Monday, August 30, 2010

PAPER OR PLASTIC? WHAT CAME FIRST, MURRAY LANGSTON OR THE, "AINTS ?"

How exciting, a new National Football League season is right around the corner. That makes this the appropriate forum to congratulate last year's champions; the New Orleans Saints and see if they can repeat the magic. SUPERBOWL XLIV MVP, QUARTERBACK DREW BREES, HOLDS THE PRESTIGIOUS VINCE LOMBARDI TROPHY ALOFT.

Saints fans deserve a long overdo place in the positive spotlight because their team was the symbol of NFL futility...FOREVER !
"WHO DAT GONNA BEAT THE SAINTS?" IN THE EARLY YEARS...EVERYONE. THEY EVEN SEEMED TO HAVE A FOOT-HOLD ON BEING ON MORE NFL FILMS BLOOPER REELS THAN ANY OTHER TEAM.

The Saints were an expansion team in 1967. As is the case with most newly formed teams, their players were a collection of ragtag castoffs, big names well beyond their prime and rookies. The year before, the Atlanta Falcons had their inaugural season and won only one game. So when the Saints returned the opening kickoff of their first game for a touchdown, their followers were convinced that they were getting in on the ground floor of something special. It is repudiated that after the score, a fan stood-up and shouted, "This is going to be the greatest football team in history!" Due to the superstitious nature of that part of the country, (voodoo and conjuring), many felt it was that statement that forever jinxed the Saints. They lost that game, finished the season with only three wins and became synonymous with being the "doormats" of the NFL for a long time.

After 14 seasons, the New Orleans Saints still hadn't ever qualified for the playoffs. They crowned their awfulness with the 1980 season. That year, they lost their first 14 games before beating (my) New York Jets, (by one point). They finished that season with a gruesome 1-15 record. Along the way, they set a record that still stands for regular season games by losing to the 49ers, after being ahead by 28 points.

The local fans became embarrassed of the 1980 team and didn't want anyone to know they were attending the home games. So it became trendy to refer to the team as the, "Aints," and come to the stadium wearing a paper bag over their head.
WHOEVER THOUGHT OF THIS WAS A GENIUS...OR WAS HE?

The idea of wearing a paper bag to hide your identity was plagiarized or at least borrowed from Murray Langston. WHO?

Murray Langston was a Canadian-born comedian who got his big break in 1970 on TV's, "ROWAN AND MARTIN'S, LAUGH-IN." He then became a regular (100+ episodes) on the, "SONNY AND CHER SHOW." Langston continued getting work on other 70's variety shows while also writing material for, Joan Rivers, Redd Foxx, Jim Carrey and many others. He also wrote and appeared in several, "CANDID CAMERA," segments.

Langston made a terrible investment in a comedy club and went broke. Strapped for cash and desperate, he agreed to appear on TV's, "GONG SHOW." But he was so embarrassed by what he assumed was professionally, a giant step down, he insisted on wearing a bag over his head. He became billed as the "Unknown Comic."
AT FIRST, THE UNKNOWN COMIC USED AN ARSENAL OF CORNY JOKES IN RAPID-FIRE SUCCESSION. EVENTUALLY, HE GOT A BETTER RESPONSE WHEN HE AIMED RISQUE BARBS AT CHUCK BARRIS...THE SHOW'S CREATOR, PRODUCER AND HOST. TO THIS DAY, MANY PEOPLE INFLUENCED BY THE SHOW, (LIKE ME), REFER TO MEN NAMED CHUCK AS, "CHUCKY, CHUCKY, CHUCKY!"

Langston appeared in 150 episodes. He developed a cult following and let his real name get lost in the shuffle as the paper bag gimmick saved his career.
A BIG FAVORITE OF MINE, THE GONG SHOW WAS ON NBC's DAYTIME LINE-UP FROM JUNE 14, 1976 to JULY 21, 1978.

The "GONG SHOW" was a talent contest. In its original daytime format, first prize was a check for $516.32 plus a cheesy trophy. A panel of three celebrity judges would rate each act on a scale from 0-10...therefore 30 was a perfect score. However what made the show so funny was that the celebrities could bang a gong with a mallet in order to cut a contestant's performance short thus disqualifying them. Plus, the show intentionally included some terrible acts. The hi-jinx would start when there was a disagreement among the judges. Then they would pretend to fight each other to prevent an unwarranted gong.
In between the acts or as a lead-in to a commercial break, non-contestant performers were sent on the stage. My favorite was a stagehand named Eugene Patton.
NICKNAMED, "GENE-GENE THE DANCING MACHINE," PATTON WAS NOT AN ESPECIALLY GIFTED DANCER. HIS THEME SONG WAS COUNT BASIE'S, "JUMPIN' AT THE WOODSIDE." WHILE PERFORMING, OTHER STAGEHANDS WOULD THROW PROPS AT HIM FROM THE WINGS. I ALWAYS ANTICIPATED THE GIGANTIC AND REALISTIC STYROFOAM ROCK. AT FIRST IT LOOKED LETHAL...UNTIL IT BOUNCED. PATTON'S POPULARITY WAS FURTHER REWARDED WITH DIALOG IN THE 1980, "GONG SHOW," MOVIE.

