Monday, August 18, 2014

EDELBLUM MYSTERY THEATER; THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOE BUSINESS

Now what? I’ll never like it and I’ll never get used to it, but at my age, I shouldn’t be shocked when something suddenly hurts or stops working. So raise your hand if you want to hear about the mystery that recently terrorized my foot.

At work in 1999, in a lonely, distant alcove of our break room, my friend ABP huffed, “If you don’t take care of your feet, they can’t take care of you.” I nodded. Her tone changed to a groan, “I messed up by wearing stylish shoes my whole life.” She told me how in the 1970's, she hobnobbed through dozens of Philadelphia-areas discotheques in "fuck-me pumps." Then she lamented, “And now with this job, I’m paying the price twenty-five years later…my feet are killing me.” 
WOMEN HAVE HISTORICALLY SACRIFICIED FOOT COMFORT FOR STYLE.

I said, “Sometimes my feet hurt too.” She took off a shoe, massaged her foot and said with a sigh of depression, “No. I have real problems and keep putting off surgery.” I said, “Sorry to hear that.” ABP said, “I have ugly feet with bunions and my gnarled toes are a million times worse.”

ABP was an especially good-looking woman. Even in her forties, if she put her mind to it, I'm certain she could make a decent living as a model. To boost her morale I said, “I’m sure nothing about you could be ugly.” She said, “You’re sweet. But if you saw my hammer toes and clawed toe…you’d barf.”
A HAMMER TOE (MIDDLE TOE) IS A DEFORMITY THAT PERMANENTLY BENDS THE TOE (RESEMBLING A HAMMER), AT A JOINT.  SIMILAR PROBLEMS INCLUDE, CLAW TOES AND MALLET TOES.

My hammer toe curiosity got the better of me. Besides, ABP opened the door with what sounded like an invitation. So I innocently said, “Okay, let’s see.” I guess the poor girl had been hit-on a gazillion times. She growled, “I’m not taking off my pantyhose in front of you!” I knew my friendship was devalued to “coworker” as she stood up and silently hobbled away.

Other than the obvious sexual lesson I learned, I found out the importance of taking care of your feet and legs, (especially in casinos where many of us spend the vast majority of our time on duty, standing up). In my particular case, the risk factors are heightened because for over fifteen years, I have been an avid power-walker.  Yes my calves (only) are so well-chiseled that Michelangelo’s, “Statue of David” is jealous.
I SUGGESTED POWER-WALKING TO BIG DAVE, BUT HE'S BEEN STUCK IN THE SAME RUT AND HASN'T MOVED FOR QUITE SOME TIME.

ABP’s words of warning have remained with me. So, I panic and stress over the new creaks, leaks and squeaks of old age that prey on my lower body. You never know, one of them might signal a debilitating problem that could prematurely end my livelihood or even cripple me.

A perfect example of a sudden new physical problem invading my body, occured two years ago.  That's when my son Andrew started university life. His school, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is near Trenton. At ninety-minutes away by car, he is close enough for visits and far enough that he (and we) feels like he’s away.

On one of my visits during his freshman year, about halfway up, I got a severe, knifing pain, in my right, upper-most thigh. It felt like a cramp, so I tried to flex, within the confines of the car, but I got no relief. Soon the radiating agony expanded down my leg, to the arch in my foot. I pulled over.

I used to get leg cramps when I played high school football, so I did some of our pre-game leg exercises. I got immediate relief. But forty-five minutes of driving later, the intense stabbing pain returned.

The same symptoms afflicted me on the way home…and still do whenever I drive longer than forty-five minutes. I told my doctor. She never heard of such a thing? She said, “If it only affects you on long car rides, you’re lucky…when you need to stretch…stretch.”

Damn, when it rains, it pours. Then, about a year ago, I developed another new, sharp pain, in my right heel. It felt like I had stepped on a rock in bare feet. I’d have good days then it would return. I waited until my twice-a-year check-up to see my doctor. She didn’t hesitate to make a diagnosis, “You have plantar fasciititis!” She recommended some home remedies that included stretching, icing it down and massage. I got a degree of relief, continued power-walking and never missed a day at work.

Incredibly, soon my other foot acted-up. On the outside edge of my left foot, I thought I had a painful wart. It was at an odd angle, so I never actually saw it. A month of wart removal treatment didn’t help. I bought bigger shoes, wore thicker socks and started wearing gel-pads. I felt better but not good. At their worst, both feet were killing me simultaneously.

One of my customers saw the anguish in my face and sympathized for me. During a lull, I told her my situation. She said that she used to be a bank teller and that she got relief by getting clogs that nurses wear.

Four months ago, (April 2014), on my most painful day, I gave in to the torture of my feet and went to a medical supply store. The clerk said their shoes were sold through mail-order only. I didn’t want to wait. She suggested Allen’s Shoes.

The salesman at Allen’s thought I had plantar fasciititis in my right foot and speculated that I had tendonitis in my left foot. He tried to sway me off the clogs. As per my customer’s advice, I tried them on anyway. They were butt-ugly, felt weird to walk in and didn’t make my feet feel any different…plus were twice as expensive as any shoes I ever bought.

I tried on a pair of New Balance shoes. In three strides, it was like a friggin’ miracle. If it had been a cloudy day, the sun would have burst through the overcast to the tune of heavenly harp music. My acute pain (in both feet) turned off like a light switch. I walked through every corner of the store expecting the relapse…that never happened.

Luckily, these shoes don’t have that Frankenstein orthopedic look and immediately felt like ordinary shoes, (yes they were more expensive than the clogs but in exchange for greater support, one can’t have everything…can one)?

I stopped complaining about the cost by the third day. Mainly because after work, I take my shoes off at the front door and throw them in the dark garage, (years ago, I tracked automotive grease from the casino parking lot through our living room…and never heard the end of it from my wife Sue). Of course now Sue gives me a hard time for bitching about the price of my princely shoes and then throwing them willy-nilly like they were shit and upsetting the pristine orderliness of our storage facility).

My new shoes are so good that when I was on vacation, I was reminded how important they were. Five days into my time off, I’d get achy tendonitis twinges. The return of these subtle ouchies meant the problem still exists but once back to work, my great footwear make life livable.

Unfortunately, getting older means, if you manage to defeat some stray physical obstacle, there’s always another to carry the torch of trouble, misery and hurt to another part of your body. That’s why I was so pissed-off coming in to work this past Wednesday (August 13th).

