Monday, April 20, 2015

CASINO WAR STORIES

My wife and I had dinner with another couple last night.  We got on the topic of terrible casino supervisors and unfortunately for anyone who has ever been a dealer, a floodgate of stories gushed forward.  

One of the jerks I mentioned was the main character from my short story, "BLESSING IN DISGUISE."  I hope after you digest the condensed version below, you'll want to read the full-blown story...which I can E-Mail you.   

In Las Vegas (1981),  while I was dealing craps at the Stardust, I was meeting friends after work at our favorite watering hole, "Mickey's Appetizer." I got there first and was approached by a noticeably tipsy Vera-Lynne Kirby.  This slinky, blond bombshell was a thirty-ish cocktail waitress who worked with me.  She saw my uniform and wanted to vent about a prick she had been seeing.  

The blood and guts of this piece were made possible by that chance meeting.  Therefore, Vera-Lynne alone, is responsible for the intimate details on the life of her former lover...the Stardust's most hated craps supervisor.

Carl "The Mole" Blessing grew up in rural Utah.  His father was physically abusive to his mom and verbally abusive to him. At a young age, he was an emotional cripple whose damaged personality was perpetuated by an exaggerated over-bite, bed-wetting and stuttering. All through grammar school he was picked on by bullies and left by his parents to fend (unsuccessfully) for himself.

A friendless nerd and an average student, Carl's situation worsened in junior high school as his rodent-like facial features became obvious. Even some teachers called him "The Mole."  If life through adolescence wasn't bad enough, this loner was forced deeper into obscurity by developing a severe case of acne.

In his high school years Carl outgrew his bed-wetting, his face cleared-up and he stopped stuttering. Still, he had bad teeth and little self-esteem when he enlisted in the army, at the height of the Vietnam War.

Carl wanted to validate his life.  He envisioned getting a fresh start in the military and becoming a respected hero. On the day he landed in Vietnam, Carl's odd-ball personality made him an immediate outcast.  None of his new platoon mates took an interest in him and the few that made reference to him called him, "Rat-Face."

On his first night, Carl was deployed (alone) on guard duty, in a foxhole at the perimeter of Danang Air Base. In ninety degree weather, he shivered in fear for hours as he stared beyond the treeline, at the blackness of the in-country. Carl fought off the ubiquitous flying insects as surges of fear shuddered his innards every time a branch snapped, an animal howled or he heard distant artillery.  It wasn't long until his nerves were shot.

Carl developed worsening stomach cramps.  When the pain got the better of him, he tried to relieve the pressure with quiet flatulence.  Unfortunately, a wet fart spewed out and he was forced to lay in his own waste all night.

Carl made a buddy on his second day, but it turned out to be the worst day of his miserable life.  His platoon was sent out on patrol and got ambushed.  In the early stages of the firefight, he saw his sergeant get shot through the neck.  He was already in panic mode as a loud ping produced a hole in his helmet and a flesh wound in his scalp.  Carl tossed aside his unfired M-16.  When his friend came to help him snap out of his funk, Carl saw his buddy's arm get blown off.  His friend without thought of his own injury staggered to his feet to help rally Carl but he was cut down by a bullet zapping through his eyebrow.

Before the skirmish was over, Carl was shot again.  When the enemy overran their position, Carl Blessing soiled himself as he hid under the bodies of fallen comrades.

Private Blessing would be one of three survivors.  In the manic hurry of getting air-lifted to safety, his rescuers and later the triage doctors (under fire themselves) didn't notice one missing boot.

Carl became a craps dealer in Las Vegas.  His stormy life, adult shortcomings and cowardice would prove to be an asset in the casino industry.  He got some experience and two years later was hired by the Stardust.  His new bosses recognized him as insecure, spiteful and ignorant so they groomed him as a spy, to infiltrate the front-line employees.  They called him their "Eager Beaver" because he'd step on anyone who got in the way of his upward mobility. Two promotions later, he had graduated to lead floorman on day shift, (a dual-rate pit-boss,in Atlantic City).

When I worked at night, I understood that all the day-shift dealers hated Carl Blessing and not surprisingly called him, "The Mole." Not only because of his face but because he was also a covert stooge of management.

He was so arrogant that he didn't realize that we knew he took joy in being a hatchet-man and "ratting-out" anyone who hustled tips, stirred unrest among the employees or otherwise strayed from the casino's best interest.

My situation got worse when Carl unforgivably insulted an Asian-American player's heritage. Blessing blamed the North Vietnamese army for maiming him but he outwardly hated all Orientals. This situation put management in an awkward position.  They knew they had valuable asset so rather than cultivating another moron to take his place, they demoted Carl and sent him and his bad leg limping to my shift.

Carl did not endear himself to his counterpart on our shift, lead floorman Werner "Ernie" Trohlmann, (a psychotic, Neo-Nazi ass-hole himself...but almost normal compared to Carl Blessing).  Carl confessed to Vera-Lynne that he wanted to undermine Trohlmann and take his position.

Blessing was petty and did everything in his power to make himself look good at the expense of others, particularly dealers. A couple of Ernie Trohlmann's golfing buddies complained about Carl. The hostile work environment every night was awful.  Luckily, I had little exposure to Carl during his short stint on my shift. The only time he seemed human was when he came off like a big-shot and spoke about getting shot-up in Vietnam, (Vera-Lynne would later clarify that his courageous tour of duty...was only a two-day stint).