The show had a stable of celebrity panelists. Jaye P. Morgan stands out because she was as perverse as 1976 censors would allow. Eventually the show switched to a nighttime version and I stopped watching. The Gong Show was still getting decent ratings when it was finally cancelled. It is definitely worth a visit to YOUTUBE to see more, (the first one at, "Unknown Comic on Gong Show," is a minute long and features a glimpse at panelists, Steve Martin, Jaye P. Morgan and host Chuck Barris).

Murray Langston, a.k.a. The Unknown Comic, was a small cog in the zany success of the Gong Show. And he should be memorialized for inventing the idea of performing with a bag over his head. Hopefully, this information doesn't burst your New Orleans Aints bubble...but at least in two weeks, your beloved Saints will finally take center stage as a serious team to beat.

Monday, August 23, 2010

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, GRANDMA LEE IRRIGATED THE MOHAVE DESERT...TWICE !

Yesterday, August 22nd was to be my mother's 80th birthday. This will be the first year that the family doesn't meet in Canarsie and go somewhere to celebrate her big day. (2008), A BIG SMOOCHIE FROM MY SON ANDREW AT MOM'S 78th BIRTHDAY PARTY, (LENNY'S CLAM BAR IN HOWARD BEACH, QUEENS).

Now that we have taken pause to reflect on my mom, I think it would be her wish to not be in the spotlight so often. So in keeping with the mom-theme, I'd like to tell a story about my mother-in-law, Lenore "Lee" Baron.

Grandma Lee as Andrew refers to her, lived her whole life in New York City. Aside from Miami-area getaways, she rarely left the Big Apple. So in April 1982, while my wife Sue and I were living in Las Vegas, it was a monumental moment in her life to venture so far to see us.

When Easterners go west for the first time, specifically to Las Vegas, they are usually awed by the sight of the barren, moon-like mountains that surround, "Sin City." In my short story, "AMOS AND ARCHIE," I even have a character say, "Only a New Yorker could look at those big, dull rocks and call them beautiful."

I don't recall Grandma Lee fixating on them but I remember that she appreciated the wide open spaces. The casinos were secondary to her so on most days, before I went to work, we went on local day trips to: Red Rock Canyon, Bonney Springs Ranch, Hoover Dam and Mount Charleston.
On my day off, we set out on a major search for Americana by taking her to Death Valley National Park. It was 3+ hours through Nevada's back roads and into the California desert.

On this starkly hot day, Grandma Lee was fascinated by the rugged terrain and enchanted by the contrast of snow covered peaks. About fifteen minutes after we zoomed past Pahrump, Nevada, she asked for a lady's room. I reminded her that in the wilderness, civilization even in the form of the tiniest town, are well-spaced. For the next twenty minutes, she was patient. But with no trace of porcelain in the foreseeable future, she voluntarily requested to do her business on the side of the road. She must have had to really go because I tried to talk her out of it my mentioning the real possibility of rattlesnakes, scorpions and who knows what.

She gained a lot more respect from me when she strode behind a Joshua Tree. Then like it was no big deal, she did what she had to do. My admiration for her was compounded when she didn't complain even after her darling daughter snapped a picture during her awkward moment.
90-MINUTES INTO OUR TRIP, GRANDMA LEE'S LOOK OF RELIEF AFTER WATERING THAT VERY JOSHUA TREE. NOTE THE SNOW COVERED PEAKS.

It was 108 degrees when we got to Death Valley. It is said of the earliest pioneers who made it that far west; after leaving the last comfort zone, (St Louis), they entered the vast unknown. They were bombarded by the prairie's extreme weather, subjected to the fear and reality of Indian attacks and had to navigate through and over the Rocky Mountains. And the great prize for the small, hearty percentage who persevered through that gauntlet and actually set foot in the vaunted "land of milk and honey," were greeted with the greatest slap in the face...Death Valley.

BEFORE GOING TO THE VISITOR CENTER, WE PULLED OVER FOR A PHOTO-OP. THE PICTURE ABOVE DEMONSTRATES HOW HARSH, UGLY AND FORMIDABLE THE LAND IS. STILL, WHATEVER GRANDMA LEE MIGHT HAVE BEEN HOLDING BACK AFTER SEEING THE LAS VEGAS MOUNTAINS, EXPLODED INTO THESE TEARS OF JOY AND HER SIGNATURE STATEMENT, "THIS IS GOD'S COUNTRY!" IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE HER INCREDIBLE SINCERITY AND PROFOUND INSPIRATION OF THAT MOMENT, PLEASE NOTICE THE MARKINGS ON THE GROUND TO HER RIGHT. THAT'S WHERE SHE CLAWED UP THE CONCRETE-LIKE DESERT FLOOR AND IS HOLDING THAT EARTH IN HER HAND.

