Monday, October 26, 2009


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.


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.


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


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.

I will now 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 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 ?


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.


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 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


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.


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 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.

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.

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.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I understand that not everyone shares my sense of humor...but I was shocked that not everyone I told about this...thought it was funny.

This past Sunday on PBS, (don't me there's tons of humor in documentaries), I saw most of part-one...of "AMERICA'S PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA." This three-part series by filmmaker Ken Burns focuses on how public officials and special corporate interest used patriotism and common national purpose to establish, expand and popularize our National Park System.

Part-one dealt with the earliest stages, starting from 1851. Burns conveyed his message with a combination of contemporary filming, period photography and vintage artwork to produce an absorbing piece of eye-candy. Added to the visuals, the narration frequently used the eloquent descriptions that were directly appropriate accents...from eye-witness accounts.

The incident that tickled me took place in 1870, at the area we now call Yellowstone National Park.

Twenty years prior to statehood, nearly all of Wyoming's northwest frontier was a pristine wilderness. Slowly, word was getting back to civilization that this area had a hellish beauty never before seen by European immigrants, (even Lewis and Clark managed to miss it). Expeditionary groups were sent to separate fact from fiction and gauge how to harness nature's bounty and profit from it.


The Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition accompanied by an army escort, arrived in early September 1870. Their main task was to survey the topography and make detailed maps while also accessing the raw splendor of the lakes, mountains and wildlife. These observations were highlighted by the thermal features of the numerous geysers...most notably the one they named "Old Faithful." It got its name because it erupted (and still erupts today) about once an hour.


Two members of the Washburn party, David Folsom and Charles Cook kept journals. It was their thoughts, coupled with the memoirs of Truman C. Everts that inspired me to share this darkly comedic event with you.

More importantly, their descriptions of Hayden Valley (the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone), the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Falls, plus the elk, buffalo and other animals occupying the upper and lower geyser basin made me want to book reservations for the next flight there. APPOINTED BY PRESIDENT LINCOLN IN 1864, EVERTS WAS AN IRS ASSESSOR FROM THE MONTANA TERRITORY.

Everts was born in Burlington Vermont in 1816. Despite his position in the expedition, he was more like a nerdy accountant than an outdoors man. While the group was camped at "Two Oceans Pass" near the Snake River, he wandered off on horseback and got lost. During the next few days, the company unsuccessfully searched for him. The situation became more dire when a freak "summer-time" blizzard dumped over twenty inches of snow on the area.

The expedition continued looking but soon their own supplies dwindled. They left parcels of food and directions in the hope that Everts would find them and be helped. A final camp was made at the West Thumb area . Two soldiers continued the search without any luck, after the others left.

In Helena Montana, Everts' cohorts doubted the "tender-foot" with minimal survival skills could persevere under the harsh conditions. Nevertheless, they advertised a generous $600.00 reward for anyone who would bring him back alive.

The travails of Truman Everts worsened after the unexpected snowstorm. His horse with all his food and supplies wandered off. He was left to roam the rugged terrain with only a magnifying glass and the clothes on his back.


Oddly, the geysers not only kept Everts warm but made his predicament somewhat luxurious. Resembling a steam-bath, he found a middle ground between the geothermal pots and the frozen elements. Therefore, he was close enough to stay warm without getting burned and too far to be exposed to the frigid conditions. Still his hands sustained burns before he learned that lesson and he also developed frostbite on his bare feet.

Fearing Indian attack, bears, mountain lions, wolves etc., he slept several times in a tree.

His food intake was also highly limited, he avoided starvation by eating thistle plants.ONE OF EVERTS ' LAST TWO SEARCHERS, ARMY PVT. CHARLES MOORE SKETCHED THE LOWER YELLOWSTONE FALLS.

Although his actual starting weight was never mentioned...this documentary and wikipedia agreed that he was 50 pounds and delirious when two drifting mountain men, "Yellowstone-Jack" Baronett and George A. Pritchett came upon him 37 days into his ordeal.

Unable to travel, he remained with one drifter as the other walked 75 miles for help. When Everts safely returned to Helena, the mountain men were proclaimed heroes. But Everts, citing that he could have made it back safely without them, DENIED his saviors the reward.

The unappreciative, inconsiderate bastard then made a big chunk of change by selling his "37 Days of Peril," to Scribner's Monthly Magazine. Everts lived another thirty years. He became the postmaster of Hyattsville Maryland and died there on February 16, 1901.

In retrospect, splitting a big reward like that in the 1870's would have changed the drifters lives. It kind of makes you re-think the notion of being a good samaritan. With that in mind, I think no jury could have possibly convicted the kindly duo if they murdered Everts after he stiffed them !