Sunday, January 25, 2009


Remember Monte Hall and his zany, old TV show, "LET'S MAKE A DEAL?" Some people liked the wacky outfits the potential contestants would wear. Others liked the suspense of the "big deal," three-curtain choice that climaxed each episode...but not me. I loved the last few minutes of nearly every show in which Monte would go to arbitrary audience members and would offer to pay cash for odd-ball items. For this possibility women especially, would stuff their bags with an insane assortment of minutia. That way, they'd be ready when Monte would say to a random person, "I'll give you $50.00 for a fountain pen," or "I'll give you $5.00 for every cancelled check you have." It was a rarity that somebody would actually have what Monte asked for...yet they'd all search even though they knew they didn't have any paper clips, foreign stamps or photos of zoo animals. Think about it, how could anyone EVER prepare for that.

The Boy Scout motto; BE PREPARED is little more that a truism. On its face, it sounds like it covers all the bases but in reality, its just a slogan and quite an ambiguous one at that. When my son Andrew was in the scouts, he was given a check-list of things to bring during to the world re-known sleep-out with dad. Perhaps as camping first-timers we were supposed to think "outside the box" but my pioneer spirit has left me long ago. Therefore, there was no way, I would ever think to bring an actual mattress, our own three square meals or a fire hose with a fifty yard range to put out the stokies, the dads in the cigar club smoked after "lights-out.".

Another time that I was unprepared involved disco-platform shoes. It was back in the 70's and I saw a close-friend walking awkwardly yet with a forced confidence, in those dreadful platform shoes. He of course was being trendy but I only saw the humor of a tough jock walking like he had a cue-stick up his butt. Unfortunately for me, I then realized he was on his way to his girlfriend's house and far worse, I was playing H-O-R-S-E with an eleven year-old.

By the time I broke down and bought two pairs of disco shoes; brown ones and black ones, the style was on its way out. In 1979, when I landed in Las Vegas to start my gaming career, those shoes were both passe AND in my suitcase. Still, regardless of this fashion faux-pas, we were taught that dealers HAD to wear black shoes so, I felt prepared.

When I hit town, a gracious friend and current reader of this column, UOMO let me and a few other Vegas newcomers from our dealer school sleep on the floor of his apartment. In the time between arriving and getting a job, I became friendly with another floor-sleeper named John Haverlo. And John said when he gets an apartment, I'd be welcome to stay on the sofa (a big up-grade from the floor) until his wife came out from Poughkeepsie.

THE NEW YORK SCHOOL of GAMBLING'S placement service arranged my job as a craps dealer at the SLOTS-A-FUN Casino. My school had such a reputation for high quality students that I was hired without the traditional audition (try-out). More importantly, the "Fashion -Police" didn't question my platform shoes. Mr. Boyle, the casino's manager even "let" me get my "feet wet" by working me about forty minutes AND he didn't even charge me for the privilege! In that short time, I was inspired by their support.

That night, John Haverlo told me he might be moving into a place on Van Patten Street. Of course I was new to town and had NO IDEA where it was. He said, "If I take the place tomorrow, while you're at work, I'll take your stuff over there, (he didn't call my stuff; stuff...he called his shit; stuff...and my stuff; shit).

You can almost say every day in Las Vegas is bright and sunny. The next day was no exception. Even though it was chilly (January...1-11-79), when I got off the city bus at 9:45AM, at twenty-three years old, I radiated in confidence and enthusiasm as if I had life by the throat, (in the next 30+ years, I doubt I ever felt that way again).

Like any break-in (newbie) craps dealer, I was so nervous, I couldn't do anything right. Before I would realize that this would be the longest day in my life, the storm clouds literally AND figuratively moved in. I wasn't even half way through that first shift when the disco shoes started annihilating my feet. By three that afternoon it started to drizzle. By that time, I was a solid mass of perspiration and blisters began developing on my feet.

It was around that time that John walked into the casino. He witnessed Mr. Boyle combine a rare and intense knowledge of profanity, while loudly providing me with "constructive criticism" in front of the players and staff I NEEDED...I was mortified...John laughed. John was experiencing a similar "impatience" at his job too...but regardless of whether its the "nature of the beast" or not, NOBODY should be treated that way.

On my break, I was too delirious with the shame of inadequacy to ask John the right questions. He just said, "I took the apartment." He told me the address and that its in walking distance, "Across the street, up Riviera, left on Paradise, to Karen Avenue. Its near the "big" Hilton, you can't miss it."