We received a breath of fresh air when a new dealer was hired who took the wind out of Carl's sails. "Combat" Harry Lorenz was a New Yorker and a Vietnam vet, (he kept laminated photos in his wallet of a couple of Viet Cong he killed).  Despite the ghosts in the former corporal's closet and the uncool "combat" part of his personality, he was immediate smash with the dealers because he was mercenary when it came time to hustling tokes (tips). He and I became close and socialized outside work.  One of the things we had in common was that we were big hockey fans, (specifically of the New York Islanders).

Harry was incredibly brazen.  He approached the head of the Stardust sports book and asked him to put an Islanders playoff game on one of their twenty TV's.  Harry was told, "Nobody bets on hockey." He didn't like being turned down, so Harry tried bribing the man.  This gentleman wasn't going to risk his lofty position for fifty bucks...but to pacify Harry, he offered a free compromise. Two days later, he set-up for Harry, a single TV and a couple of dozen folding chairs, on the dance floor of a long unused lounge.

I explained that we weren't permitted on the property before or after our shift. Harry didn't care and said, "That lounge is completely away from the casino and no one knows us on day shift." I didn't have my heart in it as I agreed to watch the first two periods before work.

On game day, I took the precaution of leaving my uniform shirt in my car.  Harry didn't and wound-up with a bulls-eye on his back.  I didn't even want to sit next to him. But it got worse because when the seats filled-up, the casino provided cocktail service and that idiot Harry bought three beers before the first intermission.

In the second period, Harry sucked down two more.  I was so antsy, I didn't even order a coke. During the second intermission, it was time for us to go on duty.  Harry needed to pee and I had to get my dealer shirt from my car. On the way, we passed the arcade.  There was a huge crowd watching someone play Pac-Man. We heard a voice say, "This guy is great, he's now going for the grapes."

Harry pushed through the throng to get a closer look.  He recognized the player and called back to me, "Look, it's Carl Blessing!"

Secretly, Carl had Harry in his cross-hairs for two reasons.  One was his sloppy way of hustling tips and secondly, Harry's actual knowledge of Vietnam might expose him as a fraud.  So Harry's best interests (especially while reeking of beer) would have been better served had he avoided Carl.

Blessing was there early because he had a poor home life.  To provide an outlet from mundane domestic accountability as well as a buffer between him and his wife, he tinkered with small appliances in his garage.  Soon he was fixing other people's items, doing bull-work and using his pick-up truck to do light hauling.  One of his repeat customers was Vera-Lynne.  She was so satisfied by his work that she acted as an unpaid dispatcher and hooked him up with her wide range of friends. Carl's business skyrocketed as other waitresses and women from all walks of life kept him out of his house.

Some of these women occasionally bartered sex for his services, including Vera-Lynne.  Vera-Lynne could have any man she wanted but she had a soft spot for Carl because he was wounded in Vietnam. Her sensitivity was proven by the MIA bracelet she wore because her twin brother was still listed as Missing In Action, (MIA) ten years later.

Mrs. Blessing had no idea that Carl was spending many afternoons with females.  But she figured something positive had to be going on because he had a wall safe installed into their walk-in closet.

In the early stages of marriage, Carl had a chance to end the cycle of abuse that he had endured. Instead, he allowed his weak personality and thin-skin to overwhelm him. So Carl drank a lot. Sometimes he smacked his wife around and threatened their two grade school daughters.  These episodes became more frequent when he was given the third degree after he partied with his customers. When Mrs. B. finally suffered enough, she took action.

One day Carl came home to an empty house.  On his gimpy foot, he ran upstairs and found a hole where he had squirreled away $20,000.00 in the safe that had now been excavated from the wall.  On the same day, Carl's wife got a restraining order and threw him out of the house.

Carl was living in an efficiency at the Klondike Motel, just south of the Tropicana Casino. Sometimes, he got bored in the tiny apartment, so that's why on the day of our hockey game, he came to work early.  Harry found out that Blessing had him fired when he was not allowed to clock-in.

At that time, the Stardust had one Asian craps supervisor, Byron Fong.  This jolly floorman used the same line over and over, "I'm half Chinese, half Korean and a quarter Philippine...but I was born San Bernadino, so I'm just an American."  Fong was a diabetic with a gambling problem who frequently needed to sit down when his feet swelled.

One night Vera-Lynne approached Carl Blessing and said, "That Chinese floorman is stealing from the casino." How do you know?"  "Everyday, he gives me five bucks to bring him a plain tomato juice in a coffee mug."  Carl said, "Yeah, you can't trust Charley (Asians) but as crazy as a coffee mug for tomato juice sounds..."  She interrupted, "He takes one tiny sip, sets in on the craps rail and then replaces the boxman.  While sitting there, he fixes up the chips and then just before he stands back up...he coughs." Carl said, "I see..."  Vera-Lynne said, "Then he takes a big gulp of juice. When he goes on break, he brings the mug with him." Carl said, "I'll fix that U.F.O. (Ugly Fucking Oriental) but good!"

Carl reported these finding as his own to his boss.  The next night, the surveillance cameras and the eye-in-the-sky were focused on Byron Fong.  Throughout the shift, a cordon of undercover security guards were strategically positioned around the craps pit waiting to pounce.

The sting operation when into motion at 1:00AM when Vera-Lynne gave the signal by putting a paper cocktail umbrella in her hair. Everyone went about their business as the target repeated his usual MO.  They followed him into the men's room and seized the mug. Inside, they found two, hundred dollar chips.