The walk from the employee parking lot to the break room is two city blocks. From the second I got out of my car, I had an intense pain in my left pinkie toe. At first, I imagined that my sock was bunched up…but a blister couldn’t go from “zero-to-sixty,” in mere seconds. Like the stubborn schmuck that I can be, I decided to keep walking (limping).

I dwelled on negativity and I convinced myself that something like a hammer-toe could spring-up from out of nowhere. It was disgusting how I pictured my wee digit being dark purple, swollen and with pus oozing from under the toenail. I was remembering that ABP said that the convalescence from her surgery would have her off her feet for months. That’s when I was thinking that amputation might be necessary if I wanted to avoid time lost from my job.

I headed for the union men’s room. Inside, I sat on a bench so I’d get a good look at the malevolence growing out of my little toe. I took off my wonderful New Balance shoe and carefully set my cherished hero down. I peeled off my unbunched-up sock and was shocked to find my beautiful foot…and suddenly pain-free pinkie...in perfect condition. I shook out my sock…nothing! My golden-boy shoe was next. And aha, I heard something rattling around. I sensed it couldn’t be a pebble because it seemed too light but it had to be somewhat sizeable to get wedged in and cause me such aggravation.

Oh how I felt like an idiot when I discovered a single M and M-sized dog food nugget in my shoe.
I FOUND OUT THE HARD WAY THAT DOG FOOD SHAPED LIKE M AND M's DON'T MELT IN YOUR HAND, MOUTH OR SHOE!

I tried to think back and pictured throwing my shoes in the garage and toppling the forty-pound bag of dog food. One piece found its way into the shoe and like a perfect storm of circumstances, the one nugget got lodged well enough in, to crush my cute and defenseless little toe.  Yay me, another edition of "Edelblum Mystery Theater" has been solved.

Yes it’s true, I gained another little victory…but life is usually reduced to the temporary joy of little victories. It sucks to think about it but we never know when the ugly head of catastrophe is lurking around tomorrow’s corner. I say, what separates the well-adjusted people of world from those who get caught-up, is how we play the bad poker cards of life, we are dealt.  Just remember, there's no business like shoe business...and as Ethel Merman used to say; let's go on with the show.
ETHEL MERMAN (1908-1984) STARRED ON STAGE, MOVIES AND TV.  SHE WAS KNOWN FOR HER BELTING, MEZZO-SOPRANO SINGING VOICE.  THE SONG I ASSOCIATE HER WITH, FROM THE BROADWAY SMASH, "ANNIE GET YOUR GUN," IS, "THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS."  CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO HEAR HER SING IT.
http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/redirect.jhtml?action=pick&qs=&pr=GG&searchfor=utube+ethel+merman+no+business+like+show+business&cb=CD&pg=GGmain&p2=%5ECD%5Exdm003%5ES04317%5Eus&n=77fc41c7&qid=e7bd1c087d2e46f29b0e704297c05df9&ss=sub&pn=1&st=bar&ptb=D6B92608-79BD-4909-92A0-160CFD832118&tpr=&si=CKuH4unForUCFQPd4AodLCEADg&redirect=mPWsrdz9heamc8iHEhldEcgdjfjqpMajKYmz288FhTJUUyoGKBtyODnwVgQA9jB9asSRd7HNQ6vo28AS7ocSwQ%3D%3D&ord=2&ct=AR&

So to side-step many of life's miseries, always keep your head, be prepared to bluff and check for dog food in your shoes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

FOUND AND LOST; MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN

I can’t believe it’s the second anniversary of the TV show, “THE FINDER,” getting cancelled. Most people never heard of it but I loyally watched all thirteen installments until it vanished as quickly as it appeared.
"THE FINDER" STARRING GEOFF STULTS (left) AND MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN (right) LASTED ONE SEASON, (JANUARY 12, 2012 TO MAY 11, 2012).

In 2011, the premise was originally wrapped within, “THE FINDER” episode of another personal favorite, “BONES.” The writers and producers came up with a unique, slick and beautiful to look at concept, (filmed in Miami with gorgeous underwater photography). The supporting characters were interesting and the storylines coming from their relationships left me wanting more.
"BONES" NOW IN ITS EIGHTH SEASON, INTRODUCED, "THE FINDER" ON APRIL 21, 2011, (SEASON SIX, EPISODE NINETEEN, SHOW #125 IN THE SERIES).

"THE FINDER'S," star, Geoff Stults as Walter Sherman, is a retired army major.  The gimmick is, he suffered some mysterious level of combat-related brain damage while serving in Iraq. These head injuries left him suspicious and paranoid. But along the way, his “problems” also include a mystical ability to see patterns that nobody else can see. He uses these universal connections to find things. In the case of the episode of, “BONES,” he is subcontracted out by the FBI, to launch an independent investigation, to find a stolen treasure map fragment. Throw in some intelligent quirkiness and you have a program that is exciting and fun to watch.

This, possibly best-ever episode of “BONES” became the pilot for, “THE FINDER.” I thought I got in on the ground floor of something special. I was completely invested in the show and never missed it. Unfortunately that pilot was also the problem because the potential of the first production was never recaptured.

In an obscure bar in the Florida keys, the audience is introduced to the three main characters of, “THE FINDER.” The "MOD SQUAD-like" trio are staring at a chalkboard and having a philosophical debate on which is sadder; a twelve-year old girl smoking or a drowned cat.
TV's, "MOD SQUAD" WAS A HIPPIE, UNDERCOVER POLICE TEAM THAT FEATURED A WHITE MAN, WHITE WOMAN AND A BLACK MAN.  THE SHOW LASTED FIVE SEASONS AND 123 EPISODES FROM 1968-1973.

Ike, is Walter Sherman’s shapely but tough, Scottish accented female sidekick. Apparently, Ike owes her life to, “The Finder.” But instead of being a corny love interest, she was more like his conscious and emotional protector while also serving as his bartender, airplane pilot and a walking encyclopedia. Unfortunately, her character was dumped after the pilot episode in favor of a cardboard detective/love interest, (so much for uniqueness).

Luckily my favorite character was not dropped by the show. Michael Clarke Duncan plays male sidekick Leo Knox, (a likeable, Buddha-spouting widower and former attorney). He also owes his life to Sherman and serves as his confidant, manager, legal advisor and bodyguard. I became transfixed with every baritone word and action he made. I especially liked his use of lawyer-speak when advising Sherman not to do something. Which gave rise to The Finder’s catchphrase; I’ll risk it, (which was cleverly used in the pilot but rarely called upon throughout the show’s short run).

