Monte was a good person and I enjoyed hanging out with him but I preferred her company. In addition to Lana having all her teeth, she was more interesting and sophisticated. I shouldn't characterize him as a redneck but let's just say that some of his poor life decisions might've been hindered by a preponderance of molten hops residue on his brain.
Monte once proved his acumen by saying his three life passions were: The Pittsburgh Pirates, Budweiser, rotisserie baseball and playing softball. Until you peer more deeply into the man, you'd get the impression that he was an uncomplicated fellow. Oddly, the heart of his genius lay in the fact that he was far more simple than anyone could imagine.
EVEN THOUGH I HADN'T SEEN MONTE FOR SEVERAL YEARS, IN 2006, I HAD ANDREW POSE FOR THIS PICTURE FOR HIS BENEFIT...JUST IN CASE.
Among a group of several friends, Monte was a confectioner, (candy maker), specializing in fudge. Spanning his teenage years to early thirties, he was a summer employee, (usually 70+ hours a week), at a prestigious, 91-year old taffy emporium, on his town's boardwalk. STOCK PHOTO OF THE PUBLIC WATCHING THE FUDGE MAKING PROCESS.
After their fifth season on the job, Monte and his friends received inside information. The elderly owners were getting ready to retire and their lone, independently wealthy heir wanted nothing to do with the candy empire. Therefore the friends made a pact with each other and expressed to management an interest in eventually taking over the business. Working on faith without any promises or employee incentive programs, profit sharing or management training, they remained loyal for another twelve years. They convinced themselves that their accrued actions would result in handsome rewards...like having the business given to them or sold cheaply.
Blinded by "ambition," this conglomeration of buddies would go on unemployment for eight months every year. On the other hand, Lana worked a year-round, full-time job. This vast imbalance of time off, enabled Monte to concentrate on his three passions.
In September 1987, I received a golden ticket, in the form of an invitation to Monte's birthday party. It was at a time when I was off weekends. But because nearly everyone I knew (here) was a casino worker (including my wife), I had few options on who to spend my time with. Still, I didn't want to attend because I only knew the birthday boy and Lana. Nevertheless, against my better judgement, I was encouraged to make the forty mile solo flight.
Each year, Lana rented a pavilion in Cape May County Park for the festivities. This five-hour rental provided a large protected shell in the woods complete with picnic tables, barbecue pits, playgrounds, ball fields, nature trails, a lake for swimming and fishing.
I got there fashionably late, 1:PM. I was told that the guy with the softball equipment couldn't make it. I was disappointed that there was no game. I was looking forward to that being the highlight of the day. Instead, I found Monte and his candy guild of Oompa Loompas already wasted on beer, bourbon shots and smoking joints in the bushes. When the drunks meandered back to civilization, they blithered about their future dreams of becoming world renown chocolateers, the upcoming end of their rotisserie league and the Pirates playoff chances.
ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO WHEN THE PIRATES WERE STILL RELEVANT, MONTE AND LANA BOUGHT ME THIS CAP. I ACTUALLY WORE IT EARLIER TODAY.
In the middle of their private conversation, a loud argument erupted. Monte got upset that one of his Ohio friends called him a "hoopie." Apparently, the term is a harsh insult to West Virginians. I shook my head, the awkwardness of being around these nimrods was overwhelming...I sought out Lana.
BACK IN THE 80's THE ZOO WAS TINY. IN MY 26 YEARS IN SOUTH JERSEY, IT HAS EXPANDED MANY TIMES AND IS ONE OF THIS AREA'S SILENT (FREE) TREASURES.
Lana was quick-witted, smart and always fun to be around. But as the hostess, she was buried making sure everything went smoothly while socializing with her lady friends. I was there an hour and was considering leaving when I heard the strangest thing. It shocked me that nobody reacted to it because it sounded like the roar of a lion in the distance. While in my temporary stupor, a chubby four year-old who resembled Augustus Gloop almost knocked me over. He waddled to his mom and demanded, "Take me to the zoo." I asked Lana, "Is there a zoo here?" Then I heard the roar again. Lana said, "Duh! And how many vodka and snozzberries have YOU had? C'mon, didn't you see the giant sign...Cape May Park and Zoo..."
The long walk to this pleasant oasis was worth it, even if just to get away from the liquor guzzling louts. I passed herons, ocelots, prairie dogs and a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. BETWEEN THE WALLABY AND THE ALLIGATOR PEN, THE ZOO HAS CAPYBARAS...THE LARGEST LIVING RODENTS IN THE WORLD.
A large group of gawkers gathered at the concrete lion enclosure. I squeezed between people and saw the king of the jungle...two-feet away, laying against the fence. Suddenly it roared again. The beast's regal outpouring scattered the faint at heart. Slowly, the giggling horde of scaredy-cats took their hands off their ears and cautiously returned.
I WAS NEVER THAT CLOSE TO A LION. IT THRILLED ME WHEN HE ROARED AND I FELT THE MAJESTY OF HIS (BAD) BREATH.
The lion's head swiveled towards the gallery as he let out an unhealthy bellow and a series of gasping coughs. My instinct caused me to step back and look away as Leo vomited through the wire barrier.
I never went to any more of Monte's parties but I was not deterred by lion barf. Years later, the Cape May Zoo became a regular day-trip destination for my son Andrew.TEN MILES FROM THE BOTTOM OF NEW JERSEY, THE ZOO IS CONVENIENT TO THE AMUSEMENT PARK, BEACHES AND FERRY.
By 1997 Monte and Lana had two kids. They needed to change their lifestyle and improve their cash flow. The timing was perfect because the owners announced their retirement.
Unfortunately, they gave the business to their daughter. Monte and his friends were rewarded with little more than a handshake in recognition of their efforts and sincere regrets that they couldn't be a part of the company's future managerial plans.
In an angry reflex action, the four friends pooled their resources and mortgaged their future. They bought a small-time competitor's fudge kitchen, (nicknamed Old Slugworth), on Cape May's promenade. They re-named it, "A WORLD OF PURE IMAGINATION," but the enterprise struggled to make ends meet. Five years later, they sold-out and took a loss.
Two of the partners were forced to get regular jobs. Monte and his closest friend, Charlie Bucket, got their old jobs back and again drew unemployment for the other eight months of the year.
So the next time you're on the boardwalk, remember to watch the tram-car and look in the window of all the fudge stores. Because if you see a "hoopie" with a vacant look in his eye, whose missing a tooth and wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates cap...you'll know your watching the Willy Wonka of Wildwood.