Monday, December 28, 2009

HERSCHY'S KISSES

Can there be a better way to commemorate the close of this decade than recalling my brush with death at the end of the 1970's?

The tale below, is an excerpt from my short story. "RIDE-OUT, WHITE-OUT AND RIGHT-OUT." Its theme is, the mastery of; people, equipment and directions, in order to keep your Las Vegas casino job...or in this case, keeping your head!

December 31, 1979 would not be an ordinary Monday afternoon. It was the last day of the decade, the last day of the year and nearly...the day of my life.

Shortly before 10:00AM, my dealing craps shift in Vegas' Hotel Fremont was about to start. 
THREE MONTHS EARLIER, GETTING THE FREMONT JOB WAS THE KEY TO MY GAMING INDUSTRY SUCCESS.

To my surprise, a player known only as Mr. S., (wearing a custom-made, thousand-dollar black suit), was standing inside the dice pit, (maybe was he clairvoyant and knew he was going to attend a funeral that day?)

Even stranger, our floor supervisor Teddy Rideout, (in a raggedy, misfitting checkered sports jacket that he got at K-Mart) was giving Mr. S. a two-minute tutorial on how to be a boxman.
MY CRAPS DEALING CAREER AT THE FREMONT SPANNED FROM SEPTEMBER 1979 UNTIL THEY TRANSFERRED ME TO THE STARDUST IN MARCH 1980.

Mr. S. had a reputation as being a demanding, high maintenance player. He hated everyone especially working stiffs (like us) and the penny-ante gamblers that the Fremont catered to.

In his gambling days, we knew him as high-roller "don't come" player.  His action stood-out because he made several three-hundred dollar bets when the rest of out clientele was risking the table minimum (75c) or close to it. More importantly, Mr. S. might have been around craps tables for thirty years, but he had little practical knowledge in aspects of the game that he didn't play...and zero knowledge in supervising it.

Despite being over seventy-years old, Mr. S. was a hulk. At six-foot three, he combined an athletic body that suggested he had done heavy labor his whole life.  His face featured a monstrous scarred, deadpan scowl that suggested that he was no stranger to brawling. To complete his ogre-image, his gravelly voice was acutely intimidating too.

The staff knew he was a big-shot and a golfing buddy of the casino manager. So few people risked their jobs by challenging him. Therefore all of us were reluctant to even look at him and only the bravest souls directly addressed him. If that wasn't enough, there were also rumors that he had ties to organized crime.

Management made a good choice in selecting my floormanTeddy Rideout to indoctrinate the newcomer. Rideout's corporate swag and upbeat, urban personality had as much appeal in the back alleys of his native Detroit as it had in the baccarat pit of his former employer, Caesar's Palace.

While explaining to Mr. S. the Fremont's procedures, policies and boxman duties, he was thorough, patient and professional. Later, Rideout confided in us that Mr. S. couldn't even keep-up with the use of normal craps lingo and that the fossil continually said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," or "whatever."

Maybe Mr. S. wanted to learn but he definitely didn't want to be taught. That's why I didn't perceive his indifferent to Rideout's assistance as racism, I took it as elitism. More simply, he was used to giving orders...not taking them.

Rideout realized the old man wasn't listening.  He light-heartedly changed the subject to the stool Mr. S. was going to sit on and said, "This antique is busted." He demonstrated the intricacies of raising the seat and adjusting the testy swivel mechanism of the boxman's stool. He added, "It's also bottom heavy. It weighs a ton.  Don't try moving it because the wheels were crushed and fell off years ago. They should..." Fearing reprisals, Teddy stopped himself before implying that the place was cheap. Instead he coughed, "Umm, uh, they should tell newbies that this chair feels like it's bolted to the floor."

When my crew came on duty, Mr. S. rose above his apathy and thanked Rideout.  He shook all the dealer's hands, introduced himself as Herschel Schtiermann and added, "But you guys can call me Hersch." When he got to me, his huge, calloused meat-hook enveloped mine and his vice-like grip felt like every bone in my hand was going to break.

At first, our game was light and Hersch seemed human. The old man took a liking to me because I picked-up on a few of his Yiddish phrases. Soon he told me that he just retired and moved from Peoria.  And, rather than gamble every day, his friend (our casino manager) juiced him into this cushy, part-time job. 

We were getting along well. In a grandfatherly way, I liked my new senior citizen buddy.  He was comfortable enough with me that he shared private information like his wife's latest face-lift, his string of ladies ware factories in the Midwest and the mansion he was having built inside a gated community. Nevertheless, I never lost sight of his reputation for having a volatile temper. So it seemed prudent to let him dominate the conversation.

Hersch's humanity was about to vanish because it was New's Year's Eve, the busiest, craziest day of the year.  Just before noon the crush started.  Soon, we all realized that Schtiermann was buried, (in over his head), when I asked him for a "buy-button" and he barked, "What the fuck is a buy-button?"

Eric, one of the other dealers on my crew was a born-again Christian. Hersch became agitated when Eric's religious sentiments were constantly being injected into the game. Hersch had told him to stop when the game was calm. But Eric ignored him.  When our game became frantic Schtiermann whispered to me, "This schmuck doesn't know who he's screwing with...if this Jesus shit keeps up, he's going to sucking his trafe through a straw...for a long time!"

By 2:00PM, our game was swamped. The party atmosphere had started but we did well to keep the game moving.  The mood was suddenly broken when a redneck in a chewed-up, straw cowboy hat made a claim for a missing, six-dollar place bet.

Hersch pissed the player off by saying, "Six bucks? Tex, don't waste my time with your petty fantasies."

To soften the situation, Eric cited chapter and verse before suggesting, "In good faith, let's give him the benefit of the doubt."

Our floorman Teddy Rideout saw how angry Hersch got at Eric and said, "This is small potatoes. Let's keep the dice in the air. Set-up this gentleman's action and watch him more carefully."

Hersch would have none of it. His allegiance was with the casino's best interest.
He grabbed the dice and stopped the game. Rideout objected. Schtiermann called him, "An incompetent moron," and demanded the pit boss.

The pit boss was a cut-throat little Cuban with hair plugs named Tulio Encarnacion.
Tulio couldn't be bothered by such trivia and said, "Dios mio!  You can't stop the game over bullshit, get a roll."
DESPERATE BALD MEN PAID THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR THE STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY OF HAIR PLUGS.  FEW ENJOYED TRUE SUCCESS WHILE THEY ALL MADE THEIR "PROBLEM" MORE NOTICEABLE.

Hersch wasn't craps savvy enough to understand that he won his case.  He was muttering profanity-laced racism aimed at Blacks and Hispanics just loud enough for the dealers to hear as the redneck shouted, "What about my six-dollar eight?"

Tulio was annoyed and snapped, "I said forget it!"

The good ol' boy's face was as red as his neck as he yelled, "I don't have to take no shit from a dartboard head!"

I controlled myself from laughing as Hersch interrupted the disgruntled player's rant and insisted that the dude apologize to Tulio. The redneck mockingly said, "Yeah right."

Schtiermann lunged from his seat, swiped his left arm at the man and exposed his gold cuff link and matching Rolex.  The good ol' boy recoiled to avoid the attack.  When the argument continued, Hersch leaned forward and spit on him.  Everyone was in shock as Hersh snarled, "Pick-up your shit and get out before I throw you out!"

Hersch looked like he was going to hyperventilate as he plopped back down on his heavy, anvil-like stool, as the player screamed vulgarities on his way out.

Later, our game was a madhouse with ten rowdy players on each side.
Schtiermann had long regained his composure when Eric said, "Steve shorted two from the stick fifty-cents."

In the middle of all the chaos, Hersch tapped my arm and said, "Give that guy half-a-buck."

I stood straight up and smiled. I gestured to the other eight bets I still had to pay and joked, "Don't you think I have more important things to do first?"

I continued my progression until a commotion by the players caused me to peek behind me. Hersch was standing, his eyes ablaze with his two-ton stool cocked over his head like a ten-ounce Wiffel baseball bat. Just as it was coming forward to club me over the head, Teddy grabbed Hersch and the chair crashed harmlessly down.

The whole casino reacted to the thunderous noise. People were rushing over as I noticed that Hersch was seething.  He had white gauze at the corners of his mouth as three other supervisors got between us and subdued him.

I still hadn't fathomed that Teddy Rideout had narrowly saved my life or at least some level of brain damage.  At the same time, Hersch kept hollering profanity while being ushered to the pit-stand. The casino manager hustled into the pit. As Hersch was being lead away, he leered at me and roared, "I swear, I'm going to kill you!"

I sweat-out he rest of the day. I assumed I was getting fired and worried that the old-timer was going to make good on his promise.

At 6:00PM, we were relieved by swing shift. Tulio brought my crew to his podium. I figured everyone was getting fired because of me. Instead Tulio said, "You guys are coming in tomorrow at 8:00AM, right!"

One of the other dealers said, "No, we got New Year's Day off."

Tulio said, "What's the matter, you pendejos can't read?" He pointed to the weekly schedule. In the coveted New Year's Day box, the black, typewritten word "off" had been whited-out. In its place, written sloppily in red ink was, "8:00AM." Tulio added, "You're lucky you all weren't shit-canned. Just take this punishment as a goddamned gift."  When Eric protested him taking the Lord's name in vain Tulio growled, "Shut up and be here sober...at eight!"