Another character that never appeared after the pilot was the Catholic bishop. Dynamic anti-religious sparks fly when Walter asks the Bishop for historical data about the church's connection with the map piece that might lead to a sunken Spanish gold galleon. Apparently the Bishop owes Walter his faith therefore he is patient with the anthesist's impertinence. To be consistent with the show's demise, the non-religious aspects The Finder’s nature is never mentioned again.

It didn’t take long until I became disillusioned by, “THE FINDER’S”, direction. I only watched in hope that it might rediscover the magic of the pilot, and if it couldn’t, watching Duncan was enough for me.

I first found Michael Clarke Duncan in 1999’s, “THE GREEN MILE.” He gave a memorable performance as John Coffey, a Depression-era, wrongly convicted child murderer, on death row in Louisiana. It’s ironic, that role catapulted his career in film, TV and voice-overs in animated features. But he was lost to me for more than ten years because I was unfamiliar with any of his work until, “THE FINDER” episode of, “BONES.”
MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN (1957-2012), HAD KNOCKED AROUND HOLLYWOOD GETTING ODD JOBS THAT INCLUDED HIGH-PROFILE BODYGUARD WORK.  HE STARTED DOING COMMERCIALS AND BIT ACTING PARTS UNTIL HIS BIG BREAK IN,"THE GREEN MILE."

I may not know which is sadder, a twelve-year old girl smoking or a drowned cat. But I do know I was deeply saddened by Michael Clarke Duncan’s untimely heart attack and death. Which I assume was only a coincidence because it came shortly after the Fox Network announced that “THE FINDER” was cancelled.

Duncan led a clean life, was a vegetarian and lived many of the precepts of Buddhism. The Finder served its calling when it found Duncan for me but alas, now they are both gone...
IN A CRAZY MAN-CRUSH KIND OF WAY, I MISS DUNCAN.  IN THE TWO ROLES I KNOW HIM FROM, HE WAS DEEP, INTELLIGENT AND MADE ME FEEL THAT THE PEOPLE AROUND HIM WERE SAFE.  WHENEVER I THINK ABOUT IT, I CAN'T STAND LOSING HIM. 

Michael Clarke Duncan's passing makes me think of the 1979, chart-topping song by the, "POLICE," "I CAN'T STAND LOSING YOU."  Click on the link below to hear the thought provoking lyrics.
http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/redirect.jhtml?action=pick&qs=&pr=GG&searchfor=youtube+the+police+I+can%27t+stand+losing+you&cb=CD&p2=%5ECD%5Exdm003%5ES04317%5Eus&n=77fc41c7&qid=825087a8ef484cbfbe4484f82295acff&ptb=D6B92608-79BD-4909-92A0-160CFD832118&si=CKuH4unForUCFQPd4AodLCEADg&pg=GGmain&ots=1407692347187&pn=1&ss=sub&st=bar&tpr=sc&redirect=mPWsrdz9heamc8iHEhldEcgdjfjqpMajKYmz288FhTLdjzyG8DEAy6s%2BGyLAMdxQJj8lG1xD4KFm32d%2F1k%2BwmQ%3D%3D&ord=0&ct=AR&


I found Michael Clarke Duncan (again) but now he's lost for good.  Unfortunately, the best way to remember him is not through, "THE FINDER." series.  That's why I'm recommending you watch the single “BONES” episode with him.

Monday, August 4, 2014

MY NEW REALITY; SAYING GOOD-BYE TO MIDDLE-AGE

Like the Sword of Damocles, the ugly specter of turning sixty dangles over my head. Over the next nine months, I have to find a way to cope with my next (undesirable) milestone of life because to many, this watermark symbolizes the dilapidated, gray, second to last gate that ushers in old age, (the last gate of course…is pearly).
IN THE 1812 PAINTING (above) BY RICHARD WESTFALL, A GREEK, MORAL ANECTDOTE, "THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES," IS REPRESENTED.  IT REFERS TO THE IMMINENT AND EVER-PRESENT PERIL FACED BY THOSE IN POWER, (OR IN MY CASE, I NEVER KNOW WHEN OLD AGE WILL BEFALL ME).

In 1968, on a handful of occasions, I babysat for the couple next door, (the husband was the cheapest man on the face of the earth…but that’s another story). One time while getting paid, (never more than two bucks), Mr. Miser gravely griped, “I just found out I got arthritis.”

I was thirteen and sophisticated enough to know arthritis was a health problem but because I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, I thought it was a death sentence. So a few days later when I saw him throw his golf clubs and tennis racquets into the back seat of his "beater" convertible, I thought it was odd. Then shockingly, he leapt over the closed door into the driver seat. That’s when I knew he was a lying sack of shit!

Down through the years, I learned the complexities of life. Perhaps the clearest of all my lessons is that the world is infrequently black or white. Certain issues, especially regarding aging and health are layered, and come in far more than fifty shades of gray.

In 1995, I was diagnosed with my own painful arthritis. I was bright enough to correctly assume that it wasn’t life threatening. My doctor directed me to use an over-the-counter remedy. Over the next twenty years, other than a rare flare-up, my problem was been 97% held in check.
GLUCOSAMINE AND CHONDROITIN ARE NATURAL SUBSTANCES FOUND IN AND AROUND CARTILAGE CELLS. IT IS SOLD AS A SUPPLEMENT FOR ARTHRITIS SUFFERERS BECAUSE IT AIDS IN CARTILAGE RETAINING NECESSARY WATER.

Now forty-six years later, even though my thrifty neighbor never gave me a tip, I’ll give him one. If you’re stricken with arthritis, and willing to spring for about fifty dollars a year, Chondroitin and Glucosamine is well worth it.

There is something mystical about hitting forty. We gradually start having new health issues. Each passing year, the number of episodes grows as well as their severity. There’s a gazillion reasons why we shouldn’t complain about our health, but the number one reason is, it doesn’t take long before we bitch to someone who is in far worse shape.

My first surgical procedure was kidney stones about ten years ago. The doctors knew the stone was obstructed but to run up the bill, it was better for them heavily medicate me and wait two days for it to miraculously dislodge itself, (which we all now know…it didn’t).

While it’s true this was my first over-nighter in a hospital since birth, I honestly don’t think I ever went into to panic mode. But apparently I said something to my terminally ill (cancer) roommate that suggested I needed emotional counseling. Despite his plight, this man was so pleasant, confident and reassuring. So the last thing I wanted to do was upset this brave soul…in ANY way.

