Monday, March 30, 2009


Overwhelmingly, my father was a mild mannered man. He was not easily ruffled and almost never used harsh profanity around my sister and I. I am proud to say that I believe he passed those traits on to me.

One of my memories of him being flustered was when my sister was taking Drivers-Ed. Dad took sis to practice for her road-test in his 1968, two-tone green Dodge Polara...I rode in the back.


Dad was a smoker but the anxiety sis caused...led him to curse like a longshoreman and light-up Kent cigarettes in rapid succession. Another indelible image I have of that day was, poor dad from the passenger seat, trying to put his foot through the floor where the imaginary brake-pedal would have been.

In a sea of other inexperienced driver shortcomings, I think the biggest (worst) issue was my sister's lack of depth perception. This caused her to stay dangerously close (right) to parked cars. It would have been funny if dad kissed the ground when they were done but he was in no joking mood.

I was fourteen and only went along to get a flavor of what I would be doing in a couple of years...but seeing my dad's carry-over, in a near catatonic state for the next two hours...was proof enough for me...that witnessing one practice session was all I needed. I never rode with them again.

These days there's a nice kid on my street learning to drive. He and his dad have puttered by several times with the son at the wheel. The first time I saw them, I pretended to run up my driveway in fear. Yes it was an exaggeration but I remember him crashing a lot when his dad took the training wheels off his two-wheeler.

I realize that I shouldn't laugh because my scion Andrew will be in Drivers-Ed next year. Don't worry I won't take-up smoking but I do have several hockey puck-sized Valiums ready. If not, I'm sure he'll find out just how fluent in profanity I can be. When the time comes, I suggest that everyone from Galloway New Jersey to Pismo Beach California give him an extra wide least in the beginning...or be prepared to run up their driveways in earnest. Because, if we equate driving a car to riding a guy will be easily distracted. I never saw anyone else ride a bike seemingly without ever looking straight ahead.

What is more important than learning to drive, is the abundance of adult-like responsibilities which, over night is dumped into the lap of the newly licensed driver. Most of this accountability centers on the safety...that of the driver, passengers, those in others vehicles, pedestrians, roadside property, small woodland creatures and of course, the car itself.

I remember the sudden weight of responsibility being thrust upon me right after I became celebrate this giant step towards dad decided to take us and my aunt's family, to Nina's Italian Restaurant on Crossbay Boulevard, in Howard Beach Queens. In addition to cramming eight people into dad's Polara, he handed me the keys.

From my native Canarsie (Brooklyn) to the restaurant is a tour of several neighborhoods with a convoluted set of turns. Despite my little cousins risking their lives by sitting on their parent's lap in the back seat (and hindering my view) I was confident I could drive the thirty minutes without needing directions.

Then dad dropped the bomb on me, "No. We're not taking the 'streets.'"
That could only mean one thing...the dreaded Belt Parkway. On the Belt Parkway, (three lanes in each directions) Crossbay was two short exits away. An experienced driver could get there in ten minutes. But the Belt was my Everest and dad saw it fit for me to lose my highway virginity on it, with the bulk of the Edelblum clan hanging in the balance.


Just my luck...Canarsie is Exit-13, on the Belt Parkway.

Despite the anxiety, I got onto the eastbound on-ramp in fine style. For safety's sake, I got my cousins to lean to the side so I could see. Then I rolled on the acceleration lane to the "blast-off point" and STOPPED! After an eternity (two or three minutes) other cars behind us became backed up. When they started their horn honking, a chorus of family encouragement filled my ears. But as the cars on the Belt whizzed by, I just couldn't squeeze the trigger and go. We were at that standstill for at least ten minutes. Only when dad started his uncharacteristic frustration motivated tapestry of obscenities that I saw enough of an opening to proceed.

No lives were lost and somehow, at 25 white-knuckle (for me) MPH in the right lane, nobody lost their appetite on the way.

That adventure led to many other adventures without parental supervision. At a time when many of my friends either weren't legal drivers, weren't permitted on the Belt or didn't have access to a car...I was the designated road-trip driver.

I was seventeen when one of my friends heard about a great bar in Bayside Queens. According to him, the Old Forge Inn had everything. Most importantly tons of easy girls...and we all "know" the reputation of those Bayside babes. Plus the bar never check ID's. And, they had a big TV for Monday Night Football games. Also, if that wasn't incentive enough...they had free hot dogs at halftime.