Hersch never worked again at the Fremont.
I ESCAPED HERSCH'S WRATH AND DEALT AT THE FREMONT THREE MORE MONTHS.  I WAS SO WELL-THOUGHT OF THAT FOR A SMALL FIFTY-DOLLAR BRIBE TO TULIO, I WAS TRANSFERRED IN MARCH, TO THE STARDUST AND MORE THAN DOUBLED MY TIP INCOME.

Two years later, I saw Herschel Schtiermann one other time.  I was on one of my breaks while dealing craps at the Stardust as he and his wife crossed my path outside the sports-book.
THE STARDUST WAS THE PEAK OF MY CRAPS DEALING CAREER, (THE GOLDEN NUGGET WAS A CLOSE SECOND).

The Stardust was a grind joint on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip.  So Hersch, despite being over-dressed in a tuxedo, still looked like a thug. His wife, trim and elegant for seventy, was wearing a flowing evening gown and looked like a million dollars...in cosmetic surgery. I nodded to acknowledge Hersch.  He gestured me over.

He smirked, "Kid, I had the power to make your life a lot easier. Instead, you hadda be a fuckin' wise-ass. You have no idea how close you came to the kiss of death."

Mrs. Schtiermann gave me a dirty look, grabbed her hubby by the crook of his arm and said, "C'mon Herschy, remember your heart...we came to Vegas to forget that stuff."

Monday, December 21, 2009

YOUTH HOSTELS AND THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

Kudos to SOLT for suggesting this blog topic.

My cross-country trip in 1976 started one month after my 21st birthday. This adventure celebrated our great country's bi-centennial while acknowledging the end of my childhood...on my own terms.

A MILE FROM BEALE STREET, "THE HOME OF THE BLUES...BIRTHPLACE OF ROCK N' ROLL," THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER BRIDGE LINKS MEMPHIS TENNESSEE TO ARKANSAS. ALONG THESE BANKS, I WAS AMONG A MILLION PEOPLE ON THE 4th OF JULY TO SEE THE GRAND BI-CENTENNIAL FIREWORKS DISPLAY.

From June to September, I was on the road for 68 eight days. My sweep of the U.S. of A. also included time in Mexico and Canada. To minimize the cost, I used a tent and sleeping bag. I was also able to visit a few people I knew and was taken-in several times by strangers. On rare occasions, I got a motel room and many other times...especially in Canada, I stayed in youth hostels.

Designed for travelers, youth hostels are temporary, budget-oriented, sociable accommodations. Currently, there are over 20,000 of them worldwide.

In 1976 there were few youth hostels in here in the states. On my trip, I was fortunate to stumble into two: Georgetown Colorado and Flagstaff Arizona. When I crossed into Canada, every town seemed to have at least one. I used them in Vancouver, Moose Jaw, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.

Hostels are all unique. Most are co-ed but not all. The sleeping arrangements vary, the ones I stayed in provided; a gymnasium floor, dormitory setting, barracks and private room. These lodgings were in schools, churches, houses and even the basement of a cafe. I recall them all being 2 or 3 dollars. To reduce overhead, most places encouraged its visitors to do menial chores.
Hostel doors typically opened at dusk. They were small in size, so availability was on a first come, first serve basis. In the morning, you were kicked out after having coffee and a sweetie (10AM)...the one in Vancouver sent everyone merrily along with a brown bag lunch.

The idea for Youth Hostels came from German, Richard Schirrmann in 1912. His original concept for a jugendherberge was for inner city kids to have a place to stay while appreciating the countryside. Two years later, Schirrmann's vision went into a new direction while serving in WWI.

In my pre-pubescent years, going to war was considered noble. In the years before Vietnam, playing army, having toy guns and setting up elaborate battles with plastic soldiers was my favorite past-time. I even loved watching war movies. I was moved by combat, bravery, camaraderie and the spirit of survival. Despite being tinged with propaganda, World War II pictures embodied all these positives. However, even at an early age, I couldn't understand the waste and dehumanization of the "war to end all wars."

I came to associate World War I with trench warfare. Nothing could be more stupid than laying in a filthy rat infested rut in the mud until your platoon was sent, "over the top." These futile blind stabs in the dark (in daylight too) were mass charges, into the teeth of enemy machine gun fire. Both sides should be ashamed of themselves. These suicidal salvos wasted ten of thousands of lives in the name of gaining scant yards of barely strategic real estate.

THE "GREAT WAR" WAS THE FIRST FULLY MECHANIZED MILITARY ENGAGEMENT. THE DESTRUCTIVE TECHNOLOGY WAS WAY AHEAD OF ITS TIME. IT CAUSED HIGH AMOUNTS OF DEVASTATING INJURIES FOR WHICH THERE WAS NO DEFENSE. BEING THE PRIMA DONNA THAT I AM, I WOULDN'T HAVE LASTED 10 MINUTES IN ONE OF THOSE HOLES.

Near Ypres, Belgium, around this time of year in 1914, the English and Germans were faced-off in one of these theaters of battle. To worsen the daily grind of trench warfare and the constant threat of heavy artillery or a stray sniper's bullet, a bitter cold gripped the area.

Under these harsh conditions, the fighting fell into an unscheduled lull. During this period of calm, some Germans began stringing lights along their trenches. When the Germans began singing familiar Christmas carols in their language, the Brits responded by singing the English version. Soon the enemies were singing together.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujJD122Yd9U
YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914, (5 minutes).

The combatants began noticing that there hadn't been gunfire in a while. Then those with the greatest faith in their fellow man, began coming out of their trenches. Members of both sides wandered into the abyss. Surrounded by the pock-marked earth, the stench of burnt gunpowder, uprooted trees and the remains of fallen comrades, the two sides met. The conversations took many forms. Some included: holiday well wishes and shared photos of loved ones while others bartered for rations and souvenirs.

Dead bodies were recovered, prayers were said and both sides helped each other dig graves. Later, a soccer game was played during this most spontaneous, unique and beautiful moments in the history of armed conflict. During the entire time of this armistice there were no random hostilities. Eventually, both armies returned to their lines. After a while, the bombing and mayhem was restored.

THE IMPROMPTU 1914 TRUCE AND SOCCER GAME WAS ATTEMPTED THE NEXT CHRISTMAS AND EASTER. THE MIRACULOUS RESULTS WERE NEVER MATCHED.

One of the German participants during this cease-fire was Richard Schirrmann, the originator of the Youth Hostile. From this golden moment, he got an epiphany to expand his idea...to develop a social setting for gentle, foreign travelers.

I treasure the time I spent in youth hostels in the summer of 1976...even if the peach they gave me in Vancouver had a zillion ants in its core. More importantly, I hung-out and shared sightseeing and general information with loads of people my age from all over the world. I even had three Norwegians from the Quebec City hostel stay over my parents house.

It doesn't matter how you celebrate the holiday season...what matters is...the goodness of the human spirit. Share it with friends, family and strangers too. If warring parties could do it under the threat of sudden and unnecessary death during the Great War...while freezing their butts off...anyone can do it.

LOVE ~ PEACE ~ HAPPINESS ...TO ALL !

Monday, December 14, 2009

EDELBLUM MYSTERY THEATER - MANBEARPIG !

On September 10, 2007, TV cartoon comedy, "SOUTH PARK" spoofed presidential hopeful Al Gore by having his character make this statement.

I am here to educate you. You see there is something out there which threatens our very existence and may be the end of the human race as we know it. I'm talking of course, about Manbearpig. It is a creature which roams the earth alone. It is half man, half bear and half pig. Some people say Manbearpig is not real. Well, I'm here to tell you now, that Manbearpig is very real and he most certainly exists--I'm cereal. Manbearpig doesn't care who you are or what you've done, Manbearpig simply wants you. I'm super cereal. But have no fear, because I am here to save you. And someday, when the world is rid of Manbearpig, everyone will say, Thank you Al Gore--you're super awesome! THE END !
KNOWN FOR HIS "OUT-OF-TOUCH" ENVIRONMENTAL IDEALS, GORE IS PICTURED ABOVE WITH AN ARTIST'S RENDERING OF MANBEARPIG.

I would prefer to disagree with Mr. Gore on many subjects but NOT Manbearpig. The truth is, I saw this monstrosity with my own eyes in 1991. I have been in the closet on this tender issue for such a long time. I found comfort in denial until that "SOUTH PARK" episode brought me back into the naked light of truth, justice and the American way ! Therefore, I'm now proud to say, that I'm just as cereal as Gore.
A NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER SLEPT IN A TREE, OUTSIDE SOUTH PARK COLORADO FOR 22 DAYS, IN ORDER TO GET THIS FIRST-EVER ACTUAL PHOTO OF MANBEARPIG.
Down through the years I have seen several exotic beasts. In 2000, I paid an additional admission at the Bronx Zoo, for my son Andrew and I to see an ultra-endangered Okapi. It's so rare, I had a tough time finding an Internet photo of one. Not quite as cool as a Manbearpig, this unique zebra-like animal had a solid brown body and ringed hind quarters and legs.
   THE OKAPI WAS FIRST SPOTTED IN THE CONGO, (1901).  THE SIGHTING WAS NOT VERIFIED FOR A LONG TIME, SO THE CREATURE WAS CLASSIFIED AS AN URBAN LEGEND AND PUT UNDER THE HEADING OF THE PSEUDOSCIENCE, CRYPTOZOOLOGY, (AN ANIMAL WHOSE EXISTENCE HASN'T BEEN PROVEN).