The Visitor Center had a gift shop, museum, theater etc. Guided tours were available too but we got maps and scouted out the top spots on our own. Before taking in all the grandeur, we went behind the building to an oasis-like copse of trees and had lunch.
GRANDMA TOASTED THE OCCASION BY SAYING, "HERE'S TO MANY MORE DAYS SPENT LIKE THIS."


She was right, it was only the beginning of a wonderful day.

IN MY OPINION, THE SERIES OF PICTURES DURING THAT PICNIC CAPTURED GRANDMA LEE AT HER HAPPIEST.

We visited all the points of interest and left after sunset. On the way back home, our spirits were high as we recalled the beauty of our adventure, the history of the area and the miracle of creation itself. Our euphoria was broken by the announcement that Grandma Lee needed another potty stop. Unencumbered by traffic on one-lane, Route-190, in the absolute blackness, it took ten minutes before we passed a mileage sign: DEATH VALLEY JUNCTION 19 MILES.

I said, "Can you make it fifteen minutes?" She said, "Yes." I was relieved because with coyotes, snakes, Gila monsters and other things that go bump in the night, this was no place to tempt fate by getting out of the car.

Five minutes later while I was going over 80, Grandma Lee informed us that...while gambling on games of chance isn't part of her nature...risking her life to avoid one of life's greatest embarrassments...is. I stopped the car. I can't speak for my wife but as we stood guard on her flanks, I was shivering in my boots. The two minutes that it took her to water the desert crops felt like an eternity. I was never so happy to get back into my car.

I was thinking how brave Grandma Lee was as we pulled into Death Valley Junction. We had no need to stop as we flew through the empty outskirts of this former borax mining boom-town, (Borax is a compound of boron, best know as an ingredient in detergent). THE TWENTY-MULE TEAM WAS AN ICONIC IMAGE FOR A HOUSEHOLD CLEANSER CALLED BORAX. IT WAS THE PRINCIPLE SPONSOR FOR THE TV SHOW, "DEATH VALLEY DAYS." RONALD REAGAN HOSTED THE PROGRAM FOR TWO OF ITS 18 SEASONS, (558-EPISODES), WHICH SPANNED THE 1950's AND 1970's.

At the heart of Death Valley Junction was a lone flashing yellow light. On three of the corners were a general store, a post office/bus depot and a gas station. On the fourth was the darnedest thing, a theater. What was more amazing was that in this god-forsaken outpost, people were flooding out of it as we cruised by. This incongruous sight would remain in latency in the back of my mind for years. Until 1984 when Sue and I visited Grandma Lee, in Rockaway Beach, New York.

Grandma Lee's TV had, "RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT," on. I LIKED THE SHOW'S CONCEPT AND ITS HOST JACK PALANCE BUT I HAD NEVER SEEN THE SHOW.

At first, I wasn't watching until Palance introduced the story of Marta Becket. He said, "She was born on August 9, 1924 and now lives in Death Valley Junction, California." Palance had my full attention when he added, "Marta started in show business as a ballerina. She got a big break when she became a Rockette in Radio City Music Hall." He also mentioned that she appeared on Broadway in such shows as; "SHOW BOAT," "A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN," and "WONDERFUL TOWN."

Later in Becket's career, she toured the country doing a one-woman show. In 1967, she had car trouble near Death Valley Junction. While waiting for it to be repaired, she fell in love with the little hamlet and decided to stay. She rented Corkhill Hall and used it as a theater. She began performing her show daily. She eventually bought the building, did renovations and renamed it, the Amargosa Opera House. Ms. Becket even painted the interior walls with a mural of faces so that whenever she performed, she would feel like it was a full house, even when there was no audience.
THE BUILDING WAS ORIGINALLY USED BY THE PACIFIC BORAX MINING COMPANY AS A MEETING CENTER.

She received a lot of recognition when a "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC," camera crew stumbled into town. Later an article in "LIFE," magazine boosted her into national awareness.

In recent years, she cut down to one performance a week. After the 2009 season, she stopped performing. Believe it or not, as incredible as this coincidence might be, it is all true and I witnessed it.

Marta Becket is still alive in Death Valley Junction. Unfortunately Grandma Lee, the ultimate trooper, passed-away twelve years ago come October. And my mom who would have had the big eight-oh yesterday, left us eight months ago.

Monday, August 16, 2010

EDELBLUM MYSTERY THEATRE: MINDING MY OWN BEES WAX

You don't have to be familiar with organized football to understand that all decent coaches, (like MIKE85), from pee-wees to pros, ask this question immediately at halftime and after each game...Is anybody injured?

Unfortunately, there is an unwritten code that discourages players from coming forward. The main reasons are: stupidity, fear and vanity.

STUPIDITY - Sometimes, individuals don't realize that without the proper attention a simple problem can become quite complicated.

FEAR - Individuals are afraid to lose precious playing time.

VANITY - Due to their bravado, individuals think the team can't manage without them. Or, they don't want to come-off as weak to coaches, teammates and supporters.