We set out for Bayside and somewhere along Bell Boulevard we thought we were lost.
We saw a hippie couple and my friend rolled down the window and incorrectly asked, "How far is the Old Log Inn?"
The guy gave him the finger and the girl cursed us. I sped away. Luckily, the place was a few streets farther up and we laughed when we realized that my friend called the "Old Forge" by the wrong name. It was then obvious why the couple got so upset. Either way, all of our future references to the bar were intentionally, The Old Log Inn.

The first thing we noticed inside was, barrels of free peanuts everywhere. Then we saw the big TV and chaffing dishes of franks being prepared for halftime. The one thing that was glowingly missing was the advertised bevy of loose women. This by the way, was not something that corrected itself as the night wore on.

We sat at one of the long, peanut shell strewn tables and had strangers on both sides of us. It seemed that the Old Forge attracted a regular crowd and we stood out like four shiny pennies, in a bucket of rusty ones.

We were afraid they'd figure out that we were underage and/or didn't have the two tattoo minimum. So we spoke in whispers and avoided eye-contact with the tough looking crowd. At halftime, while everyone else was taking three or more hot dogs, my friends and I kept a low-profile and settled for one each.

The effect of the beer helped loosen us up as the game wore on. Until our tipsy world was shattered by an angry drunk.
He slammed his fist down and screamed, "One of you ____s put crap in my beer!" (He didn't say crap).
The bar's attention turned away from the game and we all shook our shivering heads in denial.
With slurred speech he repeated, "One of you _____s put crap in my beer!"
We were not fighters and were too scared to run as the blood-thirsty crowd closed in on us.
"C'mon," the drunk groaned. "Which one of you put crap in my beer."
He pounded his mug down causing suds to overflow. My friend Jeff was closest to this genius.
He looked down into the sot's mug and pointed, "Is that the crap."
The drunk looked down and spat, "Yeah! Now what are you going to do about it?"
Jeff stuck his hand in the glass and pulled out a peanut shell and said, "See, I took the crap out!"
At first the drunk was perplexed.
He then looked down into the mug, picked it up, took a sip and with a grin said, "Thanks."

In a combination of getting out of the "Old Log Inn" alive and a flashback of my first Belt Parkway excursion, I drove 25 MPH in the whole way back to the right lane.

Monday, March 23, 2009


During a History Channel episode of "MODERN MARVELS;" great engineering roadway feats were discussed. The show jarred my memory and I recalled appreciating the beauty of Interstate 70 along the section that cuts through Utah and Colorado.                       I-70 GOING WEST, CUTS THROUGH THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS

In 1976, I combined hitchhiking and Greyhound buses to do a 68-day solo trip across the country. I kept a daily log and mailed it home to my lieu of letters. This journal is still in my mother's house. I always meant to type it out but in all these years, I still haven't re-read a single word. Today's highlighted excerpt will give you a flavor of my experiences as well as a taste of I-70's beauty.

During my trip, at a fast-food restaurant in Phoenix, a fellow backpacker approached me.  What a coincidence, she had been in my Kiddie-Lit (Children's Literature), at Brooklyn College. We re-hashed old memories and shared our adventures since leaving New York. Later. she invited me to stay with her and her boyfriend on their camp-site at the Grand Canyon.

When I got to the Grand Canyon, they had befriended a bunch of people and it wound up being a huge hippie hang-out, (you may recall from a previous blog, in which...I thought...that gang had awakened me at 6AM, by gobbling like turkeys. Through my tent, I yelled for them to stop. I got so angry that I unzipped my tent to give them a piece of my mind. I was shocked to see twenty or so actual wild turkeys serenading me).

From that group, a couple from Slidell Louisiana stood out in my mind. Mostly because I obsessed over the girl. She was so friendly, funny and beautiful but completely unattainable for me. In addition to her boyfriend having that Charles Manson look, he was into hatchet throwing. If that wasn't intimidating enough, he also carried a bull-whip and would crack it inches from this girl's face whenever she hesitated in carrying-out his bidding. It was a horror to watch her unconditional obedience to him. What was far worse was her defense of his actions and putting herself down to rationalize his behavior.

I gravitated to a guy in the crowd with a fresh scar from stitches next to his left eye named Will Raymond. This rural Coloradoan would let me vent to him about this girl. I even used my B- knowledge of Psych-101 to explain the concept of the Stockholm Effect...a phenomena where a victim, over time, identifies and sides with their captor. Will's response was, "Cut the shit!  Be a hero and save her from the abuse... or shut-up." Regretfully, I shut-up.  Thus starting our friendship.