I left work in a misty rain. At first, the near-freezing temperatures felt good on my sweaty body. The cross street after Riviera was two "city" blocks away. Each step I took, aggravated the blisters on my feet more. At Paradise Road, (a funny name for a street), in front of me to the right, was the big Hilton International Casino's property. It was rimmed by a huge vacant lot. Along its left side, I saw the Karen Avenue sign. The monstrous size of the Hilton on my right dwarfed Slots-A-Fun and held my attention so that when I got to the next street (Joe W. Brown Drive that led to the Hilton's back entrance), I walked that way.

Being NEAR the big Hilton and turning down a street John didn't mention, are two different things. First, had I gone straight on Karen, I would have seen several residential streets in a row, with Van Patten being the third. Secondly, across from Hilton was the walled, Las Vegas Country Club. Thirdly, I went past the Hilton without asking for help.

Joe W. Brown snaked on a 45 degree angle which for some reason led me to thing I was getting close. Before reality set-in, I turned to see the Hilton already in the distance behind me. I was screwed. Then I was screwed worse when four bombs fell on me; it started to pour, my foot blisters erupted, I had to pee and the sidewalk had been broken up, (there was no sidewalk on the Hilton side and the constant flow of vehicular traffic prevented me from walking in the street). Luckily, I didn't turn an ankle, but still, tip-toeing through the broken cement and mud made every step agony on my feet.

I was back on solid pavement at the next cross street; Desert Inn Road. Stupidly, I kept walking around the perimeter of the country club. At the gate to the club I asked a security guard. He said it would be fastest to walk through the club but he couldn't let me cut through and couldn't even let me in to use a toilet. He pointed to Maryland Parkway and said, "Make a left to Karen and there's an Arco station with a clean bathroom right there."

The unnecessary leg of my journey to which I was unprepared, added over an hour to my longest work day. When John saw me, I was a broken, wet, frozen, limping, tired and depressed platform disco shoes.

When I think back. If I had been prepared to pick Monte Hall's metaphoric middle curtain, (murder Mr. Boyle earlier that day), my life would have been so much better. Boyle was so heinous to me that day that any sane jury would have recognized it as justifiable homicide so...if I would have gotten twenty years...I would have already been "out" for ten--PLUS, my feet and emotional well-being would never have suffered the pain and anxiety it knew and still know !

Monday, January 19, 2009


You're channel surfing and a History Channel show catches your eye. The panorama of a vast desert is explored. Super-imposed lettering fades in; 109 degrees. Nearest town East-West Kidney, Montana...fifty miles away. The camera stops at a mountain and zooms-in to a close-up of the lone figure of an geologist. HE'S THE BEARDED GUY IN THE BANANA REPUBLIC KHAKI SHORTS NEXT TO THE THIRD HEAP OF GILA MONSTER DUNG ON THE RIGHT.

The host points to the lowest in series of different colored parallel bands in the rock formation and says, "As evidenced by this scallop-like fossil, this entire region, millions of years ago, was submerged beneath the ocean." He mops the perspiration off his brow, sets his finger on the next stony layer and says, "Here is the fossil of an extinct species of fern. Its seems impossible but in just a million years, this rock wall went from being below sea level, to being part of a lush forest. Now, this same rock looks perfectly natural in this arid, middle-of-nowhere wilderness."

In the next scene from Iraq, the geologist displays stone tablets from ancient Mesopotamia. He makes the point that regardless of what hi-tech devices man has to protect his present-day cities and culture, they aren't guaranteed to be around millions of years from now. We soon learn the program's theme is; the survival of things built of or etched in stone.

Etched in stone...I think the same thing can be said about our fondest memories. Of course, not everyone has the gift of recall. That's where cameras on cell-phones, computers or even rustic implements like pen and paper come in handy. Personally, even though I have earned such nicknames as: Instant Recall Edelblum, The Incredible Edelsteen and The Storehouse of Useless Information, I diluted myself into believing that the good old days would never end so I took the finer details of my youth for granted. Therefore, much more greatness wasn't chronicled and was lost in the shuffle of growing-up.

That is what I like about FACEBOOK. Facebook is a free social-networking computer site that has countless uses. Most people use it to keep in touch on a daily basis with friends, share photos and videos or to make new friends, play games, join clubs etc.