Sometimes when a team is struggling and the coach is full of bluster, an individual is apt to remain quiet to avoid becoming the focus of scorn. That is what happened to me.

In the fall of 1972, when I was a senior in high school, I was the offensive left guard of the Canarsie Chiefs. We expected a big year but finished 4 and 4. At a point in the season when we still thought we were destined for greatness, we visited the Seahorses of Far Rockaway High. Despite the non-threatening sound of their nickname, they slaughtered us 38-12. It was even more bleak at halftime when we trotted off trailing 26-0.

PRE-SEASON SCRIMMAGE VERSUS DeWITT CLINTON IN THE BRONX. EVEN I LOOKED LIKE A TOUGH GUY UNDER THE HOT AUGUST SUN.

At Far Rockaway's field, our bench was on the far sideline. That meant we had to cross the field to get the locker room. Smack dab in the middle of center stage, I felt a vibration under my jersey, near my armpit. Before I could react, an incredible sharp pain exploded into the soft, sensitive skin on the back side of my bicep. I was stung by a bee.

The initial pain made me stop in my tracks. I didn't want to be spotlighted, standing alone, licking my wound on the fifty-yard line, so I endured the agony and lumbered along, in the hope that it would go away.THERE ARE OVER 20,000 SPECIES OF BEES. MANY OF WHICH I NEVER HEARD OF INCLUDING THE MUD-DAUBER, (above). THEREFORE, I'LL NEVER KNOW IF THE CULPRIT WHO GOT ME WAS A BUMBLE-BEE, HORNET, YELLOW-JACKET OR WASP.

In the locker room, my frustrated teammates, cursed, slammed lockers and accused each other of ineptitude. Our furious coach came in and glossed over the hidden injury issue by saying, "Nobody tried hard enough to get hurt out there...RIGHT!" That was not what I wanted to hear. A few seconds later, he was into a full-blown rant so this was not the time for me to stand up and say, "I chipped a fingernail, my cup is chaffing me or...I got stung by a bee." (Even if I fluffed-up the sting's urgency by saying; I'm not sure if I'm allergic or it was a giant, disease infested, killer bee from South America or even though I smooshed the fuzzy bastard in an extremely manly way, it still bit me first).

During the head coach's maniacal ravings, my acute pain put me on the verge of hallucination. Then to make matters worse, the torture got parlayed with a pronounced throbbing. When our fearless leader's screaming was over, I slithered to the men's room. I sat on a commode and applied a cold compress of wet paper towels. It still felt like a doctor's needle had snapped off inside me, but somehow, I got a good deal of relief. When I came out of the stall, one of the assistant coaches shivered the bathroom door with a startling thud. He glared at me. In an unsympathetic manner he snarled, "You okay, or what?" To avoid coming off like a wus, I instinctively said something just as embarrassing, "Um, uh...I had the runs." He shook his head and snorted in a heavy Brooklyn accent, "Figgiz!"

That bee attack disproves the old notion that a bee only stings unless its provoked. To support that idea, in 1996, I was innocently pushing my son Andrew's stroller into the Cape May Zoo when I got stung on the tip of my left index finger. I never saw it coming and pain was excruciating. But my football game sting experience paid-off because, I iced my little wound and survived without crying like an eleven-year old girl. Nevertheless, most bee attacks are due to disturbing them.

I found that to be true in 2002 when I accidentally provoked a whole hive. I was lucky to get out with only one sting. I was mowing the lawn (weeds) in my backyard. I was in my own world humming Merv Griffin's musical hit, "I'VE GOT A LOVELY BUNCH OF COCONUTS." Suddenly, I felt the familiar sensation of a bee sting on my calf. In the next split second, I heard a loud buzzing and turned around. It was a sight to behold, thousands of airborne bees flying up, out of a hole in the ground. Apparently, the mower ripped the loose flap of sod that was camouflaging their entrance. In no time, there were so many bees in front of me that the fat trunk of an adjacent tree was obscured.I DON'T KNOW WHY THIS SCHMUCK IS POSING WITH ALL THESE BEES ON HIM. BUT I KNOW IF I DIDN'T RETREAT FAST, THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME.

My subsequent investigation led me to Raid's flying insect poison...with a squirting range of ten feet. I was also informed that at dusk, bees are dormant and less likely to see me coming. But the bug-a-boo was, the underground hive was a deep, nine-inch wide cave. That meant that the squirting capacity of this product was useless unless I stuck my hand, down into the hole.

I could see there was not much of an upside to this mission. Still, I resisted the cost of an exterminator. I armed myself to the teeth and waited till nobody was home. This way, I could minimize the possibility of the omnipresent Paparazzi or my family from publicizing my shame... 600 stings later. I donned as much protective clothing I could muster. In fact, if I had a pith helmet, I would have looked like Bwana, (The Great White Bee Hunter).