I woke up feeling nauseous at 3:00AM on my second night, (as instructed I called for the night nurse). There was no response. I rested quietly over the next ten minutes hoping my putrid impulse would subside. It didn’t, so I pressed the signal button...and a minute later, I hit the buzzer again.

During those queasy moments, I rationalized that the floor nurse must have been helping someone else. I braced for the impending emergency. I dreaded the thought of disturbing my kindly roomie so I looked to see what was involved in disconnecting the multitude of feeder tubes and sensors that were attached to me. When my sickness suddenly spiked higher, I imagined the nurse downstairs, in the cafeteria with her face buried in a pint of butter pecan ice cream or hiding in the utility closet, having phone sex. Like a madman, I repeatedly and obnoxiously started wearing out the signal button.

Seconds before the arrival of my “V-Moment,” I realized that I had run out of options. I ripped off all my tubes, jumped out of bed and puked all over the wall…as blood from my arm splattered everywhere. What a great release/relief it was for me…until I heard my roommate’s commentary on the smell and length of the clean-up crew’s stay. Incidentally, embarrassment was added to my awful experience when my saintly roommate, the following morning, sincerely was concerned about my health.

You’d think that nightmare would make me more careful about what I said, (and to who). But seven ago while at work, (dealing craps in a casino), I felt a little pop in my lower back. The radiating twinge of pain varied in intensity as I struggled to find a comfortable position. I was experienced with this recurring problem but this time, no matter what I did, the different levels of agony wouldn’t subside.

LJT, (my supervisor) saw my situation and probably thought I needed to pee. He asked, “You okay?” I whined, “I tweaked my friggin’ back and it’s killing me.” LJT said, “You know I had a heart attack. I almost died. You don’t even know what pain is!” He had someone temporarily replace me. I took extra strength aspirins did some stretching and was much better. Later, I apologized to LJT. He said, “And make sure you never complain about back pain to any woman who gave birth either!”

I never learn from my mistakes. Five years ago, I felt like there was a burning hole in my stomach. These acute symptoms were incapacitating for a couple of hours.  Then they’d mysteriously vanish…only to reappear and tear through my innards in similar way, three weeks later. Like a schmuck, I waited months for my routine check up…it was a hernia.
GENERALLY, A HERNIA IS A PROTRUSION OF AN ORGAN (A BIT OF INTESTINE) THROUGH A HOLE IN THE ABDOMINAL WALL, (NO THE DIAGRAM ABOVE IS NOT ME).

I survived the operation and put it behind me. Well guess what? Last year, the symptoms returned. Lucky me, I had a new hernia. No you don’t get a reduced rate as a repeat customer so I was doubly pissed off in September 2013, when I had to go through the nonsense again.

There’s nothing really funny (or unusual) about two hernias within five years. So when March 2014 rolled around and the symptoms re-re-reappeared, I was triply frustrated. My distress was further heightened because the doctor does not guarantee his work and another procedure would be a completely separate fee, (so much for frequent flier discounts).

Two week ago while at Camp Zimbo, I held my left arm above my head and twisted my hand to the right and said, “It hurts when I do this.” He smacked me in the head and said, “Then DON’T do that!”  That might sound like an old vaudeville routine but what it meant was JZimbo didn't want to hear about petty maladies.

JZimbo is eleven days older than me so unfortunately for both of us, the rigors of middle-age health issues always come up. That’s when he mentioned that he might have a hernia. I never told him I had two hernia operations and need a third so I pretended to NOT be an expert. I let him vent. I didn’t want to fall in the trap of complaining about my trivialities when I fully knew that he had been victimized by a laundry list of decapitating injuries (including a fractured ankle and a knee replacement…plus unsuccessful eye surgery). So after he talked his way down from his potential dilemma, (on his own), I felt good knowing I didn’t play, “can you top this” with someone who really has been punished by life’s little cruelties. My temporary victory didn’t last long.

When I got home, I came to a conclusion about my third hernia. But if you know and love me, you know…once a schmuck, always a schmuck!  Due to my (unappreciated) experience, I now know how to minimize my hernia pain. So, in protest of getting “put up on the lift” again, I have decided to “gut” it out and (for now) live with it.

Hernias are unfortunately common. One of my friends (BBF) is experiencing the joy of his for almost two years. In the beginning, I recommended getting it taken care of. But after what I went through, I can understand anyone's reluctance to go under the knife.  So, I’m in no position to tell him he’s wrong.

Recently while on duty at work, my latest hernia was ravaging my belly. Under the circumstances, the best I could do to minimize the hurt was holding my stomach. DOM, (my supervisor) asked, “I had the stuffed peppers upstairs too and my guts are ready to explode?” A smile covered my grimace as I groaned, “Nah, I would never eat that in our cafeteria. I got a friggin’ hernia.” He said, “Shit, don’t complain to me, I’ve had three hernias.” I said, “Me too, this is my third.” He said, “I got one five years ago and had the surgery. Then last year another one popped opened.” I said, “So you got it taken care of?” He said, “Hell no!” I said, “But you said three.” DOM said, “Yeah, now I got another one that makes three.  I'll wait till they invent a hernia zipper...that way when get my tenth, they can go in and out much easier.” My smile evaporated into a look of concern as I said, “You must be dyin’ inside?” He said, “What are you a wuss? Besides, with insurance being the way it is, I’d be dyin’ worse if I paid for every little ache.”

I said, “BBF has been putting his hernia off for a long time.” DOM said, “You know he was demoted to part-time. He’s not having the surgery because he has shitty insurance, he's not having it done because he has, NO insurance.”

Remember the line in old cowboy movies; there’s always someone else faster on the draw. Well when it comes to complaining about your health, be aware that few people want to hear about it and almost everyone else is or knows someone, who is suffering worse than you.

Age is relative. I truly feel it’s just a number and that you’re as old as you feel. Day to day, I overwhelmingly feel like a king and a kid at heart, (the remaining times, I feel like a specific kid, King Tut…and he’s been dead and...usually...buried for 3300+ years).

So, I accept the challenge of my looming, new reality. I feel if you don’t find a path you can handle, the stressful harshness of an advanced age bracket will eat you alive and cause problems you never imagined.

Through my sixties, I pledge to be dignified and stay the same bundle of joy that you’ve always loved and admired.

And as for my neighbor from 1968, I’m sure his arthritis never stopped him…of course he was only about thirty-five back then, (but he complained as if he was sixty). Still, something tells me, (even though I haven’t seen him since 1984), that he’s still alive and kicking today. I make that assumption because I just saw a life insurance commercial with Alex Trebek.  That ad claimed, the average cost of a funeral was $8,000.00…and my thrifty neighbor would never cough-up that kind of cash.