The big bosses fired Fong and planned (after the following week) to give Carl a raise, a package of goodies including dinner for two in their gourmet room and tickets for, "Siegfried and Roy." But more importantly, reinstating Blessing back to his coveted lead floorman position, on day shift.

During the next few days, Carl was especially full of himself.  Even though he had no idea how well he impressed his bosses, he strut around the craps pit like he owned the place.  A big part of his braggadocio was making disparaging remarks to Orientals.

On one of the rare days that Carl was my supervisor, he had no idea that he was about to shoot himself in the foot as "Crazy" Janie Kuhaulua marched towards the craps pit.

Janie was a junket rep from Hawaii.  That meant she was a Stardust VIP because she brought huge groups of wealthy gamblers in from the islands, several times a year.  Apparently, Carl didn't know her because he was new to our shift and she only hung out in the casino at night.

Crazy Janie was an obese six-footer with an entertainingly foul mouth.  All the dealers loved her because she was the essence of positive energy and an incredible tipper.  But on this occasion, she trudged past my table in flip-flops with her Vienna sausage-like toes sticking out of the front without stopping. Her black muumuu with embroidered purple orchids surrounded by golden hibiscus flowers was flowing in the breeze as one of the other dealers on my crew called out to her. Janie's thumping stride never wavered as she announced over her shoulder, "One of my people just hit a big jackpot on a one-armed bandit.  Maybe later..."

Her one-armed bandit statement caused Carl Blessing to have a legitimate Vietnam flashback as he pictured his only buddy's arm get blown off. He leered at the back of Janie's flabby arms, enormous calves and unsculptured ankles as she disappeared behind a row of slot machines.  He squawked, "I'd hate to get between that (her) and the last pork chop."

Months earlier in a drunken stupor, Janie confided in me and other dealers that she was once a fashion model. She showed us lingerie photos when she was a teenager, and she was gorgeous.  Janie sighed, "My fiance got messed-up in Vietnam. He came back in one piece but he saw too much shit and it hurt him deep down inside.  A year later, he was making great progress so we picked a wedding date and made all the plans.  One day, at a lunch counter downtown, he collapsed in my arms and died...a brain aneurysm...I stopped caring about myself...it's been twelve years."

Janie didn't seem so crazy that day.  She had a tear in her eye as she added, "His dad died a month after that.  He had no heirs and willed me his small pineapple plantation.  I can't sit in an office, I hired people to run it.  Now I travel all over the world...I'm afraid to stop."

Luckily, an hour later Janie came by again.  The same dealer from before made a "pocko-lo-lo" reference which is the nickname for high-grade Hawaiian marijuana.  In a nasal voice Janie said, "I can use some.  I feel like shit.  We just came from Frisco and I froze my ass off.  Now I have a fuckin' sore throat."

The dealer who flagged her down was going on break.  He said, "Stay here a sec, I have just the thing that will help you." He scampered off and returned with a thirty-eight cent box of Ludens cough drops.  Janie grabbed a bunch put them in her mouth and said, "I'm feeling better already...maybe I'll play a little." She threw down three hundred dollars and said, "Keep fifty for you guys."  Carl didn't notice her cough drop generosity but his eyes bulged out of his head when she kept tipping us without being prodded.

Janie was doing well.  But when she shot the dice, she got on a serious roll.  Her five-dollar bets across the board were soon increased to a hundred.  Her bet on the hard six was $25.00 and she announced, "When it hits, I'm splittin' it with the dealers."  Carl looked at gratuities as money the casino could not possibly win back.  So he showed his annoyance by pacing and cursing under his breath each time our ton of tips grew.

Carl's fellow supervisors could have have clued him in on Janie's superstar status but they hated him too.  So by ignoring the rising tension, they set him up to take the fall.

Janie noticed Carl's lack of professionalism.  To piss him off, she started making every odd-ball bet on the table for us.  Carl slammed his clipboard down when she raised the amount of each tip.  That's when she started adding to her hard six and said, "I'm gonna keep pressing that hard six till it hits...and then I'm splittin' it with the dealers."

To distract her, began Carl nit-picking us.  Janie addressed Blessing for the first time by saying, "We gotta get you some pocko-lo-lo brudda."  Carl said, "Just shoot the dice."  After a short pause he mumbled, "Fuckin' gook."  She heard him but maybe she wasn't certain or didn't feel well enough to cause a ruckus.  But she was a powerful, liberated woman who wasn't going to take any sass.

Janie turned her ire on superstitious Carl after he started throwing pennies under our table. She was amazing as she concentrated on staring him down as she upped our bets.  Janie was still shooting after fifteen minutes when the hard six (with $90.00 on it), rolled.  She was so hoarse that she held her hand against her throat and shouted, "Boys, you take your half and I'm coming down."  The boxman set aside $450.00 for us when Carl interjected, "The dealers have a $25.00 'max' on hard ways.  They get 270!  $250.00 for the quarter but they had no action on the other twenty."

Janie screamed, "That's fuckin' bullshit!"  Carl said, "Watch your language...there's lady's present."  "Do you know who I am?"  Carl said, "Yeah, a woman who doesn't understand that this is a strict casino policy and there's nothing anyone can do about it."  Janie sneered, "If it lost, you wouldn't have given them shit!"  Carl smugly smiled, "That's not true.  You know why they aren't complaining?  'Cause they know the rules.  Isn't that right boys?"