I held my breath as I approached ground zero. I kept waiting for my internal defense mechanism to scream; abort, abort. But those orders never came. I was green-lighted all the way. Then one bee flew out and scouted the area.

IT WAS TIME TO ACT DECISIVELY BEFORE THAT BUGGER ALERTED HIS BUDDIES.

I stuck my hand into their subterranean lair and blasted the Raid into the black void. I had the mindset to run but the bees never counter-attacked. The effect was spontaneous as a small group tried to limp and stagger out but they too, soon expired. My ten second cluster bombing rivaled Nagasaki. I then hustled to a large pile of mud that I prepared. Then like a mason slinging mortar, I sealed the entire shaft.

The next summer, the front of my house was invaded. Twelve feet up, I spotted a large hive above my front door. This was a more difficult enterprise for two reasons. For one, I would need a ladder and this operation would not be behind closed doors.

I waited again till dusk and luckily no neighbors were lurking. But no sooner did I take the ladder from the garage that my Andrew showed up with a bunch of kids. Then some jerk from up the street wandered over with his yenta wife. I should have put up a lemonade stand, sold tickets and alerted the media because other gawkers materialized from out of nowhere. Even strangers driving by, stopped to watch the show.

I got as high as the second rung of the shaky ladder, (I'm not certain if the bolts needed to be tightened or if it was my performance anxiety that had me quivering). That's when I realized that most NASCAR fans go to see the crashes and when suicidal people contemplate jumping off high buildings, most of the morons below inwardly want the poor sap to jump.

Even though I'm not afraid of heights, on the third rung I stopped. I decided there was no way I was going to let myself fall off that stupid thing. At the same time, two bees came out of the hive. It was time for me to crap or get off the pot. I tried hard to keep my aerosol weapon steady as I took aim. I know I should have been closer but I put my faith in Raid's claim that its ten-foot spraying capacity wasn't an exaggeration...because, I was relying on every inch of it.

Several more bees came out to investigate as my bomb-bay doors opened. My squirt was a high arc that touched down as a direct hit. Incredibly, it started raining dead bees immediately. Before I got off the ladder, the hive detached from the wall and crashed to the pavement. I bet two hundred victims were either dead or spasming, prior to croaking on my welcome mat.

Even though nobody cheered...not even Andrew, I knew a hero when I saw one and gave myself a mental high-five.

This past week on the 6th of August, we had the one thing that's worse than bees OUTSIDE your house. Like the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, (exactly two months earlier), we had a B-Day in our living room. The really odd thing is...all the bees were already dead.

That day, I spotted two and the next day, one more. On the 10th, I found three and yesterday seven. Today's count so far is one. But for the life of me, I can't see where they are coming from. Even more weird, I never see them alive. So NOW, I'm wondering if I should open up the proverbial can of worms and share this mystery with my wife or should I just mind my own bees wax?

Monday, August 9, 2010

MITCH MILLER ORBITING THE MOON IN A PAIR OF PANTYHOSE.

This blog is dedicated to Mitch Miller who died last week at age 99. When I was 14, I had the good fortune to spot him during a Mets rain delay. He was not only cordial but he appreciated that I recognized him. While signing his autograph, Mitch complimented me on my taste in music and my memory, (his show was off the air for three years). "SING ALONG WITH MITCH," WAS A HIT TV SHOW FROM 1961-1966. THE PROGRAM FEATURED A BOUNCING BALL THAT CORRESPONDED WITH SONG LYRICS, ALLOWING HOME VIEWERS TO...SING ALONG. MANY FEEL THAT GIMMICK INSPIRED THE CONCEPT OF KARAOKE.

In reality music wasn't my schtick. To prove it, when I was twelve, I was heavily annoyed to find out that we were going to see a play on Broadway. I thought getting all dressed-up was stupid and driving into Manhattan was a waste of time. And for what, to see a show whose name made no sense, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF."

My lack of appreciation wasn't appreciated by my parents. They took the direct approach and told me I better get the chip off my shoulder and start loving everything because dad went through a lot of trouble and expense to get the tickets.

Once we got into the theater district, the drudgery got worse because it was a long walk to the restaurant. I was freezing and couldn't stop shivering. Through chattering teeth, I bitched and moaned the whole time until we got to some steakhouse. With a delicious meal under my belt, my pissy attitude began to evaporate.

We were among the first people to get to the Imperial Theater, (West 45th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues). We sat upstairs. My folks were tired of my intermittent whining so they gave me carte blanche to wander around and explore the upper deck, (that's a nice way of saying, they told me to get lost). In my travels, because I was stubborn, I didn't admit that when I looked down from the balcony at the fancy people filing in that I felt a positive buzz. During my budding euphoria there was suddenly commotion in front of the orchestra pit. In the center of the ado was a black couple getting mobbed by happy people.