Monday, July 28, 2014

THE EVER-FRIENDLY, AGNES CARMICHAEL

To me, a “character” is an eccentric with a dynamic personality. These individuals are not just oddballs but something about their positive or negative personality makes them compelling enough that it's difficult to take your eyes off them. Sometimes my South Jersey casino friends are insulted when I say that Atlantic City, compared to Las Vegas, has no characters. But out west, these walking entertainment centers were everywhere.

Today’s character laden offering is an excerpt from my short story, “AGNES CARMICHAEL, OF THE CARMICHAEL CALIFORNIA, CARMICHAELS.” It is the story of a couple and how the old saying; there’s a lid for every pot…didn’t apply to these two losers.

More importantly, you will soon find why the title is such a mouthful when you meet Agnes Carmichael. As well as other characters like, Dick Paynlewski, Ciro the Hero, (before he became Ciro the Zero) and Simon “Coat-Rack” Rhett.

In 1981, Ciro the Hero and I both worked at downtown Las Vegas casinos. On many occasions, we met for a drink at 4:00AM, at Binions Horseshoe Casino. Ciro had “money on the street” so on one occasion, I reluctantly followed him to Hotel Fremont where he was going to encourage a former coworker to honor his debt.

Ciro’s client didn’t come to work that night. While we were there Ciro and I decided to play craps. Armed with about forty dollars each, we had the table all to our self. Ciro shot the dice first. He got off to a great start and made me plenty of chump change. But Ciro left all his winnings in play and had over a hundred in play when a tipsy, giggly woman around thirty (four years older than us) appeared at the other end of the table.

On closer examination this slightly plump woman’s pale face was dotted wet-looking, purple berry-like zits. She wasn’t wearing make-up and a thick white band bunched her frizzy brown hair, unattractively straight up.

During a brief pause in the action, she took a badly crinkled dollar bill out of a small black clutch, tossed it on the table and said, “Dollar eleven.” The dealer bleated, “Buck yo.” She then called across the table to Ciro, “C’mon big boy, throw me an eleven.” Ciro was toying with the dice as he muttered for only me to hear, “I’ll give you eleven, eleven inches.” I was fighting off a laugh when Ciro called back to her, “Honey, forget about the fuckin' eleven, I shootin’ for an eight.”

Ciro threw an eleven. The woman jumped up and down as if winning those fifteen dollars was like hitting the lottery. She pulled out another single from her purse, threw it on the table and said with a big grin, “Press my eleven.” When her broad smile revealed a small chip in an upper front tooth Ciro whispered, “Marrone, what a train wreck...but she has big tits.”

She called to Ciro, “I know you’re talking about me. Just concentrate on throwing me another eleven and I give you a big kiss.” Ciro rolled his eyes, “Maybe I should reduce my bets?” I said, “Don’t get superstitious. I’m not changing anything...you’re on fire.” Ciro was still waffling until he threw the dice and said, “What the fuck.” He seven-out and we both lost.

Ciro sneered under is breath, “That goofy looking, ugly wench distracted me.” To our surprise, she approached. I focused on her frilly U-neck blouse and her stretch mark ravaged breasts as she arched her back to emphasize her trophy-like bust. She said, “Nice roll handsome, we all made money.” Ciro was disinterested, gently brushed past her and said, “Yeah, yeah whatever, we gotta go.” She ran ahead of us and playful blocked Ciro’s path. She was oscillating her torso to display her chest and said, “What’s the rush?” Ciro blasted, “Get your fat tits and fat ass out of my face!” She grabbed Ciro’s arm as he passed and squawked, “My father can make trouble for you. He’s a big man in Carmichael and everyone in Sacramento knows him.” Ciro said, “Well Dorothy, you ain’t in Kansas no more.” She said, “Father is a big man here too. He has a $40,000.00 credit line at the Landmark alone…everyone in Vegas knows the name Cyrus Carmichael.” Ciro was pretending to yawn as she continued, “When I finish BJ school, he’s going to ‘juice’ me in anywhere I want.”

Ciro was not impressed and was annoyed that she followed us to the cashier. Ciro sighed, “Look doll, I didn’t mean to insult you…” She interrupted, “That’s okay, I just like to be friendly. Let’s go for a drink and get better acquainted.” He said, “No can do, I got a jealous girlfriend. Besides, I gotta get this lightweight home before he turns into a pumpkin.”

Coincidentally, Ciro’s girlfriend (Shirley Birnbaum) was the assistant cage manager at the Maxim Casino, (Shirley was married with three kids. She and Ciro had Thursday afternoon delight for about a year).

Shirley had access to confidential records and thought nothing of sharing that information with Ciro. A few days later, he called me to say that Cyrus Carmichael was a real estate lawyer and indeed, a heavy-duty baccarat player, all over town.

At that time, I was a craps dealer at a crumby dive called the Vegas Club. I had lost my great job at the Stardust and now I was eking out a living until something better came along. One of my supervisors was an ignorant ass-hole named Ralph Winters. He thought he was a big man in a small place so like a tyrant, he stepped all over the inexperienced dealers. He and I clashed many times but when I exposed him as being incompetent and powerless, he clammed up around me.

Winters was horrible amongst his peers too. One of the blackjack supervisors, Edmund Khalifa, came into the pit to ask everyone to chip-in for a surprise birthday party for a terminally ill shift boss. The dealers all agreed to give three dollars. The supervisors were asked to give five. Winters was aware that Khalifa was of Turkish-Syrian decent, born in Dearborn Michigan and was as much a Catholic as he was. Yet he refused to donate and called the pleasant Khalifa, “A fuckin’ pushy camel-jockey.”

Winters was gloating about bullying Khalifa when he suddenly switched topics and bragged, “There’s new keno writer who loves to give head.” He rattled off five of his coworker cronies and said, “Last night, she took care of all of us on the roof of the Horseshoe. She calls it, being friendly.”

On my next break, I was surprised to see Ciro's train wreck from the Fremont sitting in the employee lounge. She wasn’t in a uniform and had a temporary nametag that read: CARMICHAEL. She didn’t recognize me, (maybe because she was sober). I pointed at her badge and asked, “Is that your real name?” She said, “No it’s Agnes. I hate it…so I get everyone to call me Carmichael. I’m Agnes Carmichael and I’m from Carmichael California. Get it, I’m Carmichael from Carmichael.”