Will encouraged me to visit him in his hometown, tiny Georgetown Colorado. He told great stories about his friends and the laid-back attitude in this former silver mining boon-town. He gave me his address and phone number, and invited me stay over if I ever made it there. We got along so well, that I decided to hitchhike back with him.

Our first stop was Flagstaff Arizona. We soon learned that the town was known for its racial tensions. Surprisingly, these problems were Native Americans versus...everyone else, (of course we never heard the Indians side of the story).

To avoid broiling in the 115 degree sun, Will and I had our thumbs out in the shade of an overpass. We were stuck there over an hour when state troopers stopped to interrogate us. They wanted to see ID and money, to make sure we weren't runaways and/or vagrants. When we checked-out, the trooper's parting words were, "Don't take a ride from an Indian. They'll drive you to a secluded spot in the desert, cut your hands off and while you're running in agony, use you for target practice!"

Another hour had gone by and the trooper's words were still fresh when a pick-up truck stopped. Naturally there were two Indians inside. Without speaking, the passenger motioned us to sit in the bed. We got in. I later found out that Will was as scared as I was. To pass the time, Will told me about all the girls he knew back home. His chat made the risk seem worthwhile. A couple of hours later, the Indians safely dropped us off at a cut-off for Tuba City.

They drove away on the dusty road to Tuba City and left us in the middle of nowhere.

Other than the blacktop highway and the unpaved crossroad,  Will and I were the only dots in the lonely, stifling hot landscape. Like a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie only four cars whizzed by during our first thirty minutes out there.

The only relief we got  from the elements came from fluffy, harmless looking clouds temporarily blocking the sun. That's why it was so shocking that one gigantic gray cloud appeared in the distance.
In no time, the cloud darkened and zoomed on a collision course straight at us. It was overhead when the hailstorm started. At first it was funny but soon the little frozen pellets increased to penny-size. The sky was almost black and with no place to run, the heavens opened as a torrent of golf ball-like hailstones painfully pinged and pelted us for ten minutes.  It sounds crazy but seconds after the last hail stone bounced off my head, it was 115 degrees again.

Our next ride dropped us at Lake Powell. Lake Powell is a man-made recreational center that straddles the Arizona-Utah border. That night, it was so hot along the shore (around 95 degrees) that we tried to sleep on top of our sleeping bags. In the dark, Will was telling me that the Red Ram Saloon. was the coolest place in Georgetown. I became distracted by low flying birds and moaned, "Geez these swooping birds are annoying." He laughed, "Birds? Those aren't birds, they're bats!" I think I lost twenty pounds from sweat that night because, I got into my sleeping bag and zipped it right up to my chin.

In the morning, the Lake Powell visitor center was a modern, air-conditioned building with restrooms, a gift shop and restaurant. We spend a lot of time inside because it was so damned hot outside. In speaking to other travelers, we found out, if we thought it was hard to get a ride in Arizona...its almost impossible in Mormon Country (Utah).

For four hours, we still hadn't connected with a ride. At noon, Will was telling me his best friend Frank was the bartender at the Red Ram. He was dabbing at the tender scar on his face as he continued, "Frank'll let us drink free all night.  He's the kind of guy who'll give you the shirt off his back." Will stopped bragging when a trucker picked us up.

This malicious bastard took us less than twenty miles and said, "This is where I turn off." We were stranded and left in Utah's version of the middle of nowhere. Except we had no visitor center, no shade and couldn't fill our canteens.

It seemed like we were out there forever. I was considering walking back to Lake Powell when an RV picked us up. Inside were four generations of non-English speaking, German tourists. It was uncomfortable but they might have saved our lives. They dropped us off in the town of Kanab.

Oasis-like Kanab was a small green patch in the brown desert wilderness. At first it was refreshing how many townspeople took the time to stop their car and sincerely wish us luck.  But since none of them picked us up...the novelty wore thin, quick!.

At dusk, a guy driving a Sanford and Son-like dry-ice truck, offered us a ride...with the stipulation that in exchange for the lift, we were to unload all his deliveries.

His delivery route was gas stations along that dark, two-lane highway. I had no idea that in 1976, there were still so many soda machines that were refrigerated by dry-ice. We soon learned that our savior's plan to use us as laborers had nothing to do with laziness. While we schlepped giant frigid blocks for him, he drank whisky with the proprietors/managers/attendants.