I called the stir to my dad's attention. He came by and said with reverence, "That man is Jackie Robinson." I said, "Oh." My father added something to the effect, "Don't let his white hair fool you, he is the bravest man you'll meet and a tremendous ball player." After he explained what Mr. Robinson represented dad lamented, "If the show wasn't starting, I'd run down there, and shake his hand. And if I was lucky enough to get you his autograph, it'd be the best one you ever got." DAD POINTED OUT THAT JACKIE WAS PRE-MATURELY GRAY BECAUSE OF THE INTERNAL ANXIETY HE ENDURED WHILE BEING TARGETED BY RACISTS, WHEN HE BECAME MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL'S FIRST BLACK PLAYER. PERHAPS RELATED TO THAT PRESSURE, HIS HEART FAILED AND HE DIED WHEN HE WAS ONLY 53. I RECENTLY SAW HIS WIFE RACHEL ON TV. SHE IS STILL BOTH BEAUTIFUL AND VITAL AT 88 YEARS YOUNG.

I began to treasure autographs when I was eight. In August 1963, dad took us to Hershey, Pennsylvania. We went to the typical hot spots, the chocolate factory tour, the amusement park and an airplane ride that circled the city. But he cleverly included a few hours at the Philadelphia Eagles training camp. On that day I got (and still have) twenty or so of their autographs.

In 1966, autographs were part of another vacation in Peekskill, New York. There were only two things to do in that tiny town back then. Spend a week at a dude ranch and see the New York Jets in their training camp. By this time, I was autograph savvy and got many of the big names that would star in the Jets' one and only Super Bowl appearance. That is, all but the biggest name...Joe Namath. I certainly had enough signatures after they filed in but "Broadway" Joe was the creme de la creme...and he wasn't signing. During the player's workout, an announcement was made on the P.A. system; after practice, Joe Namath will give autographs for fifteen minutes.

My parents and sister were champs and we stayed till the end. So did several million other kids from sleep away camps. When the drills were over, our area was cordoned-off as Namath stood behind another rope on the far side of the field. All the kids jockeyed for position waiting for the rope to drop. When they let us go, the fifty-yard stampede to Namath resembled the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889.

I was aware that there was a time limit, so like a maniac, I sprinted like never before. On the other side, a security team tried to get the kids to form an orderly line. I seized the opportunity during that delay and like a mercenary, I clawed my way forward and pushed aside anyone who stayed in my way. When the first kid was let through, I was second...right behind him.

My instinct was to say something clever to Namath. I wanted to stand out and leave my mark on him. But I was star-struck and got tongue-tied. I doubt I even managed to thank him. Years later, I thought of the perfect way that I could have left my imprint. I should have said, (in my pre-puberty voice), that I use his endorsement products. Once I got his attention I would have added; Yes Joe, thanks to you, hardly a day goes by without me cranking up my Hamilton Beach blender. And the pure genius of Soap-on-a-Rope is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize to incarcerated men everywhere! Then while he's digesting those accolades, I hit him with; my life has changed for the better since I started wearing pantyhose...just like you, (imagine the look on his face when he noticed eleven-year old me with a pair of opaques under my Bermuda shorts). EVEN WITH MY FIGURE SKATER LEGS, I DOUBT I HAD ENOUGH OF JOE WILLIE'S PANACHE, TO PULL-OFF THE PANTYHOSE THING.

The rest of my modest collection of autographs isn't valuable. I got them before the sports memorabilia craze set in. That means they weren't preserved in a way that is conducive to economic appreciation. Most of my autographs were written into game programs. At home, I cut them out and mounted (taped) them into a notebook. Forty years later, the tape has yellowed and obliterated many of the signatures. Therefore Hall-of-Famers like Johnny Bench, Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geofferion and Tony Perez only have a sentimental value. And even worse, by slicing up the vintage programs, they too have been rendered worthless.

More recently, I have had two great opportunities for Hall-of-Famer autographs but they both slipped through my fingers. One was Johnny Unitas, (that whole story will be a separate blog in September). The other involved going to Baltimore in 1992, to visit the grave site of Edgar Allen Poe. After lunch in the Inner Harbor, my wife Sue and I heard that the Orioles where playing that night. We drove to Camden Yards and found out that they were sold out. But that a few hundred standing room tickets went on sale at 5:PM.

We got back in the car in search of the Poe graveyard. In front of the Hyatt-Regency, two blocks from the stadium three different swarms of young boys were surrounding men in the street. When I saw some of them were holding baseballs, I guessed that these were ball players and autograph seekers. I explained the situation to Sue and she thought it was exciting. After we parked, I grabbed a pen and pad and advanced on one of the crowds. In a short time we got three of the Texas Rangers to sign. The only star we saw was Ruben Sierra. Despite a combination of English, my pigeon-Spanish and my wife's more refined Spanish, Sierra still ignored us. Due to that snubbing, you might note that the hex I put on him, immediately put his burgeoning career in the toilet.