I was being rather neutral when she started twirling her. Then she stood up and plopped next to me and said, “I’d like to get friendly with you.” That’s when I realized that this was the girl that idiot Ralph Winters and his posse “got friendly” with on the roof of the Horseshoe.

To be on the safe side, I asked, “What department are you in?” She said, “I just started as a keno writer. It’s a shit job, $4.15 an hour but as soon as I finish BJ school, I’m going to deal at the Landmark.” I said, “Wow, you’re lucky. It’s hard to get in there.” She was gliding her fingernail on my bicep and cooed, “I like you. You have manners. You seeing anyone?” I lied, “Yeah.” Carmichael said, “Shit! The good ones are always taken. The guys here are animals…and their language…ugh!”

Three months later, Carmichael was still at the Vegas Club. Her father bought a new car and a tiny condo for Carmichael and her daughter Harlene.  But his promise to use his casino influence on her behalf never happened. To make matters worse, despite daddy's many gambling sprees in town, he never dropped by, phoned or even acknowledged his granddaughter’s twelfth birthday. Carmichael was forced to survive on her own and soon sucked her way to the top of the dung heap, as a blackjack dealer at the lowly Vegas Club.

One night I saw an old friend Dick Paynlewski walking through the casino with a local hustler Simon “Coat-Rack” Rhett. Coat-Rack, in his late seventies sold table game systems to naïve gamblers, was a past-poster, short change artist and rail thief. He was also a walking pawn shop. He bought items from the down-and-out and resold what wasn't reclaimed. He was nicknamed “Coat-Rack” because he wore the same green polyester leisure suit every day. On hot days, he hooked a collapsible hangar through a shirt button hole, to hang the sports jacket. Regardless of how ridiculous he looked with that dangling jacket bobbing up and down, his dignified head remained held high.

Dick Paynlewski (42) was one of my boxman at the Holiday Inn in 1979. He was my mentor and a casual friend. Dick was famous for poor decision making. That trait was made worse by a drinking and gambling problem. So he wasn’t much of a catch. Therefore, the only thing he hated more that being reminded that he never had a serious girlfriend in his life was being the brunt of Polish jokes.

Later, I saw Rhett leaving and soon spotted Dick playing blackjack at Carmichael’s table. When I went in my break, I saw Dick at the snack bar eating a hot dog. He was sloppy drunk, slurring his words and holding the counter to keep his balance. I was about to tell him there was a dollop of mustard on his oxford shoe but he said, “Did you know I legally changed my name?” He had been fantasizing about doing it for as long as I knew so I was surprised that he saved enough money and actually went through with it. I said, “You really changed your name?” He was nodding as I added, “To what, Joe Paynlewski?” Dick said, “No ass-hole, you’re now talking with Richard Thomas Payne.” I said, “But everyone calls you Dick, that means your name is Dick-Pain.” He said, “You’re fuckin’ nuts. Only you think that way.”

Dick suddenly whined about Asian blackjack dealers being robots. He was getting too loud so I tried to shush to him. I said, “Hey, I work here.” But the moron ranted louder, “They shouldn’t let scum like that into our country. Hell, they ain’t even Christians!” I said, “I’m not Christian.” He pinched me cheek and laughed, “Don’t worry, you’re okay.”

I changed the subject by asking, “What did you hock with Coat-Rack.” “No, I bought a bunch of eight-track tapes off him for fifteen bucks.” I scoffed, “You got an eight-track player?"  He said, "Yeah in my car.  What do think, I'm an idiot?"  I said, "Use them well.” Dick said, “I heard he lives in a shack but it’s packed wall-to-wall with stuff, like a friggin’ department store. But I don’t wanna talk about him. What’s the story with that BJ dealer Carmichael?” I played dumb and said, “I dunno. She’s new.” Dick said, “You know what she said to me?” I had a pretty good idea as I shook my head. “She said she likes to be friendly.” I said, “That’s nice.” Dick said, “No there’s more. She also said; there’s going to be a party in my mouth…wanna come? " I shrugged.  Dick continued, "I musta made a funny face so she says; don’t worry about my chipped tooth, I know what I’m doing.” Dick wasn’t sharp enough to make that up...and I was still shocked. Then he said, “I’m tapped, can you spot me a twenty?” I said, "I'm broke too." Later on, he apparently managed to get some money because Carmichael and Dick became an exclusive couple.

On paper they were a perfect couple. Dick was the supportive father figure she never had and Carmichael provided affection and a fun-loving environment. But Carmichael’s presence couldn’t always override Dick’s depression that was constantly triggered by his combination of stupidity, gambling and drinking. And the emotional stability that Dick offered Carmichael was frequently derailed by the simple fact that she didn’t consider “being friendly” as sex…therefore she wasn’t cheating on him.

I worked the Vegas Club from February to August 1981. During that time my many attempts to improve myself were always thwarted. One night, a terribly inexperienced coworker told me he had just gotten hired as a craps dealer at the Horseshoe. On my next break, I snuck out of the building, ran through alleys two blocks and asked for an audition. I was denied!

On my way back, near the Vegas Club’s rear employee entrance, I heard violent shouting and crying. I peered around a stinking dumpster and saw Dick screaming into Carmichael’s face, “You’re a whore!” She cried, “You’re the only man I slept with since I hit town.” He said, “Admit it, I heard you sucked seven guy’s cocks yesterday!” “No,” she whimpered, “you’re fucked in the head, ‘cause that ain’t sex.” I thought Dick was going to punch her. Instead like palming a basketball he put his hand over her face and shoved her down onto the damp, filthy pavement. She shouted out, “I was just being friendly…” Dick quietly said, “If someone loves you, blowing one other guy makes you a piece of shit…” He stormed off down the alley and she slithered back into the Vegas Club. A minute later, I followed.

Ciro and Dick both worked at the Holiday Inn. A bunch of people from there decided to meet at an Indian reservation resort, sixty miles north, near the Utah state line. I went with Ciro. It was cloudy, windy and cool so few people were there. But we did bump into Dick and Carmichael and they were of course, arguing.

Dick was wearing slacks, a buttoned shirt and leather loafers. Carmichael was in a one-piece crimson bathing suit. She didn’t recognize Ciro and introduced herself. Then she said, “And this is Dick-Pain…and he’s a pain in my ass too.” Dick knew Ciro from work and floundered for a snappy comeback by saying, “This is Agg…it’s short for aggravating.” No one laughed.

