lamb stew experiment went awry.

I was five when mom's first (and only) attempt at this lamb-packed bounty didn't include one crucial preparation point...cutting away the fat before cooking. The result was, through the process of osmosis, the fat got absorbed into the meat. It tasted and smelled awful. Even worse, fifty-five years later, I still recall its disgusting slimy texture in my mouth. If it wasn’t for the cleverness of my seven-year old sister who suggested that mom try it, we might STILL be screaming and crying at the kitchen table. But today’s, “MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND,” entry is not about my mom, it is about dad…actually, all dads...and family in general.

In the mid-1950’s, many parts of my hometown, (Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York) burgeoned with new home construction. Landfill operations produced solid ground in outlying swampy areas which became the foundation for a modern/model community, (such as my part of town, Seaview Village).

The clean, new image that contrasted most of the city, attracted young families, (including former servicemen who took advantage of low-interest G.I. Bill loans to buy homes). Therefore nearly every house on my street had children. But because many of these family’s were living beyond their means, a lot of dads (like mine) were work-a-holics, (overwhelmingly, the moms were housewives and didn’t work).
IN 1960, CANARSIE WAS NEW, CLEAN AND BEAUTIFUL, (MY STREET WAS THREE STREETS UP AND TWO AVENUES TO THE RIGHT).  EVEN THOUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD SOON WAS SPIRALED DOWNWARD, MY CHILDHOOD WAS NEVER DIMINISHED, (YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE HOW BAD THIS PLAYGROUND LOOKED LIKE EIGHT YEARS LATER).

From a kid’s (my) standpoint, everyone I knew grew-up in a mother dominated household. I never gave it much thought but now I understand why the dads weren’t around much. Plus I also realize that because other fathers weren’t around, I had no personal relationship with any of them. The more I think about it, it’s rare (even today) that I know the specific occupation of my best friends’ fathers, (HJ’s dad’s profession is the only one I’m absolutely sure of. I’m still close with my next door neighbor MPW but all I know is that her father worked in some kind of office).

In this period (which would continue into my early teens), my dad’s only day off was Friday. This situation put a serious crimp into seeing him because I was in school most of those days. We did occasionally go to movies on school nights  (there was almost no kid-friendly films back then, so we saw mostly romantic comedies for mom or the dramas for dad...which all went over my head). But between the candy in the theater and pizza or stopping at a Chock-Full-O'Nuts restaurant on the way home, these were cherished occasions.
CHOCK FULL O'NUTS WAS A FAST-FOOD CHAIN THAT BEGAN (1926) IN MANHATTAN.  AT ITS PEAK, THERE WERE EIGHTY LOCATIONS FEATURING A LUNCH COUNTER (similar to the one on the right).  THEY SPECIALIZED IN COFFEE AND UNIQUE SANDWICHES, (MY FAVORITE WAS CREAM CHEESE ON DATE-NUT BREAD). THE LAST RESTAURANT CLOSED IN 1980 BUT IN 2010, A NEW ONE OPENED IN MID-TOWN.

I was eight-years old when dad took the whole family to a New York Mets baseball game at the Polo Grounds. It was so exciting to be there…not so much for the game but to wander around the ballpark on my own, (times were different, I was given a ticket stub and told if I got lost, to show it to an usher).

In the next few years, this twice a year tradition continued after the Mets moved to Shea Stadium. I’m certain my sister was bored. But my mom was thrilled just to get out of the house. As for me, by this time, I was totally engrossed by every pitch. It was so cool when dad would fill me in on the inside information…so when he said a base runner would try to steal a base, I thought he was a genius when it came true. So with that Svengali hold on me, I never wanted to leave his side. But mom unintentionally blocked my fascination.

I’m positive she wasn’t competing with me for dad’s attention. Instead, she probably was pandering to my independent nature and need to explore by sending me (like an errand boy) on Magellan-like missions to find oddball treats that weren’t available at all concession stands, (like coffee or knishes).
A KNISH (K'NISH) IS AN EASTERN EUROPEAN SNACK CONSISTING OF A FILLER (USUALLY POTATO) THAT'S BAKED, GRILLED OR FRIED INSIDE A DOUGHY SHELL.  IT'S ASSOCIATED WITH URBAN STREET VENDORS IN AREAS WITH A LARGE JEWISH POPULATION.  TODAY MOST SUPERMARKETS HERE IN SOUTH JERSEY CARRY THEM.

My exhaustive and sometimes futile attempts to cater to mom's non-beer and hot dog needs were incredibly annoying. For an eleven-year old, it was like being buried alive with the sounds of normal activity beyond my reach, as I lay hidden (wandering) within the purgatory-like bowels of the never-ending (multi-leveled) ballpark promenade.