Inside the hotel lobby, I spotted all-star catcher, Jim Sundberg. He turned our autograph plea down, even when I told him when his birthday was, (thus further proving my status as a storehouse of useless information). We were about to leave when the grand-daddy of all Texas Rangers came out of the elevator and drifted into an alcove of pay phones. It was Nolan Ryan and we lingered a couple of minutes until he was done. Being a right handed pitcher, I was surprised that he shook my hand. But I was completely shocked that considering we were hidden from anyone else and alone, he wouldn't give me his autograph. He then made matters worse by saying, "Come back at 4 o'clock."

The Poe graveyard turned out to be a 60-second thrill. Despite the tradition of a hooded figure leaving black roses and a bottle of cognac at Poe's crypt every Halloween, we didn't get much of a rise out of it. After a few snapshots, we left...and we did NOT get his autograph either. Outside the fence was a sign that read: 3/4 of a mile left, to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum. It was a 90+ degree day but we decided to take the walk. Ten blocks later, we hadn't seen another sign and gave up. When we got back to our car, I decided to drive there. Two blocks beyond where we gave up, there was the first in a series of signs. Then, like a corn field maze, we were lead up one street and down another.

The Edgar Allen Poe Museum was in a dingy, beat-up house where he once lived. The sign said: Open 1:PM-4PM on Saturdays and Sundays. If it wasn't a Thursday, we might have been in luck. Instead, to fill the void till game time, we went to the Babe Ruth Museum. It was so lame that 18 years later, I still want my four bucks each back.

The Oriole Stadium was a short walk from the Babe Ruth Museum. It was a little after 4PM, so we went towards the box office. A few hundred feet from the window, we came across an orange line painted in the pavement. Next to the line was a sign that read: If you're behind this line, you won't get standing room tickets. We left because there were already fifty people behind it.
ORIOLE PARK AT CAMDEN YARDS WAS THE FIRST AND PERHAPS BEST OF THE NEW "RETRO" BASEBALL STADIUMS. STARTING IN 1992, THEIR GAMES WERE COMPLETE SELL-OUTS FOR SEVERAL YEARS.

We got back in the car and headed past the same hotel where we saw the Texas Rangers signing autographs in the street. On the corner before the hotel, we saw a long line of people, a half block long...that extended around the corner. As we approached the main entrance, we saw Nolan Ryan flanked by a posse of bodyguards, signing autographs under the hotel's portico.

I parked five blocks away and we ran to get in line. My wife and I agreed that Ryan was cool after all. We then planned to give our nephew Adam the autograph. More importantly, Sue was going to take a picture of Ryan and me, as he signed. We were fourth on line with only two people behind us when one of his security people said, "Its five o'clock, times up." The Texas golden boy thanked us, (the shocked losers), as he was ushered away by his entourage to the ballpark.

Fueled by shock and frustration, I wished I could have shoved Mitch Miller's bouncing ball up Ryan's posterior. Maybe that element of uncertainty is what makes getting autographs such a rush.

On the brighter side, about ten years ago, a great autograph fell in my lap. My mom went to see a Broadway show matinee with her senior center. In a similar situation than Jackie Robinson, a celebrity, prior to the curtain going up, was mobbed by other theater-goers. My mom didn't care and remained behind. However, when one of her lady friends showed her the autograph of such a famous person...mom made the ultimate sacrifice (for me) and walked twenty rows up the aisle.

Mom called me the next day. She told me that she got me an extra special autograph but made me guess. Of course I failed. Then she told me the circumstances of her getting astronaut Neil Armstrong's autograph.
COINCIDENTALLY, ARMSTRONG'S ICONIC WALK IN THE MOON AND MY MITCH MILLER MEETING WERE ONLY A FEW WEEKS APART.

I really wasn't expecting it but my mother getting Armstrong's impressed me. Weeks later when she actually gave it to me, I was still impressed...but vintage mom...it was John Glenn's signature.

Monday, August 2, 2010

THE BIG CHEESE OF CENTRAL JERSEY.

On March 1, 1932, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby was called the crime of the century. The abduction happened at aviation hero Charles "Lucky Lindy" Lindbergh's farm house in East Amwell, near Hopewell, Mercer County. That makes it and the boy's resulting death, the biggest news event in Central Jersey history.TWO YEARS LATER, BRUNO RICHARD HAUPTMANN WAS ARRESTED, TRIED AND FOUND GUILTY OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER. DESPITE PROCLAIMING HIS INNOCENCE TILL THE END, HE WAS ELECTROCUTED ON APRIL 3, 1936.

Central Jersey's second most famous/infamous event happened at Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937. It was the explosion of the German dirigible, the Hindenburg. Still shrouded by speculation, it is uncertain if human error, an act of god or sabotage caused the airship's demise. Although there were 62 survivors, 13 passengers, 22 crew members as well as one worker on the ground perished.THE HINDENBURG MARKED THE FIRST DISASTER BROADCAST LIVE. NEWSREEL REPORTERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS CHRONICLED THE CATASTROPHE. BUT HERBERT MORRISON'S EYE-WITNESS RADIO ACCOUNT, PARTICULARLY HIS EMOTIONAL, "OH, THE HUMANITY," DESCRIPTION WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED.

