Monday, December 29, 2008


I had a "Dickens-like" brush with death on December 31, 1979.

A few years ago, invisible to the world, I stood along side the specter known as the Grim Reaper. He had me re-hash the consequences of being a wise-guy and disrespecting my elders. His message was so clear that I included that episode into a passage in my short story, "RIDEOUT, WHITE-OUT & RIGHT-OUT."

Even if "death" is an exaggeration in this situation, the dire nature of that afternoon at Hotel Fremont most certainly would have caused me a higher level of brain damage than I already possess.

Hersh Schtiermann was a robust hulk in his early seventies. He had recently retired and re-located to Vegas. A few times a week, Hersh came into the casino to play craps, (from the DON'T...which means, he bets for the shooter to lose). A powerful man of stature and will, he liked to gamble among the sea of penny-ante players. Schtiermann's hundred dollar black chip bets, stacked three high, stood-out against the ubiquitous yellow twenty-five cent chips that cluttered the rest of the lay-out.

The dealers and supervisors at the Fremont shuddered when Schtiermann approached and hoped he wouldn't land on their table. Even worse, regardless of the high-level of pampering he received, Hersh was still a demanding, impatient and volatile "stiff," (didn't tip). He was even more of a high-maintenance nightmare because he was chummy with our casino manager.

It was a shock to me and my co-workers when on December 31, 1979, we saw our floor supervisor, Tyree Theodore Taylor, a.k.a., "T," orienting Schtiermann to the finer points of being a boxman. "T" was pointing out that the bottom-heavy boxman's stool was broken and seemed attached to floor. He was demonstrating how to adjust it when I took my position next to Hersh.

In a gravel-voice that matched his tough facade, Schtiermann was surprisingly pleasant. Soon, in a brash yet sophisticated manner, he even confided in me that his friend the casino manager, had "juiced" him into the job so that he could stay around the action without gambling. During the early part of that shift, everything on our table was light and easy. The time flew by and in a grandfatherly way, I began to enjoy Hersh's company...especially when he whispered condescending comments about the small-time gamblers.

After noon, the holiday crowd increased and our game's pace picked-up. It then became obvious that Schtiermann was "buried," (clueless to all aspects of craps that didn't pertain to the DON'T). My first hint that proved his lack of game knowledge occurred when I asked for an "OFF " button and Hersh snapped, "What f--- is an off button?"

Later there was a lost six-dollar place bet. The player based his claim on incompetence but Hersh wouldn't listened and blindly supported that dealer.
When the player became livid and demanded satisfaction Schtiermann adamantly said, "No!"
"T," our floor supervisor said, "Hersh, set the bet up, pay it and keep the game moving."
Hersh said, "He's a liar."
"T" said, "That's okay, we'll just watch him more closely."
Hersh growled, "No! I'm not giving that cheapskate, s---! Get the pit boss."
The player said, "Who does this jerk think he is?"

Schtiermann was so muscular that when he slammed his fist onto the table you got a sense that he had worked hard his whole life. Enraged, he rose-up, ranted profanity, leaned forward and swiped his bear-claw hand at the player's throat. The spry player jumped back. If Hersh had gotten a hold of him, I think he was angry enough to have strangled the poor bugger.
From a safe distance, the guy then taunted Hersh. Schtiermann seethed in frustrated.
When the man eased back to his original position, Hersh found the range, spit in the fellow's face and hollered, "Give that low-life all his money and throw him out."
The player gathered his chips and left.

By 2 o'clock, with our craps game was out of control, Hersh was back to his jolly self . We were getting along great as he shared more and more personal information with me even though my side of the table was crammed with ten players (six is usually considered full). After plowing through my succession of field, don't come and come bets, I began to pay my place bets. I was halfway through that progression when the stickman pre-maturely told me, "Give this player fifty cents change."
I didn't respond, adhered to my procedure and continued paying place-bets.
Schtiermann with no idea of dealing sequence pointed across the table and said, "Give that piss-ant half-a-buck."

Incorrectly thinking I had reached a certain level of simpatico with the man, I stood straight-up, gestured to the mass of place-bets that still had to be paid, dipped into obvious sarcasm...that I thought he'd appreciate and said, "Don't you think I have more important things to do first?"

