Monday, December 17, 2007

POBRECITO !

POBRECITO (POE-BRAY-CEE-TOE) is the Spanish word for; poor little boy. Its literal meaning is obvious but figuratively it can also be used to either forthrightly or sarcastically to describe a male of any age who is down on his luck.

Ever since Friday December 14th, I have forthrightly been calling my son Andrew pobrecito because he had braces put on his teeth.
Personally, I didn't think his already perfect smile needed to be further enhanced but alas, even I must occasionally answer, and concede to higher levels of wisdom and authority.

In addition to the constant discomfort and/or pain of foreign objects in your mouth, the new "wearer" of braces is inundated with new do's and don'ts of orthodontic care. Therefore in a combination of earnest doctorly advice and propaganda, the impatient patient is told to brush not three times a day, not four times but FIVE times.

Here we are on day-four and my pobrecito is still experiencing the challenge of eating. Another obstacle for him is flossing. It's a difficult technique to master because the braces are in the way.

Additionally, to diminish the effects of uncomfortable edges, the braces wearer is supplied with a waxy substance...which in this case might actually be wax...which can be balled-up and applied directly to a rough spot to reduce the discomfort. Unfortunately, he has had an extremely hard time administering it. Although his mother and I are willing to go in there and do it for him--the logistics of the situation mandates that Andrew does this for himself.

The braces are expected to be "in" from six to nine months. The silver lining to Andrew's gray cloud is that its estimated that most patients get used to the reformation of their mouth and the new maintenance routine in two weeks.

Hopefully, Andrew's adjustment period will be short and that all my updates will be positive.


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Of course what good would pobrecito be if it was only used forthrightly. I think it's infinitely more fun when used sarcastically and I know the best target, moi, (That's French for "me," you silly goose).

In order to call myself pobrecito, I'll start with a joke...These two casino supervisors are walking down the street when one says, "Look, a dead bird." And the other one looks up into the sky and says," Where?"

Why do we make fun casino supervisors and other higher life forms? Psychological experts claim that making fun of other people reveals a flaw...an insecurity...in us. By fulfilling a need to put someone or some group down, we feel artificially better about ourselves.

If this is true, and I'm not proud of it, I must be extremely insecure. As many of you know, I have had feud with my hillbilly next door neighbor for ten years...

But today, I am not here to vent over THAT next door neighbor...because as most of us know, next door neighbors usually travel in pairs. Today, I am after my other next door neighbor and the group I am about to insult are...renters. If any of my readers who are renters are getting squeamish and appreciate political correctness, you are excused from reading the rest of this column.

First, if I was renting a house on a street like mine, I honestly don't know how much (if any) effort I would put in to routine front yard maintenance. So that is NOT the issue here. The issue is, his landlord brings a service in to mow the lawn four times each summer...if that's an exaggeration, I'll up the total to five times but NO higher!

Then twice, maybe three other times during the rest of the year, this same service comes by and cleans up the property...more specifically rakes up the leaves.

This has been an odd year because we had a prolonged Indian summer. In most Autumns, the falling leaves would be gradual and proportionally cleaned up, this year they remained on the trees longer and we are now all drowning in them.

Each year here in Galloway, the city works department advertises monthly leave pick-up dates. Residents pile up their leaves on the street and a truck with a gigantic vacuum, comes by and sucks them up. While waiting for the big day, extraordinary amounts of leaves pile up everywhere.  Many of us, just to see the street tidier, count-down the days as if the vacuum truck's appearance was a holiday.

Well, last month the day before the big event, my renter "friend" has a behemoth pile of leaves just like the rest of us. And for no other reason than mere sport, this numb-nuts plows through his pile in his Mercedes SUV sending a gazillion leaves flying everywhere.

I call myself pobrecito because there's no way I'm going to approach this moron over the difference between his minutia and my eternal search for humanity and common sense. But the next day, our hero really out did himself by parking on top of his still massive leaf pile so that the vacuum truck had no choice but to pass it by...thus leaving the leaves for another month. 

I will now close with a caustic "renter" joke:

So this renter was swimming the English Channel from France to England. And half way across he got tired and swam back to France.

Monday, December 10, 2007

COBBY LIVES ! EVEL KNIEVEL DIES !

Even if you never read my book, I am pleased to announce that Cobby lives.

English-born Webster "Cobby" Wolfe is a handicapped casino hustler in my novel, "IF IT AIN'T NAILED DOWN." Due to the nature of his physical deformity, his role in the casino heist is limited to being a look-out. However, the Cobby character is based on a real person.

Unhealthy looking, scruffy and filthy, this man that I will continue to call Cobby was an apparent victim of the drug thalidomide. Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women in Europe from 1956-1962 to reduce the affect of morning sickness. Unfortunately, it wasn't tested properly and approximately 10,000 children were born with severe birth defect...mainly undeveloped limbs. In Cobby's case, he has two baby hands that look like flippers growing from his shoulders.
In developing his character, I couldn't help but realize what kind of nightmare it must be to be in his predicament. Added to his troubles, Cobby was a lone wolf, (thus his last name). It seemed obvious to me that without a lot of help, it would be hard for him to survive. So when I hadn't seen the real Cobby for quite some time, I assumed he was dead.

Well, last week after about five years of not seeing him pan-handling in the casino, Cobby crossed in front of my car on Pacific Avenue. I was both happy and relieved to see him. Plus, I was glad that I treated him sympathetically in my book.

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On the other hand, I expected Evel Knievel to live to a hundred and eleven...but he didn't. Robert Craig Knievel died last week at the age of 69.
I never gravitated to his motorcycle feats of daring-do. But throughout his celebrity run, I knew who he was and what he did. He made a nice buck and certainly had an enormous following. So I don't mean to diminish him or his accomplishments, BUT !
After his death I watched a montage of his career highlights and low lights. Mixed in was a commentary that chronicled his gazillion broken bones and the lifetime of pain he endured.
Seeing it only solidified my indifference in him. I'm sorry, I don't get it. When I saw him successfully fly over a row of buses... it looked so easy that I couldn't get excited for the risk he was taking. Then when he crashed--all I could think was: SCHMUCK !
Yes I do realize that he is the father of today's XTREME sports...which I do appreciate...and still, I can't get past the word schmuck.
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In keeping with the death theme; the rabbit has died, or should I say the urban legend surrounding the rabbit has died.
"DICKIE ROBERTS" was another crumby David Spade movie from 2003. In it, there was a sequence where the hated next door neighbor's pure white rabbit was killed by the family dog. The family sought to avoid any liability and bought an identical rabbit and secretly returned it to its pen.
When the neighbors got home, they were aghast to find out that their dead and buried rabbit has risen from the grave. Further, their only explanation for it was; Satan's folly. Therefore with the devil at their doorstep, they moved away.
About ten years ago, this story, almost word for word, was told to me in first-hand by a friend. When I told them about Dickie Roberts, they told me that it DIDN'T happen to them...that they had heard about it from someone else. Nevertheless, another urban legend can be permanently buried.
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Lastly, and most importantly, "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," lives! It lives so well that on December 9th, I celebrated my web-page's first anniversary. I couldn't have done it without your readership, constructive criticism and support. Thank you all so much and my goal for 2008 will be to entertain you with even higher levels of glibness, BUT... with only half the calories.

Monday, December 3, 2007

BLIND STABS in the DARK

On sports radio, one of the commentators has a segment called, "BLIND STABS IN THE DARK." It is at that time that he reveals his pro football picks of the week. Apparently, he is so bad at predicting the outcomes, he gave the segment its apt name.
Personally, I couldn't give a rat's behind about any body's opinion on sports betting but what drew my interest was, the theme music.

A rush of warm nostalgic goodness flooded my body when I heard it but I couldn't identify the tune. When one of your nicknames is "Instant Recall Edelblum" it becomes a mission to remember it or at worst, find out.

Luckily the commentator did identify the "Blind Stabs in the Dark" song as, the theme from the 1964-1965 cartoon "THE FAMOUS ADVENTURES OF MR. MAGOO."
First and most importantly, down through the years, I have done computer searches for old cartoons that my son Andrew was never exposed to. So it was surprising to me that Magoo was never included and that to this day, Andrew has still never seen it.