After many stops over the next few hours, he was ripped. Then he got a CB message that a girl with a low-cut top and a large chest was driving ahead of us in a white, late-model Chrysler Imperial convertible. He got that old truck up to 90MPH and wove dangerously around the occasional car in our path. My mind also the tragic death of Jayne Mansfield.

While we flew through the night, my thoughts fixated not so much on what might happen to the girl we were chasing but what might happen to us.

In mid-burp our driver gleefully announced, "There she is," when he spotted her car in the distance. Seconds later, (thank God), we heard the siren of a motorcycle policeman behind us.

When the dry-ice dude spoke to the cop, he was so wasted that he couldn't put together two sentences. So when you consider how conservative Utah is, it was crazy that he talked (slurred), his way out of a drunk driving summons...and his speeding ticket ($30.00) was determined as a dollar for every mile per hour over the limit he was driving.

Will and I were dropped us off at 1:AM, at a city park in Richfield Utah.  Before leaving, our intoxicated benefactor was conscientious enough to point out that the on-ramp for I-70 (our link to Georgetown Colorado), was a few blocks away.

We hid ourselves in a grove of trees behind the playground and slept. In the morning, Will mentioned that Frank the bartender might be able to get me some day-work at the bar. He added, "It's a good idea to not piss Frank off because as 'together' as he is..." Will paused, dabbed at his facial stitches and groaned, "He also has a bad temper."

Will went into the public restroom to clean-up. When he came out, I went in. When I came out, Will had vanished. I checked my belongings and everything was intact. I was more intrigued than angry and I decided to go continue on to his slice of Eden, (I still had his phone number and address). There was a Greyhound station in Richfield and Georgetown Colorado which also abutted the interstate was a straight-shot, 500 miles away.

I-70 was the first US interstate to be started.  It was under construction from 1956 till 1992 . It begins a little farther west in Utah and goes east 2153 miles into Baltimore. The section I was riding along is considered one of the most picturesque highways in the world as well the most challenging to build.

This part of the country was inaccessible prior to the roadway coming in. Running through the heart of the Rocky Mountains, I-70 runs parallel to the Colorado River and cuts sharply around mountain walls and gorges. Sewn into the fabric of the hostile terrain, I-70's engineering marvels allow it to pass over the San Rafael Swell in Eastern Utah, go through the Glenwood Canyon and blast through a mountain for the Eisenhower Tunnel.
                              SPOTTED WOLF CANYON IN THE SAN RAFAEL SWELL

On the ride to Georgetown, all of my attention was focused on the scenery. Every twist in the highway brought greater beauty. I also thought it odd to see bicyclists on the shoulder but I found out that because of the sparsity of traffic, I-70 is the only Interstate that permits non-motorized vehicles.

At the Georgetown exit, my bus went down the off-ramp. On the outskirts of the tiny town, I got off at the gas station/post office/Greyhound depot. It was getting dark as I read the address that Will gave me back at the Grand Canyon.

The little town was sandwiched west and south by mountains and cut off by I-70 to the north. My search for 37 First Street began. The first cross street was 11th. I looked to the left and the width of the town was four streets and one more to the right. It was amazing that I went ten minutes without seeing felt like I was on, "CANDID CAMERA"   Soon, the weirdness intensified and I was convinced that I was in the "TWILIGHT ZONE" when a pack of mangy, stray dogs came out of an alley at 8th Street. They were growling and nipping at my heels...I thought I was going to soil myself until a jeep drove by and scared them off.

Normalcy set-in on Sixth Street, the big commerce center. The Red Ram Saloon was on that corner and there were active stores, homes and people. I continued until I saw that there was one street beyond Third and it was Second...then a mountain!

I saw a man checking his mail and asked, "Where's First Street?"

He said, "We don't have a First Street."

"Well, I'm looking for 37 First Street."

The man looked at my paper and said, "We don't have a First Street.  And...there's no two-digits addresses in the whole town."  He pointed at that phone number and added, "See that exchange...669?"

I said, "Yeah."

"Well...there isn't a 669 exchange anywhere around here."

I made a U-Turn and headed for the Red Ram Saloon.

I entered the Red Ram Saloon with a lot of questions. Despite the dimness, I found the inside to be brand new. It was decorated with plastic, Western memorabilia and looked like a cowboy-themed attraction in Disneyland. The long bar went the length of the right hand wall and ended with swinging doors that led to the bright florescent bulb lit kitchen. On the left hand wall, a one-flight, split staircase led to a square-shaped over-hanging walkway that was dotted with fake hotel-type numbered doors.