Enraged Janie barked, "Then fuck the dealers!  Give me the whole damned nine-hundred!"  When she had the chips she added, "And let it be on your head that I never bet for the dealers again.  So fuck the dealers, fuck this place and FUCK YOU too!"

Carl said, "Didn't I tell you to watch your language?" Janie was clutching her painful neck as he murmured the same insult from before. Janie yelled, "What did you say?  Did you call me a fuckin' gook?"  He went into damage control and snarled, "I said...you got your nine hundred.  Now I'm saying...take down all her bets.  This dragon lady has no action here."

Janie smiled, "You don't know who your talking to you weasly fucking piss-ant. Now answer me this. Before you try throwing me out, can I give my fuckin' money away?"  Carl was dumbfounded.  Janie winked at me, counted out $450.00, added an extra hundred and shoved it towards me.  Janie said, "Now you can take all my bets down.  I gotta find the casino manager."

Vera-Lynne said she saw Janie arguing with the biggest boss in the building.  Janie was shaking as she rasped, "Your employee called me a 'dragon lady' in front of everyone.  That's like saying I'm a whore and a mean-spirited, controlling bitch.  Plus, he called me a 'fuckin' gook' twice! I want that ferret-faced imbecile fired!"  He smiled, "Calm down..."  She cut him off, "No!  I'm a full-blooded Hawaiian and as much of an American as anyone...and so was my fiance, who died from getting messed-up fighting the Viet Cong..."

Carl wasn't fired and Janie didn't take her lucrative trade to another casino.  So apparently a deal was struck because instead of Carl getting lavished with bonuses, a raise and being brought back to his former day shift position, he was re-demoted and send to the least desirable shift, graveyard, as a boxman.

Blessing didn't take well to working 4:00AM till noon.  At the suggestion of his accountant, he called out as much as possible to minimize potential alimony while bolsterinjg his private enterprise and undeclared income.  Carl got his own apartment and started exclusively seeing Vera-Lynne.

A week after being served divorce papers, Vera-Lynne was at his place when he got a call from his wife.  She demanded money for ballet lessons for their girls.  He said, "No."  "Well, they are both going to need orthodontic work too..."  Carl spat, "Hell, they don't need braces."  His wife countered, "Yes they do!  Looking like you, is much worse for a girl."  "Shit, if you're that hard-up for cash, why don't you use your stolen money from the safe you ripped out of the goddamned wall."

Months later at an impromptu meeting with the graveyard shift boss Carl was threatened with dismissal because of pattern call-outs. The boss said, "This will be your only warning."  Carl said, "Do whatever you gotta do."  His boss said, "If this is an elaborate scheme to get fired and collect unemployment, you're sadly mistaken."  "Shit!  Is that what you think?  Well, I don't give a rat's ass.  I'll make it easy on you, I quit."

On the following Sunday, Mrs. Blessing marched past the crowded pool at Carl's apartment complex. Carl's door was ajar.  She tried to peer in before knocking but her husband appeared at the door.  Carl was wearing a swimsuit and black socks (he always tried to hide his war wound) as he stirred a pitcher of what looked like lemonade.

Mrs. Blessing came in peace.  But she tried to look past him into the apartment while offering one last stab at reconciliation. Before Carl could react she added, "Of course, we insist on a commitment from you, to seek professional help for your drinking and anger management."

Vera-Lynne got up from her poolside chaise lounge and strolled over.  She exuded confidence in a yellow string bikini that highlighted her deep suntan as she said, "Everything okay pumpkin?" Frumpy and pale, Mrs. Blessing in a black, polyester K-Mart suit was intimidated by her rival. To make matters worse, the door opened enough for her to see a bottle of Gordon's gin on the coffee table and a floor cluttered by clothes including a bra and panties.

Sweaty Mrs. Blessing was demoralized and ready to slither away.  But she gave her outrageous proposal one last try. Carl had his arm around Vera-Lynne's waist, gave her a healthy fanny squeeze and said, "Get the fuck out of here!"  His wife shouted, "You're pretty brave standing behind this bimbo..."

Everyone at the pool was standing, trying to get a better look at the brewing battle. Mrs. Blessing motioned towards Vera-Lynne's MIA bracelet and growled, "He was pretty brave in Vietnam too. You know what the 'million-dollar wound' is?"  Vera-Lynne cautiously shrugged as Mrs. B. continued, "Did you know our little  'yellow' hero shot himself in the foot?"  Had Carl not over-reacted Vera-Lynne probably wouldn't have believed her.

"Who told you that?" Carl seethed. His wife said, "You did!"  She turned towards Vera-Lynne and self-righteously added, "I guess you already know he talks in his sleep..."  Vera-Lynne broke free from his grasp and snapped, "You fuckin' bastard!"  Carl didn't know the scope of what his wife knew and neurotically admitted, "We got ambushed...it was crazy there...everyone getting shot up all around me...it was only my second day..."  The two women simultaneously said, "WHAT?"  In tears, Carl purged his guilt, spilled his guts and unraveled the convoluted resume that he had for years sworn by.  He might have been gaining some sympathy until he shot himself in the foot again by saying, "Blowing off my toe was the only round I fired..."

Sickened, Vera-Lynne went into the apartment and slammed the door.  A minute later, clutching her scant belongings, she came out screaming obscenities. Carl limped behind her as she scurried to her Corvette.  He begged her to come back.  She said, "Don't call, don't look for me and don't expect any more help either."  She burnt rubber as she sped away.