Mr. "Quincy" Magoo originated from UPA Animation Studios in 1949 with Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III, from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND as the voice). In case you are very young or have lived in a cave for the last sixty years, the gimmick with this character was...whether it was forgetfulness or vanity...Magoo was a kind and wealthy old man needed to wear his glasses...but never did.

The original cartoons were shown in theaters. In them, Magoo was depicted in literary classics like "ROBIN HOOD," "DON QUIXOTE' or "GUNGA DIN." I don't remember seeing any of those, however I enjoyed him in the TV special from 1962, as Scrooge, in "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol."

There was such a demand for more Magoo that they made the Saturday morning cartoon series that I already mentioned...which I loved. Unfortunately, the producers were forced to work quickly and on a skinny budget. Therefore the series lacked the quality of the previous work and didn't make it past two seasons.

I am guessing that Magoo has never made it on CARTOON NETWORK, NICKELODEON or the TV LAND CHANNEL because in these politically correct times...perhaps the sight impaired majority of us might, somehow find Magoo's nearsighted frolics as offensive. He also had an Chinese houseboy (Charley) who projected every Asian stereotype known to man. It sparked enough of a controversy that Cholley (as he called himself) was dropped in Mr. Magloo's second season.

For you trivia nuts, Magoo was a graduate of Rutgers. he frequently wore a full-length beaver coat to the football games, although he never actually made it there. He had two scheming nephews named Waldo and Prezley and a cat named Bowser...who he thought it was dog.

If you like, go to Wikipedia for more blind stabs in the dark about Magoo.

And let's not forget his famous closing words, "Oh Magoo, you've done it again !

Monday, November 26, 2007

THANKS TO JUSTPAT !

We had an excellent Thanksgiving with new friends. Everything from soup to nuts was great...even though they served neither soup nor nuts. The pre-meal spread alone was worthy of a king. Plus, the actual turkey and the various accouterments that went along with it were deliciously gourmet.

Now four days later just when it seemed that our cup of life's bounty had runneth over...our house has been blessed with the unexpected gift of life...a visit from the stork! Albeit a mechanical stork and a computerized baby that I named JUSTPAT!

In our school district, eighth graders as a part of their Life Skills course are presented with a computerized doll. This doll, I nicknamed it JUSTPAT because it came with pink clothes but when we removed its diaper, it had standard (okay maybe a little better than standard) male equipment.

The assignment identifies to middle school kids the harsh realities, responsibility and the consequences of unexpected/unwanted pregnancies.  These lessons are eloquent yet simple because each student is equipped with a non-removable scanner attached to their wrist and that activates their doll.

The student is expected to react to the different cries than the baby is programmed for. By swiping the scanner at the appropriate times, the Life Skill teacher can judge the level of care that the eighth grader alone provides.

In conjunction with the scanner, the student keeps a running log and identifies the time, length and type of aid provided. If necessary (and it's VERY necessary), the student will also identify any snags along the way.

My son Andrew brought Justpat home at 2:30PM yesterday.  By 3, we all were in a tizzy (even our dog Roxy felt the pressure) from the faux baby's incessant crying.

A CHART IDENTIFIES THE DIFFERENT CRIES.  TOGETHER WITH HIS SUPPORTIVE FAMILY, IT'S ANDREW'S JOB TO UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES AND ADDRESS THE PROBLEM PROPERLY.
 At first, this was so difficult and time consuming...if you don't hold the bottle right, the baby won't get fed and it will cry or you might have to burp it for twenty minutes before you hit the "sweet-spot." So if the baby is crying to be changed and you feed it, it will continue to cry. If it needs to be burped and you comfort it, it will continue to cry.

The student's receiving the highest grades for this project manage to go about their normal daily routine and make minor adjustments to care for the infant. This was one area that wasn't happening for Andrew. He was so rapt in self doubt and worry that rather than take JUSTPAT with him, he was forced to cancel with friends.

The doll even comes with a tilting neck. So when you coddle it or put it to sleep, the correct angle for comfort must be maintained. Further and most importantly new-born mechanical babies don't sleep through the night. On one hand this a major problem for the student but in the case of my wife Sue who works graveyard shift, the doll's cries during the night cost her valued sleep.

We are half way through this two-day ordeal and the message of practicing safe sex has become abundantly clear to Andrew. Beyond that, a valuable lesson in ALL of life's responsibility is learned and perhaps best of all...for Andrew...just because you aren't good at something...something you may not like doing...with patience, accepting assistance through networking and hard work...things that seem impossible CAN be done.

Yesterday started slow and ended rather well. I didn't see Andrew this morning but I was told that he was bursting with pride. I fully expect today will be a lot easier.

I as I type, Andrew has returned from school. So, here we go again.

I think JUSTPAT will be a lifetime memory for all of us but I'm certain that on Wednesday morning, Andrew will throw the damned thing back at the teacher! Cross your fingers that we get through this last day and hopefully, we'll laugh when its over...

Monday, November 19, 2007

HARVEY'S WAGON WHEEL CASINO

My son, his schoolmates, their administrators and the entire school district have been forced to endure bomb scares at his school both this year and last.. Luckily, they've all been hoaxes. Instigators at that age are overwhelmingly; pranksters, or calling out for attention or desperate to delay a test. Therefore because of situations like Columbine Colorado, each threat is rightfully taken seriously.

So whenever there is a "lock down" or an evacuation at the school, student households are notified by a computer generated phone message. Regardless of how much of an optimist you are, you can't help but worry, will THIS be the time!

This past Tuesday November 13th, there was a bomb scare and hostage situation at the Showboat Casino. For those of us who work next door at the Taj Mahal Casino, the six-hour siege was unnerving.

Overall, we all maintained a business as usual attitude but you couldn't help but think, WHAT IF...!

Like the situation with my son's school, attacks such as bomb scares in casinos are rare. Still, tension grew as "eye-witness" reports were leaked to us. Perhaps its human nature but as the night wore on, these accounts got gorier. But in actuality, no shots were fired and none of the hostages got wounded or killed.

Since the Showboat ordeal, I spoke to several of my co-workers and they were all convinced that nobody has ever blown-up a casino...but its NOT true.

When I lived in Las Vegas, I flew up to Reno on three occasions. One of those times was in May 1980. I visited the friend that I only refer to in my stories with pseudonyms or as Mr. K. because, his ways of making extra cash and meeting women are less than complimentary. Anyway...Mr. K. takes me to Lake Tahoe, specifically Stateline Nevada and we wind up in Harvey's Wagon Wheel Casino.
I remember we were standing in line to cash-out our chips when Mr. K. asked a stranger if he had a green chip ($25.00). This knucklehead hands one over to Mr. K. and Mr. K. proceeds, through sleight-of-hand and the magic words, "Now you see it...now you don't," to make the chip vanish. The man was mildly impressed and asked for his chip back. Mr. K. went through another series of gyrations and produced a white ($1.00) chip seemingly from thin air. The man complimented his act and again asked for his green chip. Mr. K. was giving him some double-talk as the man's turn in line with the cashier came up. At that point, he became angry and demanded satisfaction. When Mr. K. told the guy that he was nuts...that he started with a dollar chip, I had to step between them to protect Mr. K.

Only when the man called-out for security did Mr. K. relent and say, "Man, you can't take a joke, can you."

Well, three months later on August 27th, a disgruntled Harvey's customer named John Birges tried to extort 3 million dollars from the casino by having a 1200-pound bomb delivered to Harvey's; hidden inside a photo-copier.

I'm unclear of the reasoning but the casino and hotel were indeed evacuated and the FBI "safely" detonated the bomb. However, the explosion cut a crater in the building up to the third floor. Harvey's was originally built in 1944 and had a 12-story tower added in 1961. So I'm guessing the 'ol wagon wheel was ready for renovations anyway.

Birges was tried and convicted to life in prison. He was still in jail when he died in 1996.

