Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Yesterday's ATLANTIC CITY PRESS article about ferrets has spurred my memory of two stories.The first centers on a blackjack student from my dealer school named Phil. Phil, a Colombian-American was fluent in English. He liked teaching me the nuances of Spanish and found it both funny and challenging to improve my bastardized version of his language, (to a small degree, he succeeded). But Phil's true passion was in sharing his adventures as a ferret owner and breeder.

During his time at the school, I took part in an educational conference in Miami. After dinner, I attached myself to a small group of attendees and we strolled through Miami's slum-like downtown business district. It was around 9:30PM and the closed stores, to protect their windows, had their iron gates down.

This area has a large Cuban population and caters to a predominately Hispanic community. In a
mixture of Spanish and English , the signs above the businesses' shuddered windows were the only way to identify the stores. So next to Pepe's Tacquitos (Taco Stand) was Ulmstead's Dry Cleaners etc. What truly caught my eye was a gigantic three-story store with a buzzing neon sign that read: F-E-R-R-E-T-E-R-I-A.

I was unable to see inside because of the security gates and assumed it was a million dollar idea...a ferret inspired, super-sized, pet department store. These were the late 80's and I had never dreamt of the concept of PETSMART or PETCO.
Back in the school, I couldn't wait to tell Phil of my ferret store discovery. Well Phil laughed and laughed. I guessed from his acute joy that I should brace myself for some level of humiliation.

When he calmed down he exaggerated the pronunciation to rhyme with cafeteria and sneered, "A ferreteria?"
I hesitated and said, "Well, yeah."
"Did the last 'E' have an accent mark on it?"
I shrugged, "Maybe?"
"Well you idiot," he said. "That's not a ferreteria, its a ferr-ret-TAH-REE-ah. A ferr-ret-TAH-REE-ah, is the Spanish word for hardware store!

The second episode is an excerpt from my short story RETREADS. This story is so accurate that it DOESN'T use my usual 5% embellishment factor. Yes, some names were changed but these events are true.

At a time when cocaine was still considered a "safe" and recreational drug, I dealt craps in Las Vegas at the Holiday International Casino. It was a beautiful new building in a terrible location, serving mostly low-limit locals.

The two primary characters here were: Paul "Shag" Darrow our cocaine dependant pit boss and my boxman (immediate supervisor) Dick Paine, (yes, his name was Dick Paine...if you want to hear what's what with his (real) name, read RETREADS).

Shag was a spoiled kid who was raised in upscale Newport Beach California. He had been juiced into a couple of great jobs and eventually...because of his cocaine habit, fell (as a retread) to the depths of the Holiday.

Shag had some sort of fetish for vermin. He loved it when I told him stories of water bugs, maggots, lice and roaches but for some odd reason, he preferred to hear about rats. One particular rat story that he made me repeat several times, was based on my experiences in the New York City subway.

One night around 3AM our craps table was jammed with retirees waiting for the wives to get out of the last bingo session. The biggest bet on the table was $3.00 and Shag who was flying on coke was bored. An acquaintance of Shag came into the casino wth a caged ferret. This fellow had a bunch more in the car and wanted to sell them to the workers.

Shag never saw a ferret and naively asked, "Is that a rat?"
The guy said, "Not exactly, its more like a weasel...but its in the rodent family."
Shag said, "It looks vicious, does it bite?"
The guy said, "No, they're great pets and kids love 'em."

I was dealing next to boxman Dick Paine. His job was to put the money in the "drop-box," oversee the dealer's pay-offs and keep the tempo of the game up.

Dick was not the smartest in the world but its also possible that he didn't hear Shag say to the ferret man, (they were right behind us), "Take the rat out, I want to hold it."

Despite having a lot of little action on my game, I looked over my shoulder and saw Shag with the furry critter inch closer to the table. When he was between Dick and I, he dropped the ferret onto the craps layout. The bugger ran in a great oval, knocking over bets, scattering the dealers working stacks and destroying the bank.

Everyone was laughing except Dick Paine. Like a complete moron, he tried to grab the agile creature which only made it funnier. Finally, he lunged and grabbed it. The terrified ferret took a nip out of his thumb. Dick was already stretched out across the layout, yelped in agony and then his feet came out from under him. Dick smashed his face into the layout and broke his nose.

A couple of laps later, Dick corralled the ferret, handed it back to the guy and squawked, "I thought you said these bastards don't bite." Angrily he showed the guy his thumb and wailed, "Oh Christ oh mighty...I'm bleedin'."
He was referring to his finger but blood was also dripping from his nose. After Shag laughed in his face, Dick was sent to the infirmary.

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