Humiliated, gimpy Carl hid in the shadows as he walked against the farthest wall away from his finger pointing neighbors.  The day had been designed to be an emancipation from casino work. Instead it turned out to be a complete disaster. Inside, he found his wife waiting.  He ignored her and advanced to the bathroom.  He looked with disgust in the mirror and saw his sallow, ratty reflection. He realized he didn't have a conventional job, he was disconnected from the vast majority of his clientele, ineligible for unemployment, spurned by his lover and had his unwanted wife in the other room waiting for a decision.

Carl came out into the unlit living room.  He didn't address his wife as he removed his socks.  With a sense of purpose, without hobbling, he strode out into the sunshine and retrieved some personal items he left at the pool.  Back inside he said to his wife, "I thought about your demands...and I'm not interested.  I'll be fine...so get out."

Monday, April 13, 2015

220-221...WHATEVER IT TAKES

"MR. MOM," is a great, yet unsung comedy from 1983.  For some odd reason, this three-star champion of the role reversal genre, isn't shown on TV.  The premise (without the need for a spoiler alert), is, Jack, (Michael Keaton) lost his job and his wife Caroline (Teri Garr), is forced to become the breadwinner.
KEATON IS HILARIOUS AS THE STAY AT HOME DAD.  HE CONTENDS WITH THE RIGORS OF CHILD CARE, THE NEVER ENDING BATTLE OF HOUSEWORK WHILE FENDING OFF KILLER APPLIANCES.  AT THE SAME TIME, GARR IS FACED WITH SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORK. 

The "sparks" fly when Garr's boss Ron Richardson, (Martin Mull) picks her up for work at 7:00AM. Keaton with the house already upside down, in defense of his masculinity meets the boss with a running chainsaw.  He turns it off while getting acquainted and said, "I'll be tearing out these walls...and of course re-wiring..."  The boss said, "Gonna make it all 220."  Jack, who knows nothing about electricity or voltage says, "Yeah 220, 221 whatever it takes."  As Caroline and Ron Richardson are leaving Jack calls out, "Honey, if you call and I'm not home, I'll be at the gym or the gun club."

"MR. MOM," was already ten years old when my wife Sue got pregnant.  So, long before my son Andrew was born in 1994, I already embraced the concept of being Mr. Mom.  I once shared that sentiment with my father and he said, "Not me!  When you or your sister needed to have your doody diapers changed, I ran in the opposite direction."  I explained that cloth diapers have been replaced by disposable ones with easy to use Velcro.  Dad's experience in the army shined through as he blasted, "I'm not getting hoodwinked into KP."  I said, "Kitchen Patrol?" He said, "No! Krap Patrol."  Dad wasn't big on profanity so the gist of his next response was; Velcro or not, it's the same shit.
(Stock Photo)  LUCKILY CLOTH DIAPERS WERE ANCIENT HISTORY DECADES BEFORE I BECAME A DAD.  THE ABILITY TO HOLD THE CHILD STILL WHILE SECURING THE DIAPER PERFECTLY AND PINNING IT, WAS AN ART FORM THAT WOULD HAVE ABSOLUTELY ESCAPED ME.

A week after Andrew was born, he was circumcised, (OUCHIES!).  The Jewish tradition of the bris includes the honor of the eldest male family member holding the boy during the ritual.  My dad was adamant and said, "No!"  The rabbi (mohel, Americanized pronunciation; moyle), showed my dad a medieval-looking restraining contraption and said, "If you're skittish, I'll have to use this."  Dad looked at the board and its leather straps.  Miraculously, he set aside his squeamishness and announced, "I'm the grandfather, I'll hold Andrew!"  And he did. And everything went smoothly even if dad looked the other way.
WHETHER OR NOT THE HOLDING ANDREW DURING THE BRIS WAS THE CATALYST WE'LL NEVER KNOW, BUT GRAMPS' BOND WITH HIM WAS IMMEDIATE AND SOLID.  IT'S A DAMNED SHAME THAT MY FATHER LEFT US, LESS THAN A YEAR AFTER THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN.

In the years that followed, I accepted the different roles of being Mr. Mom.  One of my new realizations included the phasing out of my regular sedan, (Chevy Corsica). Andrew had plenty of friends so the moms would rotate transporting groups of kids. So I didn't feel like a "sell-out" when I bought a mini-van, in 2000. Besides, the added room came in handy for vacations or for hauling larger items.

Six days ago, without much fanfare, we observed that Toyota Sienna's fifteenth birthday.  The celebration was muted because on April ninth, (two days later), we bought an SUV to replace our respected, reliable workhorse.
OUR MINI-VAN WAS STILL GOING STRONG IN THE TWILIGHT OF MIDDLE-AGE.  SO IT WAS NOT A MATTER OF IT BEING OVER-THE-HILL WHEN WE REPLACED IT WITH THE HONDA CR-V (above).

I am not here to eulogize my Toyota Sienna, I'm here to celebrate its service.  I remember the first day. My six-year old Andrew was climbing in and out of every demo-model and frolicking through the dealership, (Turnersville NJ) while the two-hour ordeal of processing the paperwork was going on.
ANDREW WAS NINE, IN 2003.  I DOUBT HE HAS MANY CLEAR MEMORIES OF THE CAR THAT PRECEDED THE  MINI-VAN,  (above, in background).
The "van" as it was affectionately called never failed us on our countless vacations and day trips. It remained looking clean despite sticky kiddie fingers, spilled drinks, dropped food and the indignity of being vomited in. The old warrior handled hauling tons of masonry bricks, brought large and heavy unwanted items to the dump and has already moved Andrew in and out of his first three years at college.
AUGUST 23, 2012.  WE PACKED THE VAN TO THE BRIM FOR ANDREW'S FRESHMAN YEAR AT THE COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY (TCNJ).  TOO BAD HE WASN'T GETTING INTO ENGINEERING BECAUSE, AS YOU CAN SEE, WE PACKED UP ALL HIS SHIT STUFF BUT DIDN'T ALLOW ENOUGH ROOM FOR HIM TO SIT.