I sometimes wonder if the man Mr. K. tried to con was this Birges fellow and if perhaps it was Mr. K. who was the proverbial straw that broke the mad-bomber's back.

Monday, November 12, 2007

VETERAN'S DAY & THE "THIRD MAN" DIDN'T MAKE THE TOP 100?

In observance of Veteran's Day, regardless of your politics, please support our active troops. And while you're at it, give pause to thank all the servicemen and women...past, present and future who have risked their lives for our great country.

Also, as with any holiday, take a minute to remind the youngsters in your household why today is so special.

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The American Film Institute (AFI), to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its 100 greatest American movies list, has made revisions. In conjunction with the BRAVO Network, AFI produced a TV special which I enjoyed, that included a montage of each movie that made the 2007 list.

When it comes to movies, we all have our favorites, but because there is such a wide scope of elements that serve as the criteria to what makes art...nobody could possibly agree with all AFI's choices. A perfect example is, "CITIZEN KANE" at #1, I feel the honor of this being the greatest film EVER has been earned but for aesthetic reasons (groundbreaking film-making technology) rather than pure entertainment.

Personally, I liked to be moved. Two of my favorites, "ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE" and "CITY LIGHTS" both brought tears to my eyes just in the two or so minutes that AFI spent on it. They were deservedly placed prominently on the list but only the most avid movie nuts know them.

I'd rather talk about favorites that didn't make the list like the "EXORCIST" which is probably my all-time #1. But again, we are all too familiar with it. That's why I want to enlighten many of you and turn you onto "THE THIRD MAN."
"THE THIRD MAN" (1949) was based on the novel by Graham Greene. It was filmed on location in what was left of bombed-out Vienna Austria. This classic film noir features one of, if not the greatest movie villains of all time Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Lime is an American black-marketeer specializing in medical drugs (penicillin). But in the opening scene we find out that Lime was killed in an auto accident, (or was he).
With 1950 Vienna pulled in many directions due to Cold War tension, an Englishman spear-heads the investigation of Lime's death. At the funeral, we meet Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who came from the U. S. to accept a job working for Lime. Using liquor to loosen his tongue, the police chat (interrogate) him and are convinced that he knows nothing about Lime's illicit practices. Later, they inform Martins of their suspicions about Harry. Martins, in disbelief begins a crusade to clear his friend's name. His investigation leads to Harry's Russian girlfriend.
Together the two innocents stumble onto a witness (the superintendent of Harry's building) who was afraid to speak with the authorities. This man contradicts Harry's two friends who were apparently the only eye-witnesses by saying..."the dead man had THREE men help him to the curb...the third man then vanished." Could Lime be the third man? Did he fake his own death to throw the police off his trail?

Soon thereafter, the superintendent is murdered and off we go! We are led through the dark rubble piles of the city to the accompaniment of haunting (almost to the point of annoying) zither solos. Towards the end, Harry Lime finally steps out of the shadows and we hear his sentiments from atop a Ferris Wheel, about his greed and the insignificance of the average ant-like people below.

To catch a rat like Harry Lime, it was apropos that the movie ends with a chase scene through the sewers.

This is truly a great movie worthy of being in AFI's top 100. However, another agency, the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) does rate the "THIRD MAN" as #48 in their top 250 movies of all time.
For immediate gratification, you can go to IMDB.com and find the trailer for the "THIRD MAN." When you do, I can guarantee that you'll find the zither music at least interesting. More importantly, I think it'll whet your appetite to see the actual movie.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) frequently broadcasts it, or you should be able to rent it. Also, remember your local library lends movies...that means FREE! Even if they don't have what you want on the premises, they can computer search the whole country for a library that has the book, music CD or movie you want...FREE!








Monday, November 5, 2007

"SLITHER" THE MOVIE and "XVQJX," is NOT a word !

In the summer of 1974 RBOY12 (a reader of my blog) and I had a working vacation in Florida at DisneyWorld. He worked there the whole time but in early July I quit for a better job, as a waiter at the Kissimmee Red Lobster.

I won't go into specifics because each link in the chain of events that led me there is a story in itself, I will say; I met two guys (Bob and Ronnie) from South Carolina who were also disenchanted with the Disney employment thing.

Sometime after they left Disney, I was on a date with a co-worker. She was going to drop me off but we decided to stop at the Contemporary Hotel just outside Disney. Afterwards, we had a disagreement, I think it was which style of Mambo (dance) was more authentic...the Canarsie or Weehawken...and the next thing I knew, I was being asked (told) to leave the car.

Well, after about an hour of unsuccessful hitch-hiking on a dark country road about 25 miles from I lived, a million to one shot happened. Bob and Ronnie, the South Carolina guys noticed me as they went by and came back to get me.

They told me they were now happy waiters at Red Lobster and said they could help me get a job there...I didn't give their offer much thought A couple of days later, manager served me an oral reprimand at Disney for not smiling enough...Apparently even a mere trash picker-upper like me was expected to live-up to the entertainment standard. I quit on the spot and got hired at Red Lobster the next day. Then a close friendship was spawned between Bob, Ronnie and myself.

Bob and Ronnie were from a rural town called Easley, in Pickens County, in the western part of South Carolina. They were truly country bumpkins and their Mayberry-like upbringing caused us to have several cultural differences.

These differences especially with phraseology stick with me today. Something simple like playing basketball and calling it, "shooting hoops," was as absurd to them as saying "XVQJX" was a word. They also couldn't come to grips with tennis shoes being called sneakers. And me, I still laugh at them for insisting that Cadillac was pronounced Ka-Diddly-AK. However the funniest difference was that they added the word "coke" to the end of whatever soda they were talking about. For example they would say; "Orange-Coke," 7-Up-Coke" or even "Pepsi-Coke."

It may be an insignificant reference, I doubt even RBOY12 would remember that they said that but...down through the years I have repeated that story and it sounds so ridiculous... that people think I'm making it up. Well, for the first time in over 33 years that phrase has resurfaced.

At a recent visit to KURUDAVE's house, PCShmee brought over a movie called "SLITHER" from 2006. It was a clever horror movie that was funny enough to also be a comedy. Presumably it takes place in the south because of all the southern references but the scenery looks more like Minnesota (perhaps that was part of the director's humor).

At one point, the mayor, while his town is being inundated with slug-like aliens and zombied townsfolk, goes into his cooler to find that he doesn't have any soda left and exclaims, "I can't believe I already drank my last Mr. Pibb-Coke."

I was shocked, had the movie paused and told KURU and PC. But the coincidence went over their heads because they didn't know Mr. Pibb was Coca-Cola's version of Dr. Pepper (only available down south). So the fact that the mayor added coke to Mr. Pibb compounded the meaninglessness.

I don't know whatever happened to Bob and Ronnie. But I wonder if they ever lived-up to their big life ambition of switching the "W" with the "A" on the Kissimmee WAFFLE HOUSE sign.

Monday, October 29, 2007

CALL OF THE WILD

Jack London doesn't have to worry about copyright infringement from me, but I did have a backyard animal adventure that Steve Irwin and Marlon Perkins would appreciate.

Even if you aren't one of the people I've told this story to, you won't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happens in the end.

My dog Roxy has two different calls of the wild. The first is how she expresses her need to go potty. This "call" takes place with her quietly standing still at the back window and staring into the backyard. When she is allowed out, she proceeds at a leisurely gait and sometimes she changes her mind and doesn't go out.

Her other call of the wild occurs when she becomes agitated by her spirit of territoriality. This is not done quietly or still, She'll continue pacing and/or going nuts barking, until you let her out. Once the door is opened just a crack, she runs out like the Dickens to the part of the yard that needs "protecting." (Did Charles Dickens run particularly fast? If so let me know).

This animal stuff is all new to me. I'm a city boy and while living in Brooklyn I was limited in seeing varmints. Actually, it wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration to say that other than loose domestic pets, my neighborhood offered little more than dead rats and little brown birds. So, coming to South Jersey and having rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, moles, voles, snakes and possums running (and slithering) around is kind of refreshing. I even saw a fox for the first time in my life a few months ago.