A TV was set high above the unattended bar.  Five people were watching the 1976 Olympics. In the large barroom there were three other couples at different tables. When I walked in, it was like I had spurs attached to my sneakers...everyone stopped what they were doing...and in a hostile way, stared me down.

I went to the TV watchers smiled, "Is Frank the bartender around?"

A skinny redneck in a sweat-stained yellow bandanna on his head said, "Who the hell are you?"

I said, "I'm a friend of Will Raymond...and Will said, when I got to town..."

A drunken girl in a Grateful Dead tee-shirt put two fingers in her mouth and interrupted me with an ear-piercing whistle. A huge (fat and tall) bearded man burst through the kitchen door carrying a meat cleaver. When he stopped, this behemoth who resembled Bluto from the Popeye cartoons, eclipsed the brightness coming from behind.

The redneck called out, "Frankie, this boy tells us that he's a friend of Will Raymond..."

I was already back-pedaling when the giant boomed, "Well, I almost killed Will Raymond with my bare hands!"

The skinny redneck cut-in, "And no jury would have convicted you."

Frank gave him a dirty look and pointed the cleaver at me, "Will Raymond ain't welcome here and neither are you."

When he started towards me, I turned and walked out to a chorus of laughter. I was crossing Sixth Street when I recalled Will's high regard for Frank but that he frequently touched his stitched face when the other side of Frank's personality came to mind.  That's when it dawned on me that Will experienced the Stockholm Effect, first hand.

Suddenly, Frank barged-out into the street, waved the cleaver and yelled, "Raymond owes me six hundred bucks! Unless you're gonna do something about it, get your sorry ass out of town before I take it out of your hide!"

Monday, March 16, 2009


About 15 years ago, my niece Wendy...who was 15 years younger than she is now...was throwing around the term "retro" a lot. Finally, I asked her what retro meant and she said, "Uncle Steve, you're so retro that you don't even know what it means."

These days, I'm still retro and couldn't believe my own ears when I heard that a computer software company is producing 3-D baseball cards. In an attempt to cater (cash-in on) to the computer gamer mentality, these cards when seen by a PC's web-cam, will display a 3-D image of a given player on the computer screen. In addition to being able to turn the player 360 degrees, the user can make the card do some tasks that will include...taking batting practice...geez, what do you do after the first four minutes?

The firm's gung-ho representative went as far as saying that the sports card hobby died because of the computer. He implied that traditional cards became obsolete because the stats on the back are no longer exclusively found there. He used the statistics as his sole argument and then added, with his technology, the computer which killed the hobby, will now resurrect it.

He can put any positive spin on his product he likes but you don't have to be a genius to know the real reason why the card collecting hobby was greed. In addition to astronomical player salaries (and player strikes/work stoppages in the name of more money and better benefits) forcing ticket prices to soar beyond most family budgets... live sports became increasingly parochial and this narrowness of scope (corporate entertainment) kept the continuing life-line of generations of fans...away. By the time this trend filtered down to the collecting of cards...this long-time kid's hobby became a money mongers paradise. And after the cards became too costly for kids to afford, the hobby collapsed onto itself.

I know I'm a relic of the past but...sports cards were meant to bring kids together; to compare, trade and more importantly play with. Nothing could compare with the rush when you saw the look on your friends face when he opened a pack, and four out of five were Marv Throneberry! Cards were never intended to shunt kids away so they would view or interact with them on a computer...they were meant to be TOYS !

Sports card games like flipping, long tossing, fluttering off a wall or matching (colors, teams, positions or first names) where highlights of free time all year long. If you were alone cards were a great companion on long car rides, when mom dragged you to the department store while she spent hours trying on clothes or if you were sick. Even at the end of a full day, you could still occupy yourself by forming teams, filling out check-lists or creating your own games. I liked drawing on mine. Blacking-out teeth was a favorite, but I also drew alien antennas, dunce-caps and put arrows through the heads of players I didn't like. In my earliest stages of creative writing, I wrote terrible things like; you stink or any one of its countless synonyms like: bum, scrubbeanie, dukey or Canarsie's favorite; schlock-meister...hey, I never said I was sophisticated when I was it was way before I became fluent in profanity.

