Monday, September 24, 2007


"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


Robert Louis Stevenson must have been a Mets fan. As this season of earned and expected greatness dwindles 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 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?"
"Why?" asks the judge.
The kid says, "Because she beats me!"
"Oh," says the judge. "So you want to live with your father."
"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?"
"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


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.


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 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.