The refreshing part ends when you let the dog out and she dashes with malice at one of these uninvited guests. I sometimes worry what would happen if she ever ran down one of the critters. The point is moot because, luckily, no self-respecting squirrel, rabbit or chipmunk is ever going to be tracked down especially when they have the luxury of a head start..

Now its time to tell Watson to fetch your pipe and deerstalker hat, (that's a Sherlock Holmes reference).

A couple of weeks ago a new denizen of our backyard moved in and has taken refuge under our deck and shed. Andrew, Sue and I have all seen it and thought it might have been a gopher, hedgehog or a groundhog. We have these clues, it's not nocturnal, the backyard isn't full of holes and it's rodent-like. Its kind of big maybe 10-15 pounds, has solid brown fur but not the small eyes of a burrower.

We sometimes call him Sonic (the hedgehog) or Ralph. But I lean towards Waddles or Waddles Canal because from the back, the only way to describe his walk is; waddling.

We had a few days of rain and Roxy wasn't getting out as frequently as she liked to do her business. When the rain let-up, she seemed to be jones-ing to go out. Sue let Roxy out and instead of flying towards the fence where the squirrels hang out, she ran to the middle of the yard. Unfortunately for Waddles, that's where he was...about 75 feet back, (25 feet in front of the shed.)

Apparently Waddles is neither a heavy thinker nor an Olympic sprinter. In his life or death moment of decision with so little distance between him and the sanctuary under the shed, the moron never moved! In less than 5 seconds the dog pounced and savagely took the schmendrick in her mouth. Sue screamed as Roxy viciously twisted her head from side to side. I guess that's an instinctual maneuver to disorient their prey before killing it. This attack and Sue's screaming went on for ten seconds.

From our vantage point in the Florida-Room, it looked like the dog was ripping Waddles to pieces. Roxy finally dropped the ignoramus but Waddles did NOT waddle towards the shed. The dog picked it back up and started the process again but she lost her grip. At that time Waddles, with no sense of urgency, waddled under the shed.

Since then, I haven't seen Waddles, but I haven't seen any U-Hauls out there or rodent-size luggage either. I think he got off easy, took the hint and moved in the middle of the night. Hopefully for every one's sake, we've seen the last of Waddles Canal.

Drop me a line and give me your guess on what animal he was (is). And I'll give you whatever updates that come across my desk.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"THE UNKNOWN" should be known !

My son Andrew infrequently has patience for old movies. His impatience is typified by what he perceives to be weak special effects...therefore he would consider an "old" movie like "JURASSIC PARK" to be "so five minutes ago"...(that means; passe). If we slip back another few years to Christopher Reeves' "SUPERMAN," that whole production was laughable to him.
Such reluctance for old movies isn't reserved for today's teenagers. In fact by the time we ratchet down the "way-back" machine to silent movies, few people of any age are interested. But I hope to change that with my critique of "THE UNKNOWN" a Lon Chaney classic from 1927.

Leonidas "Lon" Chaney was born on April 1, 1883 in Colorado Springs Colorado. Both his parents were deaf and as a natural result from it, he became a master of pantomime. He started in show-biz as an errand boy in 1902. He soon took to the foot-lights and eventually worked his way into both Vaudeville and as a theatrical actor.

YOU CAN SEE WHY CHANEY PUT HIS MAKE-UP ON WITH A PUTTY-KNIFE


Fate took Chaney to Hollywood in 1912 and he was under contract with Universal Studios for five years. His spontaneous skill with make-up earned him a wide assortment of roles. In the early years, his characterizations were limited to extra work or in bit parts. But because of his artistic imagination, he was able to use his self-invented make-up techniques to transform himself into anything from a Portuguese sponge fisherman to a disfigured ogre. Dubbed, "The Man of a Thousand Faces," it soon became apparent to studio moguls that Chaney's specialty was for the macabre.HUNCHBACK (above), PHANTOM (below)


During his film career from 1912-1930, (160 movies, all silent except the last one), Chaney is most remembered for being, "THE PHANTOM of the OPERA," "THE HUNCHBACK of NOTRE DAME" and the most famous lost film ever, "LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT." In each of these, he managed to project a sympathetic image into the most monstrous roles.

In today's critique we 'll examine his talent for being the pitied villain. Please bear in mind that I am going to tell you most of the plot but not the surprise ending. If you want, I'll understand, stop reading now, find this movie on TCM or rent it, then finish it.

Set in Spain, Chaney portrays Alfonzo, a mass murderer on the run. The authorities only clue to his identity is his double thumb. Aided by his dwarf companion Cojo, Alfonzo appears at a circus as an armless man and gets hired as a knife-thrower in the freak show.

Alfonzo is paired with the circus owner's young and beautiful daughter Estrellita (Joan Crawford). She serves as his assistant. Estrellita has no idea that he HAS arms or that they are strapped down by Cojo, beneath the corset under his costume.


ALFONZO AND ESTRELLITA

At the same time, Estrellita is fighting off the amorous attentions of the show's strongman. Alfonzo, unaware that she is talking about men in general, overhears her say that she hates the thought of a man's hands on her. He interprets this as her hatred for his "rival." Believing this is his chance for true happiness, he tells Cojo of his intention to marry her. Cojo reminds him that if she agrees, she would eventually learn his secret and hate him forever.

While Estrellita has no idea that Alfonzo has feelings for her, he bribes a doctor and has his arms REALLY amputated. When he returns to the circus, he discovers that Estrellita has overcome her "hand" phobia and is in love with the strongman. I leave the rest of the story to your imagination.

This to me, this is a 3 1/2 star movie. It is insignificant that the story has tremendous believability flaws, but it shines because of Chaney and his uncanny ability to make you hate and pity him at the same time.

To ready himself for the role, Chaney taught himself several everyday activities to do with his feet instead of hands. The filmmakers DID use a stunt-double to play the violin with his feet but Chaney did everything else without special effects or trick photography. His dedication to his craft is clear in the scene where he sits dejectedly in a wheelchair with his legs draped over the side and effortlessly lights up a cigarette and smokes.

Maybe if I can get Andrew to take off his ipod's headphones off with his feet, maybe he'll watch it with me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

HOW DID NEW JERSEY GETS ITS NAME?

Hidden in our boondocks (a.k.a. the pinelands), not far from Six Flags Amusement Park in Jackson, New Jersey, there's a tiny town in Plumsted Township called; New Egypt.

When I was six years old, my family vacationed at a hotel in Lakewood. Across from the ice skating rink there was a sign that read: NEW EGYPT 20 Miles. I was intrigued by what I might find there and always thought one day I'd go. BUT, because I have a life, I never gave into this whimsy. Somehow I managed to be productive and well-adjusted all these years without kowtowing to my visions of overabundant culture.

These memories recently resurfaced when someone I met, mentioned that they spent some time there. According to him, there isn't anything Egyptian about the place. The high school football team (they don't have a high school) aren't the Screamin' Ibises. There are no street signs written in hieroglyphics, they don't have mailboxes shaped like pyramids or even a plastic scaled-down Sphinx in front of city hall. The one supermarket is an IGA and it makes no reference to Cleopatra, King Tut or Mummies. Even Oakford Lake...right in the middle of town, isn't called the Nile.

For more info I googled New Egypt and went to Wikipedia. From them, I learned that the last census gave the town a population of 2519. The people were then broken down into demographics as well as racial percentages. Oddly, individuals of Arab descent...much less specifically Egyptians, made up less than 1%. So my question is, how did the town gets its name. A COMPLETE BLANK. No one knows!

To take this naming idea of one step further, you don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out how New Mexico got its name. If you use the same logic, you can make a pretty safe guess at how New Hampshire and New York got their names...but what about New Jersey? Hampshire and York are places in England but there is no town of Jersey.
But alas, there is the Bailiwick of Jersey!

The Bailiwick of Jersey, together with Guernsey, is one of the Channel Islands. It is located off northern France's Normandy coast and below England. Like the Isle of Man, Jersey is not part of the U. K. but is referred to as a "separate possession of the crown." However, it does rely on England for defense.