While searching for the one refreshment stand in the whole stadium that sold what she wanted, I was devastated by awful self-doubt as I envisioned being ridiculed and/or sent back if I returned empty handed. My dire situation only got worse when my ears perked up and my heart fluttered as each crack of the bat and roar of the crowd made me feel like I was missing something important.

I was fourteen when I crossed an imaginary line that put dad on the spot and really pissed-off my mom. That’s when I suggested that dad and I go to the ballpark sans females. It made sense to me but my timing could NOT have possibly been worse because later that season (1969), I alienated my parents by eliminating them both and going to games with SLW, SKIP and other friends.

In my teenage years to come, I worked a lot of weekends, (against my will, for/with my dad…and mom). This dynamic was rarely fun. Sometimes in the morning, I’d pretend to be asleep and hope dad wouldn’t stir me. When he didn’t, mom’s scornful earful easily resonated up to my bedroom and was loud enough to have wakened astronauts orbiting planet Xenon. The truth was, if dad really needed me, he wouldn’t have hesitated to wake me up. So, in taking on mom’s wrath, I knew he was hooking me up.

I would be in college before I realized how stupid I was to give up hanging out with my father. He was still working crazy hours and was dedicating a lot of his personal time to rehearsing or playing gigs with his big band, "MURRAY LUBOVICH AND THE TONE-DEAFS." (Not the actual name but something like it)?
MY FATHER WAS HEAVLY INTO THE ARTS.  HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN AND AN ARTIST. THAT TRAIT WAS ENDOWED ON MY SON ANDREW...I GUESS IT SKIPPED A GENERATION ON ME.

I was about eighteen when I came up with the idea of spontaneous outings with dad. Whether it was going to the golf driving range or taking him to play racquetball at Brooklyn College, his enthusiasm to be with me and his ability at things I never saw him do were amazing.
DAD KEPT HIS ATHLETIC PROWESS A SECRET.  I HAD NEVER SEEN HIM PLAY GOLF (OTHER THAN MINIATURE) OR ANY WALL SPORT.  YET HE WAS BETTER THAN ME.

My success in spontaneity then gave birth to buying my own tickets for us, (to New York Islander hockey games). I understood dad’s basic schedule so I’d give him a month notice before taking him out. On the way home, we’d stop for bite. Those times were so simple yet so great.

Dad, throughout my life sacrificed a lot to keep our family afloat. Together with my mother, they did well, within narrow limitations that we went on yearly vacations and managed the occasional taste of the finer things in life. To prove how well they did, I appreciated what I had back while it was happening, (like our 1968 Europe vacation). Others kids might have had more or as much (material things) but so many more had less. More importantly, nobody received more love than me… I had a fantastic childhood. So the burning hunk of well-adjusted behavior you come to expect from me, can be traced to top-notch genetics and well-nurtured guidance.


DAD ALWAYS LOOKED GREAT BUT EVEN A TUXEDO COULDN'T HELP ME.  AT ELEVEN MY AWKWARD ADOLESCENT STAGE WAS IN FULL GEAR..HARD TO BELIEVE BUT TRUE, FORTY-EIGHT YEARS LATER, I'M STILL A BULL IN A CHINA SHOP.

Like the relationship I had with my mother, my dad and I really connected when it was just us.  He was sweet-natured, uncomplicated and probably never knew how fun it was to around him. So my stolen one-on-one moments with him were never enough. That means, that the one’s I engineered were the best I ideas I ever had! When dad shockingly died at sixty-seven, my family and I were devastated. It’s a small consolation to say that at least he and I had no unresolved issues.
TOWARDS THE END, DAD WAS STILL A GOOD-LOOKER, (TOO BAD HIS HAIR GENES ALSO SKIPPED A GENERATION...BECAUSE THAT AIN'T NO TOUPEE).  IT'S ESPECIALLY DISAPPOINTING THAT HE NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO REALLY DEVELOP A RELATION WITH HIS ONLY GRANDSON, (ANDREW)...THEY BOTH MISSED OUT ON SOMETHING SPECIAL.

Billy Crystal’s story is interesting too. Similar to my Fridays with my father, Crystal’s direct exposure to his work-a-holic dad were limited to Sundays. Billy Crystal was fifteen when his dad tragically died. The poignant title of his show refers to fifteen years of once a week time to his dad, (700 Sundays).

In addition to the terrible loss itself, Crystal had deep regrets due to ongoing negativity and guilt at the possibily that their differences had something to do with his dad's premature death. Through it all, Crystal makes his message of life’s fleeting and unpredictable nature, funny. We can (or should) relate to him because you never know how long you have with someone…so savor those precious times while they last.