I visited Ocean City Maryland ten-plus times from the late-80's until 2002. I liked it there so much, I once said I'd do a pro bono TV commercial for them. One of their big attractions is Assateague Island State Park which is the home of wild, miniature ponies. While they are cute and fun to look at, they are not in the same league as Manbearpig.OUR FIRST OCEAN CITY VISIT WAS WITHOUT MOTEL RESERVATIONS ON 4th OF JULY WEEKEND. AT 2:AM, WE WOUND UP 30 MILES WEST IN SALISBURY AND COULDN'T GET A ROOM THERE EITHER. WE SLEPT IN THE CAR, IN A SUPER MARKET PARKING LOT. WE WASHED UP AT 6:30 IN MR. DONUT'S RESTROOM.

One year that we didn't go to Ocean City was 1991. We were searching for greener pastures and found out the hard way that Virginia Beach wasn't the answer. That tourist trap was crowded, our motel was dilapidated and we had an ultra-terrible experience at the Black Angus Steakhouse. That's the restaurant in Tidewater with a statue of a giant steer on the roof. We should have been satisfied with the cheap thrill of the weird snapshot of the enormous cow but we ate there too.

Our cramps hadn't completely subsided the next day when I vented my displeasure to a fellow disenchanted traveler at poolside. He said his clan just came from paradise, a place called Nags Head North Carolina.

Back then, Nags Head's lure was its rich pirate history and the state-of-the-art Wright Brothers Museum in the adjacent town of Kill Devil Hills. A well kept secret, unexploited by commercialism, it was quiet, beautiful and inexpensive. So much so, I likened Nags Head to a romantic secluded island. At night, floodlights indirectly lit the unspoiled beaches. It was fascinating, (for the first five minutes) to watch the ubiquitous crabs scurrying over the shadowy sand mounds. However by comparison, one glimpse at a Manbearpig would leave a lifetime impression.
ORVILLE AND WILBUR WERE BICYCLE MAKERS FROM DAYTON OHIO. THEY CHOSE THE OUTER BANKS OF NORTH CAROLINA BECAUSE IT COMBINED HIGH WINDS FOR LIFT AND SOFT BEACH SAND TO REDUCE DAMAGE AFTER CRASHES. THE FIRST MOMENT OF FLIGHT TOOK PLACE IN KILL DEVIL HILLS. THE REASON KITTY HAWK GETS THE HISTORICAL KUDOS IS...THAT'S WHERE THE CLOSEST TELEGRAPH WAS LOCATED.

Another neighboring town was Roanoke Island. It featured a restored village full of quaint shops and boasted re-enactments of the early Europeans settling the New World. Plus, the day we were there...by ten minutes...we missed seeing mega-celebrity Andy Griffith getting crapped on the shoulder by a tern.

Griffith is best remembered as the star of such movies as, "NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS," "A FACE IN THE CROWD," and "RETURN TO MAYBERRY." As well as the hit TV program, "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW." Though we regret missing the joy of witnessing Griffith scrape bird crud off his shirt, our impending excitement of sighting Manbearpig clearly made up for it.

The Nags Head's area dried up for us rather quickly. That's when we got the idea to go further south to Cape Hatteras. Cape Hatteras is famous for three things: Its lighthouse, being a hurricane magnet and fishing. We don't fish so we visited the lighthouse first.

In this tiny dot of a burg, we weren't expecting to find an animal more interesting than an okapi, mini-pony, gigantic steer statue, countless crabs or a bombardier tern. So after we parked near the lighthouse, we crossed a small wooden bridge that spanned marshland. On the other side, a bunch of turtles were being gawked at by a group of folks but we ignored them.

I soon became aware of circling gulls overhead. I took into account the possibility of them having a delicate bowel condition and deadly aim but forged ahead for ten minutes to our destination. When we got there, it took 17 seconds to read the sign: DUE TO HEAVY BEACH EROSION, THE PUBLIC IS BARRED FROM ENTERING THE LIGHTHOUSE. THE LIGHT'S FOUNDATION WAS RECEIVING SUBSTANTIAL STRUCTURAL RENOVATION. MONTHS LATER AFTER THE PROJECT WENT OVER-BUDGET, THE PLAN WAS SCRAPPED. EVENTUALLY, IT WAS DISMANTLED, PROVIDED WITH A STURDIER BASE AND RE-BUILT FURTHER INLAND.

On the way back to the car we saw a shack that was called the "HURRICANE MUSEUM." It had an interesting collection of artifacts that had washed ashore after storms. Some of these mementos included WWII items from both Allied and Nazi ships and submarines. The museum also had great paintings and photos with lists of area fatalities and damage reports.

Afterwards, before getting to the marsh bridge that led to the parking lot, we thought we saw people watching the same turtles. Except this time, the crowd was agitated. We detoured down there.  Then across the water (200 feet away) was the strangest shaggy brown animal I ever saw. It walked on all-fours but was too stout to be a dog and too large to be a rodent. Its humped back gave it the general shape of a small/medium-sized bear or giant, woolly swine. It sniffed along the opposite shore as everyone called out guesses of what it might be. Everyone was so enraptured that no one laughed when an old-timer shouted, "It's a damned Yeti !"

Unfortunately, this was the pre-cell-phone era.  We didn't have a camera and neither did anyone else.  Maybe we could have made history had we been able to document this discovery.

Down through the years, I have questioned everyone I have met from the Carolina Outer Banks...but no one knows what I'm talking about or believes me. I never appreciate their dubious looks so I've learned to keep my research to myself. In the privacy of my computer room, I tried Google and other search engines but was left clueless.
That is...until I heard Al Gore's Manbearpig speech and saw his photographic evidence, (see pictures from first three paragraphs above).

Although the lighting may not be as good and my memory has become shaky, I feel strongly that this my friends proves the existence of Manbearpig...and yes indeedy, I saw it !

While its important to intellectually separate myself from Al "The Global-Warming King" Gore, (only a yutz would think inventing E-Mail is such a big deal). Still, I support him on this singular topic. I also understand that the Manbearpig he saw and I saw are probably different critters. Perhaps they were distant cousins or mine was a Girlbearpig. When you consider how ugly the one I saw was...you can see why the species usually travels alone.

More importantly, I hereby proclaim another installment of Edelblum Mystery Theater to be solved. Thank you Al Gore, you're super awesome.  No, really, I'm cereal.

If the former vice-president is not already a reader of this column, I will notify him of the danger to our national security lurking in the shoals of North Carolina. Good luck to all of us !

Monday, December 7, 2009

THE HEAT IS ON

"THE HEAT IS ON," is the first of my Las Vegas-based, "STANDING DEAD," short stories. A fictional murder mystery, it has probably gone unnoticed by my current readership because several years ago, I "took it off the shelf," for a major overhaul. Well, I still haven't re-written a single word yet. But please accept this true snippet as a teaser until I do.

In January 1979, I started my casino career. Despite all the excitement of entering the workforce and becoming an "adult," it was obvious that this was one of the worst dealing venues in the world. The money stunk, the physical conditions were uncomfortable, there were no fringe benefits and they taught nothing. Cab drivers, shot artists and other local opportunists found us beginners to be easy prey for bogus claims, cheating and harsh verbal abuse. Through it all, one person stood alone to make life in that hell-hole a hundred times worse, coworker, Willard "The Heat" Lafitte.

Willard was so reprehensible that literally everyone hated him. We were about the same age but he was more seasoned by already having a few months craps dealing experience. A normal person would use that casino as a stepping stone to bigger and better places...but not him. Lafitte was into the "power-trip" and stayed...just to torture the endless supply of break-ins, (newbies).

My only defense to slow down his daily avalanche of ignorance was sarcasm. While I entertained his other victims, the bulk of my cutting edge humor zoomed over his moronic head. So now, thirty years later, it seems fair to use my literary skill to kill him off in, "THE HEAT IS ON."

Heat, is a casino euphemism for the pressure management puts on its front-line employees to beat its customers. In the old days, this tactic was overwhelmingly implied but our bullying manager, Mr. Roderick Boyle, actual owned a tiny percentage in the club. So, he made his personnel tense by"sweating the money," as if it were his own, because in actuality...it was.

In the hope of improving his status, Lafitte acted as Boyle's spy. As an agent of doom, he took on the roles of judge, jury and executioner, as he ratted-out individuals who weren't serving Boyle's best interest. In the early part of my stay, Willard was a craps dealer grossing $34.00/day...including tips. To speed-up his meteoric rise to the top of the dung heap, Lafitte sabotaged his immediate supervisor's job. When that person was fired, Willard was promoted to the vacated $62.50/day, boxman position.

Bigoted, shallow and dopey, the authority went to Lafitte's chubby, ugly and bald head. A vicious dictator in a leisure suit, he regularly short-changed less savvy customers and swore at the ones who caught-on. On one occasion, in a casino that COULDN'T afford a security team, he swung the "dingus," (a sawed-off baseball bat), and narrowly missed a disgruntled player's head.

In addition to cursing his craps dealers for every error, (and there were gazillions every hour), Lafitte fondled and made crude sexual remarks to female blackjack dealers. He threatened their job security if they complained and even stalked a pregnant single-mom who wouldn't go out with him.

In the three months I worked there, Lafitte amassed an uncountable cast of suspects who could rationalize killing him. Even the world's greatest pacifist and/or Will Rogers would have found a glimmer of justice in ridding the planet of this human blight.

One day the blackjack dealer I was seeing, opened my eyes to the idea of trying for a better job. She and I might have had a future together if it wasn't for her severe gambling problem and a poor memory for remembering our dates. Therefore, this push to get me out of there was the best thing she did for me.