When I got to last bet, I heard the crowd hush. I looked up and saw the bewilderment in the player's eyes. Instinctively, I turned around. Schtiermann, with veins bulging from the side of his liver-spotted head, had already stood-up and picked-up the stool, (remember that was the one that was so heavy and cumbersome that everyone joked that it was welded to floor). His face contorted and looked crazy as he cocked it back, like a baseball bat ready to crash down on my head. In that second, "T"came-up from behind and knocked the chair out of his hand. The loudness of the crash turned every one's head in the Fremont. White foam formed at the corners of Schtiermann's mouth as "T' got between us. He repeatedly cursed me and interwove, "I'll kill you," countless times before the pit-boss and a security guard were able to subdue him. Moments later, Hersh was led away by the casino manager and replaced.

At 6 o'clock, my crew was relieved by swing-shift exactly on time. The pit-boss called us over to his pit-stand and told us, "Report for duty at 8:AM tomorrow morning.
One of the other dealers said, "Hey, we're off!"
The pit-boss pointed to the schedule and scoffed, "Don't complain to me, there it is in black and white."
We looked down and saw that the typewritten word "OFF," for New Year's Day, on our weekly schedule sheet had been painted over. On top of it, handwritten in red ink was, "8:AM."
The pit-boss leered at me and said, "Don't squawk, after what you knuckleheads (he didn't really call us that) did today, you're lucky to have jobs.

In one of the shortest casino supervising careers in history, (five and three-quarter hours) Hersh Schtiermann never returned to work. The next (and last) time I saw him was two years later when he walked through the Stardust with his wife. After I gave him a polite hello, he took me aside, squeezed the life out of my forearm and stated, "You're a f--king wise-guy and always're lucky I didn't have you killed.
God bless us...everyone. Have a lets hope 2009 is a HAPPY NEW YEAR for all of us !

When ZYMBOT reads this I hope he appreciates that Hersh Schtiermann's name was made-up. And more importantly, this blithering is for his (everyone's) entertainment and although there might be a 5% embellishment factor, this, and all such material concerning my experiences...unless otherwise specified, are true.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I haven't been everywhere but I've seen and gone through my share of odd-ball places. Now, let me tell you why there's no Wal-Mart in Santa Claus Arizona.

Unless you've a first-timer going through the desert, the two-lane drive on Highway-93 from Las Vegas to Phoenix is the epitome of tedium. Highlighted by continuous flat, brown nothingness and punctuated by the occasional eye-sore, called Joshua trees, even the impressive saguaros (giant cacti) lose their oomph after seeing the millionth one.

Like any desert, you don't want to have an automotive break-down out there. That is why the little mirage-like towns along the way act as an oasis in the wilderness. On that road, the border from Nevada is identified by Hoover Dam. Yes, you should stop and check-out this testimony to American ingenuity. It's a true modern engineering marvel that proved that necessity (the Great Depression) can be the mother of invention. But unless you are a total geek who absolutely MUST experience the quintessence of dullness... you can miss the can appreciate enough of it by parking, finding the visitor center, scenic over-looks and gift shop.

Once in Arizona, the first stop is Kingman. If you are a city-boy (person) like me, you'll notice that this is a lonely dot in the middle of nowhere. However, after you pass through you'll soon realize that it is a megalopolis compared to the other places out there. When I look back, the towns seemed to get smaller as you roll into Wickenburg, Wittman, Baghdad and Wikieup. (If you read my novel, a crowning moment in Dennis' detour to Vegas occurs at the filling station/Greyhound Depot/post office in Wikieup). However, Wikieup was not the smallest town on 93 !

The uninhabited ghost town of Santa Claus had one building (that I could see) , a closed-up Christmas shop. Before I started this investigative report, I guessed that they must have relied too heavily on a booming mail-order business or on bored-to-tears travelers to come in. But Santa Claus or Santa Claus Acres as some people called it, did have a hey-day...okay, a short hey-day but a hey-day nevertheless.

Inspired by a realtor trying to attract buyers to her local land parcels, the idea of a North Pole, Santa's workshop and Christmas theme resort came to be. Established in 1937 and spear-headed by the Santa Claus Inn (originally called the Kit Carson Guest House), the town became a full-fledged tourist destination by 1942. It boasted a year-round Santa Claus on duty and a replica toy factory operated by elves, (I am uncertain if these were actual elves, cheap foreign knock-offs or the mechanical kind). Also, for a small fee, (mainly around the holidays) people from around the world would mail their cards and gifts there so that they could be re-mailed with a Santa Claus Arizona postmark.