I think my friends and I were also swayed by the bubble gum that came in each sport card pack. In its ripest form, the carnation pink rectangle of gum was pliable with a thin layer of sugar dust on each piece. However, most of the time the gum was hard. And when it was hard, sometimes it attached itself to the top card and left an indelible "gum-stain." Some kids put the stale gum in their mouth until it softened but I didn't like it soft or hard. When it came to bubble-gum...Bazooka was the only way to go. Sure there were ersatz competitors like, Fleer and Dubble-Bubble but they didn't do a thing for me!

Bazooka its most popular form, a one-cent, inch-square. It had an indentation in the middle...presumably to make it easier to split in half. I guess there were some kids who wanted to "save some for later" but I never associated with anyone like that! Otherwise the only other splitting situation involved the rare combination of; a younger sibling and especially frugal/ over-bearing parents.

The other advantage Bazooka had was its tiny waxy comic. In tiny print that tested the eyesight of sharpshooters, a paneled child-friendly comic featured Bazooka Joe, the eye-patched kid and his gang of friends...and foes. And if that wasn't enough empty calories and reading much smaller print...a parable...similar to a fortune cookie was hidden below the last panel.

These numbered comics were also collector items and some kids (in the Aristocracy) sent huge amounts of them...together with cash...for inane prizes. I did not come from the Aristocracy...I was never permitted to send away for anything...but I did covet the set of 198 paper army soldiers...I can still hear my mother say (scream), "What do you think, money grows on trees?"

My actual memory of Bazooka Joe and his cronies is nearly zero. Even with the Internet spelling things out, I just don't remember. Of course I wasn't much of a student so reading in my spare time was unlikely but the reason I prefer to think is...cavities. Chewing Bazooka used to cause me tremendous tooth pain. My Swiss Cheese-like teeth had so many holes in them that by the time I was ten...there wasn't any more room for new cavities. So because Bazooka was 113.2% sugar and I could feel the agony of my teeth corroding with each bite, I went cold turkey and kicked the Bazooka habit.

To my surprise, I recently learned that a Bazooka Joe full-length movie is now in the conception stage. I researched the net and found no information so I can't tell if its intended to be animated or not. However, I was surprised to read how many characters have been in these comics. So I guess that can squeeze-out a film. Hey they made a bad TV show about the Geico cavemen and awful movies about the "LITTLE RASCALS" and "SGT. BILKO" so why not Bazooka Joe.

I guess it wouldn't interest my progressive niece Wendy or anyone who never motorized their bike by clothes-pinning a baseball card to the spokes...but if you're as retro as I am...who knows...maybe it'll be profitable to make a politically correct, computer-generated "TACO BELL CHIHUAHUA; SUPER-HERO" TV show or an all black cast "F TROOP" movie or a "SECRET ASIAN MAN" mini-series.

Monday, March 9, 2009


The name BUCK'S ROCK WORK CAMP has a hostile ring to it. But nothing could be further from the truth. Buck's Rock was a sleep-away camp for the filthy rich. It was located in the foothills of Litchfield County, outside the little town, New Milford Connecticut, (not to be confused with Milford on the other side of the state which is an actual small city). In the summer of 1971, that camp was my first real work experience.

What separated this camp from all others was...sports, despite having facilities for them all, participating in them was beyond secondary. More specifically, this camp was intellectually motivated. Oddly, the campers weren't beset with rigid schedules either. The attendees were made aware of where and when activities took place and they came and went as they pleased. The camp was so laid back that if your kid was a loafer, nobody tried to get them off their butt.

I recall theatre productions, singing, dancing, pottery, wood shop, a radio station, construction teams, horse back riding, a farm where agricultural lessons were taught, photography, sewing, printing and so much more.

Camp management designed this keep me and my peers as far away from the campers as possible. Because, we were the kitchen utility crew! We did grunt labor (or as we called it; Bimmie-Work) around the mess hall which included: serving meals, pot washing, setting-up, cleaning up and re doing it all three times a day, seven times a week.

Somehow we managed to mingle with guests now and again.

It was a terrific experience with unforgettable memories and great people. Still, I was young and got homesick, (I had to use the bathroom, shower and let my mother do my laundry every so often...didn't I)? During the eight weeks, I probably went home on my one day off three of the eight times, (a co-worker with the same day off who lived in Canarsie had a car).

My other days off were spent at the camp where we had limited access to the activities. I remember how much fun it was to go with the garbage guy to McNulty's Dump. The garbage guy showed me all the sights including what 16 billion maggots in one spot looks like...I only went to the dump that one time .