It is unclear how Jersey got its name. The island's strategic locale has put it under Roman, Viking, Celtic and Latin influence...with each culture able to make a case for naming it. The indigenous language spoken there is Jerriais...a variety of Norman French. French is also used but English has become the primary language. It should be noted that in the remote parts of the island there is a grassroots movement to revitalize the teaching and use of Jerriais. This movement is now responsible for many of the signs in St. Helier (the capital and only town) to be bi-lingual.

So how did New jersey get its name? Was it named after the breed of cow? NO! Was it named after athletic shirts? NO!
Actually, its fairly simple; King Charles II of England was exiled to Jersey. In recognition of the help given him by George Carteret, the King gave Carteret a large land grant in the American colonies...which Carteret named NEW Jersey.

Other interesting Jersey tidbits include: There is a town in North-Central Jersey called Carteret.
Jersey prints its own money called pounds and they are interchangeable with English pounds.

During WWII, Jersey was occupied by Germany from July 1, 1940 until May 9, 1945. There is photo that I once saw (google couldn't help this time) of an English bobby opening an English taxi's door and giving the" Heil Hitler" salute as a German officer got out. OUCH !


Monday, October 8, 2007

THE PERFORMER FORMERLY KNOWN AS OOFTY GOOFTY

PART - I


THE PERFORMER FORMERLY KNOWN AS OOFTY GOOFTY

Growing up, we all knew some nut from the old neighborhood who would do strange things for money. I knew a kid in grammar school who'd expose himself to girls...for chump change.  He was a bright student probably wasn't "all-there" socially.  Soon the girls realized that they could get their cheap thrills without paying.  When he complained, they ridiculed him and ratted him out to his teacher. As we get older, we realize that exhibitionists come in many forms and appear all over the global stage.

Someone like, Evel Knievel made a career out of mesmerizing audiences by defying gravity and logic while breaking every bone in his body. Currently, the TV show "FEAR FACTOR" and movies like "JACKASS" also glamorize the highest levels of rash behavior. But I'm going to tell you about a knucklehead who puts them all to shame.

The History Channel's "WILD WEST TECH;" hosted by David Carradine, did a segment on San Francisco after the Gold Rush of 1849. During those crazy times, a man drifted into town to seek his fortune.  While many late-comers missed out on the gold, others like this fellow found unconventional ways to capitalize on the abundance of loose money around town.way.

The unique way this man earned his daily bread by becoming a sideshow performer.  Upon his success, this entertainer adopted the stage name, "Oofty-Goofty."

Oofty Goofty remained in San Francisco until the late nineteenth century. An author, Herbert Ashbury wrote about Goofty in his book, "BARBARY COAST, AN INFORMAL HISTORY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO UNDERWORLD."

Much of Goofty's early life is open to speculation, Herbert Ashbury believed his name was Joshua Marx, a deserter from the German army.

The nickname Oofty-Goofy was an offshoot from his act in which he billed himself as, "THE WILD MAN OF BORNEO.".During these performances, the "wild man" would continually roar, "Oofty goofty!"  Hence the moniker was born.
ANY ENTERPRISING PERSON CAN CONJURE UP A GIMMICK LIKE OOFTY-GOOFTY BUT ONLY A TRUE INNOVATIVE GENIUS CAN REINVENT HIMSELF AND THRIVE.
To dress the Wild Man of Borneo part, Goofty smeared tar over most of his body and added horsehair for realism. Unfortunately, this get-up clogged his pores and prevented him from perspiring.  In less than a week, he took ill. The hospital struggled at first, until finding the right solvent to save his life.

Goofty switched, unsuccessfully to legitimate theater. After a less than stellar performance of, "ROMEO AND JULIET," he was actually thrown out of a bar. He hit the cobblestone street hard and discovered that he was impervious to pain.

Armed with this new attention-getting device and a baseball bat, he roamed the streets and propositioned random men to hit him for a fee. Among these fees were: kick him for a dime, hit him with a billiard cue for twenty-five cents or hit him was the baseball bat for a half dollar.

This craziness not only vaulted Goofty to celebrity status in San Francisco, but he made a tidy living too. That is until destiny, in the form of boxing legend John L. Sullivan, crossed his path.
(aka THE BOSTON STRONG BOY),  JOHN L. SULLIVAN (1858-1918) WAS THE FIRST "GLOVED" HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, (1882-1892),.  HE IS ALSO RECOGNIZED AS THE LAST BARE-KNUCKLE CHAMP. ADDITIONALLY, HE WAS THE FIRST AMERICAN ATHLETE TO EARN A MILLION DOLLARS. 

Poor Goofty, Sullivan whacked him so hard with a cue stick that he broke two of his vertebrae. Goofty's bizarre career was over. He walked with a limp the rest of his life and died a short time later.

I bet you never had a jerk like that in your neighborhood. If you did, write in and tell us about it.

*



PART - II



MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND SCOOPS ESPN BY SEVEN MONTHS

This week, the Chicago Cubs were ousted from the National League playoffs. Afterwards, ESPN put together a piece identifying a hex put on them by a disgruntled fan, seventy years ago. This, "CURSE OF BILLY THE GOAT," prohibits the Cubbies from ever being world champions again.

However, if you remember in March of this year MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND beat ESPN to the story, (by about seven months).  That's when I blogged my welcome to the new baseball season by discussing that same phenomena.

If you missed this journalistic gem or want to read it again, grab your reading glasses and go to the archives and find March 26th.

So for both stories I say, "BATTER UP!"

Monday, October 1, 2007

"WE MOCK WHAT WE ARE TO BE".....or.... DIS INGER-ISH

When I was a teenager, it was common for my father to hand me something and say, "Read this to me, I don't have my glasses." At some point I began to get annoyed and eventually turned to sarcasm to express my irritation. Of course my protests were duly noted but never acted on. However, I must have left enough of an impression because dad once rebutted, "Just remember this, we mock what we are to be."

Unfortunately dad was prophetic; because now that I am saddled with my own need for reading glasses...I frequently find myself asking my son Andrew to read things.. I confess it's my own laziness and a lack of planning but misreading things has led to varying levels of hilarity...at my expense.

I recently added a Korean dollar bill to Andrew's foreign banknote collection. On the portrait, somebody had done calligraphy in large Asian (presumably Korean) characters. Before showing it to my son, I wanted to be prepared...in the expectation that he would ask me what the fancy writing said.

I mentioned the bill to a Korean co-worker and brought it in the next day for her to decipher. Unfortunately, her English skills aren't perfect and from the second she took hold of it, I could see her struggling to put the translation into words.

Finally, her first words were, "I dunno." Then, "This NOT Korean!" In frustration, she turned the bill upside down and said, "I no can help."

I was about to take it back from her when she turned it horizontal and said, "This crazy language."

I grabbed for it again and she pulled away from me. She then tilted the money on its other end and stopped. She stared up at me and said triumphantly, "Aha, I KNEW this not Korean."

I said, "It isn't? What language is it, Japanese?"

She said, "No silly man, dis Inger-ish."

Before I could put on my glasses she pointed to the letters and said, "It say, 'To Linda, good luck.'"

I don't embarrass easily but I was mortified.



*

On September 6th, our Guinea Pig "Picasso" went to rodent heaven.

Although we avoid speaking ill of the dead, Picasso simply never lived up to his colorful potential. The son of other guinea pigs, Picasso left his humble South American roots for a better life in the U. S. He applied to many pet stores and was finally accepted at Fins, Feathers & Furs at the Cardiff Circle. While waiting to be adopted, he became exposed to the propaganda rantings of a socialist cavy named Ernesto. Perhaps because of his impressionable nature, young Picasso was derailed from his dream of becoming a martyred product-tester and was manipulated into becoming a foot soldier for a counter-revolutionary movement. That is until Andrew selected him as our family pet.