The van's fifteen year stint with us did have some setbacks, (that weren't its fault).  One time Sue came home and said she hit a dog.  I went outside and saw a huge chunk of the from grill missing.  I said that dog must have been on steroids.  Later Sue admitted, "It might have been a deer?"

Sue was much more seriously victimized in 2003, (with Andrew, another mom and her two kids). That's when some asshole threw a brick off an overpass on the Atlantic City Expressway, (near Philadelphia). Luckily, she maintained her composure as the passenger side of the windshield was shattered, the beam that separates the windshield from the passenger window was badly dented and the side view mirror was destroyed.

A year later, a half mile from the house, Sue (with Andrew) was making a right turn off Jimmie Leeds Road onto Second Avenue.  Not the car behind her, but a third car, (driven by a nearby Stockton College genius) was reading while driving.  He was smart enough to swerve onto the right shoulder to avoid the middle car but incredibly stupid to continue at full speed until he rammed innocent Sue.  The door where Andrew was sitting was smashed in, (fortunately, the Sienna is known for its safety features. Other than the shock value and broken glass, everyone escaped unscathed).

The last bit of negativity happened ten years ago when the van failed inspection due to emissions.  I brought it to the same mechanic I had used for many years.  I trusted the manager because I was treated fairly which led to the development of a friendly relationship, (I'll sarcastically call him "Rich" because that's what he tried to make himself at my expense).

Rich told me the van needed $3,200.00 in repairs.  Toyotas are supposed to last forever, I was stunned.  This "friend" told me that in addition to other minor problems that they needed to rip out the whole exhaust system including the catalytic converter.  I was punch-drunk and whined, "Still, that's a ridiculous amount of money."

My good buddy told me, my car was unusual in that it was specifically built in California with parts unique to that plant. So before he could mention that the parts are hard to find and ultra-expensive, I doubted his sincerity because I remembered that the hallmark of manufacturing, dating back to the 1840's, was the standardization of parts.

He quickly changed the subject and told me that doing the repairs...while expensive...was far more cost effective than scrapping the van and buying a new one.  He had me on the ropes again. His schtick about making ten, $300.00 credit card payments instead of taking-on a fresh, five-year car loan made sense. Somehow, I avoided getting duped, gathered myself and called Sue.  She was there in ten minutes.  Rich re-explained the situation.  It that time, I spaced-out.  But luckily I also had an epiphany and said to myself: we need a second opinion.

At work, I shared my experience with friends.  They all agreed it sounded like bullshit.  My poker buddy Jerry took it one step further and told me to see his mechanic, two small towns farther away.

The owner's name was Ed.  I told him my car failed inspection because of emissions...and nothing else.  Later, he told me I needed two new tires.  His voice picked up intensity as he listed my broken this and worn-out that.  I was afraid that he was going to confirm Rich's diagnosis. But he never mentioned the exhaust system or catalytic converter. Ed was still blithering about other technicalities that I couldn't fathom until he said, "All together, it'll run you $153.00."  I said, "How's my exhaust pipes?"  He said, "Other than a couple of adjustments, this has little to do with your exhaust system." He started rattling off the same problems when I interrupted and said, "Do the job."

I took my Toyota Sienna to the inspection station and it passed and subsequently never failed for emissions again. I've been bringing all my cars to Ed ever since.

Over the course of time, I found out that Rich was the victim of severe personal problems that were out of his or anybody's control.  NOBODY would ever want to be in his shoes! But no matter how hard-up he might have been for cash, he should never have tried to rip-off a loyal customer.

Coincidentally, I brought my mini-van to Ed's garage on April Fool's Day, (two weeks ago).  My idea was...Ed and his staff have always kvelled, (been delighted for me) over the longevity of my Toyota. So because they knew how strong the engine etc was and how well I kept it up, I thought someone there might broker a deal and sell it for me, (its trade value at a dealership would be less than $100.00).

I didn't see Ed but I saw the master mechanic R.  R told me Ed sold the place and the new owners kept all the workers, (lucky for them...lucky for me). R took my van for a test ride.  We discussed its assets and drawbacks.  We started talking numbers and R said, "I'll buy it right now!"  And he did, a day after we took possession of Sue's new Honda CR-V.

In the morning before dropping the van off for R, I topped off the gas tank for him.  The price was $2.20.9/per gallon.  The 220.9 number made me recall the line from, "MR. MOM" "220, 221 whatever it takes."  Then I recalled that my weight has been hovering around those same numbers. Then I looked down at the odometer, 221,691, (a thousand less and it would been exactly between 220,000 and 221,000).
APRIL 10TH 2015.  THE FINAL TRIBUTE TO THE VAN AND THE 221,691 MILES OF HAPPY MOTORING IT PROVIDED.  UNFORTUNATELY, NOW I'LL HAVE TO BE RESPONSIBLE WITH THE NEW HONDA CR-V.  SO, I 'LL MISS THE LUXURY NEVER REPLACING ONE HUB CAP, OR THE JOY OF PUSHING SHOPPING CARTS OUT OF MY WAY, NEVER WASHING IT OR CARING ABOUT THE DENTS, DINGS AND SCRATCHES MY STUDENT DRIVER (ANDREW) PUT ON IT.