The last time I performed on stage was at Buck's Rock, in a play called "EMPTINESSES." If you are familiar with my short stories, I stole that title for one of them. If you're interested, in that play, I portrayed a policeman who beat his wife and tried to reconcile with her.

On one day off, I ventured to New Milford with a friend/co-worker named Junior. The camp might have been dull, but the term "going to town" could NOT have possibly applied to New Milford. We got there at 11:AM. We saw that River Street was where the river was, Bank Street was where the bank was and that Center Street cut right through the middle of town.

Facing City Hall, there was a town square called The Green. It was a grassy rectangle with a raised gazebo on one end and a Revolutionary War era cannon on the other. Across from The Green, despite the stares we strangers encountered from the townsfolk, we ate a long lunch on Bank Street, in a ramshackle cafe. By one o'clock, we were back on the streets of small-town
U. S. A. and had completely taken in every point of interest it had to offer.


We turned onto River Street which was in the heart of the business district (if you could see what that town looked like 38 years ago, the phrase business district would be hard to say with a straight face). Surprisingly, River Street had a jewelry store which was next to a Laundromat. Through some shallow woods, you could see the little river in the gaps between the storefronts. On the other end of the roadway was the post office, a general store and Hurley's Bar. I thought it was kind of funny that in such a tiny municipality with so little commerce that Hurley's faced a real estate office that was attached in the same building to an Italian restaurant called Vesuvio's and another bar, coincidentally named Curley's.

Junior and I were both sixteen. Connecticut's drinking age was twenty-one and despite always looking older than I was...there was no way I could pass for twenty-one. Junior was six-three but he had a baby face.
He lit a Kool cigarette and said, "C'mon let's go for a drink."
It seemed exciting to go in and buy my first drink.
I said, "Okay."
He said, "Where should we go, Hurley's or Curley's?"

Coming from the bright sunshine, it was hard to see inside Hurley's. The Kingston Trio tune, "HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD TOM DOOLEY," was blaring from a transistor radio as we sauntered across the room. It was as if we had spurs on our sneakers because each step we took attracted more scrutiny from the three old-timers at the bar as well as the seventy-plus bartender. I guess they had a limited customer base or in summer, they were wary of underage patrons invading the joint, or maybe they were mesmerized by Junior's shaved head (way before head shaving was popular) or Junior was the first black man who EVER came in.

I wasn't as self assured as he was. I probably never finished a beer in my life and knew I was in over my head. Junior marched right to a stool and sat down. He then used his signature statement for calling people and summoned the bartender by saying , "Yo Zia."

The old bartender looked like a freight train conductor. He had thick wire-framed glasses, bib overalls and a blue gingham shirt as he limped over. His doubting stare was concentrated on Junior as he said, "Whaddya boys gonna have?" He called us boys, he was on to us and I was convinced that in any minute New Milford's finest was going to come in and some Don Knotts look-a-like patrolman named Cletis was going to slap the cuffs on us.

Junior smiled widely and said, "Rum and coke." It had never occurred to me, what to order. I was so nervous that I looked over my shoulder expecting a SWAT team to crash through the window and stick AK-47's in our faces. The barman impatiently said, "And you kid?" I knew we were cooked. In a cold sweat, I became flustered and couldn't think straight. "C'mon what do you want," he said. Looking for inspiration, I noticed the black screen of a small dusty TV mounted to the ceiling, a yellowed photo of baseball player Jimmy Piersall and then scanned the rows of liquor bottles. My throat was dry and all I could do was croak, "The same, sir."

I didn't relax even after we were alone. I stressed watching the bartender whisper to the other old men and I figured we were screwed. When another old geezer barged out from the restroom, I envisioned that he was leading a squad of Connecticut State Troopers emerging from the basement. I was so crazy with tension that I'm lucky I didn't soil myself. A minute later, the bartender delivered our drinks and said, "Sixty-five cents...each!"

Junior sucked his dry as if it was a Pepsi. I took a sip and thought I was getting poisoned. It was so sweet that I was nauseated. Even if I wasn't getting poisoned, I figured nothing so famous as a rum and coke could taste that bad. Certainly, the barman recognized us for what we were and wanted to teach us a lesson by loading it with bogus ingredients. I gave mine to Junior and it was downed in seconds.

At 1:20 we were back in the street. I was so relieved that the INS, ATF and IRS hadn't swooped down on us that I was tempted to get on my knees and kiss River Street.