Ciro and I spent an hour in the natural mineral pool. Later, in the pavilion that housed a lunch counter and a bar in an adjoining room, we saw Dick passed-out on his bar stool with a double scotch and a hamburger in front of him. The bartender brought Ciro and me two beers as Dick jumped up from his perch and bolted out. We were on our way out when Dick reappeared. In a drunken blush he confided in us, “You can’t trust a fart after forty.”

Outside, the place looked deserted.  A few people were still in the hot mineral spa and everyone else seemed to be heading to the parking lot.  On the far side of the empty tomahawk-shaped kiddie pool, there were benches and rows of lockers in front of the men’s and ladies changing rooms. In the far corner, we saw Carmichael. She motioned us over and said how great the resort was. Then she unzipped her bathing suit and without exposing herself, pulled down one of the straps. Ciro said, “A lady would undress inside.” She exposed one of her saggy breasts and said, “A gentleman would look the other way.” When Ciro advanced toward her, he took down the other strap. I walked away.

I was having a beer, facing Dick on the other side of the bar.  Soon, Ciro came in and ordered a shot of Jack Daniels.  Later, Carmichael in street clothes came in and stood between us. She said to Ciro, “If you buy me a beer, I’ll be your best friend.” A few seconds after chugging half the bottle down, she began fondling both our crotches at the same time. The bar blocked Dick’s view as he comprehended what was going on. Then he croaked, “You better not be giving Ciro a hand job.” Carmichael cracked, “How dare you make such an insinuation…I’m giving Ciro AND Steve a hand job.”

Ciro spent the hour ride back to Vegas ranting and raving about Carmichael. He said, "If giving head was an Olympic event, she’d definitely win the gold medal.  She's got talent from gobs of experience.  Plus, she puts Pop Rocks candies in her mouth and the little explosions feel great."

Later he said that Carmichael was fed up with Dick and was breaking up with him, that night. Then he said, “Remember when Dick said; you can’t trust a fart after forty. Well check this out, she said he farts during sex and once shit in the bed."

The next night, Carmichael was free of Dick. At work, she found out that weeks earlier, Ralph Winters gave away the surprise of the dying shift boss’s party by complaining about Edmund Khalifa’s strong arm tactics. She cut-off Winters and his buddies from her friendship and sympathized with the self-proclaimed family man, Khalifa. During the shift, she and the good-looking Khalifa exchanged some "friendly" sexual banter.

Carmichael was waiting in line to punch out when Khalifa came up behind her and gave her posterior an amorous squeeze. When she didn’t protest he whispered, “I want to make love to you.” In front of several coworkers she kissed him hard on the lips.

The next morning’s sun was reaching the horizon as Carmichael and Khalifa stood on the second floor landing of his brother’s unoccupied rental unit. Edmund wanted to get home before his wife woke up. He impatiently stared at the end of the street hoping to see the taxi he called that would take Carmichael back downtown. Carmichael was annoyed that he wasn’t driving her back but she was in the warm afterglow of having her world rocked like it’s never been rocked before, she didn’t complain.

Carmichael nibbled Khalifa’s ear and neck as she massaged his penis through his suit pants. She took down his zipper when he got hard. She recalled an hour earlier when he said, “I could spend the rest of my life with a girl like you.” She said, “Eddie, let’s go back inside…put it in my butt again.” Khalifa smiled, “See, you did like it.” She took down his pants and got on her knees. Half-heartily he said, “Stop,” as her head went back and forth. A minute later, the cab came into view and he said, “You’re crazy…I told you to stop…what will the neighbors think?” When the taxi stopped, she gave him a deep kiss, refused his offer of carfare and said, “You’re wonderful.”

The digital clock above the Mint Casino read 7:37 as Carmichael pulled her car out of the Horseshoe parking lot. She was happy because she had time to spare, to cook her daughter Harlene breakfast and drive her to school.

Halfway home, a wry smile came to Carmichael’s lips as she uneasily squirmed from the strange sensation in her rectum. She was heading south on Paradise Road with the car radio blasting.  She was making all the lights as she sang along with the Gilbert O’Sullivan song, “ALONE AGAIN, NATURALLY.” At the Charleston Boulevard intersection she innocently proceeded when a speeding drunk ran the red light.

Carmichael needed several surgeries. She was placed in ICU and with the help of a respirator clung to life for seventy-two hours. Harlene phoned her powerful grandfather but only left a series of messages. A representative of Cyrus Carmichael contacted the hospital and took responsibility for all the finest medical treatments. However, he never returned Harlene’s calls or flew into town. Instead, three over-sized bouquets (one for each day) adorned her room.

On the third day, Harlene got in touch with Dick. Despite binge drinking since their break-up, this lost soul pulled himself together and was at the nurses station in twenty minutes.

The bickering started when Dick wasn’t allowed in to see the patient. He wasn’t family and even when Harlene insisted that it was okay, they were told; rules are rules. Luckily during a shift change, the next nurse grudgingly let him in.

Dick openly sobbed as he stared at the feeder tube coming from her abdomen while a doctor informed him of the seriousness of her condition. In addition to head trauma, she already had her spleen and one kidney removed. The list of other injuries included a broken hip, internal bleeding and the news that she could never get pregnant again.

Dick nestled close to Carmichael’s ear. He dedicated himself to a valiant vigil of whispered encouragement. Hours later, she began breathing independently but remained in a coma.

He constantly rubbed her back or stroked her face. Dick also emptied and washed out her bedpan as he silently rehearsed a marriage proposal. He was contorting his body to clean her bottom as she stirred. Dick gave her one last wipe as she painfully moaned. He was scrambling to press the nurse signal as Carmichael murmured, “Eddie, put it in my butt…” Dick couldn’t believe his ears. He waited an eternity-like thirty seconds and cooed on her ear, “This is Eddie. I am here. What do you want?” There was a prolonged, agonizing pause before Carmichael gurgled, “You were right Eddie. I did like it. Put it in my butt again.”

Dick rose up and punched the wall. He feverishly paced a few seconds before lunging at Carmichael. He grabbed her throat and was choking her when his stomach seized-up on him. To avoid the ultimate embarrassment, he ran to the toilet. Luckily while doing his business, he cooled off. On his way out of the room, he smashed one of Mr. Carmichael’s bouquets to the floor.

Dick had a hunch that Eddie was Carmichael’s coworker. Like a madman, he sped downtown, darted through traffic and abandoned his car on Ogden Street. He jogged to the Vegas Club's entrance and plowed into the casino looking for vengeance.