I was sharing an apartment on Harmon Avenue (a half block from the present day Hard Rock Casino), with my friend from the New York School of Gambling, "Connecticut Joe," a.k.a. COJO. I made some inquiries and got myself an audition (try-out) at the now defunct Hacienda Casino.
THE HACIENDA WAS IMPLODED ON NEW YEAR'S EVE 1996. BECAUSE OF MY FIRST AUDITION, I'VE ALWAYS KEPT A SMALL PLACE FOR IT IN MY HEART. TODAY, THE MANDOLAY BAY CASINO OCCUPIES THAT PROPERTY. THIS PAST JUNE, I TOOK MY FAMILY TO SEE "THE LION KING" THERE.

In 1979, Vegas had an especially hot March complete with several, one-hundred degree days. My opportunity at the Hacienda was set for the afternoon of April first. That day was a scorcher too. As if going to the senior prom, COJO helped me prepare for this momentous occasion. In addition to his assistance and moral support, the best thing he did was let me borrow his dark green, 1971 Buick Electra 225 convertible for the two-mile drive. However, attached to his car were three major negatives: it was from Connecticut and wasn't equipped with air-conditioning, the black vinyl seats were cracked and painfully hot to sit on and I was instructed to NOT mess with the testy and unreliable convertible roof.

CAR JUNKIES DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME WRITING ME, THE "BOAT" PICTURED IS A 1969 ELECTRA AND ITS NOT DARK GREEN EITHER...SORRY, USE YOUR IMAGINATION, THE "INFORMATION SUPER HIGHWAY" DOESN'T HAVE EVERYTHING !

On my way to the Hacienda, I was incredibly nervous. I wanted to end the futility of working with Lafitte. So I focused on earning more money, the added prestige of a better club and the self-respect I'd gain by chalking up the awfulness to experience. It was only when I got out of the car that I realized that I was drenched in perspiration.

The casino was chilly. I trembled from the cold sensation all over my body and my increasing nervousness. As a relaxation technique, I used the restroom and washed up. It didn't work. Remember that old deodorant commercial with the slogan; never let them see you sweat... Well, I think an aerial photo from outer space would have shown that I resembled a bloated sponge and that a new generation of sweat constantly flowed through my pores. So, in addition to everything else that I was uneasy about, now I was worried about my appearance too.

I never considered giving up but as my appointment time grew near, my mind became mashed potatoes. Numbed by fear, I introduced myself by stammering and shivering as I mopped my brow. Unlike my existing job, everyone at the Hacienda was re-assuring, helpful and friendly.

All I remember about the audition was that every time my fingertips touched the felt craps layout, I left little dots of sweat. The staff poked fun at me because my work area looked leopard-spotted. Everything else was a blur.

Afterwards, the pit boss complemented my abilities for someone with so little experience. Unfortunately, he added, "But we see a lot of big action," (they had a $200.00 maximum). "Try again in a month or two."
I guess he saw I was crushed. The image of Lafitte pointing at me and whispering his nonsense to an angry Mr. Boyle flashed through my mind.

I was turning away as the boss added, "Kid, let me make a call for you." A minute later he said, "Go downtown to the Western Hotel right now. Speak to my friend Mace Rudolph. He'll give you an audition. If you do as well there, I'm sure you'll pass."

The Western hired me to start the next day, (see my short story, "SANCTUARY OF THE LUNATIC FRINGE"). My new problem was telling Mr. Boyle without giving proper notice. After all, I might of hated Lafitte but I was afraid of Boyle.

My sweat factory was working in hyper-drive and had me dripping wet when I arrived. I had to wait around because something had happened and Boyle was screaming at Lafitte. That familiar scene was the extra inspirational lift I needed to gut it out and quit.

I spoke to Boyle inches behind Lafitte at the craps table. My voice cracked in fear as I stated my case.
Boyle didn't scream but he was direct as he (expletives deleted) said, "You're leaving me shorthanded." Then he tried to talk me out of it by saying, "You're crazy to leave a 'strip' job to work downtown."
The implication was that because of its great location, our casino wasn't the worst toilet in town. I stuck to my guns. At the same time, Boyle got some idea and turned almost pleasant.
Willard Lafitte spun his boxman's stool around and quipped,"Let that **** wise-guy go. Till we hire another ****, we can use that useless **** blackjack dealer Yung Yune in the mean time...whether he speaks English or not!"

Boyle looked down at him and said, "I'm tired of you getting me in hot water! Let's try this instead. Why don't you give your nineteen-dollar suit a rest and go back to dealing starting tomorrow." The look of disappointment on Lafitte's face was priceless as I added Boyle to the list of suspects who'd want to murder Willard.
Boyle then turned to me and snarled, "Beat it you lousy****!" He then gnashed his teeth and added, "And good luck."

Monday, November 30, 2009

MESSIN' WITH SASQUATCH AT THANKSGIVING

My son Andrew's tee-ball experience can be defined by two golden moments.

The first occurred in mid-season when it became screamingly obvious that this game wasn't for him. So being the macho dad that I am, I tried to spur his interest in sports by concentrating on the positive. I asked him what was the best part of that day's game.
He responded, "I saw a black butterfly."

THIS COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN ANDREW AND I. THE ULTIMATE NON-AGGRESSIVE PERSON, ANDREW WAS AWARDED THE PINATA ASSOCIATION'S VERSION OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, BY BEING NAMED THE WORLD'S YOUNGEST CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR, TEN YEARS IN A ROW !

The other significant moment happened after the season, at the big awards dinner, (the dinner portion of this ceremony was a hot dog, potato chips and a generic soda, served while families sat on the ball field's infield).

Four year old Andrew already had his bag of chips and drink when a volunteer came by with the main course. He looked at the five-star cuisine and politely turned her down. The lady said, "Hun, are you sure you don't want a hot dog? Because there isn't anything else to choose from."
Andrew said, "I don't like hot dogs."
She said, "You don't like hot dogs? Why?"
My guy matter-of-factly said, "I don't mind the hot...but I'm NOT eating a dog."

You'd guess from that statement that Andrew would grow up to be a picky eater but he is not. Actually, I am the picky eater at our house. And because most of my never-eat foods are so mainstream, people find my overweight condition to be incongruous and therefore humorous.

You see, my taste buds consider edible favorites like, berries, yogurt and oatmeal to be strictly verboten. Call me crazy but...the mere smell of Brussels Sprouts makes me wretch and being a contestant on "FEAR FACTOR" would be short-lived as soon as I had to eat a banana.

MAYBE WHEN I'M AS RICH AND FAMOUS AS J. K. ROWLING, I'LL EAT A BANANA AS A PUBLICITY STUNT...UNTIL THEN...DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH.

On the less mainstream side, I also would never eat borscht, liver, gefilite fish or beef jerky. Ah beef jerky, there's something about the concept of dried meat on a stick that is inherently disgusting. Just thinking about it, makes me recall a phrase I used a lot when I was a teenager, I wouldn't eat that with your mouth ! Oddly, there is a series of funny TV commercials for JACK LINK'S BEEF JERKY that I can't get enough of.
CHECK-OUT THE NUTRITIONAL FACTS...IN THAT PANEL IT SAYS..."NONE!"

Armed with the catchphrase, feed your wild side, Jack Link advertisements feature several different vignettes called, "MESSIN' WITH SASQUATCH." Some of the themes include, putting shaving cream on Sasquatch's hand, offering him a lift and being taunted by mountain-bikers.

In case you were born under a rock, Sasquatch a.k.a. big foot or the yeti, is a hairy ape-like nocturnal humanoid who supposedly lives in the world's, coldest, most remote, mountain regions. While there is zero scientific evidence to prove its existence...there are plenty of people who swear they have sighted the beast. Even intelligent individuals like my friend BELL, take Sasquatch seriously !

WARNING: AS AUTHENTIC AS THIS PICTURE MIGHT SEEM, IT IS NOT A REAL SASQUATCH ! TRUST ME, THIS IS AN ACTOR IN A COSTUME.

More importantly, countless others try to capitalize on the big-foot myth. Some have gone as far as concocting elaborate hoaxes, in the off-beat chance of financially tapping into the public's naivete. For instance some "experts" assert that aliens control Sasquatches from distant galaxies while others suggest that an elfin accomplice, acting as a custodian, preserves the creature's anonymity by disposing molted fur, bodily waste and carcasses.
CLICK ABOVE FOR, A 30 SECOND "JACK LINK BEEF JERKY" TV COMMERCIAL. YOU CAN VIEW OTHERS ON "YOUTUBE."

This year during Thanksgiving, I was fortunate to share my love of these ads with family, friends and new acquaintances who were unfamiliar with them. They tripled their pleasure by seeing three versions.

So while the technical effectiveness of these commercials might be low...I had to research the name of the product before writing this blog. Plus, I was NOT enticed at all to put beef jerky anywhere near my mouth. Nevertheless, I give thanks during this holiday season to the geniuses who thought-up this highly entertaining, "Messin' With Sasquatch," campaign...Larry Tate (R.I.P.) would be proud...because at least my Andrew enjoys an occasional beef jerky...but NOT in front of me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

THE EVER-WIDENING COMPLEXETIES OF THE ON-SET OF OLD AGE.

I used to work with a cynical, mid-fifties guy named Emo. He was small in stature, skinny and had piercing, beady eyes. Adding to his dour presence, he shaved his head before it was fashionable for white guys which accentuated his tight, skeletal skull and bulging veins at his temples.

Emo voiced his rigid opinions on a widespread list of topics which reduced him to a marginally okay person to chat with. However, he became an intense downer when blithering about his home life, our job or the New Jersey taxation situation. When he went into his tirades of whining negativity, I tuned him out and assumed; he must be wrong.