The next week, a new McDonald's opened just out the other side of town, on I-84. I heard it was New Milford's event of the century! Ronald McDonald, a magician and a face-painter were all there. Plus there were games, drawings for free food and they were giving-out goldfish in baggies, hats, coloring books and other goodies.
I had had my fill of small town America and elected to miss-out on all the festivities. That day, I stayed on the camp's grounds and watched a cow give birth. Now THAT'S entertainment. Unfortunately because of that show, for a few days, I added milk to my list of drinks to avoid.

Monday, March 2, 2009


TW is a friend and loyal reader of "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND." He has read nearly all my short stories and was a great inspirational force behind me writing my novel.

He read my January 4th blog, "A FIDDLER ON MY ROOF" and didn't make his usual comments. That is until he was surprised by an unsolicited "from the street" estimate to redo his roof. TW contacted me and we compared notes. Our homes seemed to be comparable in size and this firm (from North Jersey) quoted him a price that was less than the local company I had engaged to do mine. My first reaction to a drive-by roofing estimate from out-of-towners was high-grade-skepticism.

If you missed my January 4th blog, I indicated that in October 2008, I reached a roofing agreement with a company whose owner/representative had a dull personality and bad breath. I wanted to have the work done before Thanksgiving but this gentleman mysteriously stopped returning my calls. I guessed back then that he had under-bid himself...I still feel that way, (for the full details...please use my archives to refer back to that installment). Then when I gave up all hope, between Christmas and the New Year, he called...GAME ON ! Right?

My twenty-year old roof looked like hell. Every windy day my front yard and all around my house became a graveyard of debris as more flakes, pieces and chunks of dried-out shingles blew off my roof. Still I felt no emergency because I saw no leaks. Plus, inwardly I wanted the first guy with his BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU stamp of approval to do the job. Still, at some point...reality will over take even the most stubborn person.

It was hard to decide whether or not to ditch the first guy. I knew despite my cynicism and fear of being victimized by scam-artists, it couldn't hurt to have ANYONE else give me an estimate. This notion is intensified by being a casino worker. I see the multi-levels of hustlers bilk innocent players on a daily basis. So much so that the subject of "casino hustlers" is a sub-plot in my novel, "IF IT AIN'T NAILED DOWN." Therefore, I wanted to be certain that I wasn't setting myself up to take the fall.

It was on February 11th, that I phoned TW's outfit. I spoke with a receptionist and in a professional manner, she said the owner would call me right back. And he did. The whole time I spoke to him, I tried to read between the lines but I came up empty. I found him to be likable, sincere, thorough and a go-getter.

When he came to give me the estimate, I liked him so well that after he gave me his proposal, I was tempted to just say, "Do it." (His estimate was $500.00 more than the local guy but laced with upgrades plus a manufacturer's guarantee from GAF...even if I sold the house).

Before he left, I explained my being in limbo with the first guy. He suggested I send by registered mail, a notice that I felt our agreement wasn't valid and his service was no longer necessary. I did I asked TW to telephone guy-one to see if he would return another person's call...and TW's call WAS returned. That knowledge made me feel stronger that the man's bid on my job was not profitable (enough). When I got the post office receipt that my letter was received, I called back guy two on Tuesday February 24th. He wanted to do the job the next day...but we settled for Thursday.

The friendly and courteous workers arrived exactly on time and the job was done almost to the minute without a hitch. They provided a dumpster and used a magnified tool to retrieve the scattered nails. They also spruced-up my place so well that it looked better than before they started. They even removed (temporarily), my gutter-guards and blew-out the leaves before re-installing them. A separate agency removed the dumpster early the next morning.

I am completely satisfied with my new roof and I intend (after I receive my guarantee from the manufacture and see how the roof does after a soaking rain) to write the owner Larry Ferrari (609) 441-1200, a testimonial letter of appreciation. Who knows, maybe he'll write my employer a testimonial because, he recognized that I recently dealt roulette to him and that I made it fun...even though he lost.

I would recommend "THE GREAT AMERICAN ROOFING COMPANY" to anyone in the new roof market...even if I wasn't offered a $100.00 for everyone I sent his way.

In the mean time as TW weighs-out who he will hire to do his roofing job...he keeps calling the first guy (three times) and makes appointments for an estimate, does not respond to confirmation calls and breaks the appointment at the last minute. I salute you TW, that's what I call support !