Dick hid his agenda and asked random casino personnel, “Is Eddie working tonight?” He approached ten people until a roulette dealer said, “We don’t have any Eddie’s on this shift, unless you mean Edmund? He’s that floorman at the last blackjack table.” When this man fingered the boss, Dick drifted towards his prey.

Edmund Khalifa was an American but his heritage left him with a pronounced Arabic look. Dick stewed as he imagined his pure angel being defiled by a reprehensible heathen.

Nobody noticed Dick standing there staring with evil intentions, at the man he assumed was his rival. In frustration, locked by decision, he cursed himself because he couldn’t figure out how to address his anger. Suddenly he got an idea and stormed out.

Dick began searching every casino near Fremont Street. The depth of his mission was only outdone by his vigil at Carmichael’s side. Fruitless hours passed. He was exhausted as he staggered through the Golden Gate Casino for the third time. Dick saw a hustler friend of Simon Rhett and asked, “You see Coat-Rack?” The flea said, “No, he’s probably home…he only comes out at night.” “Night?” Dick wondered. “What time is it?” The low-life pulled out an antique silver pocket watch and said, “Funny, I bought this off Simon five years ago.” Dick said, “Yeah, yeah whatever.” The hustler said, “Hold your horses.” He donned a pair of eyeglasses with one frame missing and added, “It’s coming up on noon.”

Dick demanded, “Where’s he live?” The cockroach rubbed the stubble on his chin, silently extended his right hand and said, “Let me see…” Dick slapped a five dollar bill in his palm and snapped, “Scumbag.”

Dick took the information and hurried to his car.  He ripped the parking ticket off his windshield and raced to number thirty-five Cincinnati Street. He found Coat-Rack sitting in the shade, on a stump and drinking from an apricot brandy pint bottle. Instead of shaking his hand, he grabbed the old man’s elbow and got him on his feet. They brushed past the suit jacket dangling from the tree as Dick guided Coat-Rack, to the dilapidated garage he lived in.

Like a hoarder’s rat's nest, the floor was littered with mountains of merchandise. Dick didn’t notice the narrow, jagged path between the mess as he spewed, “You gotta gun for sale?” The old-timer said, “Whoa big fella. First, why do you look like such shit? Second, If I had such an item…and I ain’t sayin’ I do…what might you be needed it for.” “Lookit Simon, you know I’m okay.” Coat-Rack stared him down, “Well…” Dick wasn’t prepared for the third degree. He hemmed and hawed until he whined, “It’s kinda personal.” Rhett with the sobriety of a judge said, “Boy, y’all think I just fell off a goddamned turnip truck?” Dick was still flustered as he said, “Um, er…it’s for protection.”

Coat-Rack led him through his faux department store. In the corner that served as a makeshift bedroom Rhett stared into Dick’s reddened brown eyes and said, “Swear you ain’t lookin’ to kill nobody…” Dick shook his head as the old man pulled a .25 from a bureau drawer and preached, “Make sure my good name stays out of any police reports. If the shit hits the fan, remember you found it in an ash can.” Dick nodded and snatched at the pistol. Coat-Rack pulled it away and said, “Furthermore, they’ll throw the book at you if you fuck up. This piece might be hot, you got no license and you ain’t gettin’ no paperwork. Jesus H. Christ, I don’t even know if you know how to use it.” He swigged his brandy and groaned, “You got sixty cash?”

Dick turned to hurry away.  Coat-Rack said, "Wait one second.  You do realize it ain't loaded, right?  And I got no ammo for it."  Dick found out what he needed, where to get it and sped off.

Dick stopped on the way home and bought a box of shells. In his apartment he loaded three bullets, (for Carmichael, Khalifa and himself). In his bathroom, he childishly looked at his image in the mirror and practiced drawing his tiny six-shooter like a cowboy. Then he concealed the “Saturday Night Special” in his pocket and drove to the hospital.

Like a zombie, Dick trudged up the dimly lit corridor towards Carmichael’s room. At the nurse’s station, he was greeted like a rock star. He was mobbed by the ladies who claimed that it was his TLC that miraculously pulled Carmichael out of her coma.

In the shadowy room there was a fourth gigantic bouquet, a grinning Harlene, her friend and a lucid Carmichael. In her immobilized state, she sipped cranberry juice through a glass straw as she smiled at Dick. Dick asked the two adolescents for some privacy. They whispered and giggled on their way out.

Inside his pocket, Dick confidently gripped the gun and wrapped his index finger around the trigger. Carmichael gasped, “I’m so, so sorry.” Nervously, Dick withdrew his hand from his pocket…without the .25. Bountiful tears streamed down Carmichael’s cheeks as she coughed, “I strayed. I-I-I did it with another man.” Tears rolled down Dick’s face as she clearly stated, “I know what you did for me. They said I almost died and you never left my side.” Gingerly, he bent over and kissed her. She yawned and weakly kneaded his crotch. Carmichael was feeling faint as her pinkie slid along the shaft of the gun barrel. She stammered, “W-w-wow, you are happy to see me.”

A nurse barged into the room and announced, “Visiting hours are now over.” She looked into Dick’s eyes and said, “This one needs rest too…go home!” Carmichael called Dick near and moaned, “My own fuckin’ father never showed up or even called. None of my ‘friends’ did either…I’m never going to be ‘friendly’ again. I love you.”

Dick’s heart was pounding but before he could put together a marriage proposal, the nurse pulled the curtain around the bed shut, pointed at the door and ordered him out.

An hour later in Dick’s dark bedroom, he desperately tried to stay awake. He was consumed by revenge but needed to wait until Khalifa was on duty before blowing away that “sodomizing Arab bastard.”

To combat his fatigue, Dick splashed cold water on his face and stood out on his tiny terrace. The limp breeze and some stretching helped. Soon Dick needed to repeat the process. He felt a twinge of dizziness as he staggered back to the bathroom. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and said, “Ed, this town ain’t big enough or the two of us.” He drew the gun, fumbled it and discharged a round.

The reverberation in the small enclosure was deafening. But soon, his own painful wailing took over when he realized he had shot himself in the foot.

In minutes, most of the black and white hexagon tiles he could see were covered in blood. He was slipping in and out of consciousness as shock set in. He heard the sound of distant sirens getting near. Soon he was startled by the thunderous footsteps that vibrated the cheap, exterior stairway that led to his apartment. The last thing Dick remembered was pounding on his front door and someone shouting, “This is Metro police! Open up.”

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!