One time (12 years ago), he caught me wincing when I stretched.
He said, "Are you okay?"
I responded, "I tweaked something in my back...it'll go away."
Emo said, "How old are you?"
"Forty-three."
He said, "Yeah, you're right, it'll go away. But as soon as you hit 45, little pains like that NEVER go away! AND, new problems keep popping up."
That attitude typified what I couldn't stand about him.

Since turning forty-five, I have had a series of little aches, annoyances and physical break-downs that never fully recover. It causes me to think of Emo and curse him for being right about this one thing.

One of my latest bodily restrictions that Emo was right about happened in 2007. My son Andrew and I drove to Sandusky Ohio to Cedar Point, (the number rated amusement park in the world). The drive was nearly eleven hours. Back then, my soft drink of choice was Snapple Diet Lemon Iced Tea. For our big excursion, I packed a freezer-chest full of ice and bought a case of tea.

IN MY YOUTH, MY SOFT DRINK GENESIS BEGAN WITH A LOVE FOR COCA-COLA. AS MY TASTE REFINED, I SWITCHED TO CEL-RAY UNTIL ITS LACK OF AVAILABILITY DRIFTED ME TO PEPSI-ONE. WHEN THOSE GENIUSES CHANGED THE RECIPE, DIET LEMON SNAPPLE ICED-TEA CAME INTO VOGUE. NOW, ITS DIET CHERRY PEPSI THAT KEEPS ME COMPANY ON LONELY NIGHTS.

On the long ride to Cedar Point, I wasn't clever enough to notice my acute need for more pit stops. Even worse, a few of those times, my engorged bladder forced me to sprint from the car.
The hint of a problem didn't set-in until a few months passed.

On a chilly, dank and drizzly March afternoon, I drove into Brooklyn to show my mom the mother-son , matching neck tattoo pattern, I designed for us. Coming off the Verrazano Bridge, I was glad that the Belt Parkway was smooth sailing.

The Belt was built during the Depression and its three lanes in each direction, are obsolete by today's standards for volume and speed. Additionally, wacky New York drivers cause plenty of accidents and other obstacles like; never ending construction, tons of litter and feral dogs (alive and dead) further slow commuter progress. Therefore, this tendency for unmerciful delays must be factored-in for the ten miles to my home-base, Canarsie. That's why I always stop at the Cheesequake Rest Stop, (mileage marker 123). Its the last public facilities in Jersey on the Garden State Parkway.

I cruised to the halfway point on the Belt, Ocean Parkway. Then, through the intermittent stroke of my windshield wipers, the brake lights ahead lit up like a Christmas tree. I slowed down and seconds later, I was in a bumper-to-bumper crawl.

To occupy myself and soothe my budding anxiety, I inadvisedly stuck my hand in the ice-chest and grabbed an unscheduled Snapple. I sucked the wide-mouthed bottle dry and was disappointed to learn that I had only rolled twenty feet. At times, it was so bad, I considered putting my car in park. That's when I noticed the rainwater trickling into a tiny rivulet between the highway's median and my car. For the next thirty minutes, I inched forward one mile, through Sheepshead Bay.

In the distance, I could see that there was no end to the nonsense. Nearing the Knapp Street Exit, I wanted to scoot across all three lanes to get off and take the dreaded streets. Between waffling about making this dangerous dash and switching the wipers onto a faster speed, I lost my chance. Immediately, I rued my hesitation. My seemingly poor decision was obviously worth the risk...because a tinkly, tickle from my innards screamed out; iced-tea is a diuretic!

Yes it was true, my body wasn't the lean, mean, pee-holding machine it once was. I was locked into the Belt without an oasis-like toilet in sight. I defiled Emo in my mind and cursed his old-age prophesy because my need to "go" was escalating at a higher rate of speed than my car's snail-like pace.

I saw a portable flashing highway sign that read: WARNING-KNOWN FLOOD AREA. Along side my car, the tiny river of run-off had grown to a babbling brook.

It began to pour as a U-Haul trailer with a picture of Niagara Falls on the back cut me off. Suddenly my bladder's internal meter skyrocketed towards its emergency "YELLOW" danger zone. With my wipers now on hyper-speed, I was now suffering through the early stages of MAXIMUM URINE BACK-UP (MUB). Searching for a remedy, I looked at the girth of the empty Snapple bottle and considered the logistics of driving while using it as a makeshift specimen jar. That idea was squashed when a semi hauling Evian rolled by. The trucker looked down at me and gave me a shared expression of frustration. Ahh, if he only knew...

Beyond the right shoulder was grassy meadow. With no place to hide and such slow traffic, my modesty wouldn't allow me the luxury of ending the torture there.

Up ahead, the little administration tower atop the drawbridge spanning the creek to Mill Basin was in sight. It gave me the idea to do my business in the privacy of trees on the other side. Whatever hope I had vanished as I noticed the right lane cars all merging to the middle. I was squirming in agony as a passerby strolled past on the pedestrian path.

I could now see the problem, a delivery van was stalled at the crest of the bridge. We were nearly slowed to a stop again, as cars gingerly squeezed by until they could zoom to freedom. When I was side-by-side with this disabled truck, the lettering read: D. O. T. BRIDGE MAINTENANCE. Clearly there was no evidence of official activity. To me, that meant that some jerk from the division of transportation decided to visit the drawbridge keeper. And rather than drive safely off the road and walk a quarter mile back...he...this traffic preventer and hero to the nation...didn't care that I and who knows how many other golden-eyed victims, were busting a gut.

I flew down the backside of the bridge, cut into the right lane and pulled into the shoulder as soon as the guardrail ended. The rain let-up and the sun poked through the clouds as I tapped my kidneys onto the dead weeds. I looked back and I could see the DOT driver talking on top of the bridge. I wanted to confront the selfish bastard. But I figured, he'd be gone by the time I walked back up there...so I took comfort in cursing Emo for the billionth time since turning forty-five.

Monday, November 16, 2009

KIWI'S BIG ADVENTURE !

Big Bird and the PBS TV show "SESAME STREET," celebrated their 40th anniversary this week. I'm happy for our fine feathered friend and appreciate the cultural impact he and the program have had on millions of young learners, plus new viewers for generations to come.

I'M SO OLD THAT IF I DIDN'T HAVE MY SON ANDREW, I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE NEVER SEEN A SINGLE EPISODE OF SESAME STREET.

It seems everyone likes birds. Maybe its because so many of them symbolize positivism. For instance, eagles represent patriotism and freedom, the dove is equated with peace and love while storks make us think of the miracle of birth.

In a similar way, some of my readers have become attached to specific varieties of avians like: LACC is obsessed by penguins, GLEN likes ducks and FRIO loves parrots.

I BET "CHILLY WILLY" HAS LESS PENGUIN IMAGES IN HIS IGLOO THAN LACC HAS IN HER HOUSE.

Rather than sharing golden Big Bird moments from Sesame Street, I choose to entertain you with two wild stories that were told to me by a potential new MGTP reader, ZEKA. While his anecdotes do not fall into the usual funny, educational or glib criteria of this column, they are still...most definitely interesting.

In a conversation with ZEKA, we traded tales of bird mishaps. I told him when I lived in Las Vegas, of the short lives of my pet finches, Rocky and Rollo (Rock & Roll). I also mentioned the time when my son Andrew and I watched an idiotic cardinal repeatedly fly (crash) into our front window.

ZEKA added some of his stories. Then I mentioned the time a woodpecker, at 6:00AM started wailing away on a metal plate at the top of my chimney. From there I shared my real-life encounter that could have ended up being a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's movie, "THE BIRDS." In that one, it was just after dawn, in Tusayan, Arizona (the town adjacent to the Grand Canyon), that I power-walked past an uncountable amount of menacing ravens. As if poised to attack me, these huge black birds were perched on and near a row of dumpsters with an equal sized flock of them inside the containers foraging for food.
WALKING BY ALL THOSE HUNGRY RAVENS REALLY TESTED MY CONTINENCE.

From the ravens, I segued to the time I witnessed two turkey vultures tearing apart the carcass of a dead deer a mile from my house. I said, "Where was Marlon Perkins when I needed him? It was like watching a zoological documentary." ZEKA then said, "Are you kidding? I got a story that should have been on the, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NETWORK!"
UGH ! TURKEY VULTURES ARE EVEN UGLIER IN PERSON.

A robin built a nest in the tree outside ZEKA'S bedroom. Barely two feet away, separated by only the window, he and his wife watched the daily construction. Soon a second robin appeared. At that point the ZEKA'S caught glimpses of the familiar blue eggs under Mrs. Robin.
IN THIS STOCK PHOTO FROM THE 1990's, IT IS CLEAR THAT SECURITY DOES NOT MEET-UP WITH TODAY'S STRICTER ANTI-POACHER STANDARDS.

The ZEKA'S personal reality show progressed as the hatchlings cracked through their shells. It gave them great joy to watch the feedings and follow the babies constant maturation. When they were strong, the youngsters flew away. The seasons changed and the nest was abandoned.

The circle of life continued the next the spring. Presumably the same robin repeated the process. Again, the ZEKA'S stayed tuned to their bedroom window nature show.

One day, ZEKA was getting ready for work at a time when the chicks were almost ready to start flight training. He heard a harsh commotion outside and gaped in horror through the window. A large crow was ripping one of the baby birds out of the nest. Powerless, ZEKA and the adult robin watched the hunter carry its in-flight meal to the top of a telephone poll. The villain scraped at the victim with its talons until the carnage was interrupted by a rival crow. Having "lost his lunch," to the newcomer, the empty-handed first crow dive-bombed back to the nest and wrested the other innocent fledgling away!
At the thought of having to explain that situation to his wife, ZEKA and I agreed that father Robin was in DEEP BIRD DROPPINGS.