In 1916, before most people knew exactly what they were, Central Jersey put the word shark into national prominence. During a period from July 1st to the 12th, five people were attacked... with only one surviving. The first shark attack was in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, second at the shore in Spring Lake and the least likely, because the beast had to swim a couple of miles inland, occurred in Matawan Creek.

THE CENTRAL JERSEY SHARK ATTACKS OF 1916, INSPIRED PETER BENCHLEY TO WRITE THE NOVEL, "JAWS."
The least known yet most significant Central Jersey crime of all time...to me...depends on the statute of limitations on accidental supermarket vandalism.
In 1999, my family visited cousin Alan and Laura in Morganville. After dinner, they took the three of us for dessert. Along the way, we were given the fifty-cent tour of the greater Freehold area. Our first destination was the house off E Street, where Bruce Springsteen grew up. ALAN MADE THE POINT THAT THE "BOSS," WAS OKAY. HOWEVER, BON JOVI WAS THE BIG CHEESE OF CENTRAL JERSEY. BUT HIS HOUSE IN SAYREVILLE WAS OUT OF OUR WAY.

We proceeded to the tiny town of Oceanport. Along Park Road, we found Monmouth Race Track.
LAURA MENTIONED THAT THEY HAVE SMALLER, LOCAL TALENT CONCERTS AT THE TRACK. BUT THE GARDEN STATE ART CENTER, (now called the PNC Arts Center), IN NEARBY HOLMDEL, (Exit-116 of the Garden State Parkway), GETS MAJOR LEAGUE PERFORMERS.

Our hosts really hyped-up Jersey Freeze, the ice cream stand that we went to for dessert. At the time, my son Andrew was five. He gave "JF," as they called it, an enthusiastic, two thumbs up. Because their slathered hot fudge and rainbow sprinkles exceeded his sweetest expectations. A FREEHOLD LANDMARK, JERSEY FREEZE IS LOCATED AT 120 MANALAPAN AVENUE.

We thought our tour was over. But Laura asked if we minded stopping at Wegman's to pick up a few items. We asked, "What's Wegman's? She said, "Wegman's is the best! Its a supermarket but you'll think you're in a food museum."
CREATED IN 1916, WEGMAN'S CURRENTLY HAS 75+ LOCATIONS MOSTLY IN NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK, MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA AND VIRGINIA.

Laura was right. From the moment we walked in, Wegman's was a paradise. They featured a long boulevard of freshly prepared meals to eat-in or re-heat at home. Arranged in a manner that is pleasing to the eye as well as the nose, any imaginable ethnic food could be found there. Also in that row was; a butcher, fish monger, gourmet specialties, typical fast food, sandwiches, coffee, desserts etc, etc, etc. Wegman's also had an ample supply of sample stations. Despite a full dinner and a big Jersey Freeze sundae, Andrew went to town on the various freebies.

When our group splintered into smaller ones, Andrew and I checked-out the cheese aisle. At a huge pyramid display, we were having fun trying pronounce the foreign words like; Limburger, Camembert, Gouda, brie, Gorgonzola, Gruyere and Roquefort. Around the other side of the cheese mountain, a woman was giving samples of Edam. I turned my back on my son for thirty seconds. When I came back around, I was shocked that my guy had scaled the terraced display.

Andrew was never prone to overt curiosity and due to a combination of his lack of agility and an aversion to heights, I couldn't believe that he had climbed to my eye-level. Even worse, my especially bright boy was licking the giant cheese wheel at the top of the presentation.

"OUR," CHEESE WHEEL WASN'T THIS BIG. BUT IT WAS LARGE ENOUGH TO HAVE A $1,000.00 PRICE TAG!

I grabbed Andrew and set him down while he spit the bad taste from his mouth. I looked around to see if anyone saw us and scurried him back to the others in the produce section.
Later, I innocently wandered back to take a second look at the scene. Instinctively, I dragged my hand across the spot where Andrew had licked. I was nauseated to find a thick coating of dust and stunned, to discover that there was a trace of saliva and tiny teeth marks where he had broken through the plastic seal.
Only now, 11 years later, I feel that its safe to emerge from the shadows of shame. Hopefully, after all this time, we can not be prosecuted for this accidental, yet felonious act of vandalism. If not, I will step forward and shield my son. I will proclaim that I, and I alone perpetrated this carefully orchestrated deed...and accept any and all punishment.
You see, I no longer can afford to keep losing sleep, hair and sanity over my role in the cover-up. Even though Andrew's internal defense mechanisms have allowed him to forget this incident, I have worn this millstone of humiliation around my neck too long. Now, I pray that my people can find it in their heart to forgive me. Therefore to cleanse my soul, I am ready for the manacles I deserve and hereby publicly apologize and confess to the deception of the century. 1999's, "Big Cheese Caper of Central Jersey."
Hey, they made a movie out of Lindbergh, the Hindenburg and Jaws, right. So maybe there is an upside to all my internal tumult. When this movie is produced, obviously, they'd want to cast Eminem to play me.