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."