When we bought Picasso we had no idea how anti-American he was. Andrew named him Picasso because of his odd coloration,. However, from an aerial view five hundred-feet up, our guinea pig's coat had been dyed to a reasonable facsimile of the Venezuelan flag.

Picasso was showered with our family's love and affection and all seemed normal. Eventually our attention caused him to waver in his socialist beliefs and soon, he expressed a sincere patriotism for the good old U. S. of A.

These notions were verified after his death when we read some of his old E-Mails. In these correspondences, he indicated a greater joy in running free on the vast carpets of America. He also made it clear that he appreciated the freedom to gnaw on the communication wiring of this powerful nation or to chew on the walls of the very foundation of democracy.

Problems surfaced when Picasso learned of his beloved predecessor, Cutie or as he was commonly know as: Zhitnik. Zhitnik was a great family pet who loved being left over night on narrow furniture ledges and playing *hide and seek. *(He excelled at hiding...sometimes for days at a time but was a less than enthusiastic seeker). Zhitnik loved the attention of children and handled being pawed at by visitors gracefully. He also excelled in traveling to school to entertain large crowds of second graders.

Moreover, Zhitnik liked quiet Norman Rockwell-like evenings with the whole family. He liked sitting on human shoulders and watching TV. At these times, during commercials, he loved to play, "Pass the Pig." A take-off of "Hot Potato" Andrew, Mommy and I would keep handing off our little Zhitnik until he peed on the loser...truly hours of fun.

Picasso yearned for such fun but his anti-capitalist spin on life cut the joy out of most everything. He finally sank completely back into anti-American sentiments when we brought our dog Roxy into the house. Immediately Picasso protested. In defiance of house rules, he began throwing litter from his cage. This action caused him to be relegated to one of the back bedrooms. Cut-off from the mainstream, he began calling himself Che and calling for the death of his oppressors.

DURING A RARE MOMENT OF CALM IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP, THE PIG EXPLAINS THE REBELLION TO THE DOG. ROXY BEING APOLITICAL, POLITELY PRETENDS TO BE INTERESTED. LATER, SHE CORRECTLY "RATTED" OUT THE WEASEL

Nevertheless we'll always remember the good times with Picasso and his loud chirp that when translated meant, "Even though your lettuce has been picked by my exploited illegal immigrant cousins, give me more. Because I don't know what you infidels put in it...but I crave it nightly."


*

Let me get my glasses so I can proof read this bef@re I send it out.

Monday, September 24, 2007

FAT BURGER

"FAT BURGER" has come to Atlantic City.

While this statement might have little impact on the vegetarian segment of my readership, everyone else will likely flock over to the Borgata Casino's food court, to over-pay for America's next hamburger franchise giant.

A smash throughout California, FAT BURGER was founded in Los Angeles by Ms. Lovie Yancey in 1952. Buoyed by the slogan, "The last great hamburger stand," their gimmick is fast-food...cooked to order. After you make your selections, Fat Burger gives you a number. When your food is ready, an employee delivers it to your table.

Their ambiance also includes a free jukebox at every location...however you can pay for YOUR song to be played ahead of all the freebies. I also learned from Wikipedia that references to Fat Burger on TV, movies and song lyrics are plentiful. Apparently it was a common destination for Lamont Sanford on "Sanford and Son."

Fat Burger's popularity helped them expand and by the early 1990's, it spread throughout the west and into Canada. New Jersey now boasts three Fat Burger locations and 82 more national franchises are already in the works.

Later this week, I will be returning to Fat Burger for the first time in 27 years. My first visit was with a friend from Las Vegas, Jeff, who was featured in my short story, "LOOKING DOWN AT LAS VEGAS."

While in LA, Jeff and I looked up Len, the brother of one of my college buddies. Len, I later learned was unemployed in the truest sense of the word and had no car...but he was kind enough to show us around LA in Jeff's car and let us treat him to lunch.

Later, he had us drive him to Beverly Hills to see a Mohammad Ali boxing match on cable. In 1980, cable TV was not widespread and seemed reserved for only the most affluent of affluent people. As we pulled up to a mansion, Paul Newman's joint was pointed out up the street. Len then added, George C. Scott's property touches this one out back. At the door, we were unceremoniously greeted and let in.

The long, wide bluish foyer featured giant tube-like fish tanks inlaid into the wall. Like a small version of the Baltimore Aquarium, these tubes snaked over doorway and seemed to go into all the other rooms. (I once mentioned these fish tanks to one of my readers, Mikeinmacao, he's a tropical fish enthusiast...and he assured me that you'd have to be filthy rich just to keep the tanks clean).

The room with the TV (it was probably 19-inch...affluence in terms of TV screen size certainly has skyrocketed since 1980), also had the fish tanks. The fight was already in progress and the room was clouded with various kinds of smoke and littered with stoned bodies.

The only reason why we wound up at this "party" was Len acted as a middle man in cocaine deals...getting a commission from both ends. You may recall that I used this concept in my novel, "IF IT AIN'T NAILED DOWN," as a way for the main character (Dennis LaRue) to accumulate cash resources to fund his goal in life.

Before Len left us, he pointed out a young adult curled in a corner who was seemingly hallucinating on something.
He said, "Do you recognize him?"
Jeff and I said, "No."
Len said, "He was one of the twin little boys from the old TV show, "Please Don't Eat the Daisies."
Through the dark blueness, upon closer examination, he was right.

There were too many people standing in front of the TV so Jeff and I were stuck chit-chatting by ourselves, looking at the fish or watching the kid from TV convulse.
When Len returned, he said, "Let's go."

In the car, he bragged about his "cut" and explained the nature of his business. He then fanned-out a fist full of money and said, "I'm taking us out to eat."

Considering we took him for Japanese food for lunch, we expected something substantial.

Jeff and I were LA illiterate and had no way of knowing we were being taken to the "hood." But that was where Fat Burger was. Surrounded by luxury sports cars, we parked and stood on line at an outside window with the "beautiful people." I remembering thinking Len was so cool because he seemed to know everyone. But after we got our food...he had us run back to the car. Despite eating in the car...I remember it being an especially good burger.

My return visit to Fat Burger at the Borgata Casino will coincide with my attendance at their employee talent show. Somehow I don't think I'll be relating how great the show was...and hopefully, I won't be blogging it either because it was awful. Nevertheless, I'll let you know if there's a vegetarian menu and if FAT BURGER employees really scream, "FAT TIP!" each time someone gives them a gratuity.

Monday, September 17, 2007

METS JEKYLL & METS HYDE

Robert Louis Stevenson must have been a Mets fan. As this season of earned and expected greatness dwindles away...so it seems are the Mets hopes to even get into the playoff.

Although I try to steer away from sports in my columns, today's edition is...in a twisted way, both related to football and my beloved New York Mets. So, submitted for your approval, is the strange circumstances of a roller coaster Jekyll and Hyde night I had a few years back.

In March of 2005, my friend, crime author extraordinaire Charlie Stella had a book signing party in a bar across the street from the Empire State Building. I had visited my mom during the afternoon and timed my party arrival to be fashionably late. My excitement grew steadily as drove against the bulk of the lower Manhattan traffic...until I was about twenty blocks from the target area. The next 45 minutes of inching along dampened my mood and I was completely pissed when I found out that parking was going to cost a fortune, ($32.00 for almost 4 hours).

But as soon as I walked into the bar, (I think it was called McHottigan's or Moe's Tavern or something like that) I knew...I had stepped into; aspiring author heaven.

Charlie is what people in the bar trade call a happy drunk. In fact; amongst other happy drunks, Charlie shines above them all. In his happy way, he introduced me as an up-and-coming author to his inner circle of author friends. The ones I spoke to (and there were many) warmly accepted me as a member of their "club."

Charlie and I went to High School together and were teammates on the Canarsie Chiefs football team (1970-1972). He said he invited a couple of other players and one showed up as I was chatting with the "Queen of Noir," Vicki Hendricks. She wrote "MIAMI PURITY" a book I enthusiastically recommended in "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND" shortly thereafter.