The realtor's vision never materialized and the town began declining by 1949. For a while the Christmas shop remained but eventually closed. By the mid-70's Santa Claus was officially removed from all new maps by the state of Arizona. So what I saw in 1984 was a single dilapidated building that had laid idle for years. Apparently there were other buildings that I didn't see because the land office and post office among others, didn't close until 1995.

These days, without Santa Claus as it's anchor, the gem of Mohave County has become the tiny hamlet of Chloride Arizona. From Santa Claus (the signs are still there), travel along Hermit Drive until you pass the slightly more scintillating berg of Grasshopper Junction. Then a mere jackalope's throw further, its on to Chloride, where you'll find the metal statues of a tourist mecca called, "The Junk Art Chloride."


Monday, December 15, 2008


The holiday season is right around the corner and no concept sums up this time of year better than the phrase, "GOOD WILL TOWARDS MAN." That is, unless you have a neighbor like my BOOB NEXT DOOR.

My Boob Next Door as you may recall from past columns is, the knuckleheaded "piney" who I share a property boundary with. (Please note, if you ever study a population density map of South Jersey, vast tracts of land are protected under the Pine Barrens Act. This protection maintains the environmental integrity of these lands and greatly restricts commercial development. Therefore, the few people who live in the pinelands are nicknamed: piney or pinies...which is like being called a Jersey hillbilly).

Primarily, what makes BOOB so intolerable is that he is a control freak. As you may recall, his "my way or no way" attitude was the final straw that ended our once friendly relationship. Some of his low-lights include: cursing me out when I put up a fence, (apparently a true piney doesn't like having the wilderness blocked off). Of course BOOB didn't apologize...or offer to chip for our shared section of fence when he put up his own fence when his kid was growing up.

Then there was the time he threatened to kill our dog Roxy if she ever peed on his lawn. Being the true weasel that he is, rather than spew his nonsense at an adult like me, Mr. Piney's ultimatum was aimed at my son Andrew.

My last conversation with him occurred while mowing my lawn in 2002. Andrew's 2nd grade class was preparing to do a patriotic play and I was singing their show-stopper, "I'M PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN." From in front of his house, BOOB caught eye contact with me and gestured that I shut-off my mower. He then rudely insisted that I stop cursing him out. When I told him that I was singing a Kenny Rogers song, his response was a profanity-laced tirade that insulted both Mr. Rogers and myself, and concluded with the punchline, "You can't fool me, I can read lips!"

Its easy to turn your back on that type of mentality. Since then we've had some minor scrapes but I'm certain that I am best served to simply ignore him. That was the case about three years ago when BOOB started gathering a thin pile of grass clippings, pine needles, acorns etc., exactly along a hidden five-foot line that divides our front yards.

The significance of his pile may have been a protest or out of spite or even an artistic endeavor. Either way, as much of an eye-sore that it was, it wasn't harming me and unless you were on top of it, you couldn't see it. However, each season the heap mysteriously got longer, wider and taller. By the beginning of last month, BOOB's great wall of weird resembled a dry version of a beaver dam. If he kept adding to it, at that pace, it'd be visible from the moon by 2012. Nevertheless, I wasn't going to burn-out my KISH-KIZ over this and continued to pay he and it no mind.


It was right around Thanksgiving that I mentioned to MSLEMMA that I am losing my patience with BOOB. He understood my dilemma and suggested calling GREENPEACE or praying for divine intervention. I wasn't swayed by his well-formed arguments and resolved to wait the moron out and remain mute.

About a week ago, we had a severe rain storm. I went outside to rake-up the leaves, broken branches etc and was shocked to see that BOOB or perhaps a supernatural power had neatly removed the NOT SO great wall.

The moral of the story is, in this holiday season when we share in the glory of "good will towards man" we should throw down our defensive gauntlet and accept our neighbors regardless of their shortcomings.

I might feel that way towards BOOB if I knew for certain that he indeed removed the pile and that it was in the vain of restoring friendship and peace to our little corner of the world. But I've seen enough UFO and conspiracy shows on the A & E NETWORK, and I can see the removal was too perfect for any piney to I doubt MSLEMMA prayed for me...and more importantly, I know the work of aliens when I see it.