R and I agreed on consummating the sale at 2:30.  I showed up as the digital clock clicked from 2:20 to 2:21. I smiled because my instincts told me it was going to be great day...and it was.

Of course now, with a brand-spanking-new SUV, I'll have to re-think how to handle my dog Roxy's excursions to the beach, the vet, the park or to Smithville.
ROXY LOVES THE BEACH.  DESPITE CLEANING HER BEFORE GOING BACK IN THE VAN, SHE STILL TRACKED WET SAND IN.  SO UNTIL THE NEW CAR SMELL OF SUE'S HINDA CR-V WEARS-OFF,  I'M NOT SURE WE'RE READY TO LET DOGGIE DROOL OR OTHERWISE BEFOUL THE INTERIOR JUST YET.

Incidentally, down through the years I've asked 220...maybe 221 car experts and NOBODY ever heard of a specific auto plant using unique parts!

And remember you heard this here FIRST!  If Sue's new Honda SUV lasts as long as the van, I'll be seventy-four when I sell it.  Wow, that's crazy talk!  I won't be Mr. Mom...hell, I'll be Mr. Grand Mom.

Monday, April 6, 2015

IT'S A SMALL WORLD...

I went cross-country in the summer of 1976.  My sixty-eight day odyssey was a combination of hitchhiking and using the Greyhound bus.  Along the way, I met other backpackers starting in Brooklyn New York, to New Orleans, Juarez Mexico, Colorado, the Grand Canyon, Vegas, California and across Canada.

The Canadian Rockies was a visual highlight of that trip...and my life.  While hitting such beautiful places as Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, I traveled with a Danish guy named Bengt, (my March 4, 2011 blog about him was called, "GET BENGT)."

In Banff, Bengt and I were chatting on the cable car line to the Sulphur Peak mountaintop. 
AN ISOLATED PARADISE OF NATURE, MOST PEOPLE NEVER HEARD OF BANFF, ALBERTA, CANADA. IT'S LOCATED ABOVE MONTANA, NEAR THE  BRITISH COLUMBIA BORDER.  BEFORE GOING UP INTO THOSE GORGEOUS MOUNTAINS, BENGT TOOK THIS PICTURE OF ME.

While waiting for the gondola to take us up, another tourist overheard our conversation and asked, "Where are you from?"  Bengt proudly said, "Copenhagen Denmark."  "Not you," the man said. He pointed at me, "I meant him."  I shrugged, "New York..." Before I could get more specific he cut in, "I thought so.  My cousin Rod is from New York.  Do you know Rod Tompkins?"  

What a knucklehead! I didn't even have a chance to narrow-down the possibilities by saying New York City.  This gentleman's ridiculousness was made worse because the odds of me knowing his cousin was no longer an eight million-to-one shot...it was a twenty-million-to-one shot because he was covering the whole damned state.  

In case he was putting me on, I didn't scream out that; I don't know half the families on my street. Instead, out of respect, I thoughtfully said, "Hmmm, Rod..."  He smiled in anticipation, "Well, actually his full name is Rodney Tompkins..." I shook my head, "Sorry.  Doesn't ring a bell."  He walked away.

During a quiet moment on the scenic cable car ride, my mind raced to the song, "IT'S A SMALL WORLD."  I was reminded about the great coincidences we all experience...but the thought of knowing Rod Tompkins wasn't one of them.
FROM THE SULPHUR PEAK OBSERVATION DECK, MY PHOTO (above),  SHOWS HOW  OUR EYES FEASTED ON THE VIEW OF SIX MOUNTAIN RANGES.

The "It's a Small World,"song distracted me before we reached the summit. Soon I was recalling the summer of 1974 when RBOY and I had our mega working vacation at Disney World, (Florida).
AT DISNEY, WE WERE CLEAN-UP GUYS.  PRIOR TO ONE OF OUR SHIFTS, RBOY AND I WALKED THROUGH THE PARK AND USED IT AS A PHOTO-OP.

RBOY and I once had a friendly argument.  I complained how awful it was to work next to the Disneyworld carousel. I said, "The redundancy and repetitiousness of the same tune repeating over and over and over and over again is killing me."  RBOY said, "My torture is worse.  I'm stationed next to the Tiki Room".
THE TIKI ROOM WAS AN EXHIBIT IN ADVENTURELAND.  OUTSIDE, THE NEW TECHNOLOGY OF AUDIO-ANIMATRONICS PROVIDED MECHANICAL CHARACTERS LIKE; SINGING AND DANCING BIRDS AND FLOWERS, A MAGIC FOUNTAIN, DRUMMERS AND TOTEM POLES LURING GUESTS IN WITH A REPETITIVE SCHTICK ON A CONTINUOUS LOOP.

RBOY droned, "I heard that routine a million times.  'Come to the Tiki Room.  Fly with the Tiki Birds.' Over and over..."  I said, "I got you beat...if I got tired of the merry-go-round song, my next stop was sweeping-up in front of, "It's a Small World."
"IT'S A SMALL WORLD" WAS ORIGINALLY IN THE UNICEF PAVILION AT THE NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR.  IN 1966, IT WAS DISASSEMBLED AND REBUILT IN DISNEYLAND, (CALIFORNIA). THIS DARK, ZERO-DROP LOG FUME RIDE FEATURES 300+ BRIGHTLY COSTUMED CHILDREN-OF-THE-WORLD DOLLS FROLICKING IN THE SPIRIT OF INTERNATIONAL UNITY AND PEACE ON EARTH.