At first, because I'm NOT a joiner, I resisted Facebook. Then because of stiff per group pressure put on me by: PCSHMEE and SUEB, I signed on because I realized its global and eternal scope. I saw what it had to offer and participated on a superficial level, (actually, if you can keep a secret, I only saw Facebook as another way to advertise this blog).

Facebook's application process includes, current address, age, hometown and schooling. From that information, a computer search reveals people you may know. You contact them. They are then given the option to respond or ignore and vice-versa. So when I finished applying, in no time there was a flood of people I had some link with, "writing on my wall." I saw the worldwide potential in this and likened it to "INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS..." Who will be the last computer person on the planet NOT on Facebook.

On the second day, I struck Facebook GOLD; a great friend, HJ, from my childhood (he moved away when we were 14), found me.

Like a distance runner's high, I get a writer's high from researching my blogs, telling stories and entertaining my readership. What gives me greater pleasure, is the response I get from you, my audience but Facebook has brought me an even better source of happiness. HJ not only appreciates my writing but responds in kind. He is like the geologist pointing to dinosaur bones in the rock and giving me new prospectives to sealed periods in my life. Imagine finding out additional information to special events in your past. Like HJ remembering my two-foot high rubber ( about the Stone-Age...) blow-up wading pool...very chic for 1959. He knew it was turquoise in color and shaped like a smiling whale, (see, back in that period a million years ago, I lived underwater).

HJ and I have been exchanging loads of free childhood associations for less than a week and let me tell you something; I CAN'T REMEMBER EVER LOSING SO MUCH SLEEP OVER SOMETHING SO PURELY POSITIVE.

I wish I could see the look on HJ's face when I tell him I remember him going to nursery school in the miniature yellow school bus. Or how I raced down the block when I found out that he had returned from CAMP-LENNIE-LENAPE.

If you read everything I ever wrote, you would have noticed that the musical instrument, the glockenspiel has come up several times, well, it was HJ that taught me what it was.

It seems I don't even have to strain my brain to find new fossils from our past. I wonder if HJ remembers the "Rocky Affair." (editor's note, the term "affair" in titles is a "MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. " reference).
Rocky was an older kid on my street. One afternoon my friends and I were playing "Triangle" (also called "Slap-Ball,") when Rocky staggered from his house, fell and went into convulsions on his front lawn. We were about 12 and were laughing because we had no idea he was "tripping" on acid. Then a neighbor, a real yente named "Big Rozie" shooed us away. (Big Rozie should not be confused with regular-sized Rozie or Rosalynd the lady around the corner with Muffin, "the deranged poodle.)"

Speaking of Big Rozie, she had two Sissy-Mary sons who rarely left their house. I guess because her boys were self-ostracized, she resented the other kids on the block. This was proven another time when we were playing softball in the street and my grounder got between the fielders. In the far reaches of our outfield, (twenty-feet behind the man-hole cover we called second base), Rozie was getting in her car. As she plopped into the seat, she dropped her keys. When she bent down to pick them up, the ball hit the keys and ricocheted up, into her face. I don't know why we ran, but we did. What's even harder to understand is; why she didn't see it as a million-to-one freak accident (she wasn't disfigured but trust me even if she was it would have had to have been an improvement). Yet, she kept the ball and made a federal case out of it to our parents.

HJ had great board games like "COMBAT" from the TV show and a huge toy aircraft carrier called "WALTZING MATILDA." In fact his house was our group's Friday night hang-out for years. He had color TV with a remote control! Back then few families had color TV and nobody had remote controls. I hope HJ remembers this because across from my house, another kid's mother had her own version of remote control, she would call her son up from the basement when we were playing, to manually change her channels!

Across from HJ's house, (I think we were ten), a few of us were shooting the breeze when we found a near-empty pint-sized whiskey bottle. We were trying to figure out what to do with the last few drops when a stray cat attached itself to us. Somebody got the idea of feeding some alcohol to the cat. The cat licked the bottle's opening as we tried to spill some in its mouth. Something spooked the cat and it jerked its head and a liquor droplet got in its eye...the cat freaked-out and ran away. We threw the bottle down the sewer.

HJ's oldest brother was about 17 when we were 14. He was reading an Archie comic book when HJ and I came in their house. On the book's cover, Jughead was wearing a sweatshirt with the number 68 on it. I remarked to the brother, something to the effect of: "That's pretty cool the way they make you think of "69" without having to use it." Even though I wasn't specifically sure what 69 meant, I could tell from the look on the brother's face that I educated a big kid.