So season greetings to the Martians and HUMBUG to BOOB.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll...and orchids!

We all seek to improve our lives. It isn't always easy to find the right road and sometimes we need outside assistance. We are taught that for the best results we should find objective parties to guide us. That is where clergy, school counselors, professional analysis or consultancy firms come into play. But overwhelmingly, self-discovery is an internal device. One could say that Darwin's survival of the fittest theory, is based on the same concept. Finding the right balance of what we want and need, and changing...until our personal comfort zone is found. That is the premise of the 2002 movie "ADAPTATION;" how personalities and lifestyles evolve through experience. ADAPTATION DESERVEDLY WON SEVERAL OSCARS AND NUMEROUS OTHER AWARDS YET MOST CASUAL MOVIE-GOERS DON'T KNOW IT.

My connection to "Adaptation" started in 2003. Over the course of two breaks at work, I saw two fifteen-minute segments. I was riveted by the story and the main characters, Nicolas Cage, (double role as twins) Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper. The next day I started an additional information campaign and asked around. But none of my movie cronies knew much about it. Until I asked the mom of one of my son Andrew's friends. She said, "The movie IS great but the book, "THE ORCHID HUNTER" in which the film is based (by Susan Orlean) was better!"

I ran to the library and read this "best seller." Hey, we all have our own taste but believe me, this book sucked. It led me down the primrose path waiting for something to happen...and it never did. I guess its hard for me to get excited about a flower movie. So, DON'T read the book! See the movie. I can say that because I just saw it, for the first time in its entirety on, ON DEMAND and loved it.

The reason why the film and book differ is...the movie (based on truth) is about a screen writer's struggle to write a movie about the book. He (Cage as Charlie Kaufman) has writers block because the book doesn't really have a plot. To eliminate the blockage, he, together with his complete opposite twin (it is never made clear whether the twin is real or a facet of his subconscious) tries to get to know the author (Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean) and the book's main character, the eccentric and toothless orchid hunter, (Chris Cooper as John Laroche).

The theme of the movie is personal change...growth. This notion is exemplified by Charlie Kaufman who writes the way he lives...with great difficulty. Donald his twin, who lives the way he writes...with foolish abandon. Susan who writes about life...but can't live it. And John, whose life is a book...waiting to be adapted (he's also willing to play himself in the movie).

"Adaptation" may seem complicated but it is not. The use of super-imposed "three weeks later" banners etc., help clarify the many flashbacks. However, despite the simplicity, the fun is fueled by everything being plausibly unpredictable. Plus, unlike the book, you'll feel sympathy for the highly flawed characters.

That's the whole story, four lives, a million ways they can each find happiness through adaption and countless ways for the movie to end. Trust me on this, improve your life, find this movie and tell me how much you loved it too.

P.S. - STAGE doesn't think so but the toothless Laroche character (if he had teeth) looks like just like him.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The 1978 movie, "THE END" was a dark comedy starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Dom DeLuise and David Steinberg.

Burt Reynolds' character is facing a painful terminal disease and decides to avoid the anticipated agony, by killing himself. Aided by the incompetent DeLuise, the plot features a series of bungled suicide attempts. I saw it once, (in the theater), thirty years ago and one sequence has remained fresh in my mind.

In that scene, Reynolds tries to drown himself in the ocean. When he realizes that he is really struggling with rip-tides, his survival instincts take over. Despite his thrashing and flailing about, he's having increasing trouble keeping his head above water, as he's being swept further out to sea.

In desperation, Reynolds screams, "I WANT TO LIVE, I WANT TO LIVE!"  In search of divine intervention, he pleads with his Maker by quoting an outlandish financial offer in exchange for his life. Suddenly, the natural strength of the current eases slightly and his instinct for greed takes over. So, he reduces his monetary pledge. As the peril lessens, he proportionally continues to discount his promises. By the time he's out of danger and collapses safely on the shore, he re-re-re-revises his obligation to practically nothing.

I think most of us are guilty of that on some level. In the casino industry, we frequently over-hear it from customers. It usually sounds like; I'm NOT greedy, I'll go straight home as soon as I double my money. It then becomes funny when their wish comes true and they recant their vow.