While I was still in shock from that story ZEKA said he had another about Kiwi, his cockateil. Kiwi had a bird-house (cage) but had the freedom to fly around the living room. He was such a good pet, that it would spent hours perched on ZEKA'S shoulder taking love nibbles of his ear while they watched TV together.
BEHOLD THE COCKATEIL, A NOBLE ANIMAL AND DEAR COMPANION.

Once, the bird escaped by flying out the front door. The ZEKA'S distributed leaflets in the neighborhood but after two weeks without a response, they gave up hope. One day, ZEKA'S young son came home from first grade and said that at show-n-tell another boy brought in a cockateil that looked just like Kiwi. Phone calls were made and negotiations were opened up. The other family's claim of an immediate attachment with the bird hampered the speed of these discussions. Therefore, a financial accord wasn't struck until the original reward skyrocketed to the height of a kidnapper's ransom.

Thankful for his second chance with Kiwi, ZEKA wasn't bothered by the expense to recover his buddy. The strong bond with the bird intensified so much that occasionally, ZEKA brought the cage into the backyard. This way, the bird could get fresh air and keep him company while he did chores. Unfortunately for everyone involved, ZEKA got sidetracked by his collection of sea glass and Kiwi was left outside over night.

In the morning, the empty cage was perfectly intact...but with the door open. A trail of white feathers led Sherlock ZEKA to their pool. In the crystal clear water, the emaciated remains of his cherished pet were discovered. Judging by the eye-witness accounts of an angst-filled ant colony, a teeth-chattering chipmunk and a pair of squirmy squirrels, the assailant was wearing a burglar's mask and a Davy Crockett hat.
AFTER THE FOREST POLICE CANVASED THE AREA, THEY ROUNDED-UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS.

After years of analysis, a stiff regimen of hallucinogenics and shock therapy ZEKA doesn't hold a grudge. To fortify his resistance, he took night work in casinos to minimize his opportunities to prowl the woods after dark...seeking vengeance against raccoons.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A PIE IN HIS FACE...AND HIS PANTS ON FIRE !

On October 22, 2009, classic TV icon Soupy Sales died.

Born Milton Supman in Frankinton, North Carolina on January 8, 1926, Soupy specialized in children's entertainment. His biggest impact on me was his New York City based TV show that ran for 260 episodes, from 1964-1966.

I had the good fortune to chat with Soupy in 1979, at the MGM in Las Vegas. Interestingly, I also met Sylvester Stallone and Richard Dawson in the casino that same night. At the time, Soupy was a has-been, Stallone was up and coming and Dawson, as a game show host was fairly relevant. But Soupy was the only one who spoke to me.

Sales was making a late 70's comeback with a revival of his old shows but they didn't last. So I guess he was in no position to "dis" an actual fan. After getting my foot in the door by referring to one of his lesser characters, (Onions Oregano), I was able to thank him for enriching my childhood.

It speaks volumes for my sophomoric level of sophistication but I loved that old show's opening almost as much as the program. It featured a Manhattan street scene and a blank theatre marquee. A man with a gigantic ladder came into view. Then at an exaggerated high speed, he went up and down, one letter at a time, spelling, "THE SOUPY SALES SHOW."

Airing weekdays, this virtual one-man show was a series of slapstick skits, childish jokes, silly songs and other gags. Somehow Soupy managed to get his trademark, cream pie smooshed in his face at least once in every episode.

DURING HIS CAREER WHICH INCLUDED 5000 LIVE TV APPEARANCES, SOUPY CLAIMED TO HAVE BEEN "PIED" 20,000 TIMES.

The show was so hip that it gravitated to older kids and young adults. Eventually, it became an influence on future kids programming...like, "PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE,"

Soupy's character mainly played-off puppets. Frank Nastasi provided most of the off-stage voices, as well as the "guy at the door." A recurring gag, the "guy" was never seen and was only represented as an argumentative hand. On rare occasions, the show used film clips too, (usually filmed in Central Park with Soupy in drag as his girlfriend Peaches).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9jsAK8thh0
CLICK LINK FOR A 5 MINUTE VIDEO CLIP OF PEACHES

The show became chic for big-time entertainers to make cameos appearances like, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Sam Davis Jr., Judy Garland and Jerry Lewis. Plus, Soupy had musical guests too, such as, The Supremes and the Shangri-Las.

Pookie, a lion hand-puppet was Soupy's most commonly used foil. Aside from Pookie's sarcastic wit, he was also funny pantomiming novelty songs.

A SEGMENT WITH POOKIE AT THE BACK WINDOW OPENED MOST SHOWS.

The most popular puppet had to be White Fang. Handled by a puppeteer just off-camera, White Fang was seen only as a huge, white, shaggy dog paw. During WWII, to reduce the tension aboard ship, Soupy perfected this routine and character voice while serving active duty in the South Pacific.

Frank Nastasi provided the dog's ferocious unintelligible grunts. Soupy would repeat the gibberish in English and make a snappy comeback. My friends and I loved to mimic White Fang...mostly because it didn't require talent. Using the same schtick except with a black paw with feminine growls, another puppet was Black Tooth.
WHITE FANG AT REHEARSAL.

Two other puppets, an elderly married couple Hobart and Reba lived in a pot-bellied stove. They told Soupy jokes and riddles. It has been reputed that some of their silliness had hidden humor that wasn't suitable for young ears. I was too young to specifically remember anything but I still believe those rumors were true. Assuming there isn't a lot of video tape from these shows, we'll never know for certain. Nevertheless, Soupy went to his grave denying these allegations and even offered $10,000.00 to anyone who could prove he, "worked blue." It should be noted...nobody ever stepped forward to accept his challenge.

Soupy did however get suspended by his network in January 1965 when he told his audience to, "go into your parents wallets and send him the funny pieces of green paper with presidents on them."

He is also famous for the prank his stage crew played on him when he answered the door and a nude women was there. Although the viewing audience couldn't see her, a second camera recorded the practical joke, (click on the link below, 90 second clip).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ik1Aq8KaAjo

Soupy capitalized on merchandising his name and image on toys, records and books. His two big songs were, "THE MOUSE" and "PAFOLAFAKA." In 1965, everyone was singing those stupid songs.

WHILE IT WAS SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE TO SING, "THE MOUSE," I INSTINCTIVELY KNEW...EVEN BEFORE THE ONSET OF PUBERTY THAT THE ACCOMPANYING FACE AND HAND GESTURES...WERE UNMANLY !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP1_F9zEF7o CLICK HERE FOR THE MOUSE VIDEO, 6+ MINUTES.

After the show was cancelled, Sales starred in a couple of awful movies, did guest shots on sit-coms and became a regular game show panelist.

AS CAPT. LANCE RIPROCK WITH MAX BAER IN, "THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES."

From fifth grade, I have one indelible memory of Soupy's show being preempted for a special news report. In this broadcast, the first up close photos of the moon were shown. Back then the technology was so backward that each picture had a series of unnecessary black lines. I was unimpressed by these photographs and pissed-off for missing a big chunk of the show.

My favorite memory was the serial "drama" called, "THE ADVENTURES OF PHILO KVETCH." In this ultra low-budget production, Soupy played the private detective in the title role. His nemesis was the master criminal, "The Mask." Together with the aid of his henchman Onions Oregano, they wreaked havoc on the city. Going after them, Kvetch was always in peril until Onions Oregano's bad breath gave away their whereabouts. In the absolute last Philo Kvetch episode, the Mask's true identity is revealed to be Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Hey I told you, I was a kid...it was funny to me...OKAY!

http://www.youtube.com/watchv=Am3gjCL506s CLICK HERE FOR 6 MINUTE SAMPLE OF PHILO KVETCH.

On January 5, 2005 Soupy Sales was awarded a well deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

THANKFULLY, THE POWERS THAT BE, HAD THE SENSE TO "LET HIM HAVE IT" WHILE HE WAS ALIVE.

Whether Soupy indirectly injected the "F-Bomb" into his material or had hidden sexual body parts referenced in his jokes is still up for speculation. Regardless of my age, its always been so clear in my mind that he did...so, I choose to believe...ergo...liar, liar Soupy's pants are on fire! Perhaps that's the essence of an urban legend.

In my mind, this clouded dirty joke mystery doesn't diminish Soupy's star-power in any way. I'm hoping you proved that to yourself by watching the clips above...because, the man was simply hilarious. Plus, there's tons more material to check-out on YouTube.

I'm guessing to protect Soupy Sales' greatness and positive image, it became essential to keep up the squeaky-clean charade...even to the time of his death. I just hope a splattered cream pie is etched into his casket where his face would be.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A HAUNTED HONEYMOON

A few weeks ago, just in time for Halloween, the Heene family in Colorado devised an elaborate hoax that they hoped would land them notoriety and a financial boon. Their scheme was to report that their six-year old son Falcon had accidentally been whisked away in their homemade helium balloon.

In reality, the Heene's arranged for the child to hide. At a great cost to taxpayers, a major search and a rescue effort was mobilized in the boy's behalf. The next scripted part of their publicity stunt had the brat coming out of hiding as if he had been pranking his folks. The opportunistic parents expected to gain media-driven sympathy from the supposed mix-up. The next logical step would be the Heene's cashing-in, by explaining their reaction to the child's "near-fatal" experience via personal appearances, books, movies etc. When the authorities realized that these jerks were full of "hot-air" formal charges were thrust upon them.