Unfortunately for me, the ex-teammate who showed-up and I didn't get along in High School. He was so self-absorbed in his off the field exploits, that he never acknowledged the fact that he almost never stepped ON the field. Nevertheless, I approached Mr. Cool and I was happily surprised that despite being a wealthy computer executive living in Bangkok, Thailand, he was earthy and fun to reminisce with. All things were going so well when he dropped a bomb on me that made me want to hug him.

In our junior year I dated a girl from another high school and she surprised me by attending the Erasmus game. We slaughtered them and when the game was over, the spectators rushed onto the field to congratulate us. In the height of my glory, she surprised me by emerging from out of the crowd to hug me on the field. That moment has ALWAYS been one of the highlights of my life!

Well as I'm strolling down Memory Lane with Mr. Cool, he brings up that game and says, "When your girlfriend ran on the field and hugged you, I was so jealous." You could have knocked me over with a feather. My great moment, 33 years later, was made better by the most unlikely source.

Later, while basking in the euphoria of talking shop with authors and having my on-field hug remembered; Charlie calls me over. He's with a group that includes other successful writers such as; Jason Starr, his author girlfriend (I forgot her name) and an author/illustrator with an Irish brogue named Pat . We are all exchanging funny stories when someone brings up spring training and the New York Mets.

KURUDAVE once told be a joke about the Mets and I had retold it with great success, several times. So I was confident that these drunks would appreciate it. Well the joke bombed! I told it right...they all listened with big smiles and when I got to the punchline, their collective jaws dropped and they looked at me like I was a depraved lunatic.

In just a matter of seconds I went from first to worst on the self-esteem meter. In the car, it was a long self-deprecating drive home. When I called Charlie a few days later, he didn't remember my joke and said his friends liked me.

Oh, you want to hear the joke, eh!

Its the custody phase of a divorce trial and judge asks the nine-year old boy, "Do you want to live with your mother?"
"NO!"
"Why?" asks the judge.
The kid says, "Because she beats me!"
"Oh," says the judge. "So you want to live with your father."
"NO!"
"Why don't you want to live with your father?"
"Because he beats me!"
The judge ponders the situation and says, "They both beat you?"
"Yes."
"Well," the judge says, "if you don't want to live with your mother or father...who do you want to live with?"
"Judge, I want to live with the New York Mets!"
"I'm sorry son, I don't understand...why the Mets?"
The boy shrugs and says, "The Mets don't beat anybody."

Monday, September 3, 2007

HAPPY LABOR DAY

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...yesterday, September 2nd was my anniversary of starting craps dealer school...I've now been in the gaming industry 29 years.

Its easy to bemoan a casino career; after all it is overwhelmingly a "dead-end job." The odd-ball hours of shift work and missing out on holidays, and family functions leaves most of us with a irreplaceable psychological divot. Plus, the job is physically grueling (standing in place and making repetitive motions), unsafe (second-hand smoke) and is set in a hostile atmosphere (serving customers who are losing their money and drinking...who can become disorderly and threatening). If that wasn't enough, the staff constantly fears corporate cut-backs, diminished benefits and/or lay-offs.

Nevertheless there are a few dinosaurs like me, who have endured beyond the unofficial 5-year "burn-out" expectancy for casino games personnel and have made a decent living at it. For such an accomplishment, we should all be put in a mental institution or given a commendation! And there is no better time recognize such a feat than Labor Day.

For those of you who never gave it any thought, Labor Day recognizes over 99.9% of us...the workers. Whether you are rich or poor, nearly everyone over twelve has been a worker in one form or another. And it is in honoring all of us, that Labor Day has become a national DAY OFF...unless of course you're in a service industry such as casino gambling...then instead of barbecuing, you were on the job GETTING fried.


*

Somewhere out in Las Vegas is my BFFL, Frank. The length of our casino careers are virtually parallel. We remain close because in the early days we served as each others wing-man during my five years out west. Many of our adventures were inspirations for my short stories.

One such episode occurred during the first week of January 1979. Our gaming school's job placement service hooked Frank up at one of the worse dealing jobs in Las Vegas; the Slots-A-Fun Casino. In terms of prestige, Slots-A-Fun was the E-Coli trapped between the bottom of your shoe and the dog crap you stepped in. In terms of financial re numeration (grossing about $150.00/week)... it was far worse.

SLOTS-A-FUN NEVER LOOKED THIS GOOD IN 1979 !

Frank was already working there six weeks went I hit town and you guessed it, I was placed there too. I looked him up and Frank graciously let me and this other guy John, sleep on his floor until we got settled.

I woke up that first morning and felt a sore throat coming on. I told Frank and his roommate Bill and they poured me a shot of generic scotch...for medicinal purposes...in a reddish, brown stained glass. As you may know, I am easily skeeved so drinking from a glass I couldn't see through wasn't going to be easy. Frank, Bill and John saw me hesitate so I made a lame excuse that it was ten in the morning. Outside the newspaper slammed against the front door. Frank retrieved it and I thought I was off the hook. But he came back and led the others into shaming me over my medicine. When I brought the cheap hooch up to my lips, I stopped. Impatiently, Frank grabbed my elbow and lifted it up. The scotch burst into my mouth and I gagged. After coughing my head off, I slugged the dose down like a champ...whatever remnants of my childhood that still remained...died at that moment.

Frank started reading the paper and suddenly burst out his front door. He came back a few seconds later after stealing his neighbor's paper. He tore out a coupon from his paper and then did the same from the neighbor's. He then asked to borrow John's car while he worked. Later, we dropped John off at the Nevada Club, an equally crappy break-in house.

Frank gave me a guided tour of the city. Back downtown, Frank crossed Bonanza Avenue and said, "Now we're in North Las Vegas. They have casinos too. Let's have lunch at the Silver Nugget, I hope you like chili."

Sitting on its own separate lot, the Silver Nugget seemed bigger than most of the downtown casinos. Its large, empty parking started in front, wrapped around both sides and extended out back. Inside, the place was a ghost town. The coffee shop looked empty too except Dixie the hostess...who should have had "BITCH" tattooed on her forehead...was lecturing several employees at the cash register. Behind her back, our waitress Ynez sneered at Dixie as we were led to a table.

Ynez was friendly but her face lost its glow when Frank set down the coupons for; a bowl of chili and a 16-ounce draught beer for a quarter. Frank took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with a napkin as we waited. After eating, we lingered for a half hour as Frank rattled off one horror story after another about Slots-A-Fun . In that time, we also watched Dixie snap at the other workers between seating five other parties.


Later, Frank picked up the check and said to me, "Fifty-three cents! This check is ridiculous, if I was you, I'd refuse to pay it." We were laughing when a busboy carrying a palette of water glasses accidentally knocked a pepper shaker on the floor. Dixie made a federal case out of it and called Ynez and another waitress over to witness her go off on the poor guy...the damned thing didn't even break.

Frank said, "Its time to dine and dash."
Of course I said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "Shut-up, let's go and get ready to run."

Outside, we high-fived each other over beating the joint for a 53c check.
I was waiting for Frank to unlock my door when he said, "Oh shit, I left John's keys on the table." I waited as Frank slithered back in.

A minute later, he came back out and said, "That #!@#?! bitch (he didn't actually say bitch) Dixie was waiting for me. She was twirling the keys and said, 'Forget something buddy?' I panicked. I handed her a fin, grabbed the keys and ran out. As I was leaving she called me every name in the book. Then, just as I got to the door she said, 'Hey low-life, sure you got everything?' I turned around and that piece of shit had my glasses."

Three days later, I started my casino dealing career and haven't stopped telling stories about it yet.

Monday, August 27, 2007

THE HEARST CASTLE; AMERICA'S BEST KEPT TOURIST SECRET

In 1977, a close friend had bachelor party...that never happened.

On the way to his big event, my friend who was NOT a drinker, quietly sat in the back of my car and unbeknownst to another friend and I, drank half a bottle of cheap wine...Blue Nun, to be specific.