The History Channel documentary ended with the geologist pointing to the scallop fossil and saying: A million years from now this fossil might be floating through the universe orbiting planet Xenon and perhaps it can help another civilization figure out what happened to ours. Hopefully, my new E-Relationship (thanks to Facebook) with HJ won't veer off into space and get forgotten for another million years, (actually 39 years).


Register for Facebook today. Strike the gold that only old friends can provide and try to figure out how you let your best memories slip away.

Monday, January 12, 2009


This column was founded by glibness but this time around I will be serious. Today's subject, the DUST-BOWL, is something most of us have a superficial knowledge of but don't know the details. A documentary on the History Channel, "THE BLACK BLIZZARD," has sparked my interest.

Most importantly, I don't want to compare natural disasters because I would not want to diminish the obvious suffering from earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, hurricanes etc. But the Black Blizzard tells of Americans who suffered physically or psychologically...continually, for ten years.

This "Dust-Bowl" phenomena or the "Dirty Thirties," took place throughout the 1930's. It centered in the American Great Plains around western Kansas, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma as well as the neighboring areas of New Mexico and Colorado. However, a much larger area, extending into Canada was also affected.


Oddly, the culprit of this ecological, agricultural and human catastrophe is man himself. Prairies are grasslands that were not intended by nature to be plowed under. Without going into specifics (you should see the documentary), man wasn't clever enough to protect these lands from erosion. After years of prosperity, 1930 brought a severe drought to region. In an over-simplification, without the grass to anchor the valuable topsoil down, strong winds were able to blow it away. The soil returned to earth as dust. Then when more strong winds returned, vast amounts of dust became airborne.

The Stratford picture does not tell the whole story. Some dust storms lasted for hours, some for days. Great tracts of land covering large counties frequently had to "dig-out" as if had snowed. Far worse, because there was no insulation, the high winds brought the soot through the smallest crevices, into every house, building, car etc. There was no place to hide. The dust covered every inch both inside and out. It may have been inconvenient and dirty to wake-up in a blanket of dust, but the coarse particles got into people's throats and many (especially the very young and old), developed painful lifelong and/or fatal breathing problems (similar to black lung disease) that was generally categorized as; dust pneumonia.

The cycle of devastation continued when the air-borne dust blocked the sunlight and further hampered the rainfall process. The farms that had flourished for decades were reduced to next to nothing. In addition to the growers having no produce to eat, the livestock that relied on those crops also starved...without animals, the farmers source of meat was drastically, without produce to sell, they couldn't buy food. Then the farmers went broke and couldn't pay-off their loans. The banks foreclosed...and folks were kicked off land that in some cases had been in their families for generations.

When it seemed that life in the Dust-Bowl couldn't get worse, pestilence of biblical proportions invaded. To survive, the bird and rodent population evacuated the area. Without natural predators, jack-rabbits and insects; like centipedes and grasshoppers ate or destroyed whatever foodstuff that might have been salvageable.

John Steinbeck's novels, "THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1939)" and "OF MICE AND MEN (1937)" as well as the Woody Guthrie's autobiography, "BOUND FOR GLORY (1943)" helped the public to sympatize with the homeless half-million who migrated to west. But years earlier, when the plight of the "Okies" needed to be addressed, it went mostly unnoticed.

National awareness finally increased when magazines started buying-up photographs depicting the acute suffering. Reporters from the east came to investigate the Dust-Bowl as well as the horrific conditions being endured by those who, motivated by exaggerated claims of good paying jobs as seasonal produce pickers, navigated the torturous road to California.

For the most part, the rest of the country still focused its own financial problems until one of the most severe two-day dust storms came out of America's mid-section.

On May 9, 1934 a dust storm's wrath was soon felt in Chicago. Dirt fell from the sky like snow and people took notice. Two days later, the remnants of the same storm poured down on Buffalo, Boston, New York City and Washington. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took action and sent surveyors and agricultural experts to establish a line of attack. Then on April 14, 1935, the worst dust storm in recorded U. S. history took place. "BLACK SUNDAY," dominated by a two-thousand mile wide gauntlet that reached two miles in height, swept across the country and littered the southeast with sandy residue before dumping whatever was left in the Atlantic Ocean.