Something like could never happen at my house because you couldn't get me near a lighter-than-air balloon. However, one of my crazy ambitions is to go white-water rafting. Yes, you die-hard MGTP readers will recall my two so-called white-water trips down the Lehigh River, near Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania. But when you consider that the difficulty factor of rapids are measured on a one-to-six scale, and that the Lehigh only offers summertime "ones," the rush we felt those two times could never qualify us as dare-devils. That's right--what I really yearn for is the big time, the life and death struggles of fives and sixes.

Followers of this column like STAGE and SAMLIN have shot the rapids in our country's #2 rafting venue...the New and Gauley Rivers at Beckley West Virginia. Additionally, BADLANDS visited Costa Rica and experienced a similar sensation. YEAH BABY ! That's what I want.

When my family and I were in the Grand Canyon this past June, I was informed that the Colorado River which flows through the bottom of the Canyon, is the #1 white-water rafting spot in the US of A.

RAFTING IS POPULAR ALL OVER THE WORLD, THESE BRAVE SOULS ARE ON THE AMAZON RIVER IN BRAZIL.

Our time in Arizona was limited to three days. Plus, it seemed I was the only one who wanted to squeeze a mega-thrill ride in. Perhaps the slim possibility still existed until we went to a campfire lecture. During the presentation, we were told of the true Dr. Jekyll-like story of Mr. Glen Hyde and his newlywed bride, Bessie. THE HYDE'S, GLEN (30) AND BESSIE (23), IN THE EARLY PART OF THEIR DARING HONEYMOON.

The Hyde's were married on April 12, 1928. When they had the time six months later, they decided to have their honeymoon, rafting through the Grand Canyon. At the time, less than 50 people had TRIED white-water rafting that section of the Colorado River. More specifically, none of them were women.
WE WERE SO HIGH UP THAT OUR TINY GLIMPSES OF THE COLORADO MADE IT LOOK LIKE A MEANDERING BROWN LENGTH OF DENTAL FLOSS.

Bessie was a novice rafter. But Glen a native Idahoan, had experienced white-water rafting on the Salmon and Snake rivers. In the 20-foot sweep scow he built, their unique and romantic trip began on the Green River in Utah. THE MIGHTY COLORADO FLOWS FROM COLORADO TO CALIFORNIA.

The early portion of their trip was easy and served as hands-on instruction for Bessie. THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM.

In mid-November, BEFORE the adventurous couple hit the heavy-duty rapids, they landed their boat at the foot of the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail. The nine-mile hike up, took them to the heart of the tourist center, the South Rim Village. They stayed one night at the El Tovar Hotel and bought supplies.

THE FRONT OF EL TOVAR HOTEL. BUILT INTO THE ROCKY SOUTH RIM WALL, THE BACK END STUNNINGLY OVERLOOKS THE CANYON.

Before returning to their boat, they met the famous photographer Emery Kolb. He took pictures and later introduced them to reporters. Similar to the contemporary Heene's of Colorado, the Hyde's wanted to become famous. Glen eyed the speed record for running the canyon and wanted Bessie to be the first woman to try...and survive the ride. NOW A MUSEUM, EMERY KOLB'S INSPIRING STUDIO HOME IS AT THE HEAD OF THE BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL, A FEW HUNDRED FEET FROM THE EL TOVAR.

The historian Adolph G. Sutro accompanied the Hyde's down to their boat. He rode a couple of days with them to get a feel for the experience and to prolong his interview opportunity. On November, 18th, he was set ashore. Glen and Bessie Hyde were never seen again. Their people didn't hear from them for weeks and a search party including airplanes was organized. About 142 miles upriver, their scow was found upright, intact with all the supplies snugly strapped down.

The common belief is that they were swept from the boat in intense rapids 15 miles downstream, got caught underwater on rocks and drown. However, there has also been a weird assortment of legends, rumors and theories which have all been scientifically disproved. Additionally, down through the years there have been impostors claiming to be the Hyde's. ITS TOO BAD. NOT FOR THEM BUT FOR ME. IF WE DIDN'T HEAR THEIR STORY, MAYBE I COULD HAVE LIVED-OUT MY WHITE-WATER FANTASY.

Unlike the Heene's, the Hyde's laid their lives on the line...and lost...even worse, they never became famous. To prove it, if you didn't read this, you probably would have never heard of them.

The Hyde's never got what they wanted out of their haunted honeymoon but, their unsolved mystery has been glamorized many times in print...most recently by a Lisa Michaels book, "GRAND AMBITION." If you'd rather wait for the movie, there's one in the conception stage now.

I don't think I'm being even a little cynical but the Heene's, the other hollow-wieners, will probably get more than their ten minutes of fame after all. I'm certain some weasel will buy the rights to their story, pay-off whatever fines they incurred and supply a dream-team legal staff to keep those gutter-snipes out of jail.

Monday, October 26, 2009

FRED GWYNNE REMEMBERED...

While on vacation this past summer, I spent a couple of hours with a long lost friend. I hadn't seen him in 25 years and was disappointed that he wasn't fun to be around, entertaining or interesting. In fact, I thought he was still dopey...which was okay in our hey-day (1979-1984). But in nowadays, it was disturbing that he hadn't changed.

During our short conversation, I brought up the time, (August 2, 1979) that he incorrectly told me that Herman Munster had died. Dopey being Dopey, didn't recall. So I reminded him how on his say-so, I felt a sudden sense of loss because I liked that actor (Fred Gwynne) from 50's and 60's sit-coms.

When I found out that my genius friend was dead wrong...the situation became oddly funny. I'm guessing because Dopey wasn't a sports fan, he got confused and substituted Herman Munster with baseball player Thurman Munson who's plane had tragically crashed.

Fredrick Hubbard Gwynne was born in New York City on July 10, 1926. A Harvard man, the six-foot-five giant became a respected character actor in both film and TV. He is most famous for portraying the goofy Frankenstein-esque patriarch in, "THE MUNSTER'S," along side the lovely and talented Yvonne DeCarlo and "Grandpa"Al Lewis.

"THE MUNSTER'S," premiered in 1964, one week after its direct rival, (my preferred), "ADDAMS FAMILY." "THE MUNSTER'S" did better in the ratings and aired six more episodes (70). In 1966, both of these black and white shows were killed in the ratings war by the colorful, "BATMAN." Despite its mere two-year run, Fred Gwynne as lovable Herman made a lasting impression on me and a generation of baby-boomers.

"HERMAN" (center), TYPE-CAST GWYNNE AND HURT HIS CAREER BY RESTRICTING HIM TO GHOULISH ROLES.

In 1955, Gwynne got his big TV break on the "PHIL SILVERS SHOW." He received glowing reviews as a competitive eater (Private Honigan) in Ernie Bilko's platoon. In 1961, he was selected to star as patrolman Francis Muldoon in, "CAR 54 WHERE ARE YOU." Which was filmed on a sound-stage in the Bronx. "CAR 54" only lasted two seasons. It frequently used outdoor scenes in New York City which in retrospect, when viewed today are more interesting than the show itself.

JOE E. ROSS (left) WAS GWYNNE'S MISMATCHED PARTNER, GUNTHER TOODY. TOODY'S CATCH PHRASE, "OOH OOH FRANCIS, FRANCIS," BECAME A LASTING PART OF THAT ERA'S POP-CULTURE.

Let's see how well you know you're Fred Gwynne TV trivia. What role did Gwynne have on 1960's, "SHARI LEWIS SHOW?" (Scroll down to bottom of the column for the answer).

Luckily Fred Gwynne survived my friend's imagined visit from the Grim Reaper for another 14 years. Although Gwynne used this time to fly beneath the radar screen of mainstream acting, he made a late career renaissance when he resurfaced in time to leave us with two memorable movie roles. First in 1989, Gwynne played Judd Crandall in Stephen King's, "PET SEMATARY." Then a 1992, as conservative Judge Chamberlain Haller in, "MY COUSIN VINNY."GWYNNE'S FIRST MOVIE APPEARANCE WAS A SMALL ROLE IN THE 1954 CLASSIC, "ON THE WATERFRONT." IN HIS LAST FILM, "MY COUSIN VINNY," HE PROVED HIS ACTING RANGE...FROM SERIOUS SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN TO COMEDIC STRAIGHT-MAN OPPOSITE JOE PESCI.

On July 2, 1993, Fred Gwynne at 66, passed away from pancreatic cancer in rural Taneytown Maryland. His long and great career was compressed into just a few highlights but thanks to DVD's and our ever-advancing video technology, he'll never be forgotten.

My dopey friend in Las Vegas...well let's just say...25 years from now, I'll be in no hurry to see him again.

*

What role did Fred Gwynne have on the "SHARI LEWIS SHOW?"

ANSWER - Gwynne was Lamb Chop's doctor.

Monday, October 19, 2009

FRENCHY'S GREAT ESCAPE

Based on truth, "THE GREAT ESCAPE" was a classic movie from 1963. If you strip away its plot and individual performances, you're left with the simple concept of, freedom at all costs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjF8sjuPLxU&feature=related
TO GET IN THE MOOD, CLICK ABOVE, FOR "GREAT ESCAPE" THEME MUSIC.

I will now relate...life and death struggles for freedom with pre-school birthday parties.

Before my son Andrew entered first grade, typical places for kiddie parties included: Diane's Tot Spot, Kidz at Play, Tunnels of Fun and the Children's Museum. These gathering were often punctuated with clowns, face-painters and magicians. Those with more up-scale tastes might have rented a pony ride or a Moon-Bouncer.