By the time we got into Manhattan, he was ranting. After we parked, he became so loud and obnoxious that our entire group of eleven was refused entry into the comedy club "Catch A Rising Star." The future groom was so whacked and out of control that his younger brother (Mr. I'm Too Cool For Everybody), volunteered to take him home. Our pointless night took the rest of us to an empty "old-man" bar where we chased 95c shots with 40c six-ounce Piels draughts... and went home.

A couple of days later, a twist in the story gave it a happy ending. My friend (the future groom) said his brother struggled to keep him on his feet until they got their apartment's door. His brother propped him against the wall with one hand. Then grappled with a ton of other crap in his pocket to get his keys. When he fumbled the keys, they dropped to the floor.  My teetering friend was difficult to keep on his feet as his brother bent down to retrieved them.  That's when my friend vomited on Mr. I'm Too Cool For Everyone's head.

Today's blog features that same friend, more specifically his wife. Before they got married, someone once said that I was jealous of his wife because she kept him and I apart. This wasn't at all true however, I was jealous of HIM...not in any kind of weird way...but because that nimrod had such a wonderful girl.

Down-to-earth, intelligent, pretty and funny, the reality was, I enjoyed her company more than his. After college, he and I went our separate ways until a chance encounter when I lived in Las Vegas. He was living in Los Angeles and was attending a business seminar at the Flamingo-Hilton. Our schedules clashed while he was in town so we promised to keep in touch.

Months later in May 1980, I heard about the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California. I arranged to borrow my roommate's car and called my friend in L. A. He cleared the day and I set-out for my first drive through the Mojave Desert. That leg of the trip can be saved for another time but its safe to say that before cell-phones, Map-Quest and lap-tops; it seemed like was a death-defying experience to a first-timer...flying solo...in someone else's car.

When I arrived, I was informed that my friend couldn't go because he had to firm-up the finer details of a new business venture. However, he asked if it would be all right if his wife went in his place, (the deal he was working on resulted in him buying a worm farm in Maine...that's right, you read it correctly, a worm farm in Maine).

The next morning, I was elated by this change of events. She and I set-out for one of the happiest non-family related days of my life. The scenic drive through Oxnard, Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach along coast highway (Route-1) was memorable. But the one thing that was more beautiful than our surroundings was, her. The therapeutic conversation flowed as we spoke and laughed for 195 miles.

Just past the town of San Luis Obispo in San Simeon, the Hearst Castle is cut into the jagged cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean .

THE BIG HOUSE "CASA GRANDE," (rear). THIS PICTURE DOESN'T DO JUSTICE TO THE PROPERTY'S SCOPE.

La Cuesta Encantada or "Enchanted Hill" was built as a pleasure palace by newspaper publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (Patty Hearst's grandfather). Construction started in 1919, continued for more than thirty years and was never considered finished. This oblong complex includes: a 115-room main house, guests houses and pools as well as 8 acres of cultivated gardens, and the ever-popular "so much more."

AERIAL PHOTOS CAN'T DEMONSTRATE THE ESTATE'S VASTNESS.

In these corporate times, it's hard to imagine an individual could ever own so much stuff. To accumulate it, Hearst treated Europe's financial hardships prior to and during WWI like a colossal yard sale. He bought up unimaginable volumes of antiques and art treasures and decorated his houses to the delight of visitors such as: President Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Lindbergh as well as Charlie Chaplin and hundreds of other Hollywood luminaries and business moguls.

After Hearst's death, his heirs donated the land and everything on it to the state of California. The curator's then divided the castle into three separate tours. I don't recall which one we took or how they differed but I would expect them to all be worthwhile.

Our drive back to L. A. was capped-off with a detour into the mountains of Santa Barbara. She recommended a favorite restaurant and I wasn't disappointed. Overlooking the Pacific, this famous shack-like eatery (the name escapes me) was rustic (open air...no windows), yet elegant.

Twenty-seven years later, I still refer to the Hearst Castle as our country's best kept tourist secret. In 1995, I wanted to recreate that day when my family and I were in San Diego but it was too far to take baby Andrew. I'd love to go back but until I do, I can still Google it to refresh the great memories. You should check it out too and tell me how right I was.

Monday, August 20, 2007

WE DON'T GO CAMPING...BUT PROBABLY WILL ! ?

The story below is not embellished.  The events at the Navasink Falls are forever burnt into my mind because it combined humor and the real potential for tragedy.  So it seems incredible that after thirty-five years when FACEBOOK re-united me with two other witnesses, neither of them remembered the incident.

Hospitality Creek is the campground that my family was invited to last week. Near Williamstown NJ, about thirty west of Atlantic City this pleasant oasis is hidden behind the thin line of trees along Route 322.

This beautiful and immaculate property is impressive.  It has a large man-made lake (complete with live swans) , a state-of-the-art kiddie water park and an in-ground pool.

Our hosts took us lakeside and nestled under the trees, we picnicked. My son Andrew knew a lot of the kids from school and we watched them thrash about in the lake.

Later we took a tour of the grounds.  You'd be in heaven if you like seeing every type of camping vehicle; luxury mobile homes, Winnebagos, slide-out campers and tents. One family brought up six kayaks and we all got a chance to use them.

Later with a hardened shell of big spray covering 95% of our bodies, we had a barbecue and socialized with other couples.  Our kids ran off the burgers, hot dogs and chips by playing "man-hunt" and chasing each other through the woods.

At ten-thirty there is a curfew which signals the beginning of the real kid fun. In the ninety minutes that followed, twenty or so of Andrew's friends experienced the joy of border line juvenile delinquency as they ran around trying to avoid getting caught by the "Golf-Cart Nazi." He's the eighty-year old who patrols the joint after dark.

At midnight, we drove home and took much appreciated showers.

The whole campground experience reminded me of the bygone era of bungalow colonies. I'm guessing that bungalow colonies still exist but that they are being phased-out and are evolving into such camping meccas as Hospitality Creek.  It's a similar concept except your home/shelter is mobile and you can take it with you wherever you want to go, (like a half hour from home).

Seeing the fun my son had running around in the dark reminded me of the story referenced in the opening of this blog.  I was twenty and we had great times at a friend's bungalow colony outside New Paltz NY.  The actual town was Accord (they pronounced it Ah-Cord not Uh-Cord).  The height of this weekend was the memorable experience at a nearby swimming hole called Navasink Falls.

Our destination was a long walk through the woods. When the trail ended, we had to tip-toe along an ever-growing trickle of water. This rivulet deepened to a ten-inch stream and emptied into a deep, oblong lagoon. At the far end of this secret paradise there was a thirty-foot high cement foundation for an obsolete train trestle.

On this occasion, we were six couples sunning ourselves after swimming and jumping off a lower ledge of the cement foundation. The locals teenagers occupied the top of this platform and the brave ones did magnificent dives from that great height.

We were there an hour when in the distance, we saw other friends (the nerd couple Dave and Candace...don't call her Candy).  They were carefully navigating the stream as they emerged from the treeline. They were made for each other; aside from being a pair of dull milquetoasts, they were also as pale as they could possibly be without being albinos. Typical of them, despite it being 90 degrees, they were wearing shoes, jeans and button-down shirts.

Dave held her hand.  At the agonizing pace of a snail, they maneuvered inch by inch from dry rock to dry rock. Suddenly, Candace slipped and fell face-down into the depths of the ten-inch water. Mind you, the apparent drama queen's back never got wet as she kicked, floundered and screamed. We were all laughing until Dave (the big wuss) while standing next to the victim yelled, "Help, help she's drowning!"

All our unwitting hero had to do was encourage her to get to her knees, pull her up by her shirt collar, (or grab the sluggette's long strawberry blond hair and yank her up).  Instead Dave kept hollering, "Help me, help me." None of us budged. Then, like Tarzan, a local kid dove off the top of the trestle, swam a hundred yards against the current and pulled Candy's...I mean Candace's head from the water.  He might have saved that moron's life.

Now that's the kind of memories I wish for my son. He might even get them because today we got an E-mail from our Hospitality Creek host and we were invited/encouraged to do an over-nighter with them next year. I didn't think we did the camping thing...but probably will.