These days, many casinos offer games with an optional "bonus" feature. In a game like Caribbean Stud Poker, an additional one-dollar side bet makes a player eligible for separate jackpots for premium hands, (a flush or better). To make this game more tempting, each table is equipped with an ever-increasing digital meter advertising the top prize, for a royal flush.

The casino supplies the pot with the first $10,000.00, then thirty cents of each bonus dollar risked injects the pot higher. The biggest jackpot I saw was $285,00.00. Therefore, it's not uncommon for people to say, "I'm not greedy, I'll settle for 10% of the meter," (the prize for an ordinary straight flush).

My favorite story of greed occurred recently, in an Asian-style seven-card stud-poker game called Pai-Gow. This game has its own bonus feature, called the ENVY BONUS which rewards players for premium hands starting with a five-card straight, paying 2 to 1.

The ultimate Pai-Gow payout, for a seven-card straight flush, pays an astounding 8,000 to 1. Plus, if you bet $5 (or more) on the bonus, you become eligible to cash-in on other player's premium hands. Therefore, rather than being ENVIOUS of a fellow player hitting it big, you can also cash-in on their good fortune. In the case of someone hitting the 8,000 to 1, the ENVY feature would incredibly net each fellow player, their own $5,000.00.

I never witnessed that happen but I know it happened twice. In the more interesting situation, the player dealt the seven-card straight-flush DID NOT bet the bonus. That means, he gets NOTHING for it from the casino. However, the four other players at his table will get $5,000.00 each.

The player did some quick thinking and revealed his fantasy-come-true, to the other four.  While these men were giddy in anticipation of their unexpected windfall, the owner of the golden cards propositions them.  His demand was, they each give him a thousand cash...each. They scoffed at his audacity, "called his bluff" and in a flurry of mild foul language, turned him down.

The man considers his options, (his bet was virtually guaranteed to "push" (neither win or lose). His threatening counter-proposal was, "If you don't pay me now, I'll surrender my hand," (throw-in his cards without showing them to the casino). The implication being, if his adversaries didn't, "play ball" with him, he was willing to chuck his cards and sacrifice his $25.00 bet. That way everyone gets no bonus money.  He expected this leverage, almost like extortion, to guarantee him an equal share, by in essence, making an even five-way split, ($4,000.00 each) of the bonus money.

The four others proved how bad GREED TALK$. They remained adamant and still refused while mixing in a stronger chorus of obscenities. When the man stuck to his principles and indeed threw away his cards, the four-man bloc yelled out the harshest, hateful profanity. 

The dealer took a cautious half-step back away from the barrage as the raging argument mounted. Spectators within hearshot hustled over to see what the commotion was about. Others from further away were guided there by curiosity and human nature.  Soon the Pai Gow room was flooded with curiosity seekers hoping to see a fight, (and take advantage of the potential chaos).

When it looked like the situation might turn into a riot, a staff member pushed the panic button.  Thirty seconds later, a posse of dead-serious plain-clothes security and a squad of regular guards stormed the pit and surrounded the table.

The four men ignored the security officers and continued screaming for casino intervention. The dealer was powerless to do anything. The disgruntled men went up the management chain-of-command after getting no satifaction from the floor supervisor and the pit boss.  The game was at a complete standstill for several minutes until the shift boss arrived.  He heard all the greivances and addressed the four men, "We NEVER saw the cards.  It's not in out best interest to give away twenty grand...on your say so."

Later, the player who surrendered the hand cornered the shift boss, "Hey, I hooked you guys up and saved the house a boatload of money."  The big boss maintained a poker face during the ensuing silent pause.  The player continued, "You know, Christmas is right around the corner.  How about showing me some love with a comp for four to the steakhouse, a free suite next weekend and tickets to see, The Trans Siberian Orchestra."  The stoic shift boss said, "Are you serious?  Why?"  The man said, "I'm not making an unreasonable request..."  The boss interrupted, "Of course it's unreasonable. Don't you remember, we never saw your cards."

Now you know why many casino workers on their days off lock themselves away in a dark, quiet room.

With that in mind, don't strike up any deals with Santa you can't back up. 

Me, I'm true to my word, so the only bargain I can offer you right now is, my sincerest wish for your peace, happiness and goodwill, in the up coming holiday season.