The "It's a Small World'" song is so universally annoying that RBOY immediately conceded.  If you need more ammunition to understand my point, Disney shockingly lampooned the song in their 1994 movie, "THE LION KING."  This sequence happened after Scar, the murderous new lion king lazily allows his kingdom to rot.  At a depressing moment in his monarchy, he demands that his majordomo (Zazu) sing something upbeat.  Zazu chooses, "IT'S A SMALL WORLD."  Within the first few bars Scar snarls, "No, no Zazu...ANYTHING but that!"
CLICK  THE LINK BELOW TO SEE AND HEAR THE 1:45 SCENE BETWEEN SCAR (left) AND ZAZU (right).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vifVEg7NepI

I had my own, it's a small world moment, a few weeks ago, in the supermarket.  I saw a young woman in the cereal aisle and it killed me that I couldn't figure out where I knew her from.  Minutes later, we cross paths again by the frozen pizza.  She gave me a familiar smile.  I am a staunch believer in boundaries (personal space), especially with women.  So I didn't want to come off like a stalker or bigger weirdo than I already am.  But in a thirty-year rush of memories I blurted out, "Are you Erleen?"  She nodded so I said, "I remember your first day as a teller trainee, at the bank on New Jersey Avenue." She was cordial as she thanked me.  I said, "You were my favorite.  Over the years, you stood out because you were always so nice. You even stayed the same after you were promoted to assistant manager."  She was nodding as I added, "You were pregnant the last time I saw you.  But I switched banks when a more convenient one opened by my house."  She said, "That baby is going to be twenty-seven." A short time later, I walked away feeling good.   

Considering that Erleen and I live comparatively close to each other, it really wasn't such a coincidence to run into her after such a long time.  The real, it's a small world" moment happened at work a week later.

I was dealing roulette and a young woman read my name tag and said, "Wow, you're from Canarsie...I work in Canarsie."  I said, "Where do you work?"  "I'm a teller at the Chase Bank on Seaview Avenue."  I said, "When I was a kid, I had my first savings account there...except back then, it was called the Brevoort Bank."  She said, "We have a photos on the wall of all the different names the bank has had."
I OPENED MY BREVOORT ACCOUNT IN 1967.  THE NAME CHANGED (see above) TO METROPOLITAN BANK AND CROSSLANDS BEFORE BECOMING CHASE.

I told this lady, "Before they opened your branch, the Brevoort was just a tiny storefront, in the Bayview strip mall across the street." I also mentioned the historic Canarsie photo of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy campaigning on the street where the bank would eventually be built.
CONSIDERING THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF WHAT HAPPENED TO RFK's BOTHER... WHICH LED TO  JOHNSON 'S PRESIDENCY, THIS  "SHOT" FROM FALL 1964,  ELSEWHERE IN BROOKLYN, (FLATBUSH AVENUE?)  IS INCREDIBLE AND FAR MORE COMPELLING THAN THE CANARSIE PICTURE.
I reminded my roulette player that when I was a kid, (late 60's), banker's hours were a standard operating procedure. She knew what I was talking about but some people don't realize that banks were only open 9AM till 3PM Monday to Thursday with extended hours on Friday till 6PM.

I also said, "I wasn't a sophisticated twelve year old.  So while it was important for me to use my pittance to make bank deposits, I frequently made the mistake of going on Friday (when the whole world got paid).  The lines at the bank were incredibly long. But stupidly, I'd wait to hand over some silly amount like $6.12."

The woman commended me.  That's when I connected meeting Erleen with my least favorite bank teller. I said, "Yeah but there was one witch...who used to give me a hard time.  I'd hand over four crumpled singles and two dollars in loose change (with loads of pennies) and get a harsh, dirty look."  My player said, "That's terrible.  You waited on that line as well as any other customer. You should have been congratulated and encouraged."  I thanked her.  She said, "You don't happen to remember her name?"  I said, "Sure do!  Miss Bainbridge..."  The lady choked back a giggle and whispered, "That old maid is still there.  Her name is Louise and she's my manager.  That fossil is coming up on her fiftieth anniversary there...and refuses to retire. You know something?  As a little boy you were perceptive 'cause our Miss Bainbridge is still a mean, frustrated bitch."
I'D PREFER TO REMEMBER THE BEAUTY OF BANFF RATHER THAN THAT NASTY, INTIMIDATING BAINBRIDGE.

At the and of the day...yes, it's a small world after all...as long as you don't sing the song to yourself.
BENGT AND I STUPIDLY TOOK PHOTOS OF EACH OTHER FEEDING THIS RAM ATOP SULPHUR PEAK WITH OUR OWN CAMERA.  SO I HAVE THIS PIC AND HE HAS THE ONE OF ME. I WONDER IF BENGT STILL HAS MY PICTURE?

I would love to own the picture of me feeding that ram.  Luckily, the Internet has an incredible ability to help us network. So, it would be a crazy long shot to locate Bengt without knowing his last name.  But if some genius thought I would know his New York cousin Rodney Tompkins, (without a computer), maybe one of my reader's knows a Bengt from Copenhagen who happened to be in Banff during August 1976?

Monday, March 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

HOSES AND BELTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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