Great Plains resident, Avis D. Carlson wrote of Dust-Bowl life in the New Republic, "People caught in their own backyards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk. The nightmare is deepest during the storm. But on the occasional bright day...and the usual gray day, we can not shake from it. We live with dust, eat it and sleep with it. We watch it strip us of our possessions and hope of possessions. It is becoming real. The poetic uplift of spring fades into a phantom of the storied past. The nightmare is becoming life."

There is so much more, see "THE BLACK BLIZZARD," it's a two-hour documentary airing on the "HISTORY CHANNEL." In addition to incorporating the causes, affects and remedies...vivid recreations, under laboratory conditions, help give the viewer an idea of the hardship that killed an estimated 7000 people. Then in more human terms, interviews with survivors further illustrate perhaps America's worst natural disaster.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


(KENNA-HUR-RAH) is the Yiddish (not Hebrew) word for jinx. With that in mind, I'd like to cautiously...without putting a KENNA-HUR-RAH on myself...tell you about the much delayed adventure of having a new roof put on my house.

I carefully considered many variables; i. e., price, material and professional reputation before picking my roofer. The well-qualified firm I chose was represented/owned by a gentleman so drab that it was distracting. Of course not every salesperson comes off like P. T. Barnum but you'd never expect the guy to be more like the cartoon dog, Droopy. And speaking of dogs, his breath is so unbelievably bad that I am actually wasting my time by acknowledging it in print.

All of our initial communication was positive. He even provided us with other local customer addresses so we could compare various shingles against different color houses. Once we made our final verbal agreements, the contract was signed and mailed back to him at the end of October. Thus starting what has become the odyssey that this project was...and STILL is.

Two weeks later, I called to verify that he had received the contract. I got his machine and left a message. For whatever reason(?) that call wasn't returned until I left a second message. His response was-- he still hadn't received the contract. Despite two weeks seeming excessive for a 20 mile mailing, its always easiest to blame the post office. I took him at his word, made a copy of my copy and re-mailed the contract.

I waited about a week until I left another message to double-check that THIS contract was received. In this call, I made certain to dictate his address and ask if it was indeed valid. I got NO RESPONSE! I called a week later, NO RESPONSE and again a week after that, NO RESPONSE!

By this time, the holiday season was in full tilt. And even though I could rationalize how he might be involved with other things, my doubts about this guy were getting intense. I guessed that he wanted to renege because he couldn't make a decent profit for the quoted price. I also guessed that he was ignoring me in order to save-face in the hope that I'd give up and take my business elsewhere. But the conspiracy theorist in me was nagged by other, these are uncertain financial times...if he under-bid himself, we'd all be better served if he said something like; there has been an unforeseen rate hike from my suppliers etc. And even if he wanted to back-out, for any reason, you'd think it prudent--on the level of goodwill and the hope of future recommendation--that he'd go out of his way to clear the air? Besides, you would think that he'd welcome the work especially in this usually slow season for roofers.
From my standpoint it was a good idea to stick with him--at least in the short term. In addition to his outfit being $2,000.00, $2,200.00 and $3,500.00 less than the other three bidders, he had installed a friend's roof and had a clean record with the Better Business Bureau. Plus he said he would take care of all the permits, provide a dumpster and do the whole job (including clean-up) in one day.

After Christmas I got a surprise call from him. He said the second contract I mailed had arrived? Tis the season for miracles...perhaps NOT! Then he said that he rarely checked the mail at that office (the one printed on the contract) and that he rarely checks that phone's messages (the number on the contract). UGHHH !
The next dagger through my heart was when he said, "I thought I told you to use my cell phone number?" OY VEY !

I cringe when I say this but...I 'm forging ahead with this knucklehead. He said that he has applied for the work permits and will contact me...this I gotta see...when he gets them. The final step is...his crew does not work in temperatures under 40...well I'm going to call him now (on his cell!) to let him know its going to be 45 this Thursday and Friday.

I'm sure we'll all have a good laugh when this project is finished. But until then, you can see why I don't want to put a KENNA-HUR-RAH it. Just hearken back to 1905 Russia, to the frozen village of Anatevka and you might be able to picture a fiddler on Tevye's roof.

I understand that some of my readers prefer their entertainment to be a bit more tangible than fictitious Tevye . But what I have to offer is just as shaky and still bound by similar traditions. So perhaps this month, come by and see the show when Droopy (armed with thousands of little nails and hopefully an equal amount of Tic-Tacs) fiddles on my roof.