A common finale to such festivities was the vaunted present opening ceremony. The funniest part of this ritual is that overwhelming, the attending gift-giver believes their offering is the most generous, beautiful, clever or useful. It is almost unavoidable that these invitees would call attention to their tribute as to prepare everyone for the recipient's and/or parent's...WOW !

In such matters, it is my experience that these expectations of grandeur are over-stated. More specifically, the gifts at children's parties are predictable because they are recycled from a narrow range of ideas. However at age three, my son Andrew did receive one unique gift that has always stood out in my mind. Its aesthetics were so subtle that at the time, nobody recognized the potential of this plaything's artistic nature, educational value and long-term hands-on fun.

Hard to believe but true, this cool and enchanted gift was nothing more than a mail-away certificate. Easily over-looked in the next few days, it was fortunate that we eventually took advantage and sent away for a live froglet. That's right, a real baby frog was delivered to our house by our omni-creepy postman Ed. Included with the mini-amphibian was...of all things...a lifetime guarantee. Which meant you could indefinitely get new froggies, each time one met its demise.

To augment the experience, we bought a small plastic "frog-house" and left it Andrew's room. When it was cleaning, feeding or fresh water time, the tank's snapping lid was opened at the kitchen sink. Sometimes the cage stayed there for a few days.

On a rare occasion when a worm was found in the garden, there was high drama as we watched and waited for the frog eat the worm, in a spaghetti-like slurp. This tradition started with frog one, Frenchy. Yes, I admit it was wrong of me to teach my son political incorrectness...but I ask you, what else do you name a frog?

After Frenchy left this earth, he was replaced...as per the froglet company's policy by frog deux, Pierre. The third and last little green pet in the series was named Lucky. You might note that my Luckypierre computer screen-name, came directly from the latter two frogs.

In our back yard, we have the final resting places for Pierre and Lucky, ( as well as two guinea pigs...Zhitnik and Picasso). But the big question is...where's Frenchy's crypt ?

STOCK PHOTO...THIS FAMILY PORTRAIT ISN'T FRENCHY, PIERRE OR LUCKY.

Like the mistreated prisoners of war in, "THE GREAT ESCAPE," the instinct for freedom can't be measured. When the alternative is considered, risking your life to break the shackles of unjust incarceration is as obvious to animals as it is to humans. Just try catching a butterfly. Or even better...understand why a wolf caught in a bear trap will intentionally cripple itself by gnawing through its own paw to get away.

THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY, STEVE McQUEEN PERSONIFIED THE FREE-SPIRIT IN ALL OF US.

At this point, I recommend that you re-click on the blue theme music field above.

Frenchy was quite cunning. His petite mastermind must have been working in overdrive until all the right circumstances came together in a combination of the "PERFECT STORM" and the escape scene from the dentist office in "FINDING NEMO." (However, you'll see, the "Finding Nemo" screenwriters clearly stole the idea from Frenchy).

Frenchy's opportunity came at the kitchen sink when his water supply was accidentally too high AND his tank's lid wasn't snapped properly. It wasn't difficult to get out of the cell block...but how would he free himself of the penitentiary's walls. He needed an accomplice...or in this case, an unwitting one like me.

Completely prepared, Frenchy was aware of all my late night movements and tendencies. So, he had already made his Herculean leap from the counter to the floor before I got home. He knew I came home from work around 4:30AM and that I take off my shoes at the front door. Knowing I would not open the lights, he plotted the exact spot I entered the darkened kitchen. Intuitively with the help of his folding slide-ruler, desperate Frenchy risked his survival to position himself...with a 3% margin of error...to be under the softer, arch side of my foot.

When I stepped on Frenchy, he felt squishy like a rotten apricot. I turned on the light and was shocked and repulsed by thought that I killed Andrew's little pet. In a panic, I thought it would be too graphic to return the corpse of Kermit's cousin to his tank. The undignified trashcan was out of the question so I arrived at the final solution...burial at sea. I got the dust pan and nudged the lifeless body on it with a broom. Frenchy was a good actor, under close scrutiny, he never moved or took a breath. Hannibal Lecter in "SILENCE OF THE LAMBS," learned that talent from him.

I advanced to the ground floor powder room. I gulped, thought a few kind words and bid Frenchy a fond adieu. Just before he splashed into the water, he looked back at me and snidely croaked, "Au revoir!" And added, what I later learned was...the French word for; sucker !

He swam into hole and made a mad dash for the Galloway sewer system before I could even flush the toilet...voila...Frenchy's great escape!

Monday, October 12, 2009

MANSION AVENUE

What's better than talking your way out of a driving summons? Answer...getting out of two in a row. Read on, to find out what's even "more" better than that?

In May, I was stopped in Hazlet NJ for of all things...failure to proceed. The officer must have been really bored to bust my stones over such pettiness. He saw I wasn't wasted, heard my story and checked my credentials. Everything was in order, so I was given a stern warning and released back in to the wild.

In July at the Grand Canyon, we stayed after dark to hear an outdoor nature presentation. After getting a snack, the road to civilization was empty...except for a peculiar "army of one," skinny, hyper-tense park ranger. He stopped me for, rolling through a stop sign. While I stated my case, I controlled myself from making a Barney Fife joke. Then, I remained courteous while his rambling safety rigmarole went on and on. He took my papers back to his jeep for an eternity...luckily, this member of Arizona's finest returned without a moving violation ticket (yay me). But Officer Fife did take the opportunity to continue reprimanding me with a seemingly 50-minute lecture.

THE HAT LOOKS MORE AUTHORITATIVE ON A MYTHICAL CHARACTER THAN IT DID ON MY BARNEY FIFE-LIKE NATIONAL PARK RANGER.

In both instances a young driver would have definitely got the citation. That is what is scaring me about the fruit of my loin (Andrew) warming up in the bullpen and getting ready to drive this spring. I've already heard from readers of this column and other friends, that their kids have gotten wacky traffic tickets...which is bad enough. But the idea of getting into avoidable...minor and not so minor accidents...tests my continence !

Up till now, I have had complete faith in my son. However, being behind the wheel will be a challenge and a whole new reality. Between his inexperience and the endless supply of morons on the road...worrying about him driving will infinitely transcend anything he's ever caused me to be stressed over.

So with that in mind, what's better than me talking two cops out of giving me a ticket? The answer LAYS both literally and figuratively, on Atlantic City's Mansion Avenue.

For the uninitiated, I work as a swing shift roulette dealer in Atlantic City, (8PM till 4AM). Like any job, casino work has its physical and mental ups and downs. So its like an unwritten bonus after a rough shift that my 20-minute commute home is overwhelmingly calm and pleasant...to the point of being mellow.

A crimp in this perk is the unnecessary delays due to the antiquated, unsynchronized sequence of traffic lights. Sometimes I think the city, in conjunction with the casinos, purposely keeps people heading out from making any of the lights. If my conspiracy theory is correct, this subliminal ploy would be aimed to frustrate degenerate gamblers...luring them back to the tables. But deep down, I doubt the local politicians are that clever.

To speed-up my nightly escape, I was turned-on to Mansion Avenue, to bypass three uncoordinated lights. This Mansion Avenue is like the seven-foot clean-up guy nicknamed "Tiny" from Canarsie's Seaview Pool. Therefore, you shouldn't be deceived by this street's name...its not a broad thoroughfare and I doubt there's been any stately manors there for a hundred years.
YOU WON'T FIND "THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES" ESTATE ON MANSION AVENUE OR ANYTHING ELSE CLEAN.

What Mansion Avenue is, is a disgusting one-way alley that runs parallel to the traditional route, out of town. At 4AM, this short-cut is desolate. On the rare occasion that someone is out there, the time-saving motorist shouldn't be shocked to see; hookers, homeless people, drug pushers and their clientele. Other points of interest include; a scuzzy motel, a hand-full of dilapidated apartment houses (both condemned and in use...but yearning to be condemned), a dirty bookstore, two isolated row homes, a massage parlor and a ton of vacant lots that resemble Hiroshima after the blast.
THIS APARTMENT HOUSE IS THE CROWNED JEWEL OF MANSION AVENUE.

Over the past five years, I have encountered this narrow passage to be be partially blocked by displaced dumpsters, abandoned appliances, discarded mattresses and poorly parked cars. Although there's never been an incident, I still keep my windows closed even when there isn't anyone around.

Last month, I was once again lucky in my car. I turned onto Mansion Avenue and passed the Sluts-R-Us Motel. My eye then caught what I hoped was a skulking, shiny black cat or a possum with back problems. After passing it, I glanced over my shoulder for a second look. I was repulsed by the over-sized rodent and focused back on the road. Suddenly, I hit my brakes because a rolled-up carpet had been tossed three-quarters of the way into the street. I had time and enough room to swerve around but as I did, I noticed it wasn't a rug, it was a bum, (that's a 60's term for a drunk),. He was passed-out with his ankles on the sidewalk, his lower torso straddling the curb and his head at a 45 degree angle "facing" on coming traffic.

If I hit that guy, the vehicular manslaughter charges against me would have ruined my day. And its quite possible, HIS crushed cranium wouldn't have been too much fun for him either!

Hopefully, my son will never take such short-cuts and won't be distracted by speaking on the phone, doing homework, texting or eating his Taco Bell lunch while driving. However, checking out cat-sized rats is like watching a guy teetering on whether or not to jump off a bridge...or in Atlantic City's case, the roof of a casino garage. You know you shouldn't look...but you can't take your eyes off it. Therefore, it can happen to anyone...its human nature...I...I mean the unfortunate dude laying across Mansion Avenue and